The big 3-0: Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington

and just like that it was day seven! For those wondering about the first six days, where have you been? You need to catch up – asap!

I’ll leave links at the bottom of the post for you to do just that but to get you up to speed with everyone else, in the summer of 2018 I turned 30 and celebrated by spending 30 days in the USA. So far I’d been to Chicago, Minneapolis and was now in New Orleans!

After a late night dancing in the streets of the French quarter on day six, I didn’t rush myself out of bed the next morning and enjoyed a little bit of a lay in. Once I’d freshened up I arranged to meet Crystal down at the lobby for our last few hours together before we went our seperate ways. Crystal would be returning to Florida and I’d be heading to near enough the opposite end of the country – up in the Pacific North West.

Before thinking about that we were once again off on foot in the streets of New Orleans. The day before we’d tried to visit one of the Lafayette Cemeteries in the city and found it was actually closed by the time we reached it, so with that in mind it seemed a good place to return to and start our Friday morning.

Lafayette Cemetery
Lafayette Cemetery No.1

After a bit of a walk we’d arrived and fortunately found the gates were open this time. The graves and headstones make this cemetery somewhat of a popular ‘tourist attraction’. I’d snapped a couple of photos from outside the locked gates on Thursday, such as the one above, and figured when I returned that I would end up taking a countless number of photos as we walked around.

However that didn’t actually materialise. It is quite unique as far as cemeteries go and I can certainly understand why people enjoy visiting it but in the moment I just didn’t feel right to be taking photos and just settled for admiring the beauty in what is a rather morbid ‘attraction’.

That said it’s not the first cemetery I’ve explored on my travels, which is weird because it’s certainly not something I’d ever think to do at home.

I always find them to be peaceful places and I’m always left feeling a little humbled. With so many people and so much history in this place I could only wander through it feeling reflective of life and appreciating how valuable life is – hopefully a lesson people are currently appreciating too!

Lafayette No.1
Lafayette Cemetery No.1 – closed at the time!

Myself and Crystal did a full lap of the cemetery and it is a remarkable place. There’s more than one in the city, I’m not suggesting you spend time seeing them all but I’d recommend going to at least one and seeing it for yourself. I thought it was worthwhile visiting anyway.

Having appeased our curiosity we took a slow walk back in to downtown, again admiring all of the stunning buildings and houses in this part of town. We found a place to grab some lunch at and then had one final stroll through the French quarter.

It was a last chance for us to look around, pop in to a few shops and look for some souvenirs. I think Crystal picked up a couple of bits but I didn’t end up buying anything. From there we ventured over to the famous Bourbon Street as we’d somehow avoided it so far.

BourbonStreetStatues
Musical Legends Park, New Orleans

It was a cool street with a number of bars and despite being quite early in the day, there was still a bit of atmosphere in the air that suggested this was the “place to be” as far as New Orleans was concerned. We also stumbled upon ‘Musical Legends Park’ here that had a number of cool statues dedicated to New Orleans famous music scene and nightlife.

Overall Bourbon Street felt a bit more touristy than Frenchmen Street had, which is where I’d spent Thursday night, but I can’t imagine either disappoint after dark. New Orleans is definitely a city that, if for nothing else, I would return to for its nightlife.

Sadly I wasn’t going to be getting another taste of it. My time in New Orleans was rapidly coming to its end. Crystal was leaving mid-afternoon and I wasn’t sticking around much beyond that.

We took a slow walk back in the general direction of our hotel and just wandered the streets of the city. It’s by no means my favourite city in the USA but I’d got past my first impression and was now able to actually enjoy the charm of the city.

There is a lot to like about New Orleans, which perhaps wasn’t apparent if you read day five, and we just spent the next hour or so wandering and admiring some of the squares, architecture and artwork throughout New Orleans. Overall it’s quite a nice city to get lost in.

NatchezMural
Mural showing off the famous Natchez boat on the Mississippi
New Orleans Art
I adored this mural of New Orleans!

There wasn’t much either of us particularly wanted to do before we left, nor did we have a huge excess of time, so in this spiritual city we looked to the heavens for inspiration.

Alright, perhaps not but the sudden downpour on the way back to our hotel made it easier to persuade Crystal in to a bar on route for one final beer in Louisiana. It was a cool-looking bar and it was a chance for us to have a chilled farewell before going in our own direction.

Fortunately by the time we left the rain had pretty much disappeared and I waved Crystal off on her journey back to Florida. I didn’t have much time left myself so figured I’d go and find somewhere to eat before I left. I stumbled upon a nice restaurant not too far from my hotel which was enough to tempt me in.

From there it was time to say goodbye to New Orleans. I’d liked New Orleans but I’d be lying if I said I loved it. Ultimately I think it was a victim of its own reputation, I went with such high expectations for New Orleans that I don’t know how it was supposed to ever really live up to them. I still think it’s somewhere I’d go back to and I think I’d actually enjoy it more next time with more measured expectations.

I swung by my hotel and picked up my case, fortunately there was a taxi already sitting just outside the hotel which saved me a job of having to find one. We hit a bit of traffic on the way back to New Orleans airport but I’d left early enough it wasn’t really an issue. Soon enough I’d been dropped off at the airport and was making my way through security.

I have to say I remember very little of the airport. I can therefore only assume it was an uneventful wait for my flight. Soon enough Alaska Airlines were inviting passengers to start boarding. They’d split the boarding process up in to various groups (A, B, C.. etc) and first up were group A.

“All passengers in group A.. A for Alligator”

Wait, what? Oh, hang on.. we’re in Louisiana.. Alligator, very clever!

Next up was group B, B for Bourbon Street of course! As the ‘Crawfish’ group C passengers started boarding I was eagerly anticipating my own category. I was next! Group D, D for..

“Don’t have a bloody clue..”

I didn’t catch what she said, her cursed accent was indecipherable! She repeated it again over the PA and I still couldn’t understand what she’d said. I don’t have many regrets from this trip but not asking at the gate as I handed over my boarding ticket might be one of them! Why didn’t I ask!?

I Disappointedly Departed for my Damn flight pondering all of the Damn D words in the Dictionary that could also have some relation to Louisiana or New Orleans but it left me Defeated! I’ll never know.

So if you happen to frequently fly through this airport, happen to be a Louisiana Native or happen to work for Alaska Airlines please give me your input. The rest of you can play along too of course!

TheBig30-Journey
Bye New Orleans, hello Seattle!

Anyway, it was time to go. The first chunk of the flight had my brain eating away at me to answer this riddle! The rest of the flight was uneventful and I’d eventually landed in Seattle, Washington! I quickly picked up my baggage and was hoping to make a quick escape to my hotel where I’d find Haleigh waiting for me!

Sadly escaping Seatac airport wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped it would be. On my first visit to Washington I had the girls pick me up from the airport, on my second visit to Washington I got the Link in to Seattle and spent a night in the city before catching a bus to Moses Lake.

This time around I was staying in a hotel near the airport and theoretically I ‘simply’ had to get a shuttle over to the hotel two minutes away. Perhaps it didn’t help that it was a late night arrival so all I wanted to do was get to my hotel but everything about it felt like an ordeal.

It wasn’t simple finding exactly where to get the buses from. It then isn’t particularly clear if these are public buses, private shuttles, hotel shuttles or any other combination of bus / coach service. Nor was it clear which stop I needed to go to.

The reality is there’s no organised system in place. Unlike many airports that have specific stops for specific hotels (Heathrow for example) and then have buses running at regular interals, it’s a free-for-all here. The buses come and go as they please, stop at whichever ‘checkpoint’ they want and it just felt chaotic.

I eventually discovered you have to phone the hotel to ask them to bring a bus to you. Maybe the hotel picks up the phone, maybe they don’t. Maybe the bus is on its way already, maybe the driver is on a cigarette break. Maybe it’ll come to your stop, maybe it’ll pick up at another point because it’s a Friday between the minutes of 22:01 and 22:04. I’d love to say any of it makes sense but it doesn’t. So my recommendation would be to never use a hotel shuttle at Seatac! It’s a nightmare!

Eventually a bus arrived to pick me up at, let’s say checkpoint one. I was seemingly the only passenger for our hotel so once I boarded the bus we were whizzing off.

Well, for ten yards anyway because the next passengers at checkpoint two were ready to pick up. Ten yards later we stopped for the next batch of passengers and the little patience had at that time of night was draining from me. How many times do we have to do this before we even get out of the bloody airport car park?

It must have taken close to an hour in total for me to reach a hotel two minutes away. Even with Seatac not being particularly pedestrian friendly to walk out of, I still would have been better walking to my hotel.

I reckon it was around 11pm by the time I’d finally reached the hotel. Fortunately Haleigh had already checked us in so I didn’t have to join the queue of tired-looking guests at reception and we wandered off to our room.

It was nice to be reunited with Haleigh. The length of this trip meant I had little annual leave throughout the rest of the year. Consequently we hadn’t seen eachother since February (now being August) so a long six months!

Additionally it was nice to be back on the West coast. I was going to be spending the next three weeks, accompanied by Haleigh, exploring the West Coast and I was really excited to kick-start this portion of the trip. Starting tomorrow of course! The first plan of action was to sleep, Washington would have to wait until the morning.

Stay tuned for that! Next up on the blog: day eight.

Jason

P.S – If you want to catch up on the rest of the trip so far you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!

The big 3-0: Day six – The real New Orleans!

Hello my dear readers, we’re back with day six of the adventure! Well, I say that we’re back but I guess that is dependent on whether you’ve chosen to forgive me following on from my last post! Perhaps you’ve not come back to read day six! Haha.

For those of you just joining the adventure, in the summer of 2018 I chose to celebrate my 30th birthday by spending 30 days in the USA. I’ll post links to each day at the bottom of this post so you can catch up if you choose to, but to quickly recap day five had seen me arrive and get my first glimpse of New Orleans.

Sadly I was rather underwhelmed by that first taste of the city. New Orleans is one of those places that everyone seems to love and it did feel that last time out on the blog I’d committed a case of “travel treason” in being so critical of it; hence the need for forgiveness!

However I make no real apologies for it. Ultimately that was how I felt come the end of day five, it was perhaps harsh but honest too. I did promise a more positive day six and in order for that to happen I had to be willing to give New Orleans a second chance to win me over. It might not have been the best of starts but day six (Thursday) was to be my first full day in the city and I was optimistic things could only get better.

So I woke up with a fresh outlook on New Orleans, I was ready to explore and experience “the real New Orleans”. This city has to be held in such high regard for a reason, so let’s try and find out why! I freshened up and once again met my friend, Crystal, down at the hotel lobby. We quickly set off on foot and wandered towards the heart and soul of the city.

After about 20 minutes of walking from our hotel we’d arrived at the ‘famous’ Jackson Square where you’ll also find the pretty St Louis Cathedral. The area was surprisingly not too busy but there was still a bit of a buzz about the place, there was life to it.

JacksonSquare
Jackson Square, New Orleans

Me and Crystal climbed some steps on the outskirts of the square which was a great photo spot overlooking the square with the cathedral opposite us. We snapped a few photos individually and then thought we’d try and get one together. There was oddly a lack of people around in that very moment which gave us limited options.

Given there was so few people around I figured I’d ask this guy who’d just been loitering and it was one of those occasions where as soon as the words left my mouth I then second-guessed myself and wondered if I would have been better waiting and asking someone else. There was an oddness about his demeanour I guess.

He seemed really hesitant at first but agreed so I handed over my phone. He struggled a little with the concept of taking a photo but after a little help figured it out. He handed my phone back to me and before I’d even really had a chance to look the photos over..

“Two dollars..”

Hang on, what? You want two dollars for agreeing to take my photo on my phone? Nice try mate but no! That’s not happening!

Jason Crystal
Me and Crystal, courtesy of our ‘professional’ photographer.

For what it’s worth, the above photo turned out as the best of the three taken.

Perhaps other tourists are a little more kind-hearted (naive) but I walked away and couldn’t help but feel he’d missed a trick. Firstly, he could have negotiated a fee up front in exchange for a photo. I would have told him to get stuffed but if you’re going to try and charge for the convenience of taking someone’s photo, you might have better luck before the photo rather than after.

However secondly, and perhaps more importantly, why rush to hand my phone back to me? “Two dollars and you can have your phone/camera back..” would have given him a better chance at receiving two dollars. Admittedly there’s a confrontational risk in taking this route but I doubt I was intimidating in any way for that to have been a concern for him. I chuckled and walked away with photos, phone and dollars in tact.

Jackson Square Jason
Me in New Orleans, August 2018

Anyway, we swiftly moved on and did a quick lap of the square which felt a little more like what I’d been anticipating from New Orleans. It was picturesque, it had character and dotted around the square were various things to attract your eyes or ears for that matter.

On one corner there was someone selling various bits of art, just outside the cathedral was this band playing some live music and the place suddenly had more of a “New Orleans” atmosphere about it. Or rather less of the “this could be anywhere in America..” vibe that I’d experienced the day before.

We popped in to the cathedral for a quick look around. It was a little busier inside than it had been outside but was nice to take a look around still. It was only a brief visit though. Soon enough we’d headed back outside and ventured in to the numerous streets of the French quarter.

FrenchQuarter
Exploring the pretty French quarter

We’d vaguely passed through on day five but didn’t really explore it properly. Today however we were both keen to explore it properly and in that mindset it’s easy to see why this part of New Orleans is so highly rated. It is just oozing in character with its colourful and old buildings.

I think you could easily spend a full day in the French quarter alone. The buildings are breathtaking and I couldn’t tell you how many photos myself and Crystal ended up taking. I felt like I was endlessly snapping away for the next couple of hours. Along the way we popped in to a few of the shops, art galleries and small independent businesses that are dotted around everywhere.

FrenchQuarter4
Lots of cool little independent shops in the French quarter

I vividly remember at one point snapping away and suddenly this old man was to my right singing whilst playing on a piano in the street. It’s moments such as that where you really see the French quarter in all its glory. It’s full of charm and I struggle to think any visitor would not fall in love with this part of the city, New Orleans was beginning to win me over.

The French quarter in its entirety probably isn’t actually that big in size but I do feel like we spent ages wandering its streets and even then could have seen more of it. We eventually managed to escape its hold on us, only to coincidentally find ourselves just outside of the French Market.

French Market NOLA
You can just see the entrance to the market on the right

Given it was right there it made sense to go in so we had a look around. We ended up finding a stall selling snow-cones. It was a great refreshment on a rather warm day in New Orleans and a good chance for us to give our legs a rest after a morning full of walking.

After a quick stop we ventured back along the Mississippi river in the general direction of our hotel. The riverside walk again gave us a few good opportunities to get some photos but also took us by some points of interest. The first was the Holocaust memorial which I thought was rather well done. It looks different at every angle you see it from so is a little unique in that respect.

NOLA Holocaust
New Orleans Holocaust Memorial

NOLA Holocaust 2

NOLA Holocaust 3
Another view of the Holocaust memorial

Further down the river you’ll find the aquarium. We didn’t pop in but there were some more pieces celebrating New Orleans big birthday of its own. The big 3-0-0! We grabbed a few more photos and then popped back to the hotel quickly, for two reasons.

Nola 300
There were a few of these NOLA 300 things around the city

Firstly I’d forgotten to pick up my sunglasses this morning and with blinding sunshine I thought they’d be useful for the rest of the day. The second reason was the main reason though and was in relation to our lunch plans.

Two of my friends from England, Andy and Rox, were also in New Orleans with similar intentions. Rox was celebrating her 30th the day before me and they’d decided to have a US tour / celebration of their own. It just so happened we’d be in the same city at the same time so we agreed we’d have to meet up. Our plans had fallen through the night before so we agreed to grab lunch together today.

New Orleans!
Back to the French quarter!

It ended up being quite a late lunch actually but we agreed to meet, back in the French quarter, at a place called Coops Place. It was somewhere I’d already heard of so when they suggested it I was more than happy to check it out. It’s actually a pretty small place, so much so that me and Crystal were told we weren’t able to take a table until our full party was here and ended up waiting up at the bar until they arrived.

Once Andy and Rox had turned up we took our seats and ordered ourselves some food. Feeling adventurous I ended up getting myself a bowl of the rabbit and sausage jambalaya, which proved to be a good decision. I think myself, Andy and Rox all went for the same actually.

Ignoring the food, the highlight was obviously the company. Bizarrely I hadn’t seen Andy and Rox since we were in Berlin together back in 2014 – the friends I seemingly only meet in foreign countries (we did actually meet again, in England, a few months after this trip). It was great to catch up with eachother, plus hear about how their own adventure was going. I think Crystal appreciated the extra company too and it ended up being a really enjoyable lunch.

We said our goodbyes but only temporarily. Myself, Andy and Rox were all keen to meet up later in the evening and have a decent night out so we said we’d see eachother later. In the meantime we had the rest of the afternoon to do our own thing.

Me and Crystal were strolling back in to the downtown area when Crystal spotted a Christmas store and suggested we had a look around. You might think it odd that we’d visit a Christmas store in August, yet ridiculously this was only the first of THREE Christmas stores I ended up visiting on this trip! Three! Haleigh also convinced me to visit a couple later on! Bizarre!

Anyway after a quick look around we left and found a stop for the tram, streetcar, trolley or whatever it is they’re called in New Orleans. I think of them as trams and this was New Orleans equivalent. We decided to visit one of the Lafayette cemeteries in the city which are one of the more popular ‘attractions’ if you can call them that.

Lafayette Cemetery
One of the Lafayette cemeteries in New Orleans

Unbeknownst to us it wasn’t actually open. We had a short stroll once we got off the tram and found the gates locked and no way to enter. It wasn’t a wasted trip though, rather than get back on the tram we decided to walk back in to town.

The area is full of a number of grand and beautiful houses that we could only dream of owning. They were stunning and it’s a really nice part of the city to wander through. The number of photos we stopped to take slowed our walk right down but it was worth it. By the time we’d wandered back in to town the afternoon had pretty much gone.

New Orleans House
Just one of many stunning buildings in this part of New Orleans

Despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to convince Crystal to come out for the evening so we headed back to the hotel and went our seperate ways. I found somewhere to grab a quick dinner from and then relaxed at the hotel for a bit whilst waiting to agree on plans for the evening.

It had been a lovely day so far. Decent food, great company and I’d finally seen New Orleans at its best. I have to say it was winning me over and had eradicated some of the disappointment from the day before.

One area I had no concerns about was in New Orleans nightlife. I’d not had a chance to enjoy it yet but I was confident this side to the city couldn’t possibility disappoint and so it proved.

I was bored sitting around in my hotel room so decided I’d wander back to the French quarter before I’d agreed to meet Andy and Rox. I figured I’d easily find somewhere to have a couple of beers and soak up the atmosphere and there really is no shortage of options.

Even for what I’d perceive to be quite early in the night, the place is just buzzing. There’s a seemingly endless number of bars with people wandering the streets looking for a good night. Many of the bars have live music on offer and I expect you could walk in to 90% of them and likely enjoy yourself. It had me reminiscing of my trip to Nashville the year before – perfect!

The first bar I visited was along the lively Frenchmen Street and had a reggae act performing. I took one of the stools at the bar and ordered a beer and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. It had a bit of an older crowd but was a great place to start the evening.

A friend of mine had recommended one bar in particular that I decided to check out next. To my disappointment I was stopped by a bouncer who advised there was a $15 entry fee. I don’t know if this is because it was a ‘special’ live act or whether this is actually common, surely not the latter though?

This street in particular is packed with bar after bar, all offering live music with free entry. I was sad to not discover this recommendation but it was senseless paying to enter anywhere for an unknown act when this street had so much more to offer. I moved on and found somewhere else to enjoy my next couple of beers.

TheSpottedCat
The Spotted Cat, New Orleans

I was conscious not to stay too long so that I wouldn’t be late meeting Andy and Rox so moved over to the bar we’d agreed to meet at – the Spotted Cat. This bar was somewhere I’d already heard good things about so was excited to visit. It’s a nice bar with music acts set up in the corner by the entrance.

Unfortunately I hadn’t timed it too well as by the time I’d ordered a beer the act had finished their set and there was a lull in any music being played whilst waiting for the next band to come on.

After waiting a little while a solo Rox arrived, with no sign of Andy at all. They’d both been distracted by a band playing in the street and suggested we abandoned this bar and returned to join Andy.

New Orleans Nightlife
We spent most of the night dancing in the street to this band on the corner

I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. There were countless number of bars along this street and here we were dancing in the street to this band playing on the corner. It wasn’t just us either, this band had drawn a growing crowd with many others also in the street to the frustration of the traffic trying to pass (I was quite surprised the roads were so busy here).

They were really good and played for a decent length of time so a good chunk of our night ended up being spent outdoors in the street. If nothing else it was a sign that New Orleans nightlife didn’t disappoint. Even without a beer or a roof over our head we were still able to have a brilliant time.

We did eventually move on to a couple of bars, including a return to the Spotted Cat where we’d initially intended to visit. After the second bar we visited started closing up we decided to call it a night. I guess it must have been 1:30-2am by this point. We weren’t drunk and had enjoyed a brilliant evening so sensibly made our way back to our respective hotels.

We got an Uber back to Andy and Rox’s hotel, mine wasn’t too much further so I figured I’d just walk it from there. It was a pretty straight walk and along pretty well lit streets too so I felt pretty safe walking through the city.

I did spot a couple of guys on route who were just loitering. I was hopeful I’d pass by without drawing unwanted attention to myself.

I don’t know if I was just a little more paranoid because I’d had a few beers but it felt like no sooner than they’d spotted me had they seperated with one of them scarpering down a side street – a little dodgy.

That paranoia was probably a good thing on this occasion though because it kept me alert to my surroundings. I think I’m pretty sensible when wandering a city after dark anyway, as I said it was a well lit area so it wasn’t like I’d stumbled upon two figures lurking in the dark. I was fully aware of my surroundings and sober enough that I had my wits about me.

So keeping that paranoia in mind my first thought was on the guy who’d suddenly disappeared. Where are you wandering off to? Am I getting ambushed further down the road?

That sudden disappearance left, what I considered to be, the least threatening of the two. Not that I particularly fancied my odds if he wanted to attack me but I wasn’t anticipating that situation arising. I figured I’d just keep walking, avoid eye contact and hopefully pass with minimal fuss.

“Hi there..?”

Of course.. Why couldn’t you just let me keep walking without trying to engage me in conversation? I don’t want any human interaction at this time of the morning..

Safety is, rightly, one of the much talked about topics of travel. I’m not going to pretend there’s any particular rulebook that you should follow, there’s many mitigating circumstances that means this isn’t the same in every destination nor for every individual. I’m fully aware that I’m privileged to be able to choose to walk alone after dark in most cities and still feel safe. That said, my only real advice would be to trust your own instincts.

Applying that here, I entertained his greeting with my own curiosity. What do you want? Money was my best guess so I was a little unprepared with what came next. Keeping in mind it was probably 2:30 am by this point, my new friend wanted to talk about..

Jesus!

Seriously, now? No, we’re not doing this at this time of the morning. I mean, ideally we’re not doing this at any time of the day but I particularly don’t want to be having this discussion at this very moment. Preaching hours are closed! I just want to get to bed.

“Can I pray for you?”

Honestly, knock yourself out but I’m not going to be here for it. I was already politely bidding him farewell when he asked “Can I touch your shoulder..?”

What, no, Why? The paranoia kicked back in. I don’t know if the earlier guy had been another target of this guy’s preachings or if there would be an impeding ambush somewhere. “Go after the guy with a red X on his shoulder, I’ve marked him as an easy target..”

I was done. I’d entertained him, and my own curiosity, long enough. I swiftly moved on and didn’t pass anyone else on the way back to my hotel. Two minutes later I was tucked up in bed and completely zonked out.

FrenchQuarter3
A much better day in New Orleans

Weird ending aside it had been a much better day in New Orleans. I’d finally got to see all of New Orleans charm during our day exploring but if that’s not enough it’s truly in the evening where the city comes to life. I think there are very few places, certainly that I’ve been to, that can offer that sort of atmosphere after dark. This night dancing in the streets of New Orleans was not just a highlight of this trip but one in general and something I will remember for a very long time.

I still had a little time left in New Orleans before flying over to the West coast. More on that to come in day 7.

Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – If you want to catch up on the other posts of this trip, see the links below.
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!

The big 3-0: Day five – New Orleans!

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.

New Orleans history
The history of New Orleans

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!

Hurricane Katrina Memorial
Memorial for Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina Memorial

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.

Hurricane Katrina
Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina

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.

Downtown New Orleans
New Orleans like you’ve never seen it!

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.

Mississippi River
Mississippi river, New Orleans

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.

Mulates New Orleans
Nice atmosphere at Mulate’s, New Orleans

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.

Alligator New Orleans
Eating Alligator in New Orleans

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

Jason

P.S – you can catch up on the previous days of this trip below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!