A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

Taking it easy in the Big Easy

New Orleans is open for business!

What a breath of fresh air New Orleans was after the sterility of Florida!

Actually, before I get into that I really ought to finish talking about our Floridian visit. We spent a week or so doing a mini road trip: Kissimee to Tampa, the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades to Miami Beach (*), then a few days driving through the Florida Keys. This was the best part of the Florida by far! We had no idea how pretty it was down there, and we both loved Key West, which is pretty much an adults’ playground. We wish we had known this in advance so we could have spent some serious time there. As it was, we only went for a day trip ‘cos we had already made plans to drive to Louisiana.

(*) Pete wanted to do this in the convertible we hired, and even I had to admit it was a lot of fun. The road was pretty much empty, so we had the roof down and the rock music turned way up!

New Orleans got off to an interesting start. The day we arrived, Hurricane Ida was predicted to hit, and the following morning I nearly trod on a garter snake! Not dangerous, but I wasn’t to know that (**). This old couple stood by watching, and only told us the darn thing was there after the fact!

(**) It’s awful down in the southern states. The service stations on the highway are plastered with big posters saying: ‘Danger - Snakes of the South,’ which contain horribly realistic drawings of rattlers and other monstrosities.

Side note:

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time may remember that I have a thing about snakes (see my Kuala Lumpur entry). As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of snake in the world: type 1) comes under the category of ‘Arrrrrgh!’ and type 2)... no, scratch that; there is only one type of snake in the world, and ‘Arrrrrgh!’ covers it perfectly. I think the snakes have found out I don’t like ‘em, ‘cos guess what happened to me in Texas? I nearly trod on another one, this time at the Dallas Arboretum! It was the exact same type of slithery serpent, too, so now I am all paranoid. Are snakes capable of stalking people? Did the one from New Orleans jump on a plane and follow me around? I tell ya something, if I almost tread on another one, I’m going home to New Zealand! No snakes there, none at all... that’s just part of the country’s appeal.)

Happily we managed to survive both hurricanes and snakes, and were able to get on with our intended business in New Orleans, e.g. drinking Bourbon Street dry. Well, actually, that’s not quite true: we did find other stuff to entertain us, too.

Mardi Gras World

Amongst other things, New Orleans is famous for its Mardis Gras parade. Not being February, we missed out on that, but did the next best thing: we took a tour of a workshop where many of the Mardis Gras parade floats are made. The place is really unusual in that tourists are allowed to watch the artists at work, and you get to see the float-making process pretty much beginning to end.

This guy is making a Charlie Brown sculpture for next year’s parade. They also make sculptures for theme parks like Disney World.

The floats are paid for by organisations called ‘krewes’. Some krewes are pretty exclusive and require sponsorship to join, along with thousands of dollars in membership fees; others are less picky, and will let anyone ride on their floats for a one-off fee.

Some of the costumes worn by the krewes are pretty elaborate. We had a chance to play dress-up at the start of the tour. This is Pete wearing a mask that we think looks like American chat show host Jay Leno.

The finished parade floats are real works of art. The dragon was my favourite:

MGW-dragonfloat.jpg MGW-Zulufloat.jpg
Some of the floats are one-offs, and the components will be broken down and reused the following year; others appear in every parade and simply go back to the workshop for touch-ups and repairs.

It is traditional for people on the floats to throw beads and other knick-knacks to spectators in the crowd. One side-effect of this practice is this:

Walking down the street in New Orleans can be surprising. Beads appear in trees, bushes, on telephone lines and on people’s balconies.

The tour was way better than expected - the guide even offered to let us wander around the workshop on our own at the end, in case there was something else we wanted to see. It was a great way to get a feel for Mardi Gras (without having to pay extortionate February hotel rates!)

Paddle steamer

I think I must have spent too much time reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was a kid, ‘cos for as long as I can remember I have always wanted to ride a paddle steamer down the Mississippi. Happily for me there are two fully functional steamers in N.O., and one evening we went aboard for a jazz dinner cruise.

The boat is named the 'Natchez,' after the indiginous people of Mississippi.

The Natchez is famous for its 32-note calliope, and there are concerts a couple of times a day.

The calliope player is popular with everyone except the poor souls who sell the tickets. The guy who served us rolled his eyes and grimaced throughout the performance, which we thought was funny at the time. I bet we’d change our minds if we had to listen to it every day, though. It really is loud!

The cruise is worth doing, we think: we enjoyed the jazz band, and really enjoyed the buffet (don’t we always?) One word of advice, though: if you are going for an evening cruise, make sure you dress warmly. It can get pretty chilly up on the deck, and once you’ve finished your meal and left the dining room, there aren’t many indoor places to hide.

And while I’m on the subject of food...

If I had to choose a place to live solely based on the cuisine they serve there, these would be my top three choices:

1) Greece – I am addicted to moussaka, stuffed peppers, stuffed tomatoes, and their wonderful salads.
2) Turkey, or anywhere they serve falafel, kebabs and stuff like that.
3) New Orleans (and the only reason N.O. doesn’t get a higher rating is because I’m afraid that the cholesterol I’d ingest there would kill me!)

New Orleans has some of the best food in the USA! I love their Cajun cuisine, and we had some really amazing fish dishes. The one thing I’d really been hankering after, though, was grits. I had no idea what grits were, and even after I ordered ‘em I had no idea what I was eating. They look like this:

The texture reminded me of couscous, and the taste was bland, like plain porridge. When I got home I Wiki’ed it and discovered it is made from ground corn. The locals often add salt, butter and cheese for extra flavour.

I also discovered New Orleans' local doughnut - the beignet (pronounced ben-yay) - much to the detriment of my waistline. These things are soooo good: deep-fried dough, sprinkled with a mountain of icing sugar. (The sugar gets everywhere, by the way. I wash brushing the stuff off my shirt for days!)

Pete made me share these with him. No fair!

There is so much to see and do in New Orleans that we would need several weeks to explore it all. Other things we enjoyed were:

- Listening to jazz on Bourbon Street

- Riding the St. Charles streetcar

Don't make the mistake of calling this a trolley or a tram. It's a streetcar - the locals are very definite about that!

- Simply walking around the French Quarter and taking in all the wonderful architecture... and a few unusual shops.

Marie Laveau was a famous Voodoo practioner. You can learn about her and Voodoo on various walking tours.

- Exploring the Cities of the Dead - New Orleans' above-ground cemeteries.

Space is at a premium, and some residents may end up being interred in one of these economical wall vaults.

Despite the devastation of Hurrican Katrina, New Orleans has recovered well and is welcoming tourists. It is definitely one of the places on my 'I Will Return' list.

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope to get my Mexico entry published before New Year.


Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 08:44 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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