We have some catching up to do… Just before Thanksgiving last year (end of November), Andy and I took a some extra leave and dashed down to New Orleans for 5 days. As it was only 7 weeks since my knee surgery, we were both fairly tired – me from reduced mobility, ongoing pain and lots of physiotherapy taking up energy & work hours; and Andy from the demands of taking care of me and all the house stuff on top of general life – so this was a lovely short escape.
We immediately enjoyed the slightly warmer temperatures of the south (low 20s C rather than high single digits) as well as the friendliness, hospitality and relaxed nature of the locals. We stayed in the touristy French Quarter, which is the old part of town and was least affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There are lots of beautiful and colourful old houses and buildings that made the city so interesting to walk through, which we did a lot for the first few days, both on our own and on guided tours (one on history and the other a night ghost tour – ghost stories are plentiful here!), with breaks for me to lie down at the hotel and rest my still swollen knee.
One day we got up early and were driven inland (upriver) to swamp country to do a tour. The bayous were very narrow and stunningly beautiful, especially with the fall foliage, and incredibly skilfully manoeuvred by our guide in our large flat-bottomed boat. When we went out onto the river we picked up speed and covered a fair bit of territory, looking for wildlife. We only saw one alligator (a bit late in the season) but did see several birds: eagle, blue heron, waterfowl; a few water snakes, lots of turtles and a racoon! By the side of the main river are lots of houses and holiday cottages, some of which still bore signs of the damage from Katrina – and this was a LONG way upriver from the sea!
Driving back our shuttle driver kept calling out random numbers – 16ft, 18ft, 12ft – meaning the depth of flooding in 2005 in that area. The numbers were pretty huge! The general area is still devastated nearly 10 years on. All the smaller businesses and infrastructure in the small towns outside of New Orleans have never been re-established, meaning that you might have to wait over 3/4 hour for an ambulance to be able to reach you! It was very sad to see the ruins of beautiful old houses that have been abandoned on the outskirts of town and are being reclaimed by greenery – I didn’t take any photos.
Back in town, we also enjoyed the local food – po’ boys (meat/fish subway sandwich), gumbo (soupy meat stew over rice), jambalaya (a rice dish similar to paella), beignets (like doughnuts) and even fried green tomatoes. This last dish, and some pickles, was the only concession to vegetables or fruit, except for the orange slices on our cocktails; while delicious, it was not a cuisine I could live on. Also, the drinking culture was incredible! Bourbon St is (in)famous and we wandered down here during the early part of the evening. In all of New Orleans you can drink on the street, as long as you have plastic, not glass. Drink sizes are enormous, and several bars were advertising 3 for 1 specials at 4pm!
Another thing people will tell you about New Orleans is the music – it is everywhere! People gather in groups on the streets and just play/sing. It was son wonderful to hear all the music as you wandered around and the standard was incredibly good. We also went to Frenchman St, the jazz bar scene, and went to a few shows in one place – first a small jazz ensemble and then an 8-piece brass band. In between, we wandered around the night art/craft market across the street and also treated ourselves to a gourmet hot dog. It was a great night!
While we were there, we also managed to catch up with Felicity’s former manager, Jennifer Waxman, who is back living in New Orleans. It was lovely to catch up with her and be driven around and shown the sights by a local. She took us to a cemetery near her house – New Orleans is famous for its above ground cemeteries, as the water table is too high for people to be buried underground. This one was a contrast to the one we saw on the walking tour, which was older and more run down; also the St Louis #1 (on the tour) had the tombs of several famous voodoo queens, as well as Nicholas Cage (no, he isn’t dead, but he has commissioned a tomb to be built already!).
On the last day, we happened to stumble across the official ceremony to light the city’s Christmas tree, which was quite fun. And then back to freezing New York to celebrate Thanksgiving – nothing like mixing up your holidays a little 🙂