Thursday 25th September – Monday 29th September
New Orleans, USA
We weren’t quite sure what to expect of New Orleans. Was it going to be a beautiful, historic city? Or somewhere to sample a range of southern foods? Perhaps a great place to discover fantastic new jazz music. Or maybe it would be a cheesy party town of clubs and bars.
As it turns out, New Orleans (or ‘N’Awlins’ as it’s pronounced by the locals) is all of those things.
The French Quarter is actually a fairly large area, containing Bourbon Street (cheesy party town? Check), some lovely restaurants and cafes (foodie experience? No problem), as well as plenty of places to pop in and sample some great music. And there’s still room to get off the beaten track and enjoy the old buildings in fairly residential parts of the historic area.
On arrival at our hotel on Thursday, the receptionist gave us some free tickets to see the Rebirth Brass Band, who won a Grammy for their 2012 album, ‘Rebirth of New Orleans’. So, on Friday night we went to the Howlin’ Wolf in the Central Business district, to check them out. They are a nine-piece band (including three trumpets, two trombones, a saxophone, drummers and tuba). Their style is probably best described as a musical party!
We also saw a couple of different bands in bars on Saturday lunchtime and Saturday evening, one of which was called ‘The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys’. Yes, really. If that wasn’t enough, there was always plenty of music in the street.
While having dinner on Saturday night, we even saw a wedding party dance past with their own jazz band!
New Orleans has a very strong food heritage, arising from its mixing pot of different immigrant influences over the years. Amongst other delicacies, we tried Italian Muffuletta (a sandwich containing ham, cheese, salami and olive salad), Creole red beans and rice (although we declined the opportunity to sample the version that was topped with gator sausage!), gumbo and jambalaya and French beignets (light, fluffy square donuts, drenched in icing sugar). We also had a traditional breakfast consisting of biscuits (a kind of flaky, savoury scone) with creamy sausage gravy and the ubiquitous grits, which could best be described as a kind of buttery semolina, which can either be eaten savoury with salt and pepper or sweet with maple syrup.
Exploring the French Quarter
On Sunday afternoon we decided to do a walking tour of the French Quarter, to learn a bit more about the history of the city. Elliot, a volunteer from the Friends of the Cabildo gave a really interesting tour, covering a great deal about the different types of buildings found in the French Quarter, as well as information about how the city is protected from the water that surrounds it.
The history of the city is fascinating. It really is a melting pot of immigrants, starting with the French, then the Spanish (the French handed it to the Spanish to avoid it being taken by the British in the 1800s). More recent waves of immigration have included Vietnamese (during the Vietnam war) and Cuban. The atmosphere this has created is truly unique.
There is also now a great deal of protection for the historic buildings (down to exactly what paint can be used on the outside of houses)….one thing this can’t prevent is the fact that the city is sinking, so there are plenty of examples of buildings leaning in interesting directions!
Amusingly, the first question that Elliot asked us when he realised we were from England was whether we knew Hull! When we said that was our home town, he asked whether we know “the Dodds”, who are family friends! We couldn’t help – can anyone else?!
Song of the day
It has to be the Rebirth Brass Band. This was recorded by WNYC (a public radio station in New York).