1) The mules look better than you
The city is filled with mule drawn carriages, not only have I never seen such strong and tall mules (the donkeys must be bred with Clydesdales), but I’ve never seen such beautifully dressed up equines. From unicorn horns to wings and glittery hooves, they’re dashingly designed.
2) You can finally learn what voodoo is really about
Most people think of voodoo as being a punitive revenge cult, but in reality there is a lot more to voodoo than the movies show. The stereotypical image of the voodoo doll and piercing it with needles to cause pain is actually not all that accurate. Traditionally voodoo dolls were used for positive actions, and causing good. New Orleans is filled with voodoo shops and museums, so make sure to check them out! Also, the $1 voodoo dolls from the French Market made great gifts!
3) The locals are so colourful
Locals in New Orleans are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Whether you’re looking to play chess on the street, have a chat on a street car or hop into a Polaris Slingshot for a ride, you’ll always find a person to help you out. While we were staying in the Lower Ninth ward, we got chatting to Dwayne in a Family Dollar store, who turned out to be a really lovely person and a musician and he invited us to his gig later that week. It was without a doubt one of the best nights of my life. Make sure to chat to the locals, they have a lot of stories to tell.
4) They have beautiful art work
The streets in New Orleans are filled with delightful, artistic shops, many of which sell art. It’s like Shoreditch without the self obsessed hipsters!
5) The gas stations are REALLY cute
It might have been out of gas but there isn’t a gas station in the world prettier than this! They even have a sign in the window saying ‘always time for levee tea.’
6) The street posts are all shaped like horses
Obviously this is more of a massive bonus for me, but it’s not just horse obsessed tourists that will be charmed by the rows of horse head shaped posts around the city.
7) They leave beautiful horses tied up in the street for anyone to take.
(That’s why they’re there, right? RIGHT?)
8) The French Quarter is filled with fantastical book shops that you can get lost in for hours
Looking for a book on Cajun cuisine or a very specific blues or jazz biopic, well New Orleans is the place for you! The book shops are quaint and charming (and a great place to seek shelter when the skies decide to open too)!
9) They have the best books ever, who wouldn’t rather read the Night Before Christmas in a Cajun accent?!
I still can’t quite believe that I spent my entire childhood reading the normal Night Before Christmas when the Cajun version was out there somewhere.
I loved how the children’s books in New Orleans were so relevant to their culture and city. I couldn’t help but stop in a bookshop for 20 mins and sneakily read the whole of the Runaway Beignet (I was on a budge, ok!) One of the most delightful stories I’ve read. On that note Beignet’s are one of the best breakfasts I’ve had. I expected them to be a lot greasier, more like a doughnut, but it was much lighter and delightfully covered in powdered sugar.
10) Creole Candy
You can’t go to New Orleans without trying the Pralines. Buttery, brown sugar and pecan confectionary, this city sure knows how to cook and bake!
11) Because it’s the only place I know that has drive thru daiquiris, and SO MANY FLAVOURS!
I think every city in the world should have drive-thru daquiri shacks. Technically there’s a ‘no open containers in the car’ policy in Louisiana, but they get around that by covering the top of the straw with a piece of paper. In the humidity and heat of this state, a frozen, fresh alcoholic drink like these daquiris feels like a godsend. And the flavours are incredible – Crawgator, Mudslide, Tropical Itch, Swampwater or Jungle Juice anyone?
12) They have street poets!
Just sit down and name a subject and you can walk away with your own custom poem.
13) Crawfish. No more needs to be said.
Well, i’ll just add that the crawfish are boiled in the hottest, spiciest sauce you can imagine, flavoured with all spice berries and cloves and coriander seeds. I could eat crawfish all day, although I haven’t yet reached the level of the locals who can easily polish off 6lb of crawfish (I struggle with even one!)
Though there are many places in the French Quarter that sell crawfish, Deanie’s being my favourite, the prices are definitely a lot higher. Expect $7/lb and more anywhere with tourists, and this can go up to serious prices! If you’re looking for somewhere the locals go to, check out Captain Sal’s on St Claude Avenue. It may not look special, but their crawfish are delicious and so much better priced ($2.80/lb during my visit, though this is subject to change).
14) Gumbo – the definition of comfort food
Gumbo is the other star of New Orleans cuisine and the one you wan’t to get to know. There’s nothing better after being soaked by a flash rainfall than to walk into a cosy restaurant and get a bowl of gumbo. It’s the definition of comfort food. While in London we have kebabs for drunk people to eat at 5am, in New Orleans, all the corner places serve Gumbo. I do not recommend it, repeat, I do NOT recommend it. Even if you’ve had a few you’ll feel it the next day. Make sure you go somewhere nice for your gumbo folks. I really recommend The Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter. When I first saw it I assumed it would be very pricey and touristy, and while Im sure it’s pricey for locals, at $9 a bowl, it’s sure worth it because the gumbo is something special and the place is beautiful!
15) There is jazz on every street corner
You can’t walk down a street in New Orleans without stumbling upon some live jazz! Make sure to let the music flow through you and nod, tap your feet, dance and jive to your hearts content. This is New Orleans, and as their saying goes, laissez les bons temps rouler, let the good times roll!
For some great jazz sculptures, head to the Louis Armstrong Park!
If you’re looking for some night time jazz, the crowd tends to head to Frenchman Street, however I’ll let you in on a little secret. The best place to witness real New Orleans Jazz is at the Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar in Treme! Make sure to check out the collaborative nights on Monday where if you show up with your instrument you can join in!
16) The houses are just so pretty
I mean, how many other cities have houses built by a ships captain to look like the steamboats he and his wife used to pilot! For more pretty houses, check out my previous post!
17) Because Southern hospitality is still alive… even if the host isn’t!
For more on that topic, make sure to check out the famous cemeteries of New Orleans, situated in the Treme district – Saint Louis Cemetery 1 and 2. If you want to check out No.1 where the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau was buried, you have to book a tour in advance as the visits are by guide only.
18) Because sno-balls are amazing
I’d never heard of sno-balls before new Orleans, but it’s kinda like Asian shaved ice, only instead of fresh fruit syrup on top, it’s probably the most fabricated syrup you could imagine. We asked the guy what their most popular flavour was and he recommended wedding cake. To be honest I only made it a quarter of the way through the giant sno cone before I nearly died of a sugar overdose and had to ditch it. They add condensed milk on top too!
19) Mardi Gras Indians are the most interesting people you’ll ever meet
It’s all about Big Chief Doucette, who we met down at the Ooh Poo Pah Doo bar, a big chief of the Mardi Gras Indians, a tradition I had never heard of before. Mardi Gras Indians are black carnival participants who dress up in Native American inspired costumes. Each Indian is part of a tribe, of which there are about 38 in New Orleans. Each Indian will design and create his own suit, which can cost thousands of dollars in just the materials and can weight more than 45kg! Each suit usually takes between 6 – 9 months to make. It is said that during the mid 1700’s, a number of slaves fled to the Lousiana Bayous and encountered Native Americans. There is said to be an admiration in their use of their garments, a commonality of feeling in their persecuted histories.
Traditionally the masks and costumes were donned to keep secret identities as the Mardi Gras parade was a place to settle grudges and fights with guns and knives, while the police and people of the city were distracted with the festivities. No one knew where the Indians would parade, and to this day that is still the case. In the 1960’s however, one of the big chiefs, Allison Montana, pushed to end violence and instead battle over the best costumes, and the ‘prettiness’ of the suits.
Photo credit: Big Chief Doucette
20) The locals have a good sense of humour
We really loved this particular local in the Lower Ninth who’s yard was filled with skeletons in different positions.
21) Even the alligators get into the Mardi Gras mood!
Ok, so maybe not the real life alligators, but the dead and fictional ones sure do! If you want to see any alligators, just ask your uber driver to take you out of the city towards the swamp and before you know it you’ll see them all along the roadside sunning on tree trunks and the grass. If you’re extra lucky you may even see one crossing the road. They are everywhere!
22) The plantation houses
There are a wealth of beautiful homes just a bus trip away, so make sure to go soak up some history. I would recommend Whitney and Lara where they give a more even account of the lives of both the plantation owners and the slaves that worked there. Whitney in particular has made it their aim to remember and honour the lives of the slaves that worked there.
23) The street performers are so funny they even crack themselves up!
Finally, big up to the amazing street performers who can’t help but laugh at themselves, just another example of how New Orleans locals are such friendly people. There’s no better place to be!