After an extremely long 26 hour train ride from D.C (where it turns out there was no wifi, despite it being advertised) it was fantastic to be picked up in New Orleans by our couchsurfing host Josh who took us straight out to one of his favourite bars for some southern comfort food - Jambalaya and fried chicken - and then home to settle in. Josh had work during the day but gave us lots of good tips about places to see and things to do and basically let us take over his lounge for a few days which was brilliant of him. 

We started our first day with a first for me - an alligator baked potatoe (mmm gator tastes gooood)! before heading into town to explore the French Quarter. Getting ourselves lost on the way to the bus we wandered through the streets of the Garden District soaking up the remaining ambience from Mardi Gras which had just finished. The fences and trees still had hundreds of 'throws', beads and other decorations hanging from them. We had tried to get there for the last few days of it but the accommodation was ridiculously expensive so unfortunately it didn't work out, but NOLA is the kind of city that has that special kind of vibe no matter what day of the year it is. A local we met said they have over 400 festivals and parades a year so there is always something going on! 
Throws left over from Mardi Gras
Beignets from Cafe Du Monde
One of the many street performers
We wandered along the waterfront and spent a lovely while lazing in the first sunshine we had seen in a while, watching the river boats and listening to one of the many local street performers play some beautiful jazz music. It wasnt until we walked past them later on that we looked at them - some of them didnt look old enough to be able to play the instruments with such passion and confidence.

No trip to the French Quarter would be complete without a stop at Cafe Du Monde, a local institution. Serving only bitter chicory coffee and 'beignets' (french doughnuts without the hole, smothered in icing sugar) they are open 24 hours a day. The icing sugar layer is so thick it becomes a real art to eat it without becoming covered in snow, and its easy to spot people walking down the street who have recently paid a visit!

The night life in NOLA famously occurs along the appropriately named 'Bourbon Street'. At any time of day tourists and wino locals can be found stumbling along it, with a 'hurricane' or a 'hand grenade' wavering about. While its definitely something worth experiencing other areas give a better view of what New Orleans music scene is all about. The council closes off parts of Royal Street on a regular basis allowing street performers the chance to shine. It was amazing to sit and listen to sometimes the most unlikely prospects making beautiful music with spoons, washboards and an old suitcase turned into a drum. Josh took us out to a bar called Le Bon Temps Roule (let the good times roll - also the motto of the city) to watch a gig that night which was an awesome display of funk and blues combined together.
Hanging out at the Musical Legends Park
Josh showing us how crawfish is done
French Quarter architecture
After a much needed sleep in the next day we headed back into town and slowly woke ourselves up relaxing with fresh lemonade at the 'Musical Legends Park' where they have local performers all day long, before we did a really interesting walking tour around the centre of town. Josh was a fantastic host yet again and took us out to experience a 'crawfish boil' with one of his friends. Crawfish is basically like a tiger prawn but with a more solid head and since it was the start of the season much smaller as well. They boil them in spices and add corn on the cobb and potatoes to the mix. They are pretty fiddly to eat but the spices tasted so good! After dinner we headed into the Marigny District to listen to some more live music at a bar called The Spotted Cat. Wandering back to the bus via Bourbon Street we stumbled across the line for Preservation Hall's 10pm show. Preservation Hall was established in the 60's in response to concerns that jazz would be lost to rock and pop and is considered one of THE places to see jazz in the USA. WIth capacity for just 100 people each show becomes an intimate performance and you usually have to line up for hours to get in but the jazz gods must have been watching us as we rocked up and ended up with front row seats! 

Saturday we rode the old streetcars into town to visit the New Orleans Museum exhibitions on Mardi Gras and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The National Weather Service issued the following warning the evening before Katrina hit, which made me consider the extent of the storm and feel frustration for the residents that despite this warning the US government failed to respond appropriately. 

"Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks...perhaps longer. At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure...airborne debris will be widespread. Persons...Pets...and livestock exposed to the winds will face certain death if struck... Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards"

It was an excellent, if rather sobering exhibition but it was amazing to see the resilience of the community in spite of the adversities they faced. .

Outside the museum Ty found some art work to take home by a talented local artist called Reggie Ford so we have yet more art to hang on our non-existent house walls haha. And then all too soon it was time to leave. New Orleans really is like no other place in the USA. Its French-Creole architecture, abundance of street performers and positive nature of the its inhabitants to bounce back from adversity makes it a wonderful place to visit and we would highly recommend it to anyone who gets the chance!

Next stop: Austin, Texas!

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