Day 3 in NOLA: We started our day in the swamps of Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve. It took a little bit to find the actual trail, but once we did…it was like entering Jurassic Park. The “trail” was a boardwalk over a swampy marshland. There were creatures everywhere, including ginormous spiders hovering right over our heads, crickets the size of my fist, poisonous looking snakes, little lizards, and, of course, alligators. The first time we passed under one of the spiders, I jumped back and screeched. Michael, former boy scout extraordinaire, heroically jumped in front of me and shouted “what is it?!”. He almost jumped right into the web. From then on, I had to brace myself each time we went under one of those monstrosities. My goal for the whole four mile hike was to spot an alligator. We wove through the swamp on the wooden boardwalk, eyes trained on the water beneath us. There were short boardwalks branching off the main trail that I would wander out on in hopes of seeing a huge gator, halfway submerged in the water, looking dangerous. However, these jaunts were fruitless. Finally, halfway through the walk, a group of other hikers pointed out a baby gator floating right off the boardwalk. We marveled at it briefly and then hightailed out of there before the mama gator came after us. The walk back to the entrance of the trail was grueling and hot. We had to pick up the pace so that we could make our afternoon steamboat cruise. We speed walked back to the car, ducking under spider webs and hopping over snake tails. We made it back to the river with just enough time for Michael to park and for me to get us two slices of pizza and a hurricane to share before we boarded the boat. The Steamboat tour was more industrial than it was scenic. We sat near the front of the boat on chairs that were fastened to the deck, as huge barges moved slowly up the river past us. They churned through the water and settled next to the large docks that were scattered along the shore.
The steamboat took us up the river and back down again with an unseen tour guide sharing facts about the area. The air on the river was hot and still and suffocating, so much so that we had to sit inside the boat for a portion of the cruise. The air conditioning inside revived us, and we sat back out on the deck, in the shade and marveled at the view; the city looked so beautiful from the river. After the cruise, we ventured back to the hotel to get ready for the night. We decided to go to Felix’s for po’boys for dinner. Felix’s is a seafood restaurant and oyster bar right off of Bourbon Street. Michael and I both had an Abita Andygator beer and a po’boy; mine was shrimp and oyster and his was catfish. The food was heavenly and the service was great too. We stuffed our faces, and then made our way to our third tour for the day, a New Orleans Walking Ghost Tour, stopping to get a beer for the walk on our way. The tour was led by a very charismatic woman, who seemed to be friends with everyone we passed. The tour started on the steps of the Supreme Court Building and wound through the French Quarter. We passed voodoo shops, former residences of vampires, houses of torture,and alleys that were once frequented by pirates. We stopped at a bar in the middle of the tour for a bathroom/drink refill break. It was there that I proceeded to spill my beer on the tour guide while trying to tell her how interesting I thought the tour was. She gave me side eye for the duration of the tour. We called it an early night after the tour ended, and went back to the hotel to watch bad TV in bed; too much sun and booze for one day.
The next day was our last in NOLA. There were so many things left to do, that we spent a good part of our morning trying to figure out how to fit everything in. We went to Café Du Monde for beignets and coffee and mapped out our day. We decided to get all of our souvenirs and gifts for people, go back to the hotel, and then drive out to Lake Pontchartrain, City Park and The Longue Vue House and Gardens, then come back to see the Saint Louis Cemetery, where Marie Laveau’s (NOLA’s Queen of Voodoo) grave is. The only problem was, it was raining on and off all day AND it was Labor Day. Our first stop was Longue Vue House, which was, sadly, closed. Next we went to City Park, and briefly explored. It was absolutely gorgeous, with lush gardens and a pond busy with paddle-boaters. We walked around for a bit, and then were propelled onward with our busy schedule. We drove to Lake Pontchartrain and sat on the concrete steps that led into the lake. The lake was clear and stretched out in front of us. We soaked in the sunlight that was scarce during our trip and discussed our next move. We parked the car back at the hotel and walked over to the Saint Louis Cemetery, which was also closed. The cemeteries in New Orleans are unique because the graves are above ground (due to the water level). I was really looking forward to seeing it, but, luckily, we drove past multiple cemeteries, complete with above-ground tombs earlier in the day. It’s a haunting sight to see; all of those concrete tombs looming over the floor of the cemetery. Feeling discouraged from our unsuccessful tourist trips, we decided to sit on one of the famed balconies along Bourbon Street and get some lunch. It was starting to rain, but we were sheltered under the awning above the balcony. We ordered wings to share, and enjoyed the view. Again, New Orleans is stunning in the rain. From there, we went back to the hotel and, remembering that we were on vacation and should relax, sat in the hot tub that was on the roof. After soaking for a sufficient amount of time, we got ready to hit the town for our last night in NOLA. We walked to Pier 424 for a seafood feast. We got charbroiled oysters to start, and boiled crab legs for our entrée. I was dying for some good crab legs, and these did not disappoint. It was Michael’s first time having them, so I taught him how to crack the shell open to get at the meat. It was a superb last meal. We walked to Carousel Bar next, which is a hidden gem within Hotel Monteleone. The seats that surround the bar rotate as you drink, which ultimately makes you feel intoxicated even after just one drink. The décor was beautiful and the cocktails with sumptuous and strong. We wandered over to Preservation Hall, but did not want to while away our last hours waiting in line. We moved onward to Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub on Bourbon Street, which was an interesting combination of abrasive Eastern European waitresses, expensive booze and amazing jazz music. We stayed for a while, each nursing our drink and enjoying the music. We traded pricey drinks for cheap fishbowls and wandered the French Quarter, pretending to consider seeing a sex show and enjoying the last of the Southern Decadence crowd. We hopped in and out of different bars to hear the music and use the restroom, which went smoothly all times but one. We wandered into a cheesy sports bar where a Temptations cover band was on stage. While we drank our contraband fishbowl and danced, we were accosted by a tube shot wielder, who tapped us on the shoulder, put the rounded end of multiple tube shots in her mouth and proceeded to pour them into my mouth, and then did the same for Michael. Just as we were thinking, “that was weird, but whatever, free shots!” she extended her hand and said “$12” in a very no-nonsense voice. Confused, we looked at each other, and informed her we’d have to pay with card. Her smile promptly fell off her face and she escorted us to the cash register behind the bar. As soon as we paid, we moved on, assessed our funds, and bought another fishbowl. We settled into the park outside Café Beignet (right off Bourbon Street) and listened to the musicians there. We ended the night with the last of our fishbowl, eating the pizza at Mango Mango, which we clearly could not get enough of during this trip. We meandered back to the hotel and passed out, which in turn, made us start our drive home hung over. It was a bittersweet trip home, with a lot of bumps along the way (high credit card authorizations, thunderstorms, car trouble…), but we made it in one piece and looking forward to our next adventure.