29.07.2010 06:22:58

It took three days, two stopovers and two time zones to get to New Orleans. After a day of riding through the backwater of Georgia, our first stop was Columbus, GA, a slightly run down historical city on the border with Alabama and a huge student population.  Our stay there felt a bit strange as Columbus is actually two cities divided by a river, a state line and a time zone. Phenix City, Alabama is the other half, where we actually stayed and suddenly we were an hour earlier. Then we went across the river to eat and the restaurants were about the close (as it was getting late). Finally we returned into the past to sleep.

We left Phenix City behind and rode further south through Alabama through the sweltering heat (by now, it was over 100 F/ 36 C). The names of places started to have a more French sound and after a sweaty days riding we finally arrived to our stop No 2 - Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is the Grand Dame of southern Alabama, with a slightly run down historical area, but with plenty of wealth hidden away in other parts of town.

Mobile's claim to fame is that it is the home of Mardi Gras. It was established before New Orleans and it was the first capital of French Louisiana in 1702. And before you think that the name had anything to do with mobility, think again. The city got its name from the Native American Mobilian tribe that lived in the area when the French decided to civilise the place. After some time in Mobile, the French decided to move their capital city to Nouvelle Orleans. You know why? Because it was further inland and therefore less prone to hurricanes...

For us Mobile was memorable for two reasons. Amazing pulled pork and a lesson in good coffee (can you believe it) by a geeky student working in the café next to the bbq place. It was late in the day and we wanted a coffee, but we didn’t want to stay up all night. So, what this young, skinny white guy taught us that the lighter the roast, the stronger the coffee as it retains more caffeine. Which obviously makes perfect sense now. He did seem slightly disgusted at the fact we didn’t quite realise that. Live and learn.

Bridges of LousiannaPearly Biloxi beach

We left Mobile behind stuffed on pork and a little more knowledgeable. We headed west on US 90 and soon we reached Mississippi and the Gulf coast. Mile upon mile of pearly white beaches and many, many boats in the water working on the clean up. At that stage, the oil had not reached the shore (16th June), but Biloxi beach is not so pearly white any more due to the whole casserole of nonsense that is evil BP spill. Rant, rant, rant.

The heartbreaking thing was that the boats we could see were fishing vessels working on the clean up and not fishing. The impact on the local way of life has been huge and we encountered the consequences everywhere we went. The price of sea food went up, oil slicks in the wetlands of Louisiana etc, etc. 

Our road turned in once again and we were back in swampland slowly approaching New Orleans. As you drive into the city, you cross the huge Pontchantrain lake which surrounds the city from the NE. You also cross many canals connecting the Mississippi river with the lake and then finally as you make your final approach to the New Orleans proper, you see the mighty Mississippi river hugging the city from the SW. And apparently New Orleans has sunk below the sea level and is still sinking. Truly a Venice of USA. So it becomes painfully obvious how Katrina devastated this city and how the oil spill is likely to make it even worse.

Road jungle Wetlands of LouisiannaOil slick in the wetlands of NOLA

New Orleans, Louisiana or NOLA is a very special and incredibly cool place. It's not America. But then again it's not French. Or Spanish. It's not really anything but NOLA. Where they like the food, the music and Mardi Gras. So my helmet attracted a lot of attention. So much so, that I had to defend it from people stealing it for the next Mardi Gras party. Pretty much everyone who saw the helmet stopped us in the street and started a conversation.

Apparently, since Katrina, the recovery has been slow, but steady. The citizens of NOLA have a new-found pride in their city and in 2010 that was crowned with the NFL Super Bowl Championship. New Orleans Saints won the cup and on the day we arrived, the players were getting their Super Bowl rings so there was a massive party in the city. Buildings and bars were decorated with the Saints colours and many locals were wearing 'Geaux Saints" T-shirts (note the French spelling).

NOLA colours Lasser les bon temps passerStella! Stella!HUGE ASS BEERS

For three days, we stayed in the Big Easy, immersing ourselves in the food and the vibe, while sweltering and melting in the humid heat. The amazing thing was that every afternoon, people run, bike and generally exercise while it's still over 30 degrees dripping with sweat. But then again even if you walk 5 metres, you are a sweaty mess, so I guess they have a point. We didn't attempt any such lunacy. Just slow movements in the shade.

For those interested in some NOLA facts, here goes the travel writer part of the blog:

French QuarterThe oldest part of town is called Vieux Carre or Old Quarter. Or more famously the French Quarter which ironically is mostly from the Spanish period (1770 -1803). It is a predominantly catholic city in a country where Presbyterian protestant religion is dominant. The catholic faith has shaped this city and its customs - Mardi Gras, Halloween, Day of the Dead celebrations etc etc. NOLA has extensive cemeteries with huge tombs. Each specially designed and approved by the Archdiocese of New Orleans. As there is so much water, the water table is very high and the dead cannot be buried. So, they are placed in a coffin and the coffin is placed in the tomb. The tomb is sealed for a year and a day. At the end of the period, the tomb is open, the ashes collected into a bag and then placed in the back of the tomb. Apparently what happens is that the tomb gets so hot that the body is incinerated by the heat so releasing a spot for the next dead family member.

Anne Rice's houseThe well-to-do of NOLA lived and still do in the Garden District with its beautiful antebellum houses and big gardens. For fans of Anne Rice - she lived in the Garden District for years and many of the Vampire Diaries were set in the Garden District. And you get to the Garden District by taking the Street car on St Charles' Avenue. There also used to be a Street Car Named Desire that went to Desire Street, but no longer. Desire is in Riverbend - now a trendy neighbourhood with coolest bars, restaurants and shops. Particularly along Magazine street - all 6 miles of it. The reason for this coolness are several universities and starving artists that live in the area. Tulane and Loyola are both there, along several smaller universities.

Mardi Gras beads waiting for next yearFleur De LisSpanish mossBP sucks!

Our favourite encounter in Magazine street was meeting Stefan, a German artist who is using old Mardi Gras beads to create amazing images of NOLA and he will use it to promote the city. See below. Beautiful!

 NOLA by Galeria Alegria

Frenchmen Street

Jamming in a jazz clubBut where's the jazz at? This is NOLA after all. Jazz is everywhere - on the streets, in bars of Bourbon street. But if you want to hear some really good stuff, you have to head to Frenchman Street, on the edge of the French Quarter. we turned up on a Thursday night and saw and got to see a fantastic young band of about 20 that played some amazing jazz.

After three days, we finally managed to peel ourselves away from NOLA and headed inland towards Lafayette - the heart of Cajun country. Cajun is the name for the French immigrants who were chased out of Canada and settled in Louisiana. They've had a great influence on the food, the culture and the language. In many smaller towns, people still speak French as a first language.

Oak  Alley Plantation

On our way through the backwaters of Acadia, we visited one of the most famous plantations in Louisiana - The Oak Alley Plantation. Spectacular! And famous - it's been used in many films, most famously in Interview with the Vampire in 1994, as the house where Brad Pitt lived before becoming a vampire. We never made it to Shreveport in north Louisiana though. Shreveport? Vampires? This is where the latest vampire craze (for adults) is based - True Blood (and we're both huge fangs!). But apparently Shreveport is really not that interesting (read: desolate). And the good food is in the south, so Lafayette, here we come!

In addition to the plantation, we also experienced a huge thunderstorm (not fun on a bike) and some great food. We travelled through some very pretty old towns in the back roads and ended our day in Lafayette.

Trains Sugar plantationsIt's humid in Looziana

We finished off our visit to Louisiana in a very Louisiana manner. On Sunday 20th June we left our motel room hungry and in need of petrol. We were trying to figure out our route towards Texas via some food. At the petrol station, a guy spotted us in discussion and sidled up to us (in a crab-like manner) asking if we needed help. Once he heard we were hungry, he immediately INSISTED we needed to go back 30 miles to have some AMAZING BRUNCH in a beautiful old town of Breaux Bridge or Pont du Breaux as they like to call their town.

Breaux Bridge or as the locals call it Pont du Breaux

His enthusiasm was such that we did exactly that. We ended up having a fantastic Louisiana meal in Cafe Des Amis. A great way to finish our culinary trip of the south - grilled catfish with shrimp etouffee for me and slow roast pork with sweet potato mash for Artin. About a million calories. And all this after two weeks of crawfish pies, fried shrimp, shrimp po-boys, bread puddings, pulled pork barbeques, rich cocktails and local microbrew beers. We ate our way from Savannah to Lafayette and were about to enter the land where everything is bigger - Texas.

Ouch! Read on.

 

love to all

V&A

 





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