And at last we get to New Orleans. What? It was only three months ago.
I loved Nawlins. It’s still a vibrant place, although you can still see the damage done by Katrina, especially once you get away from the French Quarter. We didn’t wander very far afield–in part because we weren’t there for very long–but the drive in and out of the city told a much more complex story than you see in the wealthier and tourism-oriented parts of town. This is, of course, true of every city, although the contrast in New Orleans is perhaps greater than in some.
(One of the reasons I saw more on my way out is I got a bit lost and had to exit the highway and turn around. Getting lost is, I find, if not always comfortable, always informative and generally worth it.)
In some ways, I think the limited amount of time we spent there worked in our favor. We had an opportunity for just a taste of New Orleans and the vast, vast majority of that taste was positive. It also didn’t take much more than that for us to realize that Bourbon Street would not be the center of our activities.
Intellectually, I can understand the appeal, if you’re a loud noises, bright colors, and the imminent threat of stepping in vomit kind of person (I exaggerate only slightly). And I can only imagine the utter pandemonium of the place during Mardi Gras or Spring Break. It must be a singular spectacle.
But Bourbon Street didn’t strike me as necessary to my enjoyment of the city. It seemed a bit like the cartoon version of New Orleans–distinctive and eye-catching but not realistic. We stayed in a hotel outside of the Quarter and I was glad about that, although purportedly very haunted Le Pavillon was quintessentially New Orleans in every respect (they also had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich buffet after 10p.m).
Jackson Square was gorgeous and of course there are beautiful old houses all over the place. We went on a ghost tour and sampled the beignets at Cafe Du Mond. I spent part of the afternoon at the Audubon Institute, which has an amazing butterfly garden. Of course, there was plenty of shopping and food and alcohol–the French Market was shockingly less commercial than all of the other stores on that street.
Perhaps the best thing we did was wander up to Frenchmen Street on our last night there. We checked out the Spotted Cat and the other clubs, although the music spills out everywhere in New Orleans. There was a small street market open alongside the Spotted Cat, mostly crafters and artists–nothing that screamed tourist. Jewelry you would actually wear. Art you’d really want to hang on your wall.
Ultimately, avoiding Bourbon Street took nothing away from our New Orleans experience. I think it enhanced it. Yes, we were tourists and did tourists things (I’ll do more when I go back, but probably less shopping), but the place seemed more real for it and we got a better sense of the many different kinds of people who live there. Which I’d argue is the point of traveling anyway.