A few nights ago I was with friends watching the World Series, enjoying a particularly smooth cigar. I’m not an aficionado by any measure, but the occasional stick now and then suits me just fine. Like so many of my other pastimes, this came to me by suggestion and curiosity. It’s a very relaxing endeavor and, unlike drinking a smooth brown ale, which I also partake in every now and again, puffing on a rich aromatic cigar doesn’t require that I get a ride home afterwards, or sleep on a strange sofa.
Our discussion meandered in many directions that night. We remained cognizant of the baseball game the entire time, and like every night we’ve gathered before the conversation inevitably returned to travel and looking at photographs from past trips. And consistent with previous gatherings, the conversation does not begin or end, but is a continuation of a discussion from an earlier meeting, always evolving, never growing old. There is something to be said for evenings like this. I can always look forward to them, trusting that the experience will never disappoint me.
With the Giants and Tigers tied at 3 apiece sometime after the 7th inning stretch, a news report came over the TV giving updates on Hurricane Sandy, with comparisons being made to New Orleans’ Katrina of 2005. That particular year will always remain easy for me to remember as well. It was my first trip to New Orleans, and as luck, fate or design would have it, I visited ‘The Big Easy’ five months prior to Katrina making landfall. Of course the news commentary referencing Katrina started me reminiscing about my visit to New Orleans in 2005, and more recently when my sweetheart and I visited The Crescent City to celebrate New Years 2010.
Our holiday started with Christmas near Dallas Texas, and after spending a few days with family and too much time behind a dinner plate, we made the nine hour drive to N’awlins in an almost comfortable Kia rent-a-car. There is allot of open land in Texas and Louisiana. And it gets really, truly cold. Enough said.
Of course any post-Katrina visit by me to New Orleans required that I visit the areas impacted by flooding. And if good fortune should fall upon me, a conversation with someone witness to the natural disaster would make my visit immensely more interesting and informative. After questioning every local who would talk to us, and a few hours driving in circular patterns around several parishes, my always adventurous sweetheart and I would get lucky on both counts.
We arrived a few days before New Years and began our visit with a trip to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. After all, what else would you expect a tourist to do? The French Quarter is one of the areas least impacted by Katrina and the subsequent flooding, and I didn’t notice that many changes as we walked along Bourbon Street and its many side roads and alleys. It certainly seemed less crowded than my first visit, but if that was due to the post-Katrina recovery or Great Recession I couldn’t say. And as we would unexpectedly discover on New Year’s Eve, the crowds were simply waiting to make a timely return to the streets.
During our 2005 visit a friend and I stuck pretty close to the downtown area, rarely venturing outside the French Quarter and Garden District, and making only one journey across the Mississippi to explore Algiers. This was our intention from the outset, thinking that having only three days to explore and get a taste of the New Orleans experience essentially meant there was little time for partaking in the normal tourist activities like swamp and plantation tours.
Of course I would disprove this logic during our 2010 visit, where in four days we were able to explore the French Quarter, celebrate New Years, visit a Creole Plantation, float through a swamp and walk amongst countless crypts and mausoleums in a 100 + year old Metairie cemetery. And there it is. I suppose anything’s possible if you don’t over think it and just make the effort.
The run up to New Years started quietly enough. We walked easily down Bourbon Street on the 30th, able to freely step through a variety of doorless entries open to the streets and sidewalks outside, where tourists roamed, seeking out the next club or restaurant. Being fans of Jazz and Blues, my sweetheart and I found plenty of choices in just a few blocks, stopping in for a drink or to dance whenever the music and atmosphere lured us inside. It was the type of afternoon we were hoping to experience, and set the tone for the remainder of the evening and into the night, until we finally returned to our hotel in the early hours of the new year.
Midnight in New Orleans, particularly if you are within the French Quarter, and definitely if on Bourbon Street, is merely a milestone as you party your way into the next day. I remember experiencing the same phenomenah in 2005. Apparently getting back to your hotel room before midnight is a physical impossibility while in New Orleans. So many times I would get back to the hotel room, only to be amazed at how many hours it had been since midnight. It became a goal to get a few hours sleep before time ran out on getting to choose something off the breakfast menu.
New Year’s eve arrived cold and damp, with crowds almost the entire length of Bourbon Street. The only escape was to stay bundled while venturing down side streets or alleys, or to leave the area entirely. Our plans quickly evolved into a strategy of visiting areas outside the city during the day, and as the evening progressed we pushed our way back into the French Quarter, slowly squeezing our way towards the banks of the Mississippi, and within perfect view of fireworks being launched from atop a river barge. And though there were moments when the plan nearly unraveled, and my patience with crowds thoroughly tested, watching the fireworks that night with the woman I love made these few experiences seem not to matter in the least.
January 1st arrived and we decided to bring in the new year by driving out of the city and into the countryside, where we could experience some of Louisianna’s history. At this point we were beginning to suffer from too much crowd exposure on Bourbon Street and the innate single-minded “party” mentality. Escaping the city for the day and experiencing history was a perfect way to slow things down, and perhaps an even more effective venue for feeling like we were on vacation.
Part deux to come