louisiana

A Long Weekend in New Orleans

I try to take an end-of-year trip each time I find myself with a few unused vacation days in November or December.

In 2013, I put my last two days towards a trip to London. At the end of 2014, Evan and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans, right before the holidays.

I had high hopes for a Christmassy trip, with warm, humid weather in the low 70s. Unfortunately, it was chilly, rainy and cloudy for our entire trip.

Still, we had a great time—it’s hard not to, in NOLA! The city is unlike anywhere else: gorgeous architecture, a European vibe, great music and lots and lots of amazing food!

Evan and I flew in on Thursday night. We checked into our B and B, the Green House Inn, on Magazine Street…

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

…and settled into our room.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We were starving, but since it was after 10 p.m., most restaurants were closed. So we headed right to Bourbon Street. Our first stop was Killer Poboys, a little shop run out of the divey Erin Rose Bar. We both inhaled shrimp poboys (which were prepared banh mi style, with shredded carrots, cilantro and Sriracha aioli) and Abitas.

Killer Poboys, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Afterwards, we poured the rest of my beer into a to-go cup, and walked down Bourbon Street. (Another reason I love NOLA—it’s kind of nice to walk down the street with your drink!) We ducked into a few bars, and Evan got one of those infamous hand grenade drinks.

Of course, we couldn’t leave the French Quarter without getting beignets. We topped off our night with a few, plus cafe au laits, at Cafe Du Monde.

Cafe DuMonde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Beignets | nycexpeditionist.com The next morning was chilly and gloomy. We walked down Magazine Street to Mother’s, a NOLA institution that opened in 1938. The restaurant is super-casual, and known for its ham.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

You walk in, grab a menu, and wait on line to give your order at the counter. Afterwards, you take your number, find a table and wait for someone to bring you your food.

We were lucky—since it was a rainy weekday, there was only a short line. But on weekends, it can span all the way out the door and down the block.

Evan and I shared a crawfish etouffee omelet, a biscuit and a side of Mother’s famous ham. That omelet was one of the best things we ate on the trip. The etouffee was rich and went perfectly with the eggs.

By the time we finished eating, a steady, chilly rain was falling.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Wandering through the neighborhoods to check out the architecture wasn’t an option. So we decided to ride the streetcar through the Garden District and scope out the grand homes adorned for Christmas.

Unfortunately, I walked us past the streetcar stop a few times. I hadn’t realized that not all stops are obvious—like at Saint Charles and Poydras, if there’s no streetcar coming, regular cars drive right in that lane! After we found the stop, we waited nearly a half hour for a streetcar to arrive. By the time it did, we were soaked.

Still, we tried to take in as much as we could, through the wet, foggy windows.

Garden district home, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode the car to the end of the Saint Charles line, and back. At that point, we were hungry for lunch. We opted for Peche, the latest restaurant from renowned NOLA chef Donald Link. True to its name, it specialized in seafood.

It was the perfect meal for a soaked, chilled couple. Everything we ate was fabulous and fresh—Gulf oysters, gumbo, catfish and greens in chili broth, shrimp over pasta in an Asian-style bolognese.

Oysters at Peche, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com And chocolate banana cream pie! I would go back to NOLA just for a slice of that.

Afterwards, we walked back to the Green House Inn. We were tired and cold from being in the rain all day. Luckily, the inn had a (clothing-optional!) pool and hot tub in the backyard, surrounded by plants.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

That night, we weren’t too hungry because we’d been eating all day. But we felt we couldn’t miss out on a NOLA dinner. We cabbed it to Jacques Imo’s. I loved the place, from the moment we walked in. The main dining room felt like you were at a friend’s house. Strings of Christmas lights hung from the walls and the table cloths had funky patterns. The overall vibe was warm and cozy.

I wish I could go back and re-eat everything we had that night—when I wasn’t drained and slightly stuffed. Because it was all outstanding. We started with a piece of cornbread, followed by their house salad—a bed of baby spinach with one fried oyster on top. I have to say, it was the best fried oyster I’ve ever eaten.

For our entrees, I had shrimp etouffee—which was completely different from the etouffee we had that morning. It was lighter in a tomato-based sauce. Evan had stuffed catfish. Somehow, we finished everything.

Jacques Imo's, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we left the city to go swamp kayaking. The rain had stopped, though it was still cloudy and chilly. We booked a trip through New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours, and drove 40 minutes to Pearl River.

Driving to Pearl River | nycexpeditionist.com We met our kayaking group at a rest stop off the highway. Talk about swamp country! The rest stop looked exactly how you’d imagine one in the Louisiana boonies. Our group leader, who had grown up right on that swamp, helped load us into kayaks. Evan and I shared one, he in the back, me in the front.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Since it was December, the swamp was mostly bare and grey. It had a quiet beauty, though.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We paddled among cypresses and tupelos.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Occasionally, we came across abandoned boats and river shacks.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Unfortunately, we didn’t see any alligators.

Except in sausage form.

After kayaking back to the rest stop, our guide told us that the gas station there actually serves great alligator sausages. We had to try one—and she was right! It was delicious.

Later that evening, we went to Bacchanal, a place two of my co-workers had visited on separate trips and raved about. It’s located on a corner in the Bywater, an area I find romantic and mysterious. I was hoping to walk around and check out the architecture, but that didn’t happen this trip. Still, I was glad we spent the evening there. Because Bacchanal is truly a special place. It’s a wine and cheese shop in the front, where you can sample wines and buy a glass. You can also pick out cheeses that they’ll plate for you. You then enjoy both, plus other food from their kitchen, and live music, in the backyard. Cheese plate at Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com On the night we were there, a band was playing NOLA-style Christmas music. (And you know how much I love Christmas.) A drummer, tuba player and violinist played jazzy, melancholy takes on the classics.

Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Evan and I lingered for a while, just enjoying the sounds, food and overall atmosphere. I’d been wanting to experience a bit of Christmas in New Orleans, and I found it at Bacchanal.

We left when the band was winding down, but headed right to Cafe Du Monde. We couldn’t leave NOLA without another round of beignets. 

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

New Orleans-Themed Toms

I don’t often blog about products, but I couldn’t resist posting about these Toms. The design is a map of New Orleans.

NATURAL TOMS X MAKE IT RIGHT WOMEN'S CLASSICS

You know how much I love maps. And Toms are pretty much the only shoes I wear.

This particular pair is a collaboration between Toms and Make It Right, a nonprofit founded by Brad Pitt to build affordable, LEED Platinum certified homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward—which never fully recovered from Katrina.

I visited New Orleans for the first time, a year and a half ago, and loved the city. I was only there for a few days, but didn’t go to the Ninth Ward. To be honest, I didn’t want to be one of those “disaster tourists” who gawk at places hit by unfortunate events.

I would like to see the Make It Right houses, on my next trip, though. Some, like this one, are designed by firms based in New Orleans…

Waggoner and Ball Architects are located in New Orleans and designed this home.

…or nearby Baton Rouge.

Trahan Architects are based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and designed this home.

Others were designed by architects from Tokyo…

Shigeru Ban Architects are based in Tokyo, Japan and designed this home.

…and Ghana.

Constructs Architects are based in Accra, Ghana and designed this home.

Frank Gehry’s firm designed one, too.

Frank Gehry and Partners are based in Los Angeles, California and designed this duplex home.

At first, I was jarred at how starkly modern these homes are. I especially loved New Orleans’ historic architecture, and these houses seem to contrast so much. But after looking at the photos a few times, I could see design elements often found in more traditional NOLA homes—slatted wood, vibrant colors, porches.

Either way, Make It Right’s mission is undoubtedly rooted in good. I’m reserving my final opinion on the homes’ aesthetics for when I see them in person. 😉

(And here’s one more pair of travel-worthy Toms I stumbled across.)

(Images via Toms and Make It Right)