Wednesday, March 14, 2012

February travels part one; Mardi Gras

The trip we took in February had so many stages, I think it will take several installments to record it.  However, I think it is well worth retelling, so today I'll write about experiencing Mardi Gras for one weekend, with a child.

Luckily, our hotel was located well outside of New Orleans, and we rented a car, so we had the freedom to steer clear of the French Quarter at night.  We wanted to get a taste of Mardi Gras, but avoid some of the seedier aspects of the celebration, so we decided to go to the Bourbon St. area to look for breakfast.  This was a mistake.  There were not many people downtown and those we saw appeared to be stumbling home after a rough night.  Many already (or still) had drinks in hand.  People were completely thrown off by the idea of a restaurant serving breakfast and everyone suggest looking in a different area.  We finally found a cafe with King Cake and bagels.

I was excited that this first stop featured an exhibit of mosaic art made of Mardi Gras beads by "Stephan." 

Beads were EVERYWHERE, on fences, in trees, and piled in gutters and drains.  If I lived there, I know I would also make bead mosaics.  I thought this artist managed to do it in a way that is tasteful and in the spirit of Mardi Gras.

We then found the French Market, explored some galleries, voodoo shops, and admired the church in Jackson Square.  Later in the day, we found parking in the Garden District and waited for the parades.  We had heard that this was a good area to take kids to the parades, and it didn't disappoint.  We stayed for two of three parades and we were shocked at the amount of beads and toys thrown from the floats.  The first parade had very impressive floats, all based on Greek mythology.  Between floats, school bands and drill teams marched and danced, so it was loud and festive.  Anouk was overjoyed, riding on Mike's shoulders to make contact with the masked people on the floats.

The following day, we drove outside of the city to visit a Creole plantation.  We took a tour and learned about an important aspect of our nation's history.  The Creole people are a mix of French, Native American, and African descent, and they are culturally very unique, down to family structure, home construction, and social etiquette.  I only recently learned that, until the 1850s, Louisiana enjoyed racial equality.  There was slavery, but it was based on class, rather than race.  When the Louisiana purchase took place, it took a long time for Americans to force racism on their new territory.  I actually learned a little bit about this part of our history reading American Girl books to my daughter (we are reading about Cecile, one of the historical characters, an affluent African American girl living in New Orleans in the mid-1800s.)

Later that day, we headed back to the Garden District for one more parade, because we didn't have enough plastic crap to bring home already.  We had to buy two new carry-ons to accommodate all of the Mardi Gras stuff we collected.

On Sunday, we returned our rental car, caught a shuttle to the airport, and took a taxi to the cruise ship terminal.  And there begins the second segment of the trip.

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