New Orleans, LA

2/12/18: New Orleans! Mardis Gras! The French Quarter! Bourbon Street! Parades, beads and beignets! And here we are, in the middle of it all…

Before we left Memphis, the weather forecast for Louisiana was rain. Lots of rain. They were expecting up to 6 inches in some areas. We really didn’t want to visit during that kind of weather, so we stopped in Jackson, Mississippi for a couple days to wait out the storms. All we will say about Jackson is this: it wouldn’t be our first choice of places to visit. We’ll leave it at that. But, after the rain passed, we travelled down to Slidell, LA, about 20 miles outside of New Orleans.

We made the trip into New Orleans on Monday, the day before Mardis Gras. It’s the second busiest day of Carnival, and has recently been named Lundis Gras. Carnival, the overall celebration, begins on Epiphany (January 6), and runs until Mardis Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The entire Carnival season is filled with parades, balls, and festivities, but the biggest days of the celebration are Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday), and Lundis Gras (Fat Monday). On those days there are multiple parades, parties, and millions of people celebrating the end of the Carnival season. Visitors cram shoulder to shoulder on Bourbon Street, the central street in the city’s French Quarter district. People on the building’s balconies throw bead necklaces, bracelets, and other trinkets. The streets on the parade routes are lined with people, enjoying the floats and trying to catch all the “throws” that the parade participants fling into the crowds (necklaces, coins, etc..). On Mardis Gras and Lundis Gras, the entire city shuts down. Businesses and schools close, and most everyone takes to the streets to celebrate. Needless to say, it’s quite the festive place.

When we first got there, we saw a line of people outside one of the cemeteries waiting for a tour. We decided to join them. It was quite interesting. New Orleans is below sea level (and, apparently, sinks further below by 1 inch per year). Because of this, nobody is buried below ground, but are rather interred in above-ground tombs. The tombs are typically owned by whole families, so when the first person dies they are placed lying down in the tomb. The heat dessicates and dries the body into a mummy-lie state, and when the next person dies, the first corpse is pushed to the back of the tomb, usually dropping into a cavity at the back of the tomb made especially for all the remains that eventually pile up, and the second is placed lying down. Repeat for each family member. Not a pretty picture but hey, that’s what happens!

The cemetery we visited contained the third most visited tomb / gravesite in the entire United States, that of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. She lived from 1800 to 1881, and has become somewhat of a legend in certain circles. It’s said if you make an ‘X’ on her tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb, and yell out a wish, she will grant it. If it comes true, you must return to the tomb, circle your ‘X’, and leave an offering, or she will become angry (and you DON’T want that to happen). We didn’t touch the tomb. It’s also interesting that she is interred in a Catholic cemetery, where her religion is not tolerated. We asked about the other two more frequently visited tombs / graves. Number one is Elvis Presley in Memphis, TN, and number two is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

After the cemetery tour, we wanted something to eat, so we made our way to the famous Cafe Du Monde for some beignets. The cafe was on the opposite side of the French Quarter from the cemetery, so on the way, we took our first stroll down Bourbon Street. It was a little early in the day, so it wasn’t quite packed full of people then, but it was still busy. We caught a few beads, took a few pictures, and weaved our way down the street. We saw an impromptu street band playing jazz as they walked down the street with a large crowd following. The naked cowboy was there, along with the naked cowgirl. A man, painted gold and sitting perfectly still on a box, was holding up both middle fingers to the passers-by. Young kids were drumming on empty buckets. And a dominatrix was in the street, whipping people who got a little too close (or who just wanted to be whipped). You know, just the normal sights…

We passed Jackson Square and saw the line for the cafe. It was so long that we almost thought twice about standing in it, but we also figured we wouldn’t get a second chance, so we waited. Forty-five minutes later we were sitting down, enjoying hot chocolates and beignets. Cafe Du Monde is also famous for their chicory coffee, which we didn’t try. The beignets were pretty good. They are simple bakery pastries, served warm, with a pile of powdered sugar on top. We don’t think we’d wait 45 minutes again for them, but we wouldn’t pass them up if we could get right in!

After lunch we walked through the French Market area, shopping for souvenirs and just people watching. Some homeless people offered us their dog for a dollar. We bought a few things, walked back to the car, again via Bourbon Street, and dropped off the things we bought. By then it was close to the two parades we wanted to see, so we walked over to Canal Street to scout a suitable location. We were told to get to a parade spot an hour early due to the crowds that would grow. We found a good spot, but it was at the end of the parade route. Little did we know how long we would have to wait. We got to our spot around 4:00 and the first parade started at 5:15. But it took almost 2 hours for the parade to get to where we were located! By the time it came and went, we only had 20 minutes left in our parking area (we paid $10 for 10 hours, and adding the 11th hour would have cost $50). Needless to say, we missed the second parade, which is really the one we most wanted to see, as Harry Connick, Jr. and his dad were the founders of that krewe (an hour later, after driving back to Slidell and having dinner, the 10:00 local news said the second parade still hadn’t reached where we were standing). Oh, well…

All in all, we really enjoyed what we saw of New Orleans. And even though neither of us are drinkers or partiers (anymore, lol…), we are both glad we went during Mardis Gras. It’s something that has to be experienced at least once. And we would love to go back someday, to see more of the city and what it has to offer, but next time it will not be during Carnival. It was fun, but we would really like to see more of the history and diversity that this unique city has to offer.

Pics of New Orleans

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