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Trip Report Trip Report: New Orleans, Cajun Country . . . . and San Antonio TX

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For this trip we did a road trip of sorts. We began by flying to New Orleans and spending 2 days there. From there we made our way to Cajun country and spent 2 days in that area. We ended by driving across Louisiana to San Antonio TX where we spent our last couple of days. I had been to both New Orleans and San Antonio before, but my parents who I traveled with, had not. None of us had been to the Cajun country before, so that was a new experience for all.

Our trip started on a Saturday and we flew out of Boston on the Jetblue nonstop flight to New Orleans. The flight took off a little late and we arrived late due to having to take a longer route because of a front moving across the country that was producing turbulence. We landed about 3:40pm and claimed our luggage by about 4:10. The cab ride to the French Quarter took about 25 min to arrive at our hotel, the Omni Royal Orleans. I had stayed at this hotel once before and found it to be the perfect location on the corner of St. Louis and Chartres streets.

We had 2 hotel rooms---my parents were assigned room 351 and I was assigned 445. Room 351 is a small queen room with courtyard view and 445 is a king Jacuzzi suite with courtyard view ( I too originally booked a queen room, but received a free upgrade). However, we ended up switching rooms since the queen room is quite small and the suite was pretty big, so it made more sense for the party of 2 to take the room with more space.

We had a 6pm reservation at Brennan’s that night, so we took our time walking over and arrived a little before they opened for dinner service. We started with drinks--margaritas for my mother and I and a martini for my father. The meal began with garlic bread and half French loaf. I started with the Creole onion soup which is different than French Onion. The Creole soup was thicker, had a different taste that I can’t really explain and was served with croutons and parmesan cheese. My father had the oyster soup which he also enjoyed. My father, having ordered the 4 course prix fix menu, was then also served a Brennan salad (salad with a Creole style dressing). My next course was the Filet Blange which was a beef filet stuffed with Boursin cheese, peppercorns on the outside and finished with a fruity reduction. My mother had the Tournedos Chantéclair--which was 3 small filets each with a different sauce. My father had the Red Fish. For dessert my mother and I both had the Bananas Foster which is prepared tableside. The waiter wheels a cart over to your table and fills a pan with bananas and brown sugar and rum. Then he adds more rum and it flames up creating a spectacle. It is then served over vanilla ice cream. My father opted for something simpler and had the chocolate pecan pie. We all really enjoyed our meals and it was the perfect start to our vacation. In fact, Brennan’s ended up being our favorite meal of the trip, though all the meals we had were delicious.

After dinner we walked around the French Quarter, down Royal St, to Pirate’s Alley, around Jackson Sq to Decatur St, up Bienville and then back down Bourbon before going back to the hotel. Being Saturday night, Bourbon Street was in all its glory--packed with people in various states of disarray.

Sunday I got up and went swimming in the rooftop pool at 6:30am before we went over to Café du Monde for breakfast. We arrived there about 7:45am and most of the serving staff comes on at 8am so we had to wait a while for service. We all got an order of beignets and café au lait. I think we could have done with just 2 orders of beignets as each order has 3 large beignets.

After breakfast we did a walking tour of the French Quarter that we got out of our Frommer’s guide. This took us from 8:30am until 11:30am and we basically walked up and down the different streets admiring the brightly colored buildings with wrought iron balconies dripping with flowers and greenery. We loved the architecture of the French Quarter and could have just kept walking up and down streets discovering more gems.

For lunch we had muffulettas at Frank’s on Decatur St. We went there since Central Grocery is closed on Sunday and Monday. It turned out well; at least we had a table to eat the sandwich, where if you get one from Central Grocery you end up eating a greasy sandwich on a park bench which is what I did on my last visit! We got one and a half sandwiches so we each had half which was plenty; we could have gotten by with one quarter each. We all enjoyed the sandwich, which I’m sure everyone knows is an Italian sort of bread with a chopped olive salad, olive oil and various cold cuts.

After lunch we walked through Jackson Square and then got a cab to the World War II Museum which is outside the French Quarter. We spent about 3 hours at the museum before heading back to the hotel. I then decided to go to Antoine’s Annex to get a gelato--the line moved very slowly but I got a single pralines and cream gelato which was pretty good but not the best I’ve ever had.

I then sat by the pool until it was time to head to our 6pm reservation at Café Giovanni. Here, my father got a Tuscan asparagus appetizer which had prosciutto and cheese with it. My mother and I had peach bellinis to drink. I had veal picatta for my main course, my father had voodoo shrimp and my mother had veal marsala. For dessert I had tiramisu, which was served in a pool of caramel sauce. My mother had a white chocolate bread pudding in bananas foster sauce and my father had a strawberry parfait which was essentially strawberries and whipped cream. We all enjoyed our meals once again.

After dinner I walked around taking night photos and decided to get a Hand Grenade drink from Tropic Isle. For those not familiar with them, Hand Grenades are ubiquitous around the French Quarter. They are served in a tall fluorescent green plastic glass that resembles a hand grenade at the bottom and then has a tall spout on top. The drink is served with a long straw and is garnished with a small, green plastic hand grenade toy. It was good and had a melon flavor. They give the illusion of being large, but they have a lot of ice in them and the tall narrow neck of the glass does not hold a ton of liquid. Once you purchase the first drink, if you return with your glass they give you a dollar off the full price for refills. I didn’t take advantage of this, as I’m not a big drinker.

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    Monday I once again got up at 6am to go swimming. At 7:30am we walked down Royal St to Café Beignet. We all got beignets and café au lait and while it was good, we liked the coffee and beignets at Café du Monde better. The ones from Café Beignet are rectangular and are a different consistency to the dough, while the ones from Café du Monde have more sugar, more flavor to the dough and are less uniform in shape. We also thought the café au lait from Café du Monde had a better flavor. I suggest trying both places to make your own judgment!

    After breakfast we continued walking over to Canal Street to catch the St. Charles streetcar line to the Garden District. You board at the far corner of Canal and Carondelet.We got off at Washington Street and then walked up and down the streets in the Garden District, admiring all the lovely homes. They are all so different; another interesting thing to us was that the sidewalks are different in front of each home as well. Once again we followed a Frommer’s guide tour. After the tour we got back on the street car and got off at Tulane University to look around the campus quickly. Lastly, we got back on the streetcar to head back to the French Quarter.

    Our next activity was to be a cruise on the steamboat Natchez which boards behind the Jackson Brewery building. We had time for lunch before the cruise so we ate at the Gumbo Pot in the brewery building. My father got the seafood gumbo and my mother and I shared a roast beef po boy. It was fine, though not one of my favorites. The sandwich was huge and had thinly shaved roast beef with gravy on French bread. There was lettuce and tomato served along side.

    I then had time to walk to Dumaine St and go to Meltdown for a popsicle. They serve small popsicles in somewhat exotic flavors. I choose spicy mango flavor. I then went to Southern Candy Makers for some pralines, a peanut butter passion cup and a dark chocolate tortue. I saved these goodies to enjoy at a later time (and they were delicious--if you are a peanut butter lover I highly recommend the peanut butter passion cup).

    I then met my parents back at the dock for the Steamboat Natchez. The boat goes out 3 times per day (once at 11:30am, once at 2:30pm and then a 6pm dinner cruise). They begin boarding at 2pm for the 2:30pm cruise, as the boat holds lots of people so it takes that long to get everybody on. At 1:45pm while you are waiting on the dock, they perform a calliope concert on the steam calliope of the ship.

    We started out going downstream on the Mississippi river and we passed many industrial dock areas, barges, the 9th ward, a Domino Sugar refinery and a Mobil Oil refinery. At the sugar refinery they were unloading the raw sugar from a boat and dumping it into a hopper to go through the refinery process. Then we turned around and went back the opposite way up to the bridge before heading back to the dock by 4:15pm. The cruise was really nice and there was a lot to take in in only 2 hours. It is a fully narrated cruise and the narration can be heard on the open decks. You also can go inside to hear live jazz music and you can visit the engine room as well. They also serve lunch on board for an extra cost if you want that.

    After the cruise my mother and I took a pedi-cab back to the hotel which was fun since we’d never done one before.

    At 5:45pm we all met up in the hotel lobby to walk to dinner. Tonight our reservation was at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. I had a chocolate martini and my parents had margaritas. My mother and I both had the tomato and blue cheese napoleon which is layers of tomato and blue cheese served with onion and remoulade sauce. This was delicious! My father had potato leek soup which he reported was also good. For entrees I had the rib eye steak with peppercorn cream sauce, my mother had an 8 oz filet and my father had the house filet which had bordelaise sauce and fried oysters on top served with Pontalba potatoes. The Pontalba potatoes are roasted potatoes with ham, onions and mushrooms. My mother and I split a side order of Pontalba potatoes. For desserts we had a piece of coconut cake, the chocolate pecan pie and the chocolate praline mousse. I think the coconut cake was the best, followed by the pie, though they were all good.

    After dinner I walked around doing some night photography and wanted to get a Pina Colada from one of the many daiquiri shops on Bourbon St before returning to the hotel for a swim in the pool.

    Tuesday morning I got up at 6:30am and went for a walk around the French Quarter. This morning we were leaving New Orleans, but before doing so I met my parents at 7:45am in our hotel lobby to walk over to Café du Monde for one last order of beignets and café au lait. By this time we had smartened up and just got 2 orders of beignets among the 3 of us.

    After breakfast my parents took a cab over to Hertz at the convention center to pick up our rental car. We had reserved a Chevrolet Equinox, but since they had none, we had to take a Toyota Sienna mini van. I met them back at the hotel and we loaded the luggage and were off. Our agenda for the morning was to go and view some of the plantations along the river road. We were not planning on touring any of them ( we had plans later in the trip to tour Shadows on the Teche, plus I had already toured Oak Alley and Laura). Our first stop was Destrehan where we were able to see the house from the road. Next we went on to San Francisco which is also viewable from the road. Our third stop was Laura, but you cannot view that one well from the road and the final stop was Oak Alley where you get the best view of the alley of oaks from the road. There is a pull out right across the street from the plantation and you can get a very good view from there.

    Next we drove south to Houma, just to look at it and from there on to Morgan City to view the port and all the industry. We then drove on to Lafayette where we would be staying for the next 3 nights.

    We arrived at our hotel in Lafayette, the Homewood Suites. We booked a 2 bedroom suite which was perfect for the 3 of us. It was 2 separate bedrooms each with its own bath separated by a living room and kitchen. The hotel also had a nice pool area out back. They get a lot of business travelers in the area and people who are there for extended stays, so Mon-Thurs the hotel also provides a free dinner--they offer an entrée, rolls, and a side dish with salad bar. Your rate also includes breakfast 7 days per week.

    For dinner tonight we went to the Blue Dog Café. While not quite as good as the New Orleans restaurants, it was still a very good meal. For drinks we started with a Cajun Bloody Mary, chocolate martini and Blue Dog Margarita. My mother and I had salads with blue cheese dressing while my father had a brie, mushroom and crab meat soup. For the entrée my father had grilled catfish, I had a ribeye steak which was served with thin sliced Cajun roasted potatoes. I also added their blue cheese cream sauce on the side. The dinner was also served with light, crusty rolls and a sweet garlic butter. My mother had the Pork Asiana (pork in an Asian style sauce). For dessert my mother had the bananas foster bread pudding and my father and I had pecan pie.

    I attempted to swim after dinner but found the pool water too cool, so I opted for the hot tub instead.

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    Wednesday we went down to breakfast at about 8am. The hotel provides a hot breakfast in addition to traditional continental items. Today they had apple muffins, bagels, scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and roasted potatoes. They also have waffle makers where you make your own waffle and they have toppings such as strawberries, whipped cream, powdered sugar or cinnamon. I opted to prepare a cinnamon sugar waffle for myself.

    After breakfast we drove to New Iberia to Shadows on the Teche plantation. We took the tour of the house which also lets you onto the grounds and after the tour you may spend as much time walking the grounds as you wish. You can make your way down to the banks of the river and imagine what it was like in days gone by. After the tour we stopped at Burger King for lunch on our way to our next stop: Avery Island.

    At Avery Island our first stop was the Tabasco Factory. First we stopped in the gift shop and looked at all the Tabasco made items. They have so many products! In addition to all the traditional Tabasco sauces, they have bbq sauce, steak sauce, mustard, soda, ice cream and more! They also give free samples of most of the products that they sell. We bought some mustard and some spiced salts and got a jar of salsa for free. After making our purchases we went into the factory for the brief tour. They show you a short film about how the sauce is made and then you proceed into the viewing area to watch the assembly line. They only work Mon-Thurs so we were lucky enough to be there on a work day.

    After Tabasco we went to the Jungle Garden which is a drive through nature preserve. You drive to the gift shop to get tickets and then proceed through the marked roads of the park and are free to stop anywhere along the way to get out and take photographs. Not far into the park we stopped and saw several alligators in the water right by the side of the road. We continued along the roads stopping at various points along the way to admire the scenery. We all really enjoyed this park; it was really beautiful.

    It was about 4:15pm when we finished at Avery Island so we drove back to New Iberia for dinner at Clementine. We were a little early before the kitchen opened for dinner, so they seated us and let us just order drinks until they were ready to serve.

    We all had margaritas and then my father had oysters for an appetizer while I had a grilled romaine salad. A head of romaine lettuce is split down the center and put on the grill, they then drizzle it with a spiced bacon dressing and garnish with cornbread (I think) croutons. For the main course I had a strip steak which was served with 5 cheese mac and cheese and my mother had the same. The mac and cheese was especially flavorful and creamy. My father had the Creole tuna and we had a side of the corn maque choux. We wanted to try something local so we settled on the corn--it’s basically corn cooked up with onions, peppers and maybe something else. For dessert I had the Oreo beignets served with strawberry sauce and my mother had bread pudding. I loved the beignets--they dip Oreos in beignet batter and fry them. Once again we all really enjoyed our meals!

    Thursday we had an earlier breakfast where I had another cinnamon sugar waffle and then left the hotel at 8am for our swamp tour with Cajun Country Swamp Tours. The tour leaves out of Breaux Bridge and it took about 35 min to get there. We arrived and checked in for the 9am tour with Butch, the guide and owner of the company. The boat he uses is a flat bottomed crawfish skiff with an engine modified to be able to go through undergrowth. The boat seats about 16 people. Being a smaller vessel allowed us to go into small pathways within the swamp and bayous that a larger boat could not go to. We saw many alligators and some birds such as herons, a bald eagle and rosette spoonbills. One of the reasons we choose this tour company is the size of the boat and the fact that he leaves the wildlife wild; we wanted a tour where the guide did NOT pick up the gators or feed them in order to get a look at them. The tour lasted 2 hours.

    Upon our return we drove to downtown Breaux Bridge to the visitors center to look at brochures and then walked down the street to have lunch at Angelle’s. I had the Frito Pie and a chocolate shake, my mother had a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake and my father had a loaded hotdog and chocolate shake.

    Next we drove back to Lafayette to visit Vermilionville. Vermilionville is a living history museum of sorts. It consists of different buildings that were typical of different periods in Cajun and Creole life. You walk through on paths and visit each of the houses. Some of them have people performing various crafts from the time period such as wood carving, spinning thread etc.

    We still had a couple hours before dinner so we drove back to the hotel and my father and I went in the swimming pool.

    For dinner tonight we drove back to Breaux Bridge to Café des Amis. We all had margaritas and my mother and I had salads with blue cheese dressing while my father had the crawfish cornbread appetizer. For entrees my mother and I had ribeye steaks and fries while my father had the Pasta des Amis (pasta in peppercorn sauce with vegetables and shrimp). For dessert my mother had the Syrup Cake which turned out to be a lot like gingerbread and I had chocolate pecan pie. Yet another tasty meal.

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    Friday, after another one of our breakfasts, we left the hotel at 8am for our drive to San Antonio. We stopped along the way at the Texas Visitors Center just over the border on I-10 and then again in Houston to look at Rice University. We then stopped for lunch at Pei Wei. We don’t have the Pei Wei chain where we live and since we love PF Chang’s we were interested in trying their quick serve concept. I had honey seared chicken, my father had kung pao chicken and my mother had Mongolian beef. They were all very good but too much food for lunch (for us).

    We arrived San Antonio about 5:30pm due to traffic and then street closings due to Fiesta San Antonio. We got to our hotel the Omni La Mansion del Rio and got room 518 a large room on the 5th floor overlooking the river with a shared balcony. The room had a king bed and sofa bed.

    We then got a cab to Market Square and had dinner at Mi Tierra. We all had margaritas and my mother and I both had the enchilada dinner (2 cheese enchiladas served with refried beans and Mexican rice. My father had the beef El Rancho Special. For dessert I had the fried ice cream which is served in a delicious sugar covered tortilla bowl with cajeta sauce. My mother had the key lime pie. I also bought some things from the bakery for a later time: a marranito (gingerbread pig), cinnamon sugar polvoron and a sugar cookie with pink sugar.

    After dinner we went back to the hotel and walked along the river walk before I decided to swim in the pool.

    Saturday after a quick breakfast at Starbuck’s in the hotel lobby, we went out at 8am to walk a long the river walk a little ways down to the Rivercenter Mall to the Imax theater for the 9am viewing of The Alamo. The movie is a nice introduction to the story of the Alamo and helps set the stage for your visit to see the historic site. The movie is about 45 min long and from there we walked down to the Alamo where we spent about an hour viewing the buildings and grounds and small museum which is housed in the long barrack.

    Now it was time for lunch so we went back to the Riverwalk to have lunch at the Saltgrass Steakhouse. I had a cheesesteak sandwich served with fried onions, my mother had a cheeseburger served with fries and my father had a soup and half cheesesteak sandwich combo. They offer half portions of some of their desserts, so I got a piece of the Margarita pie which was like key lime pie with a pecan crust.

    After lunch we continued along the river walk to purchase tickets for a river cruise. There were quite a few people in line ahead of us, but they fill the boats and they run continuously, so we didn’t wait more than 10 minutes. There are 3 departure points for the cruises and we went to the one across from the Hilton hotel. The cruise took about 40 minutes and follows the loop in the river.

    After the cruise my parents went back to the hotel and I continued walking--I walked down into the King William district along the river in one direction and then back tracked and walked up the straight part of the river the other way as well.

    After going back to the hotel, I had time to sit by the pool and read before we had to leave for our 6pm reservation at Acenar. Acenar was about a 5 min walk from our hotel along the river and is situated on a less built up section of the river walk. We were given a table on the rail, overlooking the river. I had a Tuna margarita (prickly pear margarita) and my mother had a regular margarita. For entrees my mother and I once again had the cheese enchiladas and this time my father had the chicken mole. All 3 were served with rice and refried beans. For dessert I had the cajeta crepes which were thin crepes filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with cajeta sauce and garnished with fruit.

    Tonight was the Fiesta Flambeau Parade, one of the pinnacle events of Fiesta San Antonio, so after another quick swim, I walked over to Alamo Plaza which is along the parade route, to see some of the parade. I got a pretty good spot standing behind several rows of people seated in chairs, so I could see quite well. The parade lasts from something like 7:30pm to 11pm and consists of bands and floats which are lit with lights and glow sticks. Some of the floats were really elaborate and must have taken a lot of time to build. Some of the bands came from as far away as Wisconsin. I stayed at the parade until about 10pm before heading back to the hotel to see the rest on television.

    Sunday was our departure day and we left the hotel by 8:15am. For breakfast this morning I had the cookies I had bought at Mi Tierra. I didn’t like the marranito as it lacked flavor, but the cinnamon sugar polvoron was delicious to me! Upon leaving the hotel, we took a detour and tried to drive to the street where my aunt use to live on our way to the airport, but some of the roads you have to take to get there are gated communities, so we were not able to see her old house. We were glad that we allowed a lot of extra time in going to the airport though because we found the signage confusing. Especially the signage for the rental car return. Most airports we’ve been too have larger and more frequent signs for rental car return, this one had small signs that were hard to read as you are driving by with other people behind you. We did finally find the Hertz return, but it was confusing, as if you missed one of the last signs you’d end up back on the highway headed north.

    We dropped the car and got the shuttle back to Terminal A where Delta is located. There was only a short line for luggage drop and then no line for security. By the time we got through we had 2 hours to spare. I was able to get a 3 Finger Combo Box from Raising Caine’s chicken before getting on the plane to Atlanta. We arrived in Atlanta a little early and our next flight to Boston took off late. Despite taking off late though, we did arrive on time in Boston.

    We had a great time on trip. As you can probably tell from my report, neither my mother or I eat seafood. Many of the restaurants in Louisiana specialize in seafood, so we were more limited than some as to where we could find things we liked to eat. Even with those limitations, we still found the food in New Orleans to be the best of the trip. Our overall favorite restaurant for each of us was Brennan’s. Best beignets goes to Café du Monde. Moving along to the best pralines category, that is a hard one. While I bought at least one praline from each of the main shops (Leah’s, Southern Candy, Laura’s, Aunt Sally’s and Loretta’s), I couldn’t eat them all together to do a real taste test, so I’ll have to suffice to say they all taste slightly different but I loved them all. Unfortunately we only got to two Mexican places in San Antonio, but of the two we liked Mi Tierra the best for both the food and the atmosphere.

    My favorite part of the trip was probably the French Quarter in New Orleans; I just love the buildings and the history there. It’s fun to just walk up and down the streets to see what you can discover. Before we got to San Antonio we only found out that Fiesta would be going on about a month and half before our trip. From what we had read we gathered it would be an extremely busy time in San Antonio and we almost decided not to go there because of it. However, while the various parades do cause street closures and some parts of the city have different Fiesta events (Market Square, San Fernando plaza, King William district), we didn’t find the river walk to be extra crowded and with only 1 day that was really our focus on this trip, so it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. I ended up enjoying the parade so that was one nice aspect. So, on the whole the trip was a success; I got to return to two fun cities with some nice history and my parents got to experience them for the first time.

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    Thanks for sharing ... what a great report with lots of details, especially with the food :P Glad to hear about your swamp tour and leaving the wildlife wild. My husband and I did a swamp tour outside of New Orleans and chose the tour company we did for the same reason as you.

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