New Orleans with Kevin

The day after Christmas 2011, my brother and I had a conversation with my aunt and uncle about their recent vacation.  Looking at their iPad, they had a ton of awesome photos from the city of New Orleans.

“I am going there next year for work!”
“Really?” replied my brother, sounding interested.
“Yeah, it’s our summer kick-off event so we are going the beginning of June.  You should definitely come.”

And so I spent the rest of my spring begging my brother to make it happen.  Work is super busy for him and since he took his boss’s position last year and is studying for his master’s degree, I was thrilled when Kevin announced that he was able to go!

He booked a flight as soon as he had approval from work. Kevin’s birthday, in the middle of May, was the perfect opportunity for me to plan a few surprises.  In the mail, Kevin received a package from me detailing his New Orleans itinerary.  I got us a few excursions:

– Saturday was a Louisiana Bayou Swamp Tour

-Monday night was a Haunted Walking Tour (ghost stories, hauntings and voodoo)

So, we landed early Saturday morning, met in the airport, and checked into the Marriott New Orleans. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msyla-new-orleans-marriott/

We were starving for lunch so we ventured past the Harrah’s Casino, down Canal Street and a right onto Bourbon Street.  Our mission was to try all of the food that New Orleans was known for.  At the Blue Fish Grill, we tried spicy Gumbo and shrimp Po’ Boys and they were phenomenal.  We toured Canal Street and saw a live jazz band and art on the square.

Bourbon Street

Street Band

Local artists

At 3:30 PM, the shuttle picked us up outside our hotel and we were ready for our Bayou Tour in the Jean Laffite/ Barataria section of the Louisiana Bayou.

Setting off into the Bayou

We got to see so many alligators, up close and personal

Sunning himself on a fallen tree

our Cajun tour guide feeding marshmallows to the Alligators

The Swamp Tour was definitely a highlight.  That night we ate at a restaurant nearby the hotel.  Ironically enough, we had to try the alligator.  We realized that we pet and ate an alligator all in the same day.  It was good though- tasted sort of like chicken.

I learned a few things that day:

  1. September is hunting season for Alligators in Louisiana
  2. They have over a million alligators in the state alone and hand out tags for 100,000 every September. Have you seen the show Swamp People?
  3. Alligators are attracted to marshmallows because of their color and they float- making them a great tool for tour guides
  4. Alligators are smaller than crocodiles and have shorter snouts
  5. They can hold their breath under water for hours
  6. They lay thousands of eggs and each birth is either all males or all females
  7. Cajuns are descendants of French Canadians who immigrated to America a couple hundred years ago. That’s why there is so much French influence in Louisiana. Creoles are a mix of european and slaves who lived mainly on the Carribean islands and have a much wider variety of religions and languages. Cajuns are mostly Catholic, Creoles practice all kinds of religions including Voodoo, Santeria, and other religions rooted in African beliefs.

Sunday was set up day for my conference.  Kevin spent the summer of 2008 traveling around to many cities with me for work and so he helped out for a few hours.  In the afternoon we took a city tour.

Garden District full of huge, beautiful homes

Above ground cemetery

On the City tour we visited the Lower 9th Ward where the levee broke

rebuilt homes by Brad Pitt

Because we learned this, it is my social responsibility to share something with you that the American public was not made aware.

ING 4727 was a barge belonging to Ingram Barge Company that became infamous when it went over or through a levee and landed in a residential neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina.Shortly before Katrina, ING 4727 was under charter by Lafarge North America, having recently delivered a load of cement, and was reportedly empty just before the storm. ING 4727 was reportedly in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal in New Orleans when the storm hit.[2] Evidently not secured adequately for hurricane conditions, the barge found its way into the Industrial Canal (also known as the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal) where it went through (or caused—see below) a breach into the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood.

While many other vessels in southeast Louisiana broke their moorings during the storm, ING 4727 became particularly notable both due to its size and because of where it landed. Although its dimensions are standard for barges in commerce on the Mississippi River System (of which the Industrial Canal is a part), it is larger than most houses.[3] During and right after the storm, ING 4727 was moved around by currents in the flooded neighborhood, smashing houses and cars beneath it in an area of several city blocks. See more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ING_4727

We spent the rest of the week learning as much as we could about New Orleans.  It is beautiful there and it felt like we were in another country– it is so different from any other place that we have ever visited in the U.S. It is steamy hot there in June and it was evident that the city is still putting its pieces back together after Hurricane Katrina. 87,000 evacuees never returned to the city.  However employment rates are very high there, they heavily rely on tourism, and everyone is excited to host the super bowl. Because of this, they will have many roads repaved and repaired as soon as funding comes from the government.

Kevin and I ate etouffee, beignets, creole, jambalaya, alligator, po’ boys, crawfish, gumbo, pralines, collard greens, corn bread… and it was all so good, well except maybe the collard greens. You know it’s a good trip when you come home with a few extra pounds.  🙂

We visited jazz clubs, had Cafe du Monde beignets for dinner, ate dinner another night with my entire work crew outside on the waterfront, wore crazy beads, played the tambourine in a band, walked in front of the home where Eli and Peyton Manning grew up, and basically saw every inch of that city. While I worked Kevin toured the WWII museum and walked other city districts.

But my favorite part of the trip?  Spending the week with my brother.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans – June 2012

N’awlins baby!

Ballerina at the Annual Phoenix Summit in February

It’s never fun having a sinus infection on the road.  As my father-in-law informed me (he is also a pro-sinus infection sufferer) the flight may be a killer.  4 hours from IND to PHX… great. Man, was it unpleasant descending into Phoenix yesterday afternoon.

Phoenix is great, beautiful, just how I left it.  It is strange but this city and particularly this airport is like a 3rd or 4th home.  After coming here twice a year for 5 years, we sort of know our way around.  However, the 70 degree temperatures in February will always come as a welcomed surprise.  It was lovely walking around in my Pennsylvania Ballet t-shirt today (from the Nutcracker that I attended over Christmas holiday).

We are preparing for 2200 educators tomorrow! After set up day at the convention center, I walked over to the CVS here in downtown Phoenix. Luckily, my Dr’s office could call in a prescription for me since I am a repeat sinus infection patient.  🙂 Oh, the perks… totally kidding.

With my hair up in a bun, since we were doing some heavy lifting and intense set up preparation today, the pharmacist asked me a question that caught me off guard.  After realizing my hair-do and the aforementioned t-shirt, I realized why.

“Are you a dancer?”

“Yes.” I was so excited about my prescription (I guess) and was so surprised by that question. I can’t believe I lied!  I didn’t mean to and I certainly love to think of myself as a dancer but my 15 years of Nancy Mulford Ballet Studio is well behind me unfortunately. Although I do own Ballet shoes and occasionally work out to the NYC Ballet DVD featuring my favorite SJP. But seriously, I am not a dancer.

And so have you ever accidentally lied to a stranger and just had to go with it?

“Where are you performing?” asked the beautiful redhead behind the Phoenix CVS counter.

I could have said, the theater down the street but I just casually mentioned, “Oh, I am traveling for work, totally separate from my dancing.”  What a dork I am, I know you know this.

So as I fluttered and pirouetted home, to the Hyatt Regency, I was laughing so hard I had to call Mom just to tell her.

So, off to Scottsdale.  A few ladies that I work with and I are visiting the Fashion Square Mall.  This is a mall to die for.  Wish me luck. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottsdale_Fashion_Square

5:30 AM start tomorrow as we welcome 22oo educators to our Summit. I love Phoenix and the killer cacti.

Killer Cacti, Hey Dude