We waited for the perfect combination of a weekday with good weather before things got too crazy to visit New Orleans. Yesterday was the day. With the Frommer's one-day itinerary as our guide, we set out on a walking tour of the most famous of districts in the Big Easy: The French Quarter.
We started our tour by picking up café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde. This New Orleans original was packed. There was powdered sugar everywhere!
We enjoyed our breakfast across the street in Jackson Square, which is named after "the hero of New Orleans", Andrew Jackson. Bordered by beautiful St. Louis Cathedral, this common area attracts artists and street performers. Tonight, thousands of revelers will gather here to watch "Baby New Year" drop from its perch atop Jax Brewery as they ring in the New Year.
The French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carré, is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. The entire 78-block district is a National Historic Landmark, where property owners have worked diligently to preserve and maintain the original French and Spanish architecture.
At Bourbon Street and Bienville sits the Old Absinthe House. This corner bar has been serving up libations since 1807. Absinthe, of course, has long since been outlawed. It caused madness and blindness! It was before noon before we strolled by most of the Quarter's famous watering holes, so we didn't stop. But, there were plenty of tourists walking the streets with their hurricanes and daiquiris in "go cups".
Mardi Gras season kicks off around here in a week or so. From the Feast of the Epiphany until Shrove Tuesday, it's party time in the Quarter, when partiers fill the balconies and galleries above Bourbon Street and others.
We spent a couple of hours wandering the streets. And, we weren't alone. In addition to its New Year's Eve celebrations, New Orleans is hosting an NFL playoff game and the Sugar Bowl this week, and the BCS Championship Game next weekend. There are lots of visitors here who are ready to celebrate.
Between the architecture and people watching, there are plenty of sights to appreciate in the Quarter. It's also something to hear. Jazz and Cajun music spills from bars and restaurants into the streets. This quartet was quite fun.
By mid-afternoon, the Quarter was filling up and we were getting hungry, so we made our way toward the mighty Mississippi to have our first taste of another New Orleans original.
Meet the Muffuletta! This monster of a sandwich originated at Central Grocery, which was our intended destination. But, the lines were long and we desperately needed to sit for awhile, so we stopped a few doors down at Frank's. At our quiet table for two by the window, we shared three-quarters of this massive loaf containing sliced meats, cheeses and wonderful Italian olive salad. It may not be the original, but it sure was tasty!
After our fun and food-filled day in the French Quarter, we made our way back to the plantation. After a very light dinner, we had a nice visit with Wendy, Brad and Brady around their portable campfire. This morning, they loaded up their beautiful new motorhome and headed out just a couple of hours ahead of us. We wish our new friends safe travels back to their home in Wisconsin. And, we look forward to meeting up with them again somewhere down the road.
Meanwhile, we're loading up on this last day of 2011 for a short trip to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain where we'll ring in the New Year. I wonder if we'll be able to hear the partyers in the French Quarter from there.