N’Awlins!!

The name says it all

The gators stayed underwater in the cold bayous but the crocodiles were out on the streets. Whoever nominated Las Vegas ‘Sin City’ doesn’t know their sins. New Orleans, now there’s some serious sinning going on there! I’ve just returned from a trip to the Big Easy and let me tell you, it’s always summertime and the living is easy. Here’s a city where you can count your blessings as you sin. The whole place is one big party and it ain’t even Mardi Gras yet.

The most amazing sight has to be the hordes of tourists trawling through Bourbon Street, drinks in hand. They don’t even carry them in brown paper bags. By the second day I got used to seeing people strolling about, many of them three sheets to the wind by the time ordinary people would take their elevenses. It takes some getting used to. But it is a trip.

New Orleans is very much a walking city. What you can’t reach on foot you can get to by using the old- fashioned streetcars. You can get around town all day on multiple streetcar and bus lines for the nominal fee of 3 dollars! Unheard of, no? It’s a cheap and relaxed way to see the stately, gracious homes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that line both sides of St. Charles Avenue and the Garden District. Or ride up and down Canal Street to do some people watching.

The local Creole and Cajun cuisines are to die for. The seafood is so fresh it’s still almost thrashing around on your plate. We gorged on gumbo and jambalaya and etouffes till we couldn’t walk anymore. Then we walked around the city some more. We took the steamboat cruise around the crescent that gave the city it’s name and marvelled at the ships going up and down the mighty Mississippi. You can almost picture it as it must have been when it was America’s lifeline. The steamboat gave new life to Mark Twain’s stories. The best boat ride though was the free ferry between Canal Street and Gretna or Algiers. Cars pay a dollar and pedestrians can walk on for free. It’s good to note that some things in life are still free.

We visited Oak Alley Plantation and walked around the old, stately home where rich white plantation owners once ruled the roost from the wide balconies as they sipped their mint juleps. Unsurprisingly, the second largest home on the estate belonged to the overseer, aka the man with the  whip. The alley of 300 year old oaks was glorious though. This is the second most photographed home in the US, second only to the White House. New Orleans native Ann Rice sets her stories in this area and Interview With the Vampire was shot on location right in this plantation home. The best part of this guided tour were the three young Japanese exchange students who shared our ride. They had very funny stories to share about their year at university in Portland, Oregon and their travels around the US as backpackers. One of them was on tenterhooks wondering if he was now obliged to marry his American girlfriend because she took him home to meet her parents over Thanksgiving.

Oak Alley

The bayou tour we took was pretty much a bust. The cold temperatures kept the alligators hidden underwater. The trip was worth it just for the running commentary kept up by the swamp boat captain. He was a real character, like those people on the show ‘Swamp People’. He kept showing us the pelts and stuffed river rats he had collected over the years. Of course we got the usual tall fisherman stories in addition to excruciating detail about how much each small swamp animal’s pelt and tail and teeth are worth on the market. He had a baby gator and a snapping turtle in iceboxes for our edification. The small shacks and leantos we saw along the bayou reminded me of Huck Finn and Injun Joe’s drift down the backwaters of the river. The funniest part was stopping to watch a raccoon at play at the water’s edge. I’ve only ever seen them flattened under car wheels as roadkill before. They are awfully cute creatures and apparently they love marshmallows.

Shack on the bayou

The one outstanding quality about a stay in New Orleans has to be the excellence and variety of live music on tap. We walked up and down Bourbon Street for a couple of nights, stepping in and out of blues, rock, swamp music and country music bars. As we drank our beer and apple martini shots, we got to hear some really wonderful local bands perform with great zest. It was fantastic. The tradition with shots here is to buy from the waitresses who walk around with little test tubes of the alcohol and then you sip it from one end as she holds the other between her breasts. I must report that the germophobe in me is still active even on a brain addled with alcohol, so I declined. The icing on the cake however was the evening spent on Frenchman Street enjoying a wide selection of jazz musicians. We started the evening by enjoying a street band of local youths performing with great joie de vivre on a street corner. We then went from one jazz bar to another, sampling the food, drinks and music. They were uniformly excellent. Frenchman Street is where the locals come for the music and the quality of the bands is superb.

'Big' Al sings at the Funky Pirate on Bourbon Street

This was the first real adult vacation Naresh and I have had since Aditi’s birth. It was well earned and well enjoyed. New Orleans is the epitome of a grown up city. I’m glad Aditi wasn’t with us, as many avenues of fun would have to remain closed with a child in tow. This is not a city for the early to bed crowd. It’s the city where you don’t have to search to find ways to have fun. You can be anyone you want to be and do anything want to do in New Orleans. Just one caveat, leave your mom and children at home.

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