jazz, food and american porches

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone on vacay just to come home being even more tired than you were before leaving. So much to see, so little time.

Emma Hedman and Martin Gustavsson, Market Director and Product Manager at BIK BOK and originally Swedes, left Oslo for New Orleans without planning every second. But they had two very specific reasons why they went.

For many, New Orleans in Louisiana (NOLA), is about jazz, food, carnivals with a little voodoo on top of it. What was your reason to go there?

We love food and NOLA is supposed to be a Mecca of cooking; a trip there was a standing point on our bucket list. Plus, we love the US but wanted to go somewhere else than the East or West Coast. Martin has a passion for these typical American porches where you can sit in the shadow, rocking an old rocker while sipping on a cold beer. No better place than NOLA to find just that. (Smile).

Your expectations must have been huge?

Our expectations were mainly concerning the food… Being there for ten days, we really planned to eat as much as we could, and to tick the list of restaurants we had read about. Besides that we reduced the must dos and ceased the day in a way you often don’t. We didn’t want to run from one thing to another. We wanted to relax.

The St. Charles Streetcar line in New Orleans has been going strong since 1835. Photo by Emma Hedman

You were there during Christmas and New Year’s. How was the weather?

The right word is crispy, like early spring in Oslo with around 15C. The sun was warm but still called for wool coats and shawls. And hats, whenever the wind came upon us. The weather was nice but my guess is that NOLA is even more giving during warmer periods, like in the spring or during fall. We noticed this because all of a sudden, on New Year’s Day (accompanied by our only hang-over), summer came for 24 hours and left us all perplexed! However, we fully enjoyed it and I thanked myself for remembering that skirt. But then again, the summer is perhaps not the best time if you want to eat much. (Laughter.)

True, and Christmas is 95 % eating. How did you get there?

We flew from Oslo to Chicago, stayed there for the night and a whole day before we took a domestic flight to New Orleans. A side note: Chicago! We want to go back! We only had 24 hours there, but still: the food, the shopping and perhaps the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at – Waldorf Astoria.

We were supposed to arrive in NOLA close to midnight but our flight was late and we checked in at our hotel around 3 a.m. Therefore, our first impression of the city was a bit unfair due to our anger with a certain airline, Un**ed…

Where did you stay?

We lived in the Garden/Uptown district, a residential area just a small walk away from Magazine Street where you find charming little shops, cafés and restaurants. French Quarter is just a taxi drive or some tram stations away and  is a must do, but also just impossible to miss if going to NOLA.

garden_district_2013_Joseph-Carroll-House_Carriage-House_1869_Chestnut_Street2_e kopia
The Garden District is famous for its beautiful nineteenth century buildings.

Our research was extensive before the trip – we wanted something classic and were in the mood for a B&B – and our eyes finally landed on Maison Perrier B&B.

Maison Perrier  is run by the couple Tom and Patricia who really supports the idea of nice and helpful in a way only Americans can be.The standard was really good, although not luxurious, and the room was super cozy. Martin was in heaven because the room had a balcony with, no kidding, its own rocker.

Both porches and rockers. Photo by Maison Perrier B&B

Every morning breakfast was served downstairs in the dining room, by their own chef who prepared pancakes or eggs and bacon. Breakfast in the US is something special and we love it all: different varieties of eggs and bacon, pancakes, freshly squeezed juice and a huge cup of coffee.

Any morning better than the other?

The first morning in a new town is always something special. Your expectations are high and your feelings a mix of being jittery, excited and eager to get out there and absorb everything.

So what are your impressions?

There is no real town centre; everything is rather scattered and the houses are low which leaves you without the feeling of being in a big city. And there is no shopping – no big chains or a big shopping street – for that you’ll have to go to the malls outside of the city. We didn’t. Instead we filled our days with walks, sightseeing and reading books, things we normally don’t find time to. And of course we made time for scrumptious meals.

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Emma and Martin at Carousel Bar, where the spinning bar, and perhaps the alcohol, leaves you a bit dizzy. Photo by Emma Hedmark

If the days are calm, NOLA really wakes up at night and during the late hours you get all the action. We had this idea that Bourbon Street would be our hang out, but we couldn’t be more wrong. The street passes through The French Quarter and is perhaps best described as a bar street in Greece: loads of bars with no charm at all but instead plenty of neon signs and drunken American tourists. I guess it’s the “a drink to-go”– booze take-away – that has some effect. To anyone thinking of going to Bourbon Street, don’t. Steer away and towards Frenchmen Street instead. If Bourbon Street was a disappointment it was just the opposite with Frenchmen Street. You really need a couple of nights to experience it to the fullest; there you’ll find several music places, with no reservations needed.

Did it support the idea of NOLA with musicians playing word-class jazz in every corner?

Well, during the days you could see some street musicians and orchestras so music, and jazz, was always present in some way. But our idea of live music luring us into every bar at night was not really right. Instead of music searching for us, we had to search for music. That being said, when we found the right streets and places it really met our every expectation. Especially on Frenchmen Street. We had fantastic experiences at The Spotted Cat and Apple Barrel. Uptown, on Oak Street, you’ll find places like Maple Leaf Bar with live sessions every night. Imagine listening to some random band, drinking G&T from small, white, plastic cups. So nice! Most bars and places have free entrance and a no-reservation policy, but instead you’ll have to buy at least one drink.

The Spotted Cat Music Club is just one of many bars with good atmosphere, great music and alcohol in plastic cups. Photo by Emma Hedmark

The best feeling during the whole trip was without a doubt during one evening on Frenchmen Street. We were cruising from one bar to another, listening to music that was out of this world and everything was so laid back and so unswedish! Behind the bar at Apple Barrel, a 70-something lady served drinks (read: grogs) and in one corner two guys were jamming. Suddenly, in the middle of a song, a big black woman in her middle ages entered the stage and with her tambourine started jamming with them. We have not to this day seen anyone playing the tambourine the way she did. She was so cool and it was just impossible not to be drawn to their energy and joy!

Was ten days enough for everything you wanted to do?

Oh yes, more than enough, but during summer you can take a steamboat down the Mississippi River. And of course, it would have been something extra to experience crawfish season and Mardi Gras… We just have to go back, that ‘s all!

Emma’s list of restaurants will be posted soon.

(Cover photo in this story by Emma Hedman)

by Catharina Holm

Destinations: New Orleans, USA

Escapes: City Break, Food, Hotel, Music