What better to do on a snowy weekend in tundra-stricken Chicago than to write about travel to somewhere warm?
A few weeks ago (mid-January) I traveled to New Orleans, La., for a volleyball tournament, but also to explore the culture and diversity of the city in the South. It was my first of a few planned volleyball trips in 2014 and it didn’t disappoint. Even though I reside in Chicago, I played with an Austin, Texas, team. One of my best friends from college, Luke, lives in Austin and invited me to join his team as a middle blocker/hitter. It was a nice reunion with Luke, whom I hadn’t seen since late 2012.
To make it a longer weekend, I took off Friday knowing that I had off Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Escaping the bitter cold of Chicago, I left Thursday evening and met Luke at MSY airport, took a taxi downtown to the team’s hotel, and met a great group of teammates. We were all intrigued by this “Bourbon Street” talk, so we couldn’t waste a night out! We walked a few blocks to party land, with dried alcohol, vomit and broken beads below our feet. We first stopped at Tropical Isle to enjoy a popular drink called a Hand Grenade. Making our way along the street, we were solicited for strip clubs, every bar’s best deal and to flash folks peeking over the balconies above. Our first night out showed us the fun side of New Orleans, but I definitely wanted to see its culture and history, too.
The next day, after struggling to get enough rest, the team got brunch at a place called Ruby Slipper. Being from Kansas, I was quite confused eating at a cafe in New Orleans named after the very prize of our girl Dorothy. We were able to pick up the Southern accent from our waiters, a slower way to talk for sure! After lunch, we decided to walk around the city and explore. On our way to the famous St. Louis Cemetery, one of my teammates spotted American Horror Story supreme Jessica Lang walking down Canal street! She didn’t want any pictures taken, but was kind to shake hands.
The walk to the cemetery wasn’t too far, but we made it before its early closing. The cemetery is protected by a tall fortress, of which you can see the giant graves peaking over. Walking through is almost a maze, or I guess you could call it a tour. Some stones were cracked and in disrepair, while others were new from the late 20th century. Some famous New Orleans natives like Marie Laveau are buried here, some with flowers at their feet and others with “XXX” on their tombs. The cemetery closed a while after we arrived, even with a few hours of sunshine left.
Next, we made our way toward the French Quarter but stopped at the Wax Museum. It depicted numerous events in American History, some wax figures looking way too real for comfort. The dark hallways made it seem like a haunted house, and there were definitely a few times it seemed that the eyes on the wax figures followed me.
It was a decent walk to the French Quarter, but it was neat to see the architecture on the way. We stopped at a souvenir shop and picked up some voodoo dolls, which we would later try to use on our volleyball opponents. Dolls in hand, we visited Marie Laveau’s home, where the famous story says she held and mistreated slaves. I need to read up on my NOLA history, because most of the stories are mysterious!
The French Quarter Market alongside the Mississippi River reminded me of River Market in Kansas City, with numerous food stands and street vendors. One of my teammates wanted to try alligator sausage, so we all took a taste. I didn’t mind it too much, but it was really hearty and chewy. We made our way alongside the Mississippi River and headed back toward the hotel after a long day.
The next day we began pool play at the volleyball tournament. We played teams from all over the U.S. and went 6-2 in pool play, earning the 4th-overall seed in our division (out of 30). The following day we begin bracket play without star-player Luke due to injury. We won our first game then ended up suffering losses in the next two. The tournament had a high-level of competition, and it was great to see some teams and talent I typically don’t see in Chicago.
Finishing a bit earlier than desired, we went out for a team dinner near Bourbon street and got some classic Cajun cuisine. Of course we hit up the area for some after-dinner drinks. Let’s just say New Orleans does not hold back and nothing is off limits!
A late night out made for a tough awakening in the morning to make it the airport. I said goodbye to my dear friend Luke and new friend Julian, hoping to see them at an upcoming tournament. On the way home, I looked out the airplane window as the ground faded from green marsh to brown fields to the white frozen tundra of Chicago.
The subzero temps already gripped the tunnel off the plane. This is home.