First of all, don’t come at me about the title, you guys. I know teens does’t rhyme with the way you’re supposed to say New Orleans, but it’s cute and kitschy and SEO friendly, and y’all know I’m all about the market.
Secondly, you should know this trip just about didn’t happen, even though we’ve been planning it for months. We were going to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon as Mike’s official 50th half before age 50, and show our son, his girlfriend, and our exchange student one of our favorite cities in the world, which we’ve been unable to visit since before Hurricane Katrina.
We’ve always been lucky around here, health-wise, and fortunately the crud that descended upon this family last week didn’t derail our plans, it just threatened to, so we boarded the plane with a bag full of cold and anti-viral meds, tissues, and vitamin drink mix and crossed our fingers things would go well.
The last two times we were in New Orleans, we stayed in the French Quarter. Both trips were in August, and the heat and humidity that time of year, while perfect for a young Marlon Brando in a sweaty tank, could have killed us high-desert-acclimated northerners. We survived by staying out all night and sleeping through the heat of the day.
I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
This time, however, we’re a little longer in the tooth, traveling with teens, and battling the crud. It would not be the same kind of trip.
I have to say I love, love, love traveling with young people. Our three sixteen year-olds were self-sufficient, didn’t whine a bit, and were absolutely in awe of everything around them, as we knew they would be.
Day 1: Ghosts and Haunts
The two girls are big fans of American Horror Story, so I knew we had to take a Coven tour, which included the home of Madame LaLaurie, and the site where she was exhumed (on the show), the site of the former home of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and St. Louis Cemetery #1, with Nicholas Cage’s bizarre pyramid tomb and the (real) final resting places of LaLaurie and Laveau. Our tour guide went into pretty granular detail about the show and specific scenes, making me wish I’d watched that season a little more recently than I had. My son, who had never seen it, was much less impressed than the girls, but appreciated the real area historical references interwoven into the tour.
Our exchange student, Helena, repeatedly noted how New Orleans and the French Quarter seemed far more European to her than American, which is a feeling I remember from our first visits. It was also hilarious to her how hard it was for her to understand a southern accent. As our tour guide was talking she kept leaning over to ask “is she speaking in English?”
Later that evening we took a Ghost City Tour, where our guide’s accent was far less pronounced and easier for Helena to understand. We heard about hauntings of local hotels and restaurants and how Southerners paint their porch ceilings a shade of blue intended to deter malignant spirits. Our guide was animated and knowledgeable, and everyone agreed it was the favorite tour of the two. In retrospect, I think we could have handled an upgrade to the spookier “adults only” (16 and up) excursion the company offered.
Day 2: Mansions and Marathoners
Sunday, our race start was four blocks from the hotel. I’d been on the fence about whether to run or not with the way I’d been feeling, but I suited up and headed out to at least wish Mike a good start (he being further on the road to recovery than I). I knew if I made it to the start line, though, upright with a race bib and a bottle of water, I’d at least make an effort. I was glad I did.
The run took us down stately Saint Charles Avenue, then turned back to cross through the French Quarter, up Esplanade Avenue to the City Park. Marathoners continued from that point to Lake Pontchartrain and back. We took things much slower than normal, enjoying the intermittent live jazz and blues bands and knowing we still had a good day and a half left to wander the city with the kids. The weather was muggy but cool enough, and the scenery was fabulous.
That afternoon we still had enough steam left to grab a late lunch and wander up and down Bourbon street in a light rain, but I dropped into bed at 8:30 and didn’t move again until morning, which means, to this day I retain my title as Most Fun Travel Companion Ever.
Day 3: Shopping, Beignets, and Voodoo
I’d booked tickets for Monday on a double-decker tour bus that weaves its way around the city with stops at various points of interest. It was the perfect post-event kind of activity for all of us. We breakfasted at a place down the street that’s a favorite with the locals (and now us), the P&G Restaurant and Bar, which the kids referred to as “the old folks place,” and where I renewed my love affair with grits. The weather was splendid – partly sunny and low 70s. We wound our way through the city to Magazine Street, where we window shopped and perused artisan booths and antique markets. I was thinking Magazine Street would be mostly higher end galleries and home decor shops, but there was plenty to pique the interest of our adolescent shop-a-holics.
Our next stop was the French Quarter where the line at Café du Monde was short enough to make the wait for a table tolerable. We enjoyed a lunch of beignets and cafe au lait before making a pass through the French Market. From there it was a short walk to the Voodoo Museum, which is really just a couple of rooms crowded with shrines piled high with offerings of money and trinkets (reminiscent of my kids’ rooms, with about the same amount of randomly deposited junk, and more cigarettes). It was just as underwhelming as I remember, but when you’re in New Orleans, you kinda have to take in some Voodoo, or else were you ever really even there?
We’d had few reservations about taking this young crowd to a city somewhat famous for its debauchery, but still I wondered what it would be like to visit New Orleans post-Katrina. Would the city be a ghost of its former self? I know things will never return to exactly what they were, particularly for those in the 9th ward and other neighborhoods harder hit by the storm. The French Quarter, however, has lost none of the magic it had for me in my 30s. And it was such a delight to share.