So we’re back. Although can you be BACK if you’re not exactly in the same place from which you took off? In any case, by ‘back’, I suppose I mean we are done travelling, back in everyday reality. Currently we’re in Northern Ireland, trying to sort and organise our future. But the memories of the trip are still with us and probably will stay with us forever.
Just in case the memories fade with time, I’m going to eternalize them here, on this blog. And there’s still quite a bit to write about. I must admit that posts were very random and few and far between so now I have a challenge to go back in time as far as March 2013 and revisit some of the places we had seen.
Now it’s time to revisit south eastern states.
New Orleans is one of those places that pull you in like a magnet. There’s something about that city – its history, music, wild festivals – that makes you want to experience its atmosphere for yourself. We were no different. We were late for Mardi Gras, so we didn’t get to witness the madness, but at least we managed to get a spot with a couchsurfer Pat – bit of a Mad Hatter and Mardi Gras enthusiast himself (had a huge collection of hats and costumes of all sorts). He also introduced us to a crazy discipline of ‘hashing’ – essentially running around a predetermined area, dressed up in costumes reflecting a chosen theme for the occasion, with a beer in hand, followed by more beer drinking and singing songs known only to fellow ‘hashers’. It certainly was an unforgettable, if slightly bizarre experience for us…
NOLA (for those who can’t be bothered saying ‘New Orleans, Louisiana’) certainly has a unique atmosphere. Whether it was one we were expecting is a different story. I had this image of smoky bars with a guy playing a trumpet or a piano somewhere in a corner, while the clientele sipped their bourbon. How different Bourbon Street turned out to be – neon lights everywhere, strip clubs, bars playing very loud music straight out of Top 40 Charts, offering fluorescent drinks in the most randomly shaped glasses. The street itself was pretty dirty, smelly and full of people wandering around with drinks in their hands (New Orleans, along with Savannah in Georgia, are the only two places in USA where you can legally drink alcohol out in the open).
But as much as Bourbon Street was disappointing, the rest of French Quarter still had its charm. The architecture of old colonial buildings with the elaborate ironwork balconies kept me in awe, while the upbeat music of the superb street performers made my feet tap along with the rhythm. Add to this many interesting galleries, delicious food (we tried po’boys, muffulettas and some pecan pies – yum yum) and great opportunities for people watching. It’s easy to see how you can spend hours and hours on the streets of New Orleans…
You can’t mention New Orleans without highlighting the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the city back in 2005. The iconic French Quarter wasn’t actually badly affected but other regions of the city took an awful toll. We went to see the 9th Ward, where the devastation was still visible – although some people came back and rebuilt their houses, many still stand abandoned as a reminder of the tragedy that affected so many lives. But this doesn’t stop the New Orleanians from getting back on their porches, sitting in the old wooden chairs and doing what they do best – singing their hearts out.
While in Louisiana we also took a rest stop at Lake Martin – a swampland reserve full of birds, snakes hanging off the trees and little alligators minding their own business on the trails, unaware of the danger that one of us could have had imposed on them. Geoff was so engrossed in bird observation that he nearly stepped on one tiny alligator that stopped motionless in the middle of our path. Fortunately I saw him in time, and instead of squashing him, Geoff decided to give him a little pat. Mr Alligator was having none of that and he very nearly bit his finger off. Luckily the finger was untouched and no angry mother alligator rushed out of the bushes so we could move on with our travels…
Our further journey in Louisiana took us from NOLA, across Lake Pontchartrain and the longest continuous bridge over water (over 38km!) in the world, to state capital Baton Rouge, where Monster Jam was taking place. So we went to have a look. It was deafeningly loud and smelled of burnt rubber while monster trucks were intent on flattening vehicles right out of the salvage yard – only in America! To sum it up – highly entertaining! We probably wouldn’t go again, but it certainly was worth experiencing it.
From Baton Rouge we drove west and crossed into the Lone Star State. And this will be a subject of the next post.