Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?
- Tennessee Williams
Out of all the places we were going on this trip, the one I felt most excited for was New Orleans. One of America’s most iconic and beloved cities, my only knowledge of it was what I had seen represented in various movies. When thinking about New Orleans, some of the things that came to mind were music, food, street parades, culture, and atmosphere. I had always wanted to see it, but I had no idea what to expect. I was also, of course, aware that this beautiful and unique city had suffered terribly ten years ago when a hurricane that would go on to be infamously known as Katrina, devastated the city, and I was warned before arriving that New Orleans is but a shadow of its former self, so I really had no idea what to expect.
Another reason I, and everyone else on our trip, were feeling particularly excited was that we were taking a break from camping and checking into a hotel. G Adventure booked the group into the Olde Town Inn on Rampart St which was without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip, and I would go back in a second. A former New Orleans Creole home, it is located in the artsy bohemian neighbourhood-the Faubourg Marigny, and it is the true New Orleans experience. It was without a doubt one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I’d ever seen, and completely in keeping with the character I would come to associate with New Orleans. I especially enjoyed the complimentary waffles for breakfast each morning. See below for pictures and hotel rates.
The hotel is a short fifteen minute walk from Bourbon St, which during the day I learned is perfectly fine but we were warned that at night due to the high crime rate in the city not to walk back alone or even in a small group. Apparently it’s just safer to take a taxi or Uber which I think at most cost $7. At first, I thought the ladies in the hotel, who were incredibly friendly and helpful, were just being extra cautious by warning us to take a taxi back to the hotel and not to wander alone, but the warnings kept coming. As we walked towards Bourbon St, the sweetest old man was sitting at a bus stop and as we passed in groups of two and three he warned each of us to stay safe. “Stay safe, everyone” “Stay safe, ladies” “Taxies everywhere. Have fun, just stay safe” “Oh, yeah. Alright!” That one was because I high fived him for being so awesome and cool. He loved it. I had heard that the crime rate in New Orleans was high in comparison to other U.S cities, but I had no idea just how high. After further research, I discovered that the chance of becoming the victim of a violent or property crime in New Orleans is roughly 1 in 19, and the chance of becoming a victim of rape, murder and non-negligent manslaughter, armed robbery, and aggravated assault is 1 in 102. That’s pretty high, although I'm not sure how accurate those results are; I got them from an internet search.
We turned the corner onto Bourbon St and what I saw was total chaos. The streets were teeming with people, and the sound of wolf whistling and catcalling directed my attention to an above balcony brimming with people who were watching us as we passed. I stood for a moment looking around trying to take it all in, and some of the outlandish things I saw were what looked like The Village People dancing down the street and girls in nipple tassels. I was standing frozen in one spot trying to mentally process the naked man painted silver that had just walked past me, when I swung around to the sound of screams and saw that a girl had just exposed her breasts causing everyone to cheer and throw from the balconies sets of coloured beads which she proudly picked up and put around her neck as trophies, and I could think only one thing, “This place is wild”.
I learned pretty quickly that in New Orleans there are two types of nights you can have. One: go to Frenchmen St where you can enjoy a cocktail and some world class live Jazz. Two: you can get drunk and ride the mechanical bull. It was Friday night and we were doing the latter. Now, I had gone into town dressed for Frenchmen St, so the mechanical bull and I simply were not destined to be. I did, however, beg Lulu to ride it on my behalf. “Lulu, I will consider it a personal favour if you get on that mechanical bull” Laughter ensued. “No, way!” “Oh, please. Come on, your outfit is perfect for it”. A few drinks later, she did it. And she looked fierce! Watching her and Geri get atop that bull was one of the funniest things I had ever seen until I looked around and saw a room full of men smiling and head bobbing in approval, and I immediately wanted to grab them and take them home. I’ve never experienced a place so sexually charged before; it was like everyone on Bourbon St was either ‘doing it’ or thinking of ‘doing it’ and I could see how someone could come to this city with a particular type of trip in mind, but end up doing something completely out of character. For anyone who is interested, you can find the mechanical bull in The Bourbon Cowboy, but be careful, if a hot waitress grabs you and makes you take a shot off her breasts which at the time seems like an awesome idea, she will come back in ten minutes and charge you $24. I'm not even kidding. And when one of the guys got annoyed and refused to pay, she called one of the doormen. Chris cowered behind me as one of the girls grabbed him and it took a very firm 'No' and finger wag from me for her to get the message and leave him alone. There was a sexual rhythm that hummed through the streets infecting everyone in its path. Maybe that’s how I ended up in a strip club, although that turned out to be one of the most awkward and confusing experiences in my life, made worse by the fact that one of the girls kept hugging the strippers. It was weird and we left after ten minutes minus the $5 cover change and $10 beer they make you purchase. It was 3am and time for us to drag our tired butts home for the night.
That was the last night I spent with the group of girls I would miss for the next two weeks. It may have only been one week, but in that short amount of time we’d been through nine states and covered over 1,400 miles. It may not sound like a lot, but when you share an experience so special it’s enough to bond you together forever. The next morning was emotional as we hugged and said goodbye to half of our group; we wished them well on the rest of their trip, connected on Facebook, and vowed to stay in touch.
As we weren't going to L.A but heading onto San Francisco through Texas, we had an extra night in NOLA. We booked a tour of the swamps which we were both looking forward to, and since we had a few hours to kill we decided to take a walk into town to look around. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the swamp tour on account of a thunderstorm that hit that afternoon. That day, I officially got the most rained on I have ever been in my life and as I watched the drains fail and the streets fill with water, my mind was cast back to Katrina. It was frightening to think it happened on a day just like that one. We bought ourselves a couple of rain ponchos and decided to wade through the water in search of breakfast, and as luck would have it we stumbled across a lovely cafe and saw that they not only served New Orleans French toast, but bottomless mimosas; we were sold! New Orleans French toast is similar to regular French toast, the only difference I could find is that they use more maple syrup and put sweetened bananas on top with sugar and cinnamon. Needless to say, it went down well, as did the bubbly.
When the storm finally subsided, we spent the rest of the morning walking around the city and checking out the little stores of which there were many. There was so much I would have loved to buy if only I didn’t have to carry it. Always the same problem! But our favourite store was Magnolia Sugar and Spice Praline Kitchen and Hot Sauce Bar; home to every available type of hot sauce you could ever hope to find. Now, Chris and I have a pretty high tolerance for hot food, particularly Chris, so this store was the perfect find as it presented a challenge. Could we be defeated? The answer was, yes! With names such as ‘Muerte’ and ‘Hellacious Hot Sauce’, what did I expect? Some of the sauces are so hot that beside them is a disclaimer absolving the store of any legal responsibility should anyone suffer an injury. A single drop of their hottest sauce on a tortilla chip and I was completely undone. Furthermore, it took about a half hour before I got the feeling back in my mouth. As I stood there coughing, spluttering and realizing my obvious mistake, a guy walked past and laughed "Ha, I did the same thing twenty minutes ago". He could have stopped me! If you're a fan of Tobasco and hot sauce, definitely check out this little gem.
That night we were left to our own devices. We'd been in New Orleans for two nights and we still hadn’t heard any live Jazz music, so we decided to go in search of an ‘authentic’ New Orleans experience. As we strolled around the French Quarter, we passed a bar with an incredible sound emanating from inside. The bar was 21st Amendment on Iberville St and when I stepped inside I felt as though I had been transported back to the 1920’s. It was the Cab Calloway-esque style of music that first caught my attention, and as I peered to the front I saw a band who looked as though they’d been transported through time being led by a charismatic ‘song and dance man’. We ordered two old fashions and took our seats. Over the next hour, we experienced amazing blends of jazz and tap dance, incredible improvisation, and seriously impressive guitar stylings. It was without a doubt one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and it was exactly what I hoped to see when I came to New Orleans. They were called The Ibervillainaires and the talented gent of which I speak is none other than Chance Bushman. That's an awesome name, isn't it? If you’re ever in Louisiana, check them out!
Sadly, that night brought to a close our time in New Orleans. It was a mind-altering experience from the music, unique characters, the kindness and hospitality, the delicious Po-boys, gumbo, cocktails, and of course the mechanical bull; I will never forget it. No other city can compete with what makes New Orleans special, and after spending some time there I understand why the locals are protesting and fighting so hard to prevent the introduction of tall buildings into the city. The iconic French Creole architecture is part of what makes New Orleans so special. You can find skyscrapers in most of the big U.S cities, but there is only one New Orleans. It would be such a pity if it were to lose its unique charm for the sake of 'fashion'. I'm definitely with the locals on this one!
For the Olde Town Inn
Have a cocktail at 21st Amendment
Ride the mechanical bull
http://bourboncowboy.com/ (But be careful! If a woman makes you take shots by sticking your face into her cleavage, she will come back in 10 minutes and charge you $24)
Have some gumbo or a delicious Po-Boy