NOLA - Round 1... / by jennica hookstra


Was the word to escape my mouth when I first laid eyes on New Orleans' French Quarter.  I was on sensory overload;  the sights, sounds and questionable smells of Bourbon Street, felt like I had taken "the blue pill" from the Matrix.

I have always wanted to visit New Orleans.  For me, it is a city that holds so much history, culture, music and soul.  Honestly, how could you not love a place that lets you walk down the street with your favourite drink in hand (on a street named after my favourite drink - bourbon), as live jazz floods the streets.  Plus, I just happen to love me some soul food!!

I thought I would break down the trip into 2 parts because I felt that 1 post just wouldn't give Nola the credit it deserves...

Days 1 & 2

I'll be honest with you, the first day was a bit of a blur...

It all started off with having one of their famous fruity, slushy drinks, that they sell at every other shop.  They're basically a 7-11 slushy that packs a punch of anywhere between 4-7oz of adult juice.  We tried the famous "Hurricane" from Pat O'Briens, the "Hand Grenade" and even an orange slushy that they made with 191 proof rum.  It was the size of a medium ice cream container.  No wonder people were letting loose!  That and it just so happened to be Southern Decadence, which for those who don't know (like I didn't) it's the second largest gay festival in all of the United States.  I had wondered why there were so many rainbow flags around!  I figured that maybe the south had a change of heart since the new ruling of marriage equality...  Hah.  No.

The next morning was a little rough.  Drinking potent fruity drinks gives you about as much of a sugar hangover as you could imagine.  Nevertheless we dragged our bumping heads out of bed and hopped in the car for our next adventure!

What is a visit to New Orleans without seeing some gators?!  Nothing.  The answer is nothing.  I think we spent the entire time laughing our asses off between the sharp turns on the airboat and trying to decipher the story our hilarious guide was telling us, through his thick southern drawl.  If you guys are in NOLA, you MUST check out Airboat Tours.  I know there are a lot of companies to chose from, but I highly recommend these guys.  You'll see why...

As we made our way into the swamp, everyone was on the lookout for a set of eyes grazing the top of the water.  Before I could even turn around our guide had stopped the boat and swooped his hand into the water and pulled out a one week old baby gator!  It was absolutely adorable.  I held the little babe and couldn't believe that I was actually holding a baby alligator.  This thing was so tiny, it felt just like I was holding a pet lizard.  It's crazy to think that that a tiny gator could grow to be 13 feet!  I wanted to see how big of a punch this little guy could pack with his chompers, so I put my finger in his mouth and closed my eyes.  Ouch!!  I was impressed by the bite this little guy could deliver!  I can honestly now say, "I was once bitten by a gator."    

We cruised along some more until we saw a large female coming our way.  "That's Sneaky!" our guide said.  Sneaky, indeed.  You can't tell from these images but I am not using a zoom lens.  I literally had this girl less than a foot away from my foot.  I even inched a bit closer with my camera, willing to risk it so I could get a great shot.  Was it worth it?  Well... I could see how calm she was and observed how they respond by opening their jaw to a tap on the nose, then closing once something touches their tongue.  I trusted it was safe.  This was one of my favourite moments to capture to date, as a photographer.  Such a rush!

After our swamp ride, we were ready to venture to our first feasting destination.  I (with the help of friends, instagramers and some of my own research) compiled a list of restaurants & bars we had to check out.  Our first stop was Nola Smokehouse.  We had THE BEST beef brisket I have ever had.  Ever!  It was nothing fancy... served on a paper plate and you sauced your own meat.  I will forever dream about the beef brisket from Nola Smokehouse, until I return there to have it again.  AMAZING.  Mmmm!

After feeding our faces, we walked around the city and checked out the Roosevelt Hotel's "Sazerac" bar for their famous Sazerac.  This hotel holds a lot of history, including the iconic "Blue Room" where artists such as Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra would preform.  While standing there, I couldn't even imagine being in such an intimate environment, watching one of the greats give a performance.

It wasn't long before we checked out our next **MUST EAT HERE** establishment, marked in my notes.  This time we headed to the 2x James Beard award winning Pêche.  Oh yes, I could see what all of the fuss was about.  We ordered the following:  smoked tuna dip,  crab claws w/ pickled chili, steak tartare w/ oyster aioli, hushpuppies & crab + jalapeño capellini.  Impressive right?  The crab claws (a cold dish) were incredible.  Probably one of my favourite things we had on the entire trip.  The steak tartare was also delicious but very rich as most things down south tend to be.  The food was incredible!  We decided we would walk home after such an indulgence.

We headed back to enjoy some more live music, before making our way back to our hotel to call it a night.  During all of the excitement of the Souther Decadence festival, there was some less-than-tasteful protestors that came to share their opinions about it.  I was able to capture a brave young man, standing up to the hate and overpowering them with a simple sign of love.

Post Song: Louis Armstrong - Bourbon Street Parade