November 25-26After spending less than 24 hours in the French Quarter of New Orleans we have confirmed that this is an alien land where we may visit, but we can never assimilate.
But our first stop was New Orleans City Park, 1300 extraordinary acres in the middle of the city, including the largest collection of mature (600-800 years old!) live oaks in the world, plus a sculpture garden, art museum, botanical garden, and a bunch of geocaches (we are only 26 away from reaching 1,000 finds!). In the spirit of the season, the park hosts a family friendly Celebration in the Oaks every night. Holiday lights and displays sparkle throughout Storyland, where there are more than 25 larger-than-life storybook vignette play spaces, and Santa Gator sits out front to welcome one and all to this winter wonderland.
After this tame introduction to New Orleans, we made our way to the Hotel St. Marie, our home base in the heart of the French Quarter. Our room had a wrought iron balcony overlooking this lovely courtyard. We left the French doors open and enjoyed the sound of the fountain below.
All was very civilized and tranquil until we walked a couple blocks to Bourbon Street, where we seemed to be the only ones not carrying super-sized buckets of beer or yard long glasses filled with intensely colored alcoholic concoctions. Scantily clad women beckoned from some doorways, excruciatingly loud music poured out of others. It was a LOUD crowd. It made our foray to Beale Street in Memphis a few months ago seem terribly tame.
We found a quiet place with white tablecloths and sort of French food for dinner, then tried to find somewhere to enjoy a coffee drink afterward. Just when we were about to give up we stumbled upon the Beignet Café, a little open air restaurant in Musical Legends Park, which is basically an alley off Bourbon Street with a bunch of statues of jazz greats scattered about. We got our decaf lattes and settled in to enjoy the really great music of the Steamboat Willie Jazz Band, who play where every night. We had found our perfect escape from Bourbon Street.
The next morning we woke to rain, which was fine with us, because from what we saw of the area last night, we figured it could use a little clean-up. Let the rain rinse away all that vomit and urine and sticky spilled drinks.
Breakfast was beignets and café au lait at the Café du Monde, the original coffee stand at the French Market, in operation since 1862. All they serve is beignets and coffee, and they do it 24/7. The coffee has a very distinctive flavor, because it is mixed with chicory, a practice brought here by Alsatians who migrated here from Nova Scotia. We enjoyed our coffee and beignets on the café’s large covered patio, while listening to a jazz duo on the sidewalk out front.
Check-out was at 11, so there was not much time to meander about snapping pictures after breakfast, which we regretted, because it seemed that interesting sights abounded on every block.