5 ICONIC THINGS TO DO IN THE FRENCH QUARTER

The French Quarter is the first thing that pops into people's minds when you talk about New Orleans. It's the oldest section in the city and is actually built over a swamp. Hence, the flooding that can easily occur in this city when it rains since the water has nowhere to go. It's the prime destination for tourists and locals alike when visiting Louisiana.

So, you're in the French Quarter...now what? Well, why not try one of these five iconic things!

#1 Cafe Du Monde - This place is very popular with tourists and the line clearly shows it. But, the line moves along really fast. If you'd rather just do take out, there is a line closer to the back where you can do so. Once you get to the front of the line, they'll ask how many people are in your party. Then escort you to a clean table (or one they clean right away after you get seated). The menu is short and sweet and placed on the napkin holders. The servers were really efficient and speedy, so don't worry about being forgotten during your dine. Place your order. Then once you receive your food, they'll be asking for the payment right away. So be sure to have your cash out ready to be handed over. I got a large frozen coffee (basically a coffee frappuccino) with an order of beignets. The beignets come in an order of 3, and I think it wasn't too much nor too little.I'm going to say they were good, but not out of this world. I thought it was very similar to having a funnel cake at the fair, but the beignets just being shaped differently. I mean, essentially they are the same thing. However, it's so iconic in New Orleans, you can't really forgo it.

#2 Hotel Monteleone - Now, I believe this is the fanciest hotel inside the French Quarter (ranging at $485/night and up). And during Mardi Gras, only the guests are able to enter the hotel (they give you wristbands to show you're a hotel guest). We got a standard room with one double bed, and the room was very small. Like smaller than a New York hotel room...but since we were out and about most of the time it didn't bother us that much. One of the surprising moments I had was at check-in, when I arrived at 10 am to find out my room was ready. Score! The carousel bar, which is a very slow rotating bar that's designed to look like a carousel you see at amusement parks, was also cool. But it was so crowded when we went that it somewhat took away from its charm. I stayed at this hotel mainly because it was on the List, but there are many downtown hotels that are still very close to the French Quarter that have much bigger rooms available for you. We stayed at the Aloft Hotel downtown for our 2nd night and it was only 0.4 miles away from Hotel Monteleone, and only 1-2 blocks away from the border of the French Quarter. And yet, our room ended up being 2.5 times bigger (they might've given me a bigger room due to my hotel status) and at 50% of the price I paid for at Hotel Monteleone.  

#3 Central Grocery - So, I came here because it was on the List. And after researching more about it, I found out that this is the place that invented the famous muffuletta sandwich. And it was delicious!! We ordered a full sandwich thinking it would be just enough for the both of us to split. But, we actually could've been totally fine with getting a half sandwich. The sandwiches were huge! The sandwiches also were a bit on the saltier side, due to the seasoning, cured meats, and olives; but I loved it. I totally recommend you eating here! Just remember that they close at 5 pm everyday, and they start closing out the seating area where you eat an hour-ish before that.   

#4 Pat O'Brien's - This place is iconic for their fruity alcoholic drink called the Hurricane, which is rum based. This drink might look and taste fruity, but it packs a punch! I think I drank about only a quarter of it before I started feeling tipsy...but it also could be because I'm a lightweight. When we went around 10 pm, the place was packed. There was a front bar where it was dimly lit and a crowded hallway to the back bar where it was much more rowdier. We went during Mardi Gras so it could've been because of that the bar was packed.

#5 Windsor Court - This is not so widely known as something iconic, but I'd like to include it as is. When I tried to book the jazz Sunday brunch at Commander's Palace, it was all booked up. So I decided to do the jazz Sunday brunch at the Grill Room inside Windsor Court instead. The hotel itself is beautiful and the restaurant is on the second floor. Unfortunately, we weren't seated by the jazz trio (which was the point of the brunch) but we did get a nice view overlooking the front of the hotel. The bread basket that we started off with contained cheddar biscuits (like the ones at Red Lobster, so yummy). I got the Shrimp and Grits, while my sister got the Eggs Atchafalaya. Both were great dishes and I'd recommend both (the Eggs Atchafalaya is on the heavier side). We had strawberries and cream beignets to finish off the meal, and they were pretty decent. The strawberries and cream were actually fried inside of the dough and we got the chocolate sauce on the side instead of on top of it. I wasn't able to check out the rooms at this hotel, but this would also be a good option if you want to stay near the French Quarter.

HOW I DID MARDI GRAS, BASICALLY SOBER

So when you think of Mardi Gras, you obviously think of parades, boob flashing, beads being thrown around, random street brawls, or drunken people everywhere. Well, to my surprise, there wasn't much of the notoriety that we think of when it comes to Mardi Gras. I mean, the latest I was out and about was midnight...but still. So, here's the recap:

I did a quick weekend trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend. I did a red eye on Friday to land in NOLA Saturday morning. It sucks doing red eye flights; but when you are working full-time, it is the only option available sometimes. You just got to drink lots of coffee! I hit the ground running by picking my sister up at the airport hotel (she landed the night before) and taking a cab into the French Quarter. The drive wasn't too long...but once we got into downtown it started getting a little tricky. There are streets blocked off at certain points due to the parade routes so there were always a detour that needed to be made during our commute. I highly recommend using the Blue Bikes as your go-to transportation while you are staying in New Orleans!! Lyft and Uber become super expensive, especially during peak times, and they take longer to get to your destination because of the detours they have to make. You also have to be aware of some sketchy ride share drivers trying to go longer distances to charge you more, since they think you don't know the area. But again, use the bikes. My sister and I would bike ride back and forth from the French Quarter to the Garden District in less than 20 minutes at about $15/entire stay (~1 hr use a day). Plus, you're able to go wherever and whenever you want. Since this post is strictly about Mardi Gras, you should check out the other articles I wrote about the French Quarter and Garden District for more info on what to do in New Orleans!

I think during my time in Mardi Gras, the most favorite thing we liked doing was catching beads and other paraphernalia as the floats went by us. I didn't think I would at first since it's just plastic beads...but the excitement of catching them caught on to me. I highly recommend reserving a seat at one of those parade stands (https://www.mardigrasparadetickets.com/), since you don't want to be holding that public spot all day prior to the parade starting. For locals, they start the day early and claim their spots on the street and make the day of it. But for visitors like us, we don't have that luxury. So use that time to explore the rest of NOLA and just show up to your parade stand whenever you feel like it. Plus, I feel like parade floats are more generous in giving out their goods to those sitting in the grandstands. Also note that the parades don't go into French Quarter at all, but usually end in downtown or by the Superdome. So if you want to catch a parade, you need to explore further north of the French Quarter.

Now, the parades are organized by Krewes, which are basically social clubs. The rule of thumb is the bigger the Krewes are, the better the floats. The ones we attended were Trucks, Endymion, Bacchus, and Mid City. I would say Endymion and Bacchus are the much bigger ones, while Trucks and Mid City were a level below that. However, regardless of which Krewe it was, we had a good time.

And the people of NOLA are so hospitable! When they talk about southern hospitality, I can confidently use my experience at Mardi Gras (of all places) as a great example of it. I remember some kid next to me caught a glowing necklace that I thought looked really cool. I don't know if he saw the jealous look on my face or what, but after finding he already had one, he handed it to me and said I should have it. Another time, my sister confessed to a lady in front of her that she really wanted one of the bags they were throwing out on the floats. Well, lo and behold, a bag happened to fall on the parade route (street side) with no one being able to claim it. So the lady in front rallied the people around her to try and reach for the bag, and eventually they were able to retrieve it for my sister. Yes, there were a few bad apples in the crowd. Like, one older man (probably drunk) got arrested for crossing the street and disturbing the parade float as it was going by. But, regardless of those one-off incidents, you still felt this comradery among everyone that were watching the floats. And on a side note, if you do get arrested, you will be left in jail until Fat Tuesday is over. So don't get arrested!

All in all, I had a great time in Mardi Gras without needing to be drunk! I had a total of 1 drink while I was there, and I didn't regret it at all. I wish that I had explored the French Quarter a little bit more, but that would be it. Remember that Mardi Gras really isn't about the partying, and that it's about celebrating New Orleans culture.