After three nights in New Orleans we are on a greyhound bus heading north to a place called Lacombe, in Cajun country, about 45 minutes drive out, across the other side of lake Pontchartrain.
New Orleans (NOLA to those in the know) was certainly a different experience for us, we arrived at our Airb&b quiet late (10 PM) due to train delays. Because of a booking error by us we only had two full days there, but as it transpired this was probably enough, we’re not great at doing the touristy stuff and we been doing a lot of late. The B&B was a pretty extraordinary house, our blond, tattooed, hippyish looking Californian host really did have an eye for design, colour and style (well, in the context of interior design anyway), outside it looked a bit like a crack house with a steel barred gate securing the front door but inside it was really nice and comfortable, “proper” shabby chic, a real find. The Bywater district, where we were staying, is on the up, as we were informed by our host on arrival, it later became clear that this ascendancy was likely to be a long one, but no doubt it would get up there, a few little things would make all the difference such as not robbing taxi drivers at gun point so that they will pick up fares there!
The next morning (after checking our weapons and packing extra ammo) we walked the 2 or so miles to the French Quarter, on the way we passed through what is clearly an impoverished area with pockets of Katrina hurricane damage still to be fixed. Despite this, many of the houses (mostly small single storey, built of timber) had lovely Spanish colonial touches (veranda’s, canopies, tall narrow Windows etc.) and bright lively paint schemes. It was a very hot, cloudless day and the mix of colourful houses, exotic plants and trees (that seemed to abound) made us very aware we were in a very different America now and our adventures were about to start properly. A bit of a highlight on the walk was stopping at a building site and the contractor giveing us a guided tour of what will be an $800k house for some wealthy person to use as a second home, funny enough he was typical of many developers i’ve met, great builders but no idea of style. The house was long and narrow with really high ceilings, a really interesting “Grand Design” space, but he was just about to start filling it with fibreglass Greek style columns, and ornate coving and such like. I would like to have introduced him to our landlady, but it probably would not have been a successful marriage, though it might have produced an interesting offspring.
The French Quarter hits you smack between the eyes and the ears! Rightly famous for jazz and blues and bars and food, the place is a total multi-sensual extravaganza. Great bands with fine musicians can be heard playing all day and night, Cajun food everywhere, lively bars on every corner and you can carry your beer from bar to bar. The French market is another must on the tourist trail, if just for the food stalls, a perfect way to sample the various local delicacies, deep fried oysters, alligator and the like. We spent a full day there, ending up in a bar named Vaso listening to a dam fine blues band before hijacking a taxi back to Bywater.
As we over did things a bit on our first full day, we opted to avoid the mid day Sun on our second and venture forth in the afternoon. We continued our exploring and then in the evening we took a Mississippi steam boat ride, this gave us the opportunity to see NOLA lit up at night and a long lingering opportunity gaze at the banks of this majestic river cloaked in total darkness. Well it seemed like a bright idea when we set off!
To summarize, NOLA is a really great place to see, but go spring or fall. People are friendly and the atmospheres great, yes the city has its problems, but its heart is strong. Go visit, support it, spend a few dollars, you’ll have a great time and chances are your money is more likely to find the pockets of local folk rather than the usual multinationals. A few days and nights there is to be highly recommend, a gem. S