“Girls you need to get out of here. This is the time when the only people out are those with no homes to go to.”
Usually it is uncommon to start a story with the end but our trip to New Orleans deserves just that. It was our final night and we decided to go big or go home. The home bit happened decidedly far too late. It was 5am and my friend and I were on Bourbon Street having left Razoo in search of food. We were not to know however that the streets would be empty bar a few raving drunks, a couple of tourists worried about our safety and a homeless man trying to sell us “his daughter’s CDs”. The Uber driver that saved us told us that in actual fact the guy probably doesn’t even have a daughter and that the CDs were most likely stolen. Perhaps we got carried away after drinking a famous hand grenade in Tropical Isle or maybe it was the Cuban men dancing with us on stage that made us lose track of time – either way Bourbon Street at 5.00am on a Saturday morning is not somewhere I’d choose to be found again.
“Take a right on Esplanade Avenue and you’ll get there when you get there.”
Back to the beginning, where the wonderful trip all began. Bleary eyed and slightly worse for wear we arrived at our hotel in Treme, New Orleans. It was late January and a blissful 25 degrees Celsius out, a wonderful change to the -14 we were used to in Wisconsin. Not wanting to waste any time at all we freshened up and were on our way out the door with instructions from the hotel desk staff as to how to get to the centre of the NOLA action. Bourbon Street was in fact the first stop on our list. Immediately it was clear as to why this street is so famous in New Orleans. Jazz bars were on every corner, Po’boys offered at every restaurant, daiquiri deals advertised on every sign and strip clubs lined each side of the street. In some ways it was like walking into a 1940’s version of Magaluf. Eventually we found a small courtyard dedicated to the famous jazz players of days past, bought ourselves a beer and relaxed into our seats listening to the live jazz band. It was a peaceful first morning.
“Please can we come back for more tomorrow?”
Before arriving in southern Louisiana we had watched a fantastic film called Chef featuring Jon Favreau and Sofia Vergara. If ever there is a time to watch this film it is just before you visit the Deep South. Most prominently featured in the film is Cafe Du Monde and we knew that it had to be a hit on our list. Beignets – or french doughnuts – are a New Orleans classic and you can’t get them anywhere better than at Cafe Du Monde. They are basically warm doughnuts completely covered in icing sugar. It is very difficult not to make a mess of your black skinny jeans but the sacrifice is so worth it and at only $3.50 a pop for three it didn’t even break the bank. The hot chocolate wasn’t bad either. Supposing I were to be in New Orleans again for only 15 minutes Cafe Du Monde is where I’d go.
“Doesn’t Sandra Bullock live here?”
From the cemetery we went on to visit different places around the Garden District including a house where a scene from Django Unchained was shot, the house where Sandra Bullock lives, John Goodman’s residence, a supposedly haunted house and a school. One house has been up on the market for years at the reasonable price of over $8million.
“If you really want to experience the Home of Jazz you need to head over to Frenchman St.”
Frenchman St. is only a 10 minute walk from Bourbon St. and it is seen as the more authentic street in the French Quarter. We headed there for an evening of casual drinks and live music and it wasn’t to disappoint. All of the acts were fantastic and clearly in love with the music they made. It was my first true exposure to the world of jazz music and it was wonderful. The Spotted Cat was my favourite bar. We took a seat on the floor at the front and watched as the man on the saxophone pushed his lungs out through his mouth. It was a wonderful experience for the ears. The action wasn’t just occurring indoors either as hundreds of people lined the street and buskers played for all to hear. Everyone was friendly and everyone was there to have fun; I just wish I’d known the songs so I could sing along.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is my favourite baby alligator T-Boy!”
After a very interesting visit to the Louisiana State Museum and the Hurricane Katrina exhibition (highly recommended) it was time for us to load onto the bus for the Louisiana Swamp Tour we signed up for with Grey Line. They took us to an area of swampland called Jean Lafitte National Park. Here we waited for our boat and were introduced to one of the last 15 albino alligators in the entire world. At first we thought it had to be fake as it wasn’t moving an inch but then, as it’s leg moved forward and its eye creeped open, we were convinced. It was such a strange thing to come across in what felt like the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t long before we were cruising in our boat in the heart of the swamps. The landscapes were truly extraordinary and the tour guide was very knowledgeable. He even took us to the area of swamp where Disney had taken inspiration for The Princess and the Frog. It was however a very cold day and it was clear that in warmer weather we would have been able to see more than we did. Grey Line also do a tour of the slave plantations around New Orleans and perhaps, in the winter months, that is the better choice.
The highlight of the trip however was when our guide brought out his pet baby alligator who he had fondly named T-Boy. T-Boy was three years old and had been rescued when he was very small. He was due to be released back into the wild within a couple of years. As a treat we all got to hold little T-Boy.
“Apparently hand grenades are one of the most lethal drinks in America.”
Boy was that right. Here we reach our final night. All four of us were ready to hit the town, we’d pre-drinked all we could from a box of wine, filled our stomachs up on pasta and were stumbling along Bourbon Street looking for where to start. For the whole trip my friend and I had been determined to try a daiquiri. After all they were advertised everywhere. Tropical Isle is where we chose and little were we to know that the $10 drink we received would send us all over the edge. One of my friends ended up chatting to an old lady for half an hour, another fell asleep on the table and the one that I had depended on most to pull through was threatening to go home. I thought the night would be ruined. The hand grenades had potentially won out. It was not to be. After a couple of pep talks, some singing of I Will Survive and a short boogy we were back on track and I can honestly say New Orleans nightlife truly does live up to its reputation. We had an extraordinary time, dancing away both on and off stages, and despite some mishaps and some creepy boys we had a really great night. Until the end of course. For that please revert back to the top.
“So what’s the verdict?”
New Orleans is the one of the best places I’ve been to in America, second only to New York. It has the biggest cultural influences I’ve ever seen anywhere in the States and the architecture alone is enough to earn a visit. The people are friendly, the music is incredible, the mix between old and new hits the perfect balance and the city seems to have a hum to it that I can’t describe in words. One of the best parts has to be the food; make sure beignets, jambalaya, gumbo and po’boys all get ticked off your list. I couldn’t even cover most of the things we got up to in just this one blog post. Once you hit New Orleans it will be hard for anywhere else to meet your expectations, I can’t even imagine what it was like there during Mardi Gras.