New Orleans, home of the fantastic Mardi Gras was the first stop on my most recent travels abroad. Being the largest city in the state of Louisiana, this place really has it all. So much in fact that we really didn’t factor in enough time in our plans considering we were also fitting in Memphis & Nashville, all in 10 days. We could easily have spent a few weeks here with all that it has to offer.
First on my agenda is always to find where the city sightseeing bus departs from. http://www.citysightseeingneworleans.com/ This really is an ideal way to see a lot of the city , the guides are very informative and entertaining, mostly lol…The flexibility with the bus means you can go at your own pace hopping on and of at designated stops and spending as long there as you wish as a bus will come along every 3o minutes. There are a few different routes to choose from, taking in some of the main sights such as Jackson Square, French Quarter, Riverfront, Bourbon Street and the cruise ship terminals.
After having researched on New Orleans a bit before our trip I found it to be very like I had imagined, wrought iron balconies, the french feel, beads hanging from trees, antique and vodoo shops galore, with people freely walking around sipping from their cocktail glasses!
One of our favorite stops was French Quarter. You just have to , I really mean have to visit Cafe Du Monde www.cafedumonde.com and try their world famous beignets, for those who are unsure what they are, imagine this, square shaped french style fried donut absolutely covered in powdered sugar.They really were to die for…heart attack on a plate! The ques were absolutely crazy the length of the street. Luckily my cousin Amy ( my partner in crime for travels) and I had met a lovely couple in airport who gave us many tips for our visit.They told us walk past all the ques act like a local and walk straight in grab a table if you see one. Tourists apparently are misled into believing you have to wait to be seated.We were very glad of the tip.
After stuffing our faces and being covered in white powder we made our way to the cruise terminal where we boarded http://www.steamboatnatchez.com/ for a daytime jazz cruise up the Mississippi.I found this to be extremely relaxing and enjoyable specially after a busy few days around a busy city. The beautiful day allowed us to sit out on deck enjoying their amazing cocktails while drifting up the river. Great atmosphere and buzz on board among tourists and staff alike, while hearing all the stories about the city and port.
With it being renowned for swamp tours we simply could not leave that out of our itinerary. There are in fact several different companies offering many different packages depending on if you prefer airboat or just the swamp boat and also on the time that suits. We booked ours through our hotel and that’s where we got collected and dropped back but I would highly recommend reading through the brochures as the prices and duration of trips vary depending on which part you are doing tour from. Having previously done the airboat in the Everglades, Miami we opted for the slower swamp boat. We were not disappointed.
Our very friendly driver kept us entertained from pick up till we reached Jean Laffite National Historical Park and Preserve about 40 mins away.For those of you who may have watched a show called Swamp People it is exactly like that, although our guide did tell us the people their do not like to be compared to that show. Top tip would be make sure you have whatever you may need with you like jacket money food cigarettes etc, it is literally in middle of nowhere and although there is a little basic gift shop with a bathroom that is about it.
Unfortunately the weather was not our friend on that day and it did rain while we were out on the tour , which was very unwelcome but we just had to make best of a bad situation. The swamps are teeming with wildlife and flora and fauna, and of course a few alligators!!! It has to be said we were starting to worry a bit about if we would see anything but low and behold we did, thanks to our guide who lured the surprisingly friendly alligators in with white marshmallows, yes you read that right, white marshmallows. The story behind this I will leave untold for any of yee who are perhaps reading this and planning to do it in the future. A baby alligator , well two years old was also presented on board and everyone gets to hold him and take photos, his mouth was not taped closed which I found unusual compared to places such as Australia and Miami that I had held them before, but luckily for us he didn’t bite and we survived to tell the tale.
On our last day in New Orleans we visited Mardi Gras World http://www.mardigrasworld.com/ and it was one of the best things we did. It is like a huge warehouse where all the floats for Mardi Gras , one of New Orleans biggest celebrations are made. My god words don’t really do it justice, the sheer volume of work involved, the colours, the glitter, the vibrancy, from the planning process to making the objects, that make up float to the artists painting them and you actually get to see all this happening while also learning some amazing facts from very well-informed guides, well worth visiting.
Modern Hotel, was our home for our duration here, was safe enough and close to French Quarter about $8 dollars in a cab. To be honest it was just ok, room was clean , doormen lovely, reception staff not very friendly or helpful and that’s about the only negative thing I could say about our trip.
If you are a foodie you will be in heaven, red beans and rice is a traditional monday dinner, jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish ,Po Boy sandwiches, are very popular on every menu, however if you are not as adventurous it is a bit of a struggle to find burger and chips, specially in the French Quarter. We eventually did in a place called Monty’s on the Square directly opposite the ship terminal, the most expensive burger I ever ate coming in at roughly $3o dollars so if you on a budget holiday avoid this place like the plague.
All in all New Orleans is whatever you chose it to be,with its fine dining, historical tours, shopping, nightclubs or simply chilling and watch the world go by. It is a very tourist friendly city but like anywhere you visit just keep your eyes open and your wits about you.
Last stop… train station to catch the Amtrak Train for an 8 hour journey to Memphis.
To be continued………….