I’m going back some years ago to document this trip. All photos were taken on my iPhone 4 so they are not of the best quality. After we graduated college, a good friend took a job in Baton Rouge. That following February, several friends and I decided to go visit him the weekend before Mardi Gras and then continue on to New Orleans. I’m not sure if that was the best time to go to New Orleans, but it sure was an experience and it is something I recommend everyone doing once while they are young. But if I ever go back to New Orleans, it will not be during Mardi Gras, I can tell you that.
We very strategically planned out our journey. We flew to Houston, Texas and stayed with a friend for one night. We went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then got up in the morning and started our four and a half hour drive through the bayou to Baton Rouge. What struck me most about the drive, other than the vast swampland with not much in sight, was a bridge where the metal posts had decorative guns intertwined into their design. This was pretty unexpected for me growing up in the Northeast. I wasn’t really sure what to think about it, other than I would never see something like this back home. We finally arrived in Baton Rouge and piled into our friend’s apartment. He showed us around the city and to the Louisiana State Capitol Building. It is the tallest United States capitol building, towering 34 floors, with an Observation Deck on the 27th floor overlooking the city. Admission is free to explore and learn about the state’s history and government.
There were lots of parades in Baton Rogue for the start of Mardi Gras. The town was alive with tons of people lining the streets. Another culture shock to me was that you could get a drink at one bar, carry it outside with you on the street since there are no open container laws and then even take it with you into the next bar. This seemed unreal to me. I learned that this was a common occurrence all the time, not just during Mardi Gras.
For the holiday, the town was decorated with flamingos. It felt like you were in a sea of pink. That year’s theme was Flamingo Dynasty. All the floats were focused on showcasing beautiful, pink flamingos in various ways. It was crowded at these parades in Baton Rogue, but they were nothing compared to the ones in New Orleans. These Baton Rogue parades were family-friendly and people of all ages showed up to marvel at the floats. It was an all-day event and a great way to bring the community together.
After our pre-Mardi Gras celebrations in Baton Rogue, we headed into our cars for the couple hour drive to Mardi Gras Central: New Orleans. Upon driving in, we saw the Mercedes-Benz Superdome which was very timely since the Super Bowl had just taken place there a week or so prior to our visit. We continued to the main part of downtown and checked into our hotel. We found a restaurant nearby for dinner. They had local favorites like jambalaya and lots of seafood. After filling our stomachs we were ready for the festivities. Our first stop was the famous Pat O’Brien’s. Even at 22 years old, I could not stomach their overly sugary well-known Hurricane. The Hurricanes came in large glasses and were a vibrant, unnatural red hue almost resembling Kool-Aid. I stuck with a vodka soda as I knew even one Hurricane would be too much. We continued along Bourbon Street to several other locations. You had to be careful as there were many people coming around with “test tube shots,” which were shots in all different unnaturally bright colors on a tray with slots for test tubes, similar to what you would see at a doctor’s office or medical lab. These people would put the bottom end of the tube in their mouth and then try to feed you the shot from the tube. Then before you even realized what was happening, they would demand $10 for the shot that was nearly forced down your throat. Don’t fall victim to that scheme.
There were beads galore and we came home with piles and piles, but rest assured, you did not have to show anything in order to get the beads. As we continued to other locations, some had fun live music, giving off that big band feel with brass instruments. Everywhere was completely packed and even more crowded than trendy NYC hangouts on a Saturday night. There were also many religious protesters with signs and crosses out in the street lecturing partiers that they were sinning.
Early that morning I woke up to a text from another friend who knew we were in New Orleans asking if everyone was okay because she saw on the news that there were shots fired near Bourbon Street. I did a quick headcount and we were all accounted for and safely in the hotel room. Apparently it wasn’t that atypical for incidents like this to break out this time of year when people are drinking all day and all night. It was a small, contained incident with two people who got into an altercation. Luckily we were in bed by the time it occurred.
After checking out, we searched for breakfast. We landed on Mothers Restaurant. They had recently been featured on the Food Network, making the line out the door even longer than usual I would suspect. We heard that there is almost always a line outside as it is one of the most popular locations serving breakfast all day. Also, Mothers does not accept reservations. They are famous for their baked ham, but it was too early in the morning for me to try that. I stuck with breakfast. They are also known for their po’ boys.
Lousiana was definitely a whirlwind. I would like to go back and explore more of the history culture. We didn’t see much more than Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. Next time I would not go during Mardi Gras and would like to visit parks, museums, the aquarium and zoo and catch an art walk.