The drive up to New Orleans was very easy, if a little dull and we waved at Mobile on the way past
We thought one organisation probably had too much money (how do you pass grit on?)
and wondered if Nasa was now employing Buzz Lightyear.
We were a little concerned following this truck..
The Approach to New Orleans was pretty distinctive
and we had a clue that we had just missed Fat Tuesday
We found our sweet little house in the Ninth Ward with very little trouble, even if we felt a tad confused. As we got closer and closer to the address we saw more and more derelict buildings.
We finally pulled up outside the cutest ,turquoise, wood framed building and managed to access the place via the Airbnb instructions, despite our doubts about the system (never having used the app before). Our hostess, Kore then turned up and was most welcoming and informative. The area we had chosen was one of the parts that was flooded by hurricane Katrina. The state troupers did very little to rescue people around here and calls were put out to people that owned swamp boats to come and rescue people that got left behind. The area was put off limits for over a year, by which time mould had really taken hold of the houses. There was no chance of insurance, because hurricanes are classed as ‘acts of God’, so a very large proportion of the owners could not afford to carry out renovations. That being said, a lot of houses have been made good and there is work being done all over the place. Our hostess rescues local cats and dogs and is an absolutely delightful and informative lady.
New Orleans has to be counted as the ultimate party town. After we had settled in (and on the advice of Kore), we headed down to the banks of the Mississippi river, which were only about a hundred metres away and walked past the local barracks, along the levee to the local Old Arabi bar.
The locals welcomed us warmly, made us feel right at home and told us we should come back the next night to hear a wonderful group playing.
The next day we cycled into the French Quarter on the good old Bromptons, past some pretty distinctive scenery
and had a wonderful time wandering around, sampling the local Creole and Cajun cuisine, including gumbo, creole shrimp, red beans, and jambalaya, together with alligator tails (all a tad disappointing, as it was all rather blander than we had been led to believe and yes, alligator does taste like chicken, as far as we could tell under all that coating) buying silly souvenirs and listening to an assortment of bands playing.
I was interested to note that they used mules not horses
I wondered who he had eaten
I wondered what this guy was up to, and it turned out that he was fishing out the coins from the fountain, hard up or what?
But you can smoke in the bars, or they do anyway
This was a state park, believe it or not, and the ranger playing the piano was outstanding!
We spent quite a bit of time sussing out where we wanted to go the following day, when we were determined to sample the evening entertainment that was available. We ended up walking down the world famous Bourbon Street, which was truly awful, even if Tim did end up getting his shoes cleaned (shining your trainers, really?) by a cheeky chappy. (‘I can tell where your shoes come from….on your feet’)
We eventually tracked down the highly renowned (but not very well known to the locals) Preservation Hall with Pat O’Brian’s bar next to it and then went to investigate a bar opposite, where we got chatting to a guy who had rebuilt an old BSA motorbike,
a very drunken, weird bloke that made no sense whatsoever,
a lovely Canadian lady who persuaded us that we could visit Mexico safely, as long as we went down the Baja peninsula and also didn’t try to buy drugs or guns
and a really interesting guy who worked in the oil industry and who explained how the BP disaster actually happened (mostly BP’s fault, but also their subcontractor).
(if you are wondering why the details are all a bit wooly, just keep reading…)
We then cycled back and, after a break and a snack, headed back to the Old Arabi. On the way we got chatting to some guys that live across the road and they were a little concerned that we might be going into dangerous areas and gave lots of helpful advice. We managed to get to the bar before the music started and ended up having a great time. I do confess that it all ended up as a bit of a blur, but I danced an awful lot, talked to an awful lot of the locals and met the nicest people. (Tim says I drank way too much as well; I think he told the whole of New Orleans about it the next day…)
Tim managed to get me back over the flood defences (quite a scramble, as the flood gates were shut) and home in one piece. Phew!
The next day we decided to walk into the French quarter late enough to enjoy the evening but to early enough to ensure we got through the dodgy bits before it got dark. (Apparently, according to a tour guide we met later at the Laura Plantation, New Orleans was pretty safe before Katrina, but the Mafia, who had liked it nice and peaceful so they could milk the tourists, decamped and so the gangs managed to reassert themselves and it can be a mighty dangerous place after dark.) We were heading out early the next day, so we packed up as much as we could before we headed out. As we were sorting ourselves out, our neighbour (from the night before), Brady popped round with a portion of crawfish, some boudin sausage and a local beer so we could try some local delicacies. He even showed us how to eat crawfish.
How kind is that? He then asked us what we intended to do and went away and came back with a long list of places we could go and bands we could catch. Southern hospitality in action, or what! It turns out that he is a writer who is currently writing a book about James Booker, an iconic local pianist, who had backed Ringo Starr in the seventies.
It was a four and a half mile walk into town, so we were glad when we finally found Frenchman Street to sit down and enjoy a drink and the free music.
The group were very good, although we couldn’t decide if the excellent fiddle player was drunk or stoned (or both) and the street life was worth a watch as well.
We worked our way to Preservation hall via a very reasonably priced restaurant and went into Pat O’Brian’s Bar to wait until we could go into watch a highly renowned band playing. ‘Paddy’s’ Bar was wonderful. They have two pianos and the performers take it in turns to play requests from the crowd.
If you want them to play something, you write your request on a napkin and put some money with it and give it to one of the performers. If they can’t do it, they screw up the napkin and money and toss it to the other performer. Everyone was singing along and we enjoyed it so much that we were too late to get into Preservation Hall.
We had queued for half an hour and, although they said we could get in for the show an hour later we thought ‘blow it’ and went back to the bar opposite. We then managed to persuade a taxi driver to take us back to our house (not always easy to get them to do, apparently).
We loved New Orleans so much that we tried to book the house for an extra day, but it was already booked out. Of all the places in the USA it is probably the one that we most want to come back to. I also think we should go and see something other than all those wonderful bars….