28 February – 10 March 2019
It is impossible to accurately describe Mardi Gras unless you have experienced it with a local.
Mardi Gras is not what I have seen on TV over the years. Well, it probably looks like that down in the renowned French Quarter among the tourists and drunks, but Mardi Gras is definitely not like that in other areas of the city. It still is a crazy experience but not ridiculously crazy.
How did I see Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras was people of all ages screaming alongside immense, creatively designed floats begging for junk. And everyone is having a wonderful time.
After 13 parades, 375+ floats, and a ton of beads, I am a pro.
For this year’s festivities, I visited my friend who lives in the Garden District. Thus, we were within a short walk for all the Uptown parades. I learned so much. For one, festivities go on and on and on. There is not one parade but many parades, not a few floats but scores of floats. It was a plethora of floats raining beads, plush toys, medallions, scarves, frisbees, koozies, toilet paper, tote bags, footballs, socks, candy, cups, more beads and bigger beads.
These are not simple floats. They are creative political and social statements, lights, camera and plenty of action. Each are decorated to the hilt support the parade’s theme, be it Egyptian mythology, dictators of banana-republics, films made in the state, or health care. Floats carry honored riders, all masked and exuberant, enjoying the evening and the free-flowing alcohol. It is their honor to be there. Krewes, those who create, support and ride the float, spend a year preparing and an evening tossing trinkets to and at the crowds swarming their float. It is revelry beyond description. And it seems one never has enough beads.
Parades go on for weeks within the neighborhoods bordering the French Quarter of New Orleans. There was no need to venture into the Quarter for their version of revelry. A few blocks from our abode on St. Charles there were 2-3 parades a day. That’s a lot of screaming and beads.
Parades were a plethora of themes: Muses, Hermès, Le Krewe D’Etat, Morpheus, Tucks, Thoth, Bacchus, Proteus, and Orpheus. For a change, we planned ahead and parked the car outside the “box” in order to attend a Mid-City parade. The “box” is the streets adjacent to the parade routes where all traffic is shut down for the duration of the parades.
Mid-City’s Endymion parade is worth the drive and parking challenge (it helped we parked at her son’s house). Endymion is Mardi Gras’ largest parade with 37 floats and thousands of riders. People prepare by setting up tents and chairs, BBQs and bars the night before. The krewe’s motto is “Throw ’til it Hurts.” I’m am not clear who it hurts more, as being hit my beads can sting. The parade, rolling for the first time in 1967, features the longest float of all the parades, the Pontchatrain Beach featuring nine sections and over 300 feet long. Endymion rolls down Canal Street and through the Superdome where they later sponsor their party and concert. The Krewe brags of over 15 million throws along a parade route of some 3.5 miles. I suppose that is where the “Throw ’til it Hurts” comes about.
The grand finale of Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday with the popular parades of Zulu and Rex. Neither should be missed. Zulu is particularly interesting for its costumes, history and traditions. Men marched in this parade as early as 1901 and the tradition has grown into one of the favorite parades of the season with those along the parade route hoping to catch one of their popular coconut throws.
It would be very hard to pick a favorite parade. Each parade has a personality. Do not expect to go to Mardi Gras and attend one parade. Locals and visitors attend several parades, scream a lot, catch beads and become part of tradition and history.
NOLA has the helpful “Parade Tracker” App which keeps details the theme, route, timing and best of all the “throws.” It is important the check what is being tossed to the crowds. Each Krewe buys their own throws (an expensive privilege for which there is a waiting list years long.) A special edition newspaper and online links explains the history and tradition behind the parades.
The liquor does seem to flow. There is far less drunkenness than I expected, but I was also attending the local neighborhood parades. The French Quarter is an entirely different experience. I found the people of the Uptown and Mid-City routes very generous and cordial. There was the occasional total ass but alcohol does that to the best of people. Everyone wants those beads, we all find ourselves begging for more. We suffer the indignities of not only begging for a dime store feather boa, but being literally pelted with beads and cups.
Canopies, BBQs, bars, and even port-a-potty tents line the parade routes. Beads and toilet paper flutter from the trees. The street overflows with paper, cups, plastic, and trash. Evidently, even little kids know you never retrieve anything from the street. It becomes a game of toss and catch or duck.
Floats, more brass bands than I could imagine, horses, Flambeaux (flaming torches that have been carried in the parades since 1857), dancers, and the wonderful Laissez Boys all create an atmosphere of revelry. It is all in fun and lots of fun.
A local can show you the ropes, help you understand the history and tradition of Mardi Gras. It is up to you to have the fun.
January 12, 2562 BE
There is no guarantee that someone will like travel.
When I moved to California 50 years ago, I had never been west of Des Moines. I had no idea what to expect other than it was my decision and my new job. So, if it was a bad decision, I could just move back? Probably it would have not been that easy.
When I first traveled in 1972, some 84 countries and seven continents ago, I had no clue what to expect. I had never traveled out of the country, let alone on my own. In both cases, I made the right decisions for myself and have never regretted the adventures.
Last Christmas, I gave my niece, Mikaela, the gift of travel. “Anywhere you want to go,” I said to this novice, 15-year-old potential tourist. I was hoping for something easy, familiar, comfortable. She chose Thailand. Thailand? Are you sure? Yes, she was and thus, Christmas of 2018 we traveled to Thailand. It was full of surprises for the both of us.Read more…
3-6 January 2019
Woman cannot live by culture alone.
There are various ways to get the 175 miles south from Kanchanaburi to Pattaya Beach. Trains depart for Bangkok with transfers from there. Buses and vans will accommodate. We have been there and done that. I opt for air-conditioning, a comfortable ride and guaranteed seat; a taxi service wins my day. Taxis, unlike in western countries, are fairly reasonable in Thailand. No exchanges, no transfers, just door-to-door service, for about $100. I chose convenience as we are driven south to Pattaya Beach, located on the east side of the Gulf of Thailand. Read more…
2 January 2019 Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Today we stock up on little ripe bananas and drive out to visit the Big Guys and Gals of the Thai jungles.
Eco-friendly tourism is popular. Recognizing the impact that travel and tourism has on the environment, more groups are becoming ecofriendly both with the environment and the creatures struggling to live within it. Tourism can love an environment to death. So too with its animals. As an individual I may not be able to eliminate cruel practices, but I can make efforts to support more humane treatment of animals. Today, it is the elephant of Thailand who captures our attention.
Minimize impact, build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
31 December 2018 – 2 January 2019
What does New Year’s Eve look like in Thailand? We are about to find out.
Jane, our hostel host, assisted us by arranging a direct van to transport us north to Kanchanaburi. There were several options from bus, mini van, car hire or train. Each has its positives but it is the time factor that makes up our minds as travel time can range from 2 to 6 hours. We choose the quickest transport and arrange for a van to drive us 80 miles northwest to the small city of Kanchanaburi. We have a seat to ourselves in a packed van that speeds us north for less than $5. From the bus station, we take a short tuk-tuk ride to our hotel. We are getting to be pros at this transport thingee. Read more…
28-30 December 2018
One reason Bangkok and Thailand are so popular is the reasonable, if not cheap, price of travel. If one doesn’t get hung up on deciphering the language, travel in Thailand is pretty great.
My niece and I are fortunate to be lodging with Nuj who is so kind as to drive us to the Bang Bamru Rail station just north of our hotel. There we board a train traveling southeast to Phetchaburi, located at the very north end of the Thai Peninsula. The train takes about 2 hours to travel the 100 miles. Our ticket cost 31 baht. That is less than a dollar! The station workers all seem to adopt us, making sure we get on the right train. And this trip, I get a seat.
23-27 December 2018
Most every travel list of places not to miss includes Bangkok. My first visit to Thailand was in January 2015. I enjoyed myself but was not effusive with praise. This week, I revisit Bangkok and during my trip I will see this snarled, smoky and be-templed city through the eyes of my 16-year-old niece, Mikaela. The monuments and palaces have not changed but I expect my perception and experiences may, for this trip we travel solo. Read more…