Cruisin’ the Big Easy at Mardi Gras – New Orleans, Part 1

February 20-24, 2014

Back from our trip around the world, we were home for a couple of months when Holly and I headed out to New Orleans to attend the International Franchise Association (IFA) annual convention. New Orleans, Louisiana is one of my favorite cities to visit, NOLA looks and feels the most European of any city in America and has a real charm to it, along with a decidedly seedy side. Like every tourist, I love to roam the French Quarter and the Garden District, eat Cajun and other cuisines in the world famous restaurants, and I love to get out of the city to visit the plantations and swamps.

Here’s a photo of the Saint Louis Cathedral and the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter:On this trip we were joined by our youngest daughter, Rebecca, on her Spring Break from Pepperdine where she is a freshman. Although Spring Break with your parents is probably not the most exciting option for most college students, a free trip to New Orleans was apparently enough of a draw. Here is Rebecca on Bourbon Street.Mardi Gras Parades
I was surprised to find that Mardi Gras was going on during our visit. I had often thought about going to New Orleans at Mardi Gras, but I thought it would be difficult to get a hotel room and overcrowded, and I presumed that the IFA would not schedule a convention during Mardi Gras. I was wrong. Mardi Gras to the casual visitor seems to be about three things: 1. Non-stop parades, 2. Jazz, and 3. Heavy drinking on Bourbon Street. To the good citizens of New Orleans there is more to Mardi Gras, like Krewes and Balls and a history that goes back to the 1730’s.

The first thing that struck me is the number of parades. In Santa Barbara we have an annual “Fiesta”, called Old Spanish Day. Held each summer Santa Barbara’s Fiesta lasts a little over a week and is like Mardi Gras with parade, events, “Mercados” and heavy drinking on State Street – our main street. But Fiesta only has two parades, a children’s parade and the main fiesta parade on a different day. In New Orleans there are multiple Mardi Gras parades in various parts of the city, sometimes going on at the same time it seems like every day. Sometimes one parade ends and then another comes along about an hour later. Take a look at this link for a parade schedule to get an idea of how many parades there are: With so many parades in various parts of the city, it does make getting around a little challenging, so plan ahead if you are trying to get from your hotel to a restaurant.

My wonderful wife Holly waiting for the parade to start:

Here’s a sampling of Mardi Gras parade photos:
Colorful Mardi Gras floats:

Typically understated costumes:

A sample of the food available along the parade route:

Of course, no parade is complete without marching bands:

And equestrian groups:

These two ladies from Georgia were in the Mardi Gras spirit:

Bourbon Street

For many visitors, Mardi Gras is an alcohol fueled party. Bourbon Street is appropriately named, because it seems to contain nothing but bars, many with live music. Bars will pour your drink into plastic to-go cups, so revelers need not interrupt their drinking during the short walk between bars.

This photo of Bourbon Street was taken when the crowd was particularly light. Later, it was difficult to move through the crowd shoulder to shoulder in the street.

Collecting beads is another Mardi Gras endeavor. Beads are tossed to the crowd from the floats in the parades and by revelers on the balconies of the buildings lining Bourbon Street. Here Rebecca is catching the first of many strings of beads she would collect during her visit to NOLA. (I’m not sure what is prompting Holly’s startled look.) Rebecca was having fun collecting beads for a little while until Holly explained to her that the men on the balconies above were asking her to “flash” them to receive beads. That was enough of a walk on the wild side for Rebecca, she said “Dad, let’s get off this street.”

Revelers watching the scene on Bourbon Street and throwing beads from the balcony to the crowd below. (The blur above the building is a set of beads being tossed to those below.)

Police on horseback providing crowd control.

Bourbon Street in full-swing.

Between the parades and our walk down Bourbon Street, Rebecca came home from New Orleans with a substantial bead haul, as modeled below.

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