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Traveller Diaries: Welcome to New Orleans

As summer draws to a close, it seems fitting that I reach the end of my American road trip posts.

New Orleans has long been on my travel list.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I find something enchanting about New Orleans or the “Big Easy”, if you prefer.

Maybe it’s the hint of the mystical (it’s the birthplace of Voodoo), or perhaps it’s the colourful facades and balconies that line the French Quarter, it could have been creole cuisine, possibly it was the idea of exploring the bayou, it might even have been the sound of jazz filling the city streets (I doubt it was the last one).

The city’s motto is “Laissez les bon temps rouler”….roughly translated as “let the good times roll”, for us the good times certainly did roll.

New Orleans also marked our final stop on our epic American road trip – state number 9 in two weeks!

The first challenge we encountered before even leaving the UK was getting there. Our initial plan had been to travel from Memphis by train, there were no trains running on our allotted travel day. There’s a lesson here for all travellers, when going abroad check when public holidays are.

We were basically left with the bus option. Now, I can’t say I was over the moon at the prospect of an 11-hour bus journey, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

There were pros to the bus option too; we’d be on a grey hound (another one of those things from films that scream America to me), it did end up being much cheaper, it was alright, comfortable enough and in the end, we got to New Orleans quicker, thanks to being able to get on an earlier bus at Baton Rouge. 

We had a few days to spend in New Orleans and opted to pay slightly more for a hotel with a pool, vital considering how humid the city is.

I’d point you in the direction of La Meridien, it’s located in the centre of the city, a five-minute walk from the Mississippi and the French quarter, it’s close to streetcar stops, the staff were excellent, the hotel was lovely and it was great value for money.

I liken the weather in New Orleans to a Sauna, it’s a wet, muggy heat, basically I felt like I was walking around in a warm bath. I promise you though, the heat is worth dealing with.

On our first bright, sunny morning in NOLA, our first stop was breakfast, obviously.

We headed to Mother’s on Poydra street’s restaurant row; it’s a bustling diner that promises NOLA’s best breakfast and the world’s best baked ham. 

Despite not being won over by grits so far; I did opt to give them another shot and while the grits at Mother’s were better, I’m still not raving and can’t see me adding them to my diet.

Absolutely stuffed with food, we opted for a lazy morning exploring the city namely, the French quarter. 

It’s as stunning and enchanting as I imagined it would be.

It’s a mixture of old and new, it combines some of the city’s oldest churches, historic landmarks, cafes, magic shops and art galleries.

Neon signs adorn the streets, tempting revellers to join the party on Bourbon Street.

At the very heart of the French quarter is the beautiful Jackson Square.

The Pontalba buildings line to sides of the square, their balconies filled flowers draping the railings, the archways on the ground floor offering shade and shops.

St Louis Cathedral looks over the square and down to the banks of the Mississippi, between the two, a small parkway.

There’s a relaxed feeling to the square, people are just meandering around, soaking up the big easy’s atmosphere.

From the square head down to the river – you’ll be thankful of the breeze – and check out Woldenberg Park that edges the riverbank.

You’ll see steamboats parked up during the day, enjoy the green areas, have a look at the monuments and find out more about the city’s history.

Scott happy to have some breeze

If you’re really lucky, you’ll be walking behind a family who are unintentionally, hilarious.

A Grandmother was dragging her two grandsons along the mile long trail, God knows how long they’d been walking though…. please imagine the following with a southern accent…

Grandkid 1: “Grandma my leg hurts’.

Grandmother: “Oh your leg hurts, does it? …. You’ll get over it”.

This Grandma was taking no prisoners.

It didn’t matter how far behind that kid fell, how much that kid complained (and it was a lot); he was walking the whole way and he was having a photo with his brother at every single point of interest along the way, even if he did refuse to smile for the camera.

Grandmother: “Your mamma whined when I made her do this walk. She didn’t whine as much as you though”.

I could have listened to these tough love exchanges for hours, I loved how deadpan that grandma was, they were hilarious. I’m only sorry we somehow, inexplicably lost them along the way.

I hope the kid made it to the end.

Our afternoon was spent doing and seeing something I’ve dreamt of for years.

A Bayou tour.

If you find yourself in New Orleans, get out of the city for an afternoon and go to the swamp.

There are miles of intercoastal waterways and Bayous. With that comes plenty of tour companies who’ll take you out to the swamp.

Most will pick you up from your hotel in the city, our driver started with a “welcome to the first day of the hurricane season”.

Look for a company that actually cares about protecting and preserving the Bayou, we chose Ragin Cajun Airboat tours. It has the bonus of being ran from private land so, you won’t come across other boats.

Many of the captains are Cajun – descendants of French Canadians who settled in the Louisiana wetlands.

They love the Bayou, they’ve worked on the water, they know the waterways like the back of their hands, they care about the animals and the eco-system. They’ll expertly point out all there is to see, tell you stories and can answer pretty much question you have.

They give you an insight into the history and culture of the swamp and may even tell you about the Rougarou……according to legend this werewolf prowls the swamps looking for naughty children and Lent-breaking Catholics, meaning I’d have to be on my bloody guard.

Away from mythical, red eyed, bad catholic eating, werewolves, there’s plenty of other real animals that could eat you.

 For a kick off there are 2 million alligators in Louisiana…that’s a comforting thought.

Our captain started our tour with warning…

“Keep your hands inside the boat, a small one will do damage, a large one will drag you in and you aren’t coming out”.

Understood, no part of body was going anywhere near the edge of the boat.

When we arrived at the swamp, there were two wild pigs snuffling around, the little one already had a story.  It also had three brothers and sisters.

They’d all disappeared from the pig station in the swamp, it was assumed that all four would never be seen again, until three days Toots came running and squealing back into the reception area, shaking.

How she’d got back is beyond me. I think we can all guess what had happened to her siblings, without me having to go into detail.

I’m always sceptical about tours like this, I never quite believe that I’m going to get that close to wildlife or see that much.

These tours certainly deliver, you’ll be very close to alligators of all sizes all afternoon, and I can’t lie there were a few moments where I may have been taken by surprise….in hindsight, I should have taken the seat in the middle of the boat.

You can opt for a small or large airboat tour, I’d always go with the smaller option, you are going to have a better chance of being able to see, it just feels more intimate.

You’ll be out in the baking sun for a good hour and a half, so a hat is advisable and take some water. You’ll see all the bayou has to offer, hear what happens when hurricanes hit, learn about the environment and have a lot of fun.

There’s a serious side to it too, it’s a really important ecological area that is under threat.

The Mississippi river delta is disappearing at the rate of a football field per hour because of manmade forces, like mining and coastal erosion. 

Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost over 2,000 square miles of land. 

The delta isn’t growing fast enough to offset the rising ocean plus the land around the delta is sinking. 

It also means that Louisiana’s wetlands are flooding permanently and being lost to open water.

Go see it, learn about it. it’s an incredible place, it’s beautiful and one of the best experiences you can have.

Back in the city we headed out to check out some of that famous nightlife and inadvertently gate crashed a barman’s leaving do after being drawn inside by the sound of Joy Division playing at full blast, got talking to couple who lived in the city and were offered a half price meal at a restaurant for the following day. I LOVE THIS CITY!

After a later night than anticipated, the following morning we headed out to the garden district.

Originally, the whole area was plantations, but it was later sold off to wealthy Americans.

The Garden District of Nola is considered to be one of the best-preserved collections of historic mansions in America.

Take the St Charles streetcar from the city – a day pass is $3.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the city you soon find yourself surrounded by mansions and tree lined streets, some of those streets are home to celebs, I believe Sandra Bullock and John Goodman have homes there.

It’s a neighbourhood that’s filled with boutiques and small bookstores, it really does feel like you’re stepping into a different world and time.

It’s also where the famous Lafyette cemetery no1. Nestled in between the streets this cemetery has been the star of film and TV, if you’ve ever watched The Originals, you’ll recognise it.

It houses huge family tombs and mausoleums. There are 42 historic cemeteries across NOLA, referred to as “cities of the dead”, you can see the different influences in the tombs.

You’ll also notice they’re all above ground; the city’s high water table means people can’t be buried below ground, I’m not going to go into any further detail than that.

Lafyette cemetery no1 is, at the time of writing, closed to the public. It’s been on a watch list for more than fifteen years because of the dilapidated state of some of the tombs, hurricane Katrina caused further damage in 2005 – Save Our Cemeteries is campaigning and fundraising for repairs to be made.

Now if you’re feeling flush, can you opt for a fancy meal at the Commanders Palace, I’m not much of a fancy meal person. We instead, walked a little way out from the mansions to Domilise’s for a Po’boy.

There’s a bit of debate over how the Po’boy came about, a popular myth being former streetcar conductors Benny and Clovis Martin came up with them to feed strikers, the jury is still out on that one.

You simply can’t go to NOLA and not try a Po’boy.

We went half and half with ours, and still I have a constant debate over which I preferred the roast beef or the fried shrimp.

I’ll dream about that sandwich; I’m salivating just writing about it.

So, let’s talk about Jazz, shall we?

I wouldn’t describe myself as a connoisseur, I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan to be brutally honest.

I always assumed that it was just a cacophony of noise, there never seemed to be any order to it and I’ve never really been able to get on board with that.

However, Dave Grohl described Preservation Hall as one his favourite places in his favourite city in the world so, naturally I was always going to go to check out the Preservation Hall jazz band for myself.

I would have walked straight past Preservation Hall had I not been looking for it.  It’s a tiny building that looks abandoned from the outside, don’t be fooled because every night, the band take to the stage for three different sets, and it is wonderful.

Booking is essential, it’s the only way you can get in. 

It’s an intimate set, in a small, dark and dusty room. There’s a few benches set out if you fancy paying to sit, failing that just stand at the back, that way you can at least bounce around.

It’s a part of NOLA’s history and heritage – in the early 20th century racially integrated bands played to racially integrated audiences, a rare feat in the South, it’s a part of the civil rights movement. 

It’s all about supporting musicians and preserving jazz.

I’ll hold my hands up soon after the set started, I realised that jazz isn’t just a cacophony of different instruments. The band were brilliant, I loved hearing the stories behind the songs, I danced on the spot (space was in short supply), and we were able to meet and chat with them after.

I can’t recommend a trip to Preservation Hall enough, even if like me, you aren’t convinced by jazz.

High on jazz, a night on bourbon street called.

It isn’t for everyone, it does get busy, its filled with bars playing different music and street performers. There’s a lot going on, if you aren’t a fan of crowds, head down early and have a drink on one of the wrought iron balconies and watch the world go by.

NOLA met and exceeded my expectations.

It was as enchanting as I thought it would be, it’s a city filled with green spaces and parks, it’s lively, it offers a mix of everything, it’s got a rich history, it’s a city filled with music and great stories, the Bayou is stunning, the food is delicious. It is one of my favourite places in the world and I’m so glad we finally got there.

Jazz won me over…..bourbon did not….that is still not nice.

So that’s then of our trip New York to New Orleans. Nine states ticked off in just over two weeks. It was the trip of a lifetime, I loved America more than I expected to, it’s left me with memories I’ll cherish. 

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

12 thoughts on “Traveller Diaries: Welcome to New Orleans Leave a comment

  1. Ooh I love this – it looks like you had a great time! New Orleans is on my travel list and I’d really love to see the French Quarter. The Garden District sounds lovely too, I know I’d have an amazing time wandering around the bookshops! The grandma sounds absolutely hilarious too. Thank you so much for sharing x


  2. I can just imagine how wonderful a trip to New Orleans would be; I’ve watched many travel shows that have explored this Louisiana city and it always looks/sounds incredible. I really enjoyed reading this post as I got a real feel for the experiences you had!

    Liked by 1 person

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