There were some casualties from last night. A pair of chinos and my pride were the most obvious - I think I must have fell over whilst walking home, so unfortunately I'm now one pair of trousers down before the trip's even really gotten going. Oh well, it was a really fun night and left us both in good spirits, if desperately craving a burger before we left town.
Before we left Biloxi we went for a wander along the coast, which lead to the discovery of a hidden Frank Gehry building - a museum dedicated to the Mad Potter of Biloxi. It's very strange to just run into some hidden example of a world famous architect's work, especially one I don't even particularly like, but we were happy to have seen it.
We also managed a brisk walk up a long pier that stretches out into the Gulf - I say brisk because the temperature is starting to get noticeably colder - the heat wave in Florida is now just a distant memory and we starting to break out some of the clothes that we've packed for the Denver weather. The exercise (and the stiff sea breeze) certainly cleared out the cobwebs, and after our burger then we got in the car to set off to New Orleans for New Year's Eve.
The drive from Biloxi took us over the Mississippi River - I want quite prepared for just how massive a river could be. The bridge crossing it must have taken about six or seven minutes to get over. The colours have all stated to desaturate now as well - from the sylvan greens and cobalt blues of the Floridian coastline, to the muddy browns and dying green-greys of the bayou. It's certainly a more macabre setting hut equally beautiful if you're in the right frame mind.
Our first priority once we arrived in New Orleans was to find accommodation. Actually, that's not entirely true - our first actual priority was to drive to some forgotten corner of the city to find a Nike Outlet store so that nick could buy some trainers. The store was in a somewhat salubrious location, so it was decided (i.e. Nick decided) that I should wait in the car whilst he went in to shop. The wisdom of this decision came into question when I realised that this approach left me locked in a brand new truck that wouldn't move (Nick took the keys with him for additional security)' surrounded by what I can only describe as a hostile environment. Still, it all worked out in the end - Nick got his trainers and I remained un-shot.
We headed towards the French Quarter, the home of the New Orleans celebrations, constantly scanning for hotels. Upon spying a Best Western, I wandered in and asked the reception if she had any vacancies. Rather ominously, she just laughed at me, politely, and told me that if we hadn't booked then we 'were going to have a bad time'. Uh oh.
This stark prediction turned out to be a little hyperbolic, as we simply tried the hotel across the road and they had one room available - a reservation had been cancelled only 4 minutes before we arrived. The room is a suite with two bedrooms, but was surprisingly affordable given the context. We'd arrived mid-afternoon so we dropped off our bags and went out to orient ourselves with the Quarter before the sun went down.
The French Quarter is certainly one of the most characterful parts of the USA I've ever visited. The buildings are scattered with balconies, huge shuttered windows and look vaguely unkempt. Music is constantly drifting through the streets and people dominate the narrow streets - the latter was especially welcome after spending so much time on the highways. It was a great feeling to actually visit somewhere that felt like a city as we'd understand it, and such a unique one at that.
There is definitely another side to this part of New Orleans though. All the way through the trip, when discussing our plans to visit the city, we've received cryptic messages implying New Orleans was a dangerous and threatening place. Our visit didn't really corroborate this - there's certainly a lot of extremely poor and homeless people, often gathered in public places, but this is no different from areas of central London; Soho or Marble Arch for instance. There was a strong police presence throughout the Quarter, and I think the time of year meant that there were more people on the streets than usual. We certainly never felt threatened or put off by anybody we saw as we walked around and were were out until well past 2AM.
Another clash with our expectations was Bourbon Street - the main 'party street' of the French Quarter and the key destination for the New Year's Eve revellers. The street was thronged with people drinking beers in the street and carrying around novelty cocktails, the bars were playing pounding music even at this time in the afternoon and there were definitely some people who weren't going to make it to see the new year in. In my head, I'd expected Bourbon Street to be the epicentre of the easy going jazz bars and sophisticated cocktails - I'd definitely got that wrong as it felt more like the main strip in one of the Greek party islands.
We returned to the hotel and got our London Smart attire on - most of the guys we'd seen thus far were either wearing sports team gear (the Sugar Bowl - a major event in the college football calendar - was in town) or a strange mix of baseball caps, polo shirts and Barbour-esque body warmers, so we thought we'd be cutting a sharp figure on Bourbon Street. Unfortunately, our self-images took a major blow when almost immediately after leaving the hotel, two girls noticed us and one remarked to the other 'Nah, they be fags'. A promising start.
We headed to Bourbon Street, which was now totally packed, and tried a couple of bars, but we were getting the distinct impression that the mix of shot-girls, 3 for 1 alcohol deals and terrible music wasn't for us. So we moved on down to a small bar that was playing about five sports matches on huge TVs simultaneously - we asked where we could find some live jazz and the barmaid pointed us in the direction of Frenchman Street.
Which is much more like it. Our evening i proved considerably as we listened to several live bands, of varying styles and quality, in several different bars. It was great fun and everybody we met chatted to us, as we listened to jazz and moved from bar to bar. So much so that New Year's Eve snuck up on us, and we almost missed it. We continued to move around the Quarter, chatting indiscriminately as and when people realised we were English - the accent is working wonders as an icebreaker and we employed it whenever possible.
Although not a particularly promising night at the outset, I think we both had a great night by the end. Knowing my audience a little, I would recommend focussing your time towards the south and east of the quarter is you visit - Frenchman Street if you're into music and the area around it if you want food.
I hope you have all had a good New Year's Eve, and best wishes to you all from both Nick and I. Tomorrow we're moving north towards Texas so I'll be updating this from the home of the Bush Dynasty. Speak soon.