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Published: January 5th 2016
R : New Orleans was fantastic. Lewis and Kylie told us it would be and it was. We arrived late the first day. It was immediately obvious that the city was jam packed. Our hotel was full of teenagers and town was pretty busy. People kept asking us "who were we here for" and it turned out a college football semi final called the sugar bowl was taking place on 1st January. On 31st December there was a huge football parade full of high school marching bands, which explained the number of teenagers in our hotel. (We had a nice hotel here as accomodation was scarce). I managed 3 nights without turning "grumpy old git" on the teenagers, before our 4am wake up call for the next flight. At that point I gave up and made numerous calls to reception at 1am. Anyway, I digress...
New Orleans is an awesome city. The first night we got to our hotel about 9pm so I capitulated to Cate's desire for sushi before we left the US and we found a great sushi place just round the corner from the hotel (with $5 hot sake). Not really New Orleans-ean, but sooooooo good.
Next day we hit up the French Quarter. The famous Bourbon Street was pretty trashy, but quite a lot of fun. Our host in San Diego had told us to have a Hand Grenade for her, and it's on Bourbon Street at the Tropical Isle, so we noted that for later. The buildings are quite french in style but colourful with wrought ironwork. We just wandered about taking it all in, and encountered bands, street performers and musicians on every street corner. It was raining our first day, so we quickly stopped for coffee to get out of the rain. We perused various art galleries and hot sauce stores (Cate's and my differing interests). We happened upon a parade, and stopped to watch. Only a few floats, all horse drawn, but they threw mardi gras beads at us for nearly half an hour. The Mississippi river borders the French Quarter to the south so we took a walk along there. The south side is pretty industrial and the water is pretty murky but it still makes for a nice walk.
In the evening, we headed back to the French Quarter and had booked a table at a venue for
dinner which we hoped would have live music. It certainly did... As we approached the place, the R&B blared out from the street outside. We approached and I recognised the tracks from my nights out with Emma in Bristol... Usher! Playing live, and free on a stage in the French Quarter! Not my kind of thing, but pretty cool, none the less. After he shut up, I mean... finished his set, the proper evening's entertainment could begin. We stayed until the music stopped, trying numerous beers in the process.
Next day we headed to the Garden district which is one of the areas most badly affected by Hurricane Katrina. You could see the scars of it still on the city, but the rebuilding was impressive - the majority of buildings looked in excellent order. What stunned us was the costs - we took a look at a realtor's window, and some of them were going for $800,000 for 3 bedroom shotguns (a shotgun is a house with one main corridor through the whole house, and rooms with no doors coming off it). Clearly, the area is becoming more gentrified and Katrina hasn't helped that, forcing the previous residents to
sell up to those with more funds to renovate and re-sell...
We grabbed breakfast in one of the many cafes on Magazine street and wandered amongst the pretty houses and cemeteries of the district before taking the street car back to the city. The cemeteries are enormous - all family (or organisations, such as the fire service) tombs with grand marble or granite tombs. Apparently the water table is so high here, they don't bury people in the ground. We knew there was a parade in town so went to see what was happening. The parade consisted of high school and college marching bands and various sponsor floats. While the bands entertained musically and through flags and dance, the sponsors threw mardi gras beads and free samples. Sadly not the brewery float though, who threw beer mats. We ended up with SO many beads, we hoped the housekeeping at our hotel enjoyed us leaving them! A great experience, and very "American".
So, this was new year's eve. We accidentally Skyped in to the Weymouth and Milton Keynes' new years, then we grabbed some dinner and a frozen cocktail in a food court and headed into town. (Unlike most
of the US, outdoor drinking is encouraged here). There was a main stage in Jackson Square showcasing local blues, soul and jazz artists and there were hundreds of revellers in the street. We headed to Bourbon Street which was crazy busy, and I got my Hand Grenade (famously the most powerful drink in New Orleans) and we headed for a place to watch the ball drop. Except, it wasn't a ball at all, it was a Fleur du Lys... How very New Orleans! After the time passed, there was 20 minutes of fireworks over the Mississippi river.
Next day, I headed to City Park, which was a bit of a waste of time as most things were shut (being 1st January) but I did manage to grab a portion of Beinets (fried donut style pastries) and a cafe au lait at Morning Coffee - an institution in the park for decades, before taking the street car downtown to grab a Killer Po-Boy (Killer being great place to try a po-boy, po-boy being a New Orleans sandwich with french style bread). We tried a cajun place for dinner and music that evening, but learned that cajun music is pretty much
all the same.
So that was America. Overall, we aren't sad to be leaving the US. We have enjoyed our 6 weeks here, and It's an amazing place with grand geography and geology, largely friendly population and good food and drink if you know where to look. But it also has frankly scary politics, a huge social security problem and terrible television channels. Amongst other attributes...
So, next stop is Belize....
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