Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Algiers, Mardi Gras World, Rock 'N Bowl

You might think we’d sleep in super late that day, but with all of New Orleans to see and only two days to do it in, we got up at the nearly respectable hour of 9:30 and managed to assemble something presentable for breakfast.

Which was amazing – a fruit cup to begin, followed by Christmas sweet bread, and then Russian eggs (which was essentially scrambled eggs with salmon & spices). Fresh juices and coffee/tea, naturally. And our host struck the perfect balance of chatting enough with us to make us feel welcomed and attended to, but otherwise letting us enjoy the stately yet comfortable dining room by ourselves. At the end of the meal, we planned out the day with his help and the use of a map he offered us.

We started with a drive down to the area just east of the French Quarter, where we took Butley for a walk and looked around to see who was playing at the various clubs. Then we headed west and looked around there, doubling back to walk along the levee. The crowds that were absent on Christmas Night were back out & we wove in and out, the three of us, until it all got a bit much and we headed back to the B&B.

Dropping Butley off, we unlocked the bikes and went for a ride down the ferry which took us across to Algiers, an area that’s more for longtime residents, retirees, and locals.

Getting off, we rode around, still impressed at how even the smallest, simplest houses there have at least a nod to the genteel style of New Orleans’ plantation-style porches and colonnades. We rode along the levee, looking to see how far we could get, and then doubled back and cut across the area, stumbling onto one of the more unique New Orleans attractions – Mardi Gras World.

Apparently, there’s one studio that builds most of the floats for the Mardi Gras celebration each year. Kerr Studios, housed in a series of warehouse buildings along the water, makes you feel like you’re twelve inches high and have just wandered into a child’s toy box, staring up at all these enormous, cartoonish sculptures and figureheads. They have a tour available, but we saved ourselves the $17 dollars and just asked to use the restroom, the route to which afforded us a perfect view of much of the studios minus the tour guides’ narration, of course. Jesters’ heads sat next to oversize models of Laurel & Hardy, down the way from enormous Bessie the Cow and papier mache & Styrofoam renderings of the Venus De Milo. And in the midst of a grey afternoon, threatening to rain at any moment, the brilliantly colored paint and flashy baubles was testament to the resilient spirit of New Orleanians in the face of their recent weather disasters.

We stopped off at a British pub, on our way back to the ferry, for our teatime pints. And riding home, once back on the other side, we debated the merits of Dr. John at the House of Blues or Kermit Ruffin and the BBQs at Midland City Rock ‘N Bowl. The latter won out, and, showered & rested, we went first to dinner at Ye Olde College Inn.

Just down the road from the Rock ‘N Bowl, Ye Old College Inn is owned by the same family and has been an institution for university students for decades, apparently. It’s a great, old-fashioned décor, where the walls are littered with photos, artifacts, and news clippings, and bayou seafood is the house specialty. (I had the ‘redfish,’ which the waiter couldn’t compare to anything outside of the gulf, and it was amazing. And I’m not a gourmand, so I’m not one to sling compliments around like Frisbees.) It was busy, but nothing, I’m told, like what it would normally be when the universities are in session. So, if you go, make sure you get a resderation. And save the receipt, because each entrée gets you free admission to the Rock ‘N Bowl.

So, here’s the deal: music and bowling – two great things, it turns out, do go great together. I wish I could claim an insider’s knowledge about Kermit Ruffin, New Orleans favorite that he is, but I have to admit to having gotten the rec from my bro, Michael. And a good one it was. The Rock ‘N Bowl is a real family joint. And not the kind of family joint that ‘dumbs down’ the entertainment for the lowest age denominator. The joint was jumpin’, and teens were dancing with grandparents, hipsters were dancing beside suburbanites, and Kermit & the boys were playing all the favorites, from “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” to my fave, “Christmastime is Here,” from the Charlie Brown Christmas Album.

We sat and listened for the first set, and right after we were able to get a lane. You pay by the hour, not by the game, and you have to pay for shoes, but judging from the locals, it doesn’t seem like you have to use them. And the good thing about bowling is the same good thing about old-time jazz. Everybody likes it and nobody has to be a connoisseur. So we bowled miserably and had a great time.

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