We arrived into New Orleans late. After my first Amtrak train had dropped us off an hour early I guess things needed to be brought back to reality. My second picked us up 2 hours late from Tucson and then lost even more time en-route. Still, our hostel had prepared a nice welcome package for us so that we could still check in after the reception had closed. The receptionist was actually just finishing up in the kitchen which meant her huge dog was still prowling the corridors – it was so mild mannered though that we felt very welcomed.
The next morning we got up and enjoyed the best free hostel breakfast I’ve ever experienced. A huge bowl of pancake batter was left out with a waffle iron and a pancake griddle beside. Over the next 5 days I ate a lot of pancakes and waffles. What added to the experience was that there were several travellers staying at the hostel over roughly the same time period. We’d start our days sharing stories of which attractions we’d visited the day before and whether they were worth the visit.
On our first morning we were advised that the first parade of Mardi Gras season would be that night. It corresponded with twelfth night (Jan 6th) and was a celebration of the heroine of what they call ‘Classical Orleans’, Joan of Ark. The parade was mostly people in medieval garb, eventually followed by people playing Louis XIV, his queen and then Joan herself. I quickly googled Joan of Ark to remind myself of her story (having jokingly said to Rosanna “Was she Church of England?”) and it turns out the British killed her. Whoops. Yet another historical event we’ve come across where our own heritage is not exactly rosy. That night there was a magnificent fireworks display in the town’s colours of purple, green and gold out over the river. Such a grand start to our time in this vibrant city.
New Orleans is steeped in its own unique culture. A mix of French, Caribbean and Spanish heritage, the city changed hands a few times before finally becoming part of the united states as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It felt far more permanent than the cities we’d visited up to that point, like it had a real history. The concrete expanses and identikit houses of LA and Tucson are replaced with rows of ‘shotgun’ houses, designed to allow airflow throughout the house in the hot and humid summer months. Each one of these houses is distinct from its neighbours. They range from single story, single occupancy homes to large, plantation style mansions. In one area of the city called the Garden District the homes become huge, and people walk around the streets on tours just to look at the homes, with a beer or cocktail in hand.
New Orleans doesn’t have laws against drinking in public unlike most of the United States. One of the favorite activities of domestic tourists is to just buy a beer and walk around the streets drinking it. It’s a such a novelty to them. Bars embrace it, with stacks of plastic ‘go cups’ on the counter which you can empty your drink into at any time and then walk out the front door. I have to say I enjoyed this too, when the fireworks were about to start on our second night I still had half a beer left – it was much nicer to just pour it into a cup and take it with me than have to decide whether to down it, leave it or miss the fireworks.
It is also famous for Jazz. Music is everywhere, weekday evenings and all day on weekends if you walk through the French Quarter you hear live music coming from all around you. Most cafes and bars have performers and then there are buskers out on the streets also. We met up with an old housemate of my sister’s, Julie, who took us to Frenchmen Street which is famous for its live music venues. We went to the Spotted Cat and watched Aurora Nealand perform which was spectacular.
We also enjoyed our second NBA game of the trip. The New Orleans team is named the Pelicans after the state bird of Louisiana. Their branding and whole aesthetic is possibly one of the best in the league, I love it. I was a bit skeptical of whether a Pelican was a good emblem for a sports team but it turns out that they are actually just as aggressive and hard edged as the Grizzlies and Wolves that lend their name to other franchises. On the state emblem a pelican is displayed tearing flesh from its own breast to feed its young nestling below. Heavy stuff.
For full pictures of our visit to New Orleans please see below: