Welcome to the bayou

New Orleans has culture like no other city I’ve ever visited. The city, people and general atmosphere leaves visitors gaping, eager to soak up as much of the culture as possible. I’m not even sure you could see everything in the city if you lived there. I imagine there could be countless adventures to be had as well as an inumerablen amount of mysteries to uncover.

Our first day in New Orleans was spent site seeing, and let me tell you, there was more to see than eve I, a self-proclaimed professional tourist could anticipate. Initially, the plan was to wake up by 7–a mere 6 hours after arriving at Camp Hope in Arabi, Louisiana just after midnight central time. From there, we would eat breakfast at camp and then venture into the city to attend a 9 a.m. Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral followed by site seeing and lunch at a local restaurant.

So much for planning.

When we drove into the city, we encountered our first obstacle–a marathon which ran straight through the heart of the French Quarter, blocking our way to the church. Time to improvise. By 8:45, we realized we wouldn’t even make it on time if we parked immediately, so we resolved to park at our earliest opportunity, enter the city on foot and find the church in time to attend the 11 a.m. service.

We couldn’t have planned it better. After dodging runners as we crossed the marathon, we made our way into the heart of the city. As Dr. Hoover put it, we can now check one more thing off our bucket lists–run in a marathon….lol

Along the way, we walked past store after store, filled with voodoo dolls, mardi gras masks, souvenier t-shirts and even alligator jerky. When I saw the land shark lager umbrellas, I perked up and realized I’d stumbled across Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe! This girl was a happy camper! After getting my photo taken (which was photo bombed, but I didn’t mind), we continued on, stopping briefly for Darren and Dr. Hoover to pick up some Prailenes for the group.

Nothing, and I repeat, nothing beats authentic New Orleans cuisine.

As we continued on, we found ourselves immersed in the culture that is Jackson Square. Along the fence surrounding the park, local artists displayed original artwork, up for sale. Artwork ranged from paintings of Christ and other profiles to images of trees, and abstract artwork of the city itself. The culture didn’t stop there–everywhere we looked, we found street performers. A man painted entirely silver–a new Orleans “steeler” if you will. He acted like a robot, making machinery noises with his mouth and posed for an adoring crowd.

Within the park itself, we found a beautiful fountain across from St. Louis Cathedral. The Cathedral itself was enough to blow anyone away. It’s hard to believe that so much of this beautiful city was submerged beneath the sea half a decade ago.

On the other side of the park, the SHU Crew experienced authentic southern jazz for the first time courtesy of the “remaining members” of The Last Straw. Full of elderly members, the Last Straw was delightfully entertaining, whether we were musing over the banjo player’s lack of emotion or the singer/drummer’s enthusiasm.

At one point, the singer called out a young redhead from the crowd and told him “ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you my friend are starting to rust.” He followed up with a song about growing older…”The young grow old, the old grow cold and time marches on.” I’m sure our crew could’ve spent the entire afternoon watching these aged musicians perform, but we departed to make our way to the cathedral.

Now, I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a huge fan of Catholicism these days–I much prefer attending contemporary worship at Pittsburgh East, but this was definitely worth it. The sheer size of e cathedral was enough to move any spiritual person. The archbishop officiated the Mass and i can honestly say that it’s been a long time since a Catholic Mass seemed to pass so weekly to me.

After church, we decided to check out some local cuisine. The Gumbo Shop. Do you know how you know when the food’s good? There’s complete silence in at the table. We sampled Seafood Okra Gumbo, Jumbalaya, Chicken and Shrimp Po-Boys and wait for it–Alligator sausage. Between the atmosphere and the food, I’m not sure we coul’dve been more pleased.

Following lunch, the crew split up into a few smaller groups to go exploring. as we made our way down Bourbon Street, which was still pretty decorated from Mardi Gras, I couldn’t resist crossing something else from my bucket list: have a drink on bourbon street. A word of advice: steer clear of “hurricanes” on Bourbon Street. The drink was so strong that it nearly knocked me out–I was slowly loopy for close to two hours afterwards.

After paying a trip to Bubba Gumps, we stopped to watch an amazing juggler–he was mostly successful because he also entertained with snark commentary. The juggler’s final act consisted of juggling two “razor sharp” knives and a double-edged meat cleaver.

We finished our day with some lovely pizza from the Louisiana Pizza Shop. After sampling four different types of pizza, the crew returned to Camp Hope where we enjoyed each other’s company until quiet hours.

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