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Cruising through New Orleans

Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Walk down Frenchmen st to French Market Square; bus tour of the city; swamp tour; Bourbon st nightlife
- Day 2: Jackson Square; waterfront monuments; aquarium; National WWII Museum; Harrah's Casino and Canal st nightlife
- Day 3: Historic cruise; Mardi Gras World; Insectarium

Where to Stay
- B&W Courtyards Guesthouse in Marigny (go for the room with the purple roof)


Where to Eat
- Beignets at Cafe du Monde (better food) and/or Cafe Beignet (better music)
- Who Dat Coffee Cafe
- NOLA Cake Cafe and Bakery
- Mother's Restaurant (famous for its debris po'boy)

Beignets.jpg 049f81a0-f6d5-11e9-ab8e-e1ffb786429b.jpg

My Travel Diary
As someone who really enjoys Halloween I've always been curious to explore New Orleans/NOLA. Apart from Mardi Gras, there's always seemed to be a persistent spirit of kookiness and creativity there. My first day in the Big Easy confirmed these suspicions. On our walk from our hotel to a bus tour of the city we decided to drop by the famous Cafe du Monde, which was a very happening spot surrounded by tarot readers, tourists, psychics and musicians. We picked up the NOLA beignets (doughnuts) and started eating them while walking to our tour bus pick-up spot - the beignets' powdery deliciousness left a mark on our clothes, but it was a good memory to have. As it was 40+ degrees celsius I was thrilled that the van had air conditioning, but I was even more thrilled to be in the van when a sudden thunderstorm caused flash flooding in the streets. Our guide talked to us about how the weather patterns there combined with faulty engineering and poor development of the swamp land created the perfect storm for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She also said that 14 years later the city is still trying to find its way in the wake of such intense devastation. In fact, almost everyone we had a conversation with in NOLA brought up the impacts of the hurricane - apparently it's a huge factor in the high rate of homelessness in NOLA. When you consider that 80% of the city was flooded, it's not surprising. The tour also touched on lighter topics like the yellow fever epidemic that decimated NOLA in the 1800s leading to tens of thousands of deaths, and cemetery construction factoring in their extreme weather.


Our trip wasn't all doom and gloom though because our next stop was a swamp tour. Our guide was a large and in charge Cajun man named Gary who may have been a heavy man but he definitely kept the mood light. I was concerned about safety protocols on the boat given that it was already full by the time we arrived and we were instructed to sit on the step beside the captain. He laughed off my questions and asked me where I was from. When I said I was Canadian he started speaking to me in Cajun French, and when I began responding in my standard school-learned French he found it comical. He then asked what my boyfriend and I do for work, and when he found out my boyfriend's a doctor he said "Good, we'll be needing you on this tour". Always a good omen when the tour guide needs a doctor nearby as you head off into the middle of a swamp. Apart from being overcrowded, the boat was already very low to the water. This made for some incredible alligator sightings, but also some very tense moments when the boat broke. Yes, that's right, the boat broke in the middle of a swamp. The one child on board started asking her mom what we would do to which the mom basically said what was on all our minds: there's no Uber, can't call for help, can't swim to shore because the waters are alligator-infested, so we'll just have to wait and do what the captain says. Amid the collective distress our captain managed to calm us and fix the boat's engine. We set off for more swamp exploration. And promptly came to a sputtering stop. The boat broke again! This time he asked us for a knife. I made a joke about forgetting my knife at home since I didn't know alligator hunting was part of the tour. Reality was even stranger: the woman on the step behind me had brought a manicure kit to the swamp, and fortunately it included a knife. Gary wasn't too happy when we asked if we could turn back to shore at that point. He accused us of having no faith in him and his abilities, or respect for his swampy home. As it happens, he lives in a swamp village of 500 or so people that can only be accessed by boat. And it turns out that the dock he was taking us back to actually has a massive gate that closes at nightfall so he said if we didn't make it back in time (the sun was beginning to set) that he'd house us for the night. His jokes were sometimes a little too real for my liking. Anyway, the tour itself was delightful - we fed marshmellows to the alligators and watched Gary lean over and kiss a 10 ft alligator at one point. When I asked if he's ever been bitten he squealed with glee and said "of course! bien sur!" Pleasure and pain are strange lovers.


We watched a beautiful swamp sunset and still made it out in time to return to NOLA that night.


The next morning we definitely weren't awake earlier enough to catch sunrise, but we still enjoyed checking out the city views from Crescent Park and then strolling past "Joannie on the Pony" (aka a statue of Joan of Arc), Jackson Square with its beautiful horse-drawn carriages, and the harbourfront en route to the aquarium. Because we had purchased a city pass we decided to see everything we possibly could in the three full days we had in town. Without the pass I would not bother going to the aquarium - it was pretty disappointing aside from seeing an albino alligator. I was glad that we were there during the low season though because it meant that all the sites we visited were far less busy than I'd imagine them being in the dry/high season. Some people thought it was bizarre to visit NOLA during the wet season, but really the rains only came in brief bursts and there are plenty of indoor activities to account for that time. That being said, if a truly terrifying storm had hit I would likely be playing a different tune.


The National World War II Museum, all indoors, is well worth a visit. I'd recommend spending a little extra and buying a ticket to the 4D Tom Hanks film "Beyond All Boundaries". I thought the museum did an excellent job of creating interactive and informative exhibits. They made sure to include narratives about how the American people would have viewed war at different time periods, e.g. 1939, 1941, etc. and also the strategies Americans used during the Second World War.


Americans seem to love their casinos, so to learn more about local culture and maybe to gamble just a little we went to Harrah's Casino downtown. I managed to win some money and also be selected to participate in a casino parade. Bourbon st. felt like a constant parade to me too. It felt like what I would imagine Mardi Gras to be like, minus the floats. There were endless stretches of drunk people, beads flying and debauchery at every turn. If it's like this on a regular day in August (low season), I don't think I could handle visiting during Mardi Gras. I did enjoy visiting Mardi Gras World though. It was a fabulous warehouse full of beautiful memories for millions of people, I'm sure. It was amazing imagining how impressive it must be to stand on the crowded streets and see these larger than life floats drift by - it must feel ethereal seeing King Kong slide by followed by Santa Claus on a swing.


New Orleans isn't all fantasy and fun though, it's also an incredibly historic city. My boyfriend and I dragged ourselves out of bed early on the Saturday morning to catch a historic cruise (included in our city pass). It was led by a PhD in American History named Wendel. He managed to teach us about Indigenous, French, Acadian/Cajun, Spanish, and US history within a matter of hours. Of course, there are plenty of stories that he didn't tell, but overall he provided a really concise narrative of colonization in the region, and the various wars that resulted. In fact, after learning about the Battle of 1812 (which I'm familiar with as a Canadian), we docked at the Chalmette Battlefield where the Battle of New Orleans took place. It was interesting to wander the battlefield, but I actually preferred sitting on the boat listening to Wendel and looking out at the Louisiana shores. One of my favourite sights was sailing past the St. Louis Cathedral. Final note on the cruise: for people with motion sickness, you should be fine. If I managed to keep the beignets in my stomach, I have faith that you will too.


The one place that made my stomach lurch was the Insectarium. As an arachnophobe, it felt like a crime choosing to step into a living insect museum; however, it was part of our city pass so we thought we should take advantage of as many sites as possible. If you're adventurous with your cuisine then it's well worth a visit because they have a cafeteria where they serve different bug dishes. For people who aren't as interested in eating the bugs, but maybe just coexisting with them there's also a butterfly garden that you're able to wander through at your leisure.


All in all, I can see why NOLA is a party destination - amazing food, and fun; and I can also see how an older couple could find a pleasant party for themselves in the historic district; or how a single person may explore the city by boat and find new friends along the way. New Orleans, more than almost any city I've been to in the US, is a destination for anyone.


Posted by madrugada 23:40 Archived in USA

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