As soon as we landed at New Orleans airport we were greeted by Jazz music; a band was set up playing next to baggage claim. You couldn’t help but smile as it instantly lived up to its reputation. We chose New Orleans as a destination on our trip around The States as it was a city that realistically we wouldn’t get the chance to see again. We may have also chosen it as it’s famous for its food, and our trip was fast becoming the new spin off of ‘Man Vs Food’…’Couple Vs Food’.
Our airport transfer allowed us an unexpected tour of the city before finishing at our hotel where we were encouraged by our driver to ‘never take the road behind our hotel. I don’t mean to scare you but please be sensible.’ So to put it mildly, after that I was terrified. On the drive to the hotel we went down the infamous Bourbon Street where we passed scantily clad girls in doorways, people drinking heavily and shouting in the street, and all at around 4.30pm. Welcome to New Orleans! It felt like the drunken left overs of Vegas and Ibiza had landed on one road on a Monday afternoon. As a side note at this point and to help context it further, we did get told by one local that ‘it doesn’t matter what day it is, people are here to party’. He also then went on to say ‘…that’s why the unemployment rate is so high, because everyone is drunk or high on a Monday afternoon. But they’re happy’. The poverty was extremely evident, and not in a romantic bohemian sort of way.
After we checked into our hotel and changed rooms three times (don’t ask…) we headed out to explore and to my surprise I was completely charmed by what I saw. It was like we had been transported back in time and found ourselves walking down roads of quaint, unique houses where each home was completely different to the next and seemed to tell its own little story. (I was obsessed by the houses alone and did a bit of a photography project whilst I was out there which I’ll share once printed and framed.) As we then walked closer to Jackson Square you could hear the faint sounds of Jazz begin to fill the streets, along with all of the tourists as they mingled between restaurants and shops (who knew New Orleans would be the place for antiques?!). It was not what I was expecting at all.
New Orleans is renowned for its food and we wanted to make sure that we sampled as much of the local dishes as possible. Without going through all that is has to offer I will mention a few; firstly, PoBoys. Originally named Poor Boys as they were created as an offering for those on strike (the ‘poor boys’). Available in numerous fillings but the classic roast beef soaked in gravy was by far the best and potentially one of the tastiest things I ate on the entire trip. When food comes with a roll of tissue you know it’s going to be good! Then of course there were the infamous Beignets. Just to be sure we got the best ones we tried them at both Café Du Monde and Café Beignet whilst accompanied by jazz. In our humble opinion the latter pipped the former to the post. However a word of warning ladies-don’t wear a black dress when eating these as you get covered, and I mean covered, in sugar. It quickly becomes a scene from ‘Woman Vs powered sugar’. Even exhaling at the wrong time can create a sugar storm.
We did also sample the local cocktail at Pat O’Brian’s bar. The Hurricane. Coincidentally named pre Katrina. Too many of those and I can imagine it would also have pretty catastrophic results. Then it was time for Bourbon Street. What I didn’t realise was that people in the above balconies in the bars would throw down the famous Mardi Gras style necklaces for you if you danced in the street. Once I discovered this it was a great game and I couldn’t help but bring a few back to the UK with me. The longer we were there the more people we saw wearing them as everyday attire, even when we were checking in at the airport people were wearing them and then again on the flight. For me they felt quite tacky (dare I say it) and something to be kept as a souvenir yet I almost felt left out for not wearing mine!
For me New Orleans will be forever more associated with Hurricane Katrina and the headlines that she created. Surprisingly we saw no visible signs of remaining damage in the areas that we visited and as an outsider you would never have known the trials that the city has been through. Since being back in the UK I have looked at videos and photos of the state that New Orleans was left in and it’s hard to compute that it was the same city that we visited. Not renowned for its wealth it has done incredibly well to recover to the level that it has, however the true scars and damage are left with the local people. It was only as we spoke to locals and learnt about the city’s history that we were told stories about where people had grown up or where they used to live ‘pre Katrina’, and then they lost everything. One sentence that has stayed with me is that of our driver from the airport, ‘…we had lived out that way for years before Katrina took it all. Then we were left with nothing’. A reality that even as I write this I can’t really understand.
Finally, how could I write about New Orleans and not make further reference to it. Jazz! It is everywhere, and I mean everywhere. As I said we landed at the airport to a jazz band and even as we were boarding to leave there was a man on a piano playing. When walking down the streets you are guaranteed to hear it, more often than not from a band performing in person, even when it was raining. The bands vary from groups of teenagers with some serious brass skills to older groups that have been doing it for a while, all with their unique sound. One night we went to Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse and by a stroke of luck the man himself was playing, and better yet we got sat at the front. His band were sensational, the trombonist in particular was awesome and a few songs into the set started to sing. Ewan said I left out an audible sign of appreciation. His voice was like silk and he had the whole room completely captivated. It was such a great night, the band and Irvin himself were awesome and we were so glad we paid the cover charge to go. For me it was one of those moments you hope you’ll experience when going to New Orleans as the music was like nothing I’d ever heard in person before.
For more images check out my facebook page and hopefully you will get a flavour of the local life and surroundings. If you have any questions about any of the images or would be interested in purchasing any of them, please contact me.
Thanks for reading.