New Orleans being less than two and a half hours from Mobile, where we planned to stay for about a week, made it an optimal city to take a side trip. Of course, this is two and a half hours by car, not by boat. After shifting the days around a few times, booking a hotel, and reserving a rental car, we left for “the big easy” with our friends on Skinny Dipper: David, Kim, and even Salt!
Getting to our hotel on the edge of the French Quarter, we discovered that the parking garage was five blocks away. A bit of a hassle, though not the worst, as we made the decision to opt out of valet. After parking the car on the very top level of the parking garage, we went our separate ways. RJ and I had brought our folding bicycles, so we were able to zip around town as fast as we, safely, could. Heading West into the Warehouse Arts district, we made our way to the riverfront where we saw a cruise ship from afar, listened to church bells ringing for blocks before finally passing the monstrous church, and approached Seed, our lunch spot.
Walking in, we were told that it was busy and were in advance thanked for our patience from the chef. We sat down just before seven other parties of people came in the door behind us. We ordered gumbo, po-boys, smoothies, juices, and desserts. Did I mention that the entire menu of this restaurant was vegan? My favorite thing. The gumbo came with spicy tempeh, beans, and amazing flavor. I wanted to make sure I was going to have room for my beignets, so I let RJ eat most of the gumbo.
When the waiter asked if we were ready to order, I simply said, “I don’t live here. I will probably never be here again. What is the one thing on the menu that I have to get?”
“Without a doubt,” he stated, “the po-boys are our best sellers.”
So, we ordered the eggplant po-boy and the tofu po-boy, split them, and savored every bite. After the po-boys, barely room for dessert, we ordered two orders of beignets and a cup of chocolate mousse. Taking it easy, of course. Seeing as they were busy, we joked about how the desserts were likely just “chucked in the bowls” and “thrown onto the table” and while they definitely appeared that way, they still tasted incredible.
Despite cancelling our smoothie and juice because the wait was so long, after finishing our dessert and signing the bill, our drinks were brought out to us.
The guy literally just said, “Wow.” when he saw we were already done with dessert. As if he was so surprised it took him that long to make the drinks when we had expected them to come out first. RJ and I laughed, the man with our drinks exclaimed another, “Wow,” and asked if we wanted them to go. I tossed my orange juice down my throat and RJ headed out the door, smoothie in tow.
From here, we meandered our way back to the parking garage in order to grab our bags to check into the hotel. After a couple of beverages with David and Kim in the hotel room and fighting off a nap, it was now time to explore the French Quarter.
We found ourselves on Decatur Street, passing by a National Historic Site, where we were promptly told not to ride our bicycles on the sidewalk by a Park Ranger. Oops. After peaking down an alley to what looked like a majestic garden, we were told there was a rack for bicycles inside the courtyard. We relaxed on the benches in the broken sunshine. Also, of course, we went into the visitor center for Jean Lafitte National Historic Site and learned about the different cultures that came together to shape New Orleans life, and even about how the city was dug from swamps for people to inhabit the land.
We rode our bikes to a few parks and in circles around the French Quarter basically until we got hungry. Watching the tows making sharp turns on the Mississippi made us glad we were done with the waterways. We peaked into store fronts and walked around the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park/Louis Armstrong Park. We rode our bikes into a questionable neighborhood and then promptly turned ourselves around. New Orleans, the city where it is dirty everywhere, but only certain dirty areas are suitable for young tourists on bikes.
We stopped on Frenchmen Street, a spot for good food and even better music (similar to Bourbon Street, though not as “touristy”). Poking ourselves in and out of bars, we eventually found our way to a place called “13.”
Tucked in the back of a narrow room, are a few tables for dining. We ordered what must be a southern delicacy, because we have seen it on menus in Mobile, Alabama, as well. A delicacy known as “Tachos,” Tator tot-nachos. Tator tots with chili and salsa on top. After this delightful appetizer, we split an herb tofu sandwich, admired the splatter paint tuxedo jacket of a man sitting next to us, and headed out the door.
From here, it’s hard to remember exactly where we went. But basically the evening continued in much the same fashion as the first portion of the day: riding our bicycles around in circles until we either found something to do, or found something to eat. Eventually, making our way to Pat O’Brien’s, a famous piano bar near Bourbon street, we saw a sign across the street for a “Haunted Walking Tour.” Perfect.
With about twenty minutes to spare before the beginning of the tour, we stopped into Pat O’Brien’s to get ourselves a couple of drinks before departing. The notorious drink to get is called a “Hurricane.” This felt stupid and like a low blow, but it was the quickest thing to order without asking for a menu.
While we weren’t necessarily expecting to see ghosts on the ghost tour, we weren’t quite sure exactly what to expect.
With a group of about fifteen people, our tour guide walked us to prominent French Quarter hotels and mansions for two hours. At each stop, she started out with a little bit of a history lesson, either about New Orleans in general, or the families she would be referring to. She then moved on to tragic stories about what happened in each location. And ended with stories about hauntings or ghost sightings that people have seen in these locations.
It’s hard for me to explain it without it sounding a little bit silly, but I actually feel like we learned a lot about the history of the area more than anything else.
We heard about amputations during the Civil War and how the main hospital during that time is now a prominent hotel. We listened to stories about Madame LaLaurie, who is known to have tortured her slaves, giving her the title of one of the most sadistic female serial killers of all time.
As we stood in front of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is actually a bar, we learned about how Jean Lafitte and his pirates supposedly assisted Andrew Jackson’s army in winning The Battle of New Orleans. Our tour guide showed us the alley where the five most elite Frenchmen of a group of thirteen Frenchmen, who sought to fight the new Spanish governor, were hanged. Remember how we went to a bar called “13” on “Frenchmen” street?
As far as of knowing if any of the two hours worth of history stories we heard were true or not, we won’t know until we look it up. But our tour guide did an awesome job of making us believe her.
At the completion of the tour, we found ourselves back on Bourbon Street. We were ready to dance away an hour of our time in the many bars overflowing with live music from every door, window, and crack.
Again, of course, keeping ourselves entertained until we found ourselves hungry. Back to the bikes and back to Frenchman Street where we climbed some stairs to balcony seating of probably the fanciest, five-star dining establishment we could find, “Dat Dog.” I’m kidding about fine dining, obviously. My typical MO when going to any new restaurant is to order whatever is recommended to me, I was pleased that this was an actual option listed on the menu. It said, ‘Too many options? Let the chef decide!’
The chef decided to make me an Apple Sage Veggie Dog with sauerkraut and mustard and something else which at this point I can’t remember.
Back at the hotel just after midnight, we were eager for sleep. We did get to snuggle with Salt for a little bit when he sneaked over to our bed in the middle of the night, curling up between RJ and I for just about ten minutes.
The following morning, we all gave ourselves about two hours to get some food and walk around the French Market. We managed to fit two meals into these two hours. One sweet and one savory crepe from The Crepe Cart before going just a few vendors down to a small cafe bar where we managed to order a smoothie, vegan cheese grits, crab cakes made from artichoke hearts, and some apple sausage patties. The crab cakes were so good we ordered two to go, for the car ride home.
Climbing into the car for our return trip, all recounting our trip to each other, each of us feeling like we had been away from our boats for much longer than we actually had. A vacation within a vacation. Back to Mobile, we go.