Travelling with family can be amazing, but it can also be fraught with bickering, different desires on what to see, do, eat… The list goes on. My sister and I are incredibly close, but have never really travelled together; even as kids, the biggest trip we ever did was our regular 3-hour drive to visit family one province over. We’re both occasionally anti-social and prone to bouts of moodiness. We’re both big travellers, but neither of us really knew what to expect when I invited her to keep me company in New Orleans.
By all accounts, our #sistatrip could have shaped up to be a bit of a bust: we only had a few days, my husband was stuck at a conference, I was sick with an especially awful cold, and the weather was mediocre-crappy, at best. And yet, our trip to New Orleans will forever remain one of my fondest memories thanks to the stories and memories my sister and I made. In fact, I can’t separate the two, New Orleans and my sister, in my mind. I’ve compiled a list of my favourite stops in NOLA and the memories we created.
Just a little bar I know…
My sister and I were wandering the French Quarter, waiting for the ‘real trip’ to start. My husband was supposed to get in on his flight in the next little while, and so we wanted to wait for him before we did anything too exciting. To kill time, and after wandering into a few different underwhelming locales, we eventually made our way to the Backspace Bar, a fun-looking literary-themed bar, to have a drink to get us through until dinner.
Lo and behold, it had turned out that, we had somehow managed to find the bar where all the locals who work in the French Quarter go to eat and drink before and after their shifts. Hours after we had thought we would have left, after probably one too many French 75’s, we found ourselves chatting with a couple of employees from the many Bourbon Street bars, which turned into an invite to a burlesque show and a whole other story…
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my husband’s flight was delayed and didn’t get in until nearly 4am anyways. The moral of the story is that sometimes the best things can happen when you’re waiting for something to start, and sometimes the best places you find are not on anyone’s top 10 list.
Bourbon St – Accurate representation of the blurriness with which I remember it
The Hurricane and Frenchman Street
Bourbon Street is impossible to avoid when visiting New Orleans, but the truth is, everyone should see it and then quickly move on. One of the places often listed as a ‘must-do’ is Pat O’Briens, on St. Peter just off Bourbon St, to partake in one of their infamous Hurricanes. Spoiler alert, a Hurricane is dark rum-based fruit punch that was made famous by the bar in the 1940s. Perhaps we were not quite intoxicated enough when we decided to check this one off of our list, but we were decidedly underwhelmed by the expensive, ultra-sugary cocktail and the cheesy piano bar that went with it. Just when we thought our night was going to be a bust, however, we were excited to discover a Louisiana Second Line wedding parade strolling up to the bar as we were leaving it.
In any case, it wasn’t long before we decided to make our escape, instead making the trek down to Frenchmen Street, courtesy of a recommendation from our Backspace Bar friends. Here’s where the real party turned out to be. With loads of music to choose from, we made our way to Maison to catch a show by the Brass-a-holics, pioneers of the Go-Go Brass Funk genre. These guys turned out to be such a highlight of our trip, putting on a great show that we were still buzzing about months later. More importantly, the vibe of Frenchmen Street was full-on party, locals and tourists alike, but without the seediness or cheesiness of Bourbon Street. The area is loaded with solid music venues covering tons of genres, so if you’re looking for a place to dance or sit back and enjoy some tunes, this is where you want to be.
Frenchmen Street – possibly one of the most colourful places I’ve ever been, in more ways than one
Street music, street music, street music
The truth is, though, you don’t even need to go indoors or pay admission for some excellent music. Music is the life blood of New Orleans, as my sister and I were pleased to discover. Wander the streets and just follow your ears.
Young busker in Jackson Square
Some of our favourite memories were wandering down Royal Street, hearing everything from a solo blues guitarist, to a jazz quartet, to a brass band, to a an old-timey folk group, complete with washboard and washtub bass. Checking out the local artists selling their wares at Jackson Square and enjoying the musical stylings of an elderly couple with only a guitar, some drums, and a lot of passion, or a group of kids armed with electric guitars, brass instruments and some pretty impressive choreography. In the end, I think our favourite street music discovery was Yes Ma’am, a bluesy, folksy string band with a lot of personality and the talent to back it up. We found ourselves tapping our heels, trying to keep warm without wanting to leave the street to head into the warmth indoors.
Yes Ma’am – just one example of the amazing street music to be found wandering the streets of New Orleans
Praline shopping, a party in the making
If anything is worth all the hype in New Orleans, it’s the food. Beignets, jambalaya, gumbo, muffulettas, po’ boys, we had it all and it was all delicious. The Louisiana praline, a creamy, fudgy, pecan-based confection, is also to be found everywhere and is a great bit of NOLA that you can take home. It was in the hunt for the best praline in the French Quarter that we stumbled on the Magnolia Praline Company. I won’t try to argue that it’s indeed the best praline; there’s more than one amazing praline shop on Decatur Street alone, never mind the whole city. What I will say is that it’s the only praline shop I went into where the esteemed praline-makers started a party in the shop, singing and dancing to their favourite tunes. My sister and I were so pumped to be in the middle of it, to have walked into the shop at that magic moment, that we almost forgot to look at all the wares. In addition to the amazing pralines, the shop has a solid selection of other confections, hot sauces, seasonings, and giftware.
Magnolia Praline Company – spontaneous karaoke party
New Orleans #sistatrip
Is this all we saw in New Orleans? Of course not. Taking a street car through the Garden District, visiting the hauntingly beautiful cemeteries, walking along the Mississippi, single-mindedly making our way to the Maple Leaf Bar or Cafe du Monde, spending hours trying to get the best photographs we could in the French Quarter, non-stop eating… These are all fond memories and absolutely worth doing as well. But these are the stories we are still telling, the memories we keep recalling, the things that make us want to go back, and that make my sister and I excited to travel again soon. #sistatrip 2016?