Spring Break in NOLA

For spring break this year my family went to New Orleans. We hadn’t had a big “family vacation” in a looooong time, so it was awesome to have that experience again. Also: weird. In the past 3 or 4 years all of the trips I’ve taken have been with friends, which is a remarkably different experience compared to vacationing with family. In my experience, traveling with your friends involves less bickering, but also much lower standards of living (five people crammed in a tiny car for hours, $1 pizza for dinner every night, sleeping 3 people to a bed, etc.).

This post is going to be once big recap of the entire trip, which started last Sunday (3/18) morning and ended Friday (3/23) night. I’m throwing all kinds of stuff into it: photos I took with my “good” camera, crappy cell phone shots and (HILARIOUS AND ENLIGHTENING) tweets. Beginning with this one.

 There actually was a bird in there. Some airport security system, huh?

Riley and me at the (bird-infested) Tulsa airport.

My parents (Karen and John) on the plane. Honestly I just took this one because my mom kept taking pictures of Riley and me and I wanted to get even.

Our first hotel. We couldn’t book there all the way through the week so we moved a few blocks down to another hotel Wednesday morning.

After we made it and checked in we walked over to the French Quarter, where we ended up spending most of our time during the trip.

It was very quaint and charming.

The Mississippi River.

Who doesn’t love bubbles? (Unfeeling robots, that’s who.)

There were lots of street performers working for tips in the Quarter. This one had dragged an unsuspecting couple into his magic act.

There were street musicians seemingly everywhere we turned. And most of them were incredibly talented. Huge crowds would gather around whoever was playing. This kid was definitely the youngest we came across. (Okay, so he didn’t actually really play, but how adorable is he??)

New Orleans weddings have a parade through the streets after the ceremony, with the bride and groom leading, a brass band following and the rest of the wedding party and guests after them. An awesome tradition that we came across twice during our stay.

On the first day we were there my family and I were just walking around exploring when suddenly I heard a voice yelling “EMILY NIELSEN!” I looked up to find a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen since graduation running toward me, followed by another friend I went to school with and also hadn’t seen in years. They were in the city on a mission trip, and we just happened to be on the same street corner at the same time. What are the odds?

Naps are a big component in ALL of my vacations.

This is strikingly true. That night we ate at Gumbo Shop. I had chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, with bread pudding for dessert.

And the next morning we had a gigantic brunch at The Ruby Slipper Cafe.

Pepperjack cheese omelet, breakfast potatoes, biscuit with strawberry jam and pancakes.

After our monstrous brunch we waddled over to the Algiers/Canal St. Ferry to take in the Mississippi and the city itself.

My dad worked on a tugboat in Baton Rouge in his youth. He has some interesting stories.

After the ferry we walked to the French Market in the Quarter. Along the way I saw this store, which sold religious paraphernalia.

Have you seen this bird?

That night we ate a a place on Bourbon Street called Remoulade. I had a Cajun sausage po’boy (I pretended I didn’t remember I’d stopped eating red meat two years ago while on this trip).

Bourbon Street is, in a word, “gross.” Here’s a picture my mom snapped of my brother there on our way to a ghost tour:

Our ghost tour was with Haunted History Tours, and it was a walking tour around the French Quarter to some of the oldest and most notoriously haunted sites in the city. Our guide, Jesse, wasn’t what I was expecting him to be. He wasn’t theatrical, but just well spoken and obviously knowledgeable about the subject.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a believer, but it was fascinating to hear all about the history of the area and some of the horrifying things that happened in New Orleans. The LaLaurie house was probably the most interesting (and horrifying) places we went. Nicolas Cage owned it for several years (until it got repossessed) and he talked about it on Letterman in 2008:

  Another fun fact: it’s right down the street from Brad Pitt’s house.

After the tour ended we had our first of many encounters with Cafe Du Monde, which is basically heaven on Earth. They serve beignets, which are French donuts that basically taste like a solid funnel cake.

While we were there a guy sitting behind me jumped up on his chair, loudly yelled for everyone’s attention, and got the entire restaurant to sing happy birthday to his (mortified) friend, who alternated saying “I hate you” and “It’s not actually my birthday” through the entire song. After he sat back down, the guy who’d stood on his chair picked up his beignet and blew powdered sugar all over the poor “birthday boy.” It was a good night.

On Wednesday the guys went golfing, and my mom and I started off the day with massages. Here’s a photo of my looking obscenely relaxed after the fact:

For lunch we ate at Mother’s.

We split a Famous Ferdi Po’boy (ham, roast beef, debris, gravy, cabbage, mustard and mayo) and a bowl of red beans and rice.

It started getting pretty windy later that afternoon while mom and I were walking around the Quarter.

After the guys finished golfing we all met up again and went to the National WWII Museum to see the incredible 4D movie Beyond All Boundaries.

After the movie we ate at the restaurant within the museum, The American Sector. I had the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans. It was phenomenal.

The music selection was a little odd though. At one point our waiter came up to us while Elton John was playing, anguishly asked, “What is this?” and then “If you’ll excuse me I’m going to go bash my head against the wall.”

That night we went to Preservation Hall, a historic jazz venue.

The place is tiny, so in order to get in you have to stand in line several hours beforehand. We met a fellow Oklahoman and a German exchange student named Julie while we were waiting outside, and kept ourselves entertained by getting to know them better.

Preservation Hall has a cat! How could I resist? (My mom later pointed out a sign about her that said “Be careful of the cat! She BITES!” But whatever, she obviously loved me so much she couldn’t bare to hurt me.)

Once we made it inside we realized that we would have to stand for the whole show. And after 3 days of solid walking that didn’t exactly seem like a tempting opportunity. But as soon as the band came out I forgot all about the pain, because they were incredible.

Unfortunately we only got to see them play for a little less than an hour before we were ushered out and the next group of people waiting outside were brought in.

What was there to do but drown our sorrows at Cafe Du Monde?

The next morning we switched hotels (complete with a lovely view of a deck we didn’t have access to)

and then drove around the city a little more, and saw some residual storm damage from Katrina.

I’m glad Lump wasn’t outside, because I’m not sure I would have been able to resist.

Because of the rain, we decided to go to the Audubon aquarium.

Apparently stingrays like lettuce.

While some of the penguins were eating another was stealing nesting material from their nests.

That night we ate at Mulate’s. My mom and I shared chicken with fettuccine alfredo and red beans and rice.

Here’s what the aftermath of most of my meals looked like:

On Thursday it was still raining. So…

We ate at Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant NOLA for lunch that day. We had amazing food everywhere we went, but this was above and beyond.

Ciabatta and Jalapeno Cornbread

Louisiana Blue Crab Cake
with Spicy Corn Relish and Crystal Butter Sauce

Buttermilk Fried Breast of Chicken
with Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Country Ham Cream Gravy and Sautéed Sugar Snap Peas
(I’m kind of crying writing about this food)

Cinnamon Bread Pudding
Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream, Toffee Bits, Crème Fraiche, Dulce de Leche Sauce

Warm Ooey Gooey Cake
Moist Chocolate Cake, Marshmallows, Toasted Coconut, Coffee Ice Cream

After that incredible feast we walked back through the French Quarter to a strip of antique stores and shopped for a couple of hours.

I also bought this from a witchery shop called ‘Hex.’ To help me land the ideal summer internship, obviously.

And then we came across another wedding.

For our last meal we went back to Gumbo Shop, because it was a perfect first meal in New Orleans, and why not finish it off that way?

(I’m going to spare you more food pictures because I ordered the exact same thing I ate the first night.)

Except not really, because afterward we went to Palace Cafe for dessert.

We sat at the dessert bar and got to watch the chef prepare all of them.

I had a brownie.

The next morning we woke up early so we could have one last look around before we headed to the airport.

And then it was time to go.

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