After blagging a free night camping at the state park, we wanted to head into see New Orleans. We met Brian at the VW meet, and as he lived in New Orleans, he had offered us some free, secure parking outside his apartment which sounded great. We started off packing up in the morning at a leisurely pace. I had a shower which I shared with a small green frog, while Lee started packing up the van. We pottered around, in no great rush until someone drove past with an official looking clipboard and started checking out people’s campers. Then we very hastily threw everything in the van and left before someone realised we weren’t supposed to be there. Brian said he finished work at 3pm and we head out just after midday meaning we would get there a few hours before.
After arriving at his address we spent some time driving around trying to find the right building. There were several others which had numbers very close, but there didn’t appear to be any logical order to it We found a yellow T2 bus in a car park and assumed he must have another bus, what are the chances of two people in such a small area having a T2? Apparently though, the chances are higher than we thought as this wasn’t the right place at all. After being told exactly where it was we found the right place and parked up. We were both pretty hangry buy this point so we left the van and walked around the corner to Jimmy John’s which is basically the same as Subway. Soon, debating whether to have a midday daiquiri or not, we started walking back to the van.
We were just about to leave and drive further into the city centre, when Brian arrived. He’d got back from work early and so we had a change of plans when he offered to show us around some of the local bars. We set off in Ruby.
The first stop was the Rivershack tavern, where we tried some of the local stout. Nice, but incredibly strong, I definitely couldn’t have more than one of those. We sat on some entertaining bar stools, but somehow I’m the only one who ended up with photographic evidence of this.
Next we went to The Fly, which is a riverside park with views out over the Mississippi river. This is the first time I’d seen the Mississippi, so that was pretty cool, especially on the lovely sunny day that we were enjoying again!
Brian then said we should go check out Cooter Brown’s, which had a pretty great beer selection as well as some nice looking food. We had a drink or two and were then joined by Justin and his wife, Candice, who we had also met at the VW meet that weekend. Lee still hadn’t tried gator, so Brian ordered us some gator as well as some fried pickles, southern staples. Justin ordered some shrimp which Lee was eyeing up too as well as a rather good Bloody Mary. I don’t often drink cocktails, but this one was really good and had green beans in it which were really quite nice!
After this, Brian took us on a drive through the French Quarter of New Orleans which includes the famous Bourbon Street. This is basically the main tourist street, with all sorts of bars and live entertainment down it. Some of it was open to cars, so we drove down a small section, slowly, so as not to annihilate the swathes of drunk people that staggered in front of us or blithely took selfies in the middle of the street, oblivious to the noise of our van or the fact that it’s a Monday night. Justin and Candice followed us in their car, until we pulled off the road to meet up with some more of Brian’s friends. We met Jake and Glenn, who had a lovely old beetle with a very meaty sound system and then, now as a larger group, we continued on to Bacchanal’s. This was probably largely due to our constant complaining that America does not have proper cheese, as this place was a wine and cheese bar. We went inside, chatting enthusiastically to the bouncer so that he didn’t ask to see Jake’s ID as he wasn’t 21 yet. Once inside, there is a large wine selection and also a cheese fridge, initially we went out the back and got a table sorted before returning to peruse cheese. Our main criteria was ‘stinky’ and having picked out several bits of cheese we went over to the bar. Here we ordered a bottle of wine to share and paid for the cheese which would then reappear as a full platter with bread, olives and pate’s for us to have with our wine. Out in the back, we stood around a heat light munching our cheese selection and enjoying some wine while a live jazz band took the stage. This was pretty cool, if a bit pricey and I think safe to say not up Jake and Glenn’s alley as they searched with some desperation for the beer fridge. This led to a debate outside on where to go next, as it was a Monday, several things were apparently not open. Glenn suggested having some beers and a fire around his house so we set off in that direction, however once his wife found out the incoming drinking crowd she was not impressed and we had to re-evaluate our plan. We ended up in a local bar around the corner which served cheap and cheerful beer to what looked like mainly locals, with a jukebox. We spent the rest of our night here, with the highlights including trying a new shot of some spirit that I believe was called ’43’ with added cream, briefly interrupted by the arrival of a cockroach on the bar. A lady also invited us around for thanksgiving meal if we had no other plans, which we considered as it was only a few days away and we had yet to be adopted by anyone. Soon, we called it a night and headed back to Brian’s in the early hours of the morning, while he debated on whether to go in to work the following morning.
As we don’t do this ‘work’ thing anymore, we had a fairly relaxed morning. It turned out that Brian had gone in and so we decided to ride our bikes down the Levee to the city this time. While southern America’s relaxed attitude seems to include their tolerance on drink driving we would still rather drunk bike than drink drive. The Levee is a protection system against flooding from the Gulf as New Orleans itself is about 18’ below sea level. This means that there is a tarmacked path along the top of the barrier that you can easily ride along. It was about an hour’s ride, made longer by the fact it was very windy in the wrong direction which slowed us a down quite a lot, still we probably needed the exercise. Once we had arrived back in the French quarter, we chained our bikes up outside Café du Monde, where we had been told we should go to experience their beignets and chicory coffee. This is pretty much all they serve here, with insane amount of icing sugar, it was very good though.
And halfway through, check out the insane amount of icing sugar…
Still a bit early to check out the local bar scene, we decided to go and look at the remains of what should have been the new Hard Rock Hotel, which had collapsed during construction. This disaster left three people dead, apparently due to the concrete being left to cure for insufficient time during the build. You can see where they have secure the broken cranes to the building. It seems amazing that in a modern day and place, these things still go so wrong.
On our way to see the hotel, we had passed a lot of other nice and more stable architecture, so we decided to chain our bikes up again and continue on foot. We left them outside the Kerry pub, so that we couldn’t stop here and have a drink after we had explored. The French influence on the buildings is clear, and we walked down a lot of picturesque small streets.
We also walked down Bourbon Street in the daytime, where I got to hold a macaw which made me very happy!
Horse and carriage tours are also popular.
Live music on one of the street corners. This one is actual people with instruments, as the street also has a lot of kids playing drums on plastic buckets for money.
We walked back down the river and saw some street entertainment.
Our next stop was for a drink in the Kerry, which the bartender estimated has around $2000+ worth of bank notes stapled to the pillars and ceiling.
From here we walked over to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which is one of the oldest bars around dating back to the 1700s. We had an eggnog daiquiri, which was pretty good, before heading down Bourbon Street again. We stopped off in Cats Meow which is a karaoke bar, as it’s always interesting to watch bad singing. The barmaid informed us that it was 3-4-1 on beer, so we managed to get 6 bottles for $13 which isn’t bad! We watched some singers, ranging from mildly talented to mildly terrible, before Brian messaged us and offered us a ride back. Soon enough, he was outside in his bay and we headed off to get some food. He took us get some Vietnamese food from a place he knew, where we got several free dishes and some very nice food.
It has been my ambition to get a drive through daiquiri since we arrived here and I realised that it existed. Sam had taken us to our first daiquiri shop, but it wasn’t a drive through which I felt was a requirement. Brian took us to one of these on our way back to his apartment, where I ordered a ridiculously large quantity of something called mudslide.
Back at his, we let Amy out to play around the pool and enjoyed our daiquiris. Brian had the day off tomorrow, and had some more suggestions of where we might go. We also needed to go to a tyre shop, as one of Ruby’s tyres was failing and on the verge of exploding. This is aptly called a ‘maypop’ according to Bill! Justin had kindly got a garage to order a tyre in for us, that we could go and get fitted in the morning.
First things first the next day we went to collect our bikes that were still outside the Kerry Pub. Brian didn’t seem optimistic that all of them would be there, so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived outside to find them intact, with lights and everything. Loading them back up, we headed over to the garage where our new tyre had arrived. It didn’t take long before the old tyre was off, and it turns out it was nearly 10 years old, so maybe not surprising that after some high mileage it was started to become less round. New tyre fitted and $80 poorer, we went diverted back to Justin’s house en-route to get some lunch. He had a few interesting projects going on as well as an old beetle known as ‘The Roach’, because you can’t kill it. We decided to go to Charlie’s Steak House as it had apparently got a good range of Louisiana classics on the menu for us to try. Kicking off proceedings with a midday Bloody Mary we ordered some food. Lee got catfish in a pecan crust with mac n cheese, while I got very confused by gumbo soup, and in a panic, ended up with something aubergine based instead. Our plates where gigantic when they arrived, and we barely managed to finish one plate between the two of us. Fortunately, as is standard here, there are plenty of take away boxes to bring the rest of your meal home. Lee was so full, he couldn’t finish his Bloody Mary, which just shows you what we were up against.
The last thing to see before we left later that night was the Jean Lafitte swamp. Brian told us that there was a nice boardwalk there, so after saying goodbye to Justin we headed that way. It took us a bit longer than it could have, as the ferry wasn’t running meaning we had to drive a longer distance, but we also stopped off to look at some of the buggy’s that Brian looks after as well as a sneak peek at his split screen project. This meant we arrived at the car park around 3.30pm. This gave us an hour and a half to enjoy the boardwalk before the car park shut. Aimee was desperate for some time out of the bus and we did plan to take her on our walk until the person in the shop told us that pets were not permitted as they might get eaten by alligators. This seemed fair enough, so we shut her back in the van and set off for a walk.
A tree I liked.
More pretty views.
As we were a bit short on time we didn’t make it all the way to the end, but it was still an enjoyable way to work off some of the large amounts of stodge we had eaten earlier. Me made it back to the car park with the sun setting.
We headed back, catches glimpses of a pretty sunset on the way to Brian’s. We had spoken to another couple at the VW meet called Jeff and Shannon who had also invited us to stop with them if we liked. I was getting pretty fed up of having access to electric hook up and not being able to charge our batteries, and had finally caved and ordered a 110v-240v transformer. We asked if we could have it delivered to Jeff’s house and he had not only agreed, but also invited us round for thanksgiving dinner. We were due to arrive at his around 7pm after leaving Brian’s, which took slightly longer than planned. We had put some washing in his machine, but Lee had managed to wash it all with a packet of cigarettes which led to tobacco everywhere. After a bit of a clean-up mission, we had one final beer with Brian by the pool while we waited for the clothes to dry. Not dry, but good enough we said our goodbyes, not wanting to be too late to Jeff’s house.
We had a brilliant time in New Orleans, and I certainly prefer seeing a city with someone who lives there and knows the good places to hang out. What I’ve learnt so far is that the story of southern hospitality is not only true, but well deserved.