I didn’t plan it this way, but I’m in New Orleans for Mardi Gras week. It means the hostels are booked, so I can’t stay long. I decide to take a culinary tour so I can sample the wide variety of regional foods in the short time I have. It really was an excellent tour. We got so many samples it ended up substituting for a meal. We started at Antoine’s for seafood gumbo done right with a roux made with butter (most restaurants use oil). We had Muffuletta sandwich slices and a rich turtle soup (it tastes like beef by the way). And we tasted a tangy spicy Shrimp Remoulade at Arnaud's where our tour guide tells us the dish originated. We end the tour at Café Du Monde where we walk around the alley to watch the cooks make the beignets. And that’s where the tour ends, but since we’re here everyone goes straight into the Café and orders Café au lait and beignets. They are fresh and crispy and the only problem is I should have gotten the larger coffee because it’s just not enough and it is so good.
It’s bitterly cold and raining on and off, but I’m shocked and so disappointed when I find out the Mardi Gras parades are cancelled for the night. How can they do this?! I hadn’t planned on staying late tomorrow because I know I’ll need to get far enough away from town to find an empty hotel. So this means I might miss the Mardi Gras parades.
The next morning I walk around the French Quarter. It’s raining and I’m freezing, but there are parts of these streets that have so much beauty and history that I have to brave the weather. I wander up to Bourbon Street just to see what it’s like, but I detour pretty quickly - let’s just leave it at that. But for the most part, the French Quarter is a wonderful place to wander around and enjoy yourself. There are some colorful homes and wonderful shops to pop into and it is just not possible to find a bad restaurant in the Quarter.
It’s about three hours before the parade and I’m really worried about finding a hotel, but I decide to drive down to the Garden District and wait for the parade. I’m so glad I did. Just to see what a real Mardi Gras parade is like. I didn’t realize that there are close to 50 parades throughout the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Each one is unique and put on by a different Krewe. The Krewes can be a little creepy. They wear masks during the parades that makes them look like colorful KKK members. Most of them are groups of powerful old rich white men who meet together throughout the year and throw huge private balls before the parades. They really go all out on their costumes for the balls and parades.
It was freezing, but I really enjoyed the parade. They alternated floats with marching bands. The bands from the Louisiana High Schools were awesome. The drum sections were so bass it reverberated your core when they walked by. And the bands were huge with cheerleaders and flag throwers and baton twirlers - they were really fun to watch.
I know I wasn’t there on Fat Tuesday, but it’s nice to know that you can enjoy Mardi Gras and not feel like you’re surrounded by drunk frat boys. You can always find the crazy party if you want to, but you can also avoid it. And who knew Mardi Gras could be a fun family event?