“There is one purpose to life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible
of the complexity of the world – its beauty, its mysteries, its riddles.”
– Anne Rice (Gothic fiction writer from New Orleans)
To be honest, New Orleans was not on my top list to visit in USA even if I find this city very fascinating. But when my friend, Zoe, invited me to join her on her trip, I wasn’t so keen at first, but once I started reading about it, I didn’t realised that everything about this city just interests me – the music, the food, the architecture, the swamp tours, and its history with slavery, the latter appeals to me above all because of the movies I’ve loved to watch. New Orleans had the largest slave trade mainly because of its main port along Mississippi River.
New Orleans or NOLA or Nawlins is one of the top tourist destinations in the USA. Apart from its distinctive culture, it always celebrate and parade almost every occasion or festival even not their own. Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are their own festivals, so these are the busiest times in NOLA. We were there in June, so it’s actually low peak because it is TOO hot and humid! But we still saw lots of tourists and the nights are still packed and so much alive.
We stayed at a very cool Airbnb in Treme, quite close to French Quarter but it is too hot to walk so we always Uber it. It is a typical colourful “shotgun shack” in NOLA with a wide courtyard. Every house in that neighbourhood have its own character, I love the play of colours that I thought for awhile they were not real. This shotgun shack style of houses were influenced by the immigrants from Haiti but because of the materials used to build houses like this, it was severely devastated during the Katrina hurricane in 2005. NOLA is often visited by hurricanes unfortunately.
When we arrived, it was just time for lunch. We went to Dooky Chase but unfortunately it was closed when we get there, so we went to Willy Mae’s since it is just a block away from each other. It was the BEST fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life! Haha! Until now, I still crave for it! We also loved the lemonade! I never liked lemonades, but this one is exceptional!
After lunch, we went to Garden District or the uptown side of NOLA where you can see lots of huge beautiful historic mansions which they call Antebellum Houses, that is mixture of Greek, Colonial, and Victorian architecture.
We took the St. Charles Streetcar to get to this area, hop off somewhere in the middle and just walked around. Streetcars (or tram as I call it) are the public transportation here, and not a touristy ride. It was like still living in the past. We visited some of the famous houses around this area using our Google GPS maps only. We visited the houses like Ann Rice’s and Benjamin Button’s (from the movie!).
Then we walked towards Frenchmen Street & Marigny for a night of fun and music, this is more authentic place to find good music and locals prefer to hang out here than the touristy Bourbon Street. We stopped at Spotted Cat along Frenchmen Street. It is a small packed bar but the jazz artists performing are simply amazing.
NOLA has been the centre for music because it combines influences from Europe, Latin America, and African cultures. And since it was the only place who allowed slaves to play their music in public, JAZZ was born. As you’ll find the roots of jazz in this city, musicians are spotted performing in every corner and the New Orleanians dance along like it’s always their Mardi Gras parade, all year round!
The next morning, we had our first ever beignet at the famous Cafe Dumonde. Beignets are deep fried square pastry covered with powdered sugar. The queue is very long but worth the wait, it’s so delicious that we went back again the next day, lol!
NOLA is also known for its voodoo and not just their vampire stories. NOLA combines Roman Catholic and Afro-Caribbean beliefs. So we joined the Free Voodoo Walking Tour by freetoursbyfoot.com. Usually this tour is done at night telling you ghost stories and grusesome true stories that happened in the past, then you will end the tour in a cemetery usually visiting the grave of the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.
Our tour however is a different kind of Voodoo Tour, compared to other tours, instead of teaching “black magic” and introducing us to any voodoo queens or cult graveyard, we learned about all the misconceptions about voodoo. Our guide Robi’s tour is more of like Adam Ruins Everything, lol!
Btw, I don’t like horror films, but my top 3 horror films are The Ring, Sixth Sense, and The Skeleton Key. The latter is about voodoo and the film setting is, where else, of course at New Orleans.
After the tour, we had our lunch at The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar where we had jambalaya, gumbo, and an alligator meat! I’m a foodie so I must try it! Again, it tastes like chicken, haha! NOLA is world-famous for their food. Because of its mix culture, NOLA’s flavour is known as Creole, a combination of several influences from Cajun, African, French, Spanish, Italian, Native American and even Cuban and Chinese.
After our hefty lunch, we joined another free walking tour which is the Music & Arts Tour by the same company freetoursbyfoot.com, this tour is about the history and evolution of music in NOLA, the great writers and artists from NOLA, and the guide has an audio speaker letting you hear the origin of jazz up until now. I highly recommend this tour to those who loves jazz!
After the tour, we crossed the Mississippi River using the pedestrian ferry at Canal Street going to Algiers Point. It’s only few minutes to get to the other island/side. We went to Old Points Bar, the most filmed bar because perhaps it has some old vibe character to it. Well, apart from my friend and I were the only young ones that time, haha! Oops…
We didn’t stay that long, after few drinks we went back already to French Quarter to meet my friend’s cousins for dinner. We chose Arnaud’s Restaurant at Bourbon Street because it is said that people see the ghosts of Germaine, the lady who sort of started Mardi Gras. But we loved the food as well because of its classic Creole menu.
It was a long day for my friend and I, so exhausting that we call it a night just after our dinner. Besides, we need to get up early the next day for our Plantation and Swamp tours.
We rented a car from Turo, it’s like the Airbnb in renting cars. It will be my first time to drive in the USA so I was a bit nervous. Then we got almost scammed, haha! We got lost in the first 5 minutes so we had to stop at a petrol station. We didn’t really need to refill but we did because we need to reroute our GPS. Then we realised that we both don’t know how to pump the petrol on our own, lol! We lived in countries that there’s always a pump attendant! So I asked the help of one guy there but it turned out he almost charge his petrol to my card! Good thing the owner of the petrol station figured it out soon! Turned out he paid for for our $5 petrol so the owner will not call the police perhaps! Phew! Anyway, it’s our fault, we were acting stupid, haha!
Driving was easy especially if you are trained to drive in Philippines and Dubai, haha! We had fun during our road trip until we reached Whitney Plantation.
We chose this plantation out of many plantations in Louisiana because it focuses more on the history of slavery, a topic which has always a soft spot for me. The tour inside was very heartbreaking especially when you hear and read the life and conditions of stories of the slaves. There were some scenes shot here in the movie 12 Years A Slave.
Not too far from Whitney Plantation is the Evergreen Plantation. We did not go inside anymore because we don’t have time as we still need to do a swamp tour. So we just took a photo from its gate which can be seen from the main road anyway. This is the location of the movie in Django Unchained.
We arrived Cajun Encounters’ swamp at around lunch time at Honey Island Swamp, but there is no proper restaurant there so we just grab some snacks at the souvenir shop whilst waiting for our boat tour. We picked Cajun Encounter because it is just 30minute away from the city centre of NOLA, so that driving back will be easy for us.
It was a very hot afternoon, so whilst cruising I felt really sleepy. Until we saw baby alligators! I am not sure if they are captives and well fed because I was wondering where is their mom, the bigger one! So it felt a little bit too touristy for me but still quite an experience when you are in the south of USA.
We were famished and looking for seafood restaurant to have our last meal in NOLA, I must try the CRAWFISH before we leave! We went to check to several restaurants but since it was not in season, we just ended up to the same restaurant we had lunch the other day, The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar, because we know for sure they have it. I had it at Arnaud’s Restaurant but it was mixed with my pasta, I want to try the boiled one where I will need to crack the shells and suck the heads to complete my NOLA experience, haha!
We were supposed to go to Preservation Hall to watch a jazz show, but since it was another long day for us, we skipped it again. That’s the only thing that I feel we did not explore much in NOLA, the vibrant nightlife and music scene, we didn’t get to party like the New Orleanians. Well, there was just so much to do in NOLA that 3-4 days is really not enough.
New Orleans is one of the unique and well-diverse places I’ve been to because if its mix culture. If people don’t speak English, it feels like you are not in the USA, (some people still speaks French and other dialects here). Atmosphere is very laidback and bohemian. People are friendly, free-spirited, and can’t be bothered with everyday’s struggles and I love that!
Perhaps because they live their lives with tolerance and acceptance of different cultures, traditions, beliefs, etc. around them. There is one purpose to life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible of the complexity of the world- its beauty, its mysteries, its riddles. Accepting differences will indeed give you peace and enjoyment in life, if there is no compassion and understanding, then your purpose in life is meaningless.