Girls Get Away to The Big Easy Full Of Fun, Food and Surprises

St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

Story and photos by Pat Lindsey

Two of the best things about traveling are sharing great times with good friends and meeting new people. And that’s exactly what my two best friends and I did on a recent “girls’ getaway” to New Orleans.

This was probably my tenth trip to The Big Easy, and Linda had been there many times, too, but it was a first for Carol.  Our challenge in planning the trip, therefore, was to find new things for Linda and me to experience while giving Carol an overview of the city’s finest features.  Getting a room large enough for three women was difficult, but we found a perfect one at the Courtyard Marriott on Iberville in the French Quarter. Not only did we get a large room with two king beds and a refrigerator, but the Courtyard adjoined the Ritz Carlton and we were able to enjoy some of its amenities, as well.

We arrived late on a Monday evening, so the first thing on the Tuesday morning itinerary was a walk through the French Quarter to Jackson Square to have café au lait and beignets at Café DuMonde.  If you’re looking for a quiet place to have a leisurely breakfast, this is not the place for you.  It’s always noisy and bustling and you should feel lucky if you get a table in the open-air pavilion that seems to be perpetually dusted with powdered sugar.  A better choice for a peaceful start to your day would be Café Beignet on Royal St., which has a lovely courtyard and jazz musicians.

From Café DuMonde, we took a walk through the French Market, which has far more New Orleans souvenirs than fresh produce. Carol couldn’t resist buying a preserved alligator head for her grandson and a Mardi Gras mask for her granddaughter, while Linda and I perused countless booths of handmade jewelry. When we had enough shopping for one day, we walked around Jackson Square, politely refused to have our fortunes told by a tarot card reader, and made a visit to beautiful St. Louis Cathedral.

Instead of having lunch that first day, we went to a 2  p.m. class at the New Orleans School of Cooking on St. Louis St.  Having been there before, Linda and I knew that we would get a delicious meal served with a big helping of local history for the bargain price of $21 (with online coupon). The corn and crab bisque, chicken etouffee, and chocolate pralines was as good as we would have had at any of New Orleans fine restaurants.

A special treat was Beverley, a woman from Oxford, England, who had asked if she could join us at our table.  Beverley had come to New Orleans with her husband, who was on business, and she was trying to entertain herself every day while he was in meetings. We instantly liked Beverley and invited her to join us for lunch the next day.

Taking the cemetery tour.

Taking the cemetery tour.

Nighttime in the French Quarter is when the ghosts come out to play. We decided to take a two-hour walking ghost tour for $20.  Jonathan, our guide, escorted us past pre-Civil War homes and places where paranormal activity is often detected on two kinds of ghost-hunting meters.  It was obvious that Jonathan believed everything he was telling us, but the three of us weren’t buying very much of it.  By the time we walked to a haunted tavern, we bailed out of the tour and headed for the Crescent City Brew House. (Later, other tourists told us there were better ghost tours we could have chosen.)

No trip to New Orleans would be complete without at least one hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s. There’s just something about dueling pianos, college fight songs, and favorite sing-alongs that spells Bourbon Street for me. It was also a boost to our senior female egos when a couple of cute southern men who just graduated college asked to sit (and dance) with us!  What can I say?  New Orleans is a friendly town.

The second day of our getaway trip focused on the Garden District, where we had a lunch reservation at Commander’s Palace.  We paid $1.25 in even change to ride the St. Charles streetcar to Washington St. and arrived too early for lunch, but just in time to take a 10-minute tour of a very old cemetery across the street from the restaurant. The stories we heard about natural cremation, dead ringers, and people being saved by the bell were almost enough to make us lose our appetites.

Commander’s Palace turned out to be a highlight of our trip. None of us had ever been there, but I had always heard that it was one of best restaurants in New Orleans and the rumors were true.  We weren’t sure that Beverley would really join us, but within minutes of being seated by Leonardo, she arrived by taxi. The following two hours were filled with laughter, 25-cent martinis, turtle soup and scrumptious entrees. The service couldn’t have been better from the first cosmo to the bread pudding soufflé.

Actor John Goodman's house in the Garden District.

Actor John Goodman’s house in the Garden District.

Commander’s Palace is in the middle of the Garden District and it is surrounded by lovely neighborhoods of grand centuries-old homes and gardens. It was a beautiful spring afternoon and we started walking.  In retrospect, we should have scheduled a walking tour of the Garden District so that a guide could have identified the owners of the homes for us. Everything we learned about the homeowners we learned from the gardeners. One landscaping crew pointed out Archie Manning’s home and told us that John Goodman was his backyard neighbor. Sandra Bullock’s huge two-story southern mansion was just around the corner.  The next time I go to New Orleans, I’ll  spend more time in the Garden District, including the botanical garden and museums.

Our last day in New Orleans should have begun with a swamp tour, but Carol was afraid there wouldn’t be enough time before our shuttle picked us up for the airport.  As it turned out, we only had time for beignets and coffee at Café Beignet, another walk around Jackson Square, and lunch at Emeril’s NOLA, which was the biggest disappointment of our trip.  The food was rather ordinary and very over-priced.

After lunch, we showed Beverley the Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone, the most popular bar in New Orleans, and directed her to a few other points of interest before we said our good-byes and met our airport shuttle at our hotel.   Beverley still had one more night to spend in The Big Easy, but it was off to the airport for us, where we sat for an additional four-hour delay due to inclement weather in  Florida We made the best of the situation, however, as we pulled out our Wizard cards and played games until it was time to board the plane.

New Orleans is a great place for a “girls’ getaway,” because there are so many things to do in the span of one square mile, with many other attractions being only a streetcar ride away. We had a wonderful three days in New Orleans, but next time we will probably add one more day to do some of the things we missed on this trip, and perhaps  drive, instead of fly.



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