Even though our Ottawa winter was heralded with warmer than usual temperatures and no snow by the time Christmas rolled around (a fairly unusual occurrence), John and I packed our bags and headed out for a winter escape (planned several months ago) for a bucket list destination: New Orleans, Louisiana.
After a fairly easy-going travel day (thank you Mother Nature!) we arrived at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, happy and reassured to find our luggage made it as well. The uneventful travel day was especially sweet since it was New Year’s Eve and because we had made it with plenty of time to spare to take in the festivities. I admit I was mentally prepared for the possibility of spending New Year’s Eve in an airport due to weather, mechanical or logistical issues like missed connections, but in the end everything worked out! YAY!
Our first destination was the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant in the French quarter for a special dinner to ring in the New Year. It did not take longer than for the appetizers to arrive to fully appreciate the great things I had heard about southern hospitality, given the kind, warm and attentive nature of the team that greeted us with open arms. What an amazing way to start a vacation! We then decided to take a gentle stroll to burn off some of the calories, and to take in the merriment and festive spirit that was in abundance throughout the French Quarter. We concluded the evening in Jackson Square, a great vantage point to take in the brilliant fireworks show and traditional dropping of the fleur-de-lis to ring in 2016.
Our chilly New Year’s Day began with a visit to iHop for breakfast and a leisurely day of exploring the sights of the French Quarter, the Shops of Canal Place and the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk (to warm up). Along the way, we discovered the Theaters at Canal Place, a great opportunity to get caught up on the Golden Globe and Oscar nominated movies, if we found ourselves needing a break from the touring and walking or if the weather was not cooperating. On the spur of the moment, we decided to see the movie “Joy”, only to find that the theatre experience included the opportunity to order and enjoy dinner during the movie. I feasted on a delicious grilled duck salad while John enjoyed a tasty thin crust pizza. The movie “Joy” was indeed a joy to experience, with its great story, stellar cast and beautiful story-telling style that ties it all together masterfully.
Our Saturday began with a new discovery, The Ruby Slipper Café, offering a delightful and plentiful menu of unique breakfast options. Before our food arrived, we had already decided we would be back given the sunny hospitality of the staff, the delightful ambiance and the fact that there were so many tempting breakfast options we wanted to try. On this first visit I was most excited at the prospect of having a side order of authentic southern grits. Most yummy!
After that, the focal point of the day was a great city tour we booked through Cajun Encounters Tour Co. The bus tour offered us a great overview of some of the sights outside of the city’s core that we might not have had the opportunity to experience on foot such as the beautiful City Park, St. Louis Cemetery and a glimpse of the Garden district along St Charles Street. Our guide also showed us some of the areas that remain devastated by the 2005 hurricane Katrina as well as Musician’s Village, the object of intense rebuilding efforts. We concluded our day by visiting the amazing Landry’s Seafood for an excellent dinner.
Our Sunday began with a return visit to The Ruby Slipper Café in time for Sunday brunch, treating ourselves to a sinfully delicious drink (I had a mimosa and John had a bellini) to accompany our dishes. Everything was so good, we knew we would be back. By this time, we were getting a sense that with the generous breakfasts we were having, we might be able to skip lunches and just opt for a mid-afternoon snack to bridge the gap to our typically hearty dinners.
We then decided our activity of the day would be to check out Mardi Gras World, where they make parade floats for any of the parades that take place during Mardi Gras season. As someone who often asks “how did they do that?” when it comes to television, movie and generally, any showbiz magic, this was a special treat. Their convenient shuttle out of the French Quarter made the visit as easy as it could be.
After our tour, I stopped in at the Sheraton Hotel’s Pelican Bar to try my first bourbon. As a new fan of scotch, it did not take long to appreciate the nuances of a fine bourbon.
We concluded the day with dinner and a movie again, enjoying the extra comfortable seating in the smaller theater for the screening of “The Danish Girl”. This time, the convenience of the theatre service proved too hard to resist, as we ordered decadent theatre treats after our dinners.
Monday started with a return visit to The Ruby Slipper Café. No spiked beverages this time, just to try a few more things off the fabulous menu of options.
As the sun came out, we decided it would be a perfect day to walk up to the Cajun Encounters office and book a tour of two historic plantations along the Mississippi river, Laura: A Creole Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation . The drive to the plantations was hosted by our most amazing tour guide and driver, Stacey, who was a wealth of information about the sights, history and geography between New Orleans and the plantations themselves. Our tours of the opulent grounds of Laura and Oak Alley were full of captivating historical drama about the families that owned and ran the plantations as well as an eye-opening look at the life of the slaves who worked there.
Upon our return to the city, we checked out the offerings at Oceana Grill for dinner. After a full day of walking and touring, we peeked into the Davenport Lounge of the Ritz Carlton Hotel for an after dinner drink. As it was a quiet evening there, we had an opportunity to spring up a conversation with staff members Kristy and Dan who were excellent ambassadors for the city in suggesting to us more places to check out while touring New Orleans…. It became apparent that a week just isn’t long enough to see everything in this amazing city!
You guessed it, we started Tuesday with breakfast at The Ruby Slipper Café (by this time they were getting to recognize us and thought we were locals). After breakfast, I decided to hang out in the room and get a nap as I was feeling a bit of a drain in energy. Meanwhile, John decided to check out the movie theatre again. His choice this time was the film “Concussion”.
For dinner we checked out the Bourbon House in the French quarter and enjoyed an elaborate seafood feast. The focal point of my meal was catfish pecan, prepared impeccably (gluten-free friendly too!) I was excited at the prospect of eating catfish for the first time, and this dish did not disappoint as it literally melted in my mouth. Bravo Bourbon House!
We then wrapped up the evening with a ghost walk, hosted by Janine of the New Orleans Legendary Walking Tours Company. Janine told us that she was previously a stand-up comedienne, which came through in her animated story-telling style, which heightened the mystery and drama of the stories she described to us, stressing the historical facts supporting the reported events.
Wednesday was another-picture perfect day for touring around on foot. We began with another fantastic breakfast at The Ruby Slipper Café then proceeded to the French quarter for a very leisurely stroll, checking out the sights, the sounds and the various shops. I was delighted to show John the wonderful works of Matt Rinard in Gallery Rinard, an artist whom I had been following for several years whose specialty is bright works of art which draw upon the themes of pets, jazz, comedy and New Orleans traditions. On this trip, I became a proud owner of one of Matt’s works!
We then signed up for a class with the New Orleans School of Cooking, offering a two-hour class in cooking gumbo, chicken creole and pralines. We were charmed by our teacher Anne Leonard, a former kindergarten teacher who was an absolute hoot! Not only did she share with us the history and cultural influences of New Orleans cooking while guiding us through the meal preparation, but she also shared with us stories from her experience on the Food Network show “Clash of the Grandmas” where she won first prize. John and I both really enjoyed this event!
Thursday started with John feeling a little under the weather so I made my way to The Ruby Slipper Café on my own. My arrival was greeted by the hostesses with inquiries as to where my friend was. How sweet!
Given the drizzly, foggy weather, I decided to pay a visit to the Shops of Canal Place and the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk again to see if I missed something in our first visit. Along the way I noticed that there were no line ups at the Café du Monde store, a perfect opportunity to try their chicory coffee and to pick up some beignets for John. By evening, John was feeling better so we decided to wrap up our week with one last VIP movie experience with the Quentin Tarantino movie “The Hateful Eight”.
Friday started with an early breakfast to say goodbye to our new friends at The Ruby Slipper Café and then our return flights home… back to the snow and sub-zero temperatures. After this wonderful week, the spirit, southern hospitality and warmth of the people of New Orleans will stick with us and definitely help off-set the effects of Canadian climate for weeks to come!
For all the richness that New Orleans has to offer in history, culture, and art in all of its disciplines, I was captivated and mesmerized by the stories that were shared. Thanks New Orleans for an unforgettable trip! As the Hank Williams song goes, “Son of a gun we had good fun on the bayou”!
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