Eat here: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, New Orleans, USA

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz
4801 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
http://www.snobliz.com

If you find yourself in New Orleans, count yourself lucky. Because summer over there is snoball season, and the only place to get them from is Hansen’s. If you live over there, you already know about Hansen’s. If you don’t, keep reading – its much more than just dessert.

It’s a really simple concept for a hot day treat: shaved ice, drenched in flavoured syrup. Starts as a frozen dessert requiring a spoon, ends as a slushie. And they’ve been making their snoballs the exact same way since they started in 1939.

See, Ernest was an enterprising young machinist who created a machine to shave light, fluffy piles of ice. And his wife, Mary, was a whiz in the kitchen where she came up with the syrup recipes (which they still follow to make their syrups in-house to this day).

Now run by the third generation of the family, they open every year while the weather is hot. Walking into their store is like walking back in time to the most perfect cotton candy-pink museum you could imagine. It really is one of those places that make New Orleans what it is, especially these days when there aren’t many family businesses still around. We got lucky last year; with the city experiencing a particularly long summer, they were still open in late October, and we got stuck into this coconut pineapple snoball.

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Around The World In 18 Museums

I’m a bit (a lot) of a history geek, and its International Museum Day tomorrow, so I thought I’d take a look at some of the best museums husband and I have seen on our travels. They’re an easily overlooked activity when you’re travelling because they have a reputation for being boring (probably because a lot of kids were dragged to them against their will at school), but there are soooo many different types of museums out there that are a hell of a lot more fun than what you did back in year 5!

Top left: Banff Park Museum -Top right: Chicago History Museum – Bottom left: Museum at Mondragon Palace in Ronda – Bottom right: Saga Museum in Reykjavík

1. Banff Park Museum, Banff, Canada
91 Banff Ave, Banff
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/ab/banff/index
Cost: free
This museum looks at animals of all sorts native to the area (like elk, mountain goats, bears, wolves). It also has some gorgeous geological displays of stones and crystals and random curiosities donated by locals. And on the way out, for bonus points, there’s a beautiful library!

2. Chicago History Museum, Chicago, USA
1601 N Clark Street, Chicago
http://www.chicagohs.org/
Cost: USD$16.00 per person
This was like walking through a history book in the best possible way. I learned more than expected to about Chicago’s history, random things like how the city flag came to be, and about the incredible work of Vivian Maier, which I’m not obsessed with.

3. Museum at Mondragon Palace, Ronda, Spain
Plaza Mondragon, Ronda
http://www.museoderonda.es/
Cost: €3.00 per person
This old Moorish palace has been renovated and restored, and given new life as a natural history museum. A lot of the ceiling and tile details are original, and the garden (while small compared to some of the other palaces) is stunning.

4. Saga Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland
Grandagarður 2, Reykjavík
https://www.sagamuseum.is/
Cost: 2.200kr per person
This is like a history picture book come to life – with an audio guide to talk you through, you walk through the museum’s displays of figures (all crafted based on descriptions found in the Viking sagas and chronicles), demonstrating events from Iceland’s history.

Top left: Guinness Storehouse in Dublin – Top right: Mardi Gras World in New Orleans – Bottom left: DDR Museum in Berlin – Bottom right: Czech Beer Museum in Prague

5. Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
St James’s Gate, Ushers, Dublin
https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en
Cost: €17.50 per person
I’m not a beer drinker, and I still had a blast here! Yes, you get to go through a proper tasting session, and learn how to pour the perfect pint, and enjoy said pint in the rooftop bar with a killer view over Dublin, but it’s also a multi-level museum looking at everything from the beer creation process to it’s many marketing campaigns.

6. Mardi Gras World, New Orleans, USA
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
http://www.mardigrasworld.com/
Cost: USD$20.00 per person
You can read more about our visit to Mardi Gras World here, but basically it’s a tour through one of the warehouses the Kern family use to create the incredible parades floats. You’ll get to see the props and some floats, as well as getting a peek at some of the artists at work.

7. DDR Museum, Berlin, Germany
Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1, Berlin
https://www.ddr-museum.de/en
Cost: €5.50 per person
This is an incredibly interactive museum, encouraging visitors to open cupboards, sit in cars, and listen to the sounds coming through the headphones. You’ll get a disconcerting taste of life in war-time East Germany, including being able to walk through a full “apartment” and rifling through the kitchen, bedrooms and lounge room.

8. Czech Beer Museum, Prague, Czech Republic
Husova 241/7, Prague
http://beermuseum.cz/
Cost: 280CZK per person
Again, not a beer drinker, so this was mostly for husband’s benefit, but turned out it was a really cool little museum! It covered the history of beer, had some crazy beer collections (bottles, labels, model trucks), and at the end of the tour, you received 4 beers to sample. Not little 30ml sips, but full glasses of beer. Enjoy!

Top left: MOMA in New York – Top right: Bier & Oktoberfest Museum in Munich – Bottom left: Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome – Bottom right: Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan

9. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA
11 W 53rd St, New York, USA
https://www.moma.org/
Cost: USD$25.00 per person
It shouldn’t need much of an introduction – this is THE place to go for art in New York. The modern exhibits change regularly, but honestly, my favourite pieces were the classics like Monet’s Water Lilies and Van Gogh’s Starry Night – you see these in magazines and art textbooks at school, but in real life, they’re something else.

10. Bier & Oktoberfest Museum, Munich, Germany
Sterneckerstraße 2, Munich
http://www.bier-und-oktoberfestmuseum.de/en
Cost: €4.00 per person
This little museum lives in an old (when I say old, I mean from the 1300s) townhouse, accessible by a 500-year old wooden staircases, over a few floors. You’ll find an impressive collection of Oktoberfest paraphernalia (mugs, posters, etc), and can sit down to watch a short film about the history of Oktoberfest. Even as a non-beer lover, this was an awesome piece of history to see.

11. Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Italy
Lungotevere Castello, 50, Rome
http://castelsantangelo.beniculturali.it/
Cost: €14.00 per person
It took me three visits to Rome, but I finally got to Castel Sant’Angelo! It’s had a few lives, originally built as a mausoleum, and also serving as a fortress and castle before turning into a museum. The most stunning part of the museum are the paintings, Renaissance era frescoes, which have been preserved almost perfectly. Even if you’re not an art lover, they’re worth seeing. Speaking of worth seeing, make it all the way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with one hell of a view.

12. Totem Heritage Centre, Ketchikan, USA
601 Deermount Street, Ketchikan
https://www.ktn-ak.us/totem-heritage-center
Cost: USD$5.00
It’s not a huge museum, but the history it holds is massive. It holds some of the city’s most previous totem poles, as well as other native artifacts (think intricate hand-beaded purses and ornaments).

 

And, because this wasn’t our first (nor will it be our last!) adventure, here are a few more museums worth checking out that we’ve found on our travels…

– Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C., USA
– The Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

Eat here: Cochon Butcher, New Orleans (sandwiches/meat)

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
https://cochonbutcher.com/

A tribute to Old World butcher and charcuterie shops, Cochon Butcher melds a distinctive Cajun accent to the art of curing meat.

With a menu description like that, as if we weren’t going to visit this place! We first saw it through the eyes of Anthony Bourdain, then read a ton of great reviews, and then heard more good stuff about it once we got to New Orleans.

Much like places in Melbourne (think Jimmy Grants, Huxtaburger), Cochon Butcher is the super successful, less formal offshoot from the more fancy Cochon, drawing in a solid hipster and young professional crowd. The menu is very pig-centric, in the best possible way, with everything crafted, cured and smoked in house.

We visited at lunch time and shared a Buckboard bacon melt with collards on white bread (bottom left) and a charcuterie plate (top left). Buckboard bacon melt was probably the best spin on a ham & cheese toastie I’ve ever had – that bacon was amazing.

The charcuterie plate was next level – for a mere USD$16.00, we got dry cured pork loin, country terrine, spicy fennel salami, chorizo, pork rillon, flat bread crackers and pickles. And every single thing on that board was magnificent.

They also have a mean cocktail menu, heaps of beer and wine options, and you can shop their flatware, aprons, sauces and pickles after you’re done eating. They’d have every right to be a little arrogant and pretentious, but the staff were cool and laid back without being complete tools. They made the atmosphere like that of a fun, young deli, but the food was clearly the product of experience. We’d go back to eat there again in a heartbeat. And now all I want for breakfast is a bacon sandwich.

A Introduction to Mardi Gras – and a visit to Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Happy Mardi Gras!!! Ok, so I’m a day early, but it’s Monday morning and thought we could all do with starting the week on a high! Other than flashy parades and copious amounts of drinking, those of us who don’t hail from New Orleans really don’t know a hell of a lot about the big day. Husband and I knew a little more about it from books we’d read and some documentaries we’d seen, but we knew there was still a lot we didn’t understand. So when we made our return to New Orleans late last year, we decided to visit Mardi Gras World to learn a little more. Before we get to that, let’s look at the basics…

WHAT IS ‘MARDI GRAS’?
Those of you familiar with Easter celebrations have probably heard of Ash Wednesday. And if you’re an Aussie kid, you’ve definitely heard of Shrove Tuesday and ate pancakes for breakfast at school to celebrate; Mardi Gras, which translates as “Fat Tuesday,” is the same thing as Shrove Tuesday, falling the day before Ash Wednesday.

GREAT, BUT WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE PARADES AND PARTIES THAT GO ON IN NEW ORLEANS?
Ok, let’s break it down as simply as possible for those who don’t have a Catholic background…

– Ash Wednesday = the first day of Lent.

– Lent = the 40 days leading up to Palm Sunday during which practicing Catholics often give up something they usually enjoy (like chocolate or their favourite TV show) as a symbolic act of repentance and fasting.

– Palm Sunday = the Sunday before Easter, the first ‘celebration’ day of the season after the 40 days of fasting.

AND THE TUESDAY THAT IS MARDI GRAS?
– Mardi Gras = the last day before the 40 days of fasting and repentance begins. The celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is basically rooted in the idea that if you’re going to be fasting and repenting and behaving for the next 40 days, why not overindulge in good food and booze and party like a maniac the night before?!

OK, SO WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE PARADES NEW ORLEANS HOLDS TO CELEBRATE?
No doubt you’ve seen photos or footage of the apparent carnage that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans; it’s actually a lot more organised and symbolic than it may first appear. To understand that, let me go back a bit and explain the ‘who’ behind the parades first.

Parades are organised by krewes, which are essentially social aid clubs. Membership is incredibly prestigious, can be quite pricey, and members take enormous pride in the events they organise and partake in. The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation kindly list the city’s krewes on their website if you’d like to see read a little more about them.

The parades you see, with the big floats and costumed marchers are the culmination of what is usually 12 months work from the members of the city’s krewes (as in, once Mardi Gras is over, they start working on next year’s almost immediately). They commission and finance the floats and costumes, spending endless hours working on them, and the end result is those visually overwhelming parades. And the parades are fabulous, but knowing more about the work that goes into them has given me a much bigger appreciated for it all this year.

It has to be said that this is a very basic explanation of an event that is incredibly intricate and steeped in more tradition than I could possibly hope to cover in one blog post – we haven’t even touched king cakes, Mardi Gras Indians or the beads you see revelers wearing! You can head on over to Mardi Gras New Orleans to learn a little more, but hopefully that all makes a bit more sense, and will help explain what made us decide to visit Mardi Gras World…

Mardi Gras World
1380 Port of New Orleans Pl
http://www.mardigrasworld.com/

When I talk about the floats used in the parades, they’re not some cute little hand pulled wagons. They’re enormous – as in, the size of buses or coaches. Absolutely huge. So it’s fair to say the krewes couldn’t be making them all themselves – who’d have a workshop that big?! That’s where Mardi Gras World come in; Mr Blaine Kern, who started to learn the craft from his father, Roy, and later apprenticed with float and costume makers around Europe, started working on behalf of the city’s krewes (you can read more about the Kerns here). The family business now has 15 warehouses around the city where they build floats all year round for the Mardi Gras season. And you thought it was just a day of partying once a year…

For USD$20pp, you can tour one of their warehouses, see some of the artists at work, and learn a hell of a lot about the process of creating these colossal works of art. A few fun facts we learned during our tour…

– The large floats are owned by individual krewes and are stripped each year and re-decorated with new pieces.

– Old props are kept at the warehouses to potentially be re-decorated and re-used by other krewes.

– To create the pieces adorning the floats, the artists use a lot of old school papier mache over polystyrene, which they then paint over.

– There are around 60 odd krewes that each hold a parade over Mardi Gras period – that means 60 different floats and costumes for every. Single. Parade.

 

And if that doesn’t make you want to check it out for yourself, maybe some of those photos I took in there will! Now, to find a way to get back to New Orleans at Mardi Gras time…

The dining rooms of Antoine’s, New Orleans

Antoine’s
713 St Louis St, New Orleans
http://www.antoines.com

We thought we’d treat ourselves on our last day in New Orleans, and visit one of the city’s classic restaurants. Unfortunately,  it’s not an easy task to pick one… Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace, Emeril’s, Arnaud’s, how are you meant to choose?!

We finally settled on Antoine’s not just because of the food, but because of the history. They’ve been around since 1840, when a French immigrant came to America for the chance at a better life, and have been run by the same family ever since. The food is classic French-Creole, and it is delicious! We did the Sunday jazz brunch, and enjoyed their signature fried puffed potatoes, seafood gumbo, eggs benedict, shrimp and grits, and a big rich slice of chocolate layer cake – head on over to Instagram for more on that…

They also have over a dozen magnificent dining rooms, which one of the wonderful servers offered to show us through after we finished our meal. Many of the rooms are still decked out with original floors and light fittings, and they just scream old world charm and elegance. Let me take you through a few of them…

 

The Rex Room
One of three private dining rooms named after and set aside for some of the city’s biggest Mardi Gras krewes. The walls show off photos and memorabilia from past parades, and the rooms welcome their krewes for private dining events.

 

The Proteus Room
Another krewe room, with more photos of the queens of Mardi Gras gracing the walls.

 

The Mystery Room
Located right at the end of this corridor, the Mystery Room served the locals well in the era of prohibition. The floors were covered in saw dust, so when the authorities came bursting in, the revellers would pour their drinks onto the floor and kick up the dust. And the name?

The protocol phrase at table when asked from whence it came was: “It’s a mystery to me.”

 

The Maison Verte Room
This beautiful room was presumably green at some stage, what with it’s name. Today, it’s a stunning white and cream, with a big regal chandelier and enormous framed mirror. The enormous windows let in a heap of natural light, and also open up onto a balcony overlooking the street below.

 

You can read more about the history of Antoine’s here, otherwise if you’re visiting the city, book a table for a delicious meal and take a tour of the place yourself!

Jackson Square, New Orleans

So, I was throwing it back to January 2015 in New Orleans yesterday on Instagram, and it got me thinking; I should have written a little something about Jackson Square by now! I’ll be back there in about 2 months (holy hell that’s coming up fast!), so no time like the present to reminisce a little…

 

It felt, at least to me, the French Quarter’s heart (no, not Bourbon Street). Jackson Square had something going on, whatever day or time we went by, so it obviously wasn’t just us that kept magnetically being drawn back to it.

Being a proudly patriotic part of he country, it’s named after Major General Andrew Jackson, who led Team America to victory over Team Britain in 1815’s Battle of New Orleans; thanks to Jackson, America got to keep New Orleans and the other territories it acquired with the Louisiana Purchase.

Jackson was also a well known slave trader who furthermore led a genocidal movement against Native Americans…

When you see images of Jackson Square, you’ll usually see this one, of the man’s statue sitting in front of St Louis Cathedral. It’s been sitting there through every hurricane since 1856, and due to Mr Jackson’s aforementioned extra curricular activities, is now having to stand through protests, too.

Politics aside, it truly does make for a formidable sight when you first find yourself standing before it. And as beautiful as the cathedral and gardens are, that’s not all there is.

By day, check out the sweet little shops and buy some fleur de lis shaped souvenirs and some praline to nibble on. Browse the artists’ displays and maybe check in with a tarot card reader. And stop to listen to the music!

By night, the day-time art crowd has packed up. Grab some beignets at Cafe Du Monde and head back into the square to listen to the stray musician, and get that iconic night time shot of the cathedral.

From my travel journal: New Orleans, 2015 (2)

IMG_6825

“Funerary and burial rites and traditions are a little different here, which allows many, many generations of a family to be entombed together. For a start, the tombs are all built above the ground, in order for them to stay buried; before this, floods frequently dislodged the dead and saw their caskets float on down the street. One year and one day after death, it is customary to retrieve the remains if the body – teeth and bones – place them in a bag, and toss that bag back into a deep pit below the family tomb. With temperatures scorching in summer, the bones are generally turned to dust within another year, allowing the bags of bones to pile up almost indefinitely. “Wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole” – that’s what’s used to retrieve the remains, or so we overheard from a tour guide in one of the cemeteries we visited.”