Viewing entries tagged New Orleans
When I was in New Orleans, I passed a newsstand that had been defaced. It was a USA Today dispenser, and the word LIES had been written on the front glass.
I was not offended, which is interesting considering my educational and professional background in journalism. I suppose I have an easy time remembering the reasons why I stepped back from hard news reporting, so perhaps my indifference is not that surprising. I typically find breaking news journalism rushed, sensationalized, and lacking compassion for subjects of misfortune – neither of which contribute to the founding practices of the craft. That’s only my opinion, however it is rooted in some research – the result of dedicating two years of study to the manner in which journalists cover tragedy.
Liarsville near Skagway, Alaska
People may disagree with my views, but I rest peacefully knowing that I’m not the first person to become annoyed by irresponsible reporting: Skagway has dedicated an entire town to the deed, mocking the journalists who covered the Alaskan Gold Rush of the late 19th/early 20th century. They are pretty blunt about it – they refer to the town asLiarsville.
I mentioned that the Skagway railroad was used to transport men to the mines, but that was not until later. The initial Gold Rush required men to hike long distances carrying all their gear, the journey so difficult that journalists would not make it themselves. Instead, they set up a camp just north of Skagway and relied on the stories of the men returning from the mountains.
Who the hell knows who they talked to, but they began reporting how easy it was to reach the gold mines, how wealth was a sure thing to find. Remember that this was happening in a time with limited communication - people had no choice but to rely on these reports - and many men left their families to come join in the rush, thinking the decision was a no-brainer. They cashed in their life savings to make the trip to Alaska, arriving only to find going from rags to riches wouldn't be as easy as the journalists made it out to be.
I don't know about you, but I'd be ticked.
There is an excursion to a recreation of Liarsville that you can arrange through your cruise line – ours was combined with the Skagway train ride (White Pass Yukon Railroad). You can also look into booking it directly through the private company. The experience includes a salmon bake, a short theatrical show, and a demonstration on how to pan for gold.
Buyer beware: The history was the highlight for me as a writer, however the recreation is unfortunately nothing more than a few tents. What I learned that day added to the mystique of Skagway, but in all honesty it didn’t offer much more. I cut short my gold-panning-in-a-trough time and took a walk through the nearby woods, which sort of tells you the extent of the excitement. If the experience ends up being included in another excursion package, so be it – feast on some salmon. But, having read this post, you’ve already heard everything worth going for. Allow the knowledge to enhance your visit, but spend your time elsewhere.
When I stopped by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to pick up a packet, I asked the lady in the shipping and receiving department where she would go in the neighborhood for lunch if she was hungry for some of the famous local fare: Po' boys and gumbo.
She told me to cross the street and check outThe Trolley Stop, located right along the Charles Avenue trolley line. It has that hole-in-the-wall feeling down pat, very modest looking and friendly service that treats you more like a friend than a customer (they love to use the word 'baby,' as in, Whatcha need, baby?).
Feeling good about the recommendation upon entry, I sat at the bar. I think it's an absolute must when you're dining alone or with one other person, especially as a tourist - it's the perfect chance to chat up some locals and ask for further suggestions (at the very least - sometimes you make a friend). I ordered an Abita Amber and asked the waitress what she liked on the menu. She asked if I trusted her and I nodded my head, indicating that she should feel free to order for me. I received a roast-beef po' boy with a side of chicken and sausage gumbo, both of which really impressed me (Trick: When ordering gumbo, especially small cups, see if they'll put the rice on the side as you'll get more gumbo this way).
Roast beef po boy.
A po' boy is a submarine/hoagie made with New Orleans French bread, giving the sandwich a crispy and flaky backbone. This particular one at the Trolley Stop came with hot roast beef and an au jus, the juice seeping into the bread and providing a rich finish (and though I'm typically not a fan, the mayonnaise did well to balance the salty au jus). Open 24-hours on the weekend, my jesting thoughts were that I should come back: If I enjoyed it this much at noon, imagine how it would taste at 4 a.m. after a night out in downtown New Orleans.
I left with a huge smile on my face - satisfied physically by the authentic meal and mentally by the fact that I had found a gem of a place that I didn't know about that morning when I woke up. Maybe it's a travel writer thing, but I eat that sort of thing up, literally. There's a lesson in this as well: When you don't know one thing from the other, always follow the local advice.
Strolling the streets of Uptown New Orleans (Garden District) reminded me of St. Simonsand Savannah, the live oak trees providing plenty of shade (or in this case, acting as an umbrella) and creating a canopy effect at times. They are some of my favorite trees because of the way they spread out in the sky, and the way in which the Spanish moss can often be seen dangling over their branches.
Beignets with powdered sugar at Cafe Du Monde.
It's the definition of a beautiful disaster: The moss will eventually suffocate the tree. I was told in Georgia the average live oak takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to live, and 300 years to die, and as I walked under them it was hard not to wonder how many people have walked under the same tree, how many have looked up at it and enjoyed it as much as I was in that moment. Cheesy, but true.
Also try: Coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. I went into it thinking Cafe Du Monde would be touristy and overrated, however I was promptly proven wrong (the beignets are ridiculously good, honestly). You sit comfortably out of the sun under the shade of a large awning, and we could hear the music of the street performers come through with the breeze (the street performers can be quite good). They only serve coffee, juice, and beignets, so don't be scared off by a long line (which there will be). There are many tables and high turnover - we only waited 5-10 minutes on a Sunday afternoon (which happened to be Mother's Day).
I mentioned that I returned from New Orleans with sore calves, but I forgot to tell you about my neck.
I woke up on Sunday morning thinking I had simply slept on it wrong, however as the day went on it became clear: The muscles that support my head were sore... from dancing.
Soak up that image for a second: I sure as hell dug in, burying the head and looking at the floor, swinging the arms and losing sight of my surroundings. No idea why I was staring at my feet so much - my moves aren't that complicated.
If you've traveled with me or followed this blog over the past year, you know I have no clue what I'm doing on the dance floor, so I'm as surprised as the next that I enjoyed it for as long as I did. Who knows, maybe I'm coming around.
Or maybe it was because before we danced, we drank.
Come on - it's New Orleans!
Abita Brewing Company (Abita Springs, Louisiana)
I was familiar with Abita's flagship brew Purple Haze before my trip to the Big Easy - it's available on beer menus and at distributors throughout the country - but I had no idea the brewery had such a grasp on the city, nor that it produced such a solid line of beers. It began in 1986 about 30 miles north of New Orleans, and today it is rare that a local restaurant does not carry at least one of their products on tap.
I found the Amber to pair nicely with gumbo/sausage dishes and po boy sandwiches, and its makeup and structurereminded me of Yuengling Lager. Easy drinking, smooth, and a good cooking compliment, it's what I would refer to as a pitcher beer - most people in your group will find it agreeable (as compard toPurple Haze and its specific raspberry flavors).
I discovered the Andygator Dobblebock at the Bulldog on Magazine Street (they had five or six Abita beers on tap), and I thought it was a good showcase of the brewery's range. It's a high-gravity brew, meaning it's blended, in this case with pale malt, German lager yeast, and German Perle hops. At 8.0% alcohol, it drinks heavy and goes well with gorganzola/blue cheeses and crawfish dishes.
Lazy Magnolia Brewery (Kiln, Mississippi)
A little over a year ago I received a few bottles of Lazy Mag Southern Pecan in my beer of the month club (which is a fantastic gift idea, by the way), and I have since been awaiting the day when I could get it on tap, or at least find it in the store (the one frustrating thing about the beer club is that they overcharge to reorder specific beers).
I had not been in town for five minutes when I saw a six-pack of it on the grocer's shelf (love it when that happens - I'm the guy who typically stands there for ten minutes trying to make a decision). According to Lazy Mag, it's the first beer in the world to be made with whole roasted pecans, which I think adds a slight sweetness that you don't always get in brown ales.
I was surprised to read that it's the first in the world brewed with whole pecans - the traditional malty and caramel flavors of the brown ale seem to go well when paired with nuts in other forms (desserts, for example), so why not beer?
Sweetwater Brewing Company (Atlanta, Georgia)
When I was in St. Simons, Georgia, I wrote about how well the Sweetwater 420 (extra pale ale) went with the infamous Southern Soul Barbecue. From that same brewery comes theGeorgia Brown, and I suppose my fondness for it officially puts me on a brown-beer kick.
I got involved with this brew at the Atlanta airport of all places - they have a draft house in concourse B. It's not overly heavy (both in terms of drinkability and alcohol content, 5%), and that makes it a good beer to have on the run in my opinion.
Even though the South is traditionally known for its booze (whiskey, bourbon), don't overlook the microbrews that hail from the area. Most of these breweries are relatively young - Sweetwater began in 1997 when the owners moved to Georgia from Boulder, Colorado.
Hopefully I'll do a beer story on Colorado my next trip out - the Rocky Mountain water seems to churn out good brews. Cheers for now!
As I was boarding the flight in New Orleans that would eventually take me back to Philadelphia, I kept my head on a swivel, scoping out the faces of those around me. I found my seat and focused on the doorway as the people entered, hypothesizing the scenarios of their visits based on expressions and appearances.
There are places around the world where people have a tendency to depart worn out as opposed to rested, and the United States certainly has its share: Any plane out of Las Vegas, for sure, but also Sunday afternoon flights from fiesta-oriented towns such as New Orleans and Miami. Most likely, a handful of passengers on the plane have had a wild weekend, which is good for both people-watching as well as in-flight conversation.
I would have been happy with eavesdropping across the aisle, yet as luck would have it the man who sat down next to me had been in town for a bachelor party. Lucky me, although he also may of felt fortunate - I hadn't been getting much sleep, either.
Beginning of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
The man next to me on the plane said it better than I ever could: Bourbon Street does an incredible job of quarantining all the assholes.
I laughed when he said it. Neither of us were trying to be a prick - we admittedly had both spent some time exploring the scene (and I certainly didn't complain about the strong drinks), but let's be honest: It's no place any local hangs out. It's the same bar over and over, each block relatively the same, and the crowd is a bunch of drunk out-of-towners who are feeling good about themselves and looking to let loose.
No judgement, I played along: I drank a few Jesters and walked the street, saw some women lift up their shirts and danced to a live band. But it wasn't somewhere I wanted to spend all night - I knew there was a time limit to my tolerance.
The good thing is that although it gets the most attention, Bourbon Street is merely the gateway to nightlife in the New Orleans.
Magazine Street eventually dead ends into Canal Street as you drive east on it, running parallel to the Mississippi River and cutting right through the heart of the Garden District (Uptown). Bye-bye Bourbon - this is much more the scene for meeting locals.
Restaurants, bars, and shops line the neighborhood street, and there are significantly less bells and whistles (no party push, no loud clubs that I saw). The majority are locally owned and run with outside seating under the live oak trees, great for walking and menu/window shopping.
With the help of a friend I found a great beer bar called The Bulldog (located between Toledano and Pleasant). If you're ever in town on a Wednesday, they run an interesting special that allows you to keep the pint glass of every beer you drink (you can cash in ten of them for a free T-shirt, but I'd keep the glasses). Happy hour at the Bulldog is legit: 2 p.m. - 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and they have 50 beers on tap and 100 more in bottles.
Frenchmen Street and Marigny:
On the eastern end of the French Quarter is the appropriately named Frenchmen Street, known for its live music scene and lack of neon lights (aka its local feel). This is a great spot to wander after you've had your fill of Bourbon Street.
We walked further east into the neighborhood of Marigny (see map below) and ended the night at Mimi's in the Marigny, recommended to my group by a local and recognized as Best Neighborhood Bar by Where Y'at and Best Bar in New Orleans by readers of The Gambit.
Mimi's serves Spanish tapas until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and has music and dancing on the second floor (either a band or DJ). Expect a younger crowd and a hipster vibe.
My advice: Window shop when you're in New Orleans. Most places do not charge a cover, so be sure to take advantage and pop in to preview the band/atmosphere of a few different spots. Don't decide on specific bars, decide on the neighborhood and let the night take you where it will. With so many bands playing at so many different venues almost every night, visitors could drive themselves crazy trying to pinpoint the perfect place.
Here's a map to help you get your bearings (click to enlarge):
From west to east: Magazine Street (The Bulldog), Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, Marigny (Mimi's)
Yesterday I returned to Philly from New Orleans, arriving long after the sun had set and far after I would have preferred to be in bed. My head was bobbing for most of the second flight out of Atlanta - I don't really even remember the drink cart coming through.
Rhapsody of the Seas, Royal Caribbean
The stories will begin to filter out this week, however I must admit that getting back into gear after a memorable weekend is never easy - I think that concept is universal, even for travel writers. I'm good about having fun anywhere and everywhere I go, but there's a big difference between covering a destination and eating one up, letting it under your skin.
The people you travel with certainly play a large part in determining which way the trip goes, and this morning when I woke up with a stomach that was still full and calves sore to the touch, I knew we had taken the Big Easy head on (cheers guys).
As much rest as I would like to pencil in this week, I truly can't afford to spend too much time horizontal: I confirmed last week that I will fly from Philadelphia to Seattle on Thursday and depart on an Alaskan cruise this Friday. We will be shoving off via the Rhapsody of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) and head for the Inside Passage, making three stops in Alaska (Juneau, Skagway, and Tracy Arm Fjord) and one in Victoria, BC.
In addition to New Orleans coverage, I will also be finishing up a couple stories from the past few weeks: GoNOMAD and Famtripper features on Detroit, Denver, and Nassau are in my queue.
These short breaks in my schedule are typically the hardest part of my job - the lull between two high points - yet the timing on this one is perfect given the packed schedule of late.
With New Orleans in the rear-view mirror and Alaska in the windshield, consider the curtains closed until Thursday morning.
famtripper fun fact
Did you know that the Ponte Vecchio's status as the oldest bridge in Florence saved it from destruction? During the Nazi retreat, they thankfully defied orders to blow it up. The ancient buildings on either side of the Arno River were not spared, they were sadly destroyed.