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BOOOrleans; Deep South is frightfully good; Travel.

Byline: Nada Farhoud

I'VE never had to pack a fancy dress costume for my holiday before.

But then again I've never been asked to take part in a Halloween parade through the streets of New Orleans before.

And nowhere in the world celebrates Halloween like The Big Easy. Thousands dress in wild and crazy outfits to party in the city's French Quarter for the festival. It's second only to Mardi Gras.

So to be precise, I packed a black witch's outfit complete with wig as I didn't want to be the odd one out.

The Krewe of Boo parade is made up of huge papier-mache props fixed to floats that snake through the old town. Groups of friends in their finest fancy dress throw out sweets and beads to the partygoers lining the streets, while DJs on board play to the crowds.

After getting my face painted, I climbed on to my float - a vampire. Getting a place in the parade is a privilege as tickets sell out months in advance.

It is simply the most bonkers thing I've ever been part of.

I watched grown-ups dressed as skeletons, zombies and a whole host of other ghoulish characters dance through the streets until the early hours. Anything goes in the steamiest city in the American South, built on a history of voodoo, jazz and Cajun and Creole culture.

It has some of the best food in the US, a rich music history and friendly people with buckets of southern hospitality. And it is the spirit of the people that helped New Orleans get back on the tourist map after Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.

Although the French Quarter escaped undamaged, every local has their own harrowing story.

To get a better understanding of the devastation, visit The Presbytere museum. The Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond exhibition brings home the plight of the thousands who were forced to live in exile for months, even years.

This city has always been a magnet for artists, musicians and writers, but its pull post-Katrina seems stronger than ever.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have a house in the French Quarter and Brad is a genuine local hero, having pumped millions of his own money into a rebuilding programme.

I based myself at the Chateau LeMoyne Holiday Inn - perfectly situated to enjoy all the French Quarter has to offer on foot. But it's worth hiring a bike or hopping in a taxi to explore the other districts.

Jazz

Treme was not only the birthplace of jazz but is the oldest African-American neighbourhood in the US, where free people "of colour" worked and owned property decades before the end of slavery.

One walk down famous Bourbon Street is enough, so search out the more authentic jazz bars in the Frenchmen Street area - the city's jumping musical heart. On any night of the week you'll find world-class jazz, blues and funk for around PS5 at clubs such as Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat and Blue Nile.

The food scene also benefited from Nola's revival. You can savour authentic US food - a mix of rustic Cajun and sophisticated Creole (European, Caribbean and African influences).

To truly understand the complexities of Louisianan cuisine, take a cooking class. My friend Deven and I spent a morning at the Langlois Crossroads cooking school, where we learned to make the Cajun classic gumbo over a glass of wine under the guidance of Missy.

This 18th-century stew is sacred to Louisianans. Everyone's mother or grandmother makes the best version and often it involves several hours standing over the stove - stirring the holy trinity of celery, bell peppers, and onions - to make the roux to thicken the sausage and chicken or seafood stew.

Missy was a fountain of local knowledge, telling us of new bars and restaurants to try for the rest of our trip. But her best tip was to have a tarot card reading.

The city is packed with people offering to read palms and tea leaves, so do you research first. But there is no better place than good old Narwleens to delve into a bit of spiritual forklore - voodoo.

And whether you're a lover of music, food, Halloween or just a good time, New Orleans will certainly cast a spell over you.

FACTFILE: Four nights at the threestar Chateau LeMoyne French Quarter Holiday Inn, room only, cost from PS795pp, including flights with Delta from Heathrow, based on two adults sharing and for travel in March 2016. To book, call 0208 003 6081 or visit www.myamericaholiday.co.uk.

Lonely Planet guide to New Orleans is priced PS14.99.

CAPTION(S):

MAKE-UP: Nada before parade

TRUE TASTE: Nada's gumbo

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS: Clubs on Bourbon Street, above and below

COUNT ME IN FOR FUN The creepy vampire float that Nada saw in Krewe of Boo parade
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 25, 2015
Words:806
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