Friday, November 11, 2011

New Orleans Vacation Days 1 and 2: food, wooden boats, plantations, and daiquiris.

I wanted to blog about our recent 9-day vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana in real time, nightly while we were there, but there was too much eating and digesting on which to concentrate so that I could be ready for the next meal.  Seriously, the food in NOLA is supreme.  I'll get to all the tasty details in the next few posts, but out of all the things we did that week, eating fabulous food with friends and going into the swamp were the greatest. But I know y'all wanna know the particulars of our trip, so here goes.

Day 1:  Arrival 

Very befittingly of the "week of good food", I'll start of this series of posts with our first meal.  We arrived New Orleans on the afternoon of Saturday, October 15th.  Checked into the Avenue Plaza Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, which is an old hotel that has been recently remodeled.  It was a nice place and a good value.  To stretch our legs we took a walk to Magazine Street, where we happened into Down the Hatch pub.

Here I had my first Po' boy. Being in New Orleans, I tried the catfish, which was good, but being the Po' boy newbie that I was, I must have said "no" when the waitress asked if I wanted it "dressed", so it was just a roll and fried catfish.  Mayo needed.  The onion rings were absolutely the best rings I have ever had.  Only the first of "bests" for the week. We also tasted Abita beer, the local microbrew.  Not as tasty as our Utah brews, but really quite drinkable, as I proved each day of this vacation.

On the walk back to our base of operations (hotel), we saw this cool intersection between tree and fence.

And I enjoyed the Spanish architecture so common in this area.

We caught a nice evening sunset from the sundeck on our hotel before crashing for the night in our room.  How lame is that to turn in early on our first Saturday night of vacation when we were a short street car ride to the French Quarter?!  Hey, give us a break, we were on vacation and we felt like sleeping, so there.

Day 2: Wooden Boats and a Mansion

Day 2, Sunday, started out with a fabulous breakfast of eggs and black beans at the super hip and funky Slim Goodies Diner on Magazine Street. I don't know how they make everything taste so good in New Orleans. I have been told it has a lot to do with butter.  Whatever the case, I didn't know eggs and black beans could be such a truly satisfying experience.

With our bellies full, we drove across the 24-mile long (!) Lake Pontchartrain causeway.  The causeway was built in the '50s and '60s by sinking 9500 concrete pilings into the lake.  It is the world's longest bridge over water.   

Lake Pontchartrain is not truly a lake, it is an estuary. The north end of the lake is almost fresh, while the side that connects to the Gulf of Mexico is about half as salty as sea water.  I was surprised to know the lake is generally only 12 to 14 feet deep.  Here is a crummy map to give you the layout of where we drove on Day 2.

Our destination of all this bridge driving was to go to the Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival.  Being close to the lake and probably below sea level, I see why the houses are built like this.

OK, I know that picture might not seem strange to our more worldly readers, but to a girl from North Dakota, building your house on stilts is a great way to ensure you will have an indoor flood, from frozen and burst pipes of course.  It is an odd thing to get used to seeing.

The Wooden Boat Festival
I wouldn't call either Drew or myself boat people (not the refugee kind nor the hobby kind), but I like outdoor festivals and when Drew mentioned it, I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do on vacation.

While we walked around with Landshark beers or fruit slushy frozen drinks (it was 85 degrees and muggy), we admired the beautiful wooden boats.

And other good festival things.
Red beans and rice, shrimp jambalaya? Who cares it's all good.

Drew was drawn to this particular festival by the promise of a homemade wooden boat parade followed by a race in those same homemade wooden boats.  Teams were given something like 48 hours to build a wooden boat that was river-worthy enough to paddle in a ~1/2 mile race.  There must have been some prize for funniest boat and crew, because there were some clever and outrageous boats.
Unfortunately, not all of them floated that well.  Several of the entrants in the race had to be towed back to shore before the race even started.  The spectacle was pretty fun to watch, and we had a good time looking around.

I even tried my first crawfish in the form of a crab cake with crawfish sauce. It was pretty yummy, and I gained courage that I knew I would need later in the week when faced with the much-loved-by-Drew crawfish etouffee.

River Road Mansion

My next new experience was in getting to Oak Alley Plantation on River Road.  I thought the Lake Pontchartrain causeway was long, but this was something else.  We drove on I-55 around the west side of Lake Pontchartrain, over the Manchac Swamp Bridge and two connected roads for mile after mile after mile (38, I later found out) on elevated roadway through swampland.  It was very cool and a little bit scary.  Sure, we were on the U.S. Interstate System, but if something had happened (earthquake?) to damage that freeway, where would one go?  Down on the earth 15 feet below us was an endless expanse of water and cypress and mud and swamp things.  Not really terra firma at all. In fact, the pilings on which the Manchac Swamp Bridge is built are driven down 250 feet into the muck.  We didn't stop to take a better picture (frankly, I would have been kind of wigged out if we had), so this is the best I could do, but believe me, it was pretty darn cool.

I've been to the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where the River is so small you can jump over it.  Now here we were almost at the very end of the mighty Mississip, where it is levied and spanned by gigantic bridges.

We crossed the river to get to the old plantations along River Road in Vacharie where we headed for Oak Alley Plantation.  We were a bit too late to catch the last mansion tour, but that was just fine because we had the gorgeous grounds to ourselves while we read the tourist signs explaining that the Oak Alley Plantation was an antebellum sugar cane plantation, showing where the slave quarters were, and telling us that the amazing double row of live oak trees was planted in the early 1700s.
Of all the history there, the row of live oak trees impressed me the most.  The trees are huge and scraggly and so graceful.  We overheard the tour guide say that the life span of one of these trees is about 800 years, and here they are only 300 years old.

I loved how the branches come down and touch the ground.

We look puny next to this big old guy.

The mansion was built in 1837-1839, a hundred years after the trees were planted.

We stayed until we started to get hungry, and then headed back toward New Orleans.

Drew went to college at Tulane University in New Orleans.  Since I've known him now for almost 7 years, I believe he has told me 77 stories of the drive-thru daiquiri stands he used to frequent while a thirsty young college student.  Not that I didn't believe such places existed. I did, but I thought surely, with 20 years of passing legislation against drunk driving, the daiquiri stands would have gone the way of 18 year olds being able to drink legally. What little faith I have in non-Mormon run state legislatures! The drive-thru daiquiri stand is alive and well and I had a huge slushy orange-strawberry-pina colada flavor in a cup to prove it.

What I found most amazing is that after the nice lady at the drive-thru window took my order, she asked what Drew wanted.  He was driving for heck's sake!  So I'm all about freedom, but don't you think that is a little unsafe?  To me, the paper cover on the straw they put in the cup didn't scream "legal closed alcoholic beverage suitable for transportation in your vehicle".

We kept driving back to New Orleans and because we got back to the city kind of late, we simply ate at a place Drew remembered as having ice cold beer (real ice crystals on the top of each glass, according to him).  The restaurant that was attached to Madigan's Bar was GB's Patio Grill, and it was just a normal meal. Not bad, but nothing to blog about.  The beer wasn't even that cold. 

So our first full day of our New Orleans vacation was spent mostly out of the city and we had lots of fun.

Here is a map with links to the places we went on those first two days.

View New Orleans vacay 2011 Days 1 & 2 in a larger map

1 comment:

  1. On my only trip to New Orleans, I took a tour of Oak Alley. Loved it for all the reasons you mention! Your new header on the blog is spectacular. I wish I had been there late in the day for that light!
    Glad you had a fun trip and I wish I'd had a knowledgable tour guide to show me the drive-thru daiquiri stand :)