I had a trip booked to Cambodia and Vietnam in January but after being hospitalized in December I ended up having to cancel it. Since most of my savings went to moving and securing an apartment (and the fact I couldn’t take vacation for six months after starting my new job) I hadn’t been anywhere since June 2014, when I traveled to Nicaragua. My vagabond feet have been restless ever since then as I usually take a trip abroad at least once a year and smaller ones throughout the states every two to three months.
Considering where I was at just three months ago and the emotional roller coaster I’ve been through over the last couple of years, it’s incredible the recovery I’ve made in such a short time. I’ve put all my effort into taking care of myself these last few months so I figured it was time to let loose, have some fun, and explore somewhere new. New Orleans just happened to be my pick only because I found a last-minute ticket for $200 dollars (sweet deal!). In the end, I’m so glad I went because it’s a charming, lively city – one that quickly stole my heart.
At the suggestion of my friend M who used to live in NOLA I rented a bike for the four days I was there. It’s a fairly flat city and given my hostel was a 25 minute walk to pretty much everywhere it made getting around so much easier. Compared to other tourists I felt like I saw a lot more of the city instead of being confined to the French Quarter or Bourbon Street. I also got a shit ton of exercise.
One thing I’ve noticed over the last five years I’ve been staying at hostels is there are infinitely more people from Australia than there used to be. Of the seven of us who ventured out to Bourbon Street on my first night there, five were Aussies. In general, they’re wild and crazy and they certainly know how to show you a good time. I love them for that, especially since I’m shy when first meeting people.
That night I was also able to cross off on my to-do list eating beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde. Three-quarters powdered sugar and one-quarter dough, I’ve now had them sober and I’ve had them drunk. They are definitely better when drinking.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful neighborhoods I saw in NOLA was the Garden District, known for its architecture and historic 19th century homes. Most of the homes are enclosed by wrought-iron fences and many of them were draped in Mardi Gras beads. I found it amusing that such a wealthy neighborhood would add a touch of flare to their plantation style homes. It made me like them more. I would snatch one of these homes up in a heartbeat, if only I had millions of dollars.
I also spent part of a day doing a self-guided tour of the Lafayette Cemeteries. The St. Louis Cemetery is more widely known but my goal for this trip outside of food and entertainment was to do mostly free stuff. Lafayette was a viable alternative to St. Louis since it didn’t require you to pay entrance and guide fees.
Most interesting to me were the tombs that carried multiple family members dating all the way back to the early 1800’s (as shown in the photo above). What I found so touching was that family still visited their ancestors’ graves. I couldn’t even tell you where my great grandparents or great great grandparents are buried. In the tomb above, the flowers were fresh and I found the statue of Mary oddly comforting. At another tomb I stumbled across, a World War I medal was draped across the steps along with a picture. Seriously cool.
Days two and three were spent exploring the French Quarter and riding the ferry to Algiers Point. Algiers Point provides the best view of the NOLA skyline and you could spend an entire day in the French Quarter and still not see everything. The St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square are the focal point of the quarter and it pretty much reminded me of a castle in a fairy tale. I’d also recommend checking out the French Market, not so much for the stalls of cheap souvenirs but for the interesting food they serve there. Gators on a stick? Weird but kind of intriguing!
And I can’t forget the food! By far the best meal I had was at a dive bar in the Marigny called Mimi’s. C (who I met at the hostel) and I were skeptical when we first walked in but the atmosphere upstairs was pleasantly surprising. Mimi’s has the best late night tapas menu around. We started with one tapa and a few hours later had practically made it through the entire menu. Few tourists know of this spot but it’s popular among the locals and came highly recommended from M. Plus, you can actually hear each other talk. Other great restaurants I recommend are Surrey’s Cafe and Juice Bar for breakfast, Deanie’s for seafood, and Coop’s for some authentic Cajun food.
Perhaps my favorite part of NOLA though is the abundance of live Jazz music, especially in the French Quarter during the day and on Frenchman Street at night. I had a conversation with a local about this very subject and he told me about a local parade that happens every week from March to June. It’s not publicized and many tourists are unaware of its existence. C met me where the parade started and we walked along the route with hundreds of others who were playing music and dancing in the streets. Here is a short clip of the parade and another one of a jazz band we came across on Frenchman Street one evening.
It’s fair to say NOLA quickly became one of my favorite US cities. Pictures don’t do it justice but I do know I’ll be going back there someday soon.