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Absinthe, Pirates, History and the NOLA Charm

St Louis Cathedral

St Louis Cathedral

There are two ways to get to the center of  The French Quarter from our spot in Marigny; stroll the seven blocks on Chartres St to St Louis Cathedral or take the Loyola-UPT Streetcar that ends near us at the French Market.

The French Market Streetcar

The French Market Streetcar

During our stay we do both. From the French Market  we get off the streetcar at Dumaine St and walk a couple of blocks to our first stop, the Cafe Du Monde, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde

A large area of indoor/outdoor seating, the cafe is packed. The menus are imprinted on the napkin holders. The choices are coffee, soft drinks, orange juice and two sizes of beignets, either 3 or 6, smothered in powdered sugar. That’s it! I really can’t see what the hub-bub about the place is, but every time we passed by the cafe it was full. It’s been a landmark in New Orleans since 1862. 

Jackson Square

Jackson Square

 

Jackson Square, NOLA

Jackson Square, NOLA

Continuing on we come to Jackson Square and behind that the beautiful St Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously operating church in the US, built in 1720, rebuilt in 1789, becoming a cathedral in 1794.

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

In front of the church on a wide band of street there are small booths of fortune tellers, ice cream vendors and musicians. Stepping inside the church we get relief from the heat and humidity which is quickly rising.  Leaving the church and turning right  and then right again we are on a small cobblestoned alley with St Anthony’s Garden behind the church. This alley is known to the locals as Pirates Alley. 600 feet long and 16 feet wide it is not listed on many of the maps of the French Quarter. The smell of New Orleans is more intense here, a smell of damp vegetation and a faint woodiness lingering with the latin rhythms, salsa music and blues coming from the corner.  This corner was infamous for settling duels and debts of honor.  Jean Lafitte, the famous pirate, who provided services to any country at war against another by attacking their ships, brought the booty to town and the goods were sold in the alley. Eventually the Spanish Colonial Prison called the Calabozo was built on this corner in 1769. Lafitte and his men were jailed here by Governor Claiborne of New Orleans.  The prison was demolished in 1837, and the land was sold to make a long creole house which was the home of William Faulkner, where he wrote his first novel ”Soldiers Pay.”  The creole house is now home to the Faulkner House Books. Now at the intersection of Pirates Alley and Cabildo Alley, where the prison was, is the Pirates Alley Cafe, known for caribbean drinks and absinthe.

Pirates Alley Cafe

Pirates Alley Cafe

Traditional absinthe was made of anise, fennel and wormwood (a plant) with added herbs and flowers making it green in color. The herbs and spices were soaked in alcohol and then distilled. The drink called la fée verte, (Green fairy) in French, was thought to be highly hallucinative also. Yes, drinking a couple of those today one might see fairies and pirates! 

One afternoon, not far from Pirates Alley, we made our way to the Grape Vine Wine Bar and Bistro. We spent a lovely afternoon wine tasting and choosing cheeses from the cheese board. Then we were served large portions of appetizers. I had the crab cakes and they were fabulous. The ambience and service in this bistro is outstanding.  With seating indoors or out this was our favorite spot in the old French Quarter.

 

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Another highlight of New Orleans is the WWII National War Museum. Traveling by way of the Canal Streetcar, switching to the St Charles Streetcar, we got off at Lee Circle and walked the rest of the way to the museum. The large museum is separated into different buildings and exhibits. Upon entering the ticket building in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion we were greeted by veterans who are here every day and volunteer their services at all of the different venues. It was truly inspiring to see so many retired serviceman still giving of their time.  Our first stop was the “Train Car Experience” where we boarded a train re-creating the tearful farewells and bittersweet returns of the men and women who went to war. Then we went upstairs to see the “America Goes to War,” “D-Day Invasion of Normandy,” “The Landing Beaches,” and the “D-Day Invasions of the Pacific.” All the exhibits were interactive and very interesting. One of the highlights of the museum was the short movie, “Beyond All Boundaries” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. The movie is a journey of words and stories of actual WWII participants. The Solomon Victory Theater, where the movie is shown, has a screen 120 feet wide, with 9 digital cinema DPL Projectors. (a regular theater has only one) There are 27 surround sound custom speakers and 250 special effects theater seats that shake when the tanks are rolling by! Many of the props used to make the movie come alive are authentic pieces of equipment. There are 305 archival photographs and 517 film clips of actual footage shot during the war. You will not want to miss this special attraction.

Going outside the exhibits we looked at a WWII Victory Garden complete with posters! 

The other feature that I enjoyed was the “USS Tang” experience. Upon entering the submarine we are given actual sailors’ ID cards.  Using the ID of the sailor, we were assigned to his station and duty in the sub.

Submarine Sailor ID's

Submarine Sailor ID’s

We had an interactive encounter recreating the last war patrol of America’s most decorated submarine in WWII! What a great time we had visiting the museum! There is the Stage Door Canteen and the American Sector Restaurant to eat in and then to wrap up our day we were entertained by the Marine Corps Band of New Orleans, part of the Memorial Day Concert Series. New Orleans has so much to offer; great food and drink, stunning architecture, history and perseverance. I think you will enjoy including NOLA to your list of  “Not to Miss.” Enjoy!

 

Orvieto; Overground and Underground

Cinghiale (Wild Boar)

Cinghiale (Wild Boar)

SB is shaving in the bathroom. He hears footsteps behind the door. Someone is calling. The door to the bathroom flies open and a young woman is standing there in her bathrobe speaking “mile a minute Italian” and calling for me.  SB calls me too. I quickly jump into some clothes and go up the back stairway of the apartment to see what the commotion is all about.  It is Francesca.  She wants to greet me to Italy and her home. She is an animated woman with laughing eyes.  Suddenly she realizes we speak English so she speaks in English, but when she does not know a word in English she switches mid sentence to Italian, or just mixes the two together.  It could be a new language. It is one I understand. She is instantly likable and not concerned at all that she is in her bathrobe, uncombed snatches of hair going every which way, and SB is in his underwear with shaving cream on his face. She is so sorry she could not meet us yesterday, but hoped we saw the festival.  She asks us about our dinner plans for the day and what we would like to see. She wants to know if the apartment “is good.” She wants to know if we have enough to eat for breakfast.  She wants to know if she can get us anything.  Then she is off as quickly as she came. She is like a tornado.  She quickly comes and quickly goes. I look up after her as she retreats up a steep stairway that bridges the buildings together.  Between her building and our building is the wood-working workshop below. I realize the stairway is the indoor shortcut.  As we leave for the day, a truck has pulled up to the front of our building and the men are unloading wood planks. We peek in the expanded open doorway hearing the buzzing of saws and smelling the fragrance of newly cut wood.  It is a large work area filled with tables, hutches and sawdust. We are off to explore the ramparts of Orvieto. We walk along the inner edges of the massive wall and the narrow streets of new neighborhoods we have not explored yet.

The Walls of Orvieto

The Walls of Orvieto

DSCN1012

The Ring Around Road

The Ring Around Road

SB loves going below ground or climbing a bazillion stairs to view something. Our next stop is the Well of the Cave, an underground network of Etruscan era caves, wells and tunnels that were discovered in 1984 when a family was renovating their trattoria. We walk into a modern room roped off as if we are entering a movie theater.  An elderly man takes the money and points for SB to follow the roped edge along the wall of pictures of excavation into another room leading to the underground level.DSCN0951

Underground

Underground

Deep Underground

Deep Underground

As SB explores the caves I check out a small church across the way.  Our next stop leads us to the other side of Orvieto, through a small park where the town cats lazily lie in the sun and down a rough gravel path to meet up with a guide and other tourists to delve deeper underground into the caves of Orvieto.  I go inside the first cave, but decide I will go no further.  The cave path is very narrow and very dark and very down hill.

A Hard Place to Get To

A Hard Place to Get To

Deep and Dark

Deep and Dark

DSCN1031An Australian woman and I decide we would rather sit outside at a picnic table overlooking the Umbrian countryside while the others go on.  SB later tells me I made the right choice since in some spots of the cave the narrow openings were barely slits in the rock to squeeeeeeze through and the ground steep and tough going with boulder steps.  I had an enlightening chat about Australia with my new friend.

The Museum Palace

The Museum Palace

DSCN0933

The Ceiling

The Ceiling

Our last stop of the day was the Etruscan Museum, a former palace across the street from the Cathedral. The hand painted scenes on the walls and ceiling are breathtaking.  Crystal chandeliers shimmer glitters of light over the pale blue-sky color that dominates the rooms.  The ground level of the museum boasts fragments of Roman and Etruscan sculpture while Etruscan jewelry and Roman coins are featured on the first floor.

Pinocchio Again!

Pinocchio Again!

Trattoria Palomba

Trattoria Palomba

We finished up the day with a fine meal at Trattoria Palomba, a stone building, alley way eatery with a waiting line to get in every evening.  A family member seated us at a square table along the wall, covered with a red checkered cloth, and pointed to the daily special menu on the blackboard. It was just like in the movies!

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