I wasn’t sure what to expect on my recent trip to New Orleans. With only 3 days, I planned to eat my way through the French Quarter, indulging in as much Cajun food as possible. Being from California, where local government gets off on enforcing rules against street food and public drinking made New Orleans all the more exciting. Street performers and “Buy 1 get 2 free” drink specials line the famous French Quarter, while jazz pubs and basement strip bars compete for attention. It’s crazy, but a fun kind of crazy. People watching atop a French balcony, drink in hand, what more could one ask for as a first night out in New Orleans
What I didn’t expect was what happened on day 2. Our plans to boat down the Mississippi and visit some museums where quickly squashed when a “small” thunderstorm/tornado whipped through town (and by small I mean we were caught outside in knee high water where laughter turned to tears as sirens sounded and my to go cup of rum ran out). Fearing that our whole day was potentially ruined, we trudged our way back to our hostel to find all the guests out of the wood works. Thankfully, the storm passed and all of us fast friends were on our way to Lafayette Square for a free Jazz Concert and street food extravaganza called Wednesday at the Square, where all food sales went to benefit the Young Leadership Council. Food and fundraising, these New Orleans folks sure know the way to my heart.
After great music, incredible food, and newfound friends, my travel high was in full effect. Next we all headed to Frenchman Street for music and a mission to find the best mulfulletta, a Lousianna favorite comprised of multiple cured Italian meats, cheeses, and olives served hot or cold inside a fresh sesame bread. After asking around, the winner time and time again was Verti Marte. Don’t let the outside appearance fool you, this humble convenient store boasts a killer deli with authentic, affordable local favorites, so if the mulfulletta isn’t your thing, there is a variety of options from shrimp po-boys to lasagna. Day 2 was proof that when traveling, things often happen for a reason. Without the storm, we would never have all met, and would have missed out on an amazing day. Sure we missed the museums but what we lost in history we gained in friendships, food, and experiencing the current community.
On our last day a group of us rented a car and drove out to the swamps to go on a boat tour of the wildlife, which I would highly recommend. Not only did we learn a lot about Cajun and Creole culture, but we actually saw a lot of alligators from babies to 15 footers. Fun Fact, did you know alligators can go years without eating or that they live their whole lives in a one-mile radius? The swamps were nothing like I expected, they were refreshing and had a soothing cool breeze.
Next me met up with a local we met the night before, who wanted to show us how the natives eat. We bought 20 pounds of crawfish, shrimp, corn, and beers for less than $10 per person. To top it off, we cracked these delicious shellfish on the steps of Lake Ponchartrain, which boasts the longest bridge in the world stretching a whopping 38 km. Not a bad last day.
All in all, New Orleans sure did deliver and in 3 days, this balanced backpacker mission couldn’t have gone better. Architecture, cheap beer, jazz, strippers, swamps, and some dang good food, left me with nothing but great things to say about this Louisiana legend.
However, something unexpected that really made this adventure special were the amazing friends I made at AAE Bourbon House Hostel. Often who your hostel mates are can make or break an experience, and in my case I could not have asked for better, more hilarious companions. From the awesome San Franciscan-Russian-Jew cousins, to the painfully funny El Salvadorian-Canadian boarder patroller, and the many more wonderful characters I met there, my memories of New Orleans will always to a soundtrack of continuous laughter, and the family we formed however brief it may have been. New Orleans may have won over my taste buds, but these people won over my heart.
What are some great New Orleans memories you have made? Have you ever had an amazing experience because of good hostel friends?