Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas in New Orleans

Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, LA
We were walking past Our Lady of the Rosary up the road from La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast (yes, that's what the church looked like this morning in the dawn), when we both noticed that this weekend is the beginning of the Advent season.  You know what that means?  Christmas in New Orleans!

The nice thing about being located right in the middle of Esplanade Avenue is that we can walk to the French Quarter or Frenchman Street if we choose, or we can go in the other direction to City Park.
An alligator rheindeer
If it is Christmastime in New Orleans, that also means it is Celebration in the Oaks.
An alligator Santa
Most cities light up their parks with Christmas displays.  You probably have something like this in a city near you.  Unlike other places, however, New Orleans is built for walking.  This is true of the Esplanade Avenue, and it is true of Celebration of the Oaks.  When you go to Celebration of the Oaks, you don't drive around by yourselves, you interact with everyone else.

Celebration of the Oaks is held in the Botanical Gardens, in the Amusement Park, and in Storyland.  The amusement park is open and full of Christmas trees decorated by local schools.  You can take the miniature train around the park and see the lights over one of the lagoons.  Storyland is open, too, with its sculpture garden illustrating fairy tales. 
The romantic light of Celebration of the Oaks
There is ice skating, carousel rides, hot food and drinks.  The showstopper is what's in the botanical gardens.
A celebrated oak at night
A hobbyhorse
The best light sculpture in City Park, however is not the sleigh being pulled by alligators, it is not the Papa Noel show, it is not the giant corn in the vegetable garden, it is this....
Pink elephant, New Orleans, LA
I was talking to Eric the other day.  "I don't know when the last time was that I saw a real alligator," he said.  "Sometimes, you'd see them in the Industrial Canal just after Poland Avenue.  When I was a kid we'd go looking for alligator eggs along the edges of the canal.  My uncle used to pickle them."

Eric grew up in the Holy Cross neighborhood.  "The only time I see an alligator nowadays is when I take the kids up to Celebration of the Oaks.  We take the 91 bus and make a night of it.  The kids like to sit on Alligator Santa's lap to get their picture taken. "

I asked Eric if he had seen any of the other animals featured at Celebration of the Oaks.  "Sure enough," he said.  "I've seen more than my share of pink elephants in my day.  Heck, they're around every corner on Bourbon Street."

Whether you are interested in enjoying the show at City Park during Christmas in New Orleans, or if you are interested in enjoying the holiday ambiance of the French Quarter, we know a colorful New Orleans bed and breakfast that is taking reservations.   

A votre sante et joyeux Noel.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The best pastrami sandwich in New Orleans

Cooter Brown's, New Orleans, LA
I ran into Lyle yesterday.  He is always telling me that the best pastrami sandwich in New Orleans is at Cooter Brown's in the Riverbend.  I always ask him if they have a good reuben, and he always says, "Matthew, once you try this pastrami sandwich, you'll forget all about having a reuben."

Lyle lives in Arabi, the first neighborhood in St. Bernard Parish after New Orleans ends.  Like many people in this part of the world, Lyle doesn't own a car.  He takes the bus to work.  He says, "If I was going to get to Cooter Brown's by the bus, it would take me at least an hour and a half.  Then I would have to come back.  That's a big investment of time for a good pastrami sandwich, but I'd say it's worth it."  He always adds, "My stomach is telling me that I just might have to get out to the Riverbend soon."

The Jackson Barracks, headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard, is the boundary between New Orleans and Arabi.  Lyle couldn't have lived further on the opposite end of town from Cooter Brown's if he tried.

The Riverbend is where the St. Charles Avenue streetcar turns to follow the bend of the Mississippi and heads up South Carrolton Avenue.  Right behind where the tracks make their turn, there's Cooter Brown's.  It isn't much to look at from the outside.
Voted best beer selection in New Orleans
It isn't much to look at from the inside either unless you are a connoisseur of welcoming tap rooms.  If you are, let me assure you that the inside is beautiful to behold.  We don't go to Cooter Brown's often.  While we don't live as far removed as Lyle, when we are in Carrollton around lunch time, we usually stop on Maple Street or Oak Street.

Frau Schmitt and I were tidying up La France Suite when she asked me if I wanted to go out for lunch today.  I suggested a trip to the Riverbend.    She was suspicious.  "You don't usually like to go out of your way," Frau Schmitt said.  She was right, as she usually is, so I explained that I felt that it was time to finally follow Lyle's recommendation.  "Cooter Brown's?" Frau Schmitt said, "isn't that a dive?"
Cooter Brown
Since I do so rarely want to go out of my way, Frau Scmitt opted to trust Lyle's judgement.  After all, New Orleans is full of surprises in the most unlikely places.

We split the Owner's Special.  The menu describes it as Kosher pastrami and imported swiss cheese dressed with sauerkraut.  The menu only describes a part of this marvelous sandwich.  It comes on a toasted, over-sized sesame seed hamburger bun and, in addition to sauerkraut, it is dressed with lettuce, tomato and pickles.  If the bun was square this sandwich would be a cube bigger than Rubik's though somewhat smaller than an X-box.  Half a sandwich was enough for both of us.  The pastrami, cut thin and piled high, is as good as Lyle says.

When we were finished, Frau Schmitt said, "I could go for a whole one myself.  That was a good sandwich."

Back at La Belle Esplanade, a bed and breakfast where the hosts are enthusiastic about their city and always looking to discover some new intelligence to pass onto their guests, Frau Schmitt said, "I'll go back to Cooter Brown's instead of going to Maple Street or Oak Street for lunch.  That was a very good sandwich."

Wherever you stop on the St. Charles streetcar line, there is something to see and something to eat.  Ask two people who know.

A votre sante.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mardi Gras is Coming in 2013!!

Mardi Gras is coming!  Mardi Gras is coming!
We celebrate Thanksgiving in New Orleans.  We celebrate Christmas, and we celebrate the 4th of July.  Mardi Gras is not just one day.  It is a season.  It is a New Orleans state of mind.  During Lent, we remember Mardi Gras past, and we plan for Mardi Gras future.  New Orleans is more than Mardi Gras, but without Mardi Gras, you've only got a partial view of New Orleans.

Would you like to stay at a cheerful historic bed and breakfast in New Orleans for Mardi Gras season
The head of a fatted bull
Carnival in New Orleans starts on the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as the feast of St. Joan of Arc, January 6.  It lasts until the the midnight that rings in Ash Wednesday.  Some years there are only two months of Mardi Gras, others there are three.  This year, the Super Bowl is being played in New Orleans at the end of the Mardi Gras Season.  It is going to be a festive time, this year.
Zulu country
Most people who come to New Orleans during Mardi Gras are not big shots.  They are people who want to experience a taste of the magic New Orleans has on tap.  Many people don't realize that there is more than one way to celebrate Mardi Gras.  The holiday starts earlier than they suppose.  They don't know what they are missing.  There is something to be said about crowds along St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras Day, but there is much to recommend the more intimate parades that take place before then, too.  

There are krewes, and there are super-krewes.  There is a Krewe of Rex and there is a Krewe d'Etat.  They mask on different days.  
Every day in New Orleans is a parade
On the night of January 6, the Krewe of Joan of Arc parades through the French Quarter, led by Joanie on the Pony.  At about the same time, the Phunny Phorty Phellows charter a street car down St. Charles Avenue to herald in the best part of the year.

Between Epiphany and Lent, there is always something to see in New Orleans.  There is always something to see year-round, but its more true during Mardi Gras season.  Every street in the city is home to tradition, to sense of place, and to joy.
We'll leave the shutter open
Don't limit yourself to one day and one night in New Orleans.  Don't limit yourself to coming just when you know something is going on.  Believe me, I live here, something is always going on.  New Orleans is at its best when no one is watching.  Come early in the Mardi Gras season, and you will have stories and memories like nobody else.  They are the kind of memories that last a lifetime and make you a New Orleanian, wherever you are.

A votre sante.

All photos taken at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World this past August.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another part of Frenchman Street

The Fauborg Marigny Historic District

Every morning, it is my habit to head down to the Marigny when everyone else in the house, except for Frau Schmitt, is asleep.  I head down Esplanade Avenue and turn downtown at Henriette de Lille Street.  I do a quick zigzag, Leclerc to North Rampart, then I head straight on until I hit Frenchman Street, where I stop.  While this is a pleasurable motor scooter ride, I am here on business.

This corner of Frenchman Street isn't where most of the guests who stay at La Belle Esplanade see.  They tend to visit where Frenchman starts at the foot of Esplanade Avenue.  That's where the nightlife is, where the music is, where the guidebooks say the locals go.  While our guests may not see this part of Frenchman Street (only about three blocks from the lakeside border of Washington Park), they do get a taste of this side of Royal Street.
The Binders have been in business since 1914
I go to Alois Binder Bakery, where I pick up a loaf of fresh po’ boy bread and some pastries.  At 7:00AM, when they open, there are five or six of us regulars.  I usually pick up a bit of gossip while I’m down there, too.
The green, green grass of New Orleans
The products of this corner are not limited to baked goods, as most of our guests know.  We buy our pralines from Miss Loretta, diagonally across the street.
Loretta Harrison has been in business over 30 years
We used to buy other pralines, but we weren't quite satisfied with them.  Since I knew where Loretta's main shop is, we stopped by one afternoon and met the lady herself.  A half hour later we left with our scooters two pounds heavier.  We've been back a couple of times since, following the laws of supply and demand.

Loretta owns two outlets, one in the Marigny and one in the French Market.  We could go the French Market, but we choose to shop here, where we can take our time and chitchat with whoever is in the shop.  It makes for a pleasant outing.


On the way home from this very neighborhood yesterday evening, I had to take this picture:
An effective use of neon on North Claiborne Avenue
About two months ago, we were in an antique shop on Chartres Street and a foreign couple, perhaps they were tourists, asked the proprietor for directions to a Cajun seafood market on North Claiborne Avenue that they had read about and wanted to try.  The proprietor answered, "You don't want to go there.  If you want to go to someplace to eat in that direction, go to Port of Call.  They have excellent hamburgers and you'll still be in the Quarter."

An excellent suggestion for people looking for boiled Lake Pontchartrain blue crabs and a pound of boiled crawfish at a place where the locals go.  

We waited outside for the couple to leave so that we could give them directions, but they took too long.  "That wasn't right what she did," Frau Schmitt said to me.  She was right, as always.


There is more to New Orleans than the French Quarter and there is another side to Frenchman street.  Frenchman Street is very long.  Maybe someday, I'll tell you about McKenzie's Chicken in a Box in the Gentilly neighborhood.  If you stay at La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast, make sure to ask me about it.

A votre sante.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let your imagination be your guide in New Orleans

No photographs accompany this entry about Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, LA.  Let it be said at the outset that this is one of the stateliest, most beautiful streets in a fair city known for its beauty.  Magnificent mansions line Esplanade Avenue from old U.S. Mint across from the apex of the Marigny Triangle, all the way to the elevated statue of General P.T. Beauregard in front of City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Roughly three miles long, or 11,537 arpents, the measurement used for most property lines in this part of the back of town, Esplanade Avenue is a wealth of architectural details and the humdrum anonymous details that make up any given day in a vibrant city.  Of course, New Orleans is not just any city.  It is New Orleans.  As Tennessee Williams said, "America has three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.  Everything else is Cleveland." This is not a city in which people drive isolated in their SUVs with satellite radio to keep them company.  It is a city in which people walk or bicycle where they need to go, dancing to the music of the neighborhoods.

New Orleans is an organic city, more than the sum of its plumpest parts.  New Orleans is its buildings, but it is also its homes.  New Orleans is its people. 

Start where Elysian Fields Avenue kisses the start of Esplanade Avenue.  Stroll.  Take your time.  Enjoy the play of the shade from the old, twisted oaks in the wide neutral ground.  The dictionary tells us that an esplanade is a picturesque, park-like walk.  That definition fits Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans like a silk over-the-elbow glove that a distinguished Creole lady wears to the opera.

There are bars and restaurants scattered along Esplanade Avenue's banquettes.  There are grocers, coffee shops, pharmacists, and a laundromat.  There are parks.  The parks are tiny, tidy, picturesque vest pocket islands of respite in an urban paradise.

The 91 bus runs down Esplanade Avenue every half hour, and you can always take a cab, but the best way to experience Esplanade Avenue is to walk it, from one end to the other as it goes through all its wondrous variations.  From head to toe, this street keeps its dignity.  From start to finish, the magic never ends.  

I walk Esplanade Avenue every day and I always discover something new, something about what it is like to live in a city that is old and handsome, in a city that lives by its own rules and its own code, in a city in which everyone is a friend I haven't met yet.  Every day, I have that chance.

Use your imagination.  Walk down Esplanade Avenue and you will imagine yourself living there.  What is it like?  New Orleans is a world of its own and Esplanade Avenue is a microcosm of that.  Living in New Orleans is time spent in a charm-filled daydream that doesn't stop when the sun goes down.

The tourism brochures say that tourists go to the French Quarter and that the locals go to Frenchman Street.  There are 180.6 square miles of land and 169.7 square miles of water in New Orleans.  All the locals don't go to Frenchman Street, and all the tourists don't go to the French Quarter.  They may visit both locales to see them, but there are plenty of other things to experience in The City That Care Forgot.  Plenty.

If you are thinking of visiting New Orleans, you can make your headquarters at La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast, at 2216 Esplanade Avenue, right at the fulcrum.  After you make a reservation for one of our suites, you can read up on Fauborg Marigny, the Vieux Carre, Treme, Bayou Saint John, and Broad Community Connections.  After you check in, you can walk Esplanade Avenue and soak up the ambience of the most beautiful downtown street in the city.  You may be tempted to turn on Claiborne Avenue or North Broad Street.  Don't resist the temptation.  Surprises are around every corner.

No matter how much you have read, you won't be prepared for the ineffable delights New Orleans has to offer.  You will see things that will break your heart, and New Orleans will cement the cracks.  New Orleans may touch you so much, that you will stake a claim and make a permanent move.  New Orleans touches everybody on Esplanade Avenue.  It is a street where dreams come true.  Just ask two New Orleans innkeepers.    

Monday, November 12, 2012

La Belle Esplanade on TV!

La Belle Esplanade is on TV.  By TV, we mean the internet, which everything is on.  By La Belle Esplanade, we mean la belle Avenue d'Esplanade as the older families around the neighborhood call Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana.  

The second image in the video above shows us that the footage is dated.  Much like the Google street view of 2216 Esplanade Avenue (as of this writing), this film was shot prior to the paint job that took place earlier this year right in the middle of Esplanade Avenue's two picturesque ends.  Despite not being recorded yesterday, everything reported is accurate.  Esplanade Avenue is a wonderful street full of accommodating bed and breakfasts of every color.  

If you want to see what that ochre house with the green shutters looks like now, you can look at the top of this page to your right.  Or, you can click here.  Click here is you are thinking about visiting New Orleans. 

If you don't know who Fleurty Girl is, click here.  

A votre sante.

Some bed and breakfast reviews

Who is the belle of New Orleans?
I thought it would be informative to share some recent reviews of La Belle Esplanade, a New Orleans bed and breakfast close to the French Quarter and close to all the activity that takes place elsewhere in this magical city we call home.

At least once a day, apropos of nothing except geography, I say aloud to no one in particular, "I love it here."  By here, I mean New Orleans.  There is no place like home.  It is where the heart is.

Our latest reviews are posted at this link.  While we do try to do our best to make guests welcome and comfortable and give them the lay of the landscape, some of the things people put on record make us blush.  Mr. King really is a cranky Connecticut Yankee, though an affable one.  Frau Schmitt really is the nicest person you will ever meet.  

We really are in love with our adopted city, and we really do want our guests to do more than stumble drunk down Bourbon Street.  The French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans, and the spirit of joie de vivre really does inform the whole city, but there are quiet nooks and out of the way places that can charm a traveler more than a string of tee shirt and bead shops.  There is magic in New Orleans, the kind of magic that is like no place else.

You can visit like a tourist, or you can live, for a short time at least, like a local.  Believe me, it is good to be a local in New Orleans.
Our first guest in front of the inn
If you are thinking about coming to New Orleans, for a weekend or a week or a month, there is a colorful New Orleans bed and breakfast located on Esplanade Ridge that will be happy to host you.  Fond memories are born in New Orleans and they last a long, long time.  Be a New Orleanian wherever you are, but especially in New Orleans.

A votre sante.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A trip to City Park, New Orleans

The Easy Rider in La Belle Esplanade's back garden
While there is nothing to complain about when relaxing in the palm-and-oleander oasis that makes up the gardens behind La Belle Esplanade, a colorful historic New Orleans bed and breakfast located in the middle of Esplanade Ridge, I sometimes like a change of scenery.  This is especially true on a balmy November afternoon when the migrating birds have passed by in the morning.  When  the morning is full of flute-like birdsong, the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue can seem a bit empty in the afternoon.  The fish in the fountain are entertaining company, but I eventually get a yen to see some more of our fine feathered friends.

Today was that kind of day, so I saddled up my motor scooter and headed lakeside up Esplanade Avenue to City Park with a good book and some leftover bread.
A very talkative goose
Where I parked, there weren't any ducks.  There were however some geese who were happy I stopped by with fresh bread.
This goose kept mum
The geese were gobbling with such gusto that they attracted the attention of the swans in this neck of the lagoon.  Luckily, I had brought enough bread for everyone.
Swans mate for life
The swans kept a respectful distance, never venturing out of the water.  If their intent was to build up my pitching arm, they were disappointed.  They nibbled at a few bits that the wind caught, but most of the crumbs fell too close to shore for their comfort.  The turtles swam up and ate their fill.
Some swans are bachelors
 After I had run out bread, I sat on the bench and opened my book. The sky was partly cloudy, but I've found that it is always easy to find a spot of sunshine in New Orleans.  I settled in to catch some rays but before I could get very absorbed in the text, I saw something out of the corner of my eye.  I can watch a pelican all day long, even when it rarely moves.
Louisiana's State Bird in City Park, New Orleans, LA
I alternated between reading about historic New Orleans movie houses and watching the pelican perched a few yards away.  The fat old, twisted oak tree that dips into the lagoon behind the art museum is a favorite spot for pelicans to take their leisure.  They are usually solitary and I have never seen more than two on this tree, one in the crotch of branches that sprout over the water, and one in the branches that shade the turtles basking on the rocks.  One day, we did see four pelicans on the opposite shore.  They were having some sort of meeting so we left them alone.

Deciding to stretch my legs, I took a stroll around Big Lake where I saw another pelican.  
A pelican paddle boat in City Park, New Orleans
A few families had rented paddle boats at the park, slowly touring the lagoons.  The Saints were playing today so the park wasn't crowded, though there were plenty of people getting their exercise and enjoying the pleasant weather.  It is November in New Orleans and the temperature this afternoon was in the high 70s.

While most guests at La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast don't spend their afternoons as lazily and uneventfully as I sometimes do, they all enjoy the short scenic stroll to City Park right up the street.

A votre sante

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fair Grounds Race Track for Thanksgiving 2012

An immortalized jockey
We are not gamblers.  I don't think Frau Schmitt has even been to the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots located in Gentilly, New Orleans, LA.  I have been a few times, but never to bet on the ponies.

I know a few people who make some walking around money from betting on the races.  I know a few families who make it a tradition to go to the Fair Grounds on Thanksgiving Day, the day the track officially opens.  You can visit New Orleans any time of year, and you can visit the Fair Grounds any day.  The best days are during Jazz Fest and on opening day.

I happen to know of a colorful New Orleans bed and breakfast inn that is only a picturesque seven-minute stroll from where the action happens.
A garden of heroes
While I haven't placed a bet at the Fair Grounds, I have wandered the grounds and enjoyed the ambiance.  I admit that I have been tempted to place a bet, but it all seems very confusing.  I buy the Racing Form newspaper and I read the statistics and articles.  The ladies at the counter tell me it is easy to pick a trifecta, but I don't really know what a trifecta is, let alone being comfortable enough to lay down a dollar wager.
Napoleon always posed with his hand in his vest
There are plenty of traditions in New Orleans and there is plenty to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day in New Orleans.  Yes, you can go to the French Quarter and have a good time.  Everyone who  visits New Orleans does it at least once, but there is so much more that makes New Orleans the City That Care Forgot.  There is horse racing and there is history.
They face the rising sun
The New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course is full of exhibits and memorabilia from the track's glory days, including last year.  Even if you don't follow the ponies, you will be able to wile away a few hours soaking up the atmosphere, especially on Thanksgiving, the track's busiest day of the year.  

People come from all over Louisiana, from the outlying parishes and small bayou-hugging hamlets, to take part in the excitement when the thoroughbreds charge out the gate on opening day.  They come from Kentucky to see what the competition will be like.  Sheiks and English gentry come to the Fair Grounds for Thanksgiving to watch potential champions prove their mettle.
A day at the races
You can stay in a chain hotel and spend a whole vacation in the French Quarter, but New Orleans is a city full of unexpected delights.  Life is what you make it.  You can be guided on a tour, or you can create your own adventures.  New Orleans is fertile ground from which fond memories sprout without encouragement for people who choose to venture where the citizens spend their days and nights.  If you have never been to New Orleans, you don't know what you are missing.  If you have only been to the French Quarter, you have missed quite a bit of what makes this city special beyond compare.
The excitement never stops in New Orleans, LA
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast is a colorful inn located between the French Quarter and City Park.  It is near everything important in more ways than one, and in more ways than two.  In a kaleidoscopic city, surprises are around every corner for people with they eyes to see and the ears to hear.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

More things to do in New Orleans, LA

You can go to church in New Orleans, LA
Nobody comes to New Orleans to watch television.  New Orleans is about active participation, not passive viewing.  There are too many things to do on the street.  New Orleans may be televised, but it is is bigger and better than anything broadcast.  If you are visiting New Orleans, don't hole up in a hotel, even if it is a nice one.
You can enjoy an old-fashioned pizza pie in New Orleans, LA
You never know what you'll find when you turn a corner in New Orleans.  If it's raining where you are standing, then you know why the chicken crossed Canal Street.  She wanted to get to the sunny side.  
You can eat spumone, cassata, or ice cream in New Orleans, LA
When you are in New Orleans, you never know what you will find on the next block, but one thing is for sure; everyone will be friendly.  If you find yourself lost, then consider yourself found.  You are in New Orleans and it feels like home.  It is good to be here.
You can bet the ponies in New Orleans, LA
New Orleans' storied Fairgrounds Race Track officially opens this Thanksgiving Day, as it does every year.  If you want to visit New Orleans in November 2012, we know of a very nice historic NOLA bed and breakfast inn that is a seven-minute walk away from the New Orleans Fairgrounds.  Not only do the horses run around the track, but there are televisions broadcasting races from all over the country.
You can be a shadow in New Orleans, LA
What you choose to do, and what you choose to see, are entirely up to you.  If I was visiting New Orleans for a few days, I would get up before sunup and I would be out and about, absorbing all of the good things contained in this magnificent city.  I would be out long after sundown.  I wouldn't be watching TV, even if there were a television in my room.  
You can have a funeral  in New Orleans, LA
I live in New Orleans.  I drink the water.  I eat the food.  I breath the air.  I hear the music.  I feel the magic that warms my cranky Yankee heart and puts a spring in my step.  My pulse keeps time with my shoes as I ramble the potholed sidewalks.  You can fall in love in New Orleans, Louisiana.
You can stay in a bed and breakfast in New Orleans, LA
A votre sante.
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