If you have an idea of what to expect from New Orleans then you’ll likely have a fantastic time there. For me, I was looking for three things: music, food and gators.
On my whistle-stop trip of southern parts of the USA I was going through a bit of a mini music tour. It included Austin, would later include parts of Tennessee, and, for now, it was the one I was most looking forward to: New Orleans.
My favourite, favourite music is the blues, and Mississippi blues in particular. The history, stories and personal aspects of the blues, and the grainy, basic sound of some of the oldest recordings going back to earlier parts of the 20th century, are fantastic, and the sound coming through from only a guitar and a broken bottle neck is often phenomenal. In New Orleans I was hoping to catch more of this, and had a little bucket list item to tick off: drinking bourbon while listening to live, acoustic blues in the deep south. Done.
Given this was my first trip to New Orleans, I typically ended up in the French Quarter and had a hotel there for a few days. This was my only long-ish stop on the quick tour of mainland US, with four days to enjoy New Orleans. The French Quarter is busy, full on, and I’m sure plenty of visitors stray no further. Bourbon Street is the busiest but it’s certainly not the only place in the immediate area to go. Royal, Chartres, Decatur, Frenchman – you won’t be short of options in the vicinity.
And it goes from one extreme to the other. A dive bar is next to a hipster coffee shop, next to a dodgy looking strip club, next to a nice restaurant. Parts of the area smell awful, but that disappears within a few steps. There are some desperate looking people around, some whacky people, and plenty of chancers. “I bet you $20 I know where you bought your shoes from…” – And that was in my first hour there. All the while, pubs are bursting with music of various genres.
Away from the French Quarter, it’s calmer. Typical of any area “where the tourists don’t really go”, you’ll find something entirely different and it may be more to your taste. I only had one night away from the French Quarter, planting myself at the excellent Avenue Pub on St. Charles Avenue towards the Garden District – sociable, pub grub, beer.
A swamp tour is a must-see in New Orleans. It passes some open waters, some ruins and some quite eerie parts, and the critters were all out. Raccoons, a family of swamp pigs, multiple gators, including Brutus; a massive, older gator, fond of hot dog chunks and marshmallows.
Some of New Orleans is entirely geared towards tourists and you just have to go with it. For example, the cemeteries, where the dead are buried above ground, are only accessible on a tour. But it’s worth it for the stories and history.
The food, the music and the swamp all delivered, and then some. If you know what you’ll be getting from New Orleans and you’re happy to go with it, you’ll love it.