I remember my sister frantically calling my father more than a decade ago. At the time, she was studying at Xavier University to become a clinical doctor, and had been told to evacuate New Orleans because Hurricane Katrina was on its way.
My dad told her she should think about “waiting the storm out.” That’s probably the first time my sister Lindsey didn’t listen to our dad.
Going against my father’s recommendation, my sister and five of her friends packed into her two-door convertible and drove to Atlanta to escape the storm.
In the months to follow, my family watched the devastation on television. Eventually the school gave the “OK” for students to return and we took my sister back to New Orleans.
When taking my sister back, we drove through Louisiana the state looked like a flooded ghost town. Buildings boarded up with signs reading “dead inside” were everywhere.
When we were unpacking my sister’s belongings at the school, I could smell a distinct stench—somewhat similar to a pungent sulfur smell.
I asked my sister what the smell was and she replied, “That’s the smell of dead bodies. We work with them all the time.”
With the 11th†anniversary of hurricane Katrina approaching, I recently returned with my girlfriend to the “Big Easy” for the first time since Katrina.
I tried to plan my trip to avoid any major events or festivals, which in Louisiana is like trying to jump in a pool without getting wet.
New Orleans is a party town filled with party people. It also has very narrow streets, which if crowded with traffic, can make finding a parking space extremely difficult.
Taking another tour through the city was completely different than it was a decade ago. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome overlooks a city full of life. My girlfriend could not put her camera down; it was her first time in New Orleans and the lights and the atmosphere blew her away.
On the first night of our two-day trip, we decided to see what the city’s streets had to offer. The best place to go for nightlife is the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city.
In the French Quarter, you are likely to stroll along world-famous Bourbon Street, with its numerous restaurants, bars and live jazz music venues. The French Quarter is a great way to experience the culture of Louisiana.
While enjoying all that the French Quarter has to offer, I met a woman with ties to the metro Atlanta area.
Rhonda Trahan, a native of New Orleans who previously lived in McDonough, said she remembers how difficult hurricane Katrina was on her family.
Trahan, a marketing consultant who at the time owned a three-story home, said more than 30 family members stayed with her while the storm passed.
“My house was full,” Trahan said, laughing. “But I’d do anything for family. That’s what we do. That’s our way.”
I’m not much of a party person and talking with the locals and having an occasional drink was just what I needed. It provided insight into how life may have been for those who endured the effects of Katrina.
To satisfy our love and appreciation of food, my girlfriend and I decided on our second day to visit some of New Orleans’ famous dining establishments.
When we arrived at Cafe du Monde around 11 a.m., we were told the wait would be more than an hour wait before we could be seated. Although we wanted to experience what many refer to as the best beignets in the city, we opted not to wait that long.
Instead, we went to New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee for “pigeignets” or Cajun smoked sausage wrapped in a beignets pastry. Think of a sausage McGriddle from McDonalds—but much better.
For lunch, we dined at another of New Orleans’ famous eateries, Willie Mae’s, for arguably the best fried chicken in the country. The chicken has a spicy breading with a healthy crunch. Although the lunch menu is limited, the serving sizes certainly make up for it. I ordered the fried chicken with butter beans, and macaroni and cheese. I left completely satisfied.
To experience another aspect of New Orleans, we took an authentic swamp tour of the Louisiana bayous.
Airboat tours or group boat tours were both available, but we opted for the boat tour.
The airboat tour seemed to be more for risk-takers who enjoy high speeds and the feel of wind in their hair. However, for those looking for a semi-romantic tour with the opportunity to touch live gators, I’d highly recommend the boat tour.
Hurricane Katrina certainly destroyed many things in the grand old city of New Orleans, including businesses and homes. However more than 10 years later, the spirit of the city is intact and possibly stronger than ever.
I’m already considering booking a trip next year.
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