Inger and Jeff Latreille
~Wednesday, November 10, 2021~
Woke up to a beautiful, fairly quiet morning in our concrete bunker just outside the French Quarter (otherwise known as “Vieure Carre ''). The longer we stay here, the more it seems we hear those wailing sirens which don't fall well on Sadie’s ears. But it comes with being in a big city. She’s probably wondering where in the world we have brought her. “Where’s my forest, where’s my freedom to run?” And it seems nearly all the RV’ers in this park have pets. So she’s not alone.
After getting some energy out for Sadie, we got on our bikes and headed for a New Orleans tradition…….the French Market Coffee stand of Cafe du Monde, established in 1862, open 24 hours/day, except
Christmas and evacuations 😳. The covered patio wasn’t too crowded, and the line was not too long. They are known for their scrumptious beignets and Cafe Au Lait, cash only. They come 3 to a bag, so assuming they were small, I thought we should order 3 bags. They were twice the size. But do you think we had any trouble splitting the third bag? Of course not! While a saxophonist played a variety of jazz tunes, we savored each and every bite along with a Cafe au Lait for me and Jeff...a hot chocolate. Beignets now are part of OUR family tradition on Christmas morning. This started about 16 years ago after Jeff’s parents had returned from a trip to New Orleans raving about these delicious square, french-style doughnuts doused in powdered sugar. I’d never even heard of a beignet. When I realized they weren’t that hard to make, I tried it. Delicious!! I would make the dough on Christmas Eve and refrigerate it overnight. After our “present opening” the next morning, we would head to the kitchen churning out plates of hot beignets, enthusiastically delivered by our kids. Our neighbors loved the gesture, and would look forward to those treats every year. Hmmm….maybe we’ll do a beignet delivery this Christmas at our campground!
After we took a glance at the Mississippi River close to Cafe du Monde, we rode over to Jackson Square (a National Historic Landmark), to check out the
St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in North America and one of New Orlean’s most iconic landmarks. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside. Just in front of the church is a bronze statue of Andrew Jackson, a representation of Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. He would later become the 7th President of the United States. After Jackson’s death in 1845, the Place D’Armes was renamed Jackson Square in his honor.
We decided to lock our bikes just outside the square in a prominent area as we continued walking through the French Quarter. One of our first streets was Bourbon Street, the notorious “party street” that embodies the wildness of New Orleans. Picture balcony after balcony lined with beads; establishments with open doors, open windows and owners trying to lure you into their scene; competing live music at every turn. Day and night, there is a presence of many talented musicians, either on the streets or in the clubs, most with the iconic brass sound of saxophones and trumpets. There were quite a few percussionists in the streets too, playing their homemade instruments….plastic buckets and sticks. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t know what will. It is a world all its own, exciting and colorful. Did you know that Bourbon Street gets its name from a royal family, not from the amber colored beverage?
After a few hours of playing tourist, we picked up our bikes (yes, they were still there!) and went back to our RV site. It was nice to take a break from the stimulation, have a bite to eat and give Sadie some playtime. Jeff took a snooze while I did my writing. A few hours later we were refreshed and ready to hit the French Quarter nightlife.
Our original plan was to ride back into town, but Jeff’s rear bike light wasn’t working properly, so we decided to walk there instead. We’re always cautious about our surroundings and felt with our safer route, we’d be fine WALKING into town. Plus, it was still light out. Along the way, we noticed a few movie productions going on……..limited series “Iron Mike”, limited series “Kingswood”, and the series “Killing It”, all of which we’ve never heard of. Evidently there’s a production hotline for New Orleans where you can check out upcoming dates for filming in the “Big Easy”.
It didn’t take long for our attention to be redirected to the energy of the city; quite a difference from our earlier daytime experience. The music was louder, the crowd’s rowdier. We even saw a Darth Vadar character dancing in the streets to the tune of “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver (whatever floats your boat). A few voodoo stations and Tarot card readers were setting up shop either in the streets or on the sidewalks. In pursuit of the perfect to-go cocktail, we ended up at the iconic Pat O’Briens. The narrow, dimly lit hallway led to a captivating courtyard, split into the food/drink area or just drinks area. Just drinks for now. So much for our “to-go” beverage. The ambiance was so fun, we ended up staying. In fact our seat was next to the famous flame lit, colorful water fountain. Constructed in 1791, the building was a private home and later became the first Spanish theatre in the United States. After several owners, Pat O’Brien and his friend Charlie Cantrell purchased the “home”, turning it into the iconic nightclub that it is. It is also where dueling piano entertainment and The Hurricane cocktail were born. So we just HAD to order their signature drink, right? O.k. Now I can say that I’ve tried it, but wouldn’t say that it’s one of my favorites.
Next stop was a place we felt like we were stepping back in time called Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, actually the oldest building we’ve ever been in. Jean Lafitte was a privileged sailor, spy and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, supplying powder, flint and troops to General Jackson at Chalmette. Built between 1722 and 1732, it is one of the oldest surviving structures in New Orleans and thought to be used as a headquarters for negotiations in selling goods. It definitely has that old taverny kind of vibe with candles being its only source of light. I ordered a grape slushy drink called a Voodoo Daiquiri which was actually pretty good, Jeff a Lagunitas. Anyway, as I was sitting there, I noticed a very out-of-place “modern” jukebox with its flashing lights and messages. How is it that this very cool, old establishment gave into a high tech piece of entertainment in their place?? What happened to keeping up the authenticity? But even worse, was the message it flashed “pick your music without ever having to leave your seat?’, as if that’s what people need…becoming lazier. Is it going to kill you to get off your %&^* to pick a tune? And then there is the whole “scan your menu” ever since COVID. It’s time to bring out the real thing again people!! Sorry to vent.
Finally hungry, our last stop of the day was on a side street that we found completely on a whim (not like us since we’re such planners) called the Sylvain Restaurant. This would be the only place that required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to get in. We came prepared. Sylvain, set in an old carriage house, was built in the late 1700’s and got its name from the first opera in New Orleans. But man, what a meal. I think I had the best pasta dish I’ve ever had….Pappardelle Bolognese with Grana Padano (a softer, less crumbly cheese than parmesan). I told the waiter to please let the chef know about my positive review and found out that their handmade sausage and made from scratch pasta were the reasons for my 5-star assessment. Again, I gave into meat eating this evening, but will be back on my health wagon once we leave New Orleans. Jeff’s Pork Shoulder was equally delicious and the portions just right. Our waiter who had grown up in New Orleans shared stories about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and other violent storms from the past. New Orlean’s destruction comes mostly from flooding, not so much wind damage. Then you add a world pandemic into the mix, shutting down so many businesses. They certainly have taken a hit, but there is a resurgence and vibrancy coming back to the region. This is one resilient city!!
We nixed the Uber ride back to our RV park and cautiously opted for walking at a brisk pace. It’s just a few blocks away with a police station in our path. All good as we returned safe and sound.