Our first night in New Orleans was spent at the Crescent Palms Motel, near to the hostel where will be checking in the next day. We have since learned that New Orleans is referred to as the crescent city due to the bay it sits on. We just lazed around the motel and checked out the local area and Walmart (they seem to get bigger and bigger), knowing we have 3 days in New Orleans to fully explore the city. The next day we checked into the NOLA Jazz House (hostel) and then dropped the car back at the airport. We opted for the cheap public bus on the way back which whilst cheap ($2 as opposed to a $30 cab ride) did take around an hour to get us to downtown. It did drop us by the French Quarter though so whilst waiting for our room at the hostel to become available we wandered around a bit, having the some lunch down Bourbon Street (officially the smelliest street on our trip so far) – some Gumbo and Jambalaya – with background jazz music played by a couple of old hands. We walked through the streets of the French Quarter, it is easy to see why people love this city, the architecture is so ornate and there are heaps of cafes and bars in this area. It seems as though people are happy to just wander here, something unique in American cities we have found. Walking through the French Quarter we came to St. Louis Cathedral with some tubas busking outside and then the Mississippi. On the river was a ‘steamer’ paddle boat for lunch and jazz tours of the river. Right on top of the boat was a man playing a pipe organ but not your usual pipe organ. The instrument was using steam from the boat and the pipes were in a row for those to see from land. Perhaps the most unusual instrument we have seen so far and will probably be hard to beat. Definitely the largest if you take the boat into account. There are loads of jazz buskers here, to be expected, just as in Nashville but replace the country music with jazz.
Walking back to the hostel up Canal Street, we were halted by torrential rain four times and instead of one hour it took us almost two to get back. Once back we sheltered from the rain in our room and decided to be cheap and eat in the hostel. Once fed we had a tip from the hostel guy to go and see a brass band in the Uptown (an area of the town to the West, not North as you would expect) – the band was called ‘Rebirth’ and they were playing at the ‘Maple Leaf Bar’. We caught a tram, another tram, then bus then one final tram to get there. The bus was a replacement bus due to flooded tracks caused by the afternoon rain. The trams took us through some rather fancy areas of New Orleans with very large and ornate houses along St. Charles Street. The ‘Maple Leaf Bar’ attracted a diverse crowd for the apparently popular ‘Rebirth’ brass band. The band weren’t on until 11pm so we drank at the bar and watched the basketball play-off game on TV. There were some locals behind us who obviously did not like LeBron James judging by the comments. It was hilarious to hear their put-downs and jibes. Once on stage, the band (2 x trumpets, 2 x trombones, 1 x tuba, 1 x snare drummer, 1 x bass drummer and a cowbell player) stormed into some brass band jazz, a classic New Orleans sound. They were excellent but fatigue got to us and we only stayed for 1.5 sets before catching a cab home.
I started the second day with some free hostel waffles, one of the benefits of staying in a hostel is that they often put on breakfast even if it is cheap nasty waffle batter mix. It did the job though and we set off for Lafayette Cemetery No.1 in the Garden District. We got a couple of trams there, you can get an all day pass for $3 – bargain! The cemetery is interesting to walk around mainly because all the tombs are above ground. New Orleans being below sea level means that the dead cannot be buried 6 feet under as the graves when dug will fill up with water. We walked around taking a look at the tombs, the perimeter is a wall of tombs and inside there are many family, company and society plots. Some dating from the 1800s and still taking in the dead from the present day. Once we were done walking around the dead, we walked down to Magazine Street a nice street to wander along with cafes, shops and restaurants. We stopped for a rum cocktail at ‘The Rum House’ – a Mojito and a Charger (Red Stripe with a shot of lemon Barcadi, surprisingly good) – then had lunch at a place called the ‘Ignatius Eatery’ in homage to the famous character from the Pulitzer prize winning ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ set in New Orleans. The food here was good, Kirsty had a cajun sampler with crawfish etouffee, red bean stew and jambalaya and I just opted for the jambalaya which had chicken, alligator and andouille sausage in it.
With full bellies we jumped on the bus back into town and wandered some more around the French Quarter. We are both enjoying a city where people walk around and you feel like there are things to discover around each corner. Many cities here seem to have such a strong car culture that places to go are very spread out and people don’t just wander. Quite the opposite here. We walked around the French Market, which we vowed to come back the next day after finding some good looking food to try. We then just ambled and stopped for a drink at the ‘Toulouse Dive Bar’ which true to it’s name was a dive but drinks were cheap and it didn’t smell like a toilet which most of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter does for some reason. Exhausted, we picked up some groceries on the way back to our hostel for a rest.
We opted for another cheap dinner at our hostel before heading for the French Quarter once more to check out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I saw this band last time I was here, around 13 years ago and remember them being particularly good. The band is always changing so no doubt this time there will be different members. There are 3 shows every night (8pm, 9pm and 10pm) and the deal is if you aren’t willing to fork out $40 for a ticket you queue for up to 1 hour to get in and pay $20. We opted for the cheaper ticket of course so after a quick drink at the ‘Pirate Alley Cafe’ (an old Spanish jail) we did our queuing and got in to see some awesome jazz. They belted out tunes for close to an hour and rounded off with ‘The Saints’. The venue made us feel like we were at a sermon with front facing benches and standing with people crammed in every corner and crevice. There would have been around 100 people in a space not much larger than a big living room. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was set up to preserve the true New Orleans jazz sound in the 1960s. Once done and working our way out of the venue which was difficult due to the large number of people in such a confined space we meandered down Bourbon Street and witnessed all the drunkenness and bars alit with neon and drink specials. To be honest not that appealing, there are much nicer places to eat and drink in the French Quarter outside of Bourbon Street. We chose not to have one for the road and called it a night instead.
Our last day in New Orleans began with the best Po-Boy in town. A Poor-Boy or Po-Boy is a french bread sandwich filled with a variety of fillings but traditionally fried seafood. We went to the ‘Parkway Bakery’, reputed to be the best, and I had a fried shrimp Po-Boy with a local beer – ‘Suzie B’. Kirsty watched me eat my sandwich enjoying a Pimms Cup. A great way to start the day with an amazing sandwich and delicious beer! We then trammed in and wandered towards to French Quarter again stopping briefly at Louis Armstrong Park. There was a moment of excitement on the tram when several police boarded to haul someone off then searched the tram before taking another person off. We then saw them with a gun that they had found, ejecting all the bullets. It was alarming indeed but what was more alarming was the reaction of the other passengers who seemed to take this in their stride. We can’t wrap our heads around the gun culture here. All ended well though and there was never any hint of a resist in arrest of conflict, they gave themselves us willingly. There are perhaps quicker ways of making a getaway than a tram.
That afternoon we had ourselves booked on the ‘Old New Orleans Rum’ distillery tour which offered a free pickup from the French Market. Kirsty had herself a gluten-free crab-cake at the French Market and like all the other food we have had here, it was delicious. As it turns out we were the only people booked on the tour that afternoon and they forgot about us until I phoned up to ask where the lift was. They sent a driver down and we got picked up by Jeff, the guy who took us around the distillery. At this distillery they use all local ingredients and natural processes to give a high quality rum. We were greeted at the distillery with a rum/ice-tea cocktail which we took with us on the tour. Only being two of us the tour was swift and we got to tasting some of their products. We ended up buying a bottle of the Cajun Spice rum to send back. Something to remember this place by when we are in a cold English winter. We also got a free ride back into town, the best tour service ever!
Kirsty had left her cardigan at the distillery so we had to walk across town to another place where one of their workers had taken it to for us to pick up. With that out of the way we caught a happy hour in a local pub and then trammed it up to a restaurant near our hostel that is famed for their seafood. We shared a seafood platter at ‘Katie’s’ which consisted of grilled shrimp (what they call prawn here), mussels, oysters, soft-shell crab, cat-fish and french fries. It was amazing and so much better for being grilled and not battered and fried as most of the seafood here is. We had to ask for it grilled and the waitress did inform us that it wouldn’t be as good. We felt differently however, good seafood doesn’t need to be battered and fried to taste good. We then called it a night when I realised I had booked us on an 11am flight and not a 1pm flight the next day as I had thought. We had to get some sleep.