New Orleans, 27th - 30th May 2010
In one word - WOW!!! New Orleans is not only the best place we've visited in the States, it's actually my favourite place I've ever been. I am definitely coming back here and probably for Mardi Gras. :)
We had bit of a nightmare getting to New Orleans, with 3 trains taking over 2 days in total. The food car also ran out of food on the last journey (18hours) which became a 20 hour train journey due to the time zone change and an hours delay. So we ended up having a muffin & pack of Doritos for lunch & dinner. The train also drove past the station, reversed, forgot to let our car off and shut down the train! Got there in the end though and it was definitely worth the hassle. :)
It is so diverse. The main part is the French quarter, but no matter where you go everywhere is as chilled out as the next, with rich and poor, contemporary and old fashioned, and with a heavy Latin feel and very raw feel to it. There are also so many musicians, artists & buskers floating around. And the shops are a rotation of bars, artist studios and funky souvenir shops. Food is also a main attraction of New Orleans, especially their sea food. They are renowned for their Crawfish, Gumbo & Jambalaya. We made the mistake of asking the women sat behind us on the train what was good to see in New Orleans and before we knew it we literally had everyone around us arguing over the best places we should go. And everyone was talking food. No one mentioned the attractions, because as far as the people from New Orleans are concerned their food is the main attraction.
One of things we loved about New Orleans was the southern style charm. Guys are absolute gentlemen and everything is so laid back. It feels very Spanish - everyone takes their time and 'why do something today when it can be done tomorrow'! Swearing in public is also a big no no, especially guys swearing in front of women. We got chatting to a busker who said he'd heard the phrase 'bloody ******er' and asked us what it meant. Unfortunately, a police officer was walking past at that exact moment, first told him to watch his mouth as he was in the presence of two ladies and then took him to one side where they had a very heated debate. Apparently he threatened to arrest him for a public order offence called 'verbal terrorism'! Hilarious!
So we only had 2 full days here and we jam packed them both. The hostel we were staying in was insane. They had a BBQ, and a chilled out garden area which even had a pool table so everyone sat outside chatting about the best places to go before going out. With all the information in hand, we headed to the French quarter for a look around and then along the Mississippi river. We saw a Paddlewheel boat sailing up and down and followed it to the dock. Sailing on a Paddle Boat on the Mississippi was the top item on my USA to do list and something I've wanted to do since I was a kid, so I can't tell you how happy I was when we got our tickets. :) The boat we went on was the Natchez and is the last steam paddle boat left on the Mississippi. As soon as we got on there we made our way to the back of the boat to see the paddlewheel and sit out on the mid deck. We were so grateful when it actually set sail cos it was absolutely scorching, the humidity was horrendous and so the breeze was very much needed. The cruise was for 2 hours, and they even served very strong frozen cocktails - perfect for helping us to cool down. ;) We even managed to get a private tour of the Captains deck, engine room and open top deck - they're all suckers for the English accent! ;)
A little history lesson on Hurricane Katrina
We spent an afternoon on a tour seeing the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and even after 5 years it is totally unbelievable. Some of the houses have been replaced, even Brad Pitt & Angela Jolie have started a foundation to help build new houses and sell them to the local residents at cost price. But as a lot of the residents still haven't returned there are a lot of plots which are either grass where a house once stood, the remains of the original building, or simply an empty plot behind the concrete front steps. When the water from the flood began to reside the National Guard had the task of entering every house to search for survivors, mark if there were dead people or animals in the house and make sure that the gas was turned off. Over 1,800 people died during this storm and these giant crosses were sprayed onto the front of each building. A lot of them can still be seen on a lot of houses, even ones that have been reoccupied.
The tour guide said that there was the hurricane damage (rain & wind) and then the flood damage. He said the flood damage was from a 100 foot barge which came loose whilst it was moored, which eventually broke through the flood barrier, flooding the area known as the Lower 9th ward. There was 18 foot of water in this area and on top of that a lot of the devastation was caused by having a 100ft barge being rolled around the neighbourhood by the hurricanes winds.
The reason why a lot of houses have still not been rebuilt is because the insurance companies would only pay out on damage caused by the hurricane (wind & rain), but refused to cover the flooding damage as that was caused by the dam breaking. The law suit between the insurance companies, the engineers of the flood walls and the barge owners is still ongoing.
We also got chatting to some locals who were telling us what it was like after the hurricane hit. They said that the news didn't report on the Lower 9th ward as they thought it was a lake. They also told us about taking it in turns to sit outside their houses with guns to ward off gangs who were looting vacant properties, and having to go to the supermarket in a large group, wading through the water with as many weapons as they could carry, to get food. He said they weren't proud of looting a shop, but it was for food and water as everything was destroyed, and no help was getting through. During this time the city didn't mind people looting for food and no-one was prosecuted, but they came down very heavily on people looting places like TV shops!
Katrina was a category 4 hurricane, and very shortly after Katrina another hurricane called Rita paid a visit to New Orleans. Because of this they had to repair the flood wall quickly to avoid further devastation, but as it was built so quickly it can only withstand a category 3. Rita was a category 3, Katrina was a 4.
Short history lesson over with, now onto their more current culture :) - Bourbon Street.
We thought New Orleans was the best place ever during the day, and then we went out at night, and oh my God!!!! They have beads, tinsel and basically anything that sparkles all over the city - hanging from trees, sign posts, balconies - just everywhere. They have Mardi Gras here every year, which is the world's 2nd largest party (Rio carnival being the 1st), so they are well versed in throwing parties. Every balcony the whole length of Bourbon Street is bursting with people throwing beads down to people on the street. Most of them break as they land on the floor, so the floor is covered in them, and it's certianly not a sport for the faint hearted trying to catch these things. There's also loads of guys walking around with hundreds of them round their necks and giving them out to the girls that walk past - soooo much fun! :) Each bar is made up of playing their music as loud as possible trying to get everyone in, so the street is absolutely buzzing.It's also legal for people to drink on the street so everyone is walking around with a yard glass grenade - when you get to bottom of one of these things you certainly know about it! We even found a frozen Daquiri shop which were like alcoholic slush puppies and they had 20 varieties in what looked mini washing machines. Very cool and again a lot of fun. :)
Unfortunately we have to leave now but onwards and upwards to Memphis. It's Memorial Day weekend and we plan on doing some partying on Beale street.