New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) was one of our bucket list locations as we were eager to experience the birthplace of jazz. However, thanks to some flight delays we only had two and a half days there so we’ll certainly be back.
We stayed in the Faubourg Marigny area, close to Frenchman Street and the French Quarter (the oldest part of the city). We spent our three nights on Frenchman Street eating amazing food (below) and listening to amazing live music.
New Orleans is most famously known for Bourbon Street in the French Quarter full of bars, live music and gentleman clubs but it’s become extremely touristy and the Frenchman Street bars are now the place the locals go.
There were so many musical offerings at each bar on the street and once you’d had enough of one flavour of music you could carry your drinks in plastic tumblers to find the next venue of your liking. Below is a list of great live music venues on Frenchman Street you should check out:
- Three Muses
- The Spotted Cat
- The Maison
- Snug Harbour
We made our nest primarily at the Three Muses (the muses being music, food and drink) which was a small bar/eatery with tons of character and a small stage only able to accommodate 3-4 band members which made for an intimate music experience. The food was outstanding, small and creative, not the cheapest of places to eat but as it was so good, we returned every night for more. We highly recommend the Three Muses if you’re ever in town!
We heard some fabulous music, but the best we heard were:
- Palmetto Bug Stompers (Traditional New Orleans Jazz)
- Shotgun Jazz Band (Traditional New Orleans Jazz)
- Marc Stone (Blues)
One of our highlights was an impromptu performance from Washboard Chaz, he popped into the Three Muses and began to provide a masterful rhythm section for the band on his washboard, even featuring a few solos. We never knew a washboard with tin cans and a desk bell could be so musical!
Video of solo to follow… internet too bad!
Other things we got up to:
If you wander the residential streets you will be treated to a vibrant display of colours and it really gives you an idea for what kind of a city NOLA is.
Frenchman Street Market
There was a market every night with artists showcasing their jewellery, art, sculptors etc. Additionally there was
- The Homeless Cardboard Museum where they had bought the cardboard signs from them and have displayed them as art, there were some really ingenious slogans making pleas to the public: “Too ugly to prostitute and too honest to steal, anything helps”
- “Poet for rent” where you could pay a poet some money for them to write you a poem on any subject on a classic typewriter
Wandered around the French Quarter
The Spanish architecture is amazing, yes I said Spanish not the French. It was rebuilt by the Spanish after a great fire late 18th century. The streets are bustling with people, but not in an annoying touristy way. We also stumbled upon a wedding parade which lead us to a great ice cream shop!
Video of wedding parade to follow… internet too bad!
Rode the tram along St Charles Avenue
It’s nothing spectacular when you set off from the east side but soon you’ll ride past the mind boggling wealth, huge mansions for block after block. It’s crazy to see this whilst there are people on the streets with signs asking for help.
Visited Jackson Square Museum
The museum covers Hurricane Katrina & Mardi Gras; the Katrina exhibit was very well put together and impressive. We learnt it was the flood protection walls breaking that caused the flooding, not the hurricane itself. Due to the lack of wetlands, the manmade canals, poorly constructed flood walls and a loose barge that smashed a wall, 80% of NOLA was flooded. There’s also Fat Domino’s grand piano rescued from his house in the Lower 9th ward in the foyer still covered with mud. The Mardi Gras wasn’t as impressive and is worth a quick walk through to see the old pictures and some costumes to give you a flavour for the carnival that extend over a 2-3 week period.
Toured the Ninth Ward by bike
We did two bike tours; the Ninth Ward (made famous following Hurricane Katrina) and the Original Creole – one would have been enough! Our favourite was the Ninth Ward tour. Some things we learnt:
- The Ninth Ward was totally misrepresented by the media as a very poor area, in fact it was a working class neighbourhood and had the highest rate of homeownership in NOLA (60% of people owned their own homes outright).
- 80% of NOLA was underwater up to 25 feet. In the lower 9th the average was 15ft of water
- The population used to be 20,000 however it currently stands at 8,000. Apparently only 20% of original residents have returned
- There are a lot of empty blocks of land where houses stood previously and you can still see some of the ruined houses – 12 years on!
- Reconstruction has been very slow and residents weren’t able to return to their homes for 6 months. This meant that a lot of people who had been bused or flown out of NOLA after the storm (without being told where they were going) had already begun settling into their new locations and therefore didn’t return
- Government repossession rates of property were very high; if your lawn was over 14 inches high or if it was structurally damaged it was bulldozed at your cost. If you didn’t see the notice on your property (from wherever in the USA they had moved you to) asking you to mow the lawn or pay the demolition company, you lost your rights to the property
- Prior to Katrina there were five schools. Now there are only two (the second of which only just opened)… don’t forget we are 12 years on!
- Brad Pitt’s foundation rebuilt around 110 homes, sounds great but they are ugly, large and costly homes which don’t keep with the local architecture. Why are these foundations trying to reinvent the wheel, employing loads of architects and designing new prototype homes (initially costing $1million each!) when they could be building what the people need, quick and cheaply? Rant over.
It was a short visit but a very pleasant one, full of surprises. Definitely somewhere we plan on returning to!
And as a final note, to give you a little more flavour of the spirit of the city…