One of the best things about living in Houston, TX is being within driving distance of New Orleans. And one of the worst things is being within driving distance from New Orleans. It’s just close enough to drive to, but far enough that the drive is tedious and taxing.
During this past Spring Break, we decided upon an expedition to the Crescent City, thinking of drinking some hurricanes, eating jambalaya and as much gumbo as our poor stomachs could hold. It was after Mardi Gras and so less crowded, and noticeably not an especially popular destination for Spring Breakers, there being no beach on which to obtain a bronzing.
We stayed in the French Quarter, right in the middle of the action and yet, it was action we had wished to avoid. And, once again, the addition of a toddler to our party made our typical New Orleans explorations less exciting. Haunted ghost tours were off the table as that would tax the attention span of so small a person. Late night champagne bars were obviously a no-no, as well. Pretty much any activity that takes place after 9pm – the most exciting time in the Big Easy – was out; so instead, we were forced to experience the city more … soberly.
And what a nice surprise! The city is vibrant in the early morning – brightly-colored shotgun houses, creole townhomes and creole cottages, gorgeous, twisting wrought iron snaking from one balcony to the next. The city is mostly asleep at this time of day, the echoes of drunken revelers still reverberating down Royal and Bourbon Streets. Somehow, there is already a line forming at the Gumbo Shop. The souvenir shops are in full swing and while tourists thumb through all manner of cheap tchotchkes, there is a softer rhythm to New Orleans at this time of day, when the sun is soft and the day still young.
We take the streetcar from Canal to the Garden District. We meander among the wedding cake castle-like houses, some painted cheerful blues and yellows. Mardi Gras beads still dangle haphazardly from telephone lines and any surface they can be attached to, all recalling past merriment we missed.
We grab lunch from a small place that looks to be mostly frequented by locals. It is nothing special on the inside, slightly grubby and nondescript, but this only lends character; the sounds of laughter and glasses hitting tables add to the atmosphere. The gumbo and etouffee are simply made, no extra pizzazz or modern takes on the classic. And yet, they are of course delicious, and the drinks are cold and invigorating in a way that only a hot day spent exploring can inspire.
It is mid-afternoon now and too much walking while carrying a child, the sun overhead and the heavy lunch make us drowsy. The streetcar back to the French Quarter rings its bell merrily and we watch the city pass us by out the window.
By the time we are back at the hotel resting from our day’s excursion, we are hesitant to head back out at all. The sun is dipping downward, the city is stirring, growing more raucous as the minutes tick by. The voices below become louder with drink and we dutifully square our shoulders and head back out for dinner.
The food is wonderful, as is expected anywhere in New Orleans. Perhaps it isn’t only that we have a small child with us, but rather that we’re older; because as soon as the last dregs of wine are drunk from our glasses, we are ready to venture back to the hotel and relax. A few days of this and we head back on that long car trip home, wondering when we got so boring – and why we don’t mind it at all.