Following holiday in Louisiana, I’m happy to advise putting New Orleans top of your bucket list. Everyone should visit at least once – I’m so happy I did. Here are some of the reasons why…….
CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE and MUSIC:
We might have missed Mardi Gras but in the French Quarter where we were based, it was party time all the time. New Orleans is renowned for its music, especially jazz, and it was everywhere – on the streets, in the bars, in the parks and courtyards. “Souped up” cars and three wheeled motor bikes added to the sound with rap blaring from huge speakers and revving engines at junctions.
FOOD and DRINK:
Oysters, Alligator and French fries in Creole House Restaurant, Canal Street Bar – no facility to make reservations but welcome to drink cocktails on the street while you wait for a table. If you miss your name being called – you go to the end of the list!!! Fun waitress was really helpful with menu choices.
Breakfast on the first morning in the Fleur de Lis – enough to feed an army
There were dozens of local restaurants with top class food – Cajun and Creole dishes were top of the list – oysters (cooked in so many ways), shrimp (massive), red beans, jambalaya with afters of Bread Pudding , Beignets (sugary doughnuts), Cocktails (Mint Julips recommended but my fave in the city of Katrina was a Hurricane) – didn’t try the po’boys (a type of sandwich), or the gumbo ( a kind of stew) or the crawfish (when told it was a mud bug). Would have to remark too that portion sizes were massive. Everywhere sold “drink to go” often in phallic shaped containers!!!
MUSEUMS, EXHIBITIONS and TOURS:
Naturally we visited the Hurricane Katrina exhibition in the Presbytere – hard to believe it was 17 years ago and there are still reminders of the damage – most prominently the blue tarpaulins that still cover some roofs.
We opted to visit the Whitney Plantation to see their exceptional portrayal of the history and legacy of the enslaved rather than the more famous Oak Alley Plantation with its emphasis on the opulence of the landowners. We did pass Oak Alley and its oak lined avenue was certainly impressive.
Our tour to the Chalmette Battlefield gave us an opportunity to show off our singing skills with a rowdy rendition of the Battle of New Orleans –
“In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans
We fired our guns but the British kept a-comin’
There was not as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began a-runnin’
Down the Misiissippi to the Gulf of Mexico
Yeah, they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico”
We took a city tour New Orleans and were stunned by the architecture of the city – eclectic is the only word I can find to describe the buildings. We tried to recognise whether it was wrought iron and cast iron. We had our dinner on a balcony one night – a pretty shaky affair!!!
Having watched the film Double Jeopardy, a trip to one of the city’s many cemeteries was a must – St Louis Cemetery #1, spanning an entire city block was where we ‘ended up’. Cemeteries, also known as Cities of the Dead are made up of avenues of elaborately carved mausoleums (also known as oven tombs???? Google the process for a macabre read). Burial above ground is required because of the high water table.
Old Man River or the muddy Mississippi dominates the city and of course we took a dinner trip on a paddle steamer. Probably a bit underwhelming, it did give a fine view of the city and the guide had lots of interesting tales about the history and geography. Some of the ravages of Katrina were also more obvious from the water.
Our second trip on the Mis was a cross-river ferry trip to Algiers, a haven of tranquillity compared to the city where we strolled through streets of fabulous houses and enjoyed a ‘quiet’ meal outside. It was so peaceful walking along the levee.
STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE:
Made famous by the Tennessee William’s play, this trolley no longer exists. It was replaced by the St. Charles Avenue Green Trolley, now the most notable and oldest line. Our streetcar trip was cut short as the St Patrick’s Day Parade route ran alongside the track. It was still an experience to trundle through the business district into uptown.
The parade was a bonus- everyone dressed in green and carrying large bags for the goodies that would be thrown into the crowd. We had barely acknowledged our “irishness” with a small green bow; however we soon were covered in beads and badges, and in possession of a collection of toys once our Irish accents were noticed and we became the centre of attention at the corner where we stood.
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF:
We didn’t realise that there was Tennessee Williams festival planned while we were in New Orleans. We were lucky enough to get tickets for Cat in Le Petit Theatre off Jackson Square. The audience participation was very different from home – the lady beside me contributed “Yeah Momma” whenever she agreed with sentiments from the leading lady. With no bar or toilets in the theatre, the audience had to adjourn to the bar next door at the interval. Worth the visit!
I usually read something, fact or fiction, that will give a flavour to my holiday destination and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole was the recommended pre-New Orleans reading material. What a surprise to find a statue of Ignatius, the hero of the book, quite close to our hotel:
In the shadow under the green visor of the cap, Ignatius Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes Department Store studying the crowds of people for signs of bad taste in dress. (J Kennedy Toole 1981 Pulitzer Prize for fiction)
Our bus driver, Butch, gave an amazing commentary on the history of the swamps and piracy in New Orleans as we travelled out to Lafitte (called after a pirate who helped Jackson win the battle of New Orleans). On the airboat trip we managed to see alligators (one right beside the boat so suddenly I didn’t even get a photo) and turtles. The guide’s effort to talk about flora and fauna was continuously disrupted by a pair who were high on something, but the moss covered cypress trees, the various grasses and water plants were exactly what one sees in films and the airboat experience meant the trip was not a complete waste of time.
Would I go back to NOLA? I don’t think so. But I’m so glad to have been there.
Oak Alley Plantation
The Louisiana oak with Spanish moss
Antoine “Fats” Domino @ The Legends Bar, Bourbon Street – All day jazz club. Had breakfast here to live jazz music.
Travelling down river on the Creole Queen paddle steamer
A mansion in the Garden District
Some locals from the Irish Channel all set for the Patricks Day Parade
A Hotel Monteleone breakfast – cocktails at the Carousel Bar (revolving as name would suggest) are a must.