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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Can't Stop the Parade

Saturday, February 13th

I arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana for what would be one of the craziest experiences of my life. I was armed with warm, neon clothing and stylish rain boots but nothing could have prepared me for the mayhem of New Orleans' Mardi Gras.

Thanks to the horrible weather on the East Coast I got in two hours late and checked into the Pere Marquette Hotel at 817 Common Street. My room was small, but well furnished, and hopefully would be able to contain the numerous people arriving from all over the United States for my friend's 25th birthday. Also thanks to the weather and flight delays, I was the first person to arrive so I hung out in the room finishing my book to the sound of screaming and drums out the window.

The first birthday guest arrived a few hours later and we set out to the hotel bar for some refreshment while we waited for the birthday girl to arrive. A handful of champagne and beers later, the group was finally assembled. Feeling friendly we had added to young bell boys from the hotel to the group who conveniently got off work right around the time we hit Bourbon Street (11pm).

Bourbon Street is the infamous walking street of Mardi Gras. Media images of beads thrown from second-story balconies to half-naked, shirtless girls on the streets is a pretty accurate description. There is a bar at every step, happy to fill your glass, or drinking instrument, with liquids from red to brown to neon green. My personal favorite of the night was the daiquiris from a bar called the Jester. These bright green drinks come in a plastic yard glass designed as, you guessed it, a Jester. They are very festive and very tasty - although I highly recommend wearing black because five minutes into ordering one half of it ended up down the front of me.

Towards the end of the night, I inevitably found myself in a skanky pizza place, not for the pizza, but in search of the bathroom. I tried to sneak past a vast line of angry drunk girls but the large bouncer wised up fast. You know life has gotten bad when you end up as the bouncer for the bathroom. As a note to those of you crazy enough to venture to Mardi Gras, pack some toilet paper in your pocket and stash a ton of food in your hotel room because toilets and food at night are scarce and what is available isn't necessarily good for your health.

We somehow managed to find our way back to the hotel and passed out around 5am.

Sunday, February 14th

We managed to wrangle everyone out of the hotel by 2pm in the afternoon just in time to catch the tail end of one of the parades on Canal Street. Mardi Gras features both large and small parades. The large ones, as the title of this blog suggests, are impassable, while the smaller ones you can usually dive past near Basin Street.

When deciding on a hotel, you have to either pick the quieter, cheaper side of Canal Street where the Pere is located or stay on the louder, more expensive French Quarter side. If you stay on the Pere side you will sometimes have a hard time getting to the French Quarter and if you stay on the French Quarter side you may miss your flight because you can't get out!

Today was just a small parade, so we manage to dodge around it and head into the French Quarter for breakfast. We walked down Royal Street, which parallels Bourbon, in an attempt to get through the crowds faster. If you want to drink and people-watch walk Bourbon, if you want to get places take Royal. We walked down Royal, past Jackson Square to River's Edge, a restaurant just across the street from the famous Cafe du Monde.

River's Edge advertised "New Orleans Creole Cuisine" which I was really excited about. I ordered the fried pickles and the jambalaya. The fried pickles came right away but it was another hour until the jambalaya came out. It was really frustrating, although it was hard to be mad at our waitress who was a sweetheart and totally apologetic. Turns out the jambalaya was only "okay" after all that and I had a growing stomachache from the basket of fried pickles and old beer still churning around in my stomach.

After lunch we ended up walking through the French Quarter, listening to street musicians and admiring the old world architecture.

We all felt that our outfits from the previous night were shabby compared with the elaborate costumes of the locals so we stopped in a wig shop, Fifi Mahony's, on Royal Street. Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to take pictures inside or I totally would've. There is a room in the back with shelves and shelves of wigs to choose from. Some look like real human hair and others range from dark purple to bright orange. There are four stylist chairs sitting in the middle of the room in front of a huge mirror.

By sitting in a chair you indicate that you are ready to try on a wig. We were there late in the day so they humored us by letting us try an array of wigs. I really wanted to go brunette but was unable to commit. My mom is brunette and it has always been somewhat hard to see a direct blood relationship between the two of us. Well, one brunette wig later and I look like my mom age 24. SCARY. Can't go looking like my mom for Mardi Gras. There is definitely something creepy about that (don't get me wrong my mom's a looker).

I decided to go with a lovely wig of bright blue locks that cascaded down my back. So hot. My cohorts selected an array of choices from Lady Gaga blond to Madonna in baby blue. We all agreed that we would be walking back to the hotel wearing them. Along the way we also stopped in a mask store and purchased Mardi Gras masks to complete the masterpiece.

As a note for the rest of this blog, in order to protect the identities of my crew, everyone will be referred to by their stage names: Madonna, Birthday Girl, Gaga, Kendra, Lick Em All Over and the Pilgrim.

Prepared for a crazy night, we went back to the hotel, dressed in our finest and then headed out for birthday dinner at Domenica, an Italian restaurant at 123 Baronne Street (just around the corner from the hotel). We had an AMAZING dinner! I had the tagliatelle pasta with rabbit ragu which was incredible.

Something this restaurant does, which I am just starting to see with other restaurants, is that they offer large or small portions of the pastas. Usually I like to order a burrata salad and a pasta at Italian restaurants, but it fills me up too much for dessert. This is the perfect solution! Unfortunately, they were out of the burrata salad so I couldn't fully test my theory. BOO.

We ended the meal with dessert and champagne. I had the Gelato Affogato, which is vanilla gelato topped with a shot of espresso. It tastes like toffee. Mmm. The best part of the night was when we got the check our three bottles of wine were nowhere to be seen! Definitely the mistake of our amazing waiter so we decided to leave him an $80 tip. That way he would be mostly covered if he had to pay for the wine out of his own pocket or he'd get an incredible tip. Feeling like we left with a satisfied conscience we headed to Frenchmen Street.

Frenchmen Street is the locals district where bar after bar play live music until all hours of the night. The beers are plentiful and foreign and the number of drunk tourists is diminished. I was still painfully aware of my crazy night drinking the night previous so I just danced my sober dance at D.B.A. (the bar).

Birthday Girl, on the other hand, was NOT sober and this resulted in her purse being stolen. Luckily, she is a trouper and still managed to have a great night.

Monday, February 15th

Once again we were slow movers this morning. Two of the girls had to hit the road/airport midday so we really only had time for one last quick brunch together. My number one goal while in New Orleans was to get beignets and we had passed a really cute cafe yesterday that had them so I suggested it. Turns out, Cafe Beignet on Royal Street, also has other great food as well such as waffles and omelettes so everyone was happy. When you order the beignets, you get three powdered-sugar-encrusted pieces of dough that are slightly crisp on the outside and deliciously warm on the inside. I ate all three. Best part? They were three dollars!

From there, the day got a little crazy because Lick Em All Over had to get to the airport. Madonna was going to drive her there with the strict mandate that when she returned we'd go to the famous ACME Oyster House for oysters. In the interim, the rest of us searched the mall for Saints jerseys (no luck) and visited the Zulu Festival.

We arrived at ACME at the same time as Madonna only to find ourselves at the back of a two hour line headed by an angry worker. Definitely not worth the oysters considering I'm allergic, but Madonna really wanted them. So we decided to venture to Pat O'Brien's for some famous Hurricanes while Madonna waited in line. In theory, this was a great idea, we just had no idea what was in store for us...

Fast-forward thirty minutes to Pilgrim, Gaga, Kendra, Birthday Girl and I plastered eating $5 jambalaya from a communal bowl while sipping Hurricanes and wearing silly green plastic hats. Meanwhile Madonna's texts and phone calls continued unheard. To our credit, no one received the phone calls thanks to bad service, but we definitely weren't being very good friends. Kendra kept urging everyone to get moving and eventually herded us out the door in the direction of ACME.

One point of interest while at POB was that the bartender told Birthday Girl she should pin a dollar to her shirt on her birthday and people would give her money. Another thing to remember about POB's is that if you return the Hurricane glasses to the bartender he will give you money back. Most tourists don't know this but you could literally drink for free if you find the glasses and return them.

Five minutes later, we ran into an angry Madonna who ended up eating oysters with a random family of tourists because we failed to show up. We are assholes. Luckily, before she left to drive home we manage to all make up.

Now back at the hotel, we made the decision to take it easy and go to bed early so we would have sufficient time and energy for a full day of day-drinking tomorrow. This didn't mean we couldn't enjoy the night parade which we did for a little while.

Afterwards, Pilgrim and I found our way across the street to Brothers, which is a convenience store that sells fried chicken and meat pies. Needless to say it wasn't my proudest moment.

Tuesday, February 16th

Technically my day started at 2am this morning when the fire alarm went off. The hotel managed to deactivate it relatively quickly but left elevator music blaring in its wake. Clearly sleep was no longer an option so Pilgrim and I contemplated the best route to take had the hotel actually been on fire. His extensive training stated that the worst floors to be on are: the one on fire (duh), the floor above the fire, and the top floor (smoke rises).

Finally the music shut off and I attempted to sleep. Pilgrim adversely decided to turn all the lights on and search for loose money so he could buy a Sprite from the vending machine. Sigh. I finally gave up sleeping around 11am and wandered next door to see if anyone else was up.

Imagine my surprise when an hour later we are actually on our way out the door! We headed off in search of breakfast and the French Quarter only to be stopped by a giant Fat Tuesday parade. Herein lies the title of this blog: YOU CAN'T STOP THE PARADE. Go ahead. Try it. We went left, we dodged right, we ate at Subway, and then we finally made a run for it and dived through the barrier, across the parade path, to the other side where a couple drunk guys were more than happy to help us over the gate.

We headed directly for Pat O'Brien's (seeing as how that is officially the best place in New Orleans). Today it was PACKED, yet somehow we snagged a table! The next few hours involved dancing on tables, playing drinking games with a stack of cards, and consuming the endless supply of jambalaya and Hurricanes that arrived at our table.

The rest of the day and night gets a little fuzzy. At some point, Birthday Girl's man friend from the other night arrived and invited us to his hotel room overlooking Bourbon Street. We eagerly forced the participants below to do horrible things for beads. It is surprisingly fun to dangle beads over the railing and watch what humans with do for a string of plastic.

We finally tired of this game and all the food in the room had been exhausted so we spent the remainder of the night dancing from bar to bar. Around 2am I headed back to the hotel to grab my bag and head to the airport. I made it there in time for my 6am flight but almost boarded the wrong airplane. Thank God for the lady that checks your ticket at the gate right?

In a final fit of daring I managed to make it to work that same day after hours of no sleep. I can't say I looked or smelled great but I surprisingly accomplished quite a bit. Looking back, (with the bronchitis that subsequently followed this adventure) I can easily say that it was one of the greatest trips I would never want to do again.

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