One of the great things about my blogging method is that I’m always telling stories of historic trips, opposed to more recent adventures.
Of course that has some drawbacks, for instance I can quickly forget some of the little interesting things that happened on the trip two years ago. However it does have its perks too and means I’m well equipped to tackle a period, such as now, where travel is so restricted. I feel sympathy for those more “up-to-date” travel bloggers who are now scrambling to try and find things to write about.
Those following along on this particular story will know that back in the summer of 2018 I traveled out to the USA to spend thirty days celebrating my 30th birthday. I’ll leave links to each of the previous days at the bottom of this post, for anyone interested in catching up, but as a quick recap day four was a football (and beer) filled day in Minneapolis.
I woke up on day five (Wednesday) ready to say goodbye to Minnesota and head on to my 3rd state of this trip: Louisiana!
Incidentally, Louisiana was going to be the 10th state I’d visited so a nice little landmark on the quest to eventually visit all 50 states.
The city I was most excited to visit on this particular trip was San Francisco, which had long been a bucketlist or dream destination of mine.
After San Francisco it was probably New Orleans that I was most excited to visit. I’d heard so many good things about New Orleans, its culture, its nightlife and all of the photos you see online make it look like this almost un-American like bubble within the country. I was excited to see a very different side of the USA, America’s little slice of Europe.
First things first though, I had to say goodbye to Minneapolis and I was sad to be saying goodbye so soon. I’d clicked with Minneapolis in a way I just hadn’t anticipated doing so. I was wondering if I’d come to regret visiting Minneapolis for football and instead it ended up being a real highlight of this trip.
I checked out of my hotel, hopped in to a taxi to the airport and the driver did little to help the “Minneapolis blues” that I was suffering. The driver was super chatty and friendly and there was definitely a part of me contemplating ripping up the itinerary and staying in town longer. I could scrap New Orleans and find a different way to Washington later in the week, right?
Had I not had friends awaiting me down in New Orleans I might have been a little more tempted to do just that. However, like Chicago, I knew I could always return to Minneapolis some day and it was time to move on to my next destination. At least I was going somewhere new and exciting, I’d have been much unhappier had it been a flight heading home.
I didn’t find security at Minnesota’s airport to be the most efficient but as ever I’d made sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare so it wasn’t a major issue. Soon enough I’d passed through and found myself a little restaurant in the airport to grab some breakfast and some tea before boarding my flight.
The flight was about three hours in total, leaving Minneapolis at 10am and getting to New Orleans just before 1pm which still gave me a good amount of time to get a first glimpse at the city before the day was out. After picking up my luggage I hopped in a taxi at the taxi rank within the airport.
I have to say I was happy to find a fixed rate with the taxis. I suspect the fare may have risen in the last couple of years but a taxi from the airport to anywhere in New Orleans (or vice versa) is a fixed $25.
I don’t always get a taxi from (or to) the airport but it’s nice to know exactly what you owe before getting in. I’ve found some cities (such as New York City) are reluctant to even give you an estimated fare which I find frustrating and is also probably why companies such as Uber have proven so popular. So credit to Louisiana for implementing such an easy system for everyone.
The taxi ride was smooth and uneventful. I spent much of it peering out of the window for any sign of the New Orleans I’d pictured in my head. I figured the “real New Orleans” would eventually jump out at me the closer we got to my hotel. Alas, that wasn’t the case.
The drive took us along a highway with its huge roads and huge lanes. We continued passing fast food chains and high-rise buildings and even then on the outskirts of city-life there seemed to be no change. I remember passing this huge Mercedez “Superdome”, which turned out to be the home of NFL team the New Orleans Saints, and I half-wondered if I was in the right place and my driver hadn’t misled us.
I have to say, my first real impression of Louisiana and indeed New Orleans, is that it felt so.. American. I single out that Mercedez Superdome building because it felt representative of my first glimpse of life in New Orleans – where’s this famed European-style city?
We parked up at my hotel, itself situated in a square of more high rise buildings, and I half expected the receptionist to welcome me to a Hampton Inn somewhere in Texas – “Oh sorry, your driver must have gone West rather than East from the airport..”
One sign that I was at least in the right city was that my friend, Crystal, had quickly found me on arrival and welcomed me to New Orleans. Crystal is one member of the “penpal trio” and the “penpal curse” as I like to call it had struck once again. Myself, Crystal (from Florida) and Samantha (from Alabama) are all mutual penpals and have on a number of occasions, unsuccessfully, tried to meet up.
Back in 2016 I visited the neighbouring state of Georgia and both Crystal and Sam made the journey over to Atlanta, however I ended up having to bail on our plans and so our first attempt proved unsuccessful. A year later I visited Nashville and proposed meeting up once again. Long time readers might recall that myself and Sam successfully met up but Crystal wasn’t able to make the trip.
For a third successive year we tried to meet up as I squeezed a Southern destination in to my itinerary, New Orleans instantly appealed when suggested by one of the girls, and it looked like all three of us would finally meet at the same time. Alas, this time Sam was unable to join me and Crystal so we’ve all met at various times but yet to do so at the same time haha.
So in spite of an underwhelming first impression of New Orleans, I did at least appreciate seeing a familiar face. I quickly checked in, freshened up a little and then met Crystal back at the lobby to go and explore the city for the first time.
We had no particular plan so just decided to wing it and get our bearings with where things were in relation to where we were staying. The first thing we encountered was actually something I was really fond of!
This wasn’t something that I knew was in New Orleans and isn’t something you’d really have any chance of discovering as it’s a little off the beaten path I suppose. However it just so happened to be located in the square outside of our hotel. The memorial is in honour to those who lost their lives to hurricane Katrina in 2005. Due to its location we passed it daily and I liked it because it stood out and was eye-catching. I find that the US are usually pretty good when it comes to memorials.
After a couple of photos we continued onwards and soon stumbled upon what felt like the “heart of downtown New Orleans” – Poydras Street and then Canal Street – and were greeted by further high rise buildings, casinos, hotels, souvenir shops and the kind of tat that you generally try to avoid on holiday.
I hate to use it as a criticism, it’s not intended as such, but again it just felt so “American”. I use it as an adjective here because I think for overseas readers it does paint an image of a certain type of place; big and loud and potentially even overwhelming for some people.
You look up and find eight lanes on the roads, big cars, loads of traffic and then you’re surrounded by towering buildings that make you feel tiny. American feels an apt description for me because, with its casinos, I had visions of what I imagined Las Vegas to be like.
Poydras Street in particular is essentially this long strip that goes on for miles, incidentally taking you right past the Mercedez Benz Superdome if you walk far enough, and it just felt such a contrast to everything I’d read and heard about New Orleans.
We made our first stop New Orleans police department, which is tucked away along Royal Street within the French quarter. Crystal had prepared a little gift-package for the department that she wanted to drop off so I got my first, and hopefully last, glimpse of the police department in the city. They were appreciative of the sweet gesture, thanked us and happily sent us on our way as free citizens.
We had a little wander through the French quarter. I can’t recall being blown away. I said in day four that I couldn’t offer a logical explanation as to why I’d loved Minneapolis so much but it seems I’d yet to discard those Minneapolis-tinted-glasses because I just wasn’t feeling New Orleans at all.
Truly in the heart and soul of the city now, we wandered over to the famous Bourbon Street and by chance the first thing we saw was the Hard Rock Cafe situated on the corner. Long-time readers will know I’m actually a big fan of HRC’s in general but I think it just added further disappointment.
This was THE street that you HAVE to visit in New Orleans, a street so famous, a street so unique to New Orleans and the very first thing we see is a Hard Rock Cafe? Bloody hell..
I was desperate for New Orleans just to offer me a little bit of hope that it warranted its high reputation, so it was one of those occasions where I didn’t want to see something you get in pretty much any big city.
Looking back I think that first day was probably a lost cause. I’m sure I probably passed a million places of genuine interest or places that were unique to New Orleans. I no doubt passed HUGE flashing signs reading “Hey Jason, we have authentic Cajun food here” and my eyes instead found themselves drawn to the McDonald’s across the road.
The French quarter is actually delightful, full of quirky little stores and art galleries but my eyes were instead captured by the Wallgreen’s and the Bank of America’s and whatever else just to add to my disappointing first impression of the city.
We abandoned the busier and touristy parts of downtown and eventually managed to find a few quieter streets with cool buildings and a few nice-looking murals and things but the overwhelming feeling, for me at least, was that I’d yet to see the best of the city.
We took a detour towards the Mississippi river on our way back to the hotel which took us via New Orleans mall, relatively small by American standards and particularly so having just been to the Mall of America in Minnesota, but it was nice to have a quick wander through. The real appeal however was the riverside location with views overlooking the Mississippi river.
Having had a chance to at least get our bearings we returned to the hotel before figuring out evening plans. In addition to Crystal’s presence in New Orleans, two of my friends from England (Andy and Rox) were also on their own USA summer / 30th celebration tour and just so happened to be in New Orleans at the same time so we’d talked about trying to meet up.
Enjoying the nightlife had little appeal for Crystal so we ended up doing our own thing in the evening. I sent Andy and Rox a message to see if they fancied meeting up somewhere later. After waiting a little while Rox came back to me and said they had plans already and perhaps tomorrow lunchtime would work out better, so I decided to go find myself some dinner.
I found a restaurant called Mulate’s not too far from my hotel and took a seat up at the bar. The place was possibly a little touristy, I’m not sure given it wasn’t overly busy, but it had a nice atmosphere and there was some live music up on stage at the back of the restaurant which added to it.
On the menu was a scattering of local and Southern cuisine but the prospect of Alligator was the dish that tempted me most and what I ordered alongside a beer. Both the beer and the alligator were delicious, the latter tasting very similar to chicken and something I’d happily eat again.
It wasn’t particularly late after dinner but I figured I’d head back to my hotel, relax for a bit and then head out solo a little later for my first taste of New Orlean’s famous nightlife. Perhaps that would go some way to restoring a little faith in this city.
As it was I got back to the hotel and I think the miles on this trip so far had caught up with me a little. This might have also contributed to my apathy towards New Orleans so far because I was suddenly exhausted and was actually quite content to just relax for the evening.
Typically, now that I’d accepted I was staying in for the night, Rox and Andy sent over a message saying they were finished with their plans earlier than anticipated and consequently extended me an invitation to join them for some drinks tonight.
I felt a little bad postponing but I was so relaxed by this point. I was readying myself for a nice bath and happened to find Lion King on television in the hotel which had its own appeal haha. I politely declined and suggested catching up tomorrow was still good with me. Perhaps for the best as I’m not sure I’d have been the greatest company that evening anyway.
You’ll be pleased to hear my experience and feelings towards New Orleans did improve over the course of the next couple of days. Whilst it hadn’t been the best of starts, I’m always an optimist and I was still hopeful that New Orleans could yet live up to the heights of Minneapolis (said no blogger ever!!) and rid me of those Minneapolis blues!
Coming in day six: a much more positive write-up of New Orleans! Stay tuned