New Orleans had mostly been for my Dad, since he lives for music. As we drove over St Louis Bay into New Orleans, we spotted brown skeleton trees and and abandoned shacks – remnants of the town outskirts that had been left behind after Hurricane Katrina ten years ago.
When we arrived at New Orleans Guest House where we were staying, we were heartily welcomed by the enthusiastic, camp manager, Phillip, who was engaging in a lively conversation with one of the lovely maids. Our hotel was a pretty pink building on Ursulines Street just on the edge of the historic French Quarter, amongst a block of other bright colourful houses and courtyards. We had a courtyard with banana trees, where we ate our breakfast, and even our very own pet cat while we were there.
We all wanted to head straight out so, grabbing a map, navigated our way to Bourbon Street – the most famous and recognisable of the French Quarter streets. It was absolutely boiling and more humid here than anywhere else we had been so far, so within about ten minutes of being outside, we were dripping with sweat. As we walked along, the bright colours of the shacks and houses contrasted against the grey glass of the New Orleans city skyline. Bourbon Street was very touristy and filled with neon signs and cheap drink offers – we staggered along through the sweltering heat and just about fell into a bar/restaurant called Pat O’Brian’s, where we ate a yummy lunch out on the courtyard under the air conditioning.
As we continued exploring after lunch, we came across our first live music of New Orleans – an eight-piece jazz band playing in Jackson Square, outside St. Louis Cathedal. Dad was delighted to have found his first experience of the famous music, so we stood on the pavement and watched for a while (I got pooped on by a bird while recording a video – obviously this is my lucky place to be!). We then walked through the square to the Mississippi River and sat for a while, watching the Southern people pass by. We were thinking of ways to make the most of our time in the city, so decided to walk to a tour booking office to book something for our next full day. There we were met by a very friendly man called Frank, who booked us not only onto the alligator swamp tour the next day, but also offered to walk us around the city on a private guided tour. With our next 24 hours now fully booked, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
We were spending our evening in the infamous New Orleans area of Frenchman Street – renowned for its music, drinking and debauchery. We were advised by the hotel receptionist to take a taxi either way for the ten-minute journey as it would be dangerous to walk through the French Quarter after hours. Even as we approached Frenchman St, we saw a young man in handcuffs being pushed onto the floor by a police officer. Yet we were still excited – the evening was warm, the streets were busy and we could hear jazz notes drifting out from various open windows. We did a reccy of the street first (which was surprisingly a lot smaller than we were expecting) before deciding to have a drink in Negrail Bar. Here, we perched on bar stools and listened to the uptempo beats of a band called Four Men and the Apocalypse. Dad, particularly, was in his element – this was the part of the holiday that he’d been looking forward to the most.
After soaking up the sounds and watching the people of Negrail Bar over drinks for a while, we moved back out onto the street in search of food. A bar named Maison had caught our eye earlier, since it was very popular and there was a band playing on stage near the door, so we checked out their menu and headed inside. We were seated near the back, where we could just see the singers but were still able to chat. We there had the most delicious meal of the holiday (I had a beautiful pasta dish) and we bought joke-motif T-shirts to take back as gifts. We then moved towards the front of the bar to watch the band, and Dad got asked to dance by an overly enthusiastic woman. After we’d finished, and decided to head homewards, we stumbled across a live band, full of young people, playing out on the street. This was what we’d been looking for – there were sweaty people dancing in the road, lit up by the headlights of the moving cars, and the band played song after the song to the delighted crowd who were stamping their feet and dancing around. We watched for around half an hour before they packed up their instruments and shuffled down to the street to applause.
Our next full day in New Orleans was to be spent on a swamp tour, exploring at the wildlife and natural environment on a high-speed swamp boat. We saw herons and alligators, and our guide told us everything there is to know about the swamps – he described how he’s grown up in the area and how the ‘swamps are his playground’. For example, he told us how alligators don’t need to eat for two years, so they can hide at the bottom of swamps – explaining why they have survived the test of time through the pre-historic ages. We saw countless alligators as they glided silently through the waters around our boat. For some obscure reason, our guide was trying to wind them up by flicking water at them and, at one point, one of the alligators retaliated by hissing and launching itself out the water snapping at our guide (who actually has had his finger bitten off previously).
Our tour was finished by the afternoon, so we headed back into the city centre to meet Frank, the tour guide who had offered to give us a personalised walk around. He took us down the main streets but mostly wanted to show us secret corners and share cool local knowledge with us. For example, he told us how jazz music came about – how the slaves of the city would congregate together in Louis Armstrong Park and create the music in their days off for each other’s entertainment. It was all really interesting and Frank was a great tour guide – apart from when a poor homeless man approached us, saying he’d broken his hand and if we could hold his cup, when Frank very sternly told him off and made him apologise.
That night we headed back to Frenchman Street, as Frank had told us that a really good band were playing and when we mentioned the name to our receptionist, she got very excited. Dad made a special effort, wearing his new hat with a feather and one of his best shirts. We went back to Negrail first, where there was an elderly man crooning down the microphone (Dad sat at the bar, as close as he possibly could), and then we decided to split up quickly to get some food. Mum and I went to a vegetarian restaurant along the street called Thirteen, where we had veggie burgers. We were then ready for the big band of the night! The band, Washington and the Roadmasters were playing at a venue along Frenchman Street called DBA and we managed get in with good seats fairly easily. The bar filled up around us as they played and they were, indeed, very good – playing a sometimes lively and sometimes downtempo blend of jazz and rhythm and blues. Our night finished at about midnight, when the band finished playing – but when we headed out to catch our taxi home, we were distracted by the same street band out on the corner as the night before. They were just too good to walk past, so we stood for a little while admiring the music and the dancing before heading home.