There’s something about New Orleans. Not just the fact that the beignets are so sugary and unbelievably delicious, and the fact that po’boys change the way you look at a sandwich (although both are true). I went down to New Orleans on vacation because I’ve always been drawn to the South. The music, the food, the nightlife (but mostly the food). Day or night, the city is always buzzing, and the Big Easy did not disappoint.
I immediately fell in love with the city. The colourful creole cottages and grand mansions are a sight to see, and it seems like there is always the scent of something delicious in the air. I loved the food and the art galleries scattered throughout the French Quarter. However, what surprised me the most was the spirit of the city and how affected I was by it. I was fortunate to be in New Orleans during an extra special time.
When we arrived, the city was in the middle of commemorating the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the category 5 storm that took the lives of approximately 1800 people back in 2005. Her effects are still being felt today as the city continues to rebuild itself. There are areas outside of the French Quarter that are still very damaged, but what amazed me was how much has been rebuilt and how the locals have come together to keep the city’s spirit and flare alive.
As much as the anniversary activities were about remembering people and things lost, there was also a celebratory feel in the air. After all, in New Orleans there is always a reason to celebrate. Funerals are jazz processions celebrating life, and Saints tailgate parties are on a whole other level. Of course there’s also Mardi Gras, one of the most famous festivals in the world.
During my stay I spent a whole day at the New Orleans Museum of Art and City Park. It is beautiful and almost 50% larger than Central Park in New York City. It took a huge hit during Katrina and has been under renovations and rebuilding ever since. The amazing thing about City Park is that much of its rebuilding and maintenance comes from donations. There were special exhibits on display at the museum for the Katrina 10 anniversary. I moved through the museum in awe. The pictures were heartbreaking and beautiful, giving you a view of what it looked like from on the ground right after Katrina struck and the levees broke. Pain and grief were captured, but also so much strength. I felt really lucky to have been able to see these artists interpretation of how they felt about Katrina and New Orleans itself. It was a very humbling experience.
One of the best parts about being in the city at this time was being able to talk to locals who had lived through it. One of our City Tour drivers told us about the destruction and rebuilding of his house. He joked that he is now the proud owner of a jetski that washed up on his front lawn. He said you have to take the good with the bad and keep moving forward. That was the attitude I would get from people over and over. New Orleanians are very good at seeing the glass half full.
One night during our stay we took a Haunted New Orleans tour. I definitely recommend doing this if you have time. After dark, we walked the streets of the French Quarter, sipping on hurricanes and listening to our tour guide tell stories about the city’s dark past filled with voodoo and mayhem. Towards the end someone from the crowd asked why he still lived here, knowing how another hurricane could come any moment. Our guide explained it so simply and without hesitation that it resonated with me. He told us about how New Orleans is sinking, literally, and that it’s inevitable that eventually the city will disappear. But it’s home. His passion for this place was so strong. He said he would never leave New Orleans and that knowing that this beautiful, vibrant city won’t be here forever is what gives it’s people life. Their joie de vivre, he called it. Joy for life. I like that.
Joie de vivre is the perfect way to describe the overall feeling of New Orleans. The city is bustling with fun things to do. For a little outdoor fun during the day you can rent bikes or paddle boats and spend the day in City Park. The world famous French Quarter is a place that never sleeps with streets filled with bars, restaurants, fun gift shops and boutiques. If you love jazz then be sure to make your way down to Frenchman Street where you can find the best live music being played well into the night. And then there’s the food. Every meal I ate felt home cooked and full of flavour. From the jambalaya and honey bourbon shrimp to the pralines and bread pudding every meal was an experience.
When you visit New Orleans you can’t help but feel alive. The joie de vivre is infectious and I will always be grateful to New Orleans for feeding my wanderlust and awakening my travel bug. The trip really opened my eyes and made me want to travel more and truly experience more of the world. Most importantly it taught me not to take it for granted. Nola will always have a special place in my heart.