Top 10 favorite things to do in New Orleans – part 2

Part two of our favorite things about New Orleans involve food, lodging, transporation, worship and a fantastic museum!

Cajun and Creole food is abundant in New Orleans so why not make it a quest? I was in search of the best cup of gumbo and am delighted to announce I found it at Mulate’s, http://www.mulates.com, near the convention center! Try a bowl of their Zydeco Gumbo, which is roux-based with shrimp, chunks of sausage, chicken and okra. It had just the right amount of heat … enough to make my nose drip … but just one nostril which was perfect. You may want to make your quest all about red beans & rice, meat pies (had one … delish), alligator, boudin balls (hubby’s personal favorite), crawfish etouffee, jambalaya or even oyster po’boys. Another restaurant I recommend is Mother’s, http://www.mothersrestaurant.com, at 401 Poydras Street. No need to dress up if you are going to Mother’s. They have been around since 1938 and know how to cook New Orleans cuisine. And they have some downright righteous gumbo! If you find yourself hungry for breakfast in the morning why not stop in at Oceana, http://www.oceanagrill.com, located at 739 Conti Street, in the French Quarter. We split the St. James Crepes loaded with shrimp and crabmeat. Thank goodness the waitress warned us it was plenty for two!

Okay … so you have to sleep somewhere when in New Orleans. The French Quarter has lots of great options. If you want to get a few hours of great sleep we steer clear of places on Bourbon Street. We are not late-night party animals. Actually, we try to stay away from most places adjacent to Bourbon Street. If you like garbage trucks, motorcycles and party-goers all through the night go ahead … I dare you! We love the Monteleone Hotel, http://www.hotelmonteleone.com, located at 214 Royal Street. With over 600 rooms you can easily request a quiet room and be assured to get one. Be sure and check out the Carousel Bar. Opened in 1949, it is the only revolving bar in New Orleans and makes one complete revolution every 15 minutes.

We found several interesting transportation options while in New Orleans. The street car ride down St. Charles’ Garden District is lots of fun. There are also romantic horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping all through the French Quarter. Jackson Square seems to be where they hang out. But for short hops around the Quarter why not try a bike taxi? FYI bike taxis can accommodate 2 riders and charge one dollar per block per person. If you’ve walked all day, a ride back to your hotel may well be worth the buckage! Our favorite pedaler was Russell, a 3-year pedal veteran in the bike taxi world and also college graduate with a double major. He can’t find a job so Russell pedals people around 60 hours a week. He toted us from Harrah’s Casino to Café du Monde for some late-night beignets. And yes … they accept tips!

We love to attend Mass in a city we are visiting. On our last visit to New Orleans we attended Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, http://www.stlouiscathedral.org, located at 615 Pere Antoine Alley, in Jackson Square. St. Louis was founded in 1720 and is the oldest Cathedral in North America. This time we stayed on Poydras Street in the Business District. The hotel was walking distance to St. Patrick’s. http://www.oldstpatricks.org, located at 724 Camp Street. The lovely church dates back to the early 1800’s and has the most amazing stained glass! There are three beautiful murals behind the altar painted in 1841 that are worth feasting your eyes on, particularly the one that depicts The Transfiguration.

I saved the jewel of New Orleans for last. The National WWII Museum http://www.nationalww2museum.org is located on Andrew Higgins Drive between Camp and Magazine Street. The museum itself is filled with interesting WWII history presented in state-of-the-art fashion. My favorites were the occasional alcoves with bench seating. They show mini-movies, or slides, and a personal narrative. Also, be sure and reserve tickets for the 4-D movie “Beyond All Boundaries” narrated by Tom Hanks. The movie is 45-minutes long, and literally, a moving experience. I will not give any surprises away. Don’t forget to head across the street where six WWII-era aircraft hang from the ceiling. That is also the location of “Final Mission: The USS Tang Experience,” the most decorated submarine during WWII. This interactive exhibit (tickets also required) is located in the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. You will learn about the final mission of the submarine. Each person is given a card of one of the crew. You will report to a station on the sub and participate in the final mission. The story is quite moving. Only a few survived. Find out after the mission if you were one of them. A special exhibit entitled “Guest of the Third Reich: American POW’s in Europe” is also very interesting and should not be missed. This exhibit ends July 7, 2013. The museum houses a soda shop (Jeri Nims Soda Shop) and a full-service restaurant (called American Sector) as well as several excellent gift shops. A museum expansion is scheduled to open later this year, with another expansion opening in 2014, so you will be going back for years to this amazing museum and loving tribute to all who served.

Top 10 favorite things to do in New Orleans

This past week hubby and I traveled to New Orleans for four fun-filled days to celebrate 41 years of marriage. May is a great month to visit the city of gumbo, beignets and all the French Quarter has to offer. So here is part one of my top ten list:

Since 1862, Café du Monde, http://www.cafedumonde.com, has been generously sprinkling powdered sugar over their tasty beignets (French donuts). If you don’t do anything else while in New Orleans stop here! Note to self … if you wear black … be prepared to be covered with powdered sugar. Everyone else is. With eight café locations, their oldest is in the French Market at 800 Decatur Street across from Jackson Square. Look for the green and white awning and just sit down at an open table. Someone will be there to take our order shortly! This location is open 24 hours a day, except on Christmas and the occasional hurricane. FYI … beignets are served in orders of three. I’m not going to tell you how many orders to get. You will have to figure that one on your own. Paired with creole coffee, hot chocolate, or milk, there isn’t anything more decadent!

Stroll down bawdy Bourbon Street in the French Quarter just once in your life so you can cross it off your bucket list. For the faint-hearted, make that visit during daylight hours. The street is loaded with bars, restaurants, strip clubs and hotels. I got way too close to the door of a strip club and was asked if I would like to step in for a pole dancing lesson. Really? I didn’t know whether to feel mortified or glorified at that moment. Streets get crowded with party-goers later in the day carrying around plastic fish bowl-shaped glasses of mind-altering liquid. And yes … drinking alcoholic beverages while strolling down the street is legal in New Orleans.

You can book and pay for all kinds of tours on http://www.NewOrleans.com before you even leave home. I recommend the French Quarter Ghost Walking Tour (ages 13 and up). With choices like the “The Vampire Tour” (I’m scared of vampires so we couldn’t do that one), “Voodoo Tour,” a “Cemetery History” tour, we opted for the “French Quarter Ghost Tour.” The meeting location for this particular tour company, http://www.hauntedhistorytours.com, was Rev. Zombies Voodoo Shop in the French Quarter with departure times at 6 pm and 8 pm. People … these walking tours are VERY popular! Reservations in advance make life so easy. Cost is $20 per person and lasts 2 hours. Wear good walking shoes! Your guide takes a group of 20 for a stroll through history stopping in front of haunted locations and imparting stories of woe through the ages. Note there is a bar/drink break halfway through the tour at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop/bar (also haunted).

Browse through the many art galleries in the French Quarter. Our absolute favorite is the Rodrigue Gallery http://www.georgerodrigue.com at 730 Royal Street. It is the home of George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog. You will fall in love with his bold use of color and the many interesting images and situations of Rodrigue’s Blue Dog, which by the way is not always blue. So the art is pricy, but hey, he has an affordable line of children’s books and prints a yearly calendar you can purchase on-line. Oh, if you prefer to wear your art, my daughter’s favorite t-shirt is a Blue Dog version we purchased several years ago at the Blue Dog Cafe (www.bluedogcafe.com) in Lafayette. You can also enjoy his art at Mulate’s, http://www.mulates.com, 201 Julia Street, a New Orleans Cajun Restaurant over by the Convention Center where I had my favorite bowl of gumbo. Spoiler alert … more about that in my next blog.

The New Orleans Cooking School located at 524 St. Louis Street has been in existence for almost 30 years. Who knew? I didn’t. Their lively cooking demonstrations and entertaining history lesson cost $29 per person and can also be reserved through http://www.NewOrleans.com. We signed up for their 10 a.m. morning class. Allow at least 2 hours and come hungry, as part of the experience is getting to feast on the goodies they prepare! Each class seats about 60 and is very popular so reserve ahead of time. We sat next to a family who was coming to the school for the third time. Michael, our awesome host, cooked Shrimp and Artichoke Soup, Crawfish Etouffee, Bread Pudding and Pralines. Not only did we leave with full tummies, we also were given copies of the recipes that were cooked. I also understand they have a hands-on cooking class. Cost is obviously more with smaller numbers in the classes. Check the website for details.

Be sure and stop by my blog next time to learn about the food, where to stay … and not stay, interesting transportation options, historic churches and our absolute favorite museum in New Orleans.

Granny’s magic purse

Collection of pursesMy mother-in-law always had a real serious “thing” for purses. Never saw anything like it. To call her the Imelda Marcos of purses would only be a slight exaggeration. Wilna’s multitude of value-priced, yet always chic handbags came in an assortment of sizes, shapes, and hues. I’d often marvel at the cute little clutches in assorted colors stacked in her closet that perfectly matched her footwear. You name the occasion … it had the perfect purse to go with it. A most refined lady if ever there was one.

I’ll never forget one particular handbag she lugged around when hubby and I were first hitched back during the Jurassic Period. Actually, it looked rather like a small picnic basket than a purse. It had the distinctive woven wooden lattice work with checkerboard red and white fabric-covered lid that flipped up. Along the sides all around the whole purse were painted these tall, pencil thin buildings. Wilna’s oldest sister, an accomplished artist, painted the buildings to look like a scene from the French Quarter in New Orleans. Cutest thing you ever saw.

For years, that purse seemed permanently attached with super glue to her right arm. Heck, a lady with a multitude of grandbabies (they called her “Granny”) had to be prepared for anything … drool, drips, scrapes, scratches and all manner of major and minor mishaps. Trust me … Granny’s purse could sub as a minor emergency clinic, or the Quicky Mart around the corner, depending on the occasion.

Actually, the best thing about Granny’s purses had nothing to do with a particular style of handbag. It was more about how Granny would get one of her grandchildren under her spell with the possibilities of what was in the purse. I remember watching our daughter Katie when she was about three years young sitting close beside her Granny waiting patiently for a promised surprise. Granny scrunched over closer to Katie, and then ever so slowly, plucked out a stick of gum from the handbag and placed it ever so gently into the little girl’s hand as if it were solid gold. In that moment, something special passed between the two that had nothin’ to do with a plain old stick of gum. But Granny had a way about her that made a simple gesture, one of those special “I love you” moments.

Some months after Granny turned eighty, ten years ago this November, she left this mortal plane. But not before saying many tender and tearful goodbyes to her cherished husband, children, grand and great-grandchildren, and a multitude of family and friends who loved and treasured the great lady.

Her affection for purses is probably the reason why one of her nine daughters suggested Granny should be buried with one of her favorites, a smart-looking black clutch. It wasn’t long before family members started thinking about what they wanted to place inside Granny’s purse.

Several of the younger grandchildren wrote loving goodbye letters to their Granny. Holy cards with “I love you” carefully printed on the back, school photographs, snapshots, and even a locket were also included. Tim, married to Granny’s daughter Michele for over thirty years back then, placed a medal of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which he had carried in his wallet since the eighth grade. Mimi, our special needs daughter, placed the “Most Cheerful Camper Medal” she received one summer while attending camp. Cameron, one of several middle school-aged grandsons, tucked a little plastic football inside the purse.

Yesterday in the mail we received a family photograph taken at a nephew’s wedding. My husband opened the large envelope.

“What a great-looking bunch of family your parents helped to create. Your mother would have been so proud,” I said.

Mimi and Bobby McGee

bowling off a rampMy husband was playing tunes off his iPad last night while I was helping Mimi finish her dinner. Mimi usually watches Vanna “turn” letters on “Wheel of Fortune” while she chows down … but not tonight.

“Do you remember years ago we’d crank up the record player and dance around the room with the kids,” Rick said.

I nodded. All our kids are grown now. Mimi, our special needs daughter, is the only one home.

I remember way back then we’d get Mimi in the act when a particular song called for twirling and dipping. Rick would gather Mimi up into his arms and twirl away. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and “Rhythm of the Saints” albums were her favorites. I can still hear Mimi cackle as Rick, sweat dripping down his face, would finally deposit her back into her wheelchair. Then another song she loved would start up. Mimi would reach for her dad and say, “again.” Some of the great old music brings back those growing-up days.

The song Rick played next on his iPad got Mimi’s attention. It was “Me and Bobby McGee” written by Kris Kristofferson and over the years sung by lots of artists. The version we were currently swaying to was by Janis Joplin recorded way back in 1970. I think the only word Mimi heard in the song was “Bobby.”

There is a Mr. Bobby at the day center Mimi attends during the week. Every Tuesday he drives the bus to bowling for Mimi’s class. It’s her absolute favorite day of the week … as with probably every special needs adult at the day center. Each Tuesday afternoon when Mimi returns home are met with lots of high fives.

“Did you beat the boys at bowling?” I ask.

She raises one hand to deposit a very high five. Life should be so simple that a game like bowling can cause so much joy … and a song about Bobby McGee reminds us of how we got there.