Grace Wu

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Stop #25: New Orleans, LA

Tropical Storm Imelda released so much rain on Houston that roads were closed all over the city, including I-10 (barges broke loose and hit the highway where it crosses over the San Jacinto River.) Heading east, I took an alternate route, which it seems like everyone else was doing also. Besides traffic, I could see cars piled up on the side of the road where people had abandoned them. At one point, there was still a huge lake over the road, and police were directing cars over to the other side.

As I made my way to New Orleans, the highway was increasingly over marshes and open water. I kept thinking about all the alligators swimming around in the waters. 🐊 I was staying in New Orleans with a design school classmate, Laura Sanders, who is also now a seasoned comedian. That evening she gave me a quick driving tour through New Orleans, stopping by the Mississippi River, where it promptly started raining as soon as we started to walk outside. We drove through the Ninth Ward and saw some of the controversial Brad Pitt houses. Random things to note about NOLA: most streets you can’t turn left on, roads can be bumpy (after all, the city is built on a marsh), amazing fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and Crystal Hot Sauce is the hot sauce of choice. On the way home we saw a rainbow!

The next day I headed to the French Quarter, which is what most people think of when you say New Orleans. Beautiful, brightly painted houses with balconies draped in ferns are commonplace here. I walked through the French Market, a combo of vendors, food, music and bars. This is a good place to get souvenirs and gifts for family/friends. I had to try some pralines (which Laura informed me later that only tourists buy). Pralines are essentially blobs of sugar mixed with nuts or flavors like rum or peanut butter. I stopped to rest under some shade in Jackson Square. Oh also, banana trees grow here in people’s yards and in landscaping. How awesome!

I decided to brave the lines at Café du Monde, home of the famous coffee with chicory and beignets, square French-style donuts covered in powder sugar. It turns out the togo line moves fast and I got my requisite 3 beignets. They were delicious and definitely taste the best just out of the bag when they have nice crispy crusts. That night, Laura and I tried to go see a movie (Hustlers!) but were deterred twice, once by the movie being sold out, and the second by her car overheating. We instead rewarded ourselves with Melba’s, a Southern Food restaurant connected to a laundromat.

The next day I borrowed Laura’s bike and headed to City Park, a large park near Laura’s house. It has the New Orleans Museum of Art, a small amusement park, a forest, and lots of trails. The Museum of Art was closed but their sculpture garden was open. I walked around there and biked around the park a bit. I constantly got lost but eventually found my way to Couturie Forest, which has the highest point in New Orleans, a whopping 43 feet above sea level. 😆 City Park is also home to many ancient Live Oaks. One is old enough that it saw duels between swordsmen eager to prove a point in the 1800s.

Hot and tired, I headed back to Laura’s place. We started on an early dinner, where I taught Dave how to make a Taiwanese dish, Braised Pork Belly, one of my favorite dishes. We ate early so we could to Lake Pontchartrain, where one of Dave’s friends was taking us sailing! I had been on a boat numerous times, but never sailing. I was excited to see how things were done. We met Dave’s friends Allison and Mike and the captain of the ship, Chris. The breeze was light on the lake, so they only used the small sail, but it was fun to see how it all worked. Fun fact: Lake Pontchartrain is only 12-14 feet deep and has the largest continuous bridge over water at almost 24 miles long. We saw the sun set on the water and then headed back to dock. We had to get Laura back to land to a bar where she was hosting an open mic night for comedians.

We headed to the bar and somehow I made it through listening to all of the comedians, some were pretty good, others, not so much. But hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere so kudos for them even getting on stage. Once we were back home, we had a midnight snack of the braised pork that I had made earlier. All of sudden it was 1am! Time for bed. I had fun in New Orleans but it was time for me to head out to my next destination the next day, Memphis.

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