New Orleans: When The Saints Go Marching In

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November 8th 2012
Published: November 16th 2012
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After arriving at such a late hour from Vancouver via Dallas, Texas we had decided to only go to the typical New Orleans centre the next morning, and as we had been pretty busy the last few weeks we didn't actually get our butts into the centre till lunch time on Tuesday. Now this Tuesday was a notable one for one main thing only, no not that hugely publicised election between Obama and Romney, this was the ONE place that Ben wanted to go to when we set out all those months ago. "Lauren, " he said, "we can go anywhere your heart desires, but I want to go to New Orleans". So Lauren was set the impossible task of working this in using the American Airlines miles off her dad to tie in with hiring a car and Ben's birthday so we didn't have an under 25 surcharge and being aware of school holidays across the globe as well as timing when we actually wanted to go home and a route between New Orleans at the southern end of Louisiana to Los Angeles!

Some people have begun to question our "zig zag" across North America, indeed it has had us question our sanity. So if you will, let us take you back to six months ago in rainy Lancaster (some things never change) when we planned this extravaganza, Alan said we could use the miles we received from cancelling our trip to Orlando that would have taken place weeks before our departure, so we, in essence, had 100,000 miles and we knew we wanted to go to Orlando, New York, Toronto, Washington state, Vancouver and New Orleans, the way to achieve this using the least amount of miles per flight was to zig zag, avoiding school holidays in Orlando and getting to Washington for Halloween. So that is why we have flown over America roughly twice when we could have gone round once!

So here we were, to give Ben the one place he had always wanted to go and the only stipulation Lauren gave was that he must plan it. On that note, of course he hadn't! Lauren booked the hotel we rolled up to on the slightly overcast Tuesday midday, and it was a good 'un! Moments from the hub of Bourbon Street, the jazz capital of the world. The hotel was great for a few things, firstly allowing us to check in four hours early, second for having a world famous jazz club and third did we mention it was within a sticks throw of Bourbon street- the originator of jazz, Ben's absolute favourite genre of music ever?! We set out thinking we would just pass the day walking the streets until it turned dark expecting to hear some sweet sets of jazz. That part didn't slightly go to plan as we rocked up and Ben pronounced to Lauren like she should know that New Orleans is in fact one of the most dangerous cities in USA! Our taxi driver however, assured us to stick to the streets surrounding Bourbon as police patrol in force there! Beyond that though it went better than our supposed plan, Lauren may have been on edge but at the first corner hearing your first riff of music we instantly settled and began a walking tour suggested in our guidebook.

We wandered the streets taking in a thousand thoughts. You could tell the place had suffered devastation and we were imminently reminded of the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005, buildings just about stood derelict and damaged, roads were having repairs done on mass scale and amounts of homelessness was evident. However, one could also put some down to the upcoming Superbowl, to be held here early next year. The roads were finally being repaired since the tragedy where the city lost over 30% of its population in anticipation of the thousands in crowds. The buildings are slowly being rebuilt largely for the huge restaurant scene that was evident here, New Orleans is renowned for its culinary cuisine. Still it was interesting to see but heartbreaking knowing how poorly the government responded to the disaster.

Our walking tour took us to the stunning cathedral and Jackson Square where general Jackson stood tall on a horse. Here we were treated to a bunch of guys performing some incredible jazz with many brass instruments and a drum. They finished there set to huge applause and a lot of dollar finishing with "Saints go marching in", a very famous jazz song and also the song for their American football team, New Orleans Saints. This truly ensured their tip bucket was filled! We continued on our way admiring the buildings of many colours all complete with wrought iron railings- exactly what you would imagine. We passed many people drinking on the street which surprised us, something we got used to, ask at any bar in a "to go" cup and as its plastic you can walk on the streets with it! We passed Tennessee Williams' apartment where he wrote the famous "A Streetcar Named Desire" which thrilled Lauren having studied it. We heard much more jazz throughout the day, passing bars and people playing on the street.

We eventually found our way to the end of the tour which was very interesting, arriving at "The Musical Legends Park" home to many bronze statues of past jazz players and the "Steamboat Willie" band in full swing. We enjoyed sitting in the sun listening supping on beer for Ben and Lauren had a sazerac- similar to a whiskey sour- the first ever cocktail, served right here in New Orleans! We also gorged on beignets, a local delicacy similar to doughnut with loads of frosted sugar, they were gorgeous, it obviously has a huge French influence having been a settlement and the food compliments this with baguettes, croissants and the beignets but what isn't as known is that the Spanish came after this and most of the French buildings burnt down and the Spanish rebuilt it all. Despite being called French Quarter it's majority is of Spanish descent but apart from old road signs nothing Spanish has intruded on this truly French settlement.

We headed back to change for our evening out although we had no clue where we wanted to dine. Ben hadn't booked anywhere (you're not surprised are you?!) so we headed out knowing we had the jazz playhouse for dessert! We found a great looking steakhouse, and despite all the election results incoming it seemed everyone in New Orleans liked this particular steakhouse with over a 90 minute wait! We found another place though which turned out to be even better as they had a live three piece Dixieland jazz band who played right in front of us and even played at our table! We had a great meal and only paid a $4 cover charge on top of our meal (some places can charge up to $50). We left for the jazz playhouse where another three piece played with a headline act. Lauren was even lucky enough to not only hear this amazing jazz, drink cocktails from a very exclusive menu but gorge on chocolate cake! She really did get her dessert! Even a cheeky tv in the corner satisfied her American politics, keeping an eye on the election results. We had an awesome evening hearing some amazing music before heading outside and witnessing a mini Mardi Gras! People sung from bar balconies and threw beads, the ground was covered! The streets get shut off to vehicles in the evening due to the masses of people wandering and drinking, but it was all friendly you didn't feel unsafe. There was a hum that Obama had won reelection and people were cheering but as this was largely a republican state it was kept to a minimum although New Orleans itself seemed democratic. We finally got back to our place and looked in at our club before retiring after a tremendous day in the birthplace of jazz.

The next day the sun woke us and we lazily dressed and headed out to see the clear up of the night before, streets once again were open although, as said, most tended to be shut for repair works! We headed back to the square to people watch, hearing more jazz and silently mocking all the fortune tellers until we passed a lady fully dressed as a leopard, seriously, she had tattoos all over her exposed skin and even had whiskers! From there we took in the sights of the Mississippi River before hunting down "Yo Mamas". Ben had read about this one, surprising that he found somewhere to go, just he didn't know where it was but Lauren sniffed it out! It was a saloon type bar, wear the waitress smoked behind the bar and when Lauren asked the flavours of the frozen margaritas, her response was, "Let's try them together!" We went here for Ben as we say as he read of the most awesome sounding burger (to him, to the rest of us, yuck!) a peanut butter bacon burger! It came complete with a jacket potato topped with sour cream and bacon too, too his credit he ate every last morsel but Lauren was horrified by the fat content!

The afternoon was spent lazily walking to the famous cemetery, known for being the resting place of a voodoo witch, notable government officials and that the tombs are above ground not under. We wandered around surprised at the extravagance of the tombs, and witnessing the sacrifices to "xxx" the voodoo queen herself. They were incredible although some were damaged from the hurricane and we were informed that the families no longer existed so they would continue to fall apart, some even showed old Spanish families that moved away generations ago. From here we progressed to the Louis Armstrong park. It was now a gorgeous afternoon and we sat at a bench watching the world pass by as well as walking through the Congo square, where slaves of past would congregate to celebrate life and dance, making this the oldest black neighbourhood in the USA. We finished up our time listening to more live jazz at various places, all sets finishing with the mighty "Saints go marching in" to rapturous applause! We also walked into the central business district away from Bourbon street which only by a couple of blocks demonstrated how vastly different the place was, we were surprised to see the built up business side and were happy to have not left the French Quarter, we definitely didn't feel we missed out on anything here! We headed out to an airport hotel late on ahead of our early morning start to Denver via Dallas once again ahead of our final leg of the trip with Lauren's mum, Susan, joining us.

Things of note:

As we said you can drink on the streets, there are hundreds of bars and some just wide enough to have a few kegs and margarita cocktails in slush machines literally to buy and take out!

The food options are amazing from frogs legs, alligator tails to fish delicacies and gumbo which is a type of soup with whole bits of meat and veg in! Their top speciality is crawfish.

We could have gone to watch a Grammy award winning jazz which would have been awesome but with a $30 cover charge each we unfortunately passed.

As mentioned, cocktails were first invented here, they have some awesome concoctions available and some very exclusive ones too! The most accessible are the margaritas which are in huge slush type coolers at every bar.

Every shop has jazz playing out of it and most bars have live sets almost every hour they are open and largely free if you buy a drink.

You can smoke in restaurants and bars and drink wherever which is really weird to adjust to after so long of this being banned.

What would we do differently:

There was nothing else to be done in the day within New Orleans, people recommend trips to plantations and a trip on the river but that would be another visit, listening to more jazz would have been great!

Thefts: 0

Near Misses: 0

Fallouts: 0

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