New Orleans – December 2009
New Orleans was on the top of my list of places to see when I was creating my America itinerary, and yet I was told by all the Americans that I knew not to go. Everyone told me it’s too dangerous, especially for a woman alone. My enthusiasm was certainly dampened but I was determined to go, even if only for a couple of nights.
This being my first trip outside of Australia I was embarrassingly green, so I had a look in my little lonely planet, found a hostel that sounded nice, booked two nights and away I went. I didn’t research any reviews I just arrived expecting the beautiful mansion cum hostel described in the lonely planet and what I found was a squalid, filthy hostel. If you are considering going to New Orleans please avoid the Marquette house. I was there five years ago and it actually looks like it has gotten worse, the reviews are quite hilarious.
So here I am arriving to New Orleans after an unholy night spent in a 24 hour Denny’s waiting until the train station opened, followed by a delayed train, follow by a long and tiring train ride.
I step of the train in to a balmy evening with an ominous sky. I grab a cab and and give the address, with a foreboding look the driver looks over at me and asks if I have booked? I nod, and he gives me a pitiful look. The dread is confirmed when we pull up to what can only be described as a murder house – The rooms are filthy, the front desk attendant terrifying, and there is nowhere around to eat. I go to sleep in my filthy room, hungry and hoping no one is going to murder me and of course during the night there is an epic storm, I have a fitful sleep thinking about Katrina.
I wake up in the morning feeling a bit grim, but head out looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. As soon as I am out the door I remember why I came to New Orleans, my hostel borders the gorgeous garden district and I stroll down the mansion lined street and find a cute diner and eat my millionth meal of pancakes with blueberries and cream. Once I have finished my delicious breakfast I jump on a tram and head to the centre of the city, and as is a theme I only had one full day in New Orleans so I tried to pack as much as possible. Although now I morally oppose them I found myself visiting aquariums often in America and this time I went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Katrina permeated every aspect of my visit to New Orleans and staff at this aquarium said that when she hit it damaged all the pumps causing the airflow to stop to the ponds, meaning unfortunately everything that lived underwater died. What did survive was spots the white alligator.
Post aquarium cafe beignet was calling me for some to die for beignets (pastries covered in icing sugar).
Without wheels of my own I decided on a tour of New Orleans by coach. It was about four years since Katrina but you could see the impacts from it everywhere, we toured the most affected areas and it was heart wrenching to see that four years after the hurricane the condemned houses were still up, some still with the numbers scrawled on the front indicating the number of dead inside. Driving through the neighbourhood made me feel supremely uncomfortable that as a tourist I was complicit in turning a communities tragedy into a tourist attraction, at the time I thought it was important to see the devastation but afterward I decided I would not go on similar tours. People and their tragedy are not tourist attractions.
After my tour concluded I jumped off in the French Quarter for some delicious gumbo, and then rounded the evening off with a ghost tour of the French Quarter and reveled in my morbid fascination. Particularly interesting and horrific was the LaLaurie mansion, home of the notorious Delphine LaLaurie.
The next morning I got up and wandered around the garden district marveling at the beautiful houses before jumping on a train first to San Antonio for the day then on to Austin.