New Orleans, Louisiana.
Lafittes, Tasty Hurricanes, Rap Jazz,
American Football & Gumbo.
After attending the KFC global conference in Dallas I took a few day leave to travel to New Orleans to see what all the fuss is about. Greggles a close friend of mine was in Vegas for 2 months. He was playing in the World Poker Series so the timing worked out well for us to meet up. We met at the airport to explore the home of Jazz together (ironic, as neither of us are the largest Jazz fans).
We arrived to rain in New Orleans. Within a few hours the streets were flooded and we were in knee deep water crossing the road. The hotel opposite the Cotton Express were we were staying was barricaded with sandbags. Needless to say I found this all quite exciting and dragged Greg out to explore. The drainage in the city is terrible and we attempted to imagine what these poor people must have gone through on 29 August 2005 when hurricane Katrina hit. The city is lower that sea level and it took months to drain all the water when the river walls broke. We spoke to quite a few locals about it and as Tim (our favourite waiter and later party friend) said, there is no point to try explain as it is incomprehensible if you didn’t witness the devastation yourself.
The French Quarter, the oldest and most famous neighborhood in New Orleans was not really affected by the hurricane although the entire area came to a dead stop for several weeks. There is a museum dedicated to this natural disaster and the experience is still very much a part of the local’s lives. It seems to be almost a unifying factor among the people I met. They have a heightened appreciation for life and a great sense of community. It’s like they all know a secret they aren’t able to share.
I LOVED New Orleans. Of the 48 US cities I have visited it is undoubtedly my favourite. Bourbon Street was like Brazilian Carnival on steroids. What an assault of the senses. The stench of the streets. The violating sights of naked people, party people, drunk people, happy people, singing people all doing whatever they like without consequence it seemed. With huge smiles on their faces and drinks in their hands. Anything goes in Bourbon Street. The sounds that emanated out of Bourbon Street was a cacophony of pure awesomeness. Music blasts out of clubs, restaurants and bars that litter the 13 blocks all beckoning you to enter with their 3 for 1 drinks specials and crazy cocktails. The vibe was electric and drunken happiness saturated the smelly air.
Greg and I hit Bourbon Street all 3 nights never getting in before 4:30. We were mesmerized like kids in a candy store. People filled the busy street and beads were flung from balconies overhead at passers by. Obviously wanting the full cultural experience we got involved and tried red jello vodka shots out of massive plastic syringes, bought fishbowls containing pink Hurricane drinks, had cherry bombs and VooDoo purple daiquiri’s to name a few. We met tons of festive folk and ended every evening in the Lafittes Blacksmith Shop Bar. It is the oldest bar in the USA and was build in 1722. It was a front for Pirates who used to torture their victims up on the fireplace. Inside it is dark and there a grand piano at the back, lit only by a few dull candles. An amazing place full of atmosphere. It was so special in fact that we visited it each night and made it our ‘local’. To get there we needed to cross the ‘velvet line’ and enter the gay section of Bourbon Street, which presented some intriguing sites as we strolled past. I tried hard but did not succeed in getting Greggles to go inside any of the bars. I think the naked guys dancing on the bars may have put him off.
During the day we explored our beds, as that was as touristy as we were likely to be waking up with headaches from hell. Each day we arose around 14:00, ready to go do it all again. We had chilled afternoons exploring the cultural side of the city. We took a horse carriage tour around the French Quarter with a charismatic tour guide who had a story for every street.
New Orleans is the birth place of the Cocktail, Jazz, liberation of black people and abolishment of slavery. The architecture tells rich stories of hard lives, earned freedom and hope. Every street has something to explore. A random little school you could easily stroll past would be where Elvis got expelled for punching a kid and where Lenny Kravitz more recently went to school. Bourbon Street is build for debauchery, loud live music, and uninhibited fun. Frenchman street is frequented by more locals with each bar offering something different. From rap jazz, brass bands, swing bands, guitar solo artists to rock. Locals seem to go to Frenchman street more and we enjoyed the different experience they both offered.
New Orleans has tasty, unique food. We tried local dishes such as Gumbo, crab, Jambalaya and special donuts called Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, an original French market coffee shop on Decatur Street. Our favourite experience was our visit to the ‘Worlds Best Hamburger Diner’ where our gay waiter bounced across and asked us ‘what the fuck can I get y’all bitches.’ He thought that was completely normal but I would have paid money to see the reaction on our faces. We watched American Football one afternoon. On route we ended up at a church rally first, but that is another story. Once we finally made it to the football we drank beer, ate hotdogs and shouted for the New Orleans VooDoo’s. The 1 hour long game takes over 3 hours to play. This left us bored soon into the game. I was amazed by the slow pace, fat players and woesie tackling. Needless to say when a fight between enthusiastic fans broke out Greg and I left with exactly 43 seconds still on the clock. We decided in reality this could have taken another 15 minutes to play so we gave up and still don’t know who won, come to think of it. A great experience nonetheless.
On the Sunday morning I left Greggles in dreamland and went to ST Louis Cathedral. It is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the USA, built in 1718. The minister spoke about the horrible Colorado shooting which had shocked the country when 12 people were shot dead while watching the Batman premier, just a few days earlier. While not the largest or the grandest church in the US, this Catholic Church was well worth the visit. On route back to our rather average hotel, I walked along the dirty Mississippi river. The largest river in in the USA. I admired the traditional steam boats and explored the shops on route home, before waking Greggles up with coffee and McDonalds. Clearly we’ll be best friends forever after that good deed.
The people in New Orleans are friendly, proud of their heritage and highly sociable. The taxi drivers thought they were tour guides and the guy checking me in at the airport told me about his families Hurricane Katrina experience which left me with a lump in my throat. I literally walked away from my oversized luggage with a list of last minute food to try and tears in my eyes. We are blessed in SA not to have deadly natural disaster.
I definitely intend to return to New Orleans as I never nearly got my fill of it. Some of the things to still do are the full city tour, Katrina Museum, a ghost evening tour and a cemetery tour. As this is a city rooted in Voodoo and has some interesting stories to tell. I left an exhausted Greg behind and flew to New York City, for what I hoped would be the ‘relaxing’ part of the trip…