New Orleans, Louisiana
I visited New Orleans at the end of my southern road trip, during the summer of 2012.
Driving from Mississippi into Louisiana was an experience in itself. As soon as we had crossed the state line, I could notice the difference in scenery. The roads were suddenly elevated above vast swamp areas – it was quite unbelievable. Different to anything I had seen, or have seen since, in the United States.
We stayed at India House Hostel, on the recommendation of people we had met in Nashville. The quality of the rooms and facilities was not the best, but the atmosphere was fantastic.
They have an outside pool, and plenty of outside space for drinking, playing music and talking to your new international friends. I was with the British guys I had met in a hostel in Nashville (and then travelled to Memphis, and through Mississippi with) and once at India House we bumped into a bunch of other people we had met in Nashville – party time!
We headed down to the famous Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter, which extends 13 blocks through the heart of New Orleans. The streets are lined with bars and the crowds are rowdy. Drinks are pretty cheap and there are many ‘New Orleans classics’ to be sampled. My favourites were the frozen daiquiri shops, some including a self-serve option, to keep the drinks flowing all night!
The Hand Grenade’s ingredients are kept top secret, but the drink is neon green and purportedly the most powerful cocktail on Bourbon Street. I’m not convinced it was anything other than a lot of different energy drinks thrown together, but it sure is effective!
The next morning we took a New Orleans streetcar back into the heart of the French Quarter for a touristy wander.
We wandered through the streets, popping in and out of carnival shops, and voodoo shops (Aaron had his cards read but I didn’t fancy it!). Eventually we found ourselves in a bar for 4pm cocktails! When in New Orleans, eh? We unintentionally ended up at one of the most well-known bars in town – Pat O’Brien’s – which is famous for the Hurricane cocktail. Andy ordered himself one, while I ordered a Fuzzy Leprechaun, and we got happily tipsy listening to a piano player. We staggered out a little later and continued our French Quarter tour.
We reached Jackson Square and St. Louis cathedral. Here we saw the Mighty Mississippi in all its glory for the first time in full daylight, and whilst a slightly unpleasant brown colour, it sure is big!! We took in the sights, watched some street performers and salivated over all the cajun food smells wafting around from the nearby restaurants. It was definitely time for dinner.
My Oregon roommate’s parents are from the south originally, and every time I stayed at her house in Portland her mum would make beignets for breakfast. They’re essentially fried dough (like mini doughnuts really) covered in powered sugar, and very popular in New Orleans. Café du Monde specialises in them so I had to snap a photo of the outside to send back to my roommate!
Already starving, we asked some locals where the best place to get a Po’ boy was. Po’ boys are the traditional sub of New Orleans and they looked GOOD. We were given elaborate directions to the local’s choice, but after a lot of walking we arrived to find them shutting their doors! Nightmare! We asked around again and began following new directions. It literally took us about two hours to find this place, a counter hidden at the back of a grocery store, but boy was it worth it. I don’t eat fish, seafood or beef (the three traditional fillings of po’ boys) so I had a honey mustard chicken one (still unbelievably delicious!) Aaron went all out with his roast beef po’ boy, ordering it ‘nasty’ which included gravy oozing from the sandwich. We sat on the pavement outside and devoured our food.
After another night of hostel drinking, we rose early to pack in more sights. First, a couple of us headed to a cemetery. This might sound an unusual tourist attraction, but as the city is built on a swamp, the dead have to be buried above ground in stone crypts and mausoleums. These large cemeteries have come to be known as ‘Cities of the Dead’ and they are naturally very eery.
In the afternoon we headed out for a swamp tour! I was really excited for this trip. (Top tip: If you have a car in New Orleans, book the tour where you drive yourself to the swamp – you’ll save a lot of money in comparison to being picked up at your hotel/hostel!) Once we arrived, we went out on a speed boat in a group of around 14-18 of us. We sped through the swamp paths on the lookout for ‘gators!
Our boat guide told really interesting stories, and detailed the impact and damage of Hurricane Katrina on the swamp region. We came across a boat and our guide informed us that it had been carried 400miles in the winds of Hurricane Katrina.
We saw many alligators on the trip. The guides get as close as they can without disturbing the creatures, then tempt them to come closer to the boat by throwing marshmallows at them! They got mighty close to the side of the boat!
Incredible. The tour ended with the guide producing a tiny baby ‘gator from a cooler on the boat and giving everyone the opportunity to hold him. I struggled at first (I was pretty nervous!) but eventually got a hold!
My final night in New Orleans we ate a feast and drank at the hostel, entertained by my favourite banjo player from the Nashville hostel who had arrived that day. My taxi to the airport was arriving at 4am so we decided to stay at the hostel and enjoy our last night together. It was such a fun night and experience to go on this trip with near-complete strangers. I didn’t stop drinking until 3am, before heading to my room to pack, and not surprisingly I ended up leaving half my life (camera charger, clothes etc…!) in New Orleans (woops) and almost missing my connecting flight in Dallas as I was sobering up/the hangover was kicking in. I’ll leave you with this from our photoshoot session that final night :’)