I'm known for being the person to ask you where, when and what time you were born within five minutes of meeting you. As a lover of astrology, one of my hobbies is to collect people's birth charts in order to analyze them. Because of my love of astrology and the research that comes with it, I stumbled upon the phenomena of what's called a "Saturn's Return," which is when the planet of Saturn returns to the same spot it was when you were born, and when a person's adult life starts getting real. It usually starts when someone turns 27, and goes into full swing around the age of 29 and 30. Since I was turning 27 on August 19, I was excited to see what my Saturn's Return has in store for me. To celebrate, I decided to travel to the city of New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) by myself to experience the culture, eat good food, and feel its all around vibe.
As I landed in NOLA an hour later and a little more hungover than I expected due to multiple shots from my bartender Peaches at Papi's Cuban and Caribbean Grill at the Atlanta airport, I took my Lyft into the city and realized that I couldn't go out and explore like I wanted to the first night because I was so tired, so instead I whipped out my phone to begin my favorite activity of checking off restaurants I've bookmarked on Yelp. My first stop was Acme Oyster House that I heard was known for their chargrilled oysters. I had no opinion of oysters, and I only had them once, so I thought what better place than New Orleans to try them. My hotel was located in the middle of all the action, so it was just about a 10 minute walk. I was hesitant when I first got in line to put my name down on the waiting list, as the line was wrapped around the corner, but was overjoyed when I was able to get in immediately and sit at the bar since it was just me. The staff was friendly and shucked oysters right in front of me, and I ordered a prickly pear margarita, fried crab claws, and chargrilled oysters. It was a great way to end the night after an exhausting day of traveling.
It rained every day, but that didn't stop me from enjoying myself. The next day I planned to explore and go shopping, and then hang out with my friend from college, Gabrielle, a member of the band Sexy Dex and the Fresh. I had cash burning a hole in my pocket and I was ready to waste money at the Riverwalk Outlet Mall, but unfortunately, I didn't find anything on all four levels. Feeling defeated, I ordered a daiquiri from Fat Tuesday and got my nails and toes done to waste time and to hide from the torrential rain that had started. Once I met up with Gabrielle, I hung out with her friends and got the chance to explore New Orleans outside of the touristy part, and had a ton of fun having a water balloon fight, taking tequila shots, making new friends, and going to house parties. I also learned of a New Orleans tradition of pinning a dollar bill to your shirt in honor of your birthday, and throughout the night, I made 22 dollars. I also got the chance to meet the sweltering humidity of Louisiana, much more thicker and swampier than that I'm used to in Virginia, but had a great time laughing, dancing in backyards to Selena, eating Peruvian food, and talking under the stars.
On my birthday I rose from my bed excited to turn 27. I like getting older because sometimes it feels like I'm unlocking an achievement. I strolled along the street to go to Buffa's for brunch on the recommendation of a bellhop from my hotel, and during my walk I took in the scenery of the colorfully bright houses and blue skies, while enjoying the warm sun on my skin. At Buffa's, I was greeted with five dollar mimosa specials, a free shot of Jameson with the bartender in honor of my birthday, and dined on grits, cheesy eggs, bacon, and a homemade buttermilk biscuit. From first glance, it seemed as though Buffa's was only the size of an average bar, but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered an entire backroom of diners enjoying live jazz during brunch. I hung out for a bit more at the bar, and then headed out to the middle of the city for a Buzz NOLA bike tour. Arriving a little earlier than planned, I killed time at The Ruby Slipper next door and slipped in ahead of the three hour wait once again to sit at the bar and sip on their Ruby Slipper mimosa served to me by a fellow VCU alum. When I headed back to Buzz NOLA, my tour guide pinned a dollar on my shirt in honor of my birthday (I may or may not have told them it was my birthday in the comment section when booking my spot), and spent the next four hours viewing NOLA via bike, riding through the historically black neighborhood Tremé, exploring the mausoleums of the St. Louis Cemetery Number 3, and pausing for Jack and Cokes with my new friends from British Airways in New Orleans City Park. An unexpected flat tire gave me less time to prepare for my next birthday celebration, dinner on the Steamboat Natchez, but I arrived there on time and enjoyed the sunset on the Mississippi River with a cup of Merlot in my hand, talking to another solo black female traveler about how we're both enjoying our time.
Dinner on the Steamboat Natchez started at 7pm and I was welcomed with a birthday card and greeted by a couple from Hampton, Virginia, who was curious as to who I was. We spent the rest of the time on the cruise getting to know each other as we periodically got up to get food from the buffet which included seafood alfredo, prime rib, green beans, and delicious gumbo. The Hampton couple and I ended our tour with shots of Jameson and bananas foster, and then it was off to my final destination of the night: outdoor music at Bacchanal Wine.
I arrived at Bacchanal at the suggestion of a friend, and fell in love with it as soon as I stepped in. The premise of Bacchanal is that you choose your own wine, meat and cheeses, and then they plate it for you and serve it to you. I walked up to the counter stating that I liked sweet reds, was given two options, and chose Brachetto D'Acqui by Marco Bonfante, a deliciously sweet and bubbly red that capped the end of a perfect birthday. I enjoyed my charcuterie plate of chicken liver pâté, prosciutto, warm bread, olives, nuts and fruit jam spreads and soaked up the live band and warm air. I even made a little friend in the form of an opossum who a got a little too close for my comfort and I left shortly after. Since I was the only single one outside, I really didn't want to end my birthday as the girl who shared her food with an opossum. I went to bed at 10:45pm full and happy, excited for what was to come with my 27th year.
I spent my last day in New Orleans at the Whitney Plantation to honor the ancestors who died due to the horrors of slavery. I learned a lot about the day to day lives of slaves who lived there and the plantation itself, such as how the life expectancy of slaves sent there was 10 years, and how it was known for harvesting sugar, which was a meticulously grueling process the slaves had to do for 12 hours a day. It was a somber experience, but I believe I am a better person for seeing how the wealth of Louisiana was made off of the backs of slave labor.
When I came back to the city, I strolled down Bourbon Street with a Hurricane, a suggestion from my boss, to kill time before I headed down to the Blind Pelican for their happy hour special of buy one get one free rail drinks and quarter oysters. This is where I discovered my love of raw oysters, and ordered 2 plates of a dozen along with an appetizer of fried green tomatoes with shrimp and remoulade. I made friends with the bartenders and one of them recognized me as a fellow Southerner by my manners. I made another friend at the bar, and suggested Bacchanal again where we spent the rest of the night enjoying the live music and getting to know each other more. I ended the night a little after midnight and the next morning enjoyed my last hours in NOLA with a bloody mary made with house infused bacon vodka and catfish and grits at The Ruby Slipper.
The beginning of my 27th year in New Orleans was a great trip of self discovery in addition to a deeper love for solo travel. NOLA has officially stolen my heart with its rich culture and people, and in the future, I look forward to visiting more often and finding new ways to fall in love with it every time.