Have you ever arrived somewhere, and had an instant good feeling before even getting out of the airport? I experienced this on arrival at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
A cab ride to our accommodation, gave us a first look at The Big Easy as we set off to India House hostel, (which by the way, is the coolest hostel I’ve ever stayed in).
It had a real hippy vibe to it, with fellow travellers on the couches next to the reception desk, watching TV, chatting and reading, accompanied by the hostel cat (who by the way, makes you feel honoured if your existence is acknowledged by him).
To get to our room, we had to walk past the kitchen, where other travellers stood cooking their meals, and then out through the garden where we were greeted by the sound of a guitar, as one guy sat playing with a few others sat around him.
Tired from the journey over from Toronto, Canada, we decided to eat at the hostel, where they cook decent priced meals for guests in the garden. It was an odd combination of a hot-dog served with some rice, but for $5 I wasn’t complaining. I’m not much of a drinker, but it came with a beer too, which is an added bonus to those who do.
Rooms were separated into what I can only describe as dormitories, although they weren’t divided by sex or anything, and we had our own room, which included a bunk bed and not much else, but we didn’t need much else, it was just a place to lay our heads.
I’m not going to give you a day-by-day rundown of what we did in chronological order, instead I’m going to try and paint a picture of my experience for you.
One of my favourite thing’s about travelling, is getting to learn about stuff you could never be taught from reading a book or watching a documentary.
Seeing as I’ve dedicated this blog post to the first destination of our US adventure, New Orleans, I’ll start by telling you one of the first thing’s I noticed while there, and that’s the admirable sense of community they have.
I first noticed it while riding on one of the infamous streetcars.
Whilst aboard, I watched as this random guy helped some woman with her pram, and although you may be reading this and thinking, “I’ve seen people do that before, so what?” It is a common theme all around New Orleans, they help each other. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what gender you are, whether you’re old or young, or whether you’re total strangers, they have an incredible sense of community like I’ve not seen in any other place I’ve been.
I have my own theory behind this; I think it’s because they have been through so much, (what with all the horrendous hurricanes for a start), which I learnt all about at The Presbytère Museum. While there, I learned New Orleans is still recovering from the last hurricane that hit, (but you’d never know it, if you’re a first time visitor), they’ve done an amazing job at restoring it.
If like me, you have a love of history, you’ll appreciate New Orleans
There are a variety of museums throughout the city, providing you with the opportunity to learn about the history of the Big Easy.
Head over to The New Orleans Jazz Museum, where on display, you’ll see instruments played by musical legends. By chance, we got to enjoy a live performance of some talented musicians on our visit. If that sounds like your cup of tea, go for a walk around Louis Armstrong Park to see statues of iconic artists.
Jazz is just one of many thing’s that New Orleans is famed for, but you need not visit museums solely for a background on this.
You need not visit a museum to learn about certain other cultural aspects that New Orleans is famed for. For instance, my partner and I visited the famous St. Louis Cemetery No.1, burial place of Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. You are not allowed to just walk in and see it for yourself, you have to be accompanied by a tour guide, who walks you and other people booked onto the tour at a specific time slot, around the Cemetery. This tour is not free, and although people used to be able to walk in without charge, they rightly put a stop to this, due to the vandalism of the Headstone belonging to the Voodoo Queen. At least, they thought it was her Headstone anyway; our tour guide told us that people were under the false impression that Marie Laveau was buried under a Headstone that wasn’t actually hers. As a result of this, the vandalism in question, is as a result of multiple carvings of ‘X’ on the Headstone as it was believed (and perhaps still is), that you could go to her place of burial, and make a wish/request, marking her Headstone with this symbol. Those who had their wish/request answered were to return and circle their ‘X.’
In front of the Headstone, you’ll find hairbands offered as gifts to the Voodoo Queen, as in her lifetime, Marie Laveau was a hairdresser.
Despite their being two Headstones with numerous ‘X’ symbols carved onto them, as well as hairbands scattered in front of both, one of the Headstones has her name engraved on it.
In this same Cemetery, Nicholas Cage had a pyramid shaped tombstone built for himself, in preparation for his day of death; our tour guide informed us that his plot is worth thousands. He also bought a haunted house in New Orleans, and we were told that his actions coincided with the downhill of his acting career.
My favourite thing about New Orleans, has to be the music
I fell in love with Jazz there. We went to a couple of live sets at different venues, which were amazing, one in particular was at Preservation Hall. Me and my partner were sat on cushions on the floor, right at the front, as all of the seats behind us were taken. They let you in at specific time slots, where you get to enjoy the experience with a small audience, adding a personal touch to the experience. You aren’t allowed to take photographs in there, or film them during a performance, which again I liked. I always say to myself, “It’s better to enjoy something through your eyes, than through the lens of a camera.”
These guy’s were incredible. In-between playing, they’d occasionally quietened down for the singer, who had a real cool voice that went nicely with the clicking of his fingers.
You don’t have to go to a live set to enjoy the music; you’re never too far away from a group of talented musicians performing on the streets. Enjoy the video I recorded, below.
From Po’boy’s, to Gumbo and Jambalaya, the local cuisine is delicious
Aside from the music, another thing New Orleans is famed for, is it’s food.
We went to this restaurant called ‘Mothers,’ for some Po’boy’s and Grits. After watching ‘My Cousin Vinny’ as a child, I wanted to try Grits, and I have to say, I wasn’t too keen. Other than the flavour of the cheese slice on top, there wasn’t much taste to it at all. I highly recommend a visit there though, if not for the Grits, then the Po’boy’s for sure. Don’t want to take my word for it? All you have to do is look at the restaurant’s walls, which are plastered with photographs of famous people who’ve paid it a visit.
One thing I didn’t get to try, which I was absolutely gutted about, was the famous Willie Mae’s fried chicken, dubbed ‘World’s best fried chicken’. Anyone who know’s me knows how much I love me some fried chicken, so you can only imagine how disappointed I was when we found out they were closed for refurbishment! We walked off the beaten track to go there too, locals were playing games on tables, just going about their day. We got a few stares, and I don’t know if that’s because I was the only white one around those parts, or because they could just tell we weren’t locals, but considering how ethnically diverse New Orleans is, I’d say it was the latter.
If you have a sweet tooth, head to ‘Cafe Du Monde,’ for some Beighnets. We got to enjoy these, while listening to a street band parked right outside.
When you go anywhere, always remember to look around at the natural beauty of a place
Take New Orleans for instance, they’ve got some of the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen, and you don’t have to go off the beaten track to see them either. They’re all around, arching over roads, casting shadows on the pavements in-parts. Many of these surround the buildings and houses, famed for their stunning architecture, which honestly look like something out of a fairy-tale. In the image below, you can see both.
Another beautiful site you can see in New Orleans is the Mississippi River. It’s nice to take a little time out to for some scenic peace.
You can see artwork all around in the more central part, as artists have their paintings on display in shops and on stalls.
Speaking of stalls, the French Market is a must-visit, for near enough anything, we got some cool artwork from this guy’s stall, and of course, the classic fridge magnet from another.
One of the biggest eye-openers of my travels throughout the different states and cities in the US, was the amount of poverty we saw. New Orleans was my first look at this, and it was shocking. Going through the underpass in the streetcar were rows of tents on either side, providing the ignorant mind the option of looking only forward and behind, to avoid the hard-hitting sights that bare truth to their left and right. Protected by a shelter of concrete, the tents neighboured each other like houses in a street.
Seeing poverty to this degree throughout the States, changed my outlook on America, and on other things too. You’ll find it mentioned in my other blog posts, mapping my travels throughout the USA.
Join me on my journey, as I take you to Houston, Texas in my next blog, coming soon.