Alright, well, I wasn’t planning on blogging this trip, but then decided, hey, it was my first time in a new state, why the heck not. So here we go. Whirlwind: Louisiana!
Nothing exciting really happened on what I’m considering “day 1.” It was really just my travel day. I boarded the first plane, arrived in Baltimore, boarded the second plane about 30 minutes delayed, but then landed safely in the New Orleans Airport. After dodging crowds and traffic, I was reunited with the lovely Rachel Bradley, whom I had not seen since 2014! I also got to meet her boyfriend, Lee, whom I had not met before. After hugs and lots of chit chat, we arrived at our accommodation for the evening, a Holiday Inn near the Superdome. By that point it was past midnight, and time for bed.
Our day in New Orleans didn’t exactly turn out the way we had planned, but that did not mean we didn’t find ways to entertain ourselves.
We started the day with brunch at a local restaurant called Biscuits and Buns on Banks. For best effect, pronounce the restaurant title with a southern drawl. Apparently this place was a favorite of Lee’s, and he recommended the chicken and waffles. Now, I’ve seen chicken and waffles advertised many a time. My first reaction is usually “Really? Why?” because those two things don’t sound like they’d go together. Let me tell you, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. It’s a sweet and savory delicacy. I mean, at least in the south. I’m sure if you try it north of the Mason-Dixon Line you probably won’t have the same luck. The owner of the restaurant came by to make sure everything was to our liking. He was a nice guy, and he kind of looked like a happy Cajun Colonel Sanders. I’d like to think anyone who is involved in the fried chicken business has a white goatee.
After we had stuffed our faces, it was time for a bit of a New Orleans tour. We started by driving through Uptown, which you could tell was a classy, trendy neighborhood. The homes are stately and ornate, decorated with columns and wrought iron. There are also plenty of restaurants and boutiques lining the streets. Also, year round, the trees are decorated with Mardi Gras beads. Once they get caught, they don’t take them down. So no matter when you visit, you still get the reminder that Mardi Gras happens right there.
After our driving tour, we parked the car downtown and made our way through the streets towards the French Quarter. Most of the “touristy” sites were in the quarter, so we were planning on having that be the home base of our time in the city. Well, little did we know that the day we had chosen for our tour was “Red Dress Day.” This was a celebration of sorts that had men and women of all ages putting on red dresses (yes, men too) and parading down Bourbon Street while intoxicated. Now, I’d wanted to go to Pat O’Brian’s and get myself a Hurricane–the famous alcoholic beverage of the establishment. But it was so insane, we barely made it into the bar. I’d also wanted to walk around a bit and take some pictures. Well, you couldn’t make it down the street without being squished like a sardine between sweaty people. So, basically, at that point we scrapped our plans for the day and decided to meet up with some of Rachel’s friends at a Brewery in the outskirts of town.
At this point of the day, we found ourselves on an impromptu Pub Crawl. We went to three different bars in the New Orleans area, sampling varied drinks and enjoying various atmosphere. My favorite was the second one we went to. It was an old building painted inside with colorful jazzy murals with an upstairs deck outside where we could observe the street below.
After popping around the New Orleans bar scene, we decided it was about time to head back to Baton Rouge, and the homestead of Rachel and Lee. We stopped at Zaxby’s for dinner, per my request, as it was my favorite fast food establishment when I’d lived in the south. Nothing tastes better than chicken fingers and Zax sauce. I’m still crossing my fingers one day I’ll wake up and they’ll have built one across the street.
After dinner we arrived at the apartment, and I was graced by the company of Marvin, Oliver, and Sam, the three feline tenants of the apartment. By some miracle, these guys didn’t irritate my allergies too much, which was good, considering they were vying for my attention and rubbing themselves all over me. They were sweet kitties though. They’re my favorite by default, because I don’t know any other cats.
Day 3 was pretty chill. We slept in and relaxed on the couch for a bit, watching some Netflix while the cats attacked each other playfully. After a couple hours, I asked to go swimming, because I wanted to take advantage of their apartment’s pool. I swear, I’d be much thinner if I had a pool. Rachel and I lounged in the shallow end for a few hours, free of responsibility and cell phones while wading in the water and splashing away the carcasses of dead bugs. Whatever. I was in a pool. I was happy.
After drying off and changing, we decided to go shopping at a complex not far from their apartment. It was like a little downtown shopping center with boutique stores located downstairs and apartment complexes above them. I bought an LSU running tank top and a pretty blue dress at a couple of the shops. We also saw that there were an assortment of snacks laid out for “teacher appreciation” at Anthropologie, and we each took something even though we had no intention of buying anything at the store. I mean, I’m a teacher. They were my entourage. We were entitled to snacks.
For dinner we went to a Mexican restaurant called the Lava Cantina. This place was pretty cool because it had the vibe of a rock bar. Think Hard Rock Cafe except legitimately edgy rather than a kitschy tourist trap. On top of the vibe, they also had really good food. We started with chips and salsa. Delicious. Then we got queso dip. More delicious. Margaritas. Deceivingly delicious. And then I got tacos and rice. Everything was SO tasty. I’m getting hungry again typing this.
Soon after we got back to the apartment, I disappeared for an hour to watch Game of Thrones, because obsession is real. I figured one hour of being antisocial wouldn’t kill me.
After waking up a little bit late, I wandered into the family room where Rachel and Lee were on the couch. Before I could say good morning Rachel excitedly announced, “We’re going back to New Orleans today!” I was immediately excited. This had not been the plan, I know, because we had originally planned to do all the New Orleansy things on Saturday and then not have to drive back. Well, those plans had been dashed by drunk people in red dresses. (Not that it’s odd to see crazy mobs of drunk people in the French Quarter, but we weren’t planning on it). But lucky me, we were going back!
As any city, one obstacle is always finding cheap parking. However, after some research, we found out that if you signed up for a rewards card at Harrah’s Casino, you would get your parking validated by playing games for 30 minutes, and you’d get 24 hours for free. That seemed like a no-brained. We sat at the penny slots for a little bit while the shiny machine sucked up our money penny after penny. After that, I set my sights on finding video roulette, my usual favorite at Foxwoods. I walked out of there $15 richer! Look at that. Free parking, and I made money. Take that, casino!
By this point it was past lunchtime and we were starving. We popped into the WOW Cafe, which was apparently a “Wingery.” After dabbling between options, we all chose chicken fingers that came with various dipping sauces. None disappointed.
Then we braved the heat. I haven’t yet spoken about Louisiana heat. GOOOOD LOOORD IT IS HOT IN LOUISIANA IN AUGUST. I mean I knew that going in but you don’t really KNOW until you experience it. Humidity at 80%. Temperature at 95 degrees. Sweat is a state of being. But I tell you, the air conditioning is on point. You could make a religion based on southern Louisiana air conditioning.
But despite the heat, we were back in the French Quarter! It was a night and day comparison. We’d come just after a downpour so the streets were nearly empty. You got to actually appreciate the authenticity of the architecture and the culture of the area. At any given time you could spot jazz music in the quarter. Sometimes you’ve got a mini brass band on the street corner, sometimes you’ve got teenagers playing bucket drums on the sidewalk. It’s kind of exactly what you’d expect to see in New Orleans, but I didn’t know I’d really find it.
Our first stop was Pat O’Brian’s. This was a famous bar and had kind of a classy dungeon feel to it. The lamp lights were green and the glass behind the bar was green stained glass. I had every intention of getting one of those hurricane drinks. We were inside and up to the bar with zero effort. Soon I had the delicacy in my hand. It was lovely. It had a sweet tropical cherry flavor. The only upsetting part of the experience was that it didn’t come in the traditional “hurricane glass” but that was ok. It tasted good enough to not need it.
It was starting to rain again so we darted through the streets to Tropical Isle, another famous bar in town. This place was like a Jimmy Buffet song on steroids. There were palm trees and coconuts and sharks and everything was decorated in fluorescent like green. Here the famous drink was the “Hand Grenade,” dubbed “the most powerful drink in New Orleans.” To avoid death, Rachel and I split one. This drink tasted like a green jolly rancher and I loved every bit of it. I’d say I liked the taste of this one better than the Hurricane, though that one was also good. I just prefer sour apple to cherry.
We decided the next sight to see was Cafe Du Monde, but we stopped by Jackson Square on our way to take some photos. This was the spot with the big pointy church, which looked very fancy and posh despite the fame of the French Quarter debauchery. Still, it looked lovely. We also learned that Jackson Square is named after Andrew Jackson, who is not from New Orleans or even Louisiana for that matter. Still trying to figure that one out.
Next was Cafe Du Monde, home of the famous Cafe Au Lait and beignet. Now, I knew I had to get one of these because if I didn’t, every person in New Hampshire would shun me, because all they said when I said I was going to Louisiana was “Oh you have to get a beignet!” (Like I wasn’t already planning that. Hello…) They had surprisingly speedy service despite the high-volume crowd, and soon after placing our order we were greeted by three coffees and six beignets, which were covered in a mountain of powdered sugar. Boy these did not disappoint. The coffee was divine and the beignets were delightful. I’d compare them way more to fried dough than doughnuts, though a bit breadier. Still super tasty. And I mean, they had to be. It was 95 degrees out and we were drinking hot coffees and eating fresh-out-of-the-fryer beignets and we were happy as hell.
For a nightcap, we popped down the street to a classy hotel, the Hotel Monteleone. You can always tell a hotel is classy when it’s awning is made from ornate wrought-iron. Inside and to the left is a bar that’s shaped like a carousel. Turns out the stools and the bartop actually rotate around the center of the bar like a carousel! Rachel and Lee had been there before but it had always been too crowded to actually snag a seat at the bar and were usually stuck in the lounge. Today, however, we were in luck! We took two rotations around the bar with the time it took to order and enjoy our drinks. We got to feel classy even though we were drenched in sweat with our hair a mess.
With that we headed home, and I’d felt much more fulfilled in my New Orleans experience. I’d I’d come home without eating the must-dos of New Orleans and sitting at Cafe Du Monde, I feel like I’d have missed out. But I got to see everything I’d wanted and more.
With my last full day in Louisiana, it was time to see some Baton Rouge sights to really round out my experience in the state. Now, I really only knew about LSU in terms of Baton Rouge attractions. I didn’t know if anything else was even there. But we did actually have plenty of stuff to keep us occupied, and Rachel found some hidden gems she’d never seen before even after living here for three years.
Our first stop was, well, LSU. Obviously. For all you northerners who have never visited a southern state- college football is a HUGE deal. And LSU is one of the big ones in the SEC, so I was in a college football haven.
We saw the outside of Tiger Stadium, which is probably the same size as Gillette. I mean maybe a little bit smaller but like not by much. Let’s just say Tiger Stadium could eat the Whittemore Center for breakfast.
Not far from the stadium was Mike the Tiger’s habitat. So not only is “Mike the Tiger” LSU’s mascot, in the same way that UNH’s mascots are Gnarlz and Wild E Cat, but they legitimately have a live Tiger. Whose name is Mike. Who lives on campus in a little habitat. Now, the reigning Mike recently passed away, so they’re between Mikes at the moment, but I did get to see his habitat. He’s got it made in there.
Next was a tour of Rachel’s stomping grounds. I got to see where she had all her comps and her office and the clinics where she works with all the kids and whatnot. Super cool to see where she does the awesome PhD stuff she does.
We also stopped by the bookstore to grab an iced coffee and get a break from the oppressive heat. I also compared prices of the merchandise to the tank top I’d bought a couple days before. I’m glad I bought it off campus.
Next we headed off campus and downtown. This was the heart of the city, laid out by high-rise buildings and businesses, all right along the Mississippi River.
Along the street I saw a banner advertising the Old State Capital with some pretty stained glass windows, and at that point announced that we were going in there. I’m glad we did. That building was gorgeous, intertwined with dark wood paneling and capped with multicolored stained class windows that reached all the way to the central roof of the building. There was also a cute little kid room that played calliope music while you could put on hats to pretend to be a judge or a steamboat driver. So of course we did.
Next we decided, since we’d visited the OLD state capital, perhaps we should also visit the current state capital. This one is apparently the tallest State Capital building in the country. Knowing that, of course we had to visit the top. The views were really neat, offering panoramic views of the river, the city, and the Exxon Mobil plant in the distance. We were also literally the only ones on the observation deck, which was cool.
Upon trying to leave the capital building, we stumbled upon the Senate and House Floors, which you could go right into! They were fancy, mahogany desks with nameplates and screens on each one. Also every desk got its own set of binders and a trash bin. Seemed like overkill, but I guess that’s just a perk of being a congressperson.
After getting further lost–literally, we went the wrong way like four times and had to ask two separate security guards how to leave–we headed back to the car and drove back to the apartment for one last dip in the pool.
The last must-do item on my agenda was to get some real Cajun food. Conveniently one of the best places around for Cajun food was right across the street from the apartment, Roux 61. Our waiter was funny, and rather surprised by my New Hampshire license. For food we decided to split an appetizer and enter, which was good, because that was more than enough food. For an appetizer, we went with “gator nuggets.” Go big or go home, am I right? They were actually really good! It was like chicken but a little chewier. And of course they were deep fried and served with a Cajun dipping sauce, so like, how do you mess that up?
For an entree, we got something labeled on the menu as a “seafood potato,” which is exactly what it sounds like. It was a GIGANTIC, genetically enhanced, Monsanto-trademarked mega-potato topped with ALLLL the shellfish. Crab, crawfish, shrimp, and oysters, all sautéed together in this tangy cream sauce. Bravo, Louisiana. Your education rates may be low, your crime rates may be high, but you at least have the seafood potato, and for that I thank you.
On our way back to the car, we stopped by the little pond that’s located behind the restaurant just because we thought it might be pretty. Not only was it cute, but we saw more turtles than I have ever seen gathered in one spot. We assumed people must have been feeding them considering they were all right up against the dock, and they were all waiting with their heads popped above the water. No joke. Like thirty wide-eyed hungry turtles all waiting to be fed.
After a quick ride to Walmart for ice cream and Oreos (the most stereotypical purchase we as two twenty-something white girls could have made, minus wine, which was already at home) we settled back in for the night, to the delight of the cats.
After nearly a week of adventure, it was time to make my way home. I packed my stuff back up into my suitcase, had a cup of coffee, and was then chauffeured by Rachel to New Orleans once again. Sitting here now, I’m about to land in Baltimore for a layover before my final leg into Manchester.
I’d like to give a shoutout to Rachel for putting up with me for a week and showing me around her stomping grounds, taking time off from her insanely busy life to do so. And for also remaining one of my absolute best friends even from a thousand miles away! And a shoutout to Lee, for not only being chauffeur and tour guide at times but for also letting me steal his bed for a few days so I could snuggle with his girlfriend. Stand up guy.