New Orleans has been celebrated in music, food, film and is beloved by many artists – from the Herman Grima House in ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ made famous by the Animals, to the iconic yet slightly disturbing movie ‘Pretty Baby’ starring a young Brooke Shields as a 12 year old prostitute in the Storyville, the Red-light district in New Orleans in 1917. A weekend in New Orleans gave me glimpses of his colourful history, flavourful food and the creole and Hispanic influences on its spiritual quirks and beliefs.
Before arriving in New Orleans on our Top Deck tour, we spent a night in Lafayette and stopped at the Bayou Rum Distillery on the Mississippi. The whole thing reminded me of the Little House on the prairie or How the West was won or one of those cliché American feel good stories. Turns out rum is made from molasses, and after tasting some of that good old molasses rum I turned into a passed-out mess. I was so conked out that I only woke up when my friend Ellie woke me up when our bus engine caught on fire and we thought we’d have to get off the bus. Warning to those uninitiated in rum tasting – cancel all plans for the next couple of hours and find yourself a spot to sleep it off!
Son of a gun we’re gonna have fun on the Bayou
One of the songs of my childhood was Jambalya by Hank Williams. I still know all the words and it’s the first thing I thought off driving into the swampy Missisippi land. Like the song proclaims, one of the highlights of the bayou is its food – “Jambalaya and a crawfish pie, filet gumbo. Cos tonight I’m gonna see my cher amio”. With high expectations, the Cajun dinner at Pieros in Lafayette did not fail to please.
I tried the chicken and sausage gumbo, and crawfish etoufee with rice and popcorn shrimp. It was rich and flavourful and so different from the food you would typically get in the states. I felt a little like Scarlett O’hara on her honeymoon, pointing at plates of food with eyes bigger than my stomach.
Avery Island Tabasco Factory
The next day we drove to Avery Island Tabasco Factory and saw a video of how they make it which is pretty cheesy just warning you. They have a cool shop where you can try different types of tobacco sauce with pretzels. There were at least twelve different types and also the collectable coins that are unique in each location that you can get all over America and famous places.
Before driving into New Orleans we did a Swamp Tour at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park which was pretty cool. I got to hold a baby alligator and got some good photos of wildlife and freaky bugs. The swamp was a site of many movies such as the Paperboy I’m pretty sure.
The House of the Rising Sun
I grew up listening to the house of the rising sun and it was only when I got to New Orleans and bored over a tourist map of points of interest that I realised that it was an actual house in New Orleans, with one of the possible locations being the white house beside the Herman Grima House on Louis Street.
It’s a beautifully haunting song and when I was looking for it, I met a man who was working at the bar across the road, who came outside and offered to take the photo for me. It was a strange moment and one of those moments you have when you’re travelling that you will always remember. It was a moment charged with chemistry. My skin felt static. I can’t help thinking that it had something to do with that house, that place, the history it has seen unfolding.
We had an amazing night walking around bourbon Street and loved the attention and the music and the way people compliment you so openly. You can buy frozen daiquiris in a small bucket, hawkers selling bead chains on the streets and promoters enticing tourists into their bars. If you love live music, southern hospitality and country wholesomeness – New Orleans will not disappoint. You can buy jelly shots and inject them into your mouth, the girls serving drinks will pour shots into your mouth from their mouth. I finished the night at a Jazz bar that made me feel like I was freakin Nina Simone.
Free Walking Tour
I did a free walking historic tour around New Orleans that I thought was pretty good. It went over the history of several iconic buildings around a few blocks by the waterfront, through Jackson Square and points out places of interest in the French Quarter. They meet at 9.30am and its first come first served so make sure you get in early. There are other walking tours such as French Quarter tours, Voodoo Tours and Ghost tours. Lots of things to do depending on your interest!
Café Du Monde
I tried the famous Beignets from Café Du Monde which is an institution in itself and it was as good as it claimed to be. So yum and sugary I had a film of soft white sugar dusting all over my face and my shorts like I was a cupcake sitting on a wire rack being frosted.
Marie Laveau Voodoo Museum
I also went to the Marie Laveau Voodoo Museum which was a bit of a disappointment. Marie Laveau and her daughter with the same name were well known voodoo practitioners. The mother was known as the Witch Queen of New Orleans and was talented at finding out information about her wealthy patrons from their servants by paying them or mysteriously ‘curing’ them. The museum was a collection spanning three tiny rooms that were cluttered with random bric a brac stuff to do with her life and displayed in a vaguely spooky voodoo themed setting with dim red halogen lights. It was interesting but I think I prefer my museums a little less claustrophobic.
Went to Frenchman Street with some cool bars that was a bit less congested than Bourbon Street. I also went to a market nearby and had a look around. On the whole Bourbon Street was a lot better and a nice place to end the night if anything. I literally ended up stopping traffic on the way home – like actually trying to direct cars. I would advise that you do not try this at home.
The best things I liked about New Orleans were its flavourful food, its colourful quaint little houses and its vibrant live music and nightlife. New Orleans is like a kaleidoscope of east meets west meets west indies meets creole meets African meets spiritual hedonism. Its strength is in its otherness and that’s ultimately what sets it apart from the rest of the states.