A Travellerspoint blog

October 2019

YOLO! Visit NOLA!

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)

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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)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted by madrugada 23:40 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Meandering through the Maritime Provinces of Canada

Road Trip through History: from the Acadian Coastal Drive in New Brunswick to Canada's Confederation in Prince Edward Island

Snapshot Itinerary
- Fly to Moncton, New Brunswick then rent a car and drive to Alma (to explore Bay of Fundy)
- Drive Acadian Coastal Drive from Moncton
- Drive to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (across the Confederation Bridge) via the west side of the island
- Drive back across the bridge to Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Drive north from Halifax to Grand Pre and Wolfville to learn more about Acadian culture then further north to Hall's Harbour before going south to Lunenburg
- Drive back to Halifax stopping at coastal towns including Mahone Bay, Bayswater and the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove
- Fly home from Halifax

Where to stay
- Moncton: Wingate by Wyndham Dieppe Hotel or Wildrose Inn B&B
- Halifax: The Hollis or Halliburton Inn
- Lunenburg: Ashlea B&B

Where to eat
- Old Triangle Restaurant in Moncton
- Holy Whale/Buddha Bear bar/cafe in Alma
- Pirate de la Mer in Bouctouche
- BOOMburger in Prince Edward Island
- Cow's Ice Cream in Prince Edward Island
- Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenburg
- Bicycle Thief in Halifax

My Travel Diary
As a Canadian, I feel a certain duty to see as much of the country as possible. In my younger years, I always felt the need to go abroad. Like many people I didn't feel like seeing my own country was really an adventure or that flying out west or east was real "travel". The more I learn about different towns, regions and provinces, the more I realize that's a flawed approach. There's plenty to learn within your own country. Further to that, as I get older my approach and reasons for travel have changed too. In any case, New Brunswick was definitely a new experience. My boyfriend and I flew there from Toronto, and although it wasn't a far flight I was exhausted by the time we arrived. Fortunately, our hotel, the Wingate by Wyndham Dieppe Hotel was a fairly short walk away from downtown Moncton, and allowed us to walk by the Petitcodiac River and learn more about the mass expulsion of Acadians in the 1700s. Most of the stops on our trip provided further insight into their history, and current culture.

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We chose to eat at the Old Triangle the first night, which has booths fashioned like church confessionals. The food was fine, but the real fun started once we set off for Fundy. Our first stop was the Hopewell Rocks. The famous rocks were formed by tidal erosion, as 160 billion tons of water move in and out of the bay every 25 hours and the waters can rise at a rate of 13 ft per hour based on the sun and moon's gravitational pull. We were lucky to see the rocks when we did because at times apparently there can be as many as 5000 tourists a day, whereas it was almost empty during our time there so we really felt the peace and power of nature.

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The Bay of Fundy was "founded" by 16th century European fishermen. We could see the fishermen influence everywhere we went - which makes sense given that it was a coastal drive. I particularly liked the town of Hillsborough with its beautiful homes and cute stores (like Oliver the German Baker). Apparently mastodons used to reside here 70 000 years ago or so. It's been renovated since. Some non-extinct wildlife we saw along our drive included llamas and porcupine. Our next stop was Cape Enrage, which looked beautiful although we didn't want to spend the time or money to explore the fossil beach since we were heading to Alma to meet friends.

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Alma was a great town to use as a base for exploring the Fundy region. The tides in Fundy are the highest in the world, and it's quite a sight to watch the difference between high and low tides. Before exploring Fundy National Park, we made sure to have a big meal at the Tipsy Tails. There are many different hiking trails, and we chose to hike the Dickson Falls Trail (about 30 minutes) and then Matthew's Head Trail (about 2 hours). After the hiking we were hungry again so we stopped by Kelly's Bakery and the Holy Whale/Buddha Bear bar/cafe. I really liked the ambiance of the bar/cafe and their super tasty pretzels. In terms of food, we were lucky enough to have delicious fish each day of our trip. I will say though that if you're not into seafood, then this likely isn't the culinary region for you. In fact, our second day there involved an Acadian coastal drive which started in Shediac where we visited the giant lobster statue. Even with my shellfish allergy, I still managed to enjoy the tourist trap.

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Bouctouche was where we had the best meal of our trip: fish and chips at Pirate de la Mer. We stopped at the Irving Botanic Garden after that and then explored the "sand dunes", which was actually a pretty little beach with a boardwalk.

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Unfortunately, my chronic health issues were flaring up badly on this trip and walking was not easy for me. When you have different health issues (like pain-based ones) travel can sometimes be daunting because it's hard to know how accessible sites will be or how understanding/accommodating people will be, particularly in more rural areas. Most of our time in New Brunswick was spent either hiking or driving (and learning about Acadian history), and the benefit of that is that a lot of the beautiful sites you could actually see from your car (if you're unable to walk/hike). Although I don't like spending long stretches in a car, I was lucky that we did the coastal drive because my body could just relax. My mind was active as my friend was explaining her people's (Acadian) history and also talking to me about the history of her family. Both she and her husband are Acadian, and they talked about the past but also the current culture - from music to art to architecture (the coastal drive is full of proud houses painted with the Acadian colours). Travel is always enriched by local learning, so I was grateful for the time my friends spent sharing their stories.

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Our next stop after bilingual New Brunswick was Prince Edward Island (PEI), which is the smallest of Canada's provinces. That being said, we crossed a tremendously large bridge to get there. It's 8 miles long, so of course we played the 8 mile soundtrack en route. Once we got to the island, we detoured to a nearby church so that we could take a picture of the bridge from the parking lot. I recommend planning key points on your roadtrip, but leaving time for detours. For example, we ended up driving on a whim through Summerside and then on to Lucy Maude Montgomery's birth house (from the 1870s). In actuality, the island could be named Anne's Island based on how much Anne of Green Gables paraphernalia we saw. Personally I'd prefer to visit Anna's Island, but there's some clear bias in that.

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One of the strangest stops on our trip was Cavendish, PEI. It was a tiny town populated by amusement parks and entertainment sites like mini golf, Avonlea World and Ripley's museums. I'd caution going before June if you're interested in fun and games like this because everything was closed. In fact, it felt like a post-apocalyptic trip at times because the official tourist season hadn't yet started so the natural sites were calm (which I preferred), but some of the towns felt abandoned. At times we even had difficulty finding open restaurants (like in North Rustico). That being said, one of the benefits of not being there before tourism season kicks off is that we could explore Orby Head Park with its red cliffs and gorgeous sand dunes without a crowd. Apparently the reddish hue of the cliffs comes from iron which was oxidized forming rust in the sandstone sediment. To me, it just looked like magic.

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We spent our night on the island in Charlottetown, where we stayed at the Prince Inn. Although the building was stunning, this was my least favourite hotel on our trip: there were cameras and microphones all over, and we were questioned every time we exited or entered. It felt more like a holding cell than a hotel. The city of Charlottetown is lovely though, and I'd highly recommend a visit. We were fortunate enough to attend a ceilidh (Irish song and dance show) at the Benevolent Irish Society with a local band, Tip 'er Back. They played some of my favourite Irish classics like "Wild Rover" as well as some local Maritimes music. After my trip to Ireland last year, I can't seem to get enough of Irish music - even with a bad back, you can't help but tap to the beat. The ceilidh was slightly outside of the core of the city, but everything about Charlottetown is lovely: from the homes to the cute downtown with its pedestrian Victoria Row neighbourhood. If you're interested in history, it's important to see St. Dunstan's Basilica and the Confederation Centre for the Arts where you can learn more about this region including the 1864 Charlottetown Conference which politicians from the province of Canada crashed in order to convince the Maritimes not to become their own country. Fortunately for Canada they were convincing! Our learning was amplified by the event Doors Open/Portes Ouvertes, which meant that a number of special buildings (including the Legislature) were open to the public. This allowed us to see City Hall and also the firehall next door where we met some of the 9 paid firefighters on the island (the rest are volunteers). They wanted me to try on 80 lbs of equipment, and I had to let them know that I can barely carry my own weight let alone theirs. Speaking of eating your weight, I'll finish my thoughts on PEI by saying that it's sacrilegious not to eat Cow's ice cream or have a burger at BOOMburger (which is basically Canada's version of the American Five Guys burger restaurant as my American boyfriend happily pointed out).

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The drive to Halifax is beautiful, but the driver can't take too much of it in because they'll need to keep their eyes peeled for moose and deer (as well as other cars!). Since so much of this region is rural, it's not uncommon to hear of car accidents involving animals. We never saw a moose or deer on our trip, although our friends spotted a bear. Halifax is probably the least rural place you'll see in the whole region - it's "the big city" out east. As such, it has all of the amenities you'd expect like interesting museums, memorials, and entertainment. We particularly liked exploring the harbourfront with its beautiful sunset and views of Harbour's Island. The harbour is also home to the Pier 21 Immigration Museum. I appreciated the CAA discount and took advantage of the films, exhibits, and tours available to me there. I learned about the 1 million people who landed here between 1928 and 1971 mainly from Europe including roughly 40 000 war brides. There were also stories about immigration broadly across Canada, not just to the Maritimes. Fun fact: Portuguese immigrants came to Labrador after the 1600s leading to it being named after their word "lavradore". Many of the museums I've been to try to include interactive exhibits to engage visitors, especially children, and this museum was no different. The entry had a family exhibit including guiding conversation questions for visitors like: "What makes a family unique?", or "Who in your family has had the biggest influence on your life?".

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Halifax is also known for its food as it's home to the donair. This is probably my one big regret from our trip: eating that sweet meat. It certainly was not my cup of tea; in fact, the only thing to really fix that taste in my mouth was tea! The nicest tea shop we went to was Humani-T where we met a friend of mine who I'd known from Turkey. We enjoyed some tasty and eclectic teas as well as much better snacks than donair. Another nice tea spot was actually the rooftop of the Halifax Central Library, where you can also enjoy a vast vista of the city. The Halifax Public Gardens are a quick stroll from there, and are probably just as lovely now as they were when they were first planted in 1874. A great dinner spot after walking all over town is the Bicycle Thief at the harbour. Everything I ate there was phenomenal, from the beet-dyed ravioli to the peanut butter chocolate ice cream cake.

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There are many road trips one could do from Halifax. We opted to drive north through the Annapolis Valley to Grand Pre to learn more about Acadian history as that was a popular Acadian settlement as early as the 1680s. When they were expelled from Canada in the 1700s they were mainly sent to America, England and France but many died along the way. That's why there are now so many memorial sites around the Maritimes to honour those who died, as well as acknowledge the history of the region and the Acadians who resettled and continue to thrive here. We stopped in Wolfville where the local university is actually called Acadia University. It's a cute town with a number of restaurants and bars, and also a good stop en route to the "Look Off" which would have been a beautiful vantage point... except that it was so foggy we couldn't see more than 2 metres in front of us. We drove cautiously through the fog to Hall's Harbour where we saw some beautiful beaches and art. In fact, every stop you make seems to have an art stall in the Maritimes. Maybe there's something in the water...

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One of the most popular towns to visit in Nova Scotia is undoubtedly Lunenburg, and for good reason. Part of their downtown is actually a UNESCO world heritage centre since it's the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America - the grid pattern and wood buildings date back to the mid 1700s. Prior to the British (and Acadians) living there, the Mi'kmaq people had lived in the region. This was an area where I felt the historical plaques and museums fell short: there was not nearly enough information about the Indigenous people who had lived in the Maritimes prior to the French and British arriving. In Lunenburg, I didn't learn more about these people but I did manage to find out more about fisheries, and the lives of sailors. It turns out the Ashlea B&B where we stayed had been built in 1890 by a fishing goods merchant and even had a 4th floor lookout so that the sailor's wife could look out to see if her husband was coming home. At least that's what we were told. It's always good to take stories with a grain of salt. That's why we ate dinner at the Salt Shaker Deli in town. The walk downtown was nice, and we were able to visit the Bluenose II which was a replica of the original Bluenose racing ship which had been a racing and fishing ship that brought accolades to Canada in the early to mid 20th century.

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Driving along the Nova Scotian coast is incredibly calming because you meet kind people and see the power of the ocean. This is apparent from tiny towns like Chester and Bayswater but really reaches its apex in Peggy's Cove. It was foggy and windy when we arrived which led to huge waves and made the warning signs by the lighthouse even more apt. I could easily imagine tourists taking selfies being swept away by the furious waves. The lighthouse has become one of the most photographed in the world for its rustic beauty. It was built in 1914 and since 1975 has also doubled as a community post office in the summers. All of these towns have locals who live there year-round, in many cases the population is only a few hundred to a few thousand people many of whom are over the age of 50. It makes me wonder what the future holds for these sea-side towns. I hope it's smooth sailing ahead.

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Posted by madrugada 23:34 Archived in Canada Tagged beaches road_trip hiking eating maritimes nova_scotia acadia pei fundy new_brunswick eastern_canada bilingual_travel island_travel historical_travel Comments (0)

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