Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Big Easy

As my readers know, recently I traveled down to New Orleans with my family for a mini break. We were joined by several people who work in the same field as my dad, and representatives from a supply company they purchase material from. These sponsored trips are always well planned out, and full of lots of fun activities. Here’s a recap:

Friday afternoon we arrived in New Orleans, checked into the hotel, and went with the group the World War II museum. I was told by the tour guide that it was going to change my life forever. Maybe it would have if I hadn’t already visited the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. Now THAT place will change your life. This museum was good, don’t get me wrong. But to me it had too much information/pictures/memorabilia crammed into too small of a space. All of the info on display ended up being a little overwhelming for me. And this is coming from someone who LOVES museums and history.

Now, one good part about the museum was the movie, Beyond All Boundaries, produced by Steven Spielberg and narrated by Tom Hanks. The museum has an amazing theater, super comfortable seats, and the movie was fantastic. It also has quite an array of special effects that I won’t tell you about. If you aren’t interested in the museum, go see the movie at least. It rocked! (Literally and figuratively!)

Friday evening was one of the highlights of the trip. We met for early cocktails in one of the hotel lobbies, and were outfitted in special “Mardi Gras gear.” Then after cocktails we were escorted by police and several dressed revelers down the streets of NOLA in a Second Line Parade. It was so much fun! We marched about 10 blocks through the Bourbon Street area led by a brass band, wearing masks and boas, and throwing beads to onlookers. The craziest thing was that people were lined on the streets, hundreds of people, taking our picture, clapping for us, and enjoying our show. It was a unique and unforgettable experience!

Following the parade we enjoyed drinks, hors d oeuvres (including sushi rolls, in which I ate A LOT of), and music from a jazz band. I enjoyed spending time with my brother, sister-in-law, some of their colleagues and neighbors, and some friends I have made on these trips. It was a great way to end the evening!

The next day we woke up early and took a bus tour of the areas of New Orleans still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. We saw some of the historic homes and unique architecture, as well as many neighborhoods that are still in the process of rebuilding. It’s hard to believe how much they have left to do. However, the tour guide says it typically takes about 20-25 years to rebuild from the amount of destruction they experienced. The city is looking good, but they still have a long way to go.

The above picture is of the 17th street canal wall. The beige part to the left is the original wall. The gray part is where the barge crashed and destroyed the wall. The neighborhood surrounding this canal expereienced a lot of damage during Katrina, but didn't get as much news coverage as the poorer areas (like the 9th Ward) of New Orleans. You can still see empty homes, some with marks still on there notifying authorites a victim was found in the home. It was moving to see this firsthand.

Following the bus tour we had another very unique experience…an airboat tour through the Louisiana swamps. I have to say the tour guide completely freaked me out on the way to the bayou. She kept describing these really aggressive alligators and snakes, and I was sure I would either lose a limb or die from a poisonous bite. However, once we got on the water, it was so awesome! And not scary at all!

Lucky for me, I didn’t see any snakes. And believe it or not, my father, who I suggested sit as far from me as possible, did not make any snake jokes. (For those that know us, you know he is always teasing me about my fear of snakes. But I think he’s just as scared as me.) We did see lots and lots of alligators though, including a 50-60 year old 9 footer that weighted anywhere from 400-500 lbs. He didn’t even blink at us though, so he was not intimidating.

The swamp tour allowed us to see part of the country that I had never seen before. I don’t know about you, but I had always imaged the swamp lands to be dirty, smelly, and overrun with dangerous creatures. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was quite beautiful and serene. Not what I expected!

Following the swamp tour I met up with my brother and sister-in-law for a stroll around the city. We walked to the French Quarter, snacked on a Central Grocery muffuletta, checked out the street art, and enjoyed the beautiful weather. The entire weekend was sunny, warm (but not hot), and perfect!

(Muffuletta from Central Grocery = Yum-O! Find the recipe at SMSA's!)

Sunday morning my parents had a special treat for us planned apart from the rest of the group. Apparently there’s a restaurant in Nola famous for its breakfast/brunch. My parents love this place, and always eat there when they visit. So Sunday morning we got up and had “Breakfast at Brennan’s.” Why had I not heard of this place before? I mean, you get to eat things like soup and cake for breakfast! Seriously!

Brennan’s is probably best known for the creation of bananas foster. Again, why have I not been here before? Typically guests order the three course breakfast meal, and you choose your courses from a list provided to you. My choices were turtle soup for an appetizer (tasted like gumbo), creamed spinach topped with fried trout and poached eggs for my main course, and bananas foster (they they cooked in front of us) for dessert. It was amazing! Truly, truly amazing!

I do have to admit there was one little bump in the road for my Brennan’s experience. About halfway through the bananas foster I dug my spoon in the ice cream and came back with a long brown hair. Don’t let it gross you out….It could have been my hair, except mine was curled that day and the hair was under the ice cream. I immediately lost my appetite and couldn’t finish the yummy dessert. So…the waiter (to please the guest) brought me the biggest piece of chocolate cake that was completely divine! It was AMAZING!

I don’t want the hair in my food to give you the wrong impression about this place. The food was really good, and my family had eaten there before…so this was just a fluke. Too bad it happened to me on my first experience at the restaurant. It didn’t totally ruin my perspective, but it definitely didn’t help.

The total Nola experience was a lot of fun. I haven’t always liked the city, but this trip brought a new appreciation for the culture and way of life. I think I just had to be a little older and a little more well traveled to appreciate it for what it is. It was fun, and I look forward to going back again soon!

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