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Saturday, June 7, 2008

New Orleans -- Swamp Tour & Esplanade Ave 5.26.08

*  Honey Island Swamp Tour                           * Esplanade Ave walking tour
Pat O'Brien's - Bar                                                            * Jamie Hayes Gallery     
Gumbo Shop - Dinner                                                     * The Spotted Cat - Bar

The Cajun Encounter tour bus picked us up in front of the hotel promptly at 8 AM. It was 45 minutes drive to the Honey Island Swamp. We drove by 9th ward, the most devastated area affected by Katrina. The evidence of the damages was apparent. We also witness a lot of constructions happening. The bridges were being rebuilt, the electricities and phone lines were recovered, new houses were built higher and stronger. Slowly, people were coming back.

It was a quiet beautiful morning. The temperature's was mild with little humidity. We enjoyed this tour immensely. It was one of the highlights of this trip. It was so peaceful sitting on the boat listening to our guide, Captain Ted talking about many fascinating swamp stories.

After returning from the swamp tour around 1 P.M., we went back to ACME oyster house for more fresh oysters & boiled crawfish for lunch. We initially wanted to try Felix across the street from ACME. However, Felix only had boiled crawfish on the weekend; and I had to have crawfish one more time before we leave the next day.
In the afternoon, we took the Canal St. Streetcar to the last stop City Park to begin our 3rd walking tour. We started from St. Louis No. 3 cemetery and walked on Esplanade Avenue all the way back to French Quarter.

This was my favorite walking tour among all three. It was somewhat off the beaten path away from most tourist spots. The Esplanade Avenue seemed to be a real neighborhood with many charming houses. By now, we could somehow guess the period and style of architectures by looking at the buildings.

There were traces of Katrina with a few ruined houses as we got closer to the French Quarter. Reading about the crime rate & safety in New Orleans prior to the trip, I was a bit paranoid, especially those few blocks around the highway 10. But most of the time, I felt pretty safe. There were residents watering their front yards or sitting on the patio with their dogs along the Avenue. The lush trees along the sidewalk were amazing.

After the walking tour, we stopped at Pat O'Brien in the French Quarter for drinks. I loved the ambiance in Pat O'Brien's: the dim lights, German beer steins hanging on the ceilings, the music in the piano lounge, and the water fountains in the courtyard. I ordered their famous Mint Julep made with mint, bourbon, sugar, and water. Not my thing. It was too strong and too sweet for my taste.


We also found another surprise in French Quarter: 
I first spotted the Voodoo dolls from the window display and really wanted to buy a voodoo doll as a souvenir. The Gallery showcased the artist's artwork with the most vibrant colors and vivid imaginations. There were tons of voodoo dolls with different colors, sizes, and shapes. They were SO adorable that I wanted to take all of them home. Hans literarily had to drag me out of the store.

We wanted to go to Cochon in the Central Business District for dinner. However, the restaurant was closed for Memorial Day. We eventually settled for Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter. By the 3rd day, we were very much gumbo'd out of our share of cajun/creole cuisine. However, we did not feel like to have other type of food that we could have anytime of the day in New York.

Crawfish Etouffee
The sauce was both savoy and sweet. It was good, but I just could not eat much of it.

Crawfish & Tasso Pasta in Cream Sauce
We loved this dish, the pasta tasted really good for a change.


After Dinner, we headed down to "The Spotted Cat" on Frenchmen Street. 
The facade of this building was so old and full of character.
The bar was small and bare. 

I love big band swing music. It was the reason that brought me to The Spotted Cat that night.   New Orleans Jazz Vipers was performing.  It was jam packed that many of us had to stand outside.  Their music was absolutely delightful.  We stood outside the bar with other locals, listening to their music, sipping cocktails from plastic cups, watching two excellent swing dancers take it away.  It was such a beautiful night.  The air was dry and cool. Everyone was relaxed and happy.  It felt just like the kind of a New Orleans experience that I was looking for here in the big easy.

Want to listen to some of their music?  I know you will like it too.

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