“That’s why I love road trips, dude. It’s like doing something without actually doing anything.” – John Green
“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” – Tennessee Williams
October 7, 2015 – Day 39 – New Orleans, Louisiana
It was time for New Orleans to join Minneapolis, St Louis, and Memphis as large cities we would visit on our Great River Road journey. We arrived last night to our base camp, the campground at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, located in nearby Belle Chasse.
Our goal was simple, overly ambitious, and impossible: do “N’Ahlens” in one day. Game on. We arrived at the Big Easy by crossing the Mississippi on the Canal Street Ferry. We strolled through Woldenberg Riverfront Park and approached the Steamboat Natchez, just in time to hear a woman on the top deck blow her organ. By that, I mean a musical instrument, not that she had a medical emergency. We walked toward the French Quarter, passed by the always-bustling Jackson Square and headed directly for our first stop…Café du Monde. When in Rome, you do as the Romans. When in New Orleans, you eat beignets and drink café au lait at Café du Monde. This iconic restaurant is where Woody Harrelson hypnotized people in Now You See Me, where Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman met for lunch in Runaway Jury, and where Miley Cyrus and Jeremy Piven had a secret meeting in So Undercover. Today, it would be where Big Steve and Lil Jan would get a bag of beignets and coffee to go, find a park bench in Jackson Square on which to people watch, and feast on these powdery balls of fried doughy magic.
With powdered sugar all over our hands and shirts, we stuck our heads into the St Louis Cathedral and then did some shopping on Bourbon and Royal Streets. There were various musicians, bands and street performers to entertain us along the way. We tasted sample hot sauces, saw a skeleton on a toilet, and considered buying some fava beans for our cousin Hannibal. The most impressive of the stores was the upscale and extremely interesting M.S. Rau Antiques. It has been a French Quarter landmark for more than 100 years and has a 25,000-square-foot showroom overflowing with remarkable collections of fine art, exquisite jewelry and exceptional 18th and 19th-century antiques. It’s one of those high-end places where people in ties sit at desks buying, selling, and researching antiques on phones and computers. Half of the store’s items are behind protective glass. I asked the sophisticated-looking woman at the front desk, “What’s the oldest thing in this store?” Without missing a beat, the security guard standing a few feet away glanced our way, pointed at the woman, and said, “She is.” Well done, sir.
Actually, the oldest item is the rare Chondrite meteorite, found in Morocco, and weighing in at a whopping 66 pounds! This extraterrestrial wonder dates from the early phase of the solar system, and is believed to have originated from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter nearly 4.7 billion years ago. The store has rare diamonds, a Paul Revere sterling bowl, dinosaur skeletons, George Washington’s hair, a German Enigma machine, and paintings by Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh. Be sure to check out their offerings at http://www.rauantiques.com Once we realized we couldn’t afford anything in the store, didn’t really need a meteorite, and were tourists covered in powdered sugar, we gracefully exited.
It was lunchtime and thus time to visit another New Orleans favorite, Central Grocery. Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant, founded this small, old-fashioned grocery store with a sandwich counter in 1906. He noticed that some of his regulars struggled with juggling their usual lunch of bread, salami, cheese and olives. So he put it all together on one sandwich, and the incredible muffuletta was born. It’s kind of a cross between a Cuban sandwich, a deep-dish pizza, and a Frisbee. Because of the muffuletta, Central Grocery has been featured in the PBS special program Sandwiches That You Will Like and on NBC’s The Today Show (five best sandwiches series). The store also sells all of the ingredients to make the sandwich, as well as Italian, Greek, French, Spanish, and Creole table delicacies. For the adventurous type, they sell chocolate-covered grasshoppers and bumble bees in soy sauce. I imagine some Chinese guy had a bee land on and drown in his take-out General Tsao chicken once, inadvertently ate it and thought, “that’s really good!” Lil Jan and I attempted to split a whole muffuletta and ended up sharing 1/3 of it with a guy on a street corner. These delicious sandwiches can be ordered on-line through the store’s website. Or, if you’d like to try making your own muffuletta, check out this recipe… http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/muffulettas-recipe.html
With our bellies full, it was time to creep on some of the many New Orleans celebrity homes. First up was the former home of Nicolas Cage, which may explain why he wasn’t on the balcony waving to us as we went by. The place is supposedly haunted. However, the only paranormal activity we felt originated from the partially digested muffuletta in my large intestine. Better keep moving. Down the street was the home of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, with an asking price of $6.5 million. The pair spent a lot of time in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city back in 2005. They’ve updated the home with Venetian-plastered walls, custom marble mantles and fireplaces, crown moldings, a grand spiral staircase, elevator, private spacious patio with pool, gourmet kitchen with top-of-the line appliances and laundry room. There’s also a separate, two-story guesthouse. We considered making an offer on the home but after pooling our resources, came up just $6.5 million short. Our view down by river is nicer anyhow.
Determined to spot a celebrity, we boarded the city trolley and headed to the very upscale Garden District. Over the next hour, we strolled around taking pictures of the homes of author Anne Rice, the Archie Manning family where Peyton and Eli were raised, and the home where The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was filmed. Our final celebrity home was that of Miss Congeniality herself, Sandra Bullock. As we patrolled its perimeter, Lil Jan stood on her tippy toes snapping photos over the fence like a TMZ junkie. We are truly pathetic. Around to the side of her house, we noticed a few of her garbage bags set outside. I said, “If my mother or sisters were here, we would go through that garbage, and sell its contents on E-Bay.” In a moment of rare discretion, I thought better of it, and we slowly walked away with just a remnant of our dignity intact.
Next, we made our final Garden District stop, the Lafayette Cemetery Number One. The cemetery is the oldest of seven city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans, with about 1,100 family tombs and more than 7,000 people buried in a single city block. Among them are the remains of Judge Ferguson of the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate-but-equal” case. You’ll also find the tomb of Brigadier General Harry T. Hays who led the 1st Louisiana Brigade. Many movies have been filmed in the cemetery, including Double Jeopardy and Dracula 2000. LeAnn Rimes and the New Kids on the Block have also shot music videos there. Interestingly, none of the local residents are buried there. Why? Because they’re not dead yet, silly.
With the sun starting to set, we travelled by foot, trolley, ferry, and car to Salvo’s Seafood in Belle Chase, where we feasted on gumbo and fried fish. It turns out we were not able to do all that New Orleans offers in a day, but we did a lot. It’s not really a place we’d want to live, but it’s a great place to eat, shop, wander, get a tattoo, explore, listen to music, creep on celebrities, and be entertained. We returned to the RV exhausted and a little sad, realizing we were almost at the end of our Great River Road adventure. Tomorrow would be our 40th and final day travelling the Mississippi. It was time to head to the swamp.
Click on below link for sample of street musicians…
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