Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Travel: New Orleans

Following on from Washington, D.C. and Nashville, the third stop of our trip was New Orleans. Originally we had been considering getting another Greyhound coach from Nashville to New Orleans, and after experiencing Greyhound between Washington and Nashville, we were so glad that we had opted for the hour-long flight rather than another 14 hours on a coach. I don’t know if I could have done it again so soon.

The journey felt luxurious in comparison, and really flew by. (I’m sorry, that was awful).

We spent a while deliberating how to get from the airport into the French Quarter, with our main concerns being safety issues we’d heard about from friends that had previously been, but in the end we decided to brave the bus. This was definitely the right decision as it was super easy and only cost $2 each for the 40-minute journey to the edge of the French Quarter.

New Orleans was one of the places that made my initial list of cities to visit, having seen and heard great things about it from other people who had visited (and not at all because I have seen Disney’s The Princess and the Frog an unforgivable amount of times, ahem). Although I was excited to see what it was like, I was also a little wary as a couple of people who I spoke to before going warned us not to leave the French Quarter and showered me with stories of muggings and shootings. Of course, the (rather large) paranoid part of my brain went into overdrive and had a great time making me panic, when in reality it’s the same in any big city, right?

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Because of the above safety warnings, and the fact that we couldn’t find an Airbnb within our budget in the French Quarter, we stayed in a hotel called French Market Inn. Even going for the cheapest room this ended up being the most expensive stay of the trip, but it was nice to have our own space after living with strangers for the past five nights. The hotel was perfectly located for what we wanted to do; within walking distance of all the main streets and just one road away from the riverfront. I loved the exposed brick-wall interior of the room too. 

So, onto what we actually got up to…

In addition to walking around the French Quarter and looking at all the pretty buildings, there are various spots to visit both within and just outside of the area. Saint Louis Cathedral is worth a visit, even if just for the exterior, but definitely have a quick look inside if you get the chance. A lot of the attraction of New Orleans is having a look in some of the antiques shops and art galleries which are dotted around, but there’s also a French Market if that’s more your scene.

We had a few hours to spare on our final morning so we went in the Historic New Orleans Collection. If you’re really interested in the history of New Orleans and already have a basic understanding/awareness then I would definitely recommend paying it a visit, but as someone with very little knowledge of the area, I found it difficult to piece together the bits of information given. The collection consisted of very specific and detailed exhibits, with not much of an overview of the whole history.

If you’re prepared to leave the French Quarter, then Louis Armstrong Park is a lovely place to visit, as well as Canal Street and the immediately surrounding roads. And, of course, streetcars are a big feature of the city.

Before we got there, we knew that we wanted to a trip either to a plantation or a swamp, and in the end we had a ‘we’re only going to be here once’ moment and booked a combination tour through Grayline. In total, the trip took about 5 hours and cost $85 dollars each. It was quite a lot of money, but I would do the swamp tour part again without a doubt.

The tour began at the Destrehan Plantation, which is the oldest documented French Colonial style house in the lower Mississippi Valley.  In all honesty, I found the plantation tour a little uncomfortable. The main focus of the house tour was on the plantation owners, and although slavery was mentioned, it was not a prominent part of the discussion. There was a tiny slave revolt museum on site, but this was just left for you to have a look around after the tour of the house. I found this problematic for a number of reasons, but mostly because of the way in which the history of the plantation owners were celebrated and issues of slavery were dismissed because ‘they were treated a lot better here than in other places’. But that’s another post’s worth of rant…

The second part of the trip took us to Cajun Pride Swamp Tours. I was really unsure about how I felt about going on a swamp tour beforehand; there’s something unappealing about chasing dangerous animals, especially in the water. Honestly though, it ended up being one of my favourite parts of the whole trip. For some reason I was only expecting to get the odd glimpse of the alligators, but we saw so many, as well as raccoons, loads of bird species and even got the chance to hold baby gators, snakes and turtles.

One of New Orleans’ biggest tourist attractions is the steamboat jazz cruise you can take along the river, but we ruled it out after reading some really bad reviews about the food you get served. For over $100 each, you’d expect something a bit more impressive. I’m so glad we did the swamp tour instead!

Probably the only thing I found disappointing about our time in New Orleans was the lack of live jazz music. Asides from some really great street performers/buskers, we couldn’t find any. Maybe I was being na├»ve, but I’d expected there to be a multitude of bars with live music. Whilst Bourbon Street, the main area for bars, had a lot of music blasting, it consisted of bad karaoke and club music and felt oddly like we were walking down the strip in Magaluf. Instead, we found two amazing buskers a few street corners away, and you can watch a bit of their performance in my New Orleans video...

If you’re planning a road trip around America, it’s definitely worth stopping in New Orleans for a couple of days, and although I really enjoyed the time we spent here I’m not sure I would specifically revisit the city as an isolated trip, unless it was for Mardi Gras.

Up Next: Las Vegas…


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