After clean cut, prim and proper Washington DC, we were ready to get down and dirty in Louisiana’s best known city; New Orleans. The first thing you notice (after the smell, seriously, what is that?!) is the beautiful, quaint buildings. The architecture in the French Quarter is to die for. It’s charming and one can almost imagine the days of yesteryear when the cowboys would ride up on their steeds. What you aren’t expecting is the party atmosphere.
We checked into our corner hotel (photo above), with angled balcony for extra authenticity, before hitting a bar for a beer and a bite. We were only staying two blocks from the action, a very quick walk, but enough of a buffer that we weren’t kept up all night. We decided to keep it light as we’d have dinner later, this was purely a we’re-on-holiday-snack – we went with a sampler of some of the local cuisine; gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish mac ‘n’ cheese – all were delicious! I still couldn’t tell you what a crawfish is. Google has just told me it’s crayfish, by another name. I mean, it makes sense.
We noticed before we even hit the main street of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, that this was a place for a party. It reminded me of those shows you see of British people (mostly teens and early 20s) getting loose on holiday in Mallorca or Zante – but these were Americans mostly in their 40s-60s getting wild and drinking bright coloured concoctions out of plastic yard glasses. I had no idea! No one had mentioned this to me. Even when I’ve told people of the atmosphere they didn’t believe it either.
We stayed local on day one in NOLA, wandering the streets of the French Quarter, sussing all the bars we’d like to visit. We found one playing the Yankees so pulled up a pew and ordered another beer. You really can just bar hop in the Quarter, no judgement.
We spent the morning in the WW2 Museum in the main city centre of New Orleans. It’s been voted the best in the world and it definitely delivered. The video footage, photos and information from both the American and British side made it wholly captivating. Phil and I both have a fascination for WW2 which helps, because we don’t have one whining about not wanting to attend, like when I suggest a musical, or he wants to go to the sodding flower show. FLOWERS?! Yeah, he loves it.
After our morning of history we decided to hit the bars with all the other non-locals; we drank a lot of Hurricanes (the local cocktail – think Long Island Iced Tea, but red) with which they gave you a free bag of popcorn to eat while sipping away. I mean, the popcorn will have been worked into the price, because USD$11 ain’t a cheap cocktail. In all honesty, I mostly just wanted the free popcorn.
Once we were nicely booze-soaked we went for a wander through the French Quarter on the hunt for fried food. We came across a burger place, ordered and headed back to our hotel. On the way back I found a man in a sparkly suit and demanded Phil take a photo of us. Afterwards the guy put his hand out for a tip and following that Phil wouldn’t let me stand next to any other fabulous humans out to make a quick buck.
After those sodding hurricane cocktails I was hungover AF. Death was at my door and banging at my head. After a tactical vom I was feeling somewhat better, but still didn’t manage to get out of bed and showered until 3PM. Phil, of course, was absolutely fine. He very rarely gets a hangover – damn his young age – but I used to be the same, so one day it will hit him. And by then I will be nearly 50 and sipping a chilled chardonnay with breakfast.
First up we needed a hearty late lunch so we stopped by The Gumbo Shop. It’s reviews and accolades said it was the best in NOLA. We didn’t agree. The gumbo on our first day was far better in my opinion. Although it didn’t help that I was hungover and our waiter was loose as a goose. He was definitely on something. At one point he purposely whacked my shoulder with a menu and had a laugh about it. Phil nearly lost it. He forgot our water. He forgot our butter for the bread. He then went on to tell us we were his last customers and he was now off to spend his week’s wages on booze and cigarettes in a two-day binge. Looooooose.
In search of coffee and fried carbs, we stopped by Café du Monde after wandering through the markets. It was always on my list to visit but with the added hangover it fit perfectly into the day. We grabbed a table, ordered the fried, sugar coated goodness that is beignets and a large, black coffee for me. Just before our order arrived, a father and son busking duo started up on their keyboard, trumpet and microphone. Holy hell they were good. They played jazz tunes you know, they played their own tunes, they had the crowd in awe. It was the most authentic moment of our NOLA experience. The noises of the street, the jazz, the beignets and even my subtle gnawing headache. I loved it.
That night for dinner we kept it simple by popping by a local supermarket and making ourselves a bed picnic. I was still not feeling 100% (seriously, what goes in those hurricanes?!) so it was nice to have a low-key night.
It was time to head back to the UK. We had a morning flight from New Orleans to Boston (which looks beautiful!!! I now really want to go to Boston), before the next flight to London. For our Uber ride to the airport we encountered a seriously crazy lady, who claimed she had a direct line to all the authorities in the States. She went on and on for ages in her southern drawl about how she was out there fighting terrorism. I mean, good on her, she’s trying to do right by her country. But when she says she gets a tingle up her back, as frequently as weekly, when she encounters someone she believes to be on the wrong side of the law you start to think maybe she’s got too into her voodoo and hipflask of rum. America. Such a diverse nation. The people in the south were nothing like the people in the north. Different ideals, food, accents, way of life – it was fascinating to see.
I won’t lie, I was extremely happy to get home to London. Living out of a backpack is only enjoyable the first couple of days. I am happy for the memories and the fact Phil and I are so lucky to be able to do such a trip. But I do love the UK. America, you were wild and fascinating, but I don’t ever want to live in you. Just my opinion, no haters.