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Trip Report Trip Report: New Orleans, Nov. 20 - 25, 2013

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This year we decided to visit New Orleans. We had never been there, although we had intended to visit when we lived in Houston in the late 70s, but never got around to it by the time we moved to California. We invited our daughter and spouse to join us.

We paid $880 for two for our RT tickets SF-MYS. There were some cheaper ones available, but they were not nonstop flights and less convenient than these. For some reason we qualified for the pre-check system where we did not have to take of our shoes, place our liquids and gels in a zip-lock bag or even take off our sweaters. Nor did we have to go through the full-scan machine, just the metal detector. It was close to a pre-9/11 security check. Our plane left late and we did not get to our lodgings via taxi ($40) until 11 p.m. Our daughters had arrived much earlier, even had the time to rent bicycles to see the extended neighborhood and go to Cochon (we placed a specific order with them) to pick up sandwiches for our evening meal.

We had found our lodgings through airbnb ($601 for 5 nights). It is advertised as being on Washington Ave. 4 blocks from Magazine, but as our daughter said, it is just south of the border for most people. Gentrification is creeping south of Magazine but had not crossed Annunciation St. yet. The apartment was in the first house past that street after a very unappealing corner store.

The apartment is a work in progress. The house must have been a single unit now divided into upstairs and downstairs units with the downstairs front room empty. The apartment is entered through either bedroom and contains two bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a full bathroom with one wall that is only a half wall to an interior passage between one of the bedrooms and the dining room--there is little privacy when using the bathroom. The rooms are very tall--probably 16 feet high, and our bedroom was a cube. All the doors had transoms above them that were used to keep air circulating in the days before air conditioning. Here’s one picture of our bedroom: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/11092638986/in/set-72157638129439203 and the next one. As can be seen, the furnishing is sparse with a bed, a trestle table, a night stand and a small electric/oil radiator. The latter managed to get some chill out of the room, but is inadequate for the temperatures we had--room temperature was down to 53ºF by late evening and through the night. I am not sure that the window AC unit would suffice in the middle of the summer. The dining room has a table and four chairs. The kitchen has a sink, a refrigerator, a stove, a cabinet for kitchen items and a small sideboard too low for any kitchen work. The second bedroom has a more efficient gas space heater and an armoire. The bathroom has a sink in a corner, a toilet, a bathtub with shower whose “repair” paint is peeling near the drain and a chest of drawers. Towels were supplied but no washcloths. The space heater does not work. There is a back yard with a table and four chairs. We enjoyed it once, and after that the weather was not conducive to sitting outside. The place was clean and it served our purpose. But it would not do for anyone who expects amenities such as a couch, a coffee table, a television and radio; in other words relaxing is sitting around the dining room table.

The apartment is owned by an architect. That is why I suspect that it is a work in progress. I can imagine the front room (currently unused) as an office, with the rest of the downstairs arranged as a very nice apartment for a couple with no children. But at the moment it is an apartment with only very basic essentials. I would recommend it only for those months that are neither very cold (December through February might be questionable) nor very hot (May through September might be too hot).

Transportation to the center of New Orleans is convenient. There is a bus that goes down Magazine to Canal street, or one can walk up to Charles St. to catch a streetcar. Our first streetcar operator charged us full fare ($1.25), but we subsequently paid senior rate (40¢). Exact change is not needed, but the change given is a pass with the change on it. Thus we gave a $5 bill and received a pass with a $2.50 value which was good enough for multiple rides as seniors.

How we spent our days:

On the first full day we had reservations for lunch at the Commander’s Palace at 1:30 p.m. It made no sense to go to town. We started out at a leisurely hour (sat in the back yard for a while) and walked down toward the Mississippi, but the view is blocked by a concrete wall extending as far as the eye can see. We walked back through the Irish Channel neighborhood with a variety of houses including duplex houses that appear to be only 20 ft. wide (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/11092465126/in/set-72157638129439203 the red house has two entrance doors) and turned out to be quite common in lower income neighborhoods. The official Garden Historical District (between Washington and Jackson, and Magazine and St. Charles) is full of mansions that are impressive at first sight but less interesting in terms of how people generally live. We ended our tour in the Lafayette cemetery, with one family crypt having an interesting listing: There is no indication of a wife for the pater familias, but a consort is named (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/11092607694 ).

After lunch we sent to the French Quarter and walked around. Bourbon St. is raucous and unappealing; the music loud and uninteresting. The architecture is interesting with its wrought-iron balconies that are found elsewhere in the city. We did get to the levee and view the Mississippi in the early evening, with a heavy fog hanging over the ships and the city (I was too impatient and the river pictures did not come out). For dinner we went back to the house and had a big salad with fruit for dessert.

On Friday we went back to the French Quarter to get information from the Tourist Office. We then were picked up in front of the Sheraton to take a 2 hour ride with the Honey Island Swampt Tours (cost: $180 for four, cash or Traveler’s Checks only, with the van ride from N.O. to the bayou constituting half the cost). It was well worth it, even though it lacked warm weather greenery and the cold-blooded animals were general not visible. We saw only one relatively small alligator. The tour guide was excellent. He felt that March-April would be the best time to visit the area, when the foliage is not fully gown, allowing us to see the bird life, but also when it is warm enough for the alligators to be out of their semi-hibernation. The boat ride gave us a glimpse of the way people live along the Pearl River, some of it reminiscent of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” On the way to Slidell the van driver pointed out to us all the abandoned buildings that existed south of N.O. including a small shopping mall, a hospital and of course housing. We learned quite a bit about the aftermath of Katrina. He had also lost his ancestral house (built by his grandfather) but did not explain his current living situation--clearly not easy as he was working full-time at the age of 75. On the way back he was kind enough to drop us off on Frenchman St. instead of the original pickup point where we intended to hear a performance in The Spotted Cat. Before that we ate at the Praline Connection. The performance was a trio of a guitar player, and harmonica player, and a washboard player who was also the lead singer; he simply was fantastic. I wish that the picture had turned out better: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/11092861886. No cover charge but it is expected that one buys a drink and a jar is passed around for the musicians. To go home we waited and waited for the bus and eventually took a taxi.

Saturday we went to the Bywater District, a neighborhood in transition. Our daughter had found a restaurant there for lunch: Maurepas Food. It was inventive and excellent. Only their dish identified as “greens” was a disappointment because it was just a lettuce salad with excellent dressing, and we had expected a version of collard greens, etc. I had the day’s cocktail whose main ingredients (that I recollect) were Bourbon and a very smoky lapsang souchong. We walked back to St. Claude Ave. to catch the bus to museums. We must have just missed one, and buses run infrequently on in that area. As luck would have it, there was a neighborhood parade on that boulevard. Behind it we could see the bus, and then at one point it no longer was there. It took a good half hour for the parade to get to us and pass us by (three groups and a flame thrower) and then we still had to wait for the next bus which did not come for another 20 minutes or so.

This day started our bad luck with museums. We wanted to visit The Back Street Cultural Museum but it was closed because too much stuff was on the floor, as the owner told us through a partially opened door. So we decided to visit the New Orleans African-American Museum, but it was closed for expansion and renovation. We walked back though the Marigny district and then the French quarter. We took the St. Charles streetcar and the shuttle (the line is temporarily under repairs) to go to Boucherie. I asked the driver to let us off a the proper stop, but he forgot and took us to the end of the line. We crossed the street and explained the situation to personnel (dispatchers?) standing by three buses and they told us to climb in the third bus. The bus driver was a transplant from Illinois who had driven buses on the Champaign-Urbana campus for 15 years, and gave us an earful about the sense of schedules and time off in N.O. He pointed out that his shuttle run took 15 minutes. At the end of which he had the right (perhaps not contractual but understood) to a 10 minute break; definitely laid back compared to driving around a university. He let us off at the right corner and we arrived at the restaurant for our 8 p.m. reservation.

Sunday was the day for the commercial and art gallery district. From that point of view it was a disappointment, and would have been so even if most of the galleries were open. But we had a great lunch at Cochon--two dishes for the four of us--of which the chilaquiles was the more memorable. Not quite like the Mexican version with broken tacos chips and shredded meat, but with tacos squares layered with sauce and a good piece of pork meat and an egg on top. I took home some coppa de teste which had a great smoky flavor (they will vacuum pack for travel). After that we went to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art which has an eclectic mix of greater and lesser interest. I find it worthwhile mainly for those items that are nontraditional either because they come out of folk tradition or use media that are not common. Our daughters went to the Contemporary Art museum across the street. Cochon and the museum are close to the warehouse district which is interesting for the conversion to living units of some of the mills in the neighborhood, but one can only guess at how it might look inside--no entry except for residents and guests.

In the evening we took the Magazine bus to the end of the line with intention of connecting with another bus to go to the Po’boy festival, but that bus did not run on Sundays. We walked through the park to St. Charles Ave. to catch the shuttle to Oak St. The bus was full, everyone heading in the same direction. The festival is several blocks of stands, most of which are selling po’boys, including sashimi po’boys by a Japanese restaurant. I had two halves. The bread is just something to hold what’s inside; N.O. could learn something about SF sourdough in general. One was deep fried oysters and the other shrimp from a stand run by Boucherie. The second one ws much better. There was a bandstand at the end of the street with various musicians playing, but it was much too loud for my wife and me, so we did not stick around; the daughters came home later.

Monday we wasted a lot of time in the French Quarter. First we took our luggage to the Sheraton, walked up to the luggage storage area and asked if we could leave our suitcases there. No problem--and I gave a nice tip. We had left our guidebook and map with the suitcases, so I ran back and got them, meeting the rest in the Faulkner House Books in the alley next to the cathedral. Found our destination on the other side of the French Quarter and walked there, only to discover that the house with a Cajun kitchen was closed for a special event. We went back to visit the Beauregard-Keyes house, which is interesting but there was too much Keyes in the tour. It is expensive for what it is--$38 for two seniors and two adults. We went back to the Sheraton, picked up our luggage. Our daughters went off to the airport and we went to Bourbon House Seafood for lunch--perhaps the most disappointing meal of the trip. We then walked to the central public library to catch the public bus to the airport--$2 per person and we did not ask if there was a senior rate. We had problem getting home.

We ate well. Here’s a detailed list of the menus we experienced. I would have difficulty prioritizing them because they all offer a completely different experience. All prices are for four except Bourbon House Seafood.

Maurepas Foods - 3200 Burgundy, N.O. 70117

Oysters
Meatballs
Kohlrabi
Baby Greens
Sweet Potato
$8 Cocktail
TomorrowHatesYou (excellent house concoction)

Total cost: $80

The Baby Greens were the one disappointment as it just was a green salad, but with a good house dressing. The rest was inventive and good.

The Praline Connection 542 Frenchman St. N.O. 70116

1 beer
1 red wine
2 bowls of Gumbo Zaire
1 cup File Gumbo
1 House salad
1 Jambalaya with Collard Greens
1 Crawfish Etouffe Dinner

Total cost: $84

It was more like home cooking, giving us a good taste of traditional dishes.

Commander’s Palace

1 Sazerac rye
1 Hollyberry
1 shrimp & tasso
1 soup du jour
1 oyster dome
1 turtle soup
1 pork belly
1 quail dish
1 fish dish
1 oyster salad
1 glass red lunch wine ($4.99 special)
1 glass white lunch wine (ditto)
1 sorbet
1 soufflé
1 coffee
2 espresso

Total cost: $195

This was the fanciest place with excellent food, although not the most inventive. There is a dress code. We were in the large upstairs back room which is glass encased, hence noisy, but gives a wonderful feel of being in the trees. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/11092622974

Boucherie 8115 Jeanette St., N.O. 70118

1 chocolate chess pie
1 collards
1 chocolate olive oil cake
1 glass pinot
1 Pimms cup
1 blackened shrimp
1 glass German riesling
1 glass Malbec
1 Pork belly
1 carrot cake (it’s an appetizer)
1 savory crepe
1 ribs
1 duck breast
1 scallops

Total cost: $203

Reservations are essential. The food is delicious. Definitely worth the expense.


Bourbon House Seafood 144 Bourbon St., N.O. 70130

1 Loire valley wine glass
1 coffee
1 1/2 doz. oysters with caviar
1 gator boudin
1 1/2 dozen Rockfeller oysters
1 bowl Gumbo
1 Pecan pie

Total cost: $75

This was the most disappointing meal on different counts. Service was so-so even though the restaurant had only two or three tables with customers. The oyster dishes did not work. The oyster Rockefeller had so much spinach, finely ground and then plopped on the oyster as if with an ice cream scoop, that the taste of the oyster disappeared. The oysters with caviar had very little caviar, just decoration really, and if the caviar had any taste, it was lost because of the onions that were added to the mixture. The gator boudin was a disaster. The dish came to the table lukewarm, and I sent it back; it came back hardly warmer. It consisted of three balls of gator boudin--a sausage meat rather than a sausage itself--breaded and deep-fried. Obviously done ahead of time, kept in the refrigerator and then reheated somewhat. Had it been piping hot, it would have been acceptable for what I think it should have been, but it is the last time that I will try alligator. It is a bland meat of no special interest. I do not recommend this restaurant.

To this I will add an excellent brunch at Cochon (our daughters paid, so I can’t give the price) and were tempted by Coquette on the corner of Magazine and Washington, but could not fit it into our schedule. Their large smoker on the sidewalk was a great advertisement.

End of the report.

These are the as of yet (12-4-2013) unedited pictures of our trip:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157638129439203/show/

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