Turbo Tourism in New Orleans

Before we had children, we used to be able to go away for the weekend to European cities and see a lot of things and still get to work on Monday (or maybe Tuesday…)  We called this Turbo Tourism – getting a taste for a place to see if you want to come back and visit a bit more.  We wanted to visit New Orleans before we return to the UK for good, so had planned a Turbo Tourism weekend with our friends, who used to live in New Orleans before they had children.  We decided to drive as a few people had said it was an easy enough drive and we wanted to see a bit of the countryside on the way.  The drive took a fair bit longer than the expected 5 hours (which was already pushing the limits of acceptability for a 4 and a 6 year old!) as the traffic was bad as we got closer to New Orleans.
However, it did allow us to see some of the swamps that the roads have been built through (and over) which was pretty amazing.
Road through the swamp

Road through the swamp

We arrived quite late after a very long drive but luckily the girls had eaten through the entire journey, so were feeling quite happy. They also loved the apartment we were staying in, just around the corner from Bourbon Street (the main party street) and were very excited about sleeping in the same room as their friends.
We left the girls with our friends and headed out to experience New Orleans at night for the first time. Everywhere was busy and lots of people were weighed down by beads (apparently gained by exhibiting certain parts of your anatomy to the encouraging crowds on the balconies above street level, but we saw no nakedness – not in the name of beads anyway!)  There was music of all kinds coming from each of the bars along Bourbon Street, with live bands, karaoke and lots of dancing (some of it in the street whilst holding the famous Hurricane cocktail).  We took it all in as we wandered along to get a drink and some food at the Red Fish Grill.
We started with a Mojito to go with our delicious food (the crab cake was the best I’ve ever eaten and I’ve just found the recipe here, so I’ll be making it as soon as I get the chance).  The vibe in the whole place was friendly (as was the whole of Bourbon Street), the cocktails good and it was nice to be out on our own for a little while.  Before heading home, we took the bar tender’s advice on which New Orleans cocktail we should try.  The Hurricane sounded a bit too sweet (and we’d seen the evidence of what it did to the people who were swaying down Bourbon Street!) so we decided on a Sazerac.  It’s made with rye whiskey and was very strong!  We shared one and I still felt a little wobbly on the way home! It was probably a mistake telling the bartender that we liked strong drinks…
We wandered home through the drunken crowds – it was all very friendly though. I can’t imagine feeling quite so happy wandering through such drunken crowds in Reading.  We got back to the apartment in time to read a story to all the girls and let our friends re-live their youth!
We had a bad night with the girls.  Just in case you ever think it’s a sensible idea, there really is not enough room for 2 grown adults and 2 not-as-small-as-they-used-to-be children in a double/queen bed!  So, feeling a little jaded, we headed out for our breakfast treat – beignets!
Beignets!

Beignets!

These are delicious pieces of deep-fried choux pastry, drenched in icing (powdered) sugar.  Yum!  Even our grumpy children (it was a hot morning and they’re still not used to the humidity and heat here) could manage a smile after these.  After an apple juice flood drowned my beignets and I’d cleaned all the icing sugar off the girls, we wandered to Jackson Square.
Jackson Square is a beautiful park in the French Quarter, with the Saint Louis Cathedral as the back drop.  The girls weren’t at all interested in this, or the stalls selling art around the edge of the square, but they did find some nice trees to climb in!  We left our friends to wander the shops there and we headed through the French Quarter to the French market.  There was a lot to see here – delicious looking food and gifts, as well as a man shelling oysters which he showed the girls.  He looked for a pearl for them but no joy.  We tried to get the girls to try the oysters but they weren’t interested in that either (good job too as I’m almost certain they wouldn’t have liked them!)  We did find them delicious smoothies (piña colada for lovely husband and chocolate banana and mango for us girls) which improved their moods no end, thankfully!
The buildings in the French Quarter are wonderful.  There are trees and flowers everywhere and the ironwork on the balconies makes everything seem even more beautiful.  Unexpected secret gardens at the back of shops are another treat and it is so nice to wander around, looking up so as not to miss anything.
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It was very hot and sticky, so we wandered across the road to the street car stop and waited for the street car to arrive.  It was a beautiful vehicle and the breeze from the open windows was very welcome.  The girls were fascinated by the way the seats all changed direction before we got on, as we got on at the end of the line.  The driver walked through flipping the wooden seat backs to the other side so that all the seats were forward facing.
New Orleans street car

New Orleans street car

We ended up at the Desire Seafood and Oyster bar (part of the Royal Sonesta Hotel) for lunch and the surroundings were beautiful (see here).  The food, however, was pretty unremarkable (eat elsewhere if you have a choice!)  The hotel itself looked lovely though.
We met up with our friends on the Steamboat Natchez Riverboat, the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi, to go on the 2 hour trip up and down the river.  The girls wanted to visit the engine room (perfect for a hot day!) and watched the paddle going round in the water.  It was interesting to hear a little history of some of the places we passed, like the sugar refinery:
Sugar refinery

Sugar refinery

As we sailed past I was expecting the commentator to tell us that the refinery had been hit by Hurricane Katrina, hence it looking almost derelict and as though a fire had swept through the building.  But no, apparently this is how a working sugar refinery looks!  There was evidence of Katrina in the piles and piles of crushed cars which had been wrecked in the flooding and that were still awaiting collection and also some of the piers that we passed:
Washed away piers

Washed away piers

The girls were still hot and now feeling very tired, so thank goodness we had bought a box of pralines from the Royal Praline Company of New Orleans, which were delicious, to provide some distraction!  We walked back to the apartment via the shop so we could buy some more.
We then took the girls for a wander along Bourbon Street, by accident, as even during the day some of the sights need some explanation!  And more than that, the smell of Bourbon Street can be stomach-turning at times (a mix of vomit, stale beer, cocktails and urine so bad that the streets are washed every morning and a lot of broken glass has to be picked up!) One of our friends here had suggested that even taking the girls to New Orleans was a bad idea and the shooting the week before at the Mother’s Day parade had made us feel a little uneasy, but we shouldn’t have worried as everything felt very safe.  There were several amazing sights along Bourbon Street in broad daylight, but the ones that caught the girls eyes were the man in a skort (skirt/shorts combination that are a part of school uniform for girls at their school) and a semi naked lady painted in blue from top to toe. These were not the most shocking sights, but I’m glad these were the ones the girls noticed most!  We decided that perhaps getting them back to the apartment without too many more interesting sights was the best idea…
The Little One had her own Marilyn Munroe moment when she walked over an air vent, which had us all giggling for ages.
The Little One is Marilyn Monroe

The Little One is Marilyn Monroe

My Lovely Husband and I then went out for a wander. After 30 minutes laughing at people so drunk they could hardly stand up trying to stay on a bucking bronco (simple pleasures, eh?!), we headed to a jazz bar.  Whilst we drank a mojito we listened to a great band play and wished the girls could have seen this, without seeing the other more interesting things on Bourbon Street.
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On the way back to the apartment, we found someone assisting the police with traffic and crowd control:
It was brilliant and really brought a smile to so many faces.  He had a large crowd just standing around watching, which we joined for 5 minutes.  I showed the Big One the film for the first time, expecting her to find it hilarious (her current favourite word) but she just thought he was a very helpful person.  As did we; someone needed to keep the pedestrians safe and out of the road!
On Sunday morning we packed up our stuff and went for breakfast at Jäger (go there for great scrambled eggs).  Then we started our long journey home but with a planned stop just outside New Orleans, at Laura plantation.  This fascinating place was run as a sugar plantation for 200 years by Creole families. For 100 of these years the head of the business was a woman (sometimes as young as 13) as the men struggled to stay alive past 40 (due to drinking, gambling, drugs and a love of guns and fighting!) so this was fascinating for the girls to learn about.  Louisiana had equal rights for women a very long time before the rest of America.
Laura Plantation

Laura Plantation

More difficult to explain was the use of slaves, where the slaves came from and why.  We were shown slave houses and told stories of mistreatment of slaves, but also stories of better treatment too.  The Brer Rabbit stories were written by a man who had listened to the slaves tell folk stories from Africa (mainly Senegal) and wrote them down.  The stories were collected at the Laura plantation and 5 other plantations close by.  The other claim to fame for the Laura Plantation is that Fats Domino’s family worked there, but this didn’t mean much to the girls.
New Orleans was a great place to visit and I look forward to go back there again when the girls get a little bit bigger.

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