In 1718, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded what has became known as the Vieux Carré or French Quarter. Back then, this registered national historic landmark was nothing more than a sticky swamp filled with ‘gators, mosquitoes and malaria, but at three feet above sea level, it was – and remains – the highest land area within 50 miles. And given that it’s at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi, that fact made it a valuable piece of real estate.

In 2010, it’s still sticky during the summer, but instead of malaria, you’ll find outdoor café’s serving coffee and beignets, unique shops full of antiques and collectibles and of course, the ubiquitous anti-BP shirts with words that this family friendly blog can’t publish.

Note – all of the crazy stuff related to Mardi Gras is pretty much confined to only one street: Bourbon. The rest of the Quarter is much more tame and family friendly.

After a delicious muffalato (a Cajun style sandwich) lunch at Café Beignet (off the beaten path and doesn’t have too many tourists) on Royal Street, we continued our leisurely sander up this historic avenue, enjoying the outdoor jazz bands, the colorful shop windows and elaborate ironwork galleries that grace the second and third stories of many of these buildings. I must confess that Royal Street is my favorite in the Quarter. It is so quintessential New Orleans.

We arrived in Jackson Square – named for President and Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson, AKA the dude on the $20 bill – via “Pirate’s Alley.” According to legend, the infamous Jean Lafitte and his band of swashbucklers used this area of New Orleans as a base of operations, often dividing up their booty in the bars along this backstreet.

As we sat on a bench opposite the Cabildo, the historic building where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803 and where the death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte is currently on display, we were entertained by a street performer pretending to be Muhammad Ali. He was quite entertaining, shouting challenges to Joe Frasier and shadow boxing on top of a…soap box, but I’m not sure how Ali is connected to the Crescent City?

On a side note, there are many connections throughout New Orleans to Napoleon because some of his most ardent supporters were in the process of arranging his transfer to New Orleans from St. Helena where he was exiled after the defeat at Waterloo, when he died as they were finalizing plans. In fact, the Napoleon House on Chartres Street was intended to house the former emperor for the rest of his days, had he made it to Louisiana.

After Beignets at a very busy Café Du Monde, it was onto the French Market on Decatur Street. This is a fantastic outdoor market with fresh fruit, vegetables, produce, toys, Mardi Gras masks and almost anything else you can imagine. In fact, because New Orleans allows open containers, Christine and I grabbed two ice cold pina coladas to sip as we wondered between the vendor stalls.

Next to the French Market, there stands a statue of the patron saint of New Orleans: the famed Joan of Arc. A carbon copy of the statue resides in Paris, France. Naturally, as the patron of Orleans, France, she became the same of New Orleans.

Next time you watch the world champion Saints play football, remember that the upper three leaves of the Fleur-de-lis that you see on the side of their helmets represents the Holy Trinity and the bottom three leaves the Holy Family – Joseph, Mary and Jesus. This was Joan’s banner and was subsequently adopted by the French king after Ms. Arc defeated the English.

By the way, if you’re at Café Du Monde and need to escape the crowd to have a nice outdoor lunch – or just need an iced daiquiri to help cool down – walk down the block toward the French Market and stop in at The Gazebo. Great food and even better service, as well as a fantastic outdoor atmosphere with live music; I highly recommend it, especially after the sweaty, mediocre service you’ll receive at Café Du Monde.

But all good things must come to an end. After a gator-to-go order at The Gazebo, we headed back to the hotel, and with a sad goodbye, headed to Louis Armstrong International.

Until next time, New Orleans.

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New Orleans {Day Two} BOBNOLA

by Ray on August 2, 2010

So what do movie star Bette Davis, 20 million pounds of sugar and a solid silver carving of President Abraham Lincoln have in common?

They’re all connected to Houmas House Plantation – one of the best preserved ante-bellum mansion and grounds that litter the banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana – and the Bloggers on Bourbon’s  first destination on day two.

BOBNOLA group

Saturday morning came early, but after a quick stop at Café Beignet for a Southern breakfast of coffee, grits, eggs and bacon, we made our way to meet the group and the shuttle. An hour later, we pulled up to Houmas House – named for the original Indian tribe that sold the land to Maurice Conway and Alexander Latil in the mid-1700s.

Waiting in the garden for our guide to arrive, an awed gasp went up from the 35 bloggers present, as a perfectly preserved lady in period dress emerged on the walk between the ancient oak trees surrounding the home. She looked every bit the part of a 19th century mistress of the house in her five layer pink dress, which covered even her ankles (which was a big deal back then when men weren’t allowed so much as a peek). And she had the perfect Southern accent to accentuate her costume.

For the next hour, our guide regaled and beguiled us with stories of ghosts, pioneers, famous visitors, eccentric owners and changes the property has seen over the past three centuries.

Turns out that many movies have been filmed on location, including 1963’s “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” starring Bette Davis. In fact, the room in which Ms. Davis stayed while filming is preserved as part of the Houmas House tour.

During the War of Northern Aggression, the house survived looting by Yankee troops when then owner, Irishman John Burnside claimed immunity as a subject of the British Crown. And at one point, the property turned out more than 20 million pounds of sugar a year from its sugar cane fields, making it one of the top producers in the county.

But you may be asking yourself, “Why would a Southern plantation have a statue of Abe Lincoln?” Good question…turns out that a 20th century owner purchased what he thought was a bronze statue of the 16th president, but as the auction house was cleaning it before delivery, discovered that it was in fact silver and worth about five times what was paid. The detail is amazing as you can feel the distinction of everything all the way down to Abe’s fingernails.

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After lunch in the Houmas House Café, it was back to the French Quarter and an afternoon nap before the night’s adventures.

It was hot and Christine’s purse was heavy, so being a gentleman, I held her purse as we walked to Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, which many agree is one of the best in the country. But, our fearless leader decided to take photos of me with my “European manbag” and post them on Facebook… not very nice.

Ray's

Anyway, the 16 oz. New York strip I was served at Dickie Brennans was amazing… I ate it all and didn’t feel the least bit guilty. During the meal, we heard from Collective Bias and Open Sky, who were generous enough to sponsor the dinner.

Back at the hotel, it was time for a passion party… It was a bit awkward for me, being only one of two guys present, but I’ll spare you the details. It could have been worse, I suppose.

After everyone had pocketed their free “samples,” we headed out into the hot drizzle toward Bourbon Street and spent the next two hours “networking” at The Cat’s Meow. I was very proud of Christine who, being quite uncomfortable with her bulging baby belly, lasted longer than many of the other bloggers.

A huge thanks to the following BOBNOLA Saturday sponsors::

Plantation tour coordinated by :: Traveling Mamas – Shannon Lane, @travelingmamas, http://www.travelingmamas.com,

Plantation tour and tickets :: Houmas House – www.houmashouse.com

Lunch at Plantation :: Global Resort Homes – @globalresorts, www.globalresorthomes.com/

Dinner at Dickie Brennens :: Collective Bias – @collectivebias, www.collectivebias.com & OpenSky Project – @OpenSkyproject, www.theopenskyproject.com

Bloggers on Bourbon banner :: Uprinting – @uprinting, http://www.uprinting.com

Bloggers on Bourbon shirts :: Zazzle – @zazzle,  http://www.zazzle.com

{ 6 comments }

New Orleans {Day One}

by Ray on July 29, 2010

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Ray and Chris - New Orleans Square

There’s a tenement building in the French Quarter that’s haunted….ok, according to our Ghost tour guide, there are a lot of haunted buildings in the French Quarter. But I’ll get to that later.

Chris and I had all day to wonder around the Quarter, before we planned to meet up with Trisha, Leah, and the rest of the BOBNOLA group, but ended up sleeping in and not leaving our hotel until just before Noon. We blame the time change since we lost two hours. We decided to shoot for Café Du Monde as our mouths began to water for the wonderful beignets they make.

On the way, much to our dismay, we were accosted by a crass local who claimed to be collecting money for needy children. I managed to get around him, but Christine decided to stop and engage him. It cost us $20, but we did get two cool hats out of the transaction and since it was sweltering, the hats came in handy.

When we arrived at Café Du Monde, it was jam packed, but we managed to find a table inside… one that needed to be bussed. I approached the waitress on duty – who appeared to be taking a break. She mumbled something unintelligible, made no move to get up to help us, so we eventually gave up and left. Much to Christine’s dismay, I might add.

Down the block, at the edge of the French Market we literally walked in to a great little outdoor restaurant, called The Gazebo Café, where we were warmly greeted, given a menu before we even sat down and proceeded to have a wonderful po-boy lunch.

Chris at The Gazebo Cafe, New Orleans Ray at The Gazebo Cafe, New Orleans

After our tasty meal, we wondered back to Jackson Square. As we were waiting for one of the many carriage drivers, we bumped in to the Naked Bartender who was shooting a scene for an upcoming show. After observing the shoot for a few minutes we climbed aboard our mule-driven carriage and enjoyed an hour of the driver’s regalia of the history of the Crescent City.

Prostitutes, politicians, voodoo mistresses, priests and saints. We heard about it all. A colorful past New Orleans definitely has.

We heard about famous people who lived in the Quarter, from Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to famous living people like Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who used to and still do have homes in the French Quarter, respectively.

Interestingly, the term “jazz” is derived from the music that musicians used to play at the “Jezebel’s” – aka prostitute’s – houses on the outskirts of the city.

Chris and Ray - carriage ride through New Orleans A street in New Orleans

After the carriage ride, it was a quick check in and change before our first official activity with the BOBNOLA group – dinner at Besh, inside Harrah’s casino. The food at Besh was wonderful – melt in your mouth steak, spicy meat pies, and more. At dinner we chatted it up with some of our fellow BOBNOLA peeps, but also had the privilege of sitting with our dinner sponsors – the sponsorship director and social media rep for Harrah’s, both of whom are great people.

We headed over to Jackson Square, after dinner, where we met up with our Ghost tour guide. Turns out that there are a lot of legends inside the French Quarter. Lot’s of ghosts who continue to haunt their old homes, including one story of a couple who did unspeakable experiments on their slaves, unbeknownst to others around town. {shudder}

NOLA ghost tour

I think our tour guide was a little too into the whole thing, but sweaty and thirsty, we managed to get back to the hotel and had cake and cocktails before we parted ways – some going to bed, others going to Bourbon Street.

For the record, Christine and I headed back to our hotel room…with a quick stop at Café Du Monde for a late snack of beinets. Chris finally got her beignets!

A huge thanks to the following BOBNOLA Friday night sponsors::

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