This year's Mardi Gras falls after the BC Family Day on February 13 2018. The Beacon Team got the chance to travel to New Orleans last June and discovered a city that has suffered by means of elements and history. New Orleans teems with history, music, food and the transportation itself is an attraction.
Access to the French Quarter was simple and walkable, especially when the weather was forgiving. Purchase a jazzy pass and with a portable battery you are ready to navigate all the colourful districts of this gem of a travel destination. The Beacon Team experienced Tropical Storm Cindy - the first tropical cyclone to make landfall in Louisiana since 2012's Hurricane Isaac. With a combination of broken sidewalks, sideways rain and flash flooding, waterproof gear was far more effective than any umbrella. The heat was a new factor when drying off wet clothes during breaks of cover.
On day one of our travels, and the first day Cindy made her visit to downtown New Orleans, we noticed how the water could impact activities. For safety of tourists and employees, businesses would shut down when confirmed weather reports rolled in. Buses and trams would experience overcrowding and delays.
The buildings in New Orleans are built for this weather, and the sidewalks have plenty of shelter to offer depending which district you are moseying around in. Galleries (initially created to avoid certain taxes) allow living space outdoors and buildings are designed with windows on both sides of the building to create a natural cooling system. During Mardi Gras, this galleries offer a bird's eye view of the world-famous parades!
Now folks who have gone to Disneyland and Disneyworld may have tried the Mickey beignets, in the NOLA section of the theme park. This is not a coincidence. Walt Disney always had an incredible love for New Orleans, so much so he attempted to bring to NOLA a Disney Theme Park. This was never realized, but perhaps it was for the best. The impending storms that would have happened over the following two decades would have brought the parks to the ground. Walt's adoration of the city can be seen in the Haunted Mansion: it is actually inspired by a Garden District home.
As we pressed forth through the rain, we made it to Cafe Du Monde. No matter how miserable the weather became, you knew you were experiencing something incredibly special: live jazz, delicious coffee, quick service and fried dough covered in mountains of sugar.
If you did brave the wind and rain, you just had to be aware of your surroundings and when you got to your destination safely, rewards would await!
After you experiencing sufficient food and drink, enjoy a spot of history in this old city. For an informative tour about the progress made in medicine, visit the Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter. With the same seedy undertones that make NOLA the intriguing and exciting place it is, be prepared to learn a great deal about what it took to save a human or animal life hundreds of years ago while also understanding all the stubborn choices people made that contributed to their imminent doom.
Pro Tip: If you plan ahead and get there at 1pm, they include an awesome guided tour with your regular admission. The exhibits are eerily authentic and interesting to look at on your own but the gentleman with a moustache has so much fascinating information about how far technology and sanitation has contributed to medical treatment - his presentation is an attraction unto itself.
As a tourist-driven city, New Orleans has hundreds of tour guides and tour services. One particularly successful vendor remains the "Pay-As-You-Wish" Free Tours by the Foot. Exuberant and knowledgable tour guides share family-friendly and spooky stories about the history rich neighbourhoods on a number of diverse topics: Ghosts of New Orleans, Cemeteries, Garden District, Voodoo and even Jazz!
When Atlanta and New Orleans have so many movies shot here, you can see why. The backdrop of this beautiful city and its beautiful homes have a distinct sense of character that you never experience in larger cosmopolitan cities.
One stop we wanted to make was the Buckner Mansion. As a beautiful 1850s Louisiana home, it played the Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in American Horror Story: Coven. As a 20,000 square foot landmark, it has galleries on all three sides and used to be the prestigious Soule Business School. Built in 1856 by Henry S. Buckner of cotton fortune, it sits proud amongst the multiple other movie locations in the Garden District.
As NOLA celebrates its 300th birthday, and the respectable New York Times names it the travel destination of 2018 there is no better time than now to visit! Though the Beacon Team made its way to New Orleans during the summer, one of the most popular times to visit would have to be during Halloween or during Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras celebrations have already started as the Krewes have made their way down each district.
Now if this is too short of a notice, there is no need to fret because Mardi Gras World keeps the festival alive year-round. One of the most sought-after float builder would be Kern Studios has been a family-run business since 1932: see their craft at the Mardi Gras World and make a quick pitstop at Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
With our fascination with colour, we could not leave without learning from the locals the significance of the Mardi Gras Colours: Purple, Green and Gold. You could see it in the King cakes, the beads and felt instinctively religious. Though there is one story that simply states it was the King's choice on 1872 and it was done to honour visiting Russian Royals.
Good Fact: Since 2006, the New Orleans carnival crewe started a focused community service after Hurricane Katrina designed to support the police and first responders (as Operation Pro Bono Publico). The Rex motto: Pro Bono Publico - for the public good was adopted since its founding in 1872 and has always been committed to a tradition of public service.
Twenty years later, The Rex Parade (Rex=King in latin) spotlighted the theme "Symbolism of Colours" to give meaning to the colour choices. However, researchers found that the three colours were elected to mirror the tri-colour flags found in France, Great Britain and even the US. As a King with a Kingdom, he had ordered all balconies to be draped in these three colours.
With a peculiar relationship with the sense of royalty, Purple represents justice, Green represents faith and Gold - power. The carnival had been derived from Christian practices when the French Explorers came (with their casket girls) and religious practice of consuming rich and indulgent treats before Ash Wednesday and lent began.
Fun Fact: the two universities in NOLA complete the colours of Mardi Gras with their school colours. Legend states that LSU had purchased all the purple and gold from stores during and after Mardi Gras and Tulane had no choice but to move forward with green.
Take a stroll down Frenchmen Street and learn from our mistake: be sure to pick up some Peychaud's to crush your Sazerac craving when you get back to Canada. The food souvenir we would recommend picking up would be a room - temperature muffuletta from Central Grocery. Brought over by the Italian immigrants, the massive sandwich travels well but definitely packs a hefty mass. If you do not get a chance to visit Treme, be sure to visit Dooky Chase in the Louis Armstrong Airport.
In a city where excess is joyfully celebrated, music and art thrive and history echoes in the bones of the landmarks New Orleans deserves a spot on everyone's bucket list.