1. Just GO!
If y’all (yes, y’all. Because, y’all need to know that I have just returned from the South!) are like me, then you suffer from sporadic wanderlust. Always have. And like me, the only vacations that you have had in your short life have been with family – so probably nothing too adventurous. I don’t remember when NOLA got on my bucket list, but it did and it is so worth it to shell out that flight and accommodation money and go, go, go! The below lists my top experiences in the last five days. Of course there are more things than listed to do, so make Lonely Planet your travel buddy and don’t be afraid to wander the neighborhoods with little to no tourist action!
2. Stay in Faubourg Marigny
This is a quiet, charming neighborhood that is close to the French Quarter and very pleasing to the senses. I went on a picture taking spree of the houses in this neighborhood. They reminded me of some houses in my village in Nigeria, sans mud walls. If these structures existed in Lagos, the inhabitants would get some serious side eyes from Lagosians. But alas, I find them absolutely gorgeous.
3. Take a stroll on Royal Street
Listen, save your transportation money for your airport trip and walk, walk, walk. It is a great way to burn the calories from all the eating. And trust me, if you like food, there will be a lot of eating. By walking, you get to discover hidden gems that you may not have heard of or read about in the guides. This is a great way to find something special about the city that you like for yourself. Ours was Royal street. We had no idea that there was a large art presence in this place. Music – oh yes,we were ready for tons! But the arts here is amazing! There are rows and rows of galleries on Royal street in the French Quarter and they have an open door policy. And air conditioning too.
4. Peek into Bourbon Street
… and then run away! Lol. This place was too much for me abeg. All the doors to the bars and clubs on this street are open and blaring music into the little street that is Bourbon, pretty much all day. You can walk this street and drink at the same time, so yes, it can get stinky and disgusting. There is a bar here that has a reclined chair where one can sit and get shots thrown into your mouth by a very breastful bartender, who then shoves your head into her bosoms and motorboards your face. She spins you around and repeats. Shots, motorboard. And then when you walk a little further, you just might catch a woman flashing her boobs to some bead wielding individuals on a balcony, while they cheer and throw down beads for her. Yup, this is how you earn beads, innit. On Saturday night, you might find a couple of Christian missionaries wielding crosses, trying to chat and win souls for God.
5. Experience the phenomenon that is Windex Pete (“Google me”)
Windex Pete says I look like Angela Bassett. And then he proceeds to get comfy next to us, outside of the oldest bar in America (Lafitte’s). He claims to have met a bunch of celebrities and seems to have some proof of this. Windex Pete is something of a celebrity, if Google is anything to go by. He stands by his corner by the bar, with his washboard slung around his neck and plays “anything you want” for a fee, of course. After establishing that we were not giving him any money, he proceeded to give us an autographed photo of himself. Lol!
6. Have a Killer Po-boy
Oh yes, people, there is some serious seafood in this city. There are also these sandwiches called Po-boys. One evening, we went on a hunt for a place called ‘Killer Po-boys’. Literally a hole in a wall, this place is really hidden, with no sign anywhere outside. I think the hunt is part of the thrill so I will not give away the exact location. Let Google Maps guide you, and if you are lucky, you will meet a heavily bearded man outside the location where Google maps takes you and he will ask you, “what does your phone tell you?” And you will say, “my phone lies”. And he will chuckle and say, “show me your ID.”
7. Catch the brass band kids on the street corner in Frenchmen
These kids sound even better at night, when they bust out tunes like ‘Sexual Healing’ to a dancing crowd at the street corner. They know how good they are, which is why they have the balls to set up shop on a street that is filled with bars and restaurants offering sweet live music across genres. You might also find them at the end of Bourbon in the evening.
8. View and buy local art at the artmarket on Frenchmen
These guys begin to sell at 7 pm everyday of the week in this space that looks like a parking lot. There is so much art here and so much versatility. From electricians turned copper ring makers (if you know me, you know I spent all my time at this stall trying on rings), to architects turned musicians turned engineers turned painters, selling art that is a fusion of all these skills.
9. Follow a second line parade on Sunday
If you’re lucky, you’ll be in town on Super Sunday and catch the biggest second line parade with something of a “battle of the bands” going on. Otherwise, just follow the sound of New Orleans in a procession that is filled with dancing, stepping, club attires, and lots and lots of music. The history of second line is intriguing and you can read about it here.
10. Allow your inner bourgeois to dine at GW Fins
This is one of those restaurants with a dress code and little plated portions. Apparently, men have to wear collared shirts (or polo t-shirts). If you come without a collar, they give you a polo t-shirt to wear. Lol! BUT, the seafood here is great! It’s their specialty and they do it oh so well. So if you get tired of the fried seafood that is flying everywhere in every other restaurant in the city, and your palette wants sea food with popping flavours and none of that fried crust, this place will fix you up (and drain your wallet) real nice.
11. Find Tulane University and take in the campus
The St. Charles streetcar can take you here from Canal street. But if there is construction, just hop on a bus. It is an absolutely beautiful campus, with grand buildings, some of which resemble castles. The residential buildings in this neighbourhood are a sight to see as well.
12. Go to Treme
Treme is the oldest African-American settlement in the United States. There is SO much history here and walking leisurely around this community, you will find hidden gems in the locals and spots that no travel guide can lead you to.
13. Take a day trip to a plantation on River Road
Not getting to do this is my only regret from this trip. Planning ahead would have helped a lot. But these plantations look picturesque and the tours promise some sort of reenactment that I was really looking forward to.
New Orleans is a city with a lot of history. We went into the jazz archives at Tulane and happened to eavesdrop on a conversation that included Captain Joseph Jones’ grandson-in-law. He had brought some historical documents from the Jones’ house (names of the boys that lived in the Colored Waif home for boys, where Louis Armstrong learnt to play) which he had carried around with him for years. He said it has been difficult to get anyone interested in doing much about this piece of history. It is a tourist destination for very good reason. But one need not do the stereotypical. It is really easy to make New Orleans your own and love it for yourself. So, if you have been on the fence about visiting, I suggest you take the plunge and add it to your list. And then go!