Are you sick of my Instagram photos of New Orleans and the French Quarter yet?
No? Maybe? Yes?
Let’s go with no or the next two posts are going to bore the hell out of you. It could be worse.
I should probably warn you that I have just started detoxing from all the Hurricane Cocktails and local craft beers I had over there by having wine with dinner this evening. Green Tea would be better – don’t judge me. The problem is once NOLA gets into you, shaking off 4 days in the French Quarter and coming back to Canada just as BBQ season is about to start is like a battle of wills. Which I am obviously losing.
Last time we went I did a whole review of seeing New Orleans for the first time. This time, it was a bit different. This time we were pickier about where we stayed, where we went and most importantly where we ate.
Which of course despite our best efforts, didn’t go as planned. We were supposed to get to the French Quarter by 4 pm last Sunday. We got there at our equivalent of 8 pm (time zone change) due to a series of airplane repairs and other delays. Needless to say by the time we got unpacked and into our hotel it was well after 9 pm. At that point we were starving as we had not eaten since breakfast and had spent our afternoon and dinnertime sitting in our airplane seats on a tarmac.
So of course I did the only sensible thing I could. I dragged my husband late at night to Cafe Du Monde and got some beignets to have some sort of recourse at the end of this long travel day.
Now every trip or vacation I go on, teaches me several important lessons. So here are some of the fun ones I (we) learned on this one.
Good hotels with hot breakfasts included are my new favourite.
Last time we went to the French Quarter, we stayed at the Four Points Sheraton which is on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse. It was fine when we went the first time because we wanted to experience Bourbon and all that it entailed. This time we wanted a bit more quiet and a lot less smell.
Listen, Bourbon St. has a smell.
And it ain’t the scent of the streets being washed the morning after (they do that) but instead smells like a giant frat party died and in the heat it makes it 10x worse. You get the mix of cocktails, vomit and urine fresh with your morning sunshine.
Have I lost you yet?
Why did we come back? Because that’s just a small stretch of the French Quarter. Bourbon St. is Bourbon St. You have to understand what you are getting into. It is a giant party street with loud club kids, tourists, university and college students, strippers and Grandmother’s walking around with funnels of slushie cocktails wearing beads having the time of their lives.
You either accept it or you don’t. There is no in between. Whether it’s a Wednesday or a Saturday, it will be loud, busy and it will smell. And it will be this…
If that’s not your thing, go West or South of Bourbon and that’s what we did by staying at the Hotel Le Marais. And it was phenomenal. Clean and modern with excellent service. Did I mention quiet?
We got a room with a limited view that faced another side building/alleyway and we booked that intentionally to save money because we knew the only time we would really be in that hotel room was to sleep. There is way too much life outside those walls to stay indoors all day.
416 is Toronto’s Area Code and it was our room number. Nice.
One of my favorite features of the hotel was their hot breakfast. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal for a hotel to offer up a breakfast buffet but when you’re out late and wake up exhausted and starving the next morning, the last thing you want to do is get dressed to go out to eat at 8 am. It’s so nice to be able to just go downstairs, get fresh coffee and food and slowly wake up. Plus when you’re eating out all day, the costs of meals add up.
Loved our stay there and would definitely go back or recommend it to anyone.
If you see something you like, buy it. It may not be there the next time you go back.
This is a general rule that should be applicable to overall purchases of items you like. But when you’re on vacationing, it’s magnified tenfold. This is not the time to be indecisive. This is not the time to go “Oh I’ll just come back to the market tomorrow because I don’t want to carry a bag around with us all day because we just got out of the hotel.” Buy the item and bring it back to the hotel if you have to.
See these cute signs? I was like “I totally want that green one for our kitchenette/mini bar in the basement!”
And then I said the line above about not wanting to carry around a bag with me as we were just about to go walk everywhere as it was early morning. We went back the next day and the booth and its vendor were gone. That’s what I get for procrastinating.
Luckily the main Cafe Du Monde store also had them, so this may not be the best example. But what I did miss out on were signs that read this.
I saw this quote on t-shirts and wooden signs on our first trip and totally thought because they were in various stores everywhere last summer, that I could find one easily this time.
Gone. All of them.
I know if I had a Cricut I could probably make my own. But making or ordering a carbon copy online isn’t the same thing because when you look at a souvenir from a trip, you’ll remember that trip. Lesson learned.
PS – It gets cold.
Despite popular myths of the South always being warm and full of scorching temperatures, I froze my ass off at night. When we visited the first time, it was July and I am pretty sure I lost half my body weight in sweat just by waiting in line for beignets. This time, despite it being April, we were kind of like “Oh it may be spring down there but it won’t be like “our” Canadian spring and be that chilly.”
If you in any way get cold easily, have bad circulation or believe that abnormally low seasonal temps are a myth, bring pants and a sweater. The outdoor weather compounded by the insane A/C blasting in most bars and restaurants actually made it feel colder than our Canadian spring. And trust me that’s something we did not anticipate. I put in a sweater in my bag to keep warm on the plane (because planes are notorious for dry cold air). I wore it every single night.
Love art? Plan a way to get take it back.
This the biggest regret of this trip.
The local French Market and the dozens of beautiful art galleries in the Quarter all had these beautiful prints, photographs and other canvas works of art. Some galleries do offer shipping. But say you fall in love with a piece or a photograph done by an artist that has their work displayed in a booth or on the street. How are you going to get it home safely?
For those of you who bring big suitcases that you can cleverly and carefully pad clothing and the like around the piece, you may be ok. But if you’re like us and our tiny carry on travel suitcase and gym bag, there was no proper way to store some of them. They would have bent or easily ripped. There were these beautiful photographs that I saw in the market and we just did not have the proper containers to bring them back. What we should have brought was portfolio binder, a tube or some protective artists case that I could have put them in and carried them on the plane with.
New Orleans is filled with beautiful art from talented artists. If you even anticipate checking some of them out, bring some packing materials just in case. I honestly think I need to befriend someone in NOLA who can go to the market and mail me one. If I can explain where the vendor was.
It’s OK to be a tourist.
We both did a lot of reading of reviews of restaurants, the French Quarter, bars, etc. before we came here again. And the one thing that kept coming up over and over in reviews was the whole “This is a tourist trap” or “Don’t go where the tourists go, go where the locals go!”
Now I understand how the cliches and popular tourist destinations get their reputation. Like the notion that if you go to Times Square you will wind up taking a picture of other people taking pictures of Times Square or the hundreds (possibly thousands) of the same photo that appear in Google when you type in “Leaning Tower of Pisa Tourists” of people pretending to hold up the tower.
I get it. It’s been done. We’re too cool now to do it ourselves because everyone else has done it. So we try to pretend we’re Anthony Bourdain and his production crew on Parts Unknown and discover all the other places that are meant to be much cooler than the popular spots.
But what if you want to see the popular spots?
The best analogy I can give is with the CN Tower in Toronto. We lived about 5 minutes away from the tower for over a decade. Every day consistently there were tons of tourist groups from all over the world waiting in line to go to the observation deck, taking photos of the tower and so on. Should they have not gone on the CN Tower because it is a huge tourist attraction? Of course not. Some of these people traveled half way across the world and this would probably be their first, last and sometimes only time in their lives that they would ever get a chance to visit it.
There’s obviously a lot more to Ontario than the City of Toronto and the CN Tower, just like there’s more to New Orleans than the French Quarter. But certain landmarks and places are huge draws for a reason and when you go there, it will make a lot of sense as to why so many people fall in love with them or want to see them.
It just felt like every time we read a review, there seemed to be this all or nothing mentality when it comes to what people think is right to do when you’re traveling or on vacation.
But my story isn’t going to be your story. What you want out of your trip or vacation may not be what someone else wants out of theirs so what you get from it in the end, will vary greatly based on how you like to travel.
In which case try to take the location and restaurant reviews you read with a grain of salt. Because that’s what reviews essentially are. Just people sharing their experiences. Like our trip to the “Happiest place on Earth” last year which was more like an epic example of how not to have a family vacation. And yet there are millions of people every year who have the complete opposite.
Never apologize in the end for loving what you do and how you travel.
If your happiness on a trip means getting a beignet and sitting in Jackson Square watching jazz musicians play, then do it. If it means hopping into a cab, buying fresh crawfish and cooking them yourself over a campfire with your best friends, then do that.
We did in actuality do a lot of different things this time around. Like taking a bus ride out of the Quarter and seeing the Garden district. Went to a bunch of different venues. Spent a hell of a lot of time away from Bourbon. Tried out new places to eat. Some were new and good, others were bad.
We even bought kitschy street sign names for our kids from Uname It and Serkan who helped us had the patience of a saint with my indecisiveness on what to go on them and how they were to look. He asked if I worked with images and design and I said “Sometimes.”
Our kids loved them! That’s the most important thing.
In the end however, we kept coming back to the French Quarter. You can’t help where your heart is.
This trip we joked that we spent on Decatur because we always found ourselves back on that street.
I should have bought this. Damnit.
Musicians all the time, almost every major corner.
But I will say this repeatedly with an obviously huge personal bias, I think everyone should put coming to visit New Orleans and the French Quarter on their bucket list.
Tennessee Williams had it right “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”