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Christmas in New Orleans

Updated on January 22, 2016
A beautiful ride through Mississippi just ahead of a wildly dangerous storm system.
A beautiful ride through Mississippi just ahead of a wildly dangerous storm system.

Deluxe Accommodations at the French Quarter RV Resort

Let me begin by saying I have never seen an RV park quite like this. Cobblestone sites, with some of the grandest motorized extravaganzas imaginable; the swimming pool and jacuzzi were directly across from our holiday home. And, as if the name doesn't say it all - location, location, location. It was surprisingly quiet, extremely well kept, and secure. Upon arrival, after being lost and going around in circles for awhile, we really needed to go to separate corners. I chose the corner with the pool and it wasn't long before we were back in the swing of the thing. Here is another advantage of road tripping: you really can't indulge a standoff for long. There's not room and, really, life's too short anyway. Nobody wants to spend their little bit of time in a new place balancing a stupid chip on his or her shoulder, right? Right!

From our gritty entrance to our reluctant departure, New Orleans was like a loving embrace

Louisiana, from my passenger seat as we drove down the causeway, was hauntingly beautiful. It never occurred to me to take a picture but it does occur to me that I've seen those pictures and they didn't touch this moment. The houses on stilts on the bayou, combined with the hot air and high humidity transported me to some place very comfortable in my soul.

It was early afternoon, which was a good thing since the printed google map led us to the Superdome in search of an address we never found. In our attempt to get back on track, we got caught in one of those house of mirrors type cycles of thinking we were getting there and always coming back to the same place. Clearly, it was important that we see the harsh reality of life in The Big Easy for many people. The community under the highway, right there by the Welcome to New Orleans sign, can best be described as desolate. There are situations where one feels vulnerable driving through a strange place, clearly unfamiliar and likely lost, but this was not one of them. I might not have sought these people out but it doesn't feel right being a privileged tourist and not acknowledging the reality of the place that's welcoming me - especially this place, with all of its under-acknowledged pain and complexity in the midst of its charm and beauty.

We got where we were going, got set up, and walked out into the Quarter. Within minutes, a man threw beads over our heads. They were sticky and he asked for $20. I gave him $2 and we moved along, removing our beads but agreeing it was a right of passage. They've since been added to the overhang in the rv where I am forever bumping my head. We walked around taking it all in and eventually fell in line at ACME Oyster House. The line wasn't too long and it moved quickly and pretty soon we were seated at the bar where the full menu is served. I wish I had a picture of the good-looking bartender with the waist-length dreads to show you but you'll just have to trust me. He had a disposition to match his looks and added a lot to our enjoyment of a really, really good meal. We had everything. Grilled oysters to start. Jim ordered a combo plate of jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice and I went for the seafood étouffée (as suggested/directed by the local man in the front of the line). The unseasonably warm weather has yielded a lot more crawfish than usual for December so I had a side of those, too (add $2.99, are you kidding me?!). Every bite was like a party in my mouth and The Captain concurs, although he might not put it just that way.

New Orleans Famous Beignets & Coffee

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Francie and Margaret will light up your morning!Bliss on the river.
Francie and Margaret will light up your morning!
Francie and Margaret will light up your morning!
Bliss on the river.
Bliss on the river.

Map of The French Quarter

A Pilgrimage to Café du Monde, Almost

On Christmas Eve morning, we set out for a walk through the French Quarter to have, what else?, beignets and chicory coffee at the world famous place everybody wants to go for just that. Jim's been before so when I saw the ridiculous line, he was quick to agree that we could go to the place we'd just passed with no line. Why there is no line at

is beyond me. It's Francie's shop and her mom, Margaret had flown in from Florida to help her out when she was short-handed. They are an endearing pair, exuding love and kindness and serving up insanely delicious beignets. Don't take my word for it. While I was chatting with these gals, a man came in to say that he'd eaten a lot of beignets in a lot of places and these were "hands down" the best he'd ever tasted. You can take my word for this, though, you should skip the line at the place everyone's heard of and soak up the love and powdered sugar at New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee.

We walked around the square and back to ACME, where we agreed to meet at 2:00 after some solo time, during which Jim walked back to the riverfront and did this delicious little drawing.

Beignet makers at Cafe du Monde
Beignet makers at Cafe du Monde | Source

There was a map (well, more like a bullet list) in my head of places I'd seen and wanted to find. First stop: The Cigar Factory. The guy there was so helpful in selecting Christmas cigars for The Captain. I told him how earlier Jim had awarded 1st prize in costuming for the day to a young woman in casual corduroys and tangerine stars painted on her aureolas. No mask, makeup, or crazy hat; just a nice, topless gal enjoying the warm weather. That, of course, would be no big deal to this cigar aficionado, however, a little while later, just before we parted ways on Bourbon and Iberville, here came Santa Claus with a sweet, slightly backward look about him. I commented that he was the sorta' guy you just warmed up to on sight. Yes, my one-man audience knew who he was. Well, and here's the part that makes this a story worthy of sharing with a shopkeeper on Royal Street in the French Quarter, Santa stopped to greet tangerine star girl, held up a finger that said, "Wait, I have something in my bag just for you!", reached in and handed her nunchucks. Yes, really! We were giddy over our good fortune in having witnessed such a moment. Here's the scene as interpreted by my resident artist:

Nunchucks from Santa
Nunchucks from Santa | Source

First purchase in hand, I went about my shopping and sight-seeing, finding my way back to the Hippie Gypsy store where I found, as anticipated, a fabulous pair of belly dance pants. When I finally get to a class, I'll be ready. Today I was prepared with a pocketful of Kennedy halves for panhandlers. I like those moments, making eye contact and touching people's hands, sharing a smile and a kind word with someone who is often invisible.

Back at ACME Oyster House, we ordered a dozen of those oysters from the night before, cups of seafood corn chowder and a praline sundae to split. Full and happy, we wandered back toward the rv park to shower and dress for 5:00 mass at the glorious St. Paul's Cathedral. A couple of blocks of the walk are mildly dicey. Jim had checked crime reports and knew there were a lot of car break-ins but not a lot of violent crime. As we got to the more deserted block of our walk, we could see a couple of guys looking in cars. We know the wisdom of walking along like we know what we're doing and minding our own business. This is exactly what we were doing when Jim, both hands full, tripped on a broken curb and fell hard in the street. Vulnerable, muddy, and bleeding he carefully stood up and we were both enormously relieved and grateful that nothing was broken (including his glasses). We got back to our luxury campsite, cleaned and bandaged his injuries and decided to stay in for the night. This is yet another advantage of rv life, you travel with a kitchen. We had plenty of treats, including leftovers from the previous nights ACME feast. The Captain rallied and put up the Christmas lights, WWOZ played great Christmas jazz and cajun music. Before settling in, I went to the showers where I shared a roomy stall with a bright green tree frog. It's a wonderful life.


Christmas Eve Delights

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St. Paul's Cathedral, across the square from New Orleans Famous Beignets and CoffeeFather Christmas and the Devil seen from the window of ACME Oyster HouseThe Captain making Christmas bright
St. Paul's Cathedral, across the square from New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee
St. Paul's Cathedral, across the square from New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee
Father Christmas and the Devil seen from the window of ACME Oyster House
Father Christmas and the Devil seen from the window of ACME Oyster House
The Captain making Christmas bright
The Captain making Christmas bright

Christmas Day was hot and humid and off we went after breakfast and presents to look around and play the day by ear. We hopped on the St. Charles Streetcar and for $2.50 round trip we had a great little sightseeing tour. The breeze felt so nice through the open windows as we rode out to the Garden District enjoying sights outside of our neighborhood. If you do this, I suggest getting an all day pass for $3. You can hop on and off at a beautiful park, the zoo, any number of restaurants, or just walk around and look at houses. We'd walked enough and chose to sit it out. Remember that they are serious about exact change!

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Now I know where all those beads come from!
Now I know where all those beads come from!
Now I know where all those beads come from!

If I had it to do again, I'd make reservations for one of the Reveillon dinners. As it was, we couldn't get seated on the fly. (https://holiday.neworleansonline.com/traditions/reveillon-dinners/) Back we went to The Calypso, where we sat outside drinking coffee, eating chocolates and reading as the Thanksgiving leftover layered dish thawed for our Christmas dinner. We enjoyed the jacuzzi and started making our peace with leaving the next morning.

Leaving New Orleans

Before leaving Wisconsin, Jim got in touch with a guy who'd moved to town a few years before. Bill came and picked us up and took us for a drive through the Treme neighborhood. Remind me to watch Pit Bulls and Parolees which I understand is filmed here. He took us to a place called The Healing Center (see photos below), where we shared a breakfast from the coop in the building. Given more time, it would be great to explore this place further, not to mention spend more time with Bill and meet his wife, Wendy, who I can tell by hearing him talk about her is someone I want to get to know.

On our way out of Louisiana, we stopped in Sorrento for one more round of beignets and a café au lait. They were good, but they weren't Francie's.

The New Orleans Healing Center

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Thanks, Bill!
Thanks, Bill!
Thanks, Bill!

New Orleans, I'll Be There

I'll never listen to Tom Waits singing "I Wish I Was in New Orleans" the same again. My dad and I exchanged lines sung from that song for our Christmas phone messages. It's worth mentioning that WWOZ did play Tom's Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis on Christmas night.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Danielle 

      2 years ago

      Your beautifully detailed writing is calling me back to New Orleans. Thank you for bringing me along for the ride.

    • M Lynn Moore profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle McKiernan 

      2 years ago from Madison, WI

      Thank you all for reading my travel reports. Your comments warm my heart. I'm enjoying this!

    • profile image

      Helen Schneider 

      2 years ago

      This just brightened my day. Today was actually sunny for more than 20 minutes. Got in a couple great walks. Looking forward to landing in CA on Wednesday. I love your narrative and also the work of the resident artist.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 

      2 years ago from California

      I've never been to New Orleans but I would very much like to visit, especially after reading this delicious hub. And when I go, I'm going to Francie's shop! Looking forward to the next stop on your exciting RV adventure. Happy new year!

    • profile image

      Nance McKiernan 

      2 years ago

      Very nice to read your post! Haven't been to New Orleans in quite a while, but you surely took me right back! What a joy to 'tag along'...THANK you, Michelle! And Jim for the, as always, great art! Always, love!

    • profile image

      Mother Superior 

      2 years ago

      Your travellogue is wonderful and enticing. I will get to the Big Easy before i croak come hell or high water. You are a gifted writer, my girl. Be sure to save & print your RV travel comments. They are priceless.

    • M Lynn Moore profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle McKiernan 

      2 years ago from Madison, WI

      Oh, Debbie H, you spark joy in me! Thanks.

    • profile image

      Debbie H 

      2 years ago

      Your stories spark my senses. I can just taste it all. Thanks for bringing us along. xo Happy New Year!

    • M Lynn Moore profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle McKiernan 

      2 years ago from Madison, WI

      Glad you enjoyed it, Patty. I'll keep Michaul's on that mental list for next time.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      2 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Sounds a wonderful visit! I enjoyed reading about your Christmas in New Orleans and hope to see more of it one day. My favorite place is Michaul's on St. Charles Avenue.

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