New Orleans – (aka) Nuorlans, NOrlans, Naulins…

Waiting at the La Guardia airport just out of NYC, I’m praying that my luggage and more importantly its contents, survives the 2 flights that it must endure today.  I have a connecting flight today for the first time, all my flight so far have been direct (apart from first arriving in LAX/Las Vegas).  In possession of my 2 boarding passes, my first flight is into Dallas Fort Worth Airport.  I’m only there for about an hour and I don’t leave the airport so it probably means that I can’t claim to have been to Dallas, Texas.  The connection to my next flight into New Orleans goes without any dramas and I am very pleased to see my big green Kermit suitcase come around the bend of the carousel No.6, although now it’s getting some character to it looking like it’s been through a few airport terminals in its time (not that it’s a dirty ho or anything).  Best thing buying a set of luggage that stands out from the rest and it’s the colour of my favourite Muppet to boot!

As we land in Louis Armstrong International Airport, New Orleans, it’s very apparent that from what I’ve seen so far, the airports in the US are all classed as International with their domestic flight going in and out of the same airport.  Are they all the same everywhere in the US??  Anyway, the airport transfer takes me to the Hyatt French Quarter where I will call home for the next 3 nights.  It’s around 7:30pm when I get into my room and it’s fully equipped with a mini lounge area too.  You can’t change the outside and facade of any of the buildings in the French Quarter, in order to keep the original look of the place from back in the day (being heritage listed and all).  But that doesn’t stop the establishments from renovating the insides and this hotel knows how to renovate.  The room is beautiful and feels very chic.

My first night is spent at the Bourbon House just down from the hotel and on the famous “Bourbon Street”.  For starters I’ll have the BBQ Bourbon Shrimp (that’s prawns to us Aussies).  Absolutely delicious and it comes with a little cake like looking corn bread.  First time I’ve had corn bread, I feel very American now!  So then comes the main course or “Entrée” as they call it here (with entrée being “Appetisers”) and it’s huge!  Veal with crab meat served on top of garlic mash with asparagus.  There’s two large pieces of veal with crab meat on the top one and about an inch of garlic mash underneath.  I wish I could fit it all in but alas I was even struggling to get through my cocktail.  Drinks are a lot stronger over here.  It’s great that they don’t really care too much for using a measuring utensil when pouring any of the spirits.  Not so good when you get to the bottom of the glass and get hit with what tastes like pure alcohol, but you put on your big girl pants and suck it up!!  I crawl into another comfy bed and get some rest before my trip out to the “Oak Alley Plantation” tomorrow.

I have some time before my tour starts at midday so I look up the nearest UPS store to see if I could send some items back home.  I was thinking that this was going to cost me a bit but I wasn’t prepared to pay $227 to send my $60 tripod (I’m not really using it and should have left it at home) with a few other items I’ve collected along the way and it was going to take 14 to 20 days to deliver.  Plus to send a shirt to Erin in London was going to cost $142.  So I guess I’m going to the US Postal Service instead in my next cities where it’s going to take 6-10 days with a cost ¼ of the price compared to UPS.  It turns out to be a very non-productive morning.

But it’s just before midday and I make my way through the French Quarter down to the lighthouse to get my tour tickets (also for my Swamp and Bayou tour tomorrow).  It’s hot and very muggy right now (around 91% humidity).  Cass, I can see you squirming right now!!!  So it’s quickly onto the bus for me and into the nice air conditioning.  The bus is about two thirds full and our tour guide is also our driver.  Although I can’t remember his name, he is very unforgettable.  If you could imagine an elderly man that is a combination of an African American Preacher man speaking to his congregation on a bright, sunny Sunday morning church sermon and a late night radio host speaking with a low, smooth and southern style delivery of every historical fact along the way.  Close your eyes and put the two together, it might make it easier to picture.  He was great though and made reference to “Southern Hospitality” as much as he could (in the smooth, low radio host like voice).  Before we knew it, we were at our destination.

The “Oak Alley” plantation home and it’s estate is perfect, just like in the post cards and movies that you may have seen (I’m thinking of “Sweet Home Alabama”… just not in Alabama).  We are taken on a tour of the main house and begin the journey through the stories of all the owners and residents who have called this place their home.  The staff that work at the plantation now (for the tourism industry) are dressed in period costumes and they look great.  Our tour guide is a very soft spoken, gentle lady who takes us room by room, giving us continuous stories and history of what took place in each room.  Most plantation homes (the main houses) have 3 bedrooms only with other rooms used for entertaining.  The dining room has a huge long table all ready for feeding the guests that they are hosting for.  As we move through the house I can’t help but feel that I was born in the wrong era.  I would have loved to live in this house back in the day!  Of course without the slavery and civil war that went on back then, not to mention the fact that women were perceived to be unable to live without the presence of a man in the house.

The perfectly manicured lawns and flourishing gardens look like something out of a magazine.  Then there’s the alley of old Oak trees that line the path leading from the street straight up to the door of the main house.  How fabulous it would have been to be a little kid growing up on a property like this (again, without the slavery, civil war and all….).  These plantation homes can have over another 20 more dwellings on their grounds aside from the main house.  I’ll let the photos tell the story of these.  With sounds of thunder, the smell of rain in the air and the dark clouds starting to roll in, it’s time to scoff down my pecan, praline and vanilla ice cream waffle cone (your mouth is watering right now, correct!?!) and head off in the direction of safe ground…. Our tour Bus! (It was about 5 minutes before we were due to leave anyway).

It rains pretty much most of the way back to New Orleans but it appears that all the storms have already passed through the city and it’s now just that little bit less humid!  We hit really bad traffic on the way back so we’re about an hour late getting back to where we began the afternoon.  After experiencing the early shenanigans of Bourbon Street the day before, I head back to the hotel and have dinner there for the night.  It turns out that I was not prepared for the nightlife of NO.  But once you take one walk down then back up Bourbon St you quickly get accustomed to the sights and sometimes frights of the colourful scenery!  It’s definitely in your face stuff.  All I can think of is how much fun this would be if I was here with one of the gals, safety in numbers!  I’m not quite brave enough to get in the middle of all this by myself.  Sorry for those who are disappointed in reading about this part of my travels.  I’m just going to have to come back with reinforcements next time!!  Although this place is a little scary by myself, it would be a destination I would come back to again.  Just not by myself.

The next day is “Swamp Tour Day”!!!!!  Ever since “Swamp People” came into my life, I’ve wanted to come see this crazy sh*t for myself!  So I’m back at the lighthouse again and board another bus that takes us down, deep into Bayou country.  We arrive at Jean Laffite Swamp Tours and soon enough we’re on the boat ready to set off down the bayou.  Along for the ride is a full tour coach of one family.  Yes it’s a family reunion group with over 50 family members all with the same bright purple screen printed t-shirts.  From the dominant males in the group, the mothers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and I’m sure cousins, to the young ones… every age group seems to be covered.  Just before we head off our first little gaitor comes to say hello right beside our boat.  I’ve never seen so many people shuffle to one side of the boat with their cameras out ready to snap (me being one of these).

Our tour guide and boat captain “Jamie” gets us going as we make our way away from civilisation and deep into the swamp.  Ok, so I may be a little bit dramatic on the description with that one but it’s a nice cruise either way.  Jamie is full of bad jokes about what we should all do if we fall out of the boat, if the boat starts to sink, if you drop something over the side of the boat, if something falls into the boat and if the boat does start to sink as long as you’re faster than the slowest person on the boat, you’re going to be ok!!!  Plus his joke with the punch line of “Reptile Dysfunction”.  You can guess what the joke may have been.  He’s funny though and he sounds just like the guys out of Swamp People.  I’m loving it!  About half way through the cruise Jamie passes around a turtle shell (think BIG!!!, I’ll post a photo too) and the head of a 12 foot gaitor (you may have already seen this one with Pig Crackers on Facebook).  Then the best part of the tour, he hands around a baby live gaitor (with jaw taped).  I’m a little worried at this point, not for myself or the others on this tour, but for the baby gaitor itself!  This family is LOUD!!!  And there’s quite a few young kids who are super uber excited about holding this little reptile.  I get my turn to hold the little fella and one of my fellow tour goers takes a photo for me.

Oh yeah, we have been seeing gaitors in the water up and down this tour while all this other stuff has been going on.  As well as Turtles, birds and other wildlife we see along the way, only a small few of us get to see a snake swimming across the top of the water and up to the swamp bank.  I have lots of great photos.  One lady says to me “did you get a photo of that turtle….” to which I replied “Yes, 8 of them”.  Ahhh the digital world has made us all a little OCD.  Although we didn’t get to see “Big Joe” on this tour, Jamie reminds us that this tour is not like Disneyland (where all the characters come out and parade around on queue) but the gaitors that we have seen are union workers…… (insert American joke here).

The tour is over before we know it and when it comes down to it, I think I’ve been on better crocodile tours back home but this one was still good and the fact that I feel like the bayous from Swamp People are our next door neighbours, makes this one feel super exciting.

Back in NO now and all this swamp touring has made me hungry.  I find a place where the air con is blowing and the beverages are chilled.  I’m ushered upstairs to the bar that overlooks the harbour and the street that runs along the sea side.  I pull up onto a stool at the bar and am greeted by the bar tender “Lucas”.  He’s a little cute and it turns out that my timing was perfect.  Not 5 minutes earlier the bar was full and he was the only bar tender working upstairs.  So he begins to get me a Vodka and OJ while I peruse the menu for some belated lunch.  I must admit that my mind was almost made up before I walked into the place.  They had a selection of already made meals on the side walk (purely for display purposes), but it worked cause the Beef Sliders got me into the place.  They were delicious too!!  As I’m chowing down on my 2nd slider, cute bar tender lets me know he’s just going outside for his break and that he’d be back soon.  At this time there are 2 more bar tenders working upstairs which I’m sure would be more than capable of tending to my beverage needs in his absence.  It’s then that I realise that I’ve just been given that famous “Southern Hospitality!!!” I love it!!!  Not wanting to look like an alcoholic at 2 pm in the afternoon, I just have the one drink and finish my beef sliders.  After some more conversation with cute bar tender, I’m on my merry way again to wander the streets and take in some more sights and scenery that I am yet to explore so far.

Lots of jazz bands just playing randomly in the street, most of them started playing when they were in their teens.  Now in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and above, these guys are amazing.  You could sit there and watch them day.  But alas the day is coming to an end (the sunny part of it anyway) so before the wicked night life comes out to play I make my way back to the hotel.  With every intention of being a little braver tonight, I do plan on coming back out to get amongst it all.  There seems to be a lot more people out tonight (being a Saturday?).  That’s pretty much where my good intentions end.  By the time I packed up my bags again and wrote about 8 days of blog in one hit, it was time for bed.  Tomorrow, Memphis here I come!!!