I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans for years, so we decided to go near Mardi Gras, but leaving a week before Fat Tuesday (February 28 this year) in an attempt to avoid crazy crowds. In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is celebrated for weeks prior to the actual day, with parades on weekends. The parades are put on by Krewes (clubs), that each have their own history and tradition.
The first full day of our visit there was a Mardi Gras parade in the French Quarter in the evening. The Krewe du Vieux Mardi Gras parade is an older style parade, with horse drawn floats and brass bands. Since there aren’t large floats, they are one of the only parades that can fit in the French Quarter. It’s known for being satirical and full of adult humor, and there were a lot of Trump jokes this year. It was really fun, but it was crazy! Everyone was just filling the streets, the floats could barely get through!
The French Quarter is an the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. It’s also where a lot of the tourist destinations are, and there are a lot of fun shops and restaurants. We walked down Bourbon Street to Jackson Square and saw St. Louis Cathedral. There were several talented street performers, some singing and playing music and some dancing. We even saw a wedding parade! New Orleans would be a fun place to get married. We also went to some shops, and taste-tested hot sauces.
Bourbon Street is a spectacle, especially at night. Open container laws allow drinking on the street, and it’s full of bars and strip clubs. It has all the seediness of Las Vegas, without the snazzyness. There are a lot of fun neon signs though!
We spent an evening on Frenchmen Street visiting a few jazz clubs and listening to bands. It’s a really fun place. There were like 15 clubs in the span of 3 blocks. I don’t think any of the clubs had a cover charge, the bands play for tips. We went into a few clubs and heard very different bands. There was even a band of younger folks playing on the street. We really loved this!
New Orleans has the biggest World War II museum in America. Higgins Industries is in New Orleans, and they built the amphibious landing crafts used to land on the beach on D-Day, and that’s why the national museum is in New Orleans. We visited the museum on a rainy day. It was an impressive museum! There were large exhibits on both the Pacific and Western Fronts, and the design of the museum was very effective in making me feel like a witness to the events. Where the museum talked about the Pacific front, there were palm trees and where they talked about the end of the war, there was rubble all around.
We had a lot of rain that day! The weather was mainly in the high 70s, but there were two days in the 50s-60s, and it got into the 40s those nights. We saw a few people in winter coats those days.
On a lovely sunny day we visited the Garden District which is a neighborhood full of beautiful mansions from the 1800s, and terrible sidewalks. Many of the homes were decorated for Mardi Gras, and one was for sale for a mere $5.5 million!
Lafayette Cemetery #1 is an old cemetery in the Garden District. I had heard that cemeteries in New Orleans are an attraction, but I didn’t understand why until we visited this one. All of the burials are above ground in crypts due to the water levels in New Orleans. It was unlike any cemetery I’d seen before.
Afterwards we checked out the restaurants and shops on Magazine Street.
The day we spent in the Garden District was one of our favorites, there were so many beautiful things to see!
There is a Mardi Gras supply store called Beads by the Dozen which is likely where the Krewes buy beads in bulk to throw in the parades. We bought a bunch of dress up stuff for our nieces and nephews. Brian snuck back there to surprise me with a Mardi Gras Valentine’s Day!
So I had to go back again and get him a present, a stylish shrimp necklace. He doesn’t love it as much as I do.
We also went to two family-friendly Mardi Gras parades in the Garden District, Krewe of Pontchartrain and Krewe of Freret. For the first parade we found a spot on the shady side of the street where there was space to be at the front. Apparently a short woman next to us was unhappy that Brian was standing next to her and was complaining to her group about “this 6 foot 6 guy” (he’s only 6 foot) and getting all up in his space when anyone threw anything to him. It’s crazy how these parades turn otherwise probably normal people into Crazed Bead Goblins. But they do! I dare anyone to attend a parade and not wave and holler at every float to throw you some crap you don’t need. It’s so fun!!
There were actually three parades in a row on the same parade route, and two more a couple hours later. We took a break to eat and missed the second parade, but for the third parade we found a friendlier place to stand. We caught the very end of the second parade, and they must have had extra beads, because a guy threw me a dozen beads, still wrapped together in a bag. I also got beamed in the arm by some big beads, those hurt! The trees were full of beads that didn’t make it to their intended targets. Kids were sitting in seats mounted to ladders to be up high to catch things.
It’s funny that some people get competitive about parade-going, because by the end we all had collected a ton of stuff. People bring big bags to fill with all the stuff they catch. After each parade ended the streets filled with kids playing with the footballs they caught during the parade.
The only thing I didn’t love about the Mardi Gras parades is how messy they are! The streets were full of trash and discarded and broken beads. I wonder how it all gets cleaned up.
We did a lot in New Orleans, but mostly we ate. New Orleans has a lot of unique foods, and we tried as many as we could! We had gumbo, po boys, crawfish, oysters, muffaletta sandwiches, eggplant napoleon, beignets, king cake, and boudin (a type of sausage made with rice). The food was a bit spicier than I’m used to, even though I tried to avoid spice. We really enjoyed the whole boiled crawfish. When we ordered it the first time, we asked the server how much to order and she said four pounds! It wasn’t too much though, because there isn’t very much meat in each crawfish, a lot of the weight and bulk is the head and body that you don’t eat (unless you’re Brian, then you suck the heads). It did take a while to eat all those crawfish!
Brian also cooked a few times. I’m starting to think he is only on this trip for better proximity to seafood. He made crawfish cakes, and grilled shrimp and oysters. He did a shrimp, crawfish, and crab boil, and we ate all we could, and then peeled the rest for the next day’s meal. He made so much seafood that we were up until 1 am cracking and cleaning it all! He turned the leftover seafood into Gumbo.
He loves cooking with local ingredients. On the last day of our visit we went on a meat quest to Couchon Butcher and then to Jacobs in Laplace, LA to buy andouille sausage and other meats. Our small freezer is stocked now!
On Valentine’s Day he wanted to cook something fancy, and also prove to me that he will use the sous vide to cook in the trailer. So he cooked the pheasant that his brother gave us, rolled around a mousse made from the dark meat of the pheasant, with rice and black eyes peas, and a crawfish cake. He even roasted the pheasant bones to make stock for the sauce. It took a long time and made a lot of dirty dishes, but it was tasty!
We stayed at Bayou Segnette State Park, which is across the Mississippi River and about 8 miles from New Orleans. There are lots of attractions in the park that we didn’t use (wave pool in the summer, boat launch), and the bathrooms weren’t the greatest. It was fun to see all the armadillos that came out at night to dig holes all over the campground!
We had a great visit to New Orleans, but in the 10 days we’ve been here it’s already gotten much busier. It’s time to leave before the rest of the Mardi Gras crowds arrive!
Day 145 | Mile 14,577