Walking To New Orleans (part two of two)

Our first stop of the next day — Christmas Eve Day — was the Audubon Aquarium. It was a delight. Featuring both fresh and salt-water fish, their displays and habitats featured good visibility for viewing. We had lunch in the Aquarium cafeteria, which was situated to provide diners a fantastic view of the Mississippi River with their meal. After we finished seeing what there was to see, we hustled across the street to the Audubon Insectarium, where, among other things, I got to pet a cockroach. T declined to share that particular adventure. The displays of various insects were fascinating, and their butterfly garden was delightful. The Aquarium, Insectarium, and the Zoo, which we didn’t have time to visit, are all part of the Audubon Nature Institute, and we discovered the combined ticket was cheaper than buying each individually, even by not going to the zoo itself. We quickly had enough of bugs, so it was back to the hotel to change for dinner.

Superior Seafood is outside of the French Quarter, and came highly recommended. Tracy found this place in her searches online, and we were very happy with the end result. The food was fabulous! As Midwesterners, truly good, fresh seafood is scarce for us, so having a seafood feast is a rare treat. The cab rides there and back were reasonable, but we discovered that cabs in New Orleans aren’t the best mode of transport, particularly if one is in a hurry. Planning ahead is essential in the Big Easy, as is leaving one’s self a little extra time to get places.

The next day, we had only one thing planned: Revellion feast at Tujague’s (TOO-jacks). Besides the modest, continental breakfast supplied by our hotel, we prepared for the day by stocking up on snacks and semi-food items at a local Walgreen’s, so we definitely wouldn’t starve! Dinner at Tujague’s was… amazing. Everything was delicious, but the absolute best part was the soup — so flavorful! T is not a big soup fan, but even she was amazed. Ours may have been the cleanest used soup bowls the staff cleared that day.

After our fabulous Christmas feast, we wandered around the area window shopping until we got chilly and decided to go back to the hotel. Our first day in town, New Orleans was sunny with temperatures in the upper 70s (Fahrenheit) The weather at this point was only slightly warmer than it was back home — 40s to 50s, with rain. We’d discovered a new way to travel: pedicabs! Having someone bicycle us around the French Quarter was fun, and was about as fast and as comfortable as a cab would’ve been. In fact, we used pedicab rides to get around the as much as possible the rest of the trip.

The next day we got picked up from our hotel by a bus that took us out to the bayous for a swamp tour with Cajun Pride. It was cold and rainy again, so we didn’t see as much as we’d hoped. But we did see several Egrets, some raccoons, a few smaller gators, and Anhingas. Anhingas, also called the “Snake Bird”, hunt for fish underwater. They spear them with their beaks, then surface to flip the fish off their beak and catch them, head first, swallowing them whole. Anhingas, unlike most waterbirds, never developed the oil glands that help keep their feathers waterproof, so after a hunt, they have to spend time sitting on branches drying their wings. Since they can’t fly when their feathers are waterlogged, they have to climb onto branches or logs that stick out of the water.

Anhinga drying its wings

The Snakebird earns its name

Because of the chilly weather, the gators were hiding in warmer places underwater. Our guide assured us that these gators were familiar with the sound of the boat, and would rise up to check things out. He was right. However, they rose up in places of concealment, and were generally kinda tough to spot. Later, he brought out a bucket with a very young gator inside, one he was hand-raising at home. T and I exchanged glances: I’m generally uncomfortable with people keeping wild animals as pets. I have no doubt at all that this gentleman knew what he was doing, but I’m stil not a fan of the practice. He offered to let people hold it and have their picture taken: when my turn came, I passed. People around me sniggered at my assumed cowardice, but the animal was being handled by a couple dozen people: I had no interest in adding to its stress, as much as I was tempted by the desire to feel what its skin was like.

Find the alligator in this picture

The next day — our last in New Orleans — we had tickets to join the Drink and Learn tour of New Orleans, and it was fantastic! When we arrived at the meeting spot, our guide, Elizabeth Pearce, had insulated shoulder bags for each member of the tour. Inside were four different drinks (plus a bottle of water), each to be consumed at a specific point in the tour. Elizabeth led us through sections of the French Quarter, talking about various parts of New Orleans history, including Prohibition, pre-Louisiana Purchase days, and everything in-between. Her knowledge of New Orleans history was extensive, and her cocktail-making skills were superb. I cannot recommend this tour highly enough. Even if you’re a non-drinker, go along for the tour itself: you won’t be disappointed.

We had to be at the train depot a hour or more in advance of our departure the next day. While the train timetable may not STAY accurate, the trains do LEAVE pretty much on time. We arrived on schedule, and had a quick lunch of sub sandwiches. The train headed out, and we were on our way back to Chicago and points north. Overall, this was a wonderful way to spend our Christmas vacation, and we both agreed that we might not enjoy New Orleans much in the summer, but it’s a lovely place to visit with TONS of interesting and amusing things to do, see, and experience. I think we’ll be back again before too long.

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