Being a person who considers that a journey begins as soon as you step out the front door it was in such a mindset that I set out, one April morning in 2003, for a week's holiday in New Orleans, hoping for a real experience but never imagining to what extent. The real reason for the trip to New Orleans was a familiy wedding, taking place in early April and while it seemed like a good idea for a family of Brits, wanting to escape the vagaries of the English climate back home, the Cajun weather was to give us everything it had and more: The day we flew in it must have been in the upper 20 Celsius with a humidity rate of around 90 %, the next day, it was below zero and the next day it rained... and so it went on for the week we were in New Orleans.
But even before we got there, the flight was itself worth stepping out of the front door for! After navigating the checks and tribulations at Heathrow, no I really can't say it's one of my favourite airports, and Gatwick where we were subjected to some in-depth profiling by UK airport security authorities, we eventually flew out from Gatwick airport to Dallas/Forth Worth, where we greeted by even more careful profiling by the US airport security authorities.
At Dallas we were supposed to catch a connecting flight on to New Orleans but that, as well as all the other flights got canceled because of an incoming tornado that hit Dallas airport at ± 9 PM, just after we landed. The andrenalin rush from the close encounter helped soften the hardness of the airport lounge bench we spent the night on but I was to regret the lack of sleep the next day like I was already regretting the 99$ I'd lost on the hotel room I had booked for the first night in New Orleans but couldn't take.
The remains of the tornado were still to be seen as we flew out the next morning to New Orleans. Dallas was still covered by dense clouds of Cumulonimbus billowing up to around 10 000 metres over the city. I had never seen such clouds before, certainly never from a plane and I regretted not having had a camera with me to film them.
As we made our way south we eventually left the bad weather behind us and approached New Orleans. Flying in over the lakes, the bayous and the causeways we landed at the "The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport", a really cool airport if ever there was one, and after a ride into town we eventually took up our quarters in a quaint colonial style house in the famous French Quarter and the 02nd phase of the journey, the actual holiday, could begin.
As soon as we were settled in a quick walk around the block soon got me situated. Bourbon Street was just around the corner and New Orleans was apparently still recovering from Mardi Gras... I thought. I learnt later that the French Quarter was always like that except during Mardi Gras when it was like a tidal wave hitting town... I'll have to go back one day just to see the Mardi Gras for myself.
In the meantime, I was suffering from a serious bout of jet lag the likes of which I had never experienced before (or since). That, doubled with a dose of fatigue meant I was alternatively speeding from coffee and adrenalin, and nodding off in mid-speech. As a result, my first trip round the French Quarter was short and to be continued the next day so after an early dinner, for a European it was back to the flat and a session of zapping through the 100 odd channels on American TV - what an eye-opener - before turning in.
The next day the weather was nice and hot... and humid and after a suitably substantial breakfast and a couple gallons of that world famous american coffee I was fixed for the morning, well at least until brunch, so it was off for a trip round the block, which included the French market, down to the banks of the Mississippi and along the river bank to the city centre.
To make the most of the trip to New Orleans I wanted to separate it into 2 parts:
1- The real reason for the trip to the Big Easy: The Wedding (and the family gathering)
2-The actual journey and the holiday in New Orleans.
NB. I've left talking about the real reason for the visit, the wedding, for others to tell, or not. Here I'm just walking my way around my own personal experience of being in New Orleans.
I was in the USA and I wanted to absorb as much as possible in a week. The "Absorbing" process varied from watching American TV to trips to the all-night corner shop. From watching the way the cars negotiated street junctions, ceding the right of way to the first come, totally unimaginable in most Mediterranean cities, to the shopping. From the people in the street to, New Orleans oblige, the local history and traditions, which in this case meant Voodoo and of course the Mississippi.
After a couple of days, the weather turned from hot and humid... to wet and humid.
This didn't really dampen the spirits and we even went for a trip round the Bayous and here again I regretted not having a camera to film the outing because it really was worthwhile, so there's another reason for going back.
Meanwhile, the weather was turning again and the experience continued, notably with visits to two of New Orleans' favourite watering holes:
Finally, Saturday dawned and with it the wedding day, and some splendid weather. The weather had done us proud and we must have had everything but snow during the time we were in New Orleans. I even think we were lucky not to have had a stray hurricane, just to cap things, as apparently the Gulf of Mexico was in a lively state and the bad weather we had in the middle of the week was the tail end of a storm.
As for the actual Wedding well, I must admit I'm no expert, however, this particular wedding was exceptional. The ceremony was in an inner court of a hotel, in the French Quarter, and as I said the weather was splendid with the evening setting sun shining down through the trees of the court. I suppose that if you talk to others they will single out other things that particularly struck them, funny how different people see different things but that's what I particularly remember.
The end of the ceremony and a lovely evening was crowned with the newlywed couple riding away in a horse and carriage through the French Quarter. The streets were lined both sides with passersby taking in the evening spectacle and I suppose they must have also taken the sight of the horse and carriage for an everyday occurrence in New Orleans, which it probably is, but for the newly wed couple in the carriage and the family watching them ride away it was a very special spectacle.
The holiday was at its end and it was time to go home. Fortunately, getting out of the States is less of a problem than getting in but that was without reckoning on the jet lag. Going to the States was OK because we were flying west and there was the expectation of the forthcoming holiday and wedding. Coming back was different matter. I was dog-tired and the journey was long, at least it should have been long if it wasn't for the fact that I slept virtually all the way. From New Orleans to Dallas the flight was OK, I was still running on adrenaline. From Dallas (no tornadoes this time) to Gatwick there was time enough to sleep but apparently not enough. The worst leg of the journey was by far the flight from Heathrow to Lyon. The flight was only an hour long, in a small turboprop, but as soon as I was on the plane I was asleep and stayed that way until we touched down at Lyon.
Analysis of the voyage. Even if it was only for a week and even if I needed the week to recuperate from work stress, jet lag and whatever else my system needed evacuating, the trip to New Orleans was brilliant, for more reasons than one. Firstly, the trip came at a time when I was really in need of something as radical and if the benefit of the trip wasn't immediate, after I got back, it was there and it helped me get back on track. Secondly, New Orleans is one of the those cities that gets into your system, you love it or you hate it. Personally I loved it there and I only hope I can go there again, shock therapy or not.