Our Likes & Dislikes
My wife Anna and I just celebrated our 3-year anniversary (and our biggest vacation to date) with a week-long trip to New Orleans.
“NOLA” is an amazingly unique U.S. city, one that we’ll never forget. The experience was really positive, but for those interested in visiting, here are some of our likes and dislikes.
Note: because I live in Seattle, I’ll draw certain comparisons to there — I’m not necessarily speaking on behalf of other cities.
- Food and drink.
Po’ boys. Grits. Crawfish étouffée. Gumbo. Red beans and rice. Jumbalaya. The creole and cajun food is everywhere and is a staple of most southern restaurants. Some of the longest-standing restaurants are in New Orleans, and many famous dishes originate there. And for every historic restaurant there is a modern counterpart of equal repute. The list of recommendations runs deeper than a single vacation can cover, but there are numerous articles that repeat certain ones not to miss. Bars are all also all over the place, able to satisfy any desire — historic and swanky, trashy, or upscale and creative.
- Street music.
The people and bands playing music in parks and on sidewalks can take your breath away… far more than paying $50+ at a venue in Seattle to see some celebrity band. We heard tons of talented brass bands with a ridiculous amount of improvisation and talent, and discovered a blues/folk group named Yes Ma’am and a traveling violinist named Wael Elhalaby. Admittedly, we didn’t listen to enough jazz in the clubs on historic Frenchman Street, but I’m sure it’s equally phenomenal. The music scene just seems to be so much more rich and raw than other places, as if they’re playing the styles of music that others in the country are trying to copy. Plus, hearing outdoor music everywhere you go is just a cool way to explore a city.
After visiting a place like New Orleans (and probably a lot of the south), you’ll realize that the culture in Seattle is pretty cold, fake, boring, and entitled in comparison. People in New Orleans are awesome! Strangers on the street greet and talk to you — we were met with “Mornin’!” by just about anyone we came across. Restaurant staff and other employees called me “baby” and Anna “mama.” Asking questions to locals is totally normal, and people seem to treat anyone else as an equal.
Along with the creole southern cooking, this is the most quickly noticeable distinguishing factor of the city. The French Quarter’s buildings, homes, and shops are unlike anything in the U.S., taking you quickly from a regular urban downtown to dozens of blocks of Spanish and French architecture. Everything’s lit with real gas lamps, signs are often hand-made, and there are no outdoor screens or ads. Stretching beyond the French quarter, the Garden district and Uptown/Carrollton areas are filled with historical homes draped in overgrown trees and flowers. Walking the quiet streets in the Garden district was some of the most peaceful parts of our vacation.
Beyond the architecture that clearly dates the place, you learn how much really is original to New Orleans — and not many other cities can actually say that. The mix of the slave trade with the existing settlers truly created new culture, trade, food and drink, and music. Many other U.S. cities have historical roots but are obviously just blends of the countries or people that came there. New Orleans can say it invented things like Jazz music, the Sazerac and other cocktails, pharmacies (originally prescribing alcohol), movie theaters, and much more. This is a testament to a truly unique blend of European and African societies to create something brand new.
It’s hard to explain, but this city is just more slow-paced and chill than other famous U.S. destinations (New York, Chicago, etc.). We did not come with a mapped-out week or specific plans, and it worked out just fine. There’s plenty of nightlife with live jazz music and bars, but there’s nothing fast-paced about it. The French Quarter streets are too narrow to feel heavily trafficked, and the surrounding neighborhoods just feel like neighborhoods. Terms like “hustle and bustle” are nonexistent, so it’s a great place to explore, ask questions, and figure out where you want to go on the fly.
- Bourbon Street stench.
Let’s face it: Bourbon Street (not named after the whiskey, by the way) smells terrible. Whether it’s the previous night’s vomit, pee, or a sewage issue, the famous Mardi Gras / tourist location isn’t the nicest to visit unless you’re looking for the touristy trashy bar scene and some strip clubs. We basically avoided this one quick day visit and didn’t seem to miss much — one block down (Royal St.) was one of our favorite, most frequented streets.
- Heat and humidity.
It’s not like you can get around it, but New Orleans is generally hot and humid. Visiting in late September temperatures were in the 80s, but with the sun always out, we seemed to be constantly sweating until we found shaded cover. October may have been slightly cooler, but many locals told us it was far better than the 100-degree heat of July and August.
- What to do?
This might sound funny in a culturally rich city, but New Orleans is so well known for its food and music, that after a couple days walking through the French Quarter shops, we found ourselves wondering what to do between lunch and dinner. There are bars everywhere, so there’s always that, but in an effort to save some money (and our livers), we wanted to see and do more than just eat and drink all hours of the day. Sometimes this proved to be a challenge, although the National World War II Museum, the Adubon Zoo, and walking through the Garden District were great solutions.
Someday we hope to make it back. To tide us over, we brought back about 20 oz. of creole seasoning for Anna to try her hand at classic NOLA dishes at home.