Last week, I found myself in New Orleans. I dovetailed on my wife’s annual pharmacy conference. I find it’s a good motivating factor to get me to see a new place. It was just a couple of years that I used it to motivate me to see Washington D.C. for the first time.
The first thing I noticed is that New Orleans is full of life. By that I mean, something is going 24-7. I had a friend say that when he was last in New Orleans he thought that he might die if he stayed another day. That’s just the famous Bourbon Street bars and clubs. However, on this visit New Orleans was taken over by Kentucky basketball fans for the SEC conference. In addition to that, Russell Brand was filming Diablo Cody’s new movie (which is untitled). We got to talk with the movie’s publicist which is something that really doesn’t happen to me every day. Later that weekend, Brad and Angelina Pitt were in town for a $1000 a person event to benefit their Make It Right Foundation, an organization that works to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In town to help was Rihanna, Ellen, Sheryl Crow and a bunch of other people who you know. Yep, I missed my chance to hang out with Snoop Dogg.
On the Katrina front, I was surprised to see so little damage. That’s more a reflection of staying in the French Quarter which only had about a foot of water according to the locals. My wife and I thought about taking a tour to see the damage, but a tour company profiting on the misfortune of others didn’t sit well with us. We kept looking for a tour company that donated money to a foundation to help, but we didn’t find anything.
However, we had a friend go on such a tour and it leads off our saving money in New Orleans tips.
- Go on a tour of the Katrina damage – It was a mistake for us to skip the tour on principle. The friend said that the tour was around $25-30 for 3 hours and she came back with some amazing pictures. the pictures weren’t of wreckage like I expected, but showed water lines on places that still seem inhabitable. There were also pictures of the new houses that they are building which are extremely eco-friendly.
- The Rat Hole – For all the people who are Bourbon Street looking to save a little money on their beverages, I recommend this place. It’s easy to get sucked into the marketing of “Huge Ass Beers”, but I found that The Rat Hole had the cheapest beer on Bourbon Street. The selection isn’t great, but Bourbon Street deals in quantity not quality. I’m not advocating going the quantity route, but I recognize that it’s a part of Bourbon Street. I might as well save people a couple of dollars.
- McDonalds – I know this is an odd item to have on the list. However, for this northerner, it was interesting to see grits and sausage biscuits and gravy on the breakfast menu. I may be weird in that I like to try any unusual McDonalds items when traveling. For $3 this combo didn’t disappoint. (Again keep in mind that I don’t typically eat these foods, so I am not one to judge quality of them.)
- Eat at Mother’s – This place is a cafeteria style restaurant. It isn’t much to look at with the old basic furniture and the original sign from 1936. The place puts its efforts into the food. I liked the Jambalaya, while my wife preferred the red beans and rice. We got a side of the ham, because it seemed to be their specialty (it’s on the sign from 1936), but it wasn’t that much different from sliced deli ham. That’s one thing to skip. Be sure to take a few minutes to see the autographed pictures (Howie Mandel with hair!) and the funny signs. My favorite was, “Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want to pay with credit, go to Helen Waite.” (Note: They do accept credit cards, the sign was for people using credit in 1936.)
- Window Shop – My wife and I spent some time on Royal Street (the next street over from Bourbon St.) window shopping. The danger with this is that we passed some enticing items. One place, Vintage 329 was never open despite a sign saying that it was open 8 days a week. We wanted to visit it because they had a first edition Harry Potter collector’s set of all US versions of the book signed in the window. I asked my wife (a big Harry fan) how much she thought it would go for and she said around $500. I told her that if it’s under $1000, I would buy it on the spot. We never could get a price since it wasn’t open, but I see a new one on Ebay for $8900. The Vintage 329 didn’t seem to be in as good a shape, and they kept it displayed in direct sunlight (why?), but I think they would have been asking for more than $1000.
There are surely plenty of other ways to save money, but this is the last trip we have planned for some time. I also don’t know when I’ll have the next opportunity to go to New Orleans. The combination of the two left us spending a little money than when we are in our usual frugal mode.
On the “anti-save money” front, The Old Coffee Pot and the Court of Two Sisters are perhaps two of the best places to have brunch. I wrote about The Old Coffee Pot last week, but the Court of Two Sisters put on an excellent jazz brunch in a courtyard with historic fixtures and the smell of lilacs. It’s not low on price, but it is high on value.