When Damian and I first began planning our time in America, we had discussed the possibility of completing a road trip I had been talking about for years. Starting in New Orleans and following the Mississippi all the way to Chicago, satisfying my fascination with Southern culture, food, and history. It had also dawned on me that we would be in America for the duration of the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations, again something I had always wanted to witness. However, we both decided that we could be overreaching by trying to do too much this time around and thought focussing our time on easily accessible places closer to ‘home base’ would be a better idea. So that was it, we had made our peace with the fact we would not get down south during this trip and we were fine with that. Another time maybe.
When an opportunity then presented itself to actually go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras celebrations, needless to say, we lept at it!! It may not have been the whole road trip BUT it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we were not going to let pass us by. We booked flights and accommodation and five days later we were off … Along with some of our, now, great friends … I was VERY excited and being the exceptionally geeky teacher that I am, I channeled my excitement into planning. I spent five days putting together a map of all the places, food, drinks and things I have always wanted to see and do in New Orleans – lucky for me Damian is a very patient and obliging man.
Damian had just one request while we were there and that was to catch an NBA game. So first stop on the tour was a Pelicans game and I have to admit, even sporting illiterate me had a really great time, it was fantastic to see in person and really gave a whole new perspective of just how much of an institution the sports business is here in America. We had managed to secure ourselves a corporate box as well, which certainly helped my enjoyment factor.
We spent the next two days wandering around the French Quarter and I can easily say that I fell well and truly in love with the city. I loved everything about it from the carnival atmosphere to the beautiful architecture. The whole place was oozing with a unique personality and rich culture that is wrapped up in a magical sense of legend and myth.
Everyone we met was happy and welcoming, all excited to tell us about a unique place we had to eat at or the best Jazz club in the city to visit, it was clear they loved their city and wanted visitors to love it just as much. I am pretty sure we ate our way around the city, and most days we would make our plans revolving around where we were going to eat each meal. Beignets for breakfast, po boys for lunch and jambalaya for dinner was pretty standard. As were fried chicken and fried crawfish snacks in between. All of this followed by enjoying talented jazz musicians along Frenchman Street each night.
One of the highlights and main attractions was the Mardi Gras parade we were lucky enough to catch while we were there. We were told it was just a ‘minor’ one so not to get too excited … well if that is a ‘minor’ parade I can hardly imagine what the main ones are like. The two ‘krew’ (what they call the groups of people in each parade) spectacle ran for about four hours in total and each ‘krew’ was made up of about 20 floats, marching bands, and dance groups and has a specific theme for their parade. Everyone was dressed to the theme and passed out beads, trinkets and ‘special throws’ as the floats passed by. It was a phenomenal experience to be in amongst it all and the atmosphere was electric, even the pouring rain could not dampen people spirits.
New Orleans easily lived up to and exceeded my expectations, I could ramble about it for hours. Quite simply though, I loved every minute of being there and would go back in a heartbeat if the opportunity were to present itself. The history and myth, along with the food and people made for an exceptional experience.
However, I think the most enjoyment came from sharing all of this with some amazing people who have become really great friends to Damian and I. Sometimes it is nice to make memories just for Damian and I and then there are times, like this, that value is found within other people and what they bring to the trip. Whether it be rickshaw rides to a new part of town, dancing in the street, sharing a drink in an old pirate bar or begrudgingly allowing me to drag them to yet another part of my map, making memories like this with people who have become to mean so much really is invaluable and something that I will value for a very long time because the essence of New Orleans really does live in the people.