The day we left Natchez for New Orleans was a big day on our trip. From the day we hit the road, besides returning the car on the day it was due back at Hertz in NJ, this day was our only other time constraint - be in New Orleans on the 4th of July to pick up Adina's parents from the airport. Adina's parents are road trip aficionados and in their day, they've seen and driven through more of the States than I and probably most Americans, but they had not been to a good swath of the south. So in just a few hours, we would join forces in the Crescent City.
But first we had a drive to wrap up. We left Natchez on an approximately three hour trip south to NOLA. While the drive was uneventful, anticipation and excitement filled the car. Neither of us had been to New Orleans before, we were seeing Adina's parents for the first time in 8 months, and we would get to see and stay with Kaplan who we hadn't seen since Kaplan and Karen came to Kauai to celebrate the previous New Years.
The landscape changed as the
highway passed between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. Swamp lands surrounded us and cypress knees emerged from the waters beside the highway. As the traffic grew more congested, the swamp transitioned to cement and the buildings in the horizon grew taller.
We arrived in New Orleans in the early afternoon of this past Independence Day, and being the festive holiday that it is, Kaplan, who was our host for our NOLA stint (he was on a summer internship in the city), had already begun celebrating with friends. He called us with the address of his friend’s house where him and his fellow interns were, and with the guidance of our trusted Garmin, we were beer-in-hand at a 4th
of July gathering within a few minutes of arriving in the city.
It was good to see Kaplan. It’s always good to catch up with old friends you haven’t seen in a while. After seeing him constantly for 6 of my 7 years on Kauai, we hadn’t seen him in a long time. In between introductions at the first get-together and the subsequent and more college-esque celebration we later visited, we filled him in on the first half of our
trip, our intentions for the rest of our trip, and the latest with our post-road trip plans. He shared with us his first hand New Orleans experiences and recommendations from his first few weeks living there. Before we had even blinked, a few hours had passed, and it was time to head to the airport to pickup Adina’s parents.
Their travels had gone smooth and after swooping them up we sailed through traffic and arrived at their awesome boutique hotel, a converted 100+ year old house with a courtyard and vintage décor. Best of all, it was located in the heart of the city, just beyond the mayhem of the French quarter and one block away from the festiveness of Frenchman Street (home to many of New Orleans music scenes). After checking in, we immediately hit the streets to attend the citywide welcoming of the Magnusson’s to New Orleans. Thousands of New Orleanians and us included, sat on the levee beside the Mississippi as massive barges shot of fireworks above the river. Happy 4th
of July and welcome... to the Magnusson’s!
So, we were all in New Orleans now… a not so foreign city to Americans, and one,
like San Francisco, I imagine many of you have experienced before… so once again, as with my San Francisco blog, I will spare guiding you through each moment of our experience there, though exciting and invigorating throughout.
With Adina’s parents at our side, we experienced the raucousness of walking down Bourbon Street and the relentless solicitations to sin in any of countless ways. We listened to jazz in the streets and funky bars of the Frenchmen Street. We admired the French architecture as we strolled around the city.
For me, our time in New Orleans was highlighted by three things: the food, a trip to a nearby swamp, and a boat trip on the Mississippi. Prior to the commencement of the “southern” leg of our trip, we had greatly been looking forward to the local cuisine. While it was an artery clogging experience for the most part, it was absolutely delicious. It’s hard to say how many poboy sandwiches we ate… And there was fried catfish, a variety of fried alligator concoctions, fried oysters, beans and rice, alligator gumbo, Cajun spice seafood pasta, mac and cheese, smoked ribs and pulled pork… Ok – I better stop now, because
I’m getting hungry reminiscing about these meals. There’s more to try of the Cajun cuisine, but this was a good start down a road that needs to be traveled much further.
On our second day in New Orleans, we decided to travel a bit outside the city and wound up visiting the nearby Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. We had hoped to visit a bayou, but we were advised the swamp would provide a better chance to see wildlife as the nearby bayous were significantly dried up. The swamp at Jean Lafitte proved memorable. The four of us walked a boardwalk footpath right across the gator infested waters of the swamp. Cypress trees draped with Spanish Moss hid the darkening clouds gathering above. The beautiful cypress knees, the baby trees which grew straight out of the water, completed the gorgeous swampscape. Despite the gators which were truthfully not far, on this day they were elusive, perhaps lurking just beneath the water and just a few feet from us as we walked by.
During our last hours in New Orleans, Adina’s parents treated us to a trip up the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez, an authentic steamboat
driven by a steam engine and a paddle wheel at the rear of the boat, and yes, it has the same name as the town we had been in just a few days prior. The boat trip was incredibly touristy and incredibly fun. After one last tasty and mostly fried lunch buffet on the boat, we took seats on the deck of the ship so as to see the “sights” along the river. I have to say, this boat trip left a lasting impression of the New Orleans area. The river cruised through a region known as cancer ally. Disgusting oil refineries, run down factories, and abandoned and rusted out warehouses lined the shores of the brown, polluted waters. This boat trip highlighted something I had observed and which seemed to stand out to me throughout the preceding days of the trip, the seeming complete lack of environmental consciousness in the city. The river was just a pit of pollution and people, in plain sight, used it as a trash can. The streets were really no different. Again, I don’t know enough about New Orleans to write with conviction, but this was the feeling, after three days spent there, that
stuck with me. But back to the boat trip… despite the disgusting and troubling sights, it was immensely interesting and educational, and when coupled with good company, a tasty meal, and the live jazz music being performed during the return leg of the boat trip, this proved an immensely amusing and memorable activity. Thank you Anders and Agneta!
My being impressed by the seeming dirtiness of New Orleans aside, it was a city Adina and I were both enthralled with. It had so much personality, such a diverse and interesting pervading energy, and so many different types of people. We loved it.
When we hopped off the boat, we walked directly to our car and hit the road once again, now four in on entourage. East we went, hugging the Gulf Coast and on to our next stop – Alabama!
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