New Orleans

Andrew Stephens, Wednesday the 15th of March, 2017

It was high time I visited New Orleans, one of the more interesting cities in the US. Founded by the French but changing hands several times, New Orleans displays its history proudly. We stayed in the picturesque but rowdy French Quarter, several square blocks of grand old apartments, hotels, and bars of varying repute. It was a few days after Mardi Gras but the city was still pumping on Friday and Saturday nightAnd Sunday mornings, when they hose down the streets with soapy water.

Jackson Square in the French Quarter
Jackson Square in the French Quarter

This is the part of New Orleans that you see in films and it turns out to be exactly as presented. You can't walk 10 paces without hearing live jazz music spilling out of a bar or coming from the talented buskers on nearly every block. And it is good stuff too, even the packs of homeless-looking street kids were packing mandolins and guitars that they knew how to wield.

The French Quarter is also home to the Voodoo Museum, a claustrophobic affair that tells the totally true story of voodoo in the region. It is filled with all sorts of tatty artifacts including an absolutely authentic zombie whip. There were two schools of thought on whether it was worth the $5 each to enter but I would have paid at least 50% more. The proprietor certainly looked the part with his month filled with gold caps.

A small basket of crawfish. This is really just a taster, at another place we were served a huge mountain of the things
A small basket of crawfish. This is really just a taster, at another place we were served a huge mountain of the things

New Orleans is justly famous for its cuisine. Luckily we arrived right at the start of the crawfish season, where restaurants will serve you this local delicacy by the scalding pound. Crawfish are prepared much like lobster but boiled in a broth which covers the meatand eventually the eater in a fantastically flavorsome spiciness.

A waiter prepares Bananas Foster while Death stalks a fellow diner in the background
A waiter prepares Bananas Foster while Death stalks a fellow diner in the background

Another interesting area outside of the French Quarter is the Garden District, where the richer inhabitants choose to live in grand old manses despite the fact that most of buildings are clearly hauntedMore seriously, Disney ripped off the "New Orleans look" when designing The Haunted Mansion ride and various films so you can blame him. And Anne Rice, I guess.. Things are a lot quieter in the Garden District and the tree-lined avenues are perfect for strolling off any over-indulgence from the previous night.

It was in the Garden District that we visited one of New Orleans famous above ground graveyards. With the water table so high and frequent flooding, burying bodies underground is impractical so graveyards here consist of solid stone crypts that prevent coffins floating away. This leads to maze-like cemeteries which are well worth investigating. Of course, having visible tombs allows conspicuous consumption even for the dead and some of the graves are very elaborate.

You can tell these graves are haunted because they are slightly out of focus.
You can tell these graves are haunted because they are slightly out of focus.

Of course, I couldn't go to Louisiana without going on a swamp tourCajun Pride Swamp Tours. The guide/boat driver knew his onions and kept up an entertaining running commentary about the history of the swamp and its inhabitants. Sadly it was too early in the year to see the really big alligators but there were plenty of smaller 'gators and lots of bird life.

A moss-draped cypress tree
A moss-draped cypress tree