New Orleans, Louisiana – May 2016

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New Orleans, Louisiana

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An unexpected warm, sultry weekend in the Big Easy came courtesy of some friends of Geoff from his days way back in HP when we first moved to the US.

Clearly, Gay didn’t think I had written enough blogs for the year so far 😉 , so she took pity on us, and gave us her timeshare in the French Quarter. It is fitting then, that this blog is dedicated to Gay and Pete – without whom it simply wouldn’t be 🙂

Never ones to say no to a last minute (or any other type of) travel opportunity we grabbed our bags, made some emergency dinner reservations at our favorite NOLA restaurants and prepared for a weekend of gluttony deep-south style 🙂

Needless to say, New Orleans, in addition to being a famed party destination (for which we are now at least 30 years too old, thank goodness 😉 ), is also a foodie’s heaven. The first order of the day was to sample our way around every shape, style, variety and flavour of praline in every praline kitchen in the city (of which there are way too many) – chocolate pralines, cajun pralines, pecan pralines, soft ones, creamy ones, toffee ones and peanut butter ones etc etc (avoiding only the bacon pralines for obvious reasons) – in order to find the very best pralines to send to Gay and Pete as a thank you (it was a rotten job but somehow we pulled through 🙂 )

Thereafter, we were free to remind ourselves of the other culinary delights of the city.

Warm, sugared beignets with french coffee at Café du Monde (it has been 13 years since the last time I dipped my nose into an inch of dusty icing sugar – as inexplicably I managed to restrain myself the last time we visited – and it will highly likely be another 13 before I can justify the massive intake of calories again); crawfish po-boys; cajun shrimp with cornbread and remoulade; crawfish “paaaah” (pie 😉 ) and fried green tomatoes… naturally!

Then there are all the celebrity chef restaurants, french restaurants, homestyle and contemporary creole restaurants, artisan coffee shops etc etc… oh and in case I forget – the new Israeli restaurant Shaya – winner of the James Beard Foundation’s 2016 Best New US Restaurant of the Year. Either make a reservation a long time in advance (I spectacularly failed to obtain one)… or alternatively just stroll nonchalantly past whilst you are out and about on Magazine Street in the Garden District and nip in and beg the nice maitre’d for a couple of stools at the bar 🙂

In case anyone thinks we only went for the myriad of delicious food options, we did tear ourselves away from our plates from time to time to enjoy the many aesthetic splendours of the city. The French Quarter (specifically avoiding Bourbon Street which is not only rife with the detritus of human society but also, frankly, ripe with its various bodily functions melded repulsively with wafts of stale beer – regardless of the hour of the day) is a delightful blend of Spanish, French and Creole influence architecture, giant magnolia trees, elegant flower-decked ironwork balconies, lush tranquil courtyards, voodoo paraphernalia, palm readers, jazz musicians on street corners, horse-drawn carriages, artists, color, noise and chaos.

The French Quarter is as gorgeous as ever 🙂

Side-stepping the inebriated tourists staggering out of bars at 8am on a beautiful Saturday morning whilst simultaneously hopping over hobos and 20 something frat boys crouched behind trash cans relieving themselves of their liquid breakfasts (like I said, I’m glad we are far too old and boring to keep up with the seedier side of the nightlife in NOLA 😉 ) we embraced the day intent on consuming as many sugary calories as possible and headed off to tackle the various sights. It didn’t take long to remind ourselves how lovely the French Quarter is away from the Riverfront tourist t-shirt stores and Bourbon Street. We criss-crossed our way through the side streets of the Vieux Carré gazing up at the  intricate lacy balconies, meandering past the artists at Jackson Square and wandering aimlessly along our absolute favorite street – Royal Street – all the way into Faubourg Marigny (one of the more colorful neighborhoods with a distinctly caribbean style) and back down Frenchmen Street – where the locals go to listen to jazz and drink beer preferring, unsurprisingly, to leave Bourbon Street to the tourists.

Catching the St Charles Avenue streetcar (the vintage electric rail), a warm breeze blowing through your hair as you trundle along perched on a mahogany seat, feels like a ride through history at the end of which, alighting at Washington Avenue, you step back to an era of great opulence and splendour. The Garden District was created after the Louisiana Purchase as a settlement for the newly arriving Americans who neither wanted to live with (nor apparently were welcomed by) the Creoles and residents of European descent who lived in the French Quarter. The newcomers made their wealth in trade and commerce – cotton, sugar, shipping etc – and consequently built fabulous mansions in a variety of styles: antebellum Greek revival, Victorian and Italianate. Enormous oak trees dripping in spanish moss grace the streets and gardens and the air is filled with the scent of purple lilac, giant magnolia blossoms and old money 😉

Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District is similarly an unmissable escape from the crowds of the city – made more enchanting by its gradual decay and a liberal dusting of photogenic offerings to the deceased at various gravesides.

With Sunday lunch calling and nowhere specific to go we wandered down Magazine Street, known for its boutique shops and cafes, and eventually found ourselves outside of Shaya and as the heavens were smiling upon us we squeaked in at the bar and had one of our best meals in NOLA 🙂

Replete, we whisked ourselves away from the Garden District and passed the remainder of the late afternoon in City Park at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden which was also a positively peaceful haven with some positively excellent sculptures. We then meandered along the bayou at Bayou St John until finally collapsing back onto the street car to return for yet another gluttonous dining experience at Upperline in Uptown.

I tied up a few more photo shots that I had had in mind at the start of the week (and re-sampled the cajun pralines at Magnolia) whilst Geoff returned to loftier matters at work and we finally waddled back onto the plane making an unbreakable pact that we starve ourselves between now and July 2nd when we are expected to be svelte enough to attend the wedding of our friends in Greece… oh dear… I wish I hadn’t had that last praline …

 

 

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