I’d have to say that this trip with one of my best friends Ange was the best I’ve ever taken. We had some ups and downs and one hell of a hangover on Fat Tuesday, but we were lucky enough to see some things that many people may not have the opportunity to see in their lifetime. We rented a car and other than the 2 days we spent right in the center of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, we spent time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama, and Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi.
I received a statement in the mail from United Airlines saying that all the points I had accumulated from flying were due to expire. Well, I thought, I can’t let that happen but where to go with them. This was in the fall of 2011. Bham…..Mardi Gras is coming up in February and though I hummed and hawed about there or the East coast, specifically Bangor, Maine and West Virginia, Mardi Gras won the internal argument in my brain. I booked my ticket that day and in typical Laurie fashion worried about the rest of the details later. I only had a week off work so pretty much had to fit everything into about 5 days. I called my friend Andria (aka..Ange) and she was in.
We realized shortly after me booking that she was not able to get on the same flight even though we were both flying out of Seattle, WA. There are great deals to be had at SeaTac Airport (SEA) when you stay at a hotel near there. You can park your car for up to a week when you spend a night at many hotels. This was a good deal since both our flights left early in the morning and we would have had to left Vancouver, BC in the middle of the night. It was a long day of travel and by the time we had our bags and found each other at the car rental counter is was close to 9 pm.
The first night we drove to Baton Rouge, LA or more specifically St. Francisville, LA, a little community just outside of Baton Rouge. It was about 2 hours from New Orleans and knowing we were arriving late, we had called the place where we were staying and they let us know where the key would be to get into our room. On a side note here, pack a flashlight in your purse. When we got there, it was super dark and difficult to see where the keys were. Night 1 we stayed at the Myrtles Plantation (according to many, it is haunted). It was friggin awesome. The main house is magnificent and right out of a southern movie. It is located on what was a thriving plantation back in the day. There are private rooms available to rent in the main house and many other types of accommodations within a stones throw of the main house. I encourage you to check out their website and the accommodations they have to offer. We stayed in one the Garden Rooms and it was lovely. Basic items, nothing fancy but clean secure, and not haunted that I could tell. Although by the time we arrived we were tired and exhausted.
The time of plantations and the South is an interesting time period to me. Slavery was still prevalent in the face of federal laws calling for the abolition of slavery, people still believed black people were inferior, and white people got rich off the blood, sweat, and lives of black slaves. The reason I bring this up is that I had an odd experience when we were close to Myrtles. We were starving and the only thing open was a McDonalds. Yes, I ate there,begrudgingly. I’ve worked with and been friends with, and socialized with many people of many different races and nationalities and have never felt out of place or uncomfortable. Maybe this is because of a sociological term call “white privilege”. Essentially, it is a term that describes privileges white people experience that are not so obvious such as walking into a store and not getting a second look. I can tell you that this white privilege disappears when you walk into an restaurant and you are the only two white people in the place, including staff. It was a humbling experience that made me realize how people that are not white (not just African Americans but Hispanic or Asian for example) must feel when they are faced with dealing with white people in all aspects of their lives, compounded by their history in racist America. The staff were friendly, however at 11 pm at night, we were given a few second looks by those in the restaurant lol….probably wondering if two white chicks had gotten lost!
So here is our room. It was one room with a bathroom that had a tub, toilet and old fashioned claw foot bathtub, along with a sink. There was door in the front and one out the back to a small patio that went straight out to the grassy area. The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful and the oak trees are covered in hanging spanish moss. The trees and the giant old homes made me fall in love with the area immediately.
Included in the room rates is breakfast! There is a cooking building near the main house that is one of the original buildings on the property. The help would cook in this room and then serve meals in the main house. It has now been converted into a little general store and the area where staff cook a fantastic, yummy, full breakfast. We had eggs, sausage, grits, biscuits. I can not say enough about how great the staff were, friendly and helpful and how great the food was. We also did a tour of the areas of the house that guests are not allowed in without a staff member. They contain original artwork and items that belonged to the plantation and items from the time period that have been bought for the home to replace missing items. I think we paid $5 tip to the man that took us through. Don’t forget to tip people!!
There were a couple of sitting, dining, and bedrooms that contained original items but photos were not allowed. The items were so cool. If there was a time machine, I’d know what time period and where I’d be heading to. It is certainly worth doing a tour while you’re here. If I ever make it back to Louisiana, I plan to spend a few days at this plantation. Below are some more photos around the property and the main house.
After our tour of the house and a full hearty breakfast we checked out and headed to the Big Easy and the center of Mardi Gras action, to the French Quarter. Sunday February 19th we stayed at the Myrtle’s Plantation and left for NO on Monday February 20th. Most of the French Quarter is shut down for Mardi Gras. The sheer number of people and events make it virtually impossible to navigate through the tiny crowded streets (you’ll see what I mean when you see the pictures and videos). Our hotel offered valet parking which is really your only option if you have a rental and are staying in the FQ. Of course it’s expensive at about $45/day. We only needed it for 2 days though.
Take some time to check out Mardigrasneworleans.com that contains some valuable information. Mistakingly, I believed that the parades that the festival is famous for, traveled through the FQ but this is untrue. There a many parades and this festival happens over almost a month long period. The parades you’ll want to check out go down canal street and in and around this area. Check out the parade routes for 2015 here. You’ll want to find a good seat on the street early. If you can find a store that sells cheap folding chairs grab one because the parades are long!! Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is Tuesday February 17th in 2015 this coming year. The year we went it was Tuesday February 21st. For a history of Mardi Gras check out this website.
We stayed at the Iberville Suites and it was a lovely, beautiful hotel. Currently, Expedia.com has rates starting at $329/night. It also appears that their name has changed to Courtyard New Orleans or Mariott? They are attached to the Ritz and with your room card as proof, you can use most of the amenities at the Ritz which is a bonus when you’re out on the street and need to use the bathroom after watching a parade for hours. If I recall, we paid about $279/night when we stayed there. It was worth every penny. You can certainly get hotels cheaper outside of the FQ but honestly, you’ll never experience the Mardi Gras party the way it is when staying locally. We had no issues with noise at night, but that could be because we were passed out cold!
The following pictures are from Monday February 20th with the final day the festival being Fat Tuesday (February 21st). There were a few parades on Monday evening and though they started early they went long into the night. I think we finally stumbled back to Bourbon Street around 2am in a search for food. It’s amazing that we managed to find our way back to the hotel…seriously. At this point I must also warn you to not get drunk unless you are with good friends and you are a good friend. It can get very crowded very fast and you can easily lose the people you are with. Have a plan and remain together. It more fun this way and much safer. It’s generally not the locals you need to worry about. They make their living from tourists….it’s all the rest of the people from all over the world that are there you need to be aware of. Just sayin!
You’ll notice some photos of the New Orleans Police department equipment. They set up these little booths that have tinted glass high up above the crowds at major intersections so that they can watch the crowds via remote video. It’s very cool. All cities that host major events should set these up. No risk to officers as they are watching remotely but they can contact local officers on the street if they see something needing their attention. We also saw officers on horseback and on Segways! The officers in the FQ and during the parades appeared friendly and socialized with the crowds.
I somehow managed to loose a 2 minute video of me holding my camera up, walking down Bourbon Street when the party was at it’s peak. Crazy amounts of people. If I find it, I’ll make sure to get it posted here. So that about ends our night before Fat Tuesday. Here is how Fat Tuesday went. We stayed in bed all day and did not go outside into the French Quarter at all. Period dot, end of event hahaha.
We woke up about 8 am and I crawled into the shower hoping it would help…nope. Crawled back out to the pull out bed I was sleeping on and laid as still as I could. Ange got up and attempted to make herself sick, hoping this would help. Yep, negative there too. We laid in our respective beds for the majority of the day. I did notice when I got up the first time that my ID was missing and we both had a bunch of beads from the night before. I eventually found my ID under all the beads. At about 11 am the hotel fire alarm went off and a general announcement asking all guests to head outside was broadcast over the loud speaker in every room. We collectively decided we’d rather burn to death than attempt to move to the outside of the hotel. Yes, it was that bad. The alarm finally went out and thankfully we did not burn to death although that may have been more humane than laying there all day with a wicked hangover. At about 5pm we were finally ready to order some room service and see if food would stay down. Yes, that’s what we needed and finally made our way down to the lobby store for some junk food and then back to our room for the night. Though it was disappointing that we didn’t get out to see Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter we were able to watch it on TV and had some great memories from the night before.
It is amazing how organized NO and the French Quarter, city staff etc are for this event. At midnight on Fat Tuesday all people must be off the street. The party can continue however it must be inside of a bar or establishment. Apparently at midnight the street sweepers come out and fire trucks come through the French Quarter and hose everything down. It has to be done as there is so much grim on the streets. The next morning when we got up it stunk like old beer but overall the area looked like nothing had gone on there. Amazing. Photo’s are below.
The next morning we got up early and checked out. We were heading out of the downtown area of New Orleans and were staying at a Best Western at Westwego, LA. This was our home base for the next 2 days while we traveled to Mississippi and Alabama on day trips. The hotel was nice and the breakfast was fantastic (hot or cold daily) and the staff were nice. The only issue we had was that this hotel was transitioning to a non-smoking property but you could still smell the stall smoke in the room which was gross from my friend Ange who doesn’t smoke. Although I’m a smoker, it still smells yukky. This hotel was convenient to the highway and bridges and a good jumping spot to head to other areas. Wednesday the 23rd of February we checked in and spent the rest of the day relaxing and planning for the next couple of days.
Thursday February 24th we headed back to the French Quarter to do a little touring and shopping. We found a tour that goes around the city and includes old cemeteries, the 9th district (that was hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina and one of the poorest areas in the area), and through areas of the city that contain majestic homes, many from the antebellum period. I absolutely love these homes. We also saw the Mercedes-Benz dome where the New Orleans Saints play football. We also found a market in the French Quarter that sold souvenirs and great food. We bought some crocodile jerky. Different taste but not all together bad. Photo’s below of this day!
Some fantastic architecture in this city. Many of the homes and trees are decorated with purple, yellow, and green ribbons and other decorations. The entire city generally gets into the festival spirit.
Below are many pictures from the Lower 9th Ward of the 9th district. This area was the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina and water rose quickly when the levee broke. Many of the areas have started to be rebuilt and many of the homes now sit high on stilts. Below you’ll see a water marker that shows how high the water rose to in this area. It really hard to fathom this when you’re on the tour bus. Houses that you see in the photos marked with “x” and a number are homes that were checked by workers after the water withdrew. These indicated that they were checked and the number of dead inside the house. Below is a fantastic documentary on Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath.
Parts I & II
Parts III & IV
The next day we headed to Mobile, Alabama and Gulfport, Mississippi. We decided to drive straight to Mobile and then hit Gulfport on the way back to New Orleans. I had gone online to Groupon in the Mobile area and found a coupon for a restaurant that was out of the way, on the water, and looked like our type of place. I also brought my Tom Tom navigation with me so that we could find our way around. It’s small enough to fit in my luggage and much cheaper than renting one from the car rental company at a daily rate. Here are some photos of our day trip to Alabama.
Below is the restaurant we went to, although the name eludes me now. We of course had to try deep fried pickles that appears to be a common dish is the south. I could only eat about 5 of them as they were so greasy. We had ranch dressing to dip them in. Don’t get me wrong, they were good, but greasy and salty.
After lunch we headed back to New Orleans with a stop in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Gulfport is a coastal community with many hotels and casinos along the beach area. There were not a lot of tourists there the day we arrived but again, it was the middle of February. I can only imagine how busy the beaches are in the summer months. I think it would be a great place to go back to in the summer. It was very windy though the day we were there. There was a tourism building that was on the main road we drove down and it looked like a good spot to get out and take a look around. It was beautiful.
Prior to arriving in Gulfport we passed through Biloxi, Mississippi but didn’t stop as it didn’t look like there was much going on this time of year and we wanted to get back to have dinner in New Orleans. Our last night in town we hit up a chain restaurant called Acme Oyster House. Yummy Yummy is all I have to say. The place was packed but the service was good and prices were reasonable.
Here are some various photo’s on our last day of the holiday.
Here is some more information about things to do and see and items to try when you’re in the Big Easy.
Jackson Square Mall is magnificent! Lots to see. Local artists around the outside perimeter and across the street is the French Market Complex. All worth a trip down to this area of the French Quarter.
There are a ton of shops in the French Quarter and many around Jackson Square that you’ll love to explore. Don’t forget to try King Cakes that are only available during the Mardi Gras festival month. We also found a shop dedicate to selling only hot sauces. Some come with very strong warnings about use. Ange picked up a bottle for her husband and I believe he liked it. Nothing too hot or crazy! I found a shop that only had Tabasco brand items. Very tempting to pick up one of everything. Also, don’t forget to pick up some Louisiana famous Pralines. These sugary gems are wonderful. Almost all stores carry them. You’ll find some shops where they specialize in Pralines that their families have made for generations. There are many brands, not just the one in the link.
Well that’s it folks. I’m sure I’m missing telling you about some things but it’s been almost 3 years since I’ve gone and I should have gotten this done when my memories were there. This is a fantastic destination, at least it was during Mardi Gras. It may be very hot and humid in the summer but I’m confident that the South would be a great trip during any time of the year. I’d like to do a tour of the South in a RV when I retire. I think it would be fun and there would be more time to stop and explore.