Do you have an image that comes to mind when you think of New Orleans? I think of po’boys and gumbo, Mardi Gras and liquor. Brass bands flit across my imagination, as well as the pictures I remember seeing in the news after Hurricane Katrina. I had a vague idea of what to expect, but I also knew that in reality I knew nothing about the heart and spirit of New Orleans.
This was probably the first place where we really played tourist. In San Francisco, we were there during the week and spent a lot of time in coffee shops working. We were trying to blend in, which I think we did pretty successfully. In Mesa and Houston we were with friends who were locals so we got a free pass. But in New Orleans, we were by ourselves with three days to fill. We ended up taking a few tours while in town and spending the rest of the time walking around, being sure to take food breaks every few hours. This post will be heavy on the “we did this, then we did that”, I hope you don’t mind!
Upon arrival, we immediately dropped our bags off in our Air Bnb and walked from the Tremé towards the French Quarter to find dinner. It was a Saturday night and everyone was out; we heard music coming from multiple venues, creating a cacophony of music could be heard from the street. We knew we had to find food and music, as fast as possible. We managed to find an open table at Bamboula’s and had ourselves some po’boys and listened to some lively, foot-stomping banjo music. Upon finishing dinner, we continued walking up Frenchman Street to another bar, where we had a beer and listened to a brass band play some of the best music I’ve ever enjoyed. To close out our night, we walked across the street and meandered through a night market, full of local art and other goods. There was so much beauty in the things that people made.
The next day we woke up early to catch the city when others were sleeping off their party from the night before. It was really peaceful in the morning with very few people out and about, and it was much cleaner. I thought it was interesting that all of the streets in the French Quarter appeared to be soaped down in the morning. We fueled up with omelets and beignet fries at Pere Antoine Restaurant to start a big day of exploration. Our first stop after breakfast was the Faulkner House, located in Pirate Alley. Faulkner lived in New Orleans for a time, well before he wrote his most famous novels. From Pirate Alley we continued on to Jackson Square where we perused art for sale and watched other artists at work. When we got tired, we took a break and sat in the shade, people watching. When it got too hot to sit outside, we found ourselves having a beer at JAX Brewing.
After a brief siesta back at our Air BnB, we took a walk through the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. There were a few fountains and shaded grassy areas to enjoy, as well as statues of Louis Armstrong, Allison “Big Chief Tootie”Montana and a Marching Brass Band. We tried our first Hurricanes of the trip at Pat O’Briens, where we took them to go. It felt quite rebellious to be walking around outside with alcohol, but it was easy to get used to it when everyone else around us had cups full of beer or liquor.
Our second night was spent taking a Ghost and Vampires Tour . We chose to go with French Quarter Phantoms, and I cannot recommend them enough! After neb-nosing my way into other people’s tours, I decided that our master storyteller, Stephen, was seriously the best. While other tours played up the campy aspects of the actually thrilling history of New Orleans, our tour just told it like it was. We learned about Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan who haunts Muriel’s, The LaLaurie mansion, and the ghosts of Pirates Alley, among others. I don’t want to give away any of their stories, but if you ever find yourself in need of a tour company when it NOLA, I would suggest you go with them.
Monday was our last full day in the city, and we spent most of the morning catching up on work. In the early afternoon, we took a trolley to the Garden District where we were supposed to take a short tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. We were really lucky with weather up until Monday afternoon, when Mother Nature decided to let loose a whopper of a storm on us. Our tour was cut short, and we made our way back to Tremé to dry off and change before dinner. The day might have been a bust, but it did give us a chance to catch up on rest and work.
Our final morning in the city we finally made it to Cafe du Monde, which had been at the top of our to-do list since arrival. I’m glad we waited until a Tuesday morning to go as we were able to walk right in and have a seat. When we walked past in the days before, the line stretched on for blocks just to get to the take out window. After enjoying our breakfast, we headed back to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and were lucky enough to not only see everything, but we also got a private tour from a caretaker. Stay tuned for a post all about our visit there.
New Orleans was everything I expected it to be, yet nothing at all like I thought. True, it had all of the things I expected it to have, but the soul of the city was so much more. There was some serious pride and love from the locals we interacted with. People cared about the history of the city and where they were going in the future. I fell in love with the city and left a piece of my heart there. I can’t wait to someday go back and get it.