For all my Rochester love, there is one other city that really has my heart. Time and time again, I’ll find myself thinking about it and yearning to go back. Cheesy, but true. I’ve only been to New Orleans, Louisiana twice, but that’s not enough!

The first time I visited New Orleans was in 2010. I went with a group of college students from my church, Perinton Presbyterian, to help rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina. More on that later.

My first taste of New Orleans (literally) was an encounter with the cuisine at a seafood restaurant. A mere 5 years ago, I did not like seafood (what was I thinking?!). I was thoroughly disturbed by these crawfish…

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Hello, crawfish

Instead, I made the brilliant decision to order a muffaletta. This muffaletta situation truly blew me away.

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Monstrous sandwich

What is a muffaletta? The most enormous sandwich you’ve ever seen. No joke. Even in retrospect, I’m still astonished by how large it was! It includes olive salad, ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and even mortadella (an Italian sausage). It’s served on round Sicilian sesame bread and was popular among Italian immigrants living in New Orleans. Unfortunately, not my cup of tea. I hate olives and sausage, so, not my best meal choice. The beginning of my first trip to NOLA was off to a bit of a rocky start!

Luckily, some New Orleans residents in the musicians’ village were quick to show off how friendly the people are in this city. They rushed out to our car as we were touring around to get familiar with the area, and were eager to hand us plastic coconuts (I’m still not sure why) and share their life stories. The eclectic decorations in the yard were an accurate display of the colorful personalities of the residents! These people could have just let our car drive by, or messed with a van full of college students, but instead they decided to come talk to us. I think it really says a lot about the city and its people.

After that trip, I would often tell my friends and family about our time in NOLA and they’d say, “Hurricane Katrina? Wasn’t that like, 5 years ago? Shouldn’t they be fine by now?” People really struggle to wrap their heads around how massive Katrina’s impact was. A lot of the homes look like this one (or much worse), 5 years after the hurricane: empty, water damaged, structurally unsound, and totally abandoned.

Even though it was MUCH colder than we expected in Louisiana in January, we still really enjoyed having the chance to build a house in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

My second visit to NOLA was last year in July. Yes, Louisiana in July. And I still loved it! It really couldn’t have been any more different from my first visit- the tone was incredibly different, for starters. We weren’t there to help rebuild in the wake of a devastating natural disaster; we were just there for a conference. Also, I was old enough to enjoy a drink on Bourbon Street!

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Obligatory hand grenade photo

There were so many highlights to this visit that it’s hard to distill it down to just a few. One of the best parts for me, though, was visiting Fritzel’s again. It was one of the only spots we visited on Bourbon Street back in 2010, and we drank juice and listened to jazz. This time around, I was able to sample a hurricane (and a hand grenade, on a different evening). But the remarkable jazz was just as good as ever.

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One year ago – not much had changed!

It felt so special to go see this band again and hear their soulful voices and upbeat music. Man, can that clarinetist play (and I’m a clarinetist, so I would know)! I may err on the side of cheese here and say it was a magical moment. It allowed me to reflect on where the last 5 years had taken to me, all while listening to spectacular jazz in an intimate setting (the whole jazz club can hold probably no more than 20 people).

We also stumbled upon some pretty amazing art at night. The little shop on a random side street was owned by a real character named Adrian Fulton, who was quick to offer us beer or a shot (we politely declined both). He had a dog named Faith and liked to create art on the shingles and other scraps that had blown off of houses during Hurricane Katrina. We pet the dog and we bought some art.

Another neat thing about New Orleans is that it has TONS of literary connections. Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and more all spent time in NOLA. It’s fun to meander around and see how many literary landmarks you can find. We visited Faulkner’s old apartment as well as the Hotel Monteleone, where many literary icons stayed and worked.

The last item we ticked off our NOLA bucket list during that trip was a steamboat ride down the Mississippi River. A bit touristy, but worth it- there was great food, jazz (by the clarinetist from Fritzel’s!!!), and tons of interesting history narrated by our guide.

What is it about NOLA that makes me keep wanting more? It’s such a damn vibrant place- I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s a lot of life. It’s the music, it’s the architecture, it’s the food, it’s the people.

I could have featured photos of my gorgeous, haunted hotel, or the very cool Louis Armstrong Park, or the over-the-top parade our professional organization marched in, but then this blog would go on forever.

Every time I experience a few days in NOLA, I find myself wanting to go back before I’ve even left. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to any other place that has such a strong sense of place, if that makes any sense at all. I can’t wait to return.

Photo credit for the featured image (in the header) goes to my friend and coworker, Shawn Denman, who is an excellent photographer.

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