New Orleans, Louisiana USA

Almost in New Orleans! Halfway through our Deep South tour, 5 nights done 5 nights left! Cramming so much in, it felt like we’d been travelling around for weeks!

Natchez

After a very eventful night watching the storms in Natchez, we woke up early.  Very excited to be heading to New Orleans, a personal dream of mine for a very long time!

On route, we decided to detour from the Mississippi River and went across the country through Homochitto National Forest, heading south through Gloster and Centreville to the i55.   Whilst travelling through Homochitto I asked Dave to stop for what I thought was going to be an amazing picture.  However, I failed to notice the numerous bear warning-signs, post after post!  Suddenly, I realised and quickly turned back and ran to the car! I hadn’t realised how far I had gone, I’m sure Dave drove a little further away ha!  Momentarily, I honestly believed I was going to be eaten by a bear or wild dog or something… and to add insult to injury, the picture I managed to get was rubbish!

New Orleans

Driving into New Orleans was interesting, the interstate is built high crossing miles of swamps surrounding you with water. In addition, the bad weather seemingly followed us adding to the overall wet and gloomy approach to the city.  The city we were most excited to see, on this particular tour anyway!

Our hotel was in a fantastic location, just a couple of blocks from the French Quarter.  We checked in, dumped our bags and headed straight out to explore.

The world-famous Bourbon Street was a bit of an eye-opener.  Quickly transitioning from quirky little bars, shops, amazing architecture to sex shops and naked women lavishly flaunting themselves in buildings too pretty for brothels!  Thank goodness the sex shops were isolated to Bourbon Street!  It reminded me of the red light district in Amsterdam, albeit classier and nowhere near as many!

 

 

The French Quarter area is vast which made up the original city.  Back then, everything surrounding the French Quarter was completely swamped and the American side of the city was once a big marshland! As you head deeper into the French Quarter you really get to see what this beautiful little city is famous for.  It’s quirky unique architecture, stunning little boutique shops and antique stores, fabulous little bars all pumping out jazz music.

 The storm played havoc with our exploring as we had to retreat into a small square.  Thankfully it was sheltered, with a bar, and live band, which of course was playing jazz.  A perfect retreat! The rain bounced, the thunder silenced the band and the bolts of lightning lit up the sky up like November the 5th.  Undercover, dry, listening to live music, intensely happy with a glass of wine, the storm stood no chance of ruining our day.

It was particularly entertaining watching people run for cover, dashing through the puddles as giant raindrops soaked you in seconds!! One lady made a very dramatic entrance, she looked like a drowned rat and so happened to perch next to us at the bar.  Visting on business with her husband from Houston, who was originally from Warrington – 10 minutes from where we live in the UK!  One of my favourite things about travelling is meeting people all over the world who often live so close!  We chatted for about 40 mins until the rain stopped, and the ridiculously hot sunshine returned.

One glass of wine turned into 3 glasses, consequently leaving us feeling a little sleepy.  We headed back to the hotel for a little snooze which turned into a 3-hour sleep!

 

 

That evening, when we eventually surfaced, we found an amazing little jazz club, Mahogany Jazz Hall Burlesque & Absinthe House.   An incredibly soulful jazz artist was performing and I was totally mesmerised. Finally, I had arrived in a city that I had wanted to visit since being very young.  As I sat at the bar, I became ridiculously emotional.  Grateful to be there living out one of my lifelong dreams, I kept pinching myself!  Poor Dave, I think he thought I’d finally lost the plot! That night, that moment was the highlight of my stay in N’awlins (as the locals say it). A fantastic, authentic evening listening to an amazingly talented singer. After the show had ended, we chatted to the singer.  I told him how he had played a part in making a very young childhood dream come true!  It brought a tear to his eye!

 

 

We were visiting New Orleans during the termite swarming season, which I knew nothing about!!  Early evening, millions of termites descend for a couple of hours when the temperatures drop!  When I say millions, I am not exaggerating!  You have to run through swarms of them if you are on the streets at the same time, which we happened to be! We ran into a bar to take cover, the second time this trip!! You then proceed to spend the next hour picking them from down your top and out of your hair!!  The majority of New Orleans is built out of wood and is swampland, perfect conditions for the pesky horrible things!  Many of the new builds are made from Cypress wood, a more expensive wood, however, the termites cannot eat through it!

 

 

City Tour

The following day we took a city tour of New Orleans and learned a few interesting facts on the way:

  • The birthplace of Jazz – as if we didn’t know!  Although, apparently New Orleans was the only place in the world where slaves were allowed to own drums.  African drums met European horns.  The locals took that sound and using the music they heard in churches and bars and created Jazz.  Wild, jubilant music which made everybody feel free!
  • Voodoo was first introduced here
  • The New Orleans Superdome is the largest enclosed arena in the world
  • Home of the Mardi Gras Parade, they throw beads high into the trees
  • Famous for Beignets. New Orleans’ signature sweet, made from deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar – so so good!
  • The graves are above ground because of the high water table in the area
    –  Basically, the bodies would float away if you dug them underground
    –  The law states the body must stay in the vault for one year and one day.  Often they’re in there longer.  However, if you have another family member who died, they need to use a rental vault for one year and one day and then they can be reunited
    –  Following the legal term may be longer, the concrete seal is smashed open and the body will have been “cremated” by the sun.  The grave-man uses a long pole to push the bones to the back of the vault so the next body can be loaded in. Some families have the bones put into an urn or bag and then placed below in a caveau (or cave). This is where the saying “I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole” derives from
  • The only casino in Louisiana is in New Orleans, Harrahs which is located on the American side of the city

 

 

Swamp/Plantation Tour

Swamp tours are hugely popular in New Orleans with many companies to chose from.  We booked with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours who were very professional, which they have to be and really friendly too.  The swamp is a privately owned wildlife refuge, 25 miles from New Orleans. The wildlife living in the swamp see the boats daily.  As a result, they become very familiar with them as part of their normal environment. Unafraid and very responsive to the captain’s call ‘Up Up Up’…   The Gators eyes pop up out of the water and you watch them come in from all angles!!  It’s an amazing experience, watching them swim directly to the boat to be fed marshmallows and chicken.  Marshmallows!  You are literally a few feet from these giant predators as they jump for food, demonstrating agility and power!

 

 

Brandon, our guide was very knowledgeable about all the animals in the swamp.  Not just the Gators, the most popular attraction, but the racoons and all kinds of birds including the bald eagle!!  Brandon explained that rodents are a huge problem in New Orleans, historically the local government paid 5 dollars for a rodent’s tail.  This is how he paid for his first car, he killed hundreds of rodents and cut off their tails!!  One of the Gators (the guide’s favourite) was nicknamed lefty because his left leg was bitten off in a fight!

Brandon brought on snakes and a baby alligator to pass around the boat so you could handle them.  I didn’t like how the baby alligator’s mouth was taped shut but it was lovely handling them. They don’t stay cute for long! Really enjoyable morning, highly recommend but it was extremely hot though do take lots of water if you visit!!

After the Cajun Pride Swamp we visited Laura and the Oak Valley plantation!  We headed down the historic river road region, Laura was the first stop.  Laura was a Creole sugar cane plantation, steeped in history!  It was fascinating learning about the history of the family and stories of the four women how ran it. The tour included a walk through the family ‘Big House’, the slave quarters, and all the gardens.  Oak Valley gets its name from the 28 oak trees that frame the entrance of the plantation, magnificent!

 

 

One of the most distinctive cities in the world, famous for its distinct and unique architecture blending Spanish, French, Creole and American styles together!! Amazing place, make sure you make time to visit.!

 

 

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