Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Big Easy

By Claire

We did some quick research on New Orleans last night and discovered a free walking tour through the National Park Service (The French Quarter is a National Park) at 9:30 am.  So, we were up at 5:30 and on the road by 7:00 after one of our better free hotel breakfasts.  They actually had cut-up fresh fruit!  And this was in Mississippi!

Arriving in New Orleans at 7:50 am, we were parked in a garage and sitting down to Beignets and Café au Laits at Café du Monde.  It was eerily quiet and everywhere the streets were being hosed down and street cleaners were making their way getting ready for a new day.  The temperature was a lovely 64º and warming up nicely and we were ready for our day.

Waitresses gossiping while waiting for customers to show up

Beignets and Café au Laits--a must have

Creating the dough

Classic New Orleans

Jackson Square

We wandered over to the Jean Laffite Visitor Center connected with the Park Service and joined 8 other people for our free guided walk.  The ranger spent 20 minutes filling us in on the history of New Orleans.  From there we wandered the area, up on a levy and over near the French Market.  He spent almost 90 minutes with us.  Worth every penny!

We decided to check out the French Market.

Since we'd eaten at 6:30, we decided to get lunch while it wasn't crowded, at 11:30.  A good choice.

Red Beans and Rice for two.  I eschewed the sausage.

Our guide had mentioned free concerts at the Old Mint building, now housing the Louisiana State Museum, another Park Service.  We found it, walked in and talked briefly with the ranger, who told us there was in fact a free jazz piano concert beginning in 10 minutes.  We scored.  Ronald Markham was a virtuoso, performing works honoring James Booker but in his own style.  I swear I saw him placing one hand inside the other while playing at a speed that was simply breathtaking.  Not only that, we had front row seats!  He played 7 numbers in just over an hour.  It was wonderful.

We walked around the various streets, taking in the architecture and the sights.

Courtyards are very common in New Orleans and afford a sense of privacy away from the noise and hustle bustle of the city.

Musicians setting up on Royal Street

Preservation Hall, where music happens; the building dates back to 1816, the music to the 1960's--when we came back that night, there was a long line

Time for a free ferry ride to the other side of the Mississippi and back

And a walk along the levy

Soon it was time to contact Chuck's son, Todd, whom we planned to meet this afternoon.  While we waited for him to arrive on his bike, we just sat on a bench enjoying the flow of people going by.  I really liked this "Gypsy Reader's" table with the Red Bull can.

Todd found us and we headed for coffee.  It was great to see him.  It's been since last Christmas since he lives here now.

He thought we ought to see Louis Armstrong Park, so we walked there and we are so glad we did.  It is enormous and beautiful and there was a free concert going on!  We sat on the grass and listened for awhile.

The Man himself

We left after the lights came on so we could see this.

Time for dinner and Margaritas all around

Todd recommended fried pickles for an appetizer. Turns out, they were fantastic!

Chuck had Gumbo, I had a Caribbean salad and Todd had a taco salad.  But the main event, besides the drinks, was the praline bread pudding. It was warm on the bottom, full of pralines and topped with whipped cream.  The waitress brought 3 spoons.

 We were lucky to sit up on one of the balconies--aka galleries in The Big Easy.  It was such a gorgeous day today and it was still 72º.

By now it was getting on towards 9 pm; so Todd rode home on his bike and we picked our car up from the garage and drove to his place, where he lives with 2 roommates.

We had a spectacular day--it was easy and relaxed and everything fell into place.  We saw so much and enjoyed every second.  Spending time with Todd was a huge bonus.

What we play is life. ~ Louis Armstrong