Sunday, 9 June 2019

A Wild Three-Days in New Orleans, Louisiana.

I actually can't believe this is my last USA Roadtrip post! I got back from my trip nearly two months ago now, but what with it being a 2.5 week trip I had SO MUCH to share with you all and it's taken me forever to go through my thousands of photos. We finished our huge Chicago to New Orleans roadtrip (we drove from Chicago, to St Louis, Nashville, Memphis, Mississippi) guessed it...New Orleans! NOLA was a total dream. It was exactly how I remembered it, and it was exactly how I had imagined it in my head. You know when you've been somewhere as a child and you think "was it really like that?!" well it was, and this time going as an adult was so much better!

In case you didn't already know, we actually built our entire trip around going to the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. My friend Clare and I are both literature buffs, and being fans of Tennessee Williams' plays, we had been planning to sign up for the festival and use it as a great excuse to create an epic trip! The trip took over a year to plan and although we spent a fair amount of our time in NOLA at various talks and workshops with the festival, we still saw and did loads outside of the festival as well! Now, in case you haven't realised...this post is going to be HUGE. It's going to be long. With a lot of photos. So grab a cuppa and settle down...

Three Days in New Orleans Louisiana

We arrived in the city on the Wednesday afternoon, dropped off our incredible Chevrolet Malibu at Hertz (I may have sobbed a little at leaving her behind), checked into our beautiful hotel, the Royal Sonesta (which I actually stayed in the last time I was in NOLA - when I was 14 years old!), and then headed to Cafe du Monde for beignets!

The beautiful brand-new Chevrolet Malibu which was kindly gifted to us by Hertz for the duration of our roadtrip

On the way to Cafe du Monde we wandered slowly through the French Quarter, taking everything in. We peeked into some of the cute book shops, listened to some street music, and generally just swooned at every building we walked past.

Everyone had told us to skip the queue, just walk into the cafe area and find a free table, and then a waiter/waitress will appear and take your order. So that's what we did and it was great! In no time at all we had our beignets - they're essentially funny donuts covered in icing powder. Also, make sure you have cash on you as Cafe du Monde is cash only!

After beignets we popped into Aunt Sally's Confectionary to pick up some of their famous Pecans for my mum (who is called Sally, and who has a photo of herself outside the shop 14 years ago!), then headed back to our hotel via Jackson Square. We unpacked, got changed, and then got an uber over to The Commander's Palace.

Omg you guys. The Commander's Palace was INSANE. It has to be the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen. Not only is the building covered in turquoise and white candy stripes, but the restaurant room we were sat in had huge picture windows through which you could see a garden filled with huge trees that stretched high above the windows! We had the most delicious three course meal, and the highlight for me was definitely my bluefin tuna main course, and the Key Lime Frozen Martini!

Also, the staff were incredible. When its someone's birthday you get a chefs wasn't my birthday, but when the waiter saw me looking longily at one guy's hat he said to me, "You look like you want a you want a hat?" "Yeh...I really do!" "Ok ma'am, lemme go get ya one". And sure enough, he came back and plonked one on my head and I was VERY happy!

But the funniest part had to be the toilet experience. Yep. The toilet experience. When you go to the bathroom, a member of staff takes you by the arm and escorts you to the bathroom! My waiter waved everyone out of our path yelling, "Excuse us, Queen of England coming through!" hahahahaha! It was amazing.

After dinner we headed back to our hotel and got an early night before our first proper day in NOLA!

Day 1

We started our first day with a Tennessee Williams Literary Walking Tour of the French Quarter! We saw numerous apartments where Tennessee lived, including the apartment on Peter Street where he wrote the majority of Streetcar, and the place where he first had inspiration for A Streetcar Named Desire! The tour lasted about two hours and was the perfect way to see the French Quarter and learn a bit more about the history of some of the beautiful buildings. Also, sadly Tennessee Williams died in a New York hotel, rather than in his brass bed at his apartment on 1014 Dumaine St. which is where he said he wanted to die.

After the walking tour we wandered over to Antoine's for lunch and their famous $0.25 martinis! Antoine's is one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in New Orleans, but on weekdays they do a set menu for just $20, and their signature Martini is just $0.25! The restaurant itself is huge and has a bit of a weird atmosphere because of its size, but the food and service was outstanding, and they even brought us an extra dessert for free just because I ordered one while Clare didn't, and they didn't want her to be left out haha!

After lunch we then wandered down to the river to pick up our tickets and board the Natchez Steamboat for a two-hour river cruise! I had actually done this exact river cruise 14 years ago, and it was just like I remembered it! It's a relaxing way to spend an afternoon and see the city from the water, hear some of the history of the river and the city, and it gives you the chance to sing Proud Mary whilst on an actual steamboat, haha.

After our cruise we ambled slowly back to the hotel and got changed for our night out at the Smoothie King Centre...that's right, we were off to a Basketball game! We'd booked tickets a few weeks beforehand to see the NOLA Pelicans vs Sacramento Kings, and oh my gosh was it an experience!

We got a Trolleybus/Tram to the stadium, and when we arrived it was a short walk from the tram stop to the stadium itself. It was already packed with people, and after a quick security check we were in and browsing the shop! Everything was crazy expensive and I was like 'am I actually ever going to wear this? Probably not' so didn't buy anything. So, we got drinks, and I got a Frozen Yoghurt made by an actual ROBOT, then we headed into the huge arena.

We had pretty good seats and right in the middle so could see everything easily, and we just had the best time cheering on the Pelicans, joining in with everything, laughing at the crazy half-time games and the Pelican mascot jumping around the seats! There was this young kid just along from us who was going WILD with excitement and it was the cutest thing!! We couldn't stop laughing at him and his enthusiasm.

The Pelicans won, so we all left very happy!

We walked all the way back to the hotel from the Smoothie King Centre, which was about half an hour or so, and after grabbing snacks in Walgreens as we'd totally missed dinner, we went back to the hotel and got a decent early night before our crazy night out the next day!

Day 2

Our first Tennessee Williams event of the day was a talk from Kathy McKeon who was the PA and Nanny for Jackie Kennedy. She spent her youth taking care of Jackie and JFK's kids, and supporting Jackie after JFK's death and during her second marriage. It was absolutely FASCINATING, and both Clare and I excitedly bought copies of Kathy's new autobiography about her time working for the Kennedy family; Jackie's Girl (I highly recommend you click the link and buy a copy - it's so interesting and well worth a read)!

After the talk we then wandered over to Jackson Square and went inside St Louis Cathedral, and then stopped for a while to listen to an incredible jazz band playing on the street outside. That's the incredible thing about New Orleans; everywhere you go there is music. It fills the shops, and it fills the cafes and bars, and it fills the streets. It enters every orifice and seeps into your heart, and you can't help but tap your foot and grin at how magical it all is.

And then just when you tear yourself away from one band, you walk around the corner and there is another. And once again you stop and stare and just breathe in the music and the joy.

Once we'd had our music fix, we strolled down Bourbon Street to Canal Street, got a few snaps of the trams, and then walked across the road to Popeye's Louisiana Chicken for some lunch. We'd heard incredible things about Popeye's our entire journey through middle-America - everyone we met was all, "Y'all gotta go Popeye's in New Orleans", and so there we were in a fast food restaurant surrounded by a bridal party. Well, it must be good if a bridal party are eating in there!

Well. It was bloody terrific. I'm not the biggest fried chicken fan and really have to be in the mood for it, but this was the best fried chook I've ever had in my life! It was indescribably good, and I now see why everyone is so obsessed with it.

After refuelling it was time to head to another Tennessee Williams Literary Festival event - a talk on creating fictional art with renowned American author, Robert Olen Butler. He taught us some valuable lessons about writing, including the most important one; from the first chapter of a book, the main character needs to have a yearning for something. Also, all of these talks were in the most beautiful buildings and it was a really great way to see the stunning interiors of buildings in NOLA that would never have even thought of visiting beforehand!

Clare was a little pooped by this point so went back to the hotel for a nap, while I went to the next talk at the Hotel Monteleone on Politics and the Media. It was a panel talk mostly focusing on the current political climate and how its portrayed in the media etc, and like the other talks, was well worth going to and I'm super glad I went! I had a quick peek into the famous Carousel bar after the talk, but it was a bit crowded and I was by myself so headed over to Preservation Hall to meet Clare for our NOLA night out!

Sadly despite being there an hour before the first show started, the tickets were already sold out (you have to queue up to get a ticket), and our only chance of seeing a show at Preservation Hall was to keep queuing and hope we get a ticket for the 10pm performance as the 8pm one was also sold out (say whaaaat). We were there over spring break so apparently it was much busier than usual. Anyway, we decided we didn't want to waste a whole evening standing in a queue, so we went to Pat O'Brien's right next door for a cocktail. And then everything escalated and got a bit wild...

Our Night Out in NOLA

So Pat O'Brien's is famous for their dueling piano and Hurricanes. We LOVED their Hurricanes, but the dueling piano was a bit of a let-down as the pianists didn't actual 'dual'. So after watching for half an hour or so we moved on to the next bar; Tropical Isle. Now, Tropical Isle was in the movie 'Girl's Trip' and is famous for their Hand Grenade cocktails. So naturally I got one. Oh my days they are SO sweet. Clare got a cocktail with a shark in it. Only in NOLA.

We also met a random guy here who was in New Orleans alone because his girlfriend broke up with him the week before they were supposed to do this trip together. So naturally, four cocktails deep, Clare and I decided to set him up and I stood at the bar trying to pair him with various women and basically being Cilla Black on Blind Date in the middle of Tropical Isle.

When Clare and I got fed up with the sickly sweet cocktails, we walked up Bourbon Street to The Swamp. Yep. The Swamp. We'd seen this place on the multiple occasions we'd wandered up and down the street, and kept saying "Ew, lets never go in there". And then we were in there. And you guys, IT WAS AMAZING. Now, New Orleans is famous for Bounce music which is a type of hip-hop and is where Twerking comes from. Big Freedia is basically the Queen of Bounce if you wanna have a listen, and if you want a more mainstream example of music that was influenced by Bounce, listen to Beyonce Get Me Bodied! The Swamp basically played all Bounce music, and anyone could get up on the stage and twerk. It was insane and amazing.

After The Swamp we went to a number of other bars I can't remember the names of - we basically went into every single bar we walked past. We caught beads from balconies. We took jello shots out of giant syringes. We lived our best life basically. Then we discovered a bar upstairs that had a balcony, and it was dreamy. Every bar played hip-hop and bounce and I was literally in my element!

We ended the night when I found a giant Coca-Cola sign and tried to take it home with me...then realised it wouldn't fit in my suitcase. But naturally we stopped for a greasy pizza before heading back to the hotel - you can't have a night out without an end-of-the-night feed! 

Day 3 

Ahh, our third and final day. This was our lazy hungover day, and it was bliss. We had a lazy morning, woke up and wandered just down the road to Salon de Sucre for brunch, and I ate a giant epic burger with fries covered in bacon jam. At Sucre we sat on the balcony and watched the world go by, made friends with two older women from Phoenix who wanted us to take photos for them, and basically just ate our weight in food.

The afternoon consisted of lazing by the swimming pool at our hotel, reading a book, and then having a browse around the cute French Quarter shops before heading to the Hotel Monteleone to meet our walking tour guides.

Our evening walking tour was led by two New Orleans Babydolls! The Babydolls are famous in NOLA, and we were stopped numerous times by locals shouting, "OH MY GAAD, BABYDOLLS!" and "YA'LL BABYDOLLS?!". They took us on a tour of the parts of the French Quarter that used to be 'Storyville', an area of prostitution and poverty. We learnt all about the history of prostitution in New Orleans, the madams who owned brothels, and about how the Babydolls came about.

At the end of the tour we took part in a traditional second line parade, which was so much fun and I wish it had lasted longer!

It was about 7pm by the time the tour finished and we hadn't eaten since brunch so were starving! We walked down to Erin Rose and had their famous Shrimp Po'Boys, and then decided to walk to Frenchmen Street for an evening of jazz music.

Although we enjoyed Frenchmen Street, and the Spotted Cat Music Club was AMAZING, we decided we preferred the music on the streets in the French Quarter and the vibe and busyness of Bourbon Street. But Frenchmen is great for those who aren't into drinking and partying and just want to listen to jazz in a relatively sophisticated environment.

But. As we were leaving the best thing happened. These women just stopped their bicycles on the side of the road, put their boombox on, and started twerking to bounce music that was on full blast in the middle of the street! It was amazing, and hilarious, and KUDOS to those women for A) Having the confidence, and B) Having the skills! I don't think we could have had a more New Orleans ending to our time in the Bayou: Jazz AND Bounce within an hour!

After the Bounce excitement, we headed back to the Royal Sonesta to pack and get some sleep, and then the next morning, after 2.5 weeks of travelling, 1,300+ miles of driving, 7 states, 6 cities, and sunshine the entire time, we jumped in a taxi in the pouring rain, and said goodbye to this magical, wonderful city and the trip of a lifetime.

New Orleans, I will be back.

Also a huge thank you to Hertz who made this trip possible and kindly gave us car hire for our huge one-way roadtrip! 

Hertz Car Hire Fact Box:

Car hire in New Orleans with starts from £30 a day. For further road trip inspiration, head to Hertz American Road Trip Planner and discover iconic and off-the-beaten track routes, downloadable maps and insider guides.


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