New Orleans

May 2014

Jefferson Castle Square

 My music is homegrown from the garden of New Orleans. Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music also has a role to lift you up – not to be escapist but to take you out of misery. – Allen Toussaint

This was a long time ago, and I am writing this post retroactively (2 year later), so I will try to be as accurate as possible.

I tried to be as budget-conscious as feasible, but back then it was simply out of necessity (college student budget) rather than an incredibly conscious choice. I got plane tickets for pretty cheap ($100ish per person, round trip) from Philadelphia to New Orleans, and M had just taken a great college jazz class and was thus thrilled to visit the roots of the musical phenomena. We planned for 6 days there, in hopes that we would be able to do everything we wanted…

jazz on bourbon street.

Through the swamptour!

What a poor choice. Visiting Louisiana in the middle of summer, for almost a week, while staying in hostels is a TERRIBLE idea. We loved many parts of the trip, but by the end of it we ran out of things to do (and there was no lake or ocean beach to laze around on)…I would recommend going for a long weekend, and probably not in the midst of a humid summer. This trip taught me a lot about how to properly do a budget vacation.

Wild pig in swamp

Gator with hotdog on its head. They also really love marshmellows.

We stayed in two different hostels and a hotel, courtesy of his parents. The first hostel (AAE Bourbon House Hostel) wasn’t too bad – $23 for a night for both of us, and we had our own room (although they were bunk beds). There was actually a pretty fun community around, and we heard about some secret jazz places in town that we ended up visiting, with the best big band playing and awesome homemade food (an entire bottle of decent scotch was only $18…oops!). The second hostel (St. Vincent’s Guesthouse), however, was terrible – the website looked beautiful, but it failed to acknowledge the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. When we arrived, they had run out of rooms even though we had a confirmation –so they put us in a room that was in the process of “remodeling”. This ended up being two mattresses and a broken fan with a bathroom that had all its tiles off, for the terrible price of $24.50 a bed ($49 for both of us, a night). By the second night, I couldn’t take it anymore, so we ended up last-minute booking the same hotel that we were supposed to spend our last night in. Usually I’m pretty good about sleeping wherever, but the 100 degree heat, intense humidity, and distance away from downtown New Orleans (we usually walked 2 miles or waited 30 minutes for a bus to get to the hostel) broke me. Should do better research next time!

Fried gator bites
Crawfish boil!

The food was delicious, and jazz on French Street wonderful. My favorites were the crawfish boils that came with corn and potatoes instead of bread, and of course the fabled beignets. I also tried some Louisiana oysters, but I much prefer to New England ones instead as they’re much more concentrated in flavor. I also found out that I hate fried oysters–why would you ruin such a pure dish by dousing it in oil and butter? As for drinks- if you go on Bourbon Street, order a Hurricane ($5 for a very very large glass). You won’t regret it.

Botanical gardens
Some jazz on the streets of Jefferson Square
Feeding alligators from swamp tour boat

We definitely ran out of things to do quickly after drinking on Bourbon Street (it gets old after a day), eating food, and visiting Jefferson Castle. Every night we went out to hear some jazz, which was the best part. We ended up doing a “cruise” on the last working steamship down the Mississippi River (less romantic that it seems), a swamp tour where we saw wild pigs and gators (pretty cool, but overpriced), the Instectorium (we were really, really bored), and had finished every single museum in the city. I guess I didn’t realize how quickly we move in a day- these days, all we need is 2 days in a city to see everything we want!

Sculpture Garden
Trains at the Botanical Garden

The steamboat we took down the Mississippi
New Orleans view from the steamboat

Some highlights included: the botanical gardens, sculpture garden, a “free” cemetery tour (we ended up being pressured to tip $20), some street festivals, and Louis Armstrong Park.

Cemetery Tours
Bourbon Street

In retrospect, the trip seemed a lot more annoying at the time (as we were suffering from heat stroke basically all of the time, and the heavy food and alcohol didn’t help any!). However, I am glad that we did basically everything possible in the city and experienced such an interesting and vibrant food and music culture. Would highly recommend to go for a long weekend sometime in your life – just not a super  extended vacation in the middle of the summer. It’s a great city to wander around in to look at architecture and interesting squares and buildings, sip on some ~happy drinks~, and hear jazz floating around everywhere.

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