When most people think of Mardi Gras, they think of the craziness that happens on Bourbon St. There is way more involved with Mardi Gras in New Orleans than that. The first Mardi Gras in New Orleans happened on March 2,1699. The parades in New Orleans are set up and put on by groups called Krewes. The first krewe, Comus, was formed in 1856. Mardi Gras became a state holiday in 1875. 1972 was the last year that any major parade went thru the French Quarter, most of them skirt around the edge up and down Canal St. now. The traditional colors are Mardi Gras are green, gold, and purple. Green for power, gold for faith, and purple for justice. The colors were used in the first parade of the Rex krewe in 1872. There are now about 77 krewes in New Orleans that hold parades throughout the Carnival season. The parades have a lot of different throws of beads, stuffed animals, and doubloons that are considered collectors items.
Bourbon St. is where most of the tourists head to during Mardi Gras. Bourbon St. was just a residential area up until the 1880’s, when the first red light district popped up along Basin St. By 1950, there were at least 50 different burlesque, striptease, and exotic establishments. In 1962, a new district attorney Jim Garrison started to clean up Bourbon St., shutting down a lot of establishments that were involved in prostitution and overcharging alcohol. When Mayor Moon Landrieu was elected in 1970, he turned Bourbon St. into a pedestrian mall and “Disneyfied” it.
Bourbon St. is where you want to go if you want your “Girls Gone Wild” version of Mardi Gras. There are a lot of people offering beads and there are also a lot of people with cameras and phones out for those that do decide to partake in the exchange. You also have to watch your step walking around on the street. There are potholes up and down Bourbon St. that do get filled up with various liquids, and you do not want to step in it and have leave your shoes/socks/pants behind in New Orleans! During the day, it is pretty easy to move up and down Bourbon St., but at night, it can be very difficult with the crowds of people. I recommend traveling up a side street like Royal or Dauphine to get to where you really want to be on Bourbon St. Being on a balcony on Bourbon St. is amazing anytime of year, more so over the Mardi Gras season. Most of these balconies are rented out to private parties, but you might be able to pay a small cover charge to get up on one if you really wanted to!
I have never stayed up late enough to see it, but the traditional end to the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans is a mounted squad of New Orleans police officer push everyone out of upper Bourbon St. where most of the tourists hang out at. This happens at the stroke of Midnight of Ash Wednesday. I highly recommend everyone at least experience Carnival season in New Orleans at least once in your lives. It is a huge party you really have to see it to believe it!
Mardi Gras is an amazing time of year to visit New Orleans. Mardi Gras , also called Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, refers to events of the Carnival celebrations which begins on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.
On the way from the airport to downtown, I highly recommend that you stop at Beads by the Dozen
. They are a huge shop that sells beads, throws, and anything Mardi Gras or party related. We left the store with cases of throw beads and big beads as well! We stayed at the Sheraton downtown
right on Canal St. You have to watch the timing of your arrival and the parade schedule, as you could be caught up and very heavy traffic and be forced to walk a couple of blocks due to road closures. We ended up getting lucky and getting upgraded to a suite overlooking Canal St. and downtown New Orleans.
We were very hungry after a long flight to New Orleans. One of my favorite spots to grab a quick bite is Coop’s Place
. Coop’s Place is a Creole restaurant that serves up Cajun grub, fried chicken and drinks in a busy no-frills space that’s open late. I had the Cajun fried chicken
and it was very plump and flavorful! Also down the street on Decatur is a favorite in New Orleans, Cafe du Monde
. Founded in 1862, this cafe has kept it simple, serving cafe au laits and beignets as its staple. The cafe is open 24/7, so it’s always a good pit stop any time of day! Beignets are french fried fritters, served up with lots of powdered sugar. Each order comes with 3 beignets.
Near Cafe du Monde, is Jackson Square. Jackson Square was built in 1721, modeled after Place des Vosges in Paris. This was also the place where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803, making Louisiana a US territory. Right behind Jackson Square is St. Louis Cathedral. St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest Cathedral in the United States, the first church on the site was built in 1718.
The next morning, we got on a tour bus and headed north to the Umbria area of Italy. The first stop was a winery outside of Orvieto called Cantina Custodi. Cantina Custodi is a small family winery on 70 hectares that is dedicated to making wine and olive oil. We were given a tour of the grounds and winery, while sipping on a few different type of wine! After a few hours at the winery, we made our way into the town of Orvieto. Orvieto, founded in 1290, sits on a volcanic plug. It is home to a huge Roman Catholic cathedral finished in 1591. There are lots of small shops and restaurants in the city center by the cathedral. It was difficult to find a restaurant open in the middle of the week in February, but we eventually ran into Osteria da Mamma Angela, a small local Italian restaurant. Once we filled up on more pasta, we headed back down to check out the city of Civita.
Civita is an interesting little town. It was founded by the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago. It also sits atop a plateau of friable volcanic tuff. It is constantly in danger as parts of the plateau have fallen off due to erosion. Its population can vary between 12 people in the winter to 100 in the summer. There is a really long footbridge that you have to take to enter Civita, it is the only way in or out of town. Once you are in, it feels like you have gone back in time hundreds of years. The old architecture has withstood the test of time here. We only had a few minutes of daylight to check out the streets of this mysterious town before we had to hop back on the bus to Rome.
Once we got into Rome, we took one of the local Trenitalia train lines to get to our hotel. The one-way fare was only 8 euro for the hour and 20-minute ride with a transfer. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Central Park, which is located conveniently near a local bus and train stop. I ended up getting a room with an amazing view of St. Peter’s Basilica. I didn’t have time to admire the view, as we had to rush over to the Colosseum for our tour reservations! We took an Uber right to the Colosseum for about 35 euros.
The entrance and tour package allows you to skip the line, which was a huge help. The third ring tour was 12 euros, plus a 2-euro reservation fee. You still must buy a ticket to get in the Colosseum, which was 9 euros. The total package was 23 euros. Once you pass security, you must stop by a ticket booth to collect a physical ticket and get a sticker for the tour. The third ring/underground tour was amazing. They let you out onto the arena floor where the gladiators fought. The tour also lets you down into the underground tunnels, as well as the top tier of the Colosseum. Hang on to your ticket into the Colosseum, as that is good the Roman Forum and Palatine area close by! You could attempt to walk it all in one day, or break it out over 2 days; but the ticket only allows one entrance into each landmark.
We decided on doing the Roman Forum the same day as the Colosseum. It is A LOT of walking around the old ruins of the Forum and Palatine hills, but it’s a sight to see one of the oldest city centers in the world. After a few hours of walking around the ruins, we walked up to another famous landmark, Trevi fountain. Trevi fountain is the largest Braque fountain in Rome. It was built in 1762 to supply Rome with water via the Acqua Vergine. Lots of tourists throw coins into the fountain. The proper way according to the 1954 movie Three Coins in the Fountain is for the coin to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. It is said in the movie that if you make a wish to return to Rome once you throw the coin, you will.
Once I made my wishes at the fountain, we headed back to the hotel via subway to freshen up and meet up with a big travel group at Tonnarello. Tonnarello is an excellent Italian restaurant near the Tiber river. I had the cheese and pepper pasta, a traditional Roman dish. The pasta was good for the 8.50 euros it cost!