I’m not going to lie, we were a bit scared about going to New Orleans. We’d already had a near-miss with the accommodation when we discovered that the apartment I had booked was in a suburb at the centre of a gang war (as evidenced by the high number of tiny “bullet” and “sniper” logos on the Crime Rate per Suburb map I happened to stumble across). Even with that all behind us and new accommodation sorted, we were on edge. We had received multiple warnings about watching ourselves in New Orleans from family, friends and pretty much everybody else we bumped into who knew we were visiting the area. The heavy Police presence when we touched down in New Orleans Airport seemed to confirm the words of caution.
As it turned out, we were just fine. We ended up staying in the thick of the French Quarter with the thousands of other tourists who had descended on the city for the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. Our first full day in the city was spent wandering through the streets and visiting some of the major sites – Jackson Square, the French Market, the River Walk (where a woman was playing an organ on the top of a paddle steamer and looked to be powered by the steam boat itself; as you do!), Frenchmen St and Bourbon St. I also made Campbell queue for beignets at the iconic Du Monde Cafe. I have wanted to eat the donuts from here since I saw them on the movie “Chef” and, despite the 20 minute wait, they did not disappoint. Even Campbell was chuffed with his bag of donuts (we got separate bags given my policy of not sharing food where possible).
New Orleans is an interesting place – equal parts seedy and beautiful. The best parts of it were found by looking up past the tacky neon signs and daiquiri bars, to the beautiful architecture, balconies and rooftop gardens. We also got to see the amazing homes in the Garden District when we rode the St Charles streetcar – the longest continually running street car in the world. There are a number of celebrities who live in the area, including Sandra Bullock and John Goodman. According to the locals we spoke to, celebrities like living in New Orleans because “nobody gives a shit that they’re here or pays them any attention”. Apparently in New Orleans it’s old money that counts not flashy Hollywood types.
The weather during our stay was absolutely horrendous – it rained almost continually and by Saturday afternoon the streets were flooded. We rugged up on Saturday night and ventured out for dinner despite the weather. We decided to treat ourselves to an authentic Cajun dinner – catfish, bbq shrimp, fried oysters, hush puppies, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice with sausage ,and crawfish etoufee – all topped off with a strawberry daiquiri. The food was amazing, but perhaps a little hard on the system judging by the work-out the bathroom’s been getting since then!
Sunday morning we were off to Jazz Fest. We didn’t have high hopes for the day (the festival had been called off early on Saturday due to fears that performers on the main stages would get struck by lightning), but we’d paid for our tickets and we were damn well going! As predicted, it poured with rain all day long. The festival plays host to a number of different musical genres and artists who are world-famous, and those just starting out. We spent the majority of our time in the jazz and blues tents (out of the rain) and also the gospel tent, which was my surprise favourite. It’s hard not to join in the happy clappy action when the music is so uplifting (no comment on the lyrics) and the people are so excited to be performing it.
We wrapped up the day by waiting in the pouring rain to hear Neil Young play. We battled it out for close to an hour, by which time it was apparent he wasn’t going to play the classics we’d come to hear and was going to continue thrashing his new album with a band who looked like his grandsons. We decided to call it a day. We almost got hit by lightening on our way back to our shuttle (it struck about a hundred metres down the road, but was close enough to rattle our bones and prompt the man behind us to hit the deck and require an immediate undy change). All in all a pretty fitting end to a day dominated by the weather. Cheers!
Lessons from our time in New Orleans:
- According to the locals you can do anything in New Orleans from the waist up. We didn’t test that theory, but saw plenty of others giving it a nudge.
- Pace yourself on the local food. Our stomachs are not cut out for it. This does not bode well for India.
- Do not wear a white t.shirt under a Walmart raincoat. Walmart raincoats are not actually waterproof and, when the rain soaks through your jacket, you will be left unable to take it off for fear of being mistaken for a contestant in a wet t.shirt competition.
Yesterday we said ‘goodbye’ to New Orleans and picked up a car (Kelly the Kia) for the two hour drive to Gulfport, Mississippi. It was great drive characterised by bayou, trailer parks, pawn shops and turtles on the road. Gulfport and the surrounding towns are beautiful fishing communities peppered with amazing homes and working ports and marinas. It is where I imagine Forrest Gump would moor “Jenny” when he and Lieutenant Dan were taking a break from shrimping.
Next stop, Miami!