Courir de Mardi Gras

Last November our friend CBJ asked us if we wanted to go to New Orleans to help celebrate his birthday. Of course we said yes. Through a series of misunderstandings we ended up not even being there at the same time, but we were still determined to enjoy the hell out of our return to NoLa.

Sunday

It was freezing cold when we left for the airport. Like, -39 with the wind chill — that kind of cold. Despite tiny hiccups with my Global Entry status, a food order, our take-off time, and a gate change, we were soon aboard and en route. I watched Fury (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and part of This Is Where I Leave You (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and then, boom: Louisiana.

We got into a cab, but because the parades had already begun we had a long, slow slog to the downtown core, creeping through the already-large crowds of people in the French Quarter. We had to walk the last few blocks to our hotel since there was just no way to cross Canal Street.

We finally got to Loft523, dropped our bags with the front desk, adjusted to being called y’all all the time, and walked to Barcadia for some lunch. Since it was about 18 degrees their front windows were open and, as luck would have it, facing onto the current parade route on Tchoupitoulas. Our first parade! We had amazing burgers and cold, local craft beer, and revelled in being on vacation.

Full, we walked back to the room to check in and clean up, then went back down to Tchoupitoulas to see more of the parade. At this point I believe we were watching the Krewe of Mid-City. We had fun watching the floats, marching bands, dance troupes, and musical acts rolls by, and realized how easy it was to accumulate beads. You kind of have to pay attention or they’ll smack you in the face. And no, no one flashes for them. Not outside of Bourbon Street, anyway.

We knew the Krewe of Thoth would be rolling soon, so we walked over to Canal Street for a better vantage point. We stood there for a few hours, yelling for beads and other throws, throwing little foam footballs back and forth with some guys across Canal Street, and so on. It wasn’t just tourists either — there were plenty of locals who came out to watch these parades, cheering on the kids in the marching bands, high-fiving the chaperones who walk with them, etc.

After getting changed back in our room we skipped back across Canal to the French Quarter for dinner, stopping first for a drink at Saint Lawrence — which pretty much instantly became our new favourite place in the Quarter. We had a couple of killer beers (like my Belgian Dubbel from Texas made with Japanese hops!) then walked the few minutes to Sylvain, where we’d made dinner reservations. It had gotten a bit chilly by local standards so most people sat inside, but we opted for a courtyard table. And why not? It was a good 50 degrees warmer than Toronto at that moment. We shared a “southern antipasti” plate, then Nellie had the pappardelle bolognese while I had the pork Milanese. We shared a chocolate pôt de crème for dessert too.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to go home before midnight, so we walked over to Canal to see a little bit of Bacchus (including what appeared to be a very hammered Gary Busey yelling into a microphone?) and went back to our new favourite place Saint Lawrence for one more beer.

New Orleans!

Monday

I let Nellie sleep in while I walked to Merchant for some coffee and breakfast, and then we geared up for Lundi Gras. We walked out to the French Quarter, to Royal Street, and just strolled around a bit. I looked for a hat. Nellie looked at bags. We picked out masks to buy later so we wouldn’t be the only ones without costumes.

We decided to have lunch at Café Amelie. Once again, we sat outside — they have a huge courtyard. Actor John C. Reilly, this year’s Bacchus parade marshal, showed up for lunch with friends. I had a beet salad and this amazing shrimp penne with corn and cajun spice; Nellie had cajun poutine. We didn’t even mind the few drops of rain.

We walked back to Pirate Alley and bought the masks, then stopped in at the Old Absinthe House to try…well, absinthe. I didn’t love it, to be honest, but it seemed like the thing to do. I also grabbed some coffee from Spitfire, which was awesome.

Our plan for watching the Lundi Gras parades was to head over to the Avenue Pub, our favourite spot from our last trip to NoLa. The St. Charles streetcar wasn’t running because of all the parades, so we walked there, and were actually a little schvitzy by the time we arrived. We grabbed a beer and chatted with the staff about the time I mailed the tip from Canada three years ago. At 4:00 they let us onto the 2nd-floor balcony overlooking the parade route, the perfect place to see the Krewes of Proteus and Orpheus as they rolled down St. Charles. And to sample some amazing beers, obviously.

At some point in the evening it began to pour down rain, but we stuck it out. Most people ducked back inside to wait out the rain, but we didn’t come to New Orleans to be put off by a little rain. Okay, a lot of rain, but we were prepared with jackets. We made friends with local couple Jim & Pam (seriously), and briefly with a woman from Manitoba. Poor Manitoba had had way too much to drink and ended up passing out by the bathroom, ultimately requiring paramedics to come and give her IV fluids. I’d like to think we salvaged the reputation of all Canadians through our good behaviour and general awesomeness. Still, at least one guy shook his head and muttered “Yankees!” under his breath. We settled up (we remembered!) and walked back to the hotel in what was now a very cold evening, past the strewn cups and beads and throws.

We’d hoped Cochon Butcher would be open, but it was locked up tight. We walked home along Tchoupitoulas, seeing a bit of the parade I’d missed while in the bathroom at the Avenue. We got home, dried off, took stock of all the beads and throws we’d caught, and changed into something dry before heading back out. Lundi Gras wasn’t over yet.

We stopped at Saint Lawrence once again for dinner & beers. Nellie’s wings were good but my fried chicken was out-goddamn-standing. After licking our fingers clean we walked to Frenchmen Street for some live music: Little Freddie King at d.b.a.. When we arrived he was playing “Baby Please Don’t Go” and I was in bluesy heaven. A perfect end to a perfect Lundi Gras!

Tuesday

Things got started early on Mardi Gras: Zulu started rolling around 8am, so we got up and walked up to St. Charles to see them go past.

By now it was freaking freezing. Okay, not Canada-freezing, but it was -3 with the wind chill, and we weren’t expecting that. We didn’t last long on the parade route, and anyway we were still tired from the night before. We walked over to the Quarter and had a terrific breakfast at the Café Fleur de Lis. Even though it was only about 10am we were starting to see lots of costumes now, and intricate ones at that.

We just couldn’t get warm though, so we walked back to the hotel. Nellie had a hot bath and felt better. I had a tiny nap, but really didn’t feel well. We went out for lunch at Ole Saint, but the jambalaya didn’t help. I kept feeling worse. I even had an espresso at Spitfire, but I still felt like cold ass. We kept walking around the Quarter to see more of the Mardi Gras festivities, like mini-parades along Royal and Chartres.

We finally stopped in at Industry, which I really liked last time we went to New Orleans, but…I just couldn’t. I didn’t have a pint in me, and the place was nuts anyway. Nellie got one to go and we walked back to the hotel. Mardi Gras was defeating me.

When we got home I had a bath, and it made all the difference. Turns out I just couldn’t get warm outside, and I’d forgotten what cold humid air felt like. Anyway, the bath saved me. We got dressed and went back out, cold be damned. A beer at Saint Lawrence fixed me up, and Nellie had her traditional King Cake in cocktail form.

We decided to see how Bourbon Street was faring, and it didn’t disappoint. The fact that it was so cold probably kept the crowds smaller and made it a bit more sane. We still got pelted by beads, and saw a chick kick a dent in a car right in front of a cop though, so there’s that.

Stay classy, Bourbon Street.

We returned home again, warmed up (again!), and got changed for dinner. We did the quick walk up to Borgne in the Hyatt Regency and had an excellent meal: jalapeño duck poppers and warm bread to start; oyster spaghetti for Nellie and black drum with crab meat for me, a bottle of Chenin Blanc, and apple cake for dessert. On our way out we heard that Young Jeezy was throwing a party upstairs, much to the bafflement of some of the Hyatt Regency patrons. We flagged a cab and swung back over to d.b.a. for some more live music.

Frenchmen Street was a zoo this time, but we still got in to d.b.a. to see the Treme Brass Band. We caught the last half of their set, which was tremendous fun to jump and sing and yell along to, especially when they had to teach everyone the words to “Li’l Liza Jane”.

With their warning — “Stay out of the Quarter, y’all…you come on vacation, but you’ll leave on probation!” — fresh in our ears we walked home along the edge of the Quarter to our hotel, as the cops cleared the streets at midnight. We crashed super-hard. Happy Mardi Gras!

Wednesday

No early morning parades today, but we still got up around 8am to head back to Merchant for coffee and breakfast. Nellie’s crepe was really good, as was my prosciutto, egg, and cheese croissant.

We’d arranged to be picked up that morning for an airboat tour of the Louisiana swamps. Our driver’s name was Big Joe, because of course it was. He drove us and about twenty other people down to Lafitte, and we got in a boat with a weird couple from New York and two friends from England. Our guide’s name was Jay, and he was full-blown Cajun. His family had come from Nova Scotia, just like mine.

Even with a sweater and a jacket, when he opened up that boat to full speed, it nearly froze us solid. We actually got windburn! We drove through wide channels and narrow, shallow bayous. We saw cranes and other big birds. We saw two young-ish alligators sticking their noses and eyes out the water, which was surprising at those temperatures. We even got to hold a 14-month-old alligator, which was pretty awesome.

Big Joe drove us back into the city, and we walked to Cochon Butcher for a late lunch. The sun had come out, and we sat outside eating pulled pork sandwiches and hot dogs and drinking cold IPAs. Finally New Orleans was warming to us.

We still had time to kill, so we walked to Café du Monde just to get a token beignet, but the line was a mile long, so we bailed. We walked up to Spitfire for proper coffee instead, then back through the (much calmer) Quarter to inspect the aftermath. By this point, my feet were a bit sore, and Nellie was knackered, so we didn’t last long. Back home she had a nap while I read a bit, and luckily we didn’t have far to go for dinner.

Luke was just around the corner, a NoLa-infused brasserie. I had my first Sazerac ever. We had a plate of HUGE oysters and a bowl of delicious (!) brussels sprouts. There was a mixup with our order but we somehow ended up with a surplus of crab, some of which made it into my pasta. Nellie invented a new dish which she called New Orleans poutine: fries covered with crab meat and hot sauce. We thought we had room for some bread pudding, but we left a bunch behind. We were done. Done done done. No live music on our final night — just relaxing, packing, sorting of beads, and sleep.

Thursday

I let Nellie sleep in a bit and went back to Merchant for one more coffee & croissant. I was hoping it had warmed up overnight so I’d have a nice walk there and back. It hadn’t, and I didn’t. Alas.

Our taxi got us to the airport where we used the new TSA Pre-Check line (so much faster!), and had one last beer and spicy sandwich before boarding. The flight home whizzed by; I finished watching This Is Where I Leave You and watched part of The Equalizer (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and then whammo: polar vortex.

We came home feeling like we’d really done the shit out of New Orleans. We’d seen Thoth and Orpheus and Zulu on St. Charles and Canal and Tchoupitoulas. We’d eaten amazing food in beautiful restaurants, and tried new beers in cool bars. We’d toured swamps, sung blues, caught beads, and walked Bourbon. I guess I regret not seeing any Indians, but by all reports it’s not an easy thing for two tourists to manage. Someday.

We love you, New Orleans. And, since it turns out next year Nellie’s 40th birthday falls on Mardi Gras next year, there’s a non-zero chance we’ll be seeing you again real soon.

Our vacation in New Orleans or: how I came to want to free Sean Payton

Well, that was one of our all-time favourite trips. Here’s the play-by-play:

Friday

I’d been dreading our American Airlines flight. The last time I took American (>10 years ago) I told myself I’d never fly with them again, but we didn’t have a choice this time. But it really wasn’t too bad at all…our flight left on time and got us to Dallas in plenty of time to eat a pretzel and tacos, lounge on some recliner-ish airport chairs, and make our connection to New Orleans.

Our hotel, the Avenue Plaza Resort in the Garden District, ended up being bigger than we thought too, and not quite as ugly as the website’s pictures suggested. So the low-expectations part of our trip had both turned out pretty well. So far so good!

It was already pretty late, so our plans that night were simply to try out the Avenue Pub just down St. Charles Avenue. How lucky that our hotel was five blocks from one of the best beer places in North America. CBJ+M — our traveling companions — staked out a little table upstairs, and we drank our fill of excellent beer, ate dump truck fries (waffle fries with pulled pork and cheese) and red-beans-and-rice wontons, admired the cool art and saw our first of manyFree Sean Payton” shirts. If you don’t know who Sean Payton is, this will help.

And then, boom…we crashed.

Saturday

Late to bed, late to rise. We gathered in the morning to test out the Trolley Stop Café, just a few steps from the hotel. It was already busy, and got busier before we left. The place was fairly famous on Tripadvisor for having big portions of yummy, cheap food. And Tripadvisor was not wrong. I had bacon and french toast and country sausage and eggs and grits (for the first time ever) for $6.75. Seriously. We all stuffed ourselves and were well-entertained by our server.

We jumped on the St. Charles Streetcar (don’t call it a trolley, no matter what the cafés tell you) and headed for the Central Business District, and walked from there into the French Quarter. At this point I should point out that Saturday ended up being a near-record high temperature for that time of year in New Orleans. Sunday and (part of) Monday were the same. And I should also point out that all I’d packed were jeans and dark tshirts. So walking around was getting a little toasty. Anyway. We deliberately avoided Bourbon Street; Nellie had never seen it, and we wanted her to experience it in its full glory that night. We did see a bit of Royal Street, Chartres (which is not pronounced how someone might think if they’ve been to Chartres, France…which I have…so I mispronounced it all weekend), Decatur and more. We saw ESPN setting up their analyst studio and walked along Jackson Square before splitting up. Nellie and I walked along the river, cooled down with a pint at the Crescent City Brewhouse and then walked along Royal and Chartres some more and checked out a cool little shop called Idea Factory. If we’d had a little more time we would have checked out Faulkner House Books as well. Both were recommendations from the Rather guide to New Orleans. Seriously, if you’re visiting a city for the first time and want to find interesting places, buy one of these books.

We met back up with CBJ+M for a late lunch at the Napoleon House, a building which, so the story goes, was to be a home for Napoleon if a plot to extricate him to New Orleans had gone off, and has been a bar since prohibition — by the looks of things the decor hasn’t changed much since the 30s. But the food (jambalaya for me, po’boys for everyone else) and drinks (Pimms cups, mainly) were tasty. We sat on the leafy back patio next to the koi pond and thanked the maker for the giant fan blowing directly at us.

At this point it was time to get to our real reason for being in New Orleans: the NCAA finals. Or, more accurately, the semi-finals on that evening. All day we’d seen fans walking around in Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas shirts; on the walk to the Superdome they became the norm and I, wearing a black Crywolf shirt, stood out. It obvious from the mass of humanity headed for the games that the stadium was huge, but I still kind of wasn’t ready for it. I sat down in my seat (after a long, steep climb) and took it all in.

Huge, right? 70,000 people were in those seats by the time the game started. Anyway, the games were fantastic: Kentucky/Louisville is a rivalry that’s hard to explain unless you’ve sat in the middle of it for two hours, while the huge Kansas comeback win over Ohio State was a classic game. At the end of each game, disappointed fans from the losing teams hurled commemorative seat cushions onto the crowd in the lower levels…luckily they hadn’t given out commemorative letter openers, or commemorative D-cell batteries. In retrospect we should have used our seat cushions to smack either the astronomically shrill Kentucky fan behind us (my ears are still ringing a week later) or the drunk Louisville chick in front of CBJ, who insisted on standing for the last seven minutes of the — very tense — game. On the plus side, we sat right behind a guy wearing, of all things, an Expos hat.

Seat cushions or no, our asses were sore after sitting for 6+ hours, so were happy to stand up and walk out of the stadium. We re-joined the mass of humanity and made for the French Quarter. Nellie was very excited to see Bourbon Street; about seconds into our trip down Bourbon Street she was very excited to leave. Seriously, it’s one of the most awful places on earth unless you’re a) an olympic-calibre drunk, b) a bead manufacturer or c) a street preacher.

We fled down Bienville to the corner of Decatur, where we found Industry Bar & Kitchen. It was an oasis in the ridiculous clubland that is the Quarter at night: a calm bar with great beer selection, early 90s alternative music on the speakers (okay, that might be more exciting for me than for others), and pizzas made and sold in the far corner. We stood at a table, drank our craft beers (NOLA Hopitoulas and Delirium Nocturnum for me, if I remember right), watched the hilarity of the quarter unfold outside the bar, and enjoyed the scene of the bartender building a tower plastic of cups on the head of a guy who’d passed out at the bar.

Tossing our beers in go-cups (you can walk around with open liquor, as long as it’s not glass, but even that doesn’t seem to be enforced) we walked over to Canal to catch the streetcar home. When that failed we tried to catch a cab. That wasn’t easy either, but we finally managed to snag one and bombed home.

Sunday

Something we noticed after seeing the omnipresent New Orleans beads strung from every wire and railing on Bourbon Street was that they’re actually strung all over the city…any trees or horizontal edge along a Mardi Gras parade route is strewn with beads.

We didn’t have another giant Trolley Stop breakfast in us, so we grabbed a bite at the nice little Avenue Cafe next door. The food was good, and the wifi password was ‘bestcoffeeever’. I didn’t try the coffee myself, but…cute. Full, we jumped on the streetcar; three of us jumped off at Lee Circle and walked down Andrew Higgins Drive to the National WWII museum. You may recognize Higgins’ name — he was the man who designed the landing craft used during the Normandy landing and throughout WWII. The museum itself was very good: informative, well presented, with a good flow through the sequence of events that led to war, to America’s involvement in Europe and the Pacific, and to the conclusion of each. The end of the Pacific section, with pretty music playing over looping footage of Enola Gay loading and dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, was particularly moving for me. I wish we’d stopped our visit there instead of heading next for Beyond All Boundaries, a 48-minute “4D” film produced by Tom Hanks. It was an interesting concept, what with the fake snow dropped on the audience during the Bastogne scenes, or the guard tower rising from the floor during the prison camp sequence, or the blinding flash of light and rumbling chairs representing the atomic bomb detonation, but…it was also pretty cheesy. Far more jingoistic, too, than the museum proper had been. Museums are meant to educate, not celebrate; the museum did the former, but Beyond All Boundaries felt very much like the latter.

By this point we were getting hungry, so we continued south from the museum to the corner of Tchoupitoulas where we found Cochon. Or rather, Cochon Butcher, the smaller and takeout-ier sister to Cochon, which was closed. The place was rammed with locals, always a good sign. The ladies stuck to salads, while CBJ and I each got a BBQ pulled pork sandwich (so! good!) with potato salad and a beer. I’ve had a lot of pulled pork sammies in my life, but that might have been my favourite…the quality of the meat was so good they didn’t even have to soak it in sauce, they just stuck some cole slaw in it. And the soft egg bun and the OOOOOOOOOOOKAY I’m drooling. Time to stop reminiscing.

The next step in the day’s plan was to walk back over toward the Quarter, and so we took a long shortcut (longcut?) through the Riverwalk, a cheesy indoor mall designed for cruise ship passengers but whatever…it was air-conditioned. Once we spilled out onto Canal we parted ways again, with CBJ+M heading off in search of some shirts and Nellie and I just wandering to the east. We checked out Bourbon Street again, just to see it in the daylight…yup, still awful. We tried some alternate streets, still heading east, and eventually reached the Marigny neighbourhood. We were close enough to Frenchmen Street to stop by another Beeradvocate-recommended bar: D.B.A.. They were temporarily closed for filming (fair enough, it was 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon) so we checked out the upcoming lineups at neighbouring bars (Kermit Ruffins? John Boutté? Clearly Frenchmen Street was a good place to hear live music; alas, not for us that night) and rested our tired feet in Washington Square before returning. And D.B.A.? Such a cool place. Obviously great beer selection, but good vibe with locals (the guy sitting next to me at the bar was named “Barnaby”, because it was New Orleans and of course he was), and swing-dancing class happening in the next room, and a pregnant bartender, and a sign that said “No Miller, Coors or Bud Lite. Get over it!”, and ‘drinkgoodstuff’ for a wifi password. Again…cute!

We were supposed to be meeting up with CBJ+M again soon, back at the Avenue Pub near our hotel, so Nellie put her remaining beer in a go-cup and we went outside to find a cab. As luck would have it one drove by the second we stepped outside. I ran to climb in, while Nellie — conditioned by years of banned public drinking — chugged her remaining beer and ran to the cab. The cabbie calmly informed us that it was perfectly okay to bring a go-cup into the cab, and Nellie cursed her cautious drinking habits (ha!) as we drove west. Through a funny string of conversation (in which Nellie learned where Kansas is) we ended up chatting with our cabbie quite a bit, who advised us on the best time of year to visit New Orleans (about 2 weeks after Easter, says he) and the ridiculous inconsistency of New Orleans street name pronunciation. He dropped us at the Avenue where we staked out a brilliant spot on the balcony and drank cold beer (my ginger-infused Japanese weissbeer was particularly good) in the heat of the late afternoon, waited for CBJ+M to arrive and tried to figure out a way to stay in that very spot forever.

We got cleaned and spiffied a bit before dinner at Coquette, a wine bar in the Garden District. What a find. We started with drinks (a phenomenal bacon-infused bourbon for me, a champagne/gin/lemon French 75 for Nellie) before getting on with the incredible food. My starter was pickled baby beets with burrata and duck ham (which is exactly as kickass as it sounds) and my main was duck breast with fennel & peas. Nellie, meanwhile, had fried gulf oysters paired with a glass of Chardonnay followed by cochon de lait (aka sucking pig), which my forkful or two (or six) told me was outstanding. I honestly can’t remember what CBJ+M got, except that CBJ got a cocktail called the Mutiny (blackstrap rum, spiced rum, lime, Angostura bitters, hot sauce) which was damned tasty. Our mains were paired with a 2008 Emeritus Pinot Noir from the Russian River. Then came an entirely unnecessary dessert of milk chocolate mousse with salted caramel and peanut butter sorbet. Nellie, preferring to drink her desserts, had a glass of Bordeaux instead. It was an incredible meal, one of the best we’ve had in ages, and it cost less than half of what we would have paid in Toronto. Which somehow made it taste even better.

Monday

We started packing Monday morning, knowing we’d have to get up at 3:45AM the next day (boo! hiss!) and not having much time that evening. But by late morning we were on the St. Charles streetcar one more time, this time jammed in like sardines, heading over to Canal. I stopped at one of the dozens of pop-up stores selling team tshirts and made a rare find: a) a Kentucky tshirt (there were only a few left anywhere) which b) wasn’t the same as the generic shirts being sold all over the city and c) fit me and d) was super-thin (which came in handy on a hot day like that). Score! We grabbed a little lunch and cooled off at Crescent City, then walked east along Decatur and west along Royal, stopping in the odd store and art gallery along the way.

Once we’d had enough shopping we decided to finally check out Bracket Town, part of the NCAA celebrations. We walked over to Poydras Street, then walked all the way back through the Riverwalk thingy, and then the whole length of the convention center (which is, like, half a mile long, goddammit) to Bracket Town. We thought there’d be some stuff in there that we’d enjoy. We were wrong. We regrouped after about 10 minutes, long enough for Nellie and I to toss down a couple of free Coke Zero samples, and then decided to go back to the adult part of town. But, uh, in a cab. We got dropped off at Café du Monde, ate some delicious & messy beignets as all good visitors to New Orleans must, and watched with concern as some storm clouds rose on the horizon.

Knowing we’d eventually have to walk toward the Superdome, and having confirmed that the weather forecast called for severe thunderstorms soon, we began walking back toward Canal. We stopped at our old friend Industry just in time; ten minutes after we arrived the rain started, and then it really started. Then came the lightning and thunder, some of which was so loud and so sharp it sounded like a gunshot. Seriously, the bartender came out of the back room when he heard it, ducked low to avoid flying bullets. We stayed out of the rain, drinking and eating pizza until most of it had let up. Still, it was time to go and the rain hadn’t stopped completely, so we knew were going to get wet. We ran to the Canal streetcar which took us most of the way there, but we still had to run the five blocks to the Superdome and…well, yeah. Wet.

The staff ushered us in through the underground parking ramps, high-fiving us as we ran in. You can imagine the humidity in a concrete parking structure during a thunderstorm in New Orleans, so it was pretty sporty in there. But hey, it was dry. We got to our seats in decent time, took in the pre-game excitement, and watched Kentucky storm out to an enormous lead over Kansas. Kansas made it close down the stretch, but Kentucky held on and took the championship. We watched with 70,000+ other people as fireworks exploded and confetti fell, as the team was interviewed and cut down the net, and (more or less) as they played “One Shining Moment” with the video montage. Pretty. Damn. Cool.

The walk home was nearly as wet as the walk there, so when the opportunity came to jump in a cab we took it. It was all-out piracy in the city by then; mysteriously, every cab meter in the city was malfunctioning and they could charge whatever they wanted. Whatever; we were home, and drier than we otherwise would have been. We packed our remaining stuff (including some very wet clothing, unfortunately), watched the ESPN highlights and commentary and tried, post-game high notwithstanding, to go to sleep for a few hours.

Tuesday

Our alarm went off at approximately stupid o’clock AM and we dragged ourselves into action. We’d pre-arranged a cab…or at least we thought we had. We actually ended up squeezing into an SUV with six other people, all bound for the airport. Turns out a lot of the cabs were making so much money into the wee hours of the previous night that no one was reporting for duty on Tuesday morning. Anyway, we thought leaving for the airport at 4:30 for a 6:00 flight would give us enough time, but as it was we just barely made it. My Nexus/Global Entry pass got us into the expedited security line, and from there we walked up to the gate with maybe five minutes to spare. If we’d been stuck in the (enormous!) standard security line we’d have missed our flight. Our flight to Miami was uneventful, apart from being full of Kentucky fans who look like they’d not bothered to go to sleep the night before. Also: wi-fi! I paid for access on both legs, MSY -> MIA and MIA -> YYZ, and will happily do it again if I ever get the chance.

We had originally been scheduled to return via Dallas; when American changed our flight to a 6AM departure via Miami we were pretty pissed but left with no alternative. However, we were pretty thankful when we arrived home and saw that all flights out of DFW — including CBJ+M’s flight, the one we were originally meant to be on — were canceled due to tornadoes in the area. So suddenly an early flight time didn’t seem like such a big deal.

.:.

We’ve been thinking about and planning this trip since last August when CBJ+M found out they’d won the Final Four tickets. Now that it’s over, we’re already thinking about when we’ll go back to New Orleans. We want to enjoy the city when it’s not full of tens of thousands of basketball fans. The food, the drink, the architecture, the friendliness of the people, the history…it all adds up to give the city so much character, and we want more of it. New Orleans, we’ll see you again soon.

Oh, and…Free Sean Payton!

Crescent City

Last Friday we got together with our friends CBJ+M at C’est What, in our quest to reacquaint them with Toronto’s best beer joints. We were also doing a tiny bit of preparation for an upcoming trip we’re taking together: the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans. This will be my first time back since 2000, back when I had no idea how to travel, so I’m treating this like pretty much my first time there. For Nellie it really is her first time.

For quite a while I was excited mainly about watching the games, and will be doubly so if Duke should make it to the final four. But lately, as I read more about the city, and think about how the city comes across in Treme (obviously a fictional and romanticized version, but less so with a David Simon TV show than most) I’m getting more excited about New Orleans itself. It won’t be our biggest trip this year, and may not even be our most interesting (we’re returning to Europe in the summer) but it’s shaping up to be the most fun.

The downside of planning this trip? I can’t get Johnny Horton out of my damn head.