For college students, Spring Break a week that is a break from the daily grind of college. It is a week that comes right after midterms that allows students to kick back, relax and perhaps travel, enjoying the warmer weather that lies just around the corner. Popular college spring break destinations include Panama City and Orlando Florida, the Bahamas and Mexico. However, this year the infamous massive celebration held annually in New Orleans called Mardi Gras fell over our spring break and it was the destination I chose to spend my 21st birthday with some close college and high school friends.
We stayed in New Orleans from March 5-9, and the journey from Charlottesville was daunting, a 16-hour, 982-mile drive crossing the great states of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. The trip consisted of four iPods, numerous energy drinks and countless Cracker Barrel and Waffle House sightings. My friends and I left Charlottesville on Friday, March 4 around 11p.m. and arrived in New Orleans blasting a plethora of Britney Spears and Lil Wayne (Louisiana’s very own) around 2p.m. the next day. Unfortunately, there was a major rainstorm that was moving through Louisiana at the time with flash floods appearing left and right, hi-beams were a must when driving. Upon pulling into the garden district, the streets were flooded with garbage cans floating away in water almost knee deep.
That night after settling into our hotel, and the waters subsiding as quickly as they arrived we set out immediately for a dinner spot in the historic French Quarter and introduced ourselves to the local cuisine. We found a restaurant that was relatively uncrowded and went immediately for the seafood gumbo. The green, soupy, salty dish was quite delicious that left me slurping every last drop from my bowl. Immediately after this, we headed to the infamous Bourbon Street to experience, and perhaps participate in, the debauchery that makes New Orlean’s Mardi Gras famous.
The street was packed to the max with people, like sardines in a can. Sifting through the crowd was tough as you could get easily separated from your group, as we frequently did. Amongst the noise and ruckus on the street, there were scores and scores of people on balconies, tossing beads onto people down below who caught their attention. The beads came in all shapes and colors, making my neck very vibrant and often odd looking, but nonetheless awesome! The bars and clubs were very inviting and did not have many long lines (probably due to the sheer number available). The festivities seemingly never stopped, as you could always find a crowded spot in and around the French Quarter up until about 4 a.m! The millions of tourists were, for the most part, extremely friendly as we often bumped into students from UVA who recognized our faces or alumni who recognized our attire. It was a fantastic experience that I feel everyone should experience before it’s too late.
Overall, my time in New Orleans was mesmerizing. Sampling the cuisine, which included alligator po-boys, shrimp creole and jambalaya consisting of rabbit among other meats, was simply magnificent. The food definitely lived up to the hype. Touring the French Quarter and the less touristy but equally inviting Frenchman Street during the day was great. If I were to recommend some areas and restaurants to visit, it would definitely be Jackson Square and Frenchman Street as well as my favorite New Orleans restaurants named Coops and the legendary Café Du Monde where I bumped into some high school friends in the wee hours of the morning! I urge you, if you were not one of the many UVA students who attended Mardi Gras this year, go there the next opportunity you get. You missed out on the great parade floats, food, the New Orleans specialty drink the “Hand Grenade” and overall ambiance of magnificent New Orleans. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a week to let loose and enjoy my 21st birthday.