This weekend my wife and I took a trip to New Orleans. She has a conference for work, and we decided that a winter getaway to someplace warm was a great idea, so we extended her trip a couple of days and headed on down.
I had anticipation of having a great time. The popular notion of New Orleans is that it is a place full of adult fun for all. The food and drink have the reputation of being great. The Jazz is world class. There is even a lot of history to experience in a city that is over 300 years old.
When we arrived we made our way into the French Quarter. It was lunch time on Friday, and the real festivities of the weekend and week ahead were still several hours away. The streets were mostly quiet, with just residents out tending to their daily routine. We made our Way to Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop, where I had a hurricane. After that we walked more, eventually we had a nice dinner and settled in for the night.
Saturday we did more walking and exploring, and we watched several parades. On Sunday my wife had work, so I made my way out to visit a couple of lighthouses on Lake Pontchartrain. Later I walked around the city more.
As I am sitting at Louis Armstrong Airport, the word that keeps resonating for me is “overrated”. Perhaps it is a function of me being in m 50s, and wll past the time of my life when drunken debauchery holds a particular appeal, but I was left underwhelmed.
After the first parade, the idea of catching beads in self-defense loses its attraction. At times those on the floats throw the beads out by the bagful, and let me tell you, they hurt when you get hit with them.
Also, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the street, the incessant succession of parades is quite annoying. I needed to get from my hotel, on one side of the street, to a camera shop on the other side and back before dinner. I was able to get across between parades, but the next one started a scant 10 minutes later. It took me a 1.5 mile walk to get to a place where there weren’t police officers nearby and I could sneak across between floats and marching bands. After 3 straight days of incessant parades, I just found them to be obnoxious.
As for Bourbon street, let me just say that it is a filthy, smelly, disgusting place. The streets are always wet with God knows what. The whole place just smells awful, like a mix of open sewer and fish that is well past its prime. Oh, and if you walk through on a Sunday morning, as I did, there are other distinctive and disgusting smells as well.
Another thing that no one tells you about is how many panhandlers there are. Apparently, there is a huge homeless population in the Quarter. I feel for their plight – at least for those that are legitimately in dire straights. But, as Chris Rock once said, a real homeless person is too hungry to have a clever sign, which many did. It really felt like some percentage of them were just looking for easy money. As I said, I am very sensitive to the plight of the homeless, but I am not sensitive to opportunists.
We also found out on Saturday and Sunday mornings that getting a hotel room is optional for some. The streets were also littered with passed out drunks. Considering that the streets of the French Quarter are thoroughly hosed down from a truck each morning, some of these fellas got a free shower too.
For those of you wondering about women flashing for beads, let me just say that it happens only rarely, and when it does it is never the women anyone WANTS to flash. Besides, what’s the point? Beads are flung literally by the ton at parades and from balconies. Again, overrated.
I ate some terrific food. There were several restaurants we found that had good food, and great atmosphere. But, they were the exception. Most of the places in The Quarter reeked from the outside, and looked dingy and dirty. Not my idea of a good time.
You might guess from the tone of this post that I won’t be longing to get back to New Orleans anytime soon. If I do, my focus will be on the historical aspects of the city. I will also avoid the Mardi Gras season, and opt for a time when there aren’t hundreds of thousands of drunk people milling about.
On a positive note, I had a GREAT weekend with my wife. We really did enjoy ourselves. We found a restaurant for breakfast called The Ruby Slipper, on Mazagine one block from Canal. It was worth the 30 minute wait. We also dined at a restaurant called Evengeline that was really fun, with good and reasonably priced food. I saw 2 new lighthouses while I was here, and because the weather was so fantastic, I enjoyed a 3 mile walk between the two lights.
All in all we had a great time. Coming to New Orleans during Mardi Gras is one of those things that you just have to do once so you can say that you did. But, it certainly won’t be something I’ll be aching to do again.