The number one thing I think of when I think of New Orleans is the cuisine there. From creole to cajun to seafood dishes, there’s a wonderful variety of dishes to choose from. And the number one food item that I wanted to try during the trip was some beignets from Cafe du Monde. So on Sunday morning, I took a stroll down Decauter Street to the cafe. When I got there, the place was already hopping at 8:30 in the morning. Almost every table was taken, and as soon as one came free, it was quickly claimed by someone. I managed to get a table fairly quickly and soon had an order of beignets and a cafe au lait before me. The beignets were drowning in powdered sugar. It’s pretty much impossible not to eat one without getting some of the white stuff on you (and really, that’s half the fun of eating one). After brushing off all the sugar, I headed over to visit the National Park Service (NPS) office.
The NPS has several parks in and around New Orleans. One of the free activities that they offer is a morning walking tour that goes from Decauter St. to the riverwalk area and back over to Jackson Square. Along the way, the ranger talks about the history of the area and points out various places of interest. I found the hourlong tour informative and it served as a nice introduction to the city for me. After the tour, I just walked around the French Quarter for a few hours, visiting places like the old US Mint, Louis Armstrong Park, the French Market and Jackson Square. I did try to stop by the Central World Market for a muffuleta, but they were closed on Sunday. So I headed over to the Gumbo Shop instead to get some tasty chicken and sausage gumbo and shrimp jamabalaya.
After lunch, I wandered down to the riverwalk and took the free ferry across the Mississippi river to Algeirs Point. There really isn’t much to see on that side of the river, but it was a good spot to really look at the city skyline. I also found the area where many Mardi Gras floats used to be built and stored at.
The evening was the highlight of the day for me. My uncle had recommended going to a place called Preservation Hall to hear some good jazz music. The hall itself is quite small and doesn’t offer things you might find in a jazz bar like drinks or dancing space. Instead, the goal of the hall as it’s stated on the website is to “welcom[e] people of all ages interested in having one of the last pure music experiences left on the earth.”
And that is exactly what it was. The doors to the hall opened at 8pm, and when I got there at 8:10 it was nearly full.
The band that night was going to do three shows of 45 minutes each, separated by 15-minute intermissions. I ended up staying for all three shows. It was a completely immersive experience for me. I had gotten a spot on the floor front and center of the band, so I could watch them work their instruments and hear all their comments. Many of the band members had been playing for several and the leader of the band jokeily introduced most of the songs as “songs that had been played around the city for many, many years”. The band was made up of a saxaphonist, pianest, trumpet/clarinet player, bass, drum, and a vocalist. During some of the later performances, an elderly man in a dashing gold suit would come up and sing and dance to the songs as well.
But the most fun moments came from a 92-year-old woman sitting near the front of the stage. I don’t know what her story was, but she was completely into the music. I got the impression that she may have been in a jazz band in the past. I’m not sure what was more fun- watching the band, or watching her watch the band. She would often close her eyes and sing along or tap her foot to the beat.
Alas, the show had to end evetually. So I headed back to my hotel by walking down Bourbon St. one more time. And ended up getting hit in the head by flying beads. Only in New Orleans.
Stay tuned for Day 3 and the conclusion tomorrow!