Tag Archives: travel

NOLA for Dummies Rookies

St Louis Cathedral

Special thanks to my friend LeslieAnn for the great photo!

My beloved city has been getting a lot of press lately. Camera crews are everywhere preparing for the Super Bowl. Talk shows are broadcasting live from the French Quarter and media credentials have been issued to reporters from over 200 countries. 

And as soon as the Lombardi trophy is handed to the game’s victor, we’ll shift gears into our biggest tourist event, Mardi Gras. After that, festival season kicks in, with event after event booking our weekends until the summer heat drives us indoors.

All this press will surely make a few of you yearn for a trip to the Big Easy. So I’ve prepared this little primer for traveling to New Orleans. Read it carefully before packing your bags.

Let’s Talk

First, let me address the name of our fair city. It’s New Or-luns. Not New Or-leens (unless you are singing a certain song where things must rhyme), and not N’Awlins. If you’re insecure with the pronunciation you can just say NOLA. We will respect you for trying, but we will love you for getting it right.

While we’re on the subject of word pronunciation, here are a few more you may want to practice.

The tiny, lobster-like crustaceans we love to eat are called crawfish (rhymes with draw fish). Not craa-fish (like in “Hey fish”).

Following that same pattern, the delicious sugary treats made in the French Market are called pralines (praw-leens, again, first syllable rhymes with draw), not pray-leens.

The nuts inside the pralines (remember, praw-leens) are called pecans (pa-cahns), not pee-cans. A pee-can is something completely different. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

And street names. Ahhh, street names. Don’t even try to pronounce Tchoupitoulas if you’re not from here. Just point and ask for help.

It will also behoove you to know that here, we ride in street cars, not trolleys or cable cars. And ordering a sandwich dressed means it will come with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. When you’re ready to leave and you haven’t finished your drink, ask for a Go-Cup. Yes, they’ll pour your beverage (even an adult one) in a disposable cup and you can take it with you. Just don’t drive with it. That we take very seriously.

Cocktail Culture

Here in the birthplace of the cocktail, we love to raise a glass. (Please don’t judge. It’s just our way.) Locals don’t maintain a tourist’s pace every day. That would be deadly. But be prepared for a prevalence of adult beverages during your stay, and know what you’re getting yourself into.

For a list of 10 Classic New Orleans cocktails and where to get them, click here.

My suggestions: Make sure you try a Sazerac, the original cocktail. It’s a rye whisky drink with a fun history that you can read about here. It was developed by an apothecary in the 19th century, so you can claim it’s for medicinal purposes. They’re served all over town, but the legendary Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel is the place to go for the real thing.

I’d also recommend trying a Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing, relatively low-alcohol beverage best enjoyed at the Napoleon House. Skip the Hurricane and Hand Grenade, unless cheap liquor in large quantities is what you’re after.

Another pioneering bit of New Orleans cocktail culture is the daiquiri machine. These sweet and potent concoctions are kind of like an alcohol-laced slurpee. Daiquiri bars will boast more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, with machines lined up behind the bar to entice you. They’re great on a really hot day, but I’d skip those in favor of something a little more sophisticated.

The cocktail has become such a revered part of our history and culture you can now take a walking tour through the French Quarter bars and restaurants that have become famous because of their libations. Wear comfortable shoes and designate a driver if your hotel isn’t within walking distance.

When you have to “go”

Finding a restroom in a drinking and walking city sometimes presents a problem. During special events it’s nearly impossible. So city planners and event organizers will put out banks of portable toilets for the public to use.

Let me make this perfectly clear: If you are unwilling to use a Port-O-Let, you should stay home. When the number of tourists exceeds the population, there’s no avoiding it.

Watch your step

After a night of revelry in the French Quarter, a certain blend of “liquids” accumulates along the edge of the streets. We call that liquid Party Gravy. Never, ever step in the Party Gravy. Most of the time it’s harmless, just spilled drinks and the leftover puddles from our tropical showers. But sometimes people get a little carried away when they’re here, and forget their good manners. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Don’t discuss your footwear with strangers.

Unless you actually want to pay someone to shine your shoes, do not engage the shoe shiners. They will ask you in a somewhat polite manner if you’d like your shoes shined. Once you make eye contact and speak to them, they set the hook. Then it will go something like this:

“Want your shoes shined?”

“No, thanks.”

But he will not give up.

“Well, then, I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes.”

“Sorry, no thanks.”

Still he will persist.

“I betcha five dollars I can tell you the exact street where you got them shoes.”

If you pause and make eye contact, you have accepted the bet. Certain that the dude has no idea where you purchased your shoes, you will engage. The shoe shiner will then announce that you “got them shoes on your feet” and that “your feet are on Bourbon Street.” There will then be a loud confrontation where he demands his $5. If there isn’t a cop within 20 feet you will pay the creep the $5 to get away.

Pace Yourself

No one comes to New Orleans to eat a turkey sandwich. Our food is rich and plentiful. And when it’s chased with a cocktail or two, you get easily fall victim to over-indulgence. Know your limits, and then only exceed them by a little. You gotta have fun, right?

If you decide to trek down to NOLA, give me a shout. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to make your visit memorable. And maybe even join you for a cocktail.

Have you been to New Orleans? If you have, did a shoe shiner ask you where you got your shoes?

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Disclaimer: This amusing description does not even come close to what New Orleans has to offer. It’s a great destination, full of history, culture, and energy. For more comprehensive information on travel to New Orleans, click on of these links. Then pack your bags and head on down!

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau — http://www.neworleanscvb.com/

Go NOLA — http://www.gonola.com/

Louisiana Tourism – the official tourism site of the state of Louisiana — http://www.louisianatravel.com/new-orleans

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Lessons From Paris: Le Flâneur

For one glorious week, I walked the streets of Paris.

I wandered, I ambled, I strolled.

I took in the sights and sounds.

I smelled, I tasted.

I experienced.

Just the way I always dreamed I would.

When my cousin S extended a very generous invitation – to accompany him on a cultural expedition of the City of Lights, I actually hesitated before saying “Yes.” (You can read all about that here.) But say “Yes” I did, and a couple of weeks ago I actually did it. I got on a plane, left my husband and kids behind, and went to Paris. All in.

Our travel party grew to three when S’s friend D joined us in the Atlanta airport. From there, we flew through the night, each anticipating our arrival from different sections of the plane. Sleep was elusive, and the on-board French wine did little to calm my excitement. I was on my way to Paris!

Upon arrival, our mission became clear. To immerse ourselves as much as possible. Not to ‘see’ Paris through the lens of a camera or the pages of a guide book an iPhone app. Not to ask for the English menu, and find something we might like. Not to seek out the pop-culture images we’d learned from our side of the pond. (Well, maybe a few.) But to BE in Paris. To EXPERIENCE Paris. To LIVE in Paris for one week.

The first day, I found something to marvel at with every step. A peek down an angled street, the pattern in the cobblestones, the wrought-iron balcony rails – all took my breath away. I resisted the urge to take photos of everything, instead wanting to just be part of it.  There was plenty of time.

Over the following days, the lessons came. Lessons about art and history and architecture. But mostly about life. About my life. And maybe yours, too.

And I want to share some of them with you.

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Lessons from Paris. Part One: Le Flâneur

Neither Dictionary.com nor Merriam-Webster.com has a definition for this word. Perhaps it doesn’t translate well into English because it’s not a concept we can really grasp here. WordReference.com does a decent job at attempting to translate it here.

Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842.

But the essence of this word can’t be captured in a two-dimensional way. One must do it to understand. One must become a flâneur.

Variations of the verb flâner date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when it referred to walking about with the intent of wasting time. It was in the 19th century when the word developed the rich meaning and connotation it holds today – that of an intellectual urban explorer, a connoisseur of the street, one whose purpose for strolling outdoors was to take in the culture surrounding him.

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Tourist vs. flâneur.

A tourist is a person engaged in travel for recreation or leisure, often learning about their destination through the filter of a guide or book.

A flâneur wanders a place for the sake of experiencing that place, developing a relationship with his or her surroundings in the process. There is no specific destination. This concept of the flâneur was presented in the 1860s by the French essayist Charles Beaudelaire.

“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family…”1

Paris taught me to be a flâneur. Not a tourist when I am away from home, not a participant in my own life when I am at home. But a connoisseur of life always.

“Be always drunken.

Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.

Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.

And if sometimes,
on the stairs of a palace,
or on the green side of a ditch,
or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
you should awaken
and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind,
or of the wave,
or of the star,
or of the bird,
or of the clock,
of whatever flies,
or sighs,
or rocks,
or sings,
or speaks,
ask what hour it is;
and the wind,
wave,
star,
bird,
clock will answer you:
“It is the hour to be drunken!”

                                   ― Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1869

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1 Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”, (New York: Da Capo Press, 1964). Orig. published in Le Figaro, in 1863.

Saying ‘oui’ to Paris. Saying ‘yes’ to myself.

Call Verizon to add international package. Check.

Call the bank to authorize shopping charges. Check.

Check with airline for flight changes. Check.

Confirm hotel reservation. Check.

Holy cow. I’m actually going to do this. The day after tomorrow I’m getting on a plane to Paris. Without my husband and kids.

Please, God, don’t let this be a dream.

I have never done anything this self-indulgent before. I rarely do anything self-indulgent. My idea of a big treat is lunch with a friend squeezed between errands and carpool. So when this email came back in May, I didn’t even know how to respond.

 “If I bought a ticket would you be interested in going to France for a week in mid-October? A translator would be nice.”
 

“What a lovely idea…” was my immediate thought. But I decided not to say ‘no’ right away. To live the fantasy in my head for a day or two before I squashed it.

I pictured myself sitting in a café with a cup of coffee glass of wine and my camera. I practiced a few lines of my long-forgotten French to see if I could even pull off ordering a glass of wine. I mean, it’s been over 30 years since my summer in Quebec, so offering my services as a translator would really be a joke. But it was a lovely thought.

Thank you, Microsoft, for this royalty-free image. Next week I’ll have my own photos to share!

I hung on to it for a few days. And then, in a moment of uncertainty, I mentioned it to my family at the dinner table. It took my husband a moment to speak. He said, “Have you said ‘Yes’ yet?” And without overthinking it, I said, “No, but I think I will.”

And the planning began.

A few months passed, and (even though my plane ticket was proudly displayed on the refrigerator) I refused to allow myself to get excited about it. There are so many wildcards in my life right now, and I feared something would crash down and force me to cancel if I blabbed all over the internet months in advance. So I waited cautiously. Realistically. Hopefully.

And the Universe cooperated, as if to tell me that I was worth all of this. And now, here I am, ready to take off to Paris with my cousin on a Bucket List sort of adventure. To drink in (pun intended) all that Paris has to offer. Art, history, architecture, food, wine, music… all by myself. (Well, by myself meaning without my husband and kids.)

About a month ago I started talking about it. Making it feel real. Shopping for something chic to wear.

For the last week I’ve been mumbling to myself en francais, picking up travel bottles for shampoo, and sporting a grin that just won’t go away.

Today I’m making a list for Mr. Wonderful of carpool schedules and cross-country meets and sending emails to make sure every detail is taken care of.

Tomorrow I’ll pack the suitcase.

And the next day, I’ll get on a plane and fly across an ocean and arrive in a place I’ve been waiting my whole life to be.

And I’ll take pictures and drink wine and visit cathedrals. And I’ll thank my cousin a bazillion times for asking that question back in April.

And I’ll come home a better person for having said ‘yes’ to myself.

My Happy Place

There is a stillness and calm in my house right now that I don’t get to enjoy very often.

Slick and Mr. Wonderful have already departed for school and work, and The Caboose is still snoozing on the couch.  He’s off this week for Thanksgiving break, so last night he enjoyed one of his favorite indulgences: sleeping on the couch downstairs with the dog.  I sit here in my chair watching him sleep, with his best friend Perro snuggled beside him.  The tapping sound of the keyboard is the only thing breaking the silence.

In a home with three boys and a dog, stillness is an elusive condition.  Our normal state is kinetic, even frenetic.  We never stop.

To get away from our usual hustle, we often vacation in the mountains of North Carolina, in a cabin tucked high in the mountains.  I’m the lone early bird in the group, and I make it my daily habit to awaken before everyone else to take advantage of the stillness and quiet.  It charges my batteries.  It fuels my soul.  It gives me a place to retreat to (if only in my mind) when the chaos of life overwhelms.

I keep a photo of this Happy Place in my kitchen.  And even though my view right now is of a treehouse instead of these magnificent mountains, my batteries are charging in this stillness of my home.

The Lucky Mom's Happy Place. - Highland Lake, NC