I have been trying to persuade Tom that we should go to New Orleans for at least five years, but for some reason he wasn’t at all interested. At long last, a conference meant that I finally managed to get us there, and we both had a lovely time. Late January seems to be a good time to visit – apart from one day of torrential rain the weather was fairly mild, and despite being there over a weekend during the run-up to Mardi Gras the city wasn’t too packed with tourists – and I was particularly thrilled by how walkable it was.
Our first day was chilly and bright, and we spent most of it happily wandering around the French Quarter. I was particularly taken with how beautiful some of the older buildings looked (the light was wonderful), and took lots of photos of the ironwork balconies.
We had been told in advance that stopping at Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets (doughnuts covered in icing sugar) was a New Orleans must-do, and it turned out to be an excellent place to take a mid-morning break before turning our attention to two of the city’s museums.
Both housed in historic buildings flanking the cathedral (which you can see in the first picture, above), the Cabildo contained displays about the city’s antebellum history and the battle of New Orleans (as well as Napoleon’s death mask and some other related memorabilia), whilst the Presbytere had exhibits about hurricane Katrina and the history of the Mardi Gras celebrations. Visitors to the latter were greeted by this striking juxtaposition of a carnival costume and Fats Domino’s piano (displayed exactly as discovered after the floodwaters receded).
We were expecting to hear good music in indoor locations, but hadn’t thought we’d come across bands playing on the streets, let alone really good ones. It made wandering around even more pleasant, as we kept coming across all kinds of combinations of talented musicians.
In addition to our first visit to both the city and the state, we got to see the Mississippi river for the first time as well. It was wide, and rather muddy-looking, and Tom felt it wasn’t as broad as he had been expecting…
To begin our evening out we decided to have a fancy cocktail at the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel bar. The gimmick is that the bar itself is actually a carousel, and you rotate gently as you sit on your barstool (it takes about 15 minutes to accomplish one revolution, and there are normal seats available if you prefer!). As I quipped on Facebook, it’s the first time I’ve come across a bar where the room starts spinning before you’ve even ordered a drink!
Cocktail hour over, it was time to head to the Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, where we had tickets for a comic operetta, Tabasco. It turns out that Tabasco (as in the spicy sauce) was created in Louisiana, continues to be manufactured there, and celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. The musical tribute was composed back in 1893, premiered in Boston and then enjoyed a short tour of the North Eastern states in 1894 before falling into obscurity. A contemporary musician had managed to resurrect it from manuscript material discovered among the composer’s archive, and the New Orleans opera company was producing it to celebrate the anniversary. It was gloriously silly, highly reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan’s oeuvre, and we enjoyed it very much indeed.
Walking back to the hotel, we thought we should at least take a look at Bourbon Street, which proved to be as loud and annoying as anticipated, even on a Thursday.
Next morning we hopped on a streetcar (tram) to visit the Garden District, and Lafayette cemetery. (My mother thinks it’s hilarious that I enjoy visiting cemeteries, but I think they’re absolutely fascinating!) Because of the high water table, corpses couldn’t be buried underground very effectively, so most people were interred in overground mausoleums (mausolea?), and many of them survive in a state of wonderfully evocative disrepair.
A pleasant stroll and coffee break later, we headed back to the French Quarter for lunch at the charming Cafe Amelie. Despite not having a dedicated allergy-friendly menu, they were able to feed me very nicely, and Tom enjoyed sampling his first bowl of gumbo. Multiple people had told us how good the food is in New Orleans, and that was very much our experience as well – the other stand-out place for us was a quirky cafe/restaurant called Green Goddess, where we ate twice.
Another wander later, and staying with the food theme, we came across the Crepe Cart in the covered market, at which I was delighted to find gluten-and-dairy-free crepes – I opted for the praline version, which involved vegan butter, brown sugar, pecan nuts AND caramel sauce. Delicious!
Tom had to leave before we’d had a chance to experience any of the music scene, but I found myself on Frenchmen street with conference friends on two different occasions. The first was a fairly unmemorable band at Maison, but the second was an excellent few hours of music from Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns at the Spotted Cat – the perfect way to spend my last night in the city.
As always, there are more photos in my Flickr album.
And, for my own future reference, we arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday January 24th, Tom came home on Sat 27th and I left on Weds 31st.