Monday, February 17, 2014

Big Easy Valentine's

I mentioned last time that our Chicago trip was, well, less than fluid.  John and I learned many things about each other, the big thing being we don't know how to vacation together.

Well, that is.  We don't know how to vacation well together.  

Little did I know that he resolved to give us more time to practice just a month and a half later!  He immediately began deal shopping for a place to stay in the French Quarter of New Orleans - somewhere I've been wanting to go for some time now!

My parents were in on it (I was convinced we were headed up to Huntsville President's Day weekend to spend some time with them), my in laws were in on it - even one of my coworkers! To be honest, I really should have seen this coming based a multitude of weird clues, but I didn't.  So, hooray for naivety making a surprise a really good surprise!

Last week took three work days from me because of snow - after the Snowpocalypse that hit Birmingham and left thousands stranded, everybody was playing it safe so they wouldn't have to say sorry later.  So three days at home and then a pre planned in-service work day at school, and I was packed and ready to head to Huntsville.

After my first meeting Friday morning, I get this text from the hubs (you can see my reaction that follows):

So, as you can see I was beyond excited.  Unfortunately, I had the rest of the day in a tiny cubicle to wait.  That day was spent bouncing between grading papers, looking up things to do in the French Quarter, and generally trying to contain my excitement and retain my professionalism.  

Which, by the way, is really hard to do when you know you are leaving on a surprise vacation in just a few short hours.  

John picked me up from school and after a quick Chik Fil A stop, we were headed south to NOLA! It took about five hours to get there, and we rolled on to Decatur Street.  

On the way down I emailed my old English teacher and friend Beck McDowell, who hails from the crescent city, for some insider tips of what to see and do.  She did not disappoint, sending me an extensive email of tips for navigating the French Quarter as well as this great blog post of the ins and outs of NOLA.   Her advice was hugely helpful when we got there and definitely gave us some direction in what we wanted to do! 

John used airbnb to find our place - a cute apartment smack in the middle of the French Quarter.  From the balcony of our apartment you could see Cafe Du Monde and a corner of the park!  Not to mention it was quite spacious:

The manager of the apartment was extremely friendly, going out of his way and interrupting his own Valentine's dinner to give us the keys and show us the ins and outs of the apartment.

After getting settled in, John and I hit the streets to do some exploring.  They say New York is the city that never sleeps, but after this weekend I'm convinced that moniker belongs a bit further south - the people of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter, never sleep.  

The streets were hopping as we wandered through the French Quarter.  The coolest part about seeing this city was the history - some of the establishments have been, well, established, since the mid 1700s! 

Because we are crazy party people, we didn't end up eating dinner until close to 10:00 pm - a record for people who are usually in bed by then.  We stumbled upon a hole in the wall Italian place that looked delicious, and looks were not deceiving - it's quite possible that was the best seafood pasta we've ever had in our life.  And extremely reasonably priced too! 

I've mentioned before that John and I are on a pretty specific budget right now.  John did great by setting aside a specific amount of money that was plenty for us to do exactly what we wanted to on this French Quarter vacation!  I plan on doing a more specific budgeting post in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that!  

Saturday morning we rolled out of bed around 8:30 and headed out for the day.  Our first stop was Cafe Du Monde, and we must have timed it perfectly because there was absolutely no line - we just walked down and sat at a table on the edge of the patio.  While we enjoyed our beignets and chicory coffee, a man on a trumpet serenaded us and the rest of the customers with old time hymns - it was lovely! 

You guys.  Beignets. So. Good.

What I loved about this trip is that we were totally on our own schedule - we spent the next few hours wandering the streets of the French Quarter, stopping when we felt like it for a quick snack or two!

John with his half dozen boogers raw oysters.  He loved them; I had the fried alligator.

John and I had a conversation once about the difference in "traveling" and "vacationing'.  Traveling, we decided, is exploring new things, having adventures, and also being exhausted when you returned.  Vacationing, on the other hand, was all about rest and relaxation.  I had made up my mind that the two were both great, but mutually exclusive.  You had to know which one you were setting yourself up for.  
This trip convinced me that I was wrong.  Although we walked for miles, there was zero element of stress and craziness on this trip.  Despite a bit of foot ache from the walking, the trip was incredibly restful.  

Strolling Jackson Square in the morning. 

Posing in the garden - it was a beautiful morning! 

New Orleans is alive all. the. time.  We loved being out and about in the morning hours, though, because we actually got to see how a city like this functions.  Vendors beginning to set up their goods, musicians rolling out their instruments - even a young man who, for a small fee, will provide you a poem of the subject of your choosing!

One of our favorite things was touring the cemetery right outside of the French Quarter! It was fascinating - and a bit spooky - to wander through all the above ground graves and see the breadth of time these graves span.

Saturday night, after miles of walking, we decided it would be a great time to kick back and relax on our balcony with a mufuletta - a signature sandwich of New Orleans.  It. is. delicious.  AND - massive. 

It fed us very well for several hours! 

De to the licious.

That night we were able to watch the first of the Mardi Gras parades from the comfort of our private balcony.  While it was, ahem, not what you would call "family friendly" - it was fun to get a taste of the culture, albeit from a safe distance :)

bad phone shot of the start of the parade from our balcony

The next day was check out day, but we still had plenty of time to see the last few things on our list.  

John got a taste of some good espresso at a local coffee shop.
And I had a nutella crepe.  You guys.  Nutella. Crepe.  Yes, it was as delicious as it looks. 

A few last views of our surrounding neighborhood. 

And a studly husband.  
Yep, he's a keeper.  

Our last stop was a recommended Gumbo place, and it did not disappoint! 


Our bellies full of gumbo, we hit the road back to Birmingham.  Our legs were sore but our hearts were happy - we had a wonderful trip to NOLA and definitely plan on going back.  Turns out, we do know how to vacation together.  

What a wonderful surprise from my wonderful hubby!  

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