What happens in NOLA stays in NOLA. Just kidding, NOLA’s way classier than Vegas and likes to share.
I had the pleasure of going on this trip with some friends from the YMCA. I headed out from wintry Rochester, NY right before the snow bomb of 2018 and managed to make it into New Orleans by 11pm after three flight delays. I’d like to say I was immediately up for going out and exploring Bourbon Street. Let’s be real – I was not. Apparently I had caught some kind of terrible cold in the process of traveling and promptly went to bed. Can I get a #selfcare ?? This cold stayed with me for the entirety of the trip so it was nice to have the time off from work to help heal my body.
Let’s start with food. Because, well, I love food. Our group visited a wide variety of restaurants and eateries. Here is just a sampling of some of the delicious food that I had (and drinks, don’t forget about the drinks).
What else did we do while we were there? We toured the city of New Orleans from the comfort of a bus. Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005. I was a sophomore in high school and was far removed from the devastation that happened; however thirteen
years later its presence is still felt in the city. The loss of homes, communities, and even lives. We visited a New Orleans cemetery. I found this part absolutely fascinating, given that I do have a degree in Anthropology, as death rituals are a lot different in New Orleans. When someone passes away their body is placed in their family vault for one year. Thanks to the time and the long/hot Louisiana weather that these bodies are naturally cremated. After one year the ashes are put into a more distinct part of the vault. Personally I like that it’s a different take on the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” piece of death, as well as less monetarily demanding on remaining family members.
We went to the start of the Mardi Gras season, the kick-off event if you will. It was a parade to honor Jeanne D’Arc or as those of you who don’t speak French would say it “Joan of Arc.” Once again, as a big ole history nerd I loved this. There were countless representations of different saints and their untimely end. It’s an eye-opening
perspective to me to think about Christians in the early days being persecuted in such a violent way for proclaiming truth in Jesus when I have the privilege to meander down the road to any number of churches I so choose. Anyway, all of the people in the parade gave away trinkets to commemorate their represented saint. This used to be common in the Middle Ages as a majority of people weren’t literate, so a card with a picture of St. Catherine for instance would suffice as a reminder of what she had done rather than a book about her.
At the New Orleans School of Cooking we learned about the blending of Spanish,
Mexican, Creole and modern cooking styles into foods that New Orleans is known for, like gumbo and shrimp etouffee. Also – pralines. These little gems are a nut of your choice, traditionally pecans, mixed into brown sugar, butter, and cream. That sounds like an odd combo but once you put one in your mouth you realize that dreams do come true and unicorns are probably real. If you’ve never had one – have one.
Toward the end of our trip I spent some time exploring on my own to make up for the first few days when I felt like I was only a few steps from death’s door. I of course had to visit an
Orangetheory Fitness studio while there. Brooke was a great coach and even though I
was still a little under the weather, I had a lot of fun with my fellow NOLA OTF fam. A brief aside, three days before I left the Buffalo Bills ended their nineteen year playoff drought. For Buffalo Bills fans, this was a BIG DEAL. Unfortunately their first playoff game was while I was in New Orleans. What’s a Bills fan to do? Find a Bills backer bar, obviously. I managed to find one and make some friends who were from Albany and Buffalo and who had moved to New Orleans. They warned me it was only a matter of time before I did the same. This was also when the New Orleans Saints played in their playoff game and during my next solo-adventure, a Vampire Tour (which I talk about below), people were running down the streets screaming “WHO DAT?!” It had to be explained to me that in full it was “Who dat said they gonna beat dem Saints.” At first I just thought it was a common greeting for strangers on the street. Good thing I checked.
So as I mentioned above, I took a Vampire Tour. Maybe it’s rewinding back to the fact that I have a degree in Anthropology or that I am also a major theater dork, but any time I go to a new city I have to go on a “haunted” tour. It’s particularly fun in the south, so this was definitely my favorite part of the trip. Our tour guide, Rose, took us around the French Quarter and explained spooky stories about brothers who never seemed to age and were later discovered to be draining the blood of young women in their home. She told us of the Coffin girls, who came to the United States from France to be married but who often arrived in coffins as they had died on the ship. She talked about the Old
Urseline Convent where there is a third floor that is documented as “storage” but no one has ever been allowed to see it. The shutters of the third floor are permanently nailed shut and one of the shutters flew open during Hurricane Katrina a bishop was flown in from Rome to bless the nails and re-secure the shutters. If you are interested in this stuff, it would TOTALLY be worth checking out Rose’s podcast. Trust me. The next day in the daylight I toured the Urseline Convent museum. It made me feel inadequate that these nuns were able to create such beautiful and intricate needlepoint works and I struggle to sew a button back onto my pants. Oh well, I guess they wouldn’t know how to turn on my TV. So there.
Overall this trip was a great experience. I guess everyone says that about going on vacation but I really felt like this was the perfect blend of everything I like: food, learning, more food, and self-care. So if you’re looking for a trip destination, might I recommend New Orleans? And might you take me with you?