New Orleans; NOLA, The Big Easy, The Crescent City, The City that Care Forgot, Paris of the South or Hollywood South.
The town was settled in 1718 by a Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville on a sharp bend in the Mississippi River and what a colourful history it has had. It has been governed by the French, then the Spanish, then the French and then finally as part of Louisiana sold to the United States.
To call this city colourful is really doing it an injustice, but I cant think of a better way to describe it. The stories that have come out of this city are fascinating and some mighty hard to believe.
The French Quarter with all its colourful Spanish influenced buildings, many of them are still the original buildings that the Spanish built while they were governing New Orleans, after the great New Orleans fire in 1788.
The French Quarter is home to Bourbon Street, named after the French ruling family, The House of Bourbon, not the liquor. Bourbon Street (and the streets surrounding it) sleep till midday then slowly awake as the afternoon progresses into a full-on street party every night of the week.
There are large number of bachelorette’s and their entourages drunkenly falling over themselves in their gaudy Bridal T/Shirts, veils and sashes, (we had been warned this was the Bachelorette party capital and they were right). I am sure there were just as many Bachelor (Buck) parties in the midst, they just weren’t as obvious.. (as drunk). I was quick to learn (often) … “white girls can’t twerk”.
On that twerky note, did you know that twerking originated here in New Orleans in the late 1980’s. There was one bar that had a twerking competition each night, believe me some of those girls could twerk.
Being able to wander the streets and just pop into any bar to listen to live music was amazing. The noise of traditional Jazz, Pop, Blues, Rock and lots more all loudly blasting and from the bars, mingling with the sounds of the street performers, including the numerous young kids drumming on upturned 20 litre buckets. Or the boys tap-dancing on the metal drain covers. The taps on their shoes are tin lids with tacks in them which they stand on to make tap shoes.
The smells from the numerous food vendors as well as that of crowds of people (aided with the heat and humidity), the homeless, those partying, eating, singing, dancing and… I am sure you can use your imagination for more. It felt like every one of my senses were being assaulted. I loved every minute of it.
As people-watching is one of my favourite past times, I found that not just Bourbon Street, but all of the French Quarter gave me so much to look at and watch. At times I felt just didn’t know where to look first. The saying that “anything goes” I think was coined for this place. The art, the people, the buildings, the history.
During the day we toured the French Quarter, as I have said, it sleeps in the mornings and the street workers come in and clean. (They actually disinfect the streets and by midday, it is all ready to party again). Without the crowds we could enjoy the architecture.
No visit to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to the Cemetery’s. With New Orleans and in particular the French Quarter anything up to 6 feet below sea level, it really wasn’t a good idea to bury their dead in the ground. Not unless you want Great Aunt Delphine popping up to say hi every time there was a flood, which happened often.
We visited the famous grave of the Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau who died in 1881. What an interesting person she was. A women who as a product of her time made the most of any situation she found herself in. Voodoo is not just about the magic which we all hear about or the voodoo dolls. As always, when you start learning about the history behind these cultures there is so much more to it. Though I have to admit that a few times I contemplated visiting a priestess to see if there was a spell they could give me for longevity.
A little bit of trivia; the grave of Marie Laveau has more visitors a year than Elvis’s grave. Apart from her grave, the cemetery’s are fascinating with so many others of interest buried within their walls.
While here we had a number of food styles we wanted to try, starting off with the Beignets at Cafe de Monde. What a madhouse. When we got to the Cafe there were queues out the door and down the street. I was not thrilled at having to stand in the queue in the heat, but the street performers and the crowds around me was enough to keep me entertained and amazingly the queue actually moved relatively fast.
The Beignets here lived up to all the hype we have heard about them. Delicious and if not covered in layers on layers of icing sugar, would certainly become a favourite snack. I do have to admit that the blood sugar levels hit a high that day and after the Beignets and the Cafe Au Late, I really felt like I was a little drunk. But it was so worth it.
One evening we (really just TOH) had to try the oysters New Orleans are famous for. We were told to try Felix’s in Bourbon Street and weren’t disappointed. TOH decided we would sit at the bar where the oysters were being shucked. A great idea, and the time spent watching Isadore shucking the oysters as he passed them over to TOH and the conversation was fun. I asked him at one stage, how many on an average he would shuck nightly, and all I got was sacks. It must be quite a few as during the time we were there I saw him open at least 3 sacks. I had Shrimp and Grits (usually a breakfast dish), which if you are like me and don’t like oysters, is well worth having. Thanks to both Isadore and Dorothy for making this a fun start to the night.
The food in this area is as exciting and as diverse as the music, we have had Beignets, Oysters, Shrimp and Grits (I want to try to make this myself), Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice and so much more.
We took a luncheon cruise on the Paddle Steamer “Natchez” down the Mississippi. Walking into the restaurant, with the Jazz Band playing felt like walking into the 1920’s. The Creole food served was great and the Gumbo again was a favourite. Unfortunately it rained (more like stormed) on the trip, but it did nothing to distract from the pleasure of the trip or the views as we passed the shipyards, bridges and houses or the fascination for the working of the steamer.
On our last day, we decided to take a drive through the 9th Ward. This is the area which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The scars from this disaster when 50 of the Levees built around New Orleans failed. The Levees in the industrial area that were breached were where the 9th Ward flooded and the lower 9th ward in particular nearly wiped out. There are still many buildings boarded up as their owners just never came back after the hurricane. So sad to see 14 years after it happened. BUT, I must say that the rebuilding that is going on in the upper 9th Ward is great to see and some of the houses that are being restored are beautiful.
After the gloomy drive through the 9th Ward, we found ourselves in the Garden District. The home of many beautiful Antebellum houses. We took the streetcar from the Garden District into Canal Street. Watching in awe at the houses as we passed. This is a great cheap transport to see this area and a great way to get around.
There are such distinct contradictions in the Big Easy. Each of the areas we visited is so different from the others, but that is what makes this such a special and unique place. I hope it never changes.