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Come on Down to the Mardi Gras!

I recently spent a year studying at Louisiana State University; just 90 minutes away from New Orleans. And what happens in New Orleans? Mardi Gras!

Once a year the self-proclaimed party capital of the United States steps it’s celebrations up a gear as Mardi Gras takes over the city. With all this on my doorstep it would have been rude not to at least pop in to see what all the fuss was about. But then again, this is New Orleans we are talking about; they don’t do things by halves.

So after many hours searching the internet for accommodation, I, along with approximately thirty other LSU students and armed with as many red cups as we could carry, encamped on a large house on the outskirts of the city. Sure the advertisement said sleeps 14 maximum but hey, what could possibly go wrong?

With inhabitants coming from America, England, Spain, New Zealand, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Honduras, and France to name but a few, the house was in effect a model UN but with alcohol. While at times things were a little crowded there was always room for a game of beer pong and always someone you could find to join you to explore the city during the festival.
Once out of the house it was a short tram ride into the city centre before being engulfed by the party atmosphere. Bourbon Street, always hectic and often chaotic, is absolutely rammed throughout Mardi Gras. Walking from one end to the other you are likely to come across some interesting sites – some that may scar you for life, others that are just downright bizarre or entertaining.

Squeezing between a man proclaiming the end of the world and a giant alien on stilts might not come to mind when you think of a party, but then again New Orleans during Mardi Gras is not your average party occasion.

With the famous balconies of the French Quarter packed full of people generously raining down a selection of brightly coloured beads (often on offer to the female gender who seemed to have found themselves light of an item of clothing) it’s no wonder so many people take cover in one of the many bars. Of course the renowned hurricane cocktails may also have something to do with it. Or maybe we can use this as an excuse for why my memory of evenings on Bourbon Street is quite so hazy.

The parades themselves are so numerous and often that it is hard to keep up to date with them all. But with many of them coming complete with dozens of full brass bands – a truly fantastic site as they march in unison, or blasting music from their intricately designed floats – what is for certain is that it’s never too hard to locate one snaking its way through the streets of the European style city.

My personal favourite was the Bacchus Parade. Having spent the afternoon mingling amongst the crowds we eventually squeezed in just a row from the front as the parade king (during my visit, actor Will Ferrell), emerged atop a ginormous float. For the next few hours we were treated to a wide variety of floats in all shapes and sizes as well as a variety of alcoholic concoctions… and yet more beads.

One thing I did learn was that if you know someone on board one of the floats, expect to be bombarded with packets full of beads. I attempted to block the torrent of missiles and lost a contact lense in the line of duty.

Ultimately after four days, our Mardi Gras experience was over and we returned to LSU. But it was truly a remarkable trip that was filled with many unusual events, sites and situations that can only be understood if you take a trip down to New Orleans in February.
Has anyone else run the gauntlet and come out still standing?

Alastair Davidson is a recent graduate with a major passion for all things travel, sport, and cinema. When he is not indulging in one of these activities he can often be found writing on them at The GKBC Writers’ Academy.