Our last stop as tourists was in the parade capital of the world...New Orleans, Louisiana. If you ask one hundred people what is the first thing they think about when they hear "New Orleans," most will either reply "mardi gras," the Saints, or Bourbon Street. I have been to "The Big Easy" a few times and have enjoyed myself each time, but I have never been there for "mardi gras," nor the Saints, (but I have spent some time on Bourbon Street.) Mom has been with me on a previous "drive-thru" of NOLA, not long after the city was devastated by hurricane Katrina, and Doris had never visited.
Let me just tell you, it is a very different experience driving through the quarter with your mother than it is with your friends...but, I'm getting ahead of myself.
A little history first...The area around New Orleans has been inhabited since around 400 AD, according to archaeological digs in the area. French explorers, fur trappers and traders discovered the area in about 1690. The city itself was founded in 1718, and was chosen because of its relatively high ground, relative to the flood-prone area near the south Mississippi basin. (If you travel through the French Quarter in present day New Orleans, you'll see evidence of the early French settlement in the grid pattern of the streets. It is a very easy part of the city to navigate and is filled with shops, restaurants, antique dealers, boutique hotels, bars and of course, is home to St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square Park.) For a time, New Orleans found itself under Spanish rule, then the French took over again. Finally, it was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
St. Louis Cathedral, pictured on the right, is the oldest Catholic Cathedral in continued use in the United States. The image here is taken from Jackson Square with is located directly in front of the Cathedral. New Orleanians have worshiped there since 1727. (And my cousin Randall's daughter, Randi, was married there in 2012).
Unfortunately, we were unable to go inside the cathedral while we were there but we did take advantage of some sight-seeing, (and OH MY, some of the sights we saw!) while we were "in the neighborhood.
The architecture in the French Quarter is simply amazing. It is quintessential french, with lots of iron balconies, pillars, balustrades and colorful hanging baskets and cool street lamps. Not to mention NARROW streets.
After walking around a bit, Mom and Doris decided they needed a beignet. Well, first, they needed to know what a "beignet" was. I didn't get much past "well, its sort of like a donut..." and they decided that was enough to know. I mean, they just needed to "experience part of the local culture...right?!" they reasoned. So, I ordered them a batch and tried to get them to have some New Orleans coffee too...they declined. Apparently, they had heard about the potency-packed elixir the locals call coffee.
We ended our stay in New Orleans with dinner at Mandina's Restaurant. Great "down-home" "comfort food." As I was taking mom and Doris' picture in front of the restaurant, the gentleman below, stepped into the "frame" and introduced himself as a "real New Orleans character" and informed us that we would definitely want him in our picture...HAHAHAHA...You gotta love the South!
Today, New Orleans relies HEAVILY on tourism. There are so many gorgeous things to see and fun things to do in New Orleans, I recommend a visit, with one important caveat: I have always known, from my earlier visits, that the French Quarter is NOT a family-friendly part of town. While there are fun things to do that are away from the more popular tourist destinations around the French Quarter, (cemetery tours...no, I'm serious, these are a hoot; swamp tours; some of the best restaurants you will ever visit; zydeco music and dancing, etc), the Quarter should be considered "adults only."
We left New Orleans and continued our return trip west. We spent our final night on the road in far-east Texas and arrived home mid-afternoon the next day. It was a wonderful trip and I am so privileged to have been able to spend this time with two such wonderful fellow road-warriors. Thanks mom and Doris, I'll ride with y'all anytime.