72 Hours in the Big Easy

The South is one of my favorite places. I love the sense of history all around and the concept of Southern gentility (though I recognize that can be more history than present sometimes). I love warm weather, and only occasionally complain about extreme humidity (more because of the impact on my hair than anything else!). Show me some palm trees and give me a hint of salt air, and I’m a happy girl. So, when I had 72 hours in New Orleans for a conference at the end of September, I slept little and saw (and ate!) as much as possible in every hour I had outside the walls of the conference.

My home base during my visit was the Hilton St. Charles Street. This beautiful and historic hotel was right up my alley. From the elevator indicators to the mail drops in the hallway, I was in love with the sense of history that has been preserved amongst the modern amenities and decor.

Because the conference was held at the Hilton Riverside, I had a tenish minute walk each morning down Poydras Street toward the convention center and mall. I passed plenty of people on their way to work in the high rises, riding the trolley or walking quickly past a mix of old and new buildings. My favorite building, by far, was the Whitney Bank building on Poydras, which I admired each morning with the sun glinting off the white facade.

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The first night of the conference kicked off in true New Orleans fashion: with a second line parade led by Grammy-nominated Hot 8 Brass Band from the hotel to The Howlin’ Wolf where I made new friends from New York and Ottawa with whom I danced and drank and danced some more. Such a fun introduction to the the loud, exuberant place New Orleans has a reputation of being.

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Our dancing shoes worn and our stomachs growling, we tumbled out into the street in search of the perfect first meal in NOLA. One in our party had done a little research before arriving, and she guided us quickly to Cochon, a James Beard award-winning restaurant that is, according to the taxi driver who picked me up after the meal, the best restaurant in New Orleans. After the meal, I was inclined to agree. The oysters covered in chili garlic butter were some of the most delicious things I’ve had. The smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle were perfection. I confess that I was a little concerned about the watermelon pickle as I’ve never been a fan of unusual pickled items. My concern was erased the minute I put the first bite in my mouth—surprisingly delicious! The horseradish potato salad was like nothing I’ve had before, and I would have been happy to eat an entire plate of just that given the opportunity.

 

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How could the first night in NOLA be topped? It was pretty perfect, but night two was amazing in its own right. The night started at Vacherie, a sweet little Cajun place with great drinks and nice finger foods to snack on as we waited for our French Quarter ghost tour with Two Chicks Walking Tours.

Our guide, “Loki” was fun, animated, and ready to entertain at every turn.

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This was possibly one of the most interesting ghost tours I’ve taken—billed as a “skeptics ghost tour,” I assumed our guide would spend the evening trying to convince us that ghosts were real and making their homes in the French Quarter. In fact, the tour was the opposite: Loki would tell a ghost story, and then, in most cases, explain the phenomenon or history that proved that the story could not be true. I loved this twist on the traditional ghost tour.

What I also loved? The architecture in the French Quarter! I wish I could have seen it in the daylight, because I was totally enamored by gaslight. I think others on the tour got a kick out of the constant exclamations of delight my conference buddy and I made.

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A stop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, housed in a building built in 1722 (!), was a stop at what’s billed as the oldest continually operated bar in the U.S. It seems to have barely been altered, with very little lighting and tons of exposed wood everywhere. The bar feels like a place the pirate Lafitte once frequented for sure.

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A piano is (almost miraculously) squeezed into a back corner, and the pianist the night we came through added some class and elegance to the rough atmosphere. While crowded, we were able to get drinks quickly and get back on the tour. I ordered a drink from the featured menu and was surprised when they handed me a cup with a Red Bull can turned upside down on the top. I’ve never had a Red Bull (I made it through college without consuming a single caffeinated drink!), but this drink had me thinking I was missing out. I kept telling my buddy that it was one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. Good choice on the drink, despite everyone insisting that I get a hurricane because I was in New Orleans. I don’t regret my choice for a second.

Our tour ended at the world-famous Café du Monde where everyone bought those equally famous powdered sugar bombs—beignets. If you head to Café du Monde, come prepared: the only form of payment accepted is cash. Our group was a congenial bunch, so those who weren’t prepared with cash still got a taste thanks to those who were prepared. I think these beignets may be overly hyped and overly sugared, but it seems you can’t leave New Orleans without a stop here.

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Though my time was brief, I think I got a pretty good taste of New Orleans—enough to convince me this city is a place I need to visit again when I have more time to devote to her sights and sounds. I heard about a pharmacy museum with a hidden courtyard garden, a house caught in the 1800s, and cemetery tours that all intrigued me. And, most of all, I want to go back to see the architecture in the light of day to fully appreciated what New Orleans offers in that category. Tim and I will be planning a long weekend trip here in the future. And though I’m not one to complain about heat and humidity, I think we’ll plan for a late fall or early spring visit when the conditions may be slightly better by New Orleans standards. 😉

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