Welcome to the Big Easy!

Welcome to the Big Easy!
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit New Orleans for the 2011 Mardi gras.  And let me tell you it was definitely a trip to remember.  Mardi Gras is something everyone should experience.  It is not completely as wild and crazy as many believe.  New Orleans is a city full of energy, entertainment and old French charm.  Now I can see why it is one of my Mother’s/friend Ashley’s favorite places to visit. 
I went to New Orleans with a group of four girls.  The trip was completely booked and planned back in September so we were completely relaxed and excited for the trip the months leading up to it.  Having everything planned also gave us much more time to focus on more important things about the trip, such as; acquiring purple/green/gold attire, researching  delicious places to eat and learning about the history of Mardi Gras/New Orleans.  I was even nerdy enough to put together a “Mardi Gras” binder full of locations and menus of restaurants, emergency contact information and our transportation information.  I wanted to document the trip and take a lot of pictures but was worried about losing another camera.  I decided to bring my new digital camera for the earlier parts of the day, an ancient camera for the afternoons/early evenings and some disposable cameras to document the night time. {Different cameras that declined in value as inhibitions declined.}
{Day One}


We got through security in record time at the airport and had plenty of time to kill before our 1pm flight so we decided to hunt around for a fun bar.  We were elated when an airport worker passing by said there was a bar, “I think it’s called the Green Turtle or something.” We all looked at each other and gasped with glee since we go there all the time at home.  We went, ate lunch and hung out.  Some of use needed a few to calm the nerves about flying. There was a group of girls sitting next to us that were also NOLA bound. {We actually saw them later on in the crowds on Bourbon Street.} Only three of use flew down initially; the others would meet us the next morning at the hotel.
We landed at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, LA.  Right from the start I was impressed by the atmosphere.  We had no trouble catching a taxi, and were able to enjoy the scenery on the way into the heart of the city.  {The super dome and famous St. Louis Cemetery were in sight!}

There was some traffic getting into the city because a lot of the streets were blocked off due to the parade routes. We were completely fine with being in traffic; we were in awe at everything we were seeing.  Finally we pulled up to our beautiful, boutique style hotel; The Queen and Crescent.  The hotel was completely adorable, filled with tiny chandeliers and old French paintings.  As we were walking down the hallway to our rooms we heard music blasting from the room across from ours.  The door swung open and the occupants came out to say hello.  There must have been 7 people in that little room with ONE bed.  They were all dressed in bikinis with costume accessories.  They introduced themselves and were very intoxicated.  They were all from California and we all promised to meet up at 5 in the morning for an “after party” {party at 5 in room 505 they chanted as we went in and unpacked} 

The hotel also had its own little bar.  The best part was the location; we were 2 blocks from the famous Bourbon St. and one block from St. Charles Street (right along the parade route.)  It was amazing how quickly we all learned our way around the city.

{Canal Street}
{The cutest yellow house along canal street}
After we got settled in and had a celebratory beverage at the hotel bar; we scouted out a liquor store.  The liquor stores were full of cool knick knacks {voodoo dolls, masks, intricate beads}  we were a little confused when we saw signs in the store saying “do not take pictures” but quickly realized almost all of the stores said that.  We stocked up on Bud Light which was ridiculously over priced but had a Mardi gras purple label that we loved!  We then walked around {with open containers of course- gotta love the laid back laws in the south!} and explored.  We walked down Bourbon Street and learned the process of “obtaining beads” honestly it is less pervy as one would think and is like blinking down there! 

{Mardi Gras Bud Light labels!}
Right away we noticed protests from churches and religious groups. I am a Christian too. But I was pretty embarrassed the way some of the protesters were acting.  They were everywhere saying we were all damned and going to hell.
I was also embarrassed by the way the Mardi gras goers were acting. Some were screaming in their faces, others were throwing beads at the protesters.  This annoyed me the whole trip; on both sides.

{The coolest sign for a downtown boutique}
{They had street performers like this all over the place!}
We then hit up some of the bars; all of which had some form of live entertainment {Bands, dueling pianos, stand up comics} In no time we found our favorite bar that we knew we would be returning to the whole trip{and did!}. Razzoo was a very fun; fairly big bar filled with different types of patrons and had two people on the stage entertaining the crowd by initiating contests and teaching “booty call” type line dances.

{We later stumbled across the restaurant and documented the name!}
We then decided we needed to get some food.  We stumbled upon this hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we randomly selected because we were so hungry.  We shared a table with a group of guys and chatted up a storm for a few hours.  Couldn’t tell you their names, where they were from or what we ate but all I remember is the guy asking Amy to go to the bathroom with him…. Very creepy.
The rest of the first night was spent wondering around Bourbon Street {which magically became extremely crowded and crazy at the stroke of 10 O’clock pm} and collecting an abundance of colorful beads. One set of beads unparticular caught my eye. PIGGY beads! {my nickname} We all vowed that I would get one by the end of the trip.  It turned out the “Hustler” strip club had threw some out and not many people had them.  

We also decided to obtain one of the cool “jester” cups full of frozen drinks. I tried very hard to hold the empty cup the rest of the night to keep as a souvenir. {I succeeded} We returned to the hotel hoping to find our neighbors. {Although it was late, not close to 5am} They were not there and we all decided to go to bed.  At 5am on the dot I heard some of the girls asking/screaming, “where are the neighbors” and proceeded to almost knock on the door before the men of the group stopped them and talked some sense into them.
{Day Two}
The next morning  we enjoyed the continental breakfast at the hotel; which was limiting, but had an amazing waffle making machine which we all took advantage of and day by day became masters at. As we tried to become fully alert and awake, we drank coffee and discussed the night before; where we discovered we did not know the location or the name of where we spent about 2 solid hours eating at.  We promised ourselves we would solve the mystery. 

Our 4th guest, Stephanie arrived and we headed out to watch the parades.  We got to the parade route an hour and a half early to stake out a good spot.  We decided to stand along the part of the fence that (when the parade started) would be closed to block the side streets.  We stood there with our beverages chatting up a storm and people watching.  It was amazing how many families and kids come to watch the parade.  Many people go all out for the parades.  The most interesting thing we saw were the “ladders” that the families had.  It was literally a 6 foot ladder with a little bench on top where children could sit on to see the parade over the crowd.  The ladders were all decked out in Mardi Gras colors and definitely got us all in the mood for the parade.  Finally our 5th person; Sara joined us right before the parade started. 
 {Little boy sitting in his ladder}
 {My favorite ladder}

 {Festive beads decorating a tree along the parade route}

When we were told to we closed the gates to block the street; all heck broke loose.  This woman took our spots very skillfully.  When we first arrived, there were few people around us staking out spots.  This particular woman and family came about 20 mins after us and obviously knew we were there before her.  When we replied to her very politely that we had been here since 9:30 and this was our spot {for the record it was not like we walked away and came back.. she literally wiggled her way in front of us} she responded “tough  luck.”  We were very furious but still managed to find a spot where we could all see.

{My favorite float-Humpty Dumpty will always have a place in my heart.}

    {Back-end of an “Ocean themed float.” Loving the Seahorse!}  

{Cute Lady Bugs!}
The parade was amazing and I was very impressed with the quality of the floats.  Each float had its own theme. People in decorative costumes and masks rode the floats and tossed goodies {Beads, stuffed animals, Mardi Gras coins, cups, etc.} In addition to floats, local schools had cheerleaders, dancers and instrumental bands participate in the parade.  My favorite was the line up of local motorcycle/car associations of elderly men. {the men in little miniature red punch buggies were adorable!}

{Deep Sea Diving theme}

{Throwing carnival goodies to the crowd!}


      {Band float singing to the crowd.}         

              {Cowboys and Indians.}               
We then walked around the city some more, pointing out the places we had gone the night before to Sara and Stephanie.  We grabbed lunch at the famous “Central Grocery”, home of the famous Muffuletta sandwich.  That sandwich was easily the best sandwich I had ever had. {Consisting of delish olive salad spread, Italian meats and provolone cheese} it was literally an old time grocery store with a deli counter.  The sandwiches were huge so we split them each in half.  We all sat outside in the middle of Jackson Square and enjoyed the sandwich and the sunshine.  

{The girls eating their Muffulettas in Jackson Square}
 {The glorious sandwich}
On the way back to the hotel we walked along Jackson Square and Decanter St.  The vibe was great.  Local artist were painting outside and trying to sell their masterpieces.  Street performers and bands lined the streets entertaining the crowds.  We came across some adorable boutiques; one that stood out was this gorgeous vintage hat shop.  The hat shop was full of old time decorative hats. Once again we were not allowed to take photos.  I snuck a peek at the price tag and turns out the cheapest hat in there was $500! We then found a cute accessory shop; Amy found this headband that she was going gaga over but decided to come back for it.  {Little did we know that we would be trying to find this store again about a million times to get the headband}  

  {Local art along the fence}
{View of Saint Louis Cathedral from Jackson Square}
Late afternoon we joined Stephanie in a quest to find her father and step mother.  Her father had recently moved to New Orleans and was joining in the parade festivities.  It took us a while to find him amongst the crowd but we found him and we all enjoyed a beverage together as we watched some more of the parades go by.
That night we hit up Bourbon St. again and had to go back to the hotel a few hours later to “unload” our beads {you will not believe how many beads one accumulates AND how heavy they are} and to restock our beverages.  We then went back to the fun bar we went the previous night {Razzoo} and were very confused when we saw the same 2 entertainers doing the exact same things. {Almost verbatim!}  Nonetheless, Amy of course made it interesting by volunteering for the solider boy contest.  Amy got up on stage and did the solider boy better than I had ever seen.  The crowd went nuts, and before we knew it it was down to Amy and one other contestant.  Of course Amy was pronounced the winner and she was told to have her girls come up on stage for a victory song.  A request we all of course enjoyed.  

{Amy winning the solider boy contest}
We hung out on the back patio afterwards where Amy met this 40 something year old man. Still being filled with courage from the contest {and maybe some liquid courage} she decides to take his picture pin necklace off of his neck.  The man let her but made her promise to give it back.   The picture was of him posing with 2 beautiful Captain Morgan sponsors; looked like the best day of his life.  Amy refused to give the man his picture necklace back and ran away from him.  Finally after about 15 mins of convincing Amy that this was wrong and she needed to give the necklace back; she tries to find the little man but he is nowhere to be found.  He was probably off in a corner hiding somewhere.  Amy handed over the pin to me because she could no longer look at the poor man’s face.

{In awe of the craziness}
{Hand Grenade}
We then decided to check out what all the craze was about the “hand grenade drink” it was called “New Orleans’ most powerful drink” it was also given in a really cool, tall decorative cup that I was able to hold on to for back home.

{On the way home}
At one point in the night we all had to go to the restroom of course. {Which were very hard to come by}  We went into this one place and I was the first to go into the bathroom; I waited outside for the others since the bar was very crowded.  Amy came running out explaining that she had just witnessed a woman pull down her pants in the waiting area of the bathroom and pee on the floor. {Very tragic} That was a sign it was time to go home. 
{Day Three}

{Stephanie posing with our fruity drinks; Perfect for the 80 degree sunny weather.}

{The girls minus Amy}

We got up early again for the delicious waffles and headed out rather early to sight see.  We decided to take everyone’s prior advice and visit the famous “Pat O’Brien’s- Home of the Hurricane”  We sat out on the patio; it was definitely a beautiful day for it.  We were given our drinking in really cool Pat O’s glasses and got to keep them for $2.  We then walked around some more along the French Quarter, enjoying the scenery and checking out the cute shops.  We came across a mask shop {where I bought a beautiful red/gold mask} that actually allowed us to take pictures.  Everyone bought memorabilia for their family back home and played with the unique masks.  Amy then remembered about her headband and we went on a search to find the accessory store. We finally found the shop and Amy purchased her beloved headband.  

  {The famous Hurricane drink}
 {View of the Pat O’Brien’s Patio}
{Cute shop with beautiful masks}  
We then decided we needed to get some grub.  We went to a restaurant close by called “Frank’s Restaurant” we were seated fairly quickly and were lucky enough to get a seat outside on the balcony.  I ordered a shrimp Po’ Boy. {A must when in Louisiana} Sara was still infatuated with the Muffuletta so she ordered the “Frank’s” version. She said it was good but not as good as the Muffuletta at the Central Grocery.  Amy bought rice and beans {a New Orleans Fav} but turned out to be a big bowl of slop and tasteless.

We then went a few blocks down to the Mississippi river.  I thought it was so cool I was seeing the Mississippi and couldn’t stop taking pictures. There was a steam boat docked and a trolley going by that made it really feel like you were in old time New Orleans.

{Steam Boat}
  {Trolley along Mississippi river}
We stood for a few minutes enjoying the river and breezy air before walking around some more in Jackson Square.

{Mississippi River}
We were all exhausted from walking around all day and headed back to the room.  We took a new route home and saw some really cool buildings.  Many of the residential houses we saw were all decked out in decorations. I love the Mardi Gras spirit that the locals have.  We passed a beautiful, red building with all red windows!
{ALL red building}    


{Saint Louis Cathedral}
{Decorative Houses}
We noticed on almost even corner were little tile signs on the sides of building stating the old time name of the streets.  The others went to lay down to take a nap while I decided to go exploring.  A parade had been going on as we were walking home and I decided to go and check it out.  I saw more beautifully decorated floats and people cheering for the riders to “throw them something.”  I watched for a while but then realized I looked silly standing there waving by myself so I headed back to the room. {Also it was getting chilly and I needed a jacket} 

 {Old time street signs}  
      {Parade throwing}
On the way back I saw the coffee so I had been meaning to check out so I decided to get a cup of coffee after getting a jacket.  When I arrived to the room everyone was passed out.  Maddie woke up and decided to join me for coffee. The coffee shop was called PJ’s coffee; which was local to New Orleans.  We saw they had the infamous “King Cake” {a Mardi Gras must} and we each ate a piece with our coffee.  None of us receive a piece with the “king cake baby” inside.

{Delish coffee and King Cake}
Later on we all got refreshed and headed out on the town again.  Sara, Maddie and I decided to go to the famous ACME Oyster house for dinner.  I had seen the restaurant on Man vs. Food and was very excited to try it.  There was a long wait so we decided to get a huge frozen daiquiri for the wait.  Our wait was shorter than expected; good in that we got to eat faster, bad in that we had to discard our drinks. I ordered a side of gumbo and we all shared their famous char grilled oysters, sizzling in garlic butter with some cheese on top.  We sat back enjoyed a pitcher and each other’s company.

{ACME Oyster House}
We then met back up with Amy and Steph and bopped up and down Bourbon St.  We ended up going to the balcony {for free!} of a bar called “Heat” which is very rare.  Many bars charge a small fortune to have access to the balcony.  We were very excited and threw some of our beads to the crowds below. I actually found some of my younger sorority sisters on the balcony which was pretty awesome.  

    {Bourbon St. Sign}
  {View from Heat bar balcony}
We had a great time that night finding random fun places.  We went so far down Bourbon St. that we ended up in the “Male” area of you know what I mean.  We were fortunate enough to see some of the male gay strippers through the windows.  After that some of the group was ready to go home; Sara and I were not ready to end the party and decided to stay.  We walked around Bourbon collecting more beads and meeting interesting people. Then the unthinkable happened; as we made our way through the tight crowd, Sara felt a slight tug on her cross-body purse.  She reached down and did not feel her wallet.  Sara was pick pocketed; something that we were warned about, but had forgotten in lieu of the fun.  Sara and I retraced our steps back a few blocks to see if maybe the tug was imagined and it had just fallen out.  We were unsuccessful and the tears started a flowing.  Bourbon Street was so packed at this point that Sara and I had to find an alley to get away.  I found a police officer who pointed us in the right direction of the police station. Luckily the station was only a block away.  We walked up to the building and I could hardly believe that it was actually a police station.  The building was a beautiful, large white historical building in the heart of the French Quarter.  We went in and Sara was to fill out a police report.  The Officer helping us had said that this happens all the time and she was about the 40th person so far tonight (it was only 12:30!) that this had happened to.  Sara was so upset.  She had had all of her money for the trip in her wallet ($200), insurance cards, credit cards and the worst; pictures of her kids.  I tried to calm her down as best as I could.  She was taking forever to fill out the report.  I took a look and saw that she was making some very big errors:
Name: Sara Clingan
Home Location: Fredrckieeee MYLND
Phone number: 241-377-4567,  240-357-4671,  240-555-4444 (was still wrong)
Do you know who stole your property: YES! (um no she didn’t)
What was stolen: A LOT!
I decided it was time to for me to step in and help a sister out. I filled out the police report and Sara was told to call and cancel her credit cards and to call back on Monday morning to the lost and found.
On the walk back home I think my hand as broken in ten different places from how hard Sara was squeezing it while crying.  We got back and I was able to cancel most of her credit cards for her.
{Day Four}
Fat Tuesday
We all woke up ready for the actual day of Mardi Gras- Fat Tuesday.  The day of indulgence before the start of lent.  Sara was still upset about what had happened the night before and we all tried to cheer her up.  Some of us agreed to help pay for her since she had no money what –so-ever and we all went down for our normal waffle breakfast.  

{My favorite costume- from the movie “The Birds”}
After breakfast we all went to the French Quarter to participate in the festivities of Fat Tuesday.  Everyone was in magnificent costumes and there were parades and entertainment everywhere. We passed the famous Café du Monde and saw that the line was short compared to the prior days.  We were seated fairly quickly and ordered some Beignets with powdered sugar and Café au lait (French coffee with scaled milk). 

{Coffee and beignets}
The Beignets defiantly lived up to their hype; we were all in love and it took a lot of will power to not order more. We were amazed at how cheap the snack was; about $2.00 for three beignets and $1.75 for the coffee.  Couldn’t beat that! 

 {Beads thrown on the power lines}
 {Loved the costumes}
We then walked around the French Quarter some more, taking in all the excitement and energy.  There was a band playing in the middle of one of the streets. The band had a huge crowd just dancing in the streets in their costumes.  It was a really amazing feeling and made me so happy I was experiencing it. 

{Dancing in the Streets}

We decided to explore some back streets; found more adorable buildings and some cute pubs. It looked like it was about to rain so we decided to go find a spot for lunch.  Many of the restaurants were closed because the day was seen as a holiday.  Even the schools were closed for the celebration.  It was so cool how the city really embraced Fat Tuesday.
It really began to rain pretty hard so we dashed in this little burger restaurant along the parade route.  I forget the name of it but it didn’t look that clean.  But we were surprised when we ordered amazing burgers and fries.  We even noticed there was a sign saying that Bobby Flay had been there!  After we went back to the room to freshen up and get ready for the nights festivities.

{Our cool head pieces}
We proceeded to all shower and get cute while watching the NOLA news where they had said there was a triple homicide the night before. {very comforting} I decided to make pretty feather headpieces out of a green, gold and purple boa I had acquired the night before.  Maddie curled all of our hair with her new super cool clamp-less curling iron and did our make-up.
We headed out for our final night. We were all very sad to be leaving the next day.  Poor Sara had to be up at 3:30am to catch a taxi to the airport.  Despite the depression of leaving this amazing city we all still managed to take advantage of our final night.
There were more people out than ever during the night time; many in costumes.  We saw a three story beer bong that intrigued us but we refused to participate in fear of catching some sort of disease. It was hard to get pictures of the street performers because they all wanted donations. {Forced donation?} This was annoying but understandable.

                                                                                          {Three story beer bong}

                                                                                               {Awesome costume!}                                                                  
Right before we decided to head back, Amy saw a girl with the piggy necklace.  She ran up to the girl, who looked scared for dear life, and asked/screamed, “What do I need to do to have those beads!?” “I will give you ten dollars.” The girl looked at Amy like she had 2 heads and gave her the necklace.  I was so happy to finally have my piggy necklace!
We than slowly but surely made our way back to the hotel.  I saw a 40 something man about to whip out his “you know what” for a woman on a balcony.  As I was passing I noticed a group of cops pointing and staring at him. {three things will get you arrested in New Orleans and that is 1.peeing in public 2.fighting and 3. Exposing below the belt.} I turned around in screamed to the man “NO STOP! DON’T! THE COPS ARE WATCHING YOU!” The man heard me and was able to zip up his pants before exposing anything.  Before the poor man knew what hit him; three cops tackled him and arrested him.  I felt so bad for him.

 {Supposedly if you get arrested during Mardi Gras you have to clean up the streets}
We all stopped at this little stand and got food. {I got cheese fries which were the best thing ever; I hate to say it but we went back for more and were very disappointed when they had run out of nacho cheese and replaced it with a slab of American cheese… gross!} By that point in the night I think we had walked about 500 miles and my knees were killing me.  I kept screaming “I have no knees!” which quickly became a joke the next morning.
{Day Four}
I was amazed that Sara was able to catch her cab in time. We all hated to wake up, but needed to pack and check out.  The hotel was nice enough to hold our luggage so we could roam around the city until it was time to leave for our 5pm flight.  They even were nice enough to arrange a taxi to pick us up.  Before we left for more sightseeing; Stephanie’s Dad came to pick her up.  

 {Bourbon Street all cleaned up and bare}
The remaining three of us walked around the city.  Although there were still visitors, the streets looked very bare.  We decided to do a little shopping and found this adorable store called Wish.  Although there were some cute things I decided I had spent enough money and did not buy anything.  Maddie was able to find some cute dresses for her upcoming birthday celebration. 
After shopping we decided to go eat at, “The House of Blues.” I loved the decorations and the feel of the place.  We saw movers setting up speakers for the band that was going to play later on.  

I was most amazed by the ceiling in the restaurant.  It had little portals in it with different musicians’ faces; sculpted in white stone. Really cool.

{Coolest Ceiling ever}
The food was amazing.  I had sweet potato fries, blue cheese coleslaw and this chicken sandwich that was the most amazing thing ever!

{Beautiful houses on the walk back to the hotel}
On the way back home we passed Pat O’Brien’s.  Amy stopped in and got one of their Bloody Mary’s that she had been craving.

{Amy’s Bloody Mary}
After lunch we headed back to the hotel where we grabbed our things and hoped in a taxi.  The taxi driver was a “friend” of the door man. {Very helpful later on}  Once in the cab; we noticed signs that said, “Please remember your taxi number.” I noted the number mentally.
We then got to the airport and proceeded to get out departure tickets.  It was then I realized I lost my cell phone.  It had to be in the cab.  I called the hotel because I knew the doorman knew the driver. The doorman called back after speaking with the taxi driver and said that, “the driver even pulled over and could not find my phone.” I was devastated and was thinking about all my lost contacts and how I would have to make one of those dumb groups on facebook to collect new ones. 
We went through security and sat at our terminal. It was then when Amy came to me and said they had found my phone!  I called back and the driver said he was on his way back to the airport and a guy had found my phone in the back seat.  He also went on to say the men were looking at my pictures.  Not cool.  I only had 45 min until boarding.  I asked the officers at the security check the situation and they told me I could go in the VIP line once I got my phone but I would have to go through those weird, new x-ray things that took a scan of you without your clothes on! 
I waited outside the airport for 20 minutes looking for this driver. He finally showed up and I dashed back to security and went through the scary/embarrassing scanner. I got back to the terminal with my beloved phone with 15 minutes to spare before boarding.
We boarded and made our way back home. Amy’s Dad was nice enough to pick us up from the airport.  I slept the whole way home.
We were all exhausted from the trip and I was glad I was able to work from home the next day.  I replayed everything that happened in my head. I looked at all my goodies I had received and divided them into the good and just okay pile.  The okay pile I would give away.

{Goodies galore!}

{Please excuse my nails}
I ate my praline that I had gotten in NOLA and it was amazing!  I gave my boyfriend his little knick knacks I bought him.  I also bought two pralines for my grandparents.  I found a World War II necklace that I plan on giving to my grandfather.
Overall this trip was amazing. Like I said before Mardi Gras is something that everyone should experience.  I love New Orleans and cannot wait to go back. I know think I have the travel bug and just want to go on as many trips as I can.
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