a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘mississippi river’

we’re not in Kansas, Toto! ;)

eventually I will finish writing about New Orleans 🙂  April is usually less nuts so fingers crossed…

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived in “the big easy”.  The nickname suggested promise – and the friendly guy at Homeland Security in Vancouver had been there and thought I was in for a treat.

And he was right.  The first hint was when I checked in and the guy at the front desk told me about the libertine rules on Bourbon Street.  You don’t normally get to walk around with alcohol on the streets of the United States.

But New Orleans doesn’t feel like the USA.  It’s not quite Europe – or Montreal – but it does have an European flavour you rarely encounter in the land of the stars and stripes.  There is a relaxed attitude to life – and playful vice.  There is a rapturous connection to food and drink.  And there is a sense of hospitality that reminds me fondly of Europeans.

It feels more multicultural than most places I have been in the United States.  I think some of it stems from the history.  Much like Canada, it was a place whose potential was not obvious to 18th century Europeans, so it was tossed like a hot potato between the French and the Spanish with only the hardy and disadvantaged willing to try to make something of the place.

music on the streets

music on the streets

Fighting off the alligators in the swamps and hoping a hurricane wouldn’t wipe out your shelter couldn’t have been much fun but it did mean there was little chance of a hoity-toity Northern European culture developing.  It became a place for mavericks and outsiders.

And musicians apparently 🙂  Of course a lot of great music has come from the streets – and from the oppressed trying to find a way to cope.  In New Orleans you hear all kinds of music.  And some of the best comes from the streets.  It is a music lover’s paradise.

There is music on Bourbon Street – but also on Royal, on St Peter, at Jackson Square, in the French Market… and likely lots of places I never even got to…

One of the other big delights is food 🙂  I’ve already mentioned some of the meals – and beignets…

But there are other treats.  One of the most famous is pralines.  My aimless wandering brought me to Laura’s Candies, a place I can highly recommend.  Lots of free praline samples – but also salt water taffy, the largest truffles I have ever seen in plenty of exotic flavours and – only in New Orleans – chocolate alligators! 🙂

The other big discovery came courtesy of my guidebook… a gelateria (La Divina Gelateria) full of strange and exotic music on NOLA streetsdelights… I managed to score some root beer (locally made :)) gelato and then listened to an incredible band on the street – the serendipity of the streets of the French Quarter.

And you can also play Tom Sawyer and take a real steamboat up the Mississippi.  As a child I dreamed of taking a steamboat the entire length of the Mississippi.  I’m

the mighty mississippi

the mighty mississippi

not sure if that’s even possible but a couple of hours allows one some nostalgia and a view of the city from a new perspective.

And there are also garden tours, cemetery tours, swamp tours… maybe other cities have gardens worthy of tourism but only in New Orleans would cemeteries and swamps make the grade…

I didn’t have time for any of them.  I didn’t manage to find room for bread pudding.  I still have to try gumbo.  And fresh crawfish straight out of the Gulf… there are all kinds of reasons for another trip… the only question is when… 😉

 

winding my way to the mississippi…

Get ready!  There is going to be a lot to talk about… why you haven’t actually heard anything from New Orleans.  I was busy trying to do everything on my list – once I managed to make one – in three days.  But I came pretty close 🙂  And definitely have lots of great tips for anyone travelling to the city.

The plan is to organize my thoughts a bit and group activities and stories together so it won’t be a play-by-play of every moment in New Orleans but the moments will get captured.

To start us off, I am going to commence at almost the beginning… the first moment I took the trip seriously and tried to actually DO something in any event.  We will talk about the first night but, due to all the work commitments that extended right up until the moment I got on the plane, it was just an aimless stroll without any sort of plan.  But serendipity hit and it ended up being a wonderfully memorable evening!

I knew I had to get off Bourbon Street though and see something of the city.  My guidebook had recommended a steamboat trip on the Mississippi so I wandered into what I thought was an official tourism centre.  Not so much… really just people trying to pitch you tours.  But the young guy pitching the tour had a sweet disposition so I wanted to help him make quota and there was a brochure for the Natchez so I asked if he could book me on it so that he could earn his commission.  (I think I ended up overpaying so would recommend just going to the Natchez to buy your ticket but the US economy is suffering so I was there to help 😉

It also provided the agenda for the afternoon.  At that point I could locate Canal, Bourbon and the street I lived on (even though I didn’t know what it was called).  But my first step in a new city is always to walk around so I know where I’m going without having to pull out a map too much and look like a tourist.

At that point I was on Royal so wandered down a bit.  It’s a gorgeous street and fulfilled my Disney dream of the French Quarter.  It really IS as cute and charming as Walt portrayed it.

It’s also filled with dudes who have the same charisma and raffish charm Dennis Quaid exemplified in “The Big Easy.”  I don’t know if they birth shy people in New Orleans 😉  They definitely birth people who know how to party.

here come the beads!

here come the beads!

I had only been wandering for a short while and I heard a parade!  It isn’t Mardi Gras so I wondered what was up.  Of course I always head toward the happening when I travel.  It’s how you really get to experience the place.  It looked like a St. Patrick’s Day parade, complete with copious quantities of green beads.  But it was March 8th, not March 17th, so I wondered what was up.

Well, my photos are not so great because taking out my camera and standing still made me a target for lively guys brandishing green beads, which I quickly discovered were meant to be placed around my neck in exchange for a kiss.  Cheeky dudes 😉

But I did learn what was going on!  Apparently it was a PRACTICE parade!  Only in New Orleans would they have a practice parade J.  Later in the day, I was talking to another tourist who had also seen the practice parade.  As he astutely pointed out, this way they get to party TWICE for the same occasion 😉

It certainly got my trip off to a roaring start.  And I had free beads as souvenirs!

Once I had dispensed with the practice parade, I took a long, meandering tour of the Quarter and tried to take some photos to add to these posts.  Unfortunately for you, my camera is brand new so I am still learning.  Next time I am in New Orleans, the photos will be better 😉

I definitely learned that the first few sleazy blocks of Bourbon Street I had encountered my first night were not really New Orleans at all.  There was a tremendous amount of serendipity on this trip – and only wonderful encounters with strangers – so I ended up at the French Market without even consulting my map.

It’s the original Native American trading post, later used by the French and the Spanish to trade all sorts of cool stuff between the colonies and fancy Europe.  Now it’s filled mostly with junk made in China or Bangladesh but it’s still fun and festive to wander through.  And there are some gems if you look for them.  My favourite souvenir came from my second visit to the French Market – but that’s part of another tale…

The most intriguing thing I saw at the market was alligator!  Alligator heads, alligator on a stick, alligator bites… luckily no one walking an

gators and masks

gators and masks

alligator on a leash.  I wasn’t hungry at the time so haven’t tried it.  But learned as the days went on that it is really big in Louisiana and I will definitely have to check it out on the next visit…

http://www.frenchmarket.org/history/

I figured then that I was close to the river so wandered in that direction and there it was – the mighty Mississippi.  As dirty looking as I expected.  I grew up due north of the Mississippi and, as a child, I dreamed of taking a steamboat the length of it.  I did read a lot of Mark Twain 🙂

For now I was just going to settle for two hours on a steamboat – but I wanted to find it to be prepared for the next day.  Once I reached the river, my steamboat was easy to spot.

But first I spotted a lone gentleman playing a West African drum.  I took a photo of him and his music was really good so I thought I should give

the mighty mississippi!

the mighty mississippi!

him a tip.  It was money well spent.  We ended up having a conversation and I found out he was from Ghana.

I also found out he was a good guy.  Some young men came by and chatted with him while I was there.  Apparently one of them had lost his ID and the Ghanaian drummer had found it and gone to great trouble to get it back to him.  He’d done the same for some drunken teacher during Mardi Gras.  It really seemed to be the spirit of the place.  If you were standing on the street and looked a bit quizzical, someone would be checking if you needed assistance.  You hardly even needed a map 🙂

So, we’ve made it to the Mississippi!  Lots more happened that day.  I got to bed about 5am!  But we will let the stories unfold in themes.  New Orleans is a place for storytelling so I will do my best to reveal it like a good story.

To circle back to my questions… there is definitely a pretty, surreal, Disney vibe to the French Quarter.  There is a lot of music in New Orleans.  It’s not all jazz but you can find jazz (and I did!) but what is more delightful is the many varied musical styles you will stumble across just wandering the streets.  There is no shortage of charm in the men of Louisiana – and they have that delectable accent… 😉

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