After a fantastic time exploring California, we were now off to our next stop – Santa Fe – the beginning of our experience in ‘The South’. We had really been looking forward to this part of the trip!
This lovely town in New Mexico has a bohemian reputation mixed in with adobe architecture and an interesting blend of modern meets native American society. Wandering around its pretty streets, it’s a very likeable place to visit. We stayed in a lovely AirBnB not far from the centre of town, so we went everywhere on foot, which is quite rare in the USA.
In addition to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, there were a handful of clothes and arts & crafts shops and a sense of history as you walk around looking at the impressive architecture. We tried out the local special – green chilli, red chilli or Christmas which was a mix of the two – at the oldest restaurant in town, the Plaza Cafe in downtown Santa Fe, which has been open since 1905. But in the big scheme of things, just over 100 years is nothing in this part of the country as the area has been occupied for several thousand years by indigenous peoples who built villages several hundred years ago, on the current site of the city.
To get a greater sense of the local history, we also visited nearby Taos, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the USA where we had a highly informative tour by one of the local guides. Made from sun-dried mud brick, the adobe architecture in Taos was incredible to see in houses that were originally built in the 16th century. This included front doors which were on the roof, with ladders which could be drawn up to protect your house from animals and invaders.
Another trip from Santa Fe was to the Rio Grande gorge which was quite a sight to see, especially for someone who doesn’t get on that well with heights and bridges with sheer drops. It was still impressive to see from afar though!
And later that afternoon, we also visited Earthship Biotecture, one of the first eco-communities who use building materials including recycled tyres and tin cans among other things. Strangely enough, we have a similar earthship project not too far from where we live in the south-east of Spain – visit Earthships In Spain.
This was one of the places we were looking forward to the most and yes, I may have said that once or twice before, but even more so this time. I guess it’s because New Orleans has always had a strange kind of historical magic and mystery about it. We were looking forward to a fascinating cultural melting pot and we got that and much more.
We arrived just in time for Halloween (a mini Mardi gras if you like) and even though the weather could have been a lot more forgiving, rain was not going to stop play in this town! As if New Orleans needed an even more surreal angle, it was fun watching people in fancy dress wandering around the streets of the French Quarter and even stopping off for a bite to eat…
Music in this town is a massive part of the culture and you will find jazz and cajun bands in every bar in the town. If you want to try a few more well-known names from here, listen to Dr John, the Neville Brothers, Sydney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Harry Connick Jr. And to give you an idea of buskers in NOLA (aka New Orleans, I discovered), this is what we saw on the way back to the hotel after dinner one night.
And as for the food, we tried some of the most famous Creole dishes such as:
- PoBoy (a type of baguette filled with roasted meats or local seafood like shrimp or crayfish)
- gumbo (a strong, spicy stew and the ‘official’ Louisiana state dish)
- beignets (a type of fluffy fritter covered in powdered sugar which is popular for breakfast and served with cafe au lait at the legendary Cafe du Monde
In case, you weren’t sure about the multicultural mix in New Orleans, it’s embodied in its Creole cuisine which you will find all over the state of Louisiana with its origins in France, Spain, Germany, West Africa, Haiti, Italy, other parts of the South and its native American history.
And just to be sure, because you know, it would be rude not to, we also tried a few other things while we there including the alligator burger with the Hottest Fuckin’ Sauce Ever (yes, that is the name) at the French Market and some fabulous oysters grilled with butter and parmesan at Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar served by a really friendly guy called Tyrone.
The morning after, we headed to Spitfire Coffee for a morning shot or two and wondered around the French Quarter looking at the wonderful architecture. And realised that even though it was still raining, we still loved this town.
Now, although New Orleans has always been known as a party town, it is now also sadly known as one of the places where Hurricane Katrina did the most damage in August 2005 when more than 1800 people died in the hurricane and subsequent flooding. While we were in Jackson Square, we popped into the Presbytere Museum next to the Cabildo to see the exhibition ‘Living With Hurricanes – Katrina and Beyond’ to get more of an insight. It was without question one of the most moving exhibitions we had ever seen and was one of the most interesting experiences of the whole trip.
One more thing that happened on our last day there was when we saw a homeless military vet sitting on the ground on a street corner who it turned out wasn’t asking for money, but he simply wanted a hug, the chance to feel human and connected. My wife obliged and tried to hold back the tears as she spoke to him about his experiences.
Even when we were just walking around doing our thing, we felt things we hadn’t in other cities and that’s how New Orleans gets you every time. Sometimes it’s good and other times not, but you will always feel something in this town. A wonderful city with a hopefully, more positive future.
Next stop, Memphis, Nashville, Charleston and Savannah…