The final stop on our trip, and my favourite, was New Orleans, the Big Easy, NOLA. We visited in July, and the heat was intense. I was thankful we weren't there in August. Temperatures hovering around the early to mid 30s may not seem astronomical, but it's the humidity that gets you. The heat and density of the air is oppressive, and it radiates from the walls and asphalt well into the night. We could barely make it from the sanctity of our air-conditioned room to the end of the street without becoming drenched in sweat, with one day so bad it necessitated three outfit changes before sundown, and we didn't manage one day without an afternoon nap.
We stayed in the French Quarter, a little pocket of quaint European charm laced with unbridled debauchery thanks to the famous Bourbon Street. The quarter abounds with history, legendary restaurants and bars and is the ideal place from which to explore the city. We stayed at Hotel St Pierre, which was perfect. Be sure to hang around the reception area around 3pm - they bring out trays of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk. I'll confess, I made a point of timing my afternoon nap with cookie time...
You may be able to tell from the excessive number of photos, but I absolutely loved the French Quarter architecture, most of which dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. The brightly painted buildings and shutters, the cast iron balconies, tumbling flower boxes and hanging plants; it is veritable feast for the eyes.
Bourbon Street however, attacks a different sense: you will smell Bourbon Street long before you reach it. I don't quite know how to describe the smell to you - it's like a combination of alcohol, an amalgamation of all kinds of bodily secretions, over-worked air-conditioners, alcohol-induced vomit, all stewing together in the dense heat of the air. Sometimes you get a similar whiff from a popular pub on a hot day, which now makes me nostalgic for the days we spent in New Orleans, rather than olfactorily offended.
Historically a prime residential area, serviced by the now non-existent 'Desire' streetcar line, Bourbon Street quickly became a street full of brothels, burlesque and jazz clubs, after the closure of the city's legalised 'Storyville' red light district in 1917. Now, it's a strip full of drinkeries, eateries, strip clubs and hordes of totally shit-faced people making their way under the neon lights from one bar to the next, clutching 'grenade' cocktails and beer in plastic to go cups. It's wild, seedy and a little bit gross, but it is pretty darn fun.
We did have one night out on Bourbon Street. Although there are bars and clubs in the city that were much more to our taste (and more on those later) we thought it would be a mistake to not spend at least one night exploring what Bourbon had to offer. Surprisingly, we started off in a pretty awesome jazz club, Fritzel's Jazz Club, but from there it descended quickly into sticky-floored, whisky-spilling madness. We saw many unsolicited pairs of tits, shared tables with the unconscious, and at the end of the night I found myself sharing a cigarette with a woman telling me all about her 18 years in prison, whilst Dimitris waited for a pastrami reuben.
It may be snobbily dubbed 'inauthentic,' but Bourbon Street is a lot of fun, and if you can handle your liquor, like a good time, and mixing with the inebriated masses, then you should definitely spend a night exploring its myriad bars.
Perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but then, who is really faint-hearted after a good few whiskies?