Saturday, July 17, 2010

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Magnet # 294:  New Orleans Montage

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

I spent the second and third nights of my trip in New Orleans, Louisiana and had a pretty good time there.  I had been down to the Crescent City a couple of times when I was growing up, but wasn't quite sure what to expect since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.  Driving in on I-10, there was still some damage visible and when I first entered the French Quarter, I was somewhat stunned to find an area very resemblant of downtown Savannah, but much rougher.  There was a certain degree of graffiti and decay that I just don't see around these parts, and I have no idea what was left from the storm and what was just part of New Orleans.  And because both cities have open container laws, at least in downtown areas, I wasn't shocked to see revelers walking the streets with open plastic containers.  What did amaze me was the plethora of somewhat sleazy strip clubs lining Bourbon Street, some with very revealing photos posted in the windows.  Scantily clad women and male announcers occasionally stood in the doorways and while one didn't even try with me, just asking how I was doing that evening, another tried to get me into his club - twice.  Really, do I look like the kind of person who wants to see what's going on in there?  I certainly think not!  I suppose New Orleans had a slightly familiar feeling of home, but with a somewhat disturbing twist.

I really did have a good time during my stay in New Orleans.  I tried three local eateries and all were very nice.  On my first night, I stopped by Galatoire's, a restaurant serving French-Creole cuisine that had been recommended by a family member.  It was very nice, upscale, with a large dining room lined with mirrors.  I had my own little corner and was able to watch all of the action.  Wanting to have a local dish, I ordered crawfish etouffee, which was very tasty.  And I had to have a po'boy, so the next day, I stopped by Johnny's Po'Boys for lunch and ordered up one with soft shell crab.  It was big and delicious.  There was so much food that I had it for dinner as well.  And the next morning, I stopped by perhaps New Orleans' most iconic restaurant, the Cafe du Monde, to try their beignets and chicory coffee.  I wanted to eat there as it's featured on the Travel Channel and I always have fun when I'm watching and I see a spot where I've been.  When I wasn't eating, I walked all over the French Quarter, where my hotel was located.  I wasn't crazy about my hotel - pretty much all of those in the French Quarter have exorbitant parking rates and, at twenty-five a night, it was no different.  Plus, their idea of a continental breakfast was croissants, fruit danishes, apples, and oranges - that's it.  But I didn't spend much time there, anyway.  One of the main reasons I wanted to visit New Orleans is that I knew it would be a magnet buying paradise and it didn't disappoint.  I must have visited over twenty souvenir shops - maybe thirty - and I'm still not sure if I saw them all.  It was easily the best place I've seen for magnet shopping.  As usual, I traveled all over the area, checking out the selection and prices before buying.  The most expensive were easily on Canal Street, where about seven bucks was average.  Bourbon Street was a little better, at about five bucks a pop.  But the best shops I found were between Bourbon Street and the French Market, around Cafe du Monde.  There, I was able to pay around three bucks apiece and I made the most of my money, thank goodness, scoring plenty of additions to my collection.  When I wasn't hunting down magnets, I checked out the sights of the Crescent City, such as the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral and nearby Jackson Square (I still think our squares are better!).  I took a streetcar out to the incredible New Orleans Museum of Art, a three-story Greek Revival building outside of the French Quarter, in City Park.  They have an impressive collection that seems to go on forever and one of its highlights was an original by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, one of my favorite painters, and I was thrilled to see it in person.  Best of all, I stopped by on a Wednesday, when there is no admission -what a lucky coincidence!  This is a great place to see in New Orleans and it was also interesting to get a look at the locals who exercise in the grassy areas around the museum - it was a very lively place.  Finally, I also stopped by Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, where many of the parade floats are made, and went out for a ghost tour one evening.  All told, my trip to New Orleans was anything but uneventful.

Would I go back to New Orleans again sometime?  Perhaps, but it is so similar to downtown Savannah that it seems odd to travel that far to see it.  But there are places I'd still like to see there, such as the Saint Louis Cemetery, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, right next to the New Orleans Museum of Arts, and the Garden District.  I guess I'd recommend this locale to a more lively crowd, or perhaps those who'd like to see a Southern city with more Parisian accents.  Savannah is a somewhat more-polished, less-French version of New Orleans that would appeal to a tamer traveler.  Both cities have their virtues and their vices, but I think I'm in the place that suits me best.

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