New Orleans, USA

Hey y’all! We flew into New Orleans in the early afternoon and were picked up by a transgender uber driver. We were not expecting the South to be very liberal but came to find that New Orleans was one of the exceptions. New Orleans has been fun, accepting, diverse and eccentric. One of the most noticeable characteristics of New Orleans is how friendly everyone is.   There is not one person that we walked past in the street who did not say “Hi y’all, how ya doin’?” We loved it. There was even one man who popped his head out of his apartment window above us to say hi as we walked past. I think that the friendliness really made our time in New Orleans exceptional.

We were staying on Canal Street in Mid-town at a hostel called Nola Jazz House. It is pretty new and in a fantastic location.   It also has the advantage of being run extremely well. As soon as we arrived the very friendly, yet slightly crazy, Jay and Vanessa greeted us. They showed us around and gave us a lot of recommendations on what to do in New Orleans. The hostel is a shotgun house, which is something very common in New Orleans. A shotgun house is a really narrow and long house, named shotgun because you could shoot from a shotgun from the front door down the very narrow hallway through the back door. The reason the houses are so narrow is because back in the day there was a property tax in New Orleans on the width of your house, therefore everyone simply made their homes long and narrow in order to get around this tax. Nola Jazz House is right on the cable car line so it makes it easy to get to anywhere in the city. This is the place to stay when you visit.

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Andrew in front of Nola Jazz House
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Cable Car on Canal Street

As soon as we dropped off our bags we were starving so went to a restaurant called Parkway Bakery for a po-boy. They supposedly had the best po-boys in New Orleans and we were not disappointed. We shared a shrimp one and it really was pretty good.

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After a bit of a rest we headed out to Magazine Street for dinner. We ate at a Creole restaurant and had a mix of traditional New Orleans food. This included red beans, crawfish etouffee, and jambalaya. We particularly enjoyed the jambalaya, which is basically a kind of risotto/paella. The food was delicious; we knew we were going to be over-eating a lot in New Orleans. After dinner we went for a walk down Magazine Street, which was pretty quirky, and very dog friendly. Everyone seemed to be taking there dogs everywhere, even into restaurants. I could definitely get used to that! We then popped into a dive bar called The Saint for a cocktail. It was dark and cluttered and full of hipsters. It was great.

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Restaurant on Magazine Street
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Dessert po-boy!

The next day we had a bit of a sleep in and then jumped in the cable car towards the famous cemeteries. The cemeteries in New Orleans are well known for their acres of mausoleums. It seems to be a bit of a status thing where each family tries to build the biggest mausoleum they can afford. There were just thousands of them. It was quite an eerie place to visit.

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We then took a walk through City Park. This park is huge and is right in the middle of the city. It reminded us of Hagley Park in Christchurch. It was a Sunday and a lot of people seemed to be dressed up from Church and were having picnics by the bayous. City Park was full of bayous, which are slow moving bodies of water, pretty much small rivers.

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Em down by the bayou

By this stage we were getting hungry and stopped at a café called Neyows and ordered the most well known po-boy in New Orleans: beef and gravy. It was divine!

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We had a few wines at the hostel and then caught the cable car down to the French Quarter. We arrived on Bourbon Street and it was crazy! It seemed to us like a mini version of Vegas. People were advertising their bars and cheap drinks on the street. And just like Vegas you are allowed to drink on the street, which made Bourbon Street one long bar. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting but it was still pretty fun. Once we got past Bourbon Street and into other parts of the French Quarter the buildings were beautiful. We listened to a bit of live music and went for a walk along the Mississippi River.

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The Mississippi

We walked back to Bourbon Street and popped into a restaurant for a crawfish boil up. Crawfish are the size of a large prawn but look like a lobster. It was a lot of fun to eat them but it was quite hard to tell how much food we had eaten. They were really good and quite spicy.

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Crawfish boil up

We carried on drinking on Bourbon Street for the rest of the night and we found a place that had dueling pianos, which was a lot of fun to watch. We even got to request a few songs because one of the players was Australian and was excited that we were there. My memory is a little bit hazy at this point, but at the end of the night we grabbed some fried chicken.

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Bourbon Street

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We woke up a bit dusty, but headed out to explore more of the city anyway. We popped into a café to try some seafood gumbo, which is essentially a seafood soup with rice. Andrew really enjoyed it.

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Seafood Gumbo

We decided to go to the National World War II Museum but didn’t end up going into the main exhibits. It was going to take far too long to explore, as it was the main museum dedicated to World War II in the entire United States. It looked really good though and if we were spending a few more days in the city we would have liked to have spent some time there.

Instead, we made our way to a restaurant called Willie Mae’s, which was famous for having the best fried chicken in America. The restaurant itself was quite non-descript and in a poor neighbourhood. We had to wait in a bit of a queue but not for too long. We ordered the fried chicken and bottomless sodas and it really was some good chicken!

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On the way back to the hostel we walked through some poor neighbourhoods. Some buildings still reflected the damage from Hurricane Katrina, and others looked to be recently done up. We enjoyed our walks through the streets in New Orleans; they were interesting and gave us an insight into regular life away from the tourist parts.

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That evening we went to dinner at a restaurant called Coops on Frenchman Street in the French Quarter. This restaurant was fantastic. It was very busy so we were seated at the same table as a young couple from Wisconsin. They were lovely and chatty but did not want to talk about politics full stop. We wondered if this was the case everywhere in America. This is something I will look into.  We ordered the jambalaya and some wines and it was delicious. Jambalaya has been my favourite New Orleans food and I am going to attempt to make it at home.

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Jambalaya, the best!

After dinner we strolled down Frenchman Street and listened to some live jazz in one of the bars. The music was lively and energetic and everyone was dancing. It was a great way to spend our last night in New Orleans.

In the morning we left fabulous New Orleans and headed deep into Louisiana swamp country. This is the home of the Cajun people who were chased out of the best parts of Louisiana after it was purchased from the French by the USA. They settled in the uninhabited swamps and made it their home. We drove to Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours on the edge of Lake Martin. For US$20 each a local took us around on a small boat to see the swamp. We loved the Cajun accent! The swamp was like nothing I had ever seen before; it was such a unique place.  Check out this video that Andrew made about our time at the swamp.

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The swamp was full of wildlife. We saw a lot of different birds and dragonflies, but the highlight was a blue crane.

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We didn’t only see birds; we saw a lot of turtles that really liked to bask in the sunshine. They were quite shy and dived into the water as soon as we got too close. We also saw a lot of alligators, some were small but others were huge. Our guide told us that he had been swimming in the swamp since he was a little boy and there had never been an alligator attack. This was definitely re-assuring.

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Just before we crossed the state line into Texas, we stopped at The Best Supermarket (not really a supermarket just a small store) in a small town just outside of Lafayette. Here they sold the Cajun specialty sausage called boudin. It is made from ground pork, rice and a whole lot of seasoning in a pork casing. It was delicious! For about US$2 we bought a massive sausage, what a bargain.

After our roadside feast it was time to leave Louisiana. It is safe to say that we have left a bit heavier due to our over-eating, the food was too good to resist. But it is not just the food we will miss, it is all the friendly people that we met, especially all the “hi y’alls!”

Here is a breakdown of our costs for 3 days:

Budget = US$759 (NZ$1,100)

Accommodation – US$230

Activities – US$40

Food/Drink – US$338

Miscellaneous (Cable car etc) – US$100

Total spent – US$708 (NZ$1,048)

So we ended up being US$51 (NZ$74) under budget. Pretty good.

We budgeted separately for car rental; this cost us US$460 (NZ$680) for 7 days. Quite pricey but it included the one-way fee, since we were dropping the car off in Texas.

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