Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Exploring New Orleans Streets and Eats

Friday evening I hopped on a short little 1.5 hour flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, arriving 30 minutes after we took off, thanks to a one hour time difference!  I met up at the airport with my friend Kristen, who is a former coworker, although we have never actually lived or worked in the same location.  Kristen and I joined the company we work for at the same time and as a part of the same "class" in the program that we were a part of. Although always in very different locations, we would get together for conferences a few times a year (that were always intense and bonding experiences) and worked on virtual group projects together. We saw each other just recently in December for the wedding of another one of the members of our "class" who we also did not live in the same place as ever, but all got close from working together virtually and through trainings.

Anyways, Kristen and I would motivate ourselves virtually through years of struggling with weight and exercise management, Weight Watchers, and the constant journey for healthy living and balance.  We used to talk about doing a weekend trip together to celebrate hitting goal weights. And although I am not sure either of us ever hit whatever "goal" we had for weight loss, we finally made a trip happen for a different cause - a half marathon!

Last February, while I was training with the Running Nerds group in Atlanta for the Publix Half Marathon, I randomly signed up for the Rock N Roll New Orleans race when they were having a rapid presale. I love traveling for races, have always wanted to see NOLA and knew there were tons of people from Atlanta signing up at the same time, so I signed up for the race a full year in advance.  Not knowing what my race calendar would be like, I signed up for the full marathon as it was the better financial deal at the time.

However, it was never really something that I considered doing too heavily and have pretty much always mentally had this as a half marathon in my mind. At the beginning of the year, I had it in my mind as being a goal race for myself and something that I wanted to try and PR in and run in 1:55.  Then, as training progressed, as travel picked up, as I PRed in Miami, and as I realized I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East the week before, I ended up changing my mind.  I knew I was going to miss out two weekends of long run training so I sort of backed off the idea of making this too much of a goal race.

Backing up a little bit though -- Many of my friends and acquaintances from the Atlanta running community were also traveling down to NOLA for the race. And at some point last year Kristen decided to come too and we booked a hotel and decided to make it a girls trip. So I was planning to stay with Kristen, but I also knew many other people that would be there over the weekend. I swear, Atlanta was DEEP in New Orleans this past weekend.

Muddy Mississippi from the plane!
Kristen and I arrived around 4:30, shared a taxi to our hotel with another runner, dropped our bags, and literally jumped right back into an Uber to take us directly to Cafe du Monde.  Which, is a magically delightful place where you buy little squishy chewy delicious fried doughnuts that are drowning and piled high with powdered sugar. They are amazing and we were quite happy we chose this as our first destination in New Orleans.

Beware of my claw hands
The powdered sugar, in addition to being delicious, provides a scarlet letter of shame as you get the white stuff all over you and then it is undeniable that you've been gluttonous and eaten donuts before dinner...

From Cafe du Monde we meandered our way throughout the French Quarter, which is totally a crazy and insane place full of bars, restaurants, live music, "To Go" drink places, flashing signs, loud music, horse drawn carriages, and the sight that Bourbon Street is famous for of men standing up on balconies overlooking the street and throwing beads to girls that they could bribe to flash them. It was CRAZY and I wasn't quite prepared. I didn't realize that it was such a party city outside of Mardi Gras time of year.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Oceana, which I was recommended for their seafood. We eat got shrimp po boys and although they were delicious and I ate every bite, it wasn't actually the best poboy I have ever had. I feel like the one I had in Atlanta at BQE this past summer was better.  I still loved it and those french fries were pretty spectacular as well.

We met up with a big group of people from the Atlanta contingency in New Orleans before calling it an early night.  As I mentioned, I was unprepared for the partying and with my cold, I felt like I needed rest.  It was great to see everyone from Atlanta in a different city though!

We started our day on Saturday at the race expo and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day exploring the French Quarter, eating delicious food, trying some of the signature drinks, and listening to live music.  A few notes about the day:

- The race expo was really small and pretty lame.  I was surprised for a race this size!  It was well organized however, and pretty smooth to navigate.

- For anyone who had originally signed up for the marathon but then planned to run the half, there was no formal change that you needed to make.  They just told you to run the half instead.  Which, began my paranoia that I would somehow get pointed in the direction of the full marathon during the race.

- We ordered the Barbeque Shrimp at Mr. B's Bistro, which was the first time in my life I have ever eaten shrimp with the heads and little legs still attached. Although the shrimp was delicious, I cannot say that was really an experience I enjoyed all that much. I was a bit freaked out. However, when in New Orleans!

- The city sure is pretty. I truly did not feel like I was in the United States while walking around the quant streets, neat architecture, and running into live music and horse drawn carriages throughout the streets.  At one point in time I made the comment that I felt like we were walking back in time!

- Yes, I wore beads all day long.

- The Hurricanes (a drink) at Pat O'Briens (a bar) were delicious.  The dueling pianos were a blast and a great place to sit to get us off our feet for a bit.  And the locals are incredibly nice and bought me a drink.

In the early evening we made our way back to our hotel, which was in the Superdome area, and both took naps. We got up for a dinner in the hotel and then went back to bed, in order to be well rested for the half marathon in the morning.  Kristen at an amazing shrimp and angel hair pasta dish and I opted for some veggies and went with a root vegetable panzanella salad and a side of brussel sprouts. I seriously do love me some brussels!

And with that, Saturday was complete!

We were up early on Sunday for the race, although to be honest, not even that early. The race started at 7:30 and we were located pretty close to the start so it worked out well for us.  I think we got up at 6:00 a.m., which is actually a bit past my usual morning wake up call!

The race went off and it was a gorgeous day, bright and pretty hot in the sun by the time the race finished.  I am going to write about the whole race in another post, but want to continue to share some of what we did post-race to explore New Orleans. After showering we returned back out on the streets to a restaurant called Port of Call that we were recommended to as the best burgers not just in New Orleans but all the world.  I recommended to go to Port of Call by a few other people as well, although not quite with such glowing referrals. The Uber driver reinforced that the place was amazing and the long line and hour wait at the random hour of 3:00 p.m. kept our expectations high.

I started with one of their "Monsoons" or the restaurant version of the hurricane that I'd had the day before.  I immediately wasn't impressed. It was a bit too sweet and sugary for me and I honestly couldn't even drink it. I HATE wasting food and alcohol, especially when it isn't cheap, but drinking that drink just wasn't worth it to me (I did get some of it done - I am not a heathen.)

After our long wait, we got our burgers that came with baked potatoes instead of fries, and to be honest, I wasn't totally impressed.  I love, love, love a good burger and they usually taste especially delicious after a long run, but I didn't think that this one lived up to the hype that I had been hearing about port of call.

Mind you, I still ate every bite. And the baked potato was especially delicious because I don't know when the last time I had baked potato was! And it came with cheese and bacon bits, soooo... yeah, how can you go wrong with that? Although I was a little surprised that the bacon bits given in a restaurant were artificial and not real bacon, but whatever. Still ate all of this and enjoyed every bite of it. Looking back, I don't think a burger place is where you should try out when you are in New Orleans. I wish I had maybe switched things up to a post race big plate of shrimp and grits, but I guess that is just all the more reason to return to NOLA!

Besides, we finished off this meal with dessert... where we returned to the one and only Cafe du Monde for our second serving of beignets that weekend.

Again, I was marked with the stupid powdered sugar but I was totally okay with that scarlet letter of powdered sugar, but wore it with pride. Along with my race medal, because that's what you do the day of a half marathon!

Following all the eating, we started the walking around and the drinking.  We explored more of Jackson Square, which was the feature of the race medal.

I messed up that picture by having the wrong thing in focus, but you can still see the resemblance. That is, if you are not distracted by the totally gorgeous evening view!

Outside of Jackson Square there was a group playing music outside that were so engaging and extremely talented. There was live music all throughout the streets in New Orleans and it was higher quality than anywhere else I have been. We stopped for a while to listen to this one particular band before moving on so that I could try another "must try" drink in New Orleans.

Up next was Tropical Isle, home of the infamous hand grenades.  I tried a small, frozen hand grenade and although tasty, took me a while to drink because I am just not used to drinking these sugary mixed drinks. I tend to be a beer or wine girl and very rarely drink cocktails or mixed drinks. Juice just doesn't usually sit well with me and although I liked how the hand grenade tasted, it was tough to get down.

We met up with some other friends from Atlanta, wandered Bourbon Street a bit more, hopping in and out of bars, and then returning back to our hotel.  It was a really wonderful time exploring New Orleans and I swear - I was NOT prepared for the craziness that I encountered on Bourbon Street. Who knew that the partying, music, day drinking, flashing, and all around shenanigans are a year round thing in this city and not just Mardis Gras??

I feel a little bad that I didn't stay out later in the evenings or really drink and party and take in more of the nightlife, but I just wasn't mentally prepared. I was fighting a cold, still tired from just returning from Dubai, and was also there for a half marathon!  I DEFINITELY want to return to NOLA and likely not for a race but to enjoy music and more of the city with some of the locals. I will prepare myself with extra rest and detox the week before going again and hopefully will be able to do my younger self proud by staying out late and partying like a rockstar.

Until then, I still had an amazing time and loved the city of New Orleans!!

1 comment:

  1. Lol I was so confused by your shrimp picture...because I thought they were crawfish. Fun fact about crawfish...did you know that after you break off the head and eat the meat from the shell you're supposed to suck it's brains out too? I'm not even kidding. Apparently the spices pool in there, making the brain matter taste super Cajun and extra delicious. I wouldn't know though...I've never been brave enough to try!