As I said, I had to spend most of my time at the National College Media Conference in New Orleans, but I did try to squeeze in at least some sightseeing.
One thing every guidebook really pushes is “riding the St. Charles streetcar.” First, I just want to say I love the streetcars in general. Once I had a map of the public transit system in hand, I was unstoppable. But the St. Charles streetcar is billed as a particularly special ride, going through the Garden District and all. Don’t believe it. It’s no different than riding a bus – a really crowded bus with hard seats. There were, indeed, a few nice houses along the route, but there were so many people crammed into the streetcar that you couldn’t really see any of them well. To top it off, at the end of the line, they make everyone get off while they turn it around, then charge full fare again to get back on!
That brings me to another downside of New Orleans. Bear in mind, this is just my perspective, but New Orleans is expensive. At Southern Candy Makers, I spent $17 for a caramel apple and one praline! The restaurant in the hotel was called “Wow,” as in, “Wow, I can’t believe they have the gall to charge $13 for an omelet.” Even the “Continental Breakfast Buffet,” the kind of pastries-cereal-and-juice deal most hotels give away, cost $9.
Our last night in New Orleans, we were lucky enough to be there for the Krewe of Boo Halloween parade. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen! Teams of costumed people tossed candy and beads from atop huge two-story floats, fronted by creative sculptures of monsters like Dracula, the Wolfman, Alien, the Headless Horseman and more. Between them marched and danced krewes in matching outfits: skull-faced Frida Kahlos, tap-dancing skeletons, zombie sock-hop girls, sequined marching bands and pale “ghost riders” on horseback! Even many of the spectators were dressed for Halloween in everything from a simple mask to elaborate costumes involving stilts and LED eyes.
After the parade, we struck out to find a place to eat. We just happened to walk Bourbon Street for about a block; it was packed with revelers, and a Jazz funeral went by while we waited to cross the street. We settled on the Oceana Grill, where I crossed off my final “must-do” experience of eating real Cajun food: jambalya, red beans and rice, and crawfish etouffee (which I gave to one of the students – I don’t eat bugs).
It was hard to go home; I felt like I had come to an enormous cultural buffet and had only taken the smallest taste. What an incredible, vibrant city. It has the best of both worlds: the beauty and history of the Old World combined with the energy and brashness of the New World.
I can’t wait to come back.