New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA)

Where do I even start?! As with Nashville, New Orleans was always on my bucket list and for good reason – it’s unlike anywhere else. It has a very French/fairytale/jazz infused feel it’s impossible not to love. There’s a big interest in the supernatural; graveyards, ghosts (you can even have dinner with one at Muriel’s in Jackson Square) and clairvoyants and it’s had a reputation as a “refuge for lost souls” for many many years. If you’ve ever read A Streetcar Named Desire it’ll feel like you’re in that book as you walk round, theres an actual ‘Desire Street’ and you can go to ‘Elysian Fields Avenue’, just a casual literature reference.

When we first arrived it was the hottest it had been for a few days, hitting the early 30’s as we wandered a Lafayette graveyard filled with beautiful historic above ground tombs which was interesting to see if not a little haunting. From there we obviously headed to a bar, where we had drinks in the sunshine and threw coins into a fountain as we made wishes. After a unanimous decision, we headed to a thrift store where we picked outfits for our first night in N’Awlins. We headed to the hotel to freshen up and get ready and we were blown away by the luxury that awaited us. After many nights in hostels and motels (all of which were really good) we were in a proper hotel with walk in showers and luxurious double beds. Heaven. There was also an incredible rooftop bar with live jazz music and a view of the city which was stunning at sunset. The link to the hotel is here if you’re in need of a recommendation.

So, let the first night begin. Apart from Nashville, this was the first city that we were really able to party in and let me tell you, we were ready for it. We met at the rooftop bar with sequins, fake moustaches, pleather caps, snake hats, Mardi Gras beads and moustache suits in tow. The crazy thing? We didn’t look out of place.

We wandered the French quarter and got hurricanes on the way to dinner. A hurricane for anyone that’s wondering is a strooooong cocktail made with various rums and we got them by the litre, literally. Jazz music filled the streets as we waited for a table at the best restaurant for gumbo and other Louisiana favourites. We were waiting a while, well, long enough for the hurricanes to take effect and for a group of us to pop to the bar next door to get some more rather strong but expertly and individuality made cocktails. Delish. The alcohol laws in New Orleans are such that you can walk from bar to bar with your drinks and it’s legal. Amazing.

After dinner we wandered, dipping in and out of bars to listen to jazz performers which were amazing. Street music, dancing, spoon playing and cartwheels were happening left right and centre – and that was just from our group. I’ll insert some videos below – even they may not give the whole atmosphere but they sure make me smile thinking back to them. The rest of the night was filled with dancing and drinks and laughter and it was one of my favourite nights on the trip.

On the left is Jess cartwheeling, the top right video is me and Jack – pretty sure I blacked out for the whole thing, I had no idea what I was doing (clearly!) it was like a crazy trust exercise, “just run!”, and bottom right is Jess and Jack playing the spoons. What can I say, we’re a talented bunch…

Feeling surprisingly fresh the following morning, we headed out in the blistering heat to get breakfast. We walked a fair way and I think it nearly killed a few of us off but we made it. I ordered the bananas foster which is bananas, cinnamon, sugar, cream and ice cream and it’s way too heavy for breakfast after a night out but it’s a New Orleans classic so I couldn’t miss it. And of course we had mimosas which kind of goes without saying.

Later in the day, Ana and I went to Mardi Gras World where we learnt why and how all the floats are made as well as getting to walk round the warehouse where they’re all made. Instead of a ticket to enter the ‘museum’ you get Mardi Gras beads which both Ana and I thought was such a novelty. Before looking round the actual floats and learning about the process they go through when they’re made you get to watch a video about the history of Mardi Gras. We also got to eat cake – if your piece had a tiny plastic baby in it then you were king/queen for the day. It was called King Cake. I know, New Orleans right?

I think we went out the second night as well but in all honesty I can’t remember much about it, I think it was more chilled than the first night but no doubt drinks and jazz still featured highly. Before we left we had to stop by the market and grab some beignets, deep fried choux pastry covered with powdered sugar, which were incredible.

“Laissez le bon temps rouler” translated as “let the good times roll”, the unofficial catchphrase of New Orleans. Add it to your bucket lists now.


Heading South…

I think I’ve been waiting a while to write all these posts because once I’ve done it and they’re out there, what more is there to say? Who else is there to tell about my adventures? Reliving each city as I’ve written about it has been such a joy, I guess it’s the closest thing I’ll get to actually re-doing the trip – as much as joke about it to Ana. I’ve been especially reluctant to write about Nashville and New Orleans because I’m afraid my love for them won’t come across. It’s quite hard to write about a place where nothing major happened, there were no grand canyons or star filled skies it was much more about the people and the music and the atmosphere. And that’s something very hard to describe.

Nashville was always on my list of places to go. Country music and the whole romanticism of country life have always been of interest so actually being there was really special. The visit to the Ryman auditorium was incredible – learning about its history and the Grand Ole Opry and being only a few footsteps from the stage that so many incredible performers have sung on was so surreal. Walking up and down Broadway, the main street, popping into boot stores, hat stores and the array of different bars and honky tonks listening to all the next big thing’s. People singing and dancing everywhere with a real love for the music they’re listening to. It’s just such a special place.

It’s the place of karaoke – and I mean karaoke. These people can SING! Like, ready to get their big break kind of singing. So naturally our tour leader added my name to the list. I politely but rather forcefully declined and let another member of our group take my place, and it was just as well because she smashed it.

It’s also the place where you can get pizza delivered to the bar. I’m here for it.

It’s the place of $54 hats, 3 pairs of boots for the price of 1 (which is actually a really good deal and a few of us nearly grouped together but the reality of carrying boots round the world put a slight downer on the idea), it’s the place where everyone can wear pretty much the same thing and it’s not weird – think denim, flannel shirts, hats, boot, etc etc. It’s magical. I think the phrase of the night was “I love it, can I stay here? Let’s stay here. Can we stay here?”.

We also got to visit the Bluebird Cafe, which may not mean anything to many of you but it’s the place people go to perform at open mic nights where they may or may not get spotted and they become the next Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift. Both were discovered there, and it’s also had visits from Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley before they were country superstars. It’s a country music holy grail and I got to stand outside.

Nashville, I’ll be back.

From Nashville we went to Memphis, land of Elvis and Blues. Compared to Nashville, Memphis was a little bit of a let down. Don’t get me wrong, it was still amazing and the live blues singers were unlike anything I’ve ever heard before but nothing was going to beat that Monday night. Tuesday night in Memphis wasn’t quite as buzzing and the rain may have dampened the mood a little, thanks Irma.

We spent the day at the National Civil Rights Museum which is adjoined to the Lorraine Hotel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The museum was incredibly interesting and interactive but the most hard hitting part for me was definitely seeing the room where the assassination happened. Everything was left as it was and the quotes from his family and friends bought a tear to everyone’s eye, it was very moving. If you’re ever in Memphis I’d definitely recommend taking the time to visit.

We also took a trip to the Gibson factory which was $11 rather than $60 like Graceland was, sorry Elvis – maybe next time. The Gibson factory was fascinating though, even for someone who’s not got the biggest passion for how guitars are made. It was very hands on, lots to see and touch and questions were encouraged, well worth $11.

I have to say though, highlight of the day had to be the Peabody Ducks. If you haven’t heard of them, stop whatever you’re doing and listen up. There are a group of ducks that live in the Peabody hotel in the centre of Memphis and every night there’s a ceremony for them. They walk (waddle?) from the fountain in the hotel foyer down a set of tiny red stairs, down a red carpet to the elevator lead by the Duck Master. They proceed to get in the lift which takes them to the roof where they spend the night and then in the morning the ceremony is reversed. They do this every day. Hundreds of people (us included) waited for 45 minutes to get a good view of them. There was music and the Duck Master had proper attire and it was quite the event. Half our group thought it was ridiculous and the other half (myself included) thought it was maybe the highlight of the trip (or definitely the highlight of Memphis). Here’s a video Ana took of them – she sat on the floor with the children to get the best view, obviously, but I still don’t think you can get the full experience. Add it to your list of things to do in this crazy city.

We also visited Beale Street which is the equivalent of Broadway in Nashville. It’s a street full of bars that have blues music flooding the street it’s impossible not to be impacted by such soulful voices; blues isn’t my favourite genre of music but even I was swept up in it. It was a great place but the tiredness from Nashville and the rain from Hurricane Irma had caught up with us and so it wasn’t a late night but a fun one all the same.

East Coast Highlights

City: New York, New York

Technically the tour started in New Jersey so we got a bus from New York to New Jersey with no idea when to get off, when we did eventually guess (surprisingly correctly), we were dumped on the side of a road like in a movie. It was bizarre. Luckily a man gave us directions along the gravelled main road where we came to a Motel and finally called an uber to rescue us. The morning of the tour we nearly went off on the wrong tour altogether, down to Miami whilst Hurricane Irma was happening. Not the best start. But before all those misadventures we went to New York which quite frankly started out as a nightmare trip.

You know how you always have the thought in the back of your mind that the hotel won’t have you booking or the Airbnb won’t exist? Well, that actually happens. 11pm in the middle of The Bronx, two young women are wandering the streets trying to contact the owner of the accommodation they’re meant to be staying in and they get no reply. I don’t know whether it was the tiredness or just because everything was completely overwhelming but we both stayed relatively calm considering the situation. Thank god for smart phones and google is all I can say. We booked one night at a place nearer the centre which from the outside (and the inside come to think of it) looked like a prison but our room was decent. It had walls and a bed and that’s really all we cared about. We sorted accommodation for the rest of our stay which was in the theatre district and 2 minutes from Times Square so it actually worked out in our favour, despite the stress and money.

So, my highlights of New York are as follows:

The Rockefeller Center, or the top of the rock as it’s more casually known. Tickets have set times on them so if you know you want a particular time I would either book online or get there early, we tried to just saunter in and it doesn’t really work like that. Tickets are about $34 which is a bit steep but there’s a video of the history of the family and the building as you wait and once you’re up there the price becomes irrelevant because the view is indescribable. As with everything on this trip, I’ll never forget it.

Secondly, Broadway. It was on my bucket list to see a Broadway show and I had to persuade Ana, my travel companion, but as soon as we were there she was on board. We queued in Times Square to get the reduced tickets which worked out pretty well. We bagged seats in the stalls for Kinky Boots for about $75 each which when some seats go for $$$ it was a steal! I can’t rate a Kinky Boots highly enough, if it’s not on your list of shows to see, add it on now because you will be blown away. It has everything you need from a musical – a heartfelt storyline, fantastic musical numbers and costumes to match as well as plenty of laughs. The only thing that bothered us was the accent, being set in Northern England the American twang was a little hard to get used to but it was amusing rather than irritating. Ana loved the show so much she found a souvenir cup in the trash on the way out and took it back to the hotel with us and let me tell you, other souvenirs were sacrificed because this cup took up so much space in her bag.

My third highlight of New York is Times Square. The glitz and glamour of the lights, the amount of people and the atmosphere is exactly as you’d imagine and it was so surreal to be there.

Other highlights include: Grand Central Station, Central Library and of course, Central Park

City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Now Philadelphia wasn’t my favourite city it has to be said but if you’re into American history it’s definitely the place for you. We weren’t there long but we saw the Liberty Bell, ran up the “Rocky Steps” and saw many other historical landmarks. We also went to Reading Market where you can purchase the infamous Philly Cheesesteak.

City: Washington DC (apparently not part of any state but in between Maryland and Virginia)

Washington DC also wasn’t one of my favourites but it again, full of history and very interesting if you’re into presidents and parliament etc. We saw the Liberty Bell, which is so much smaller than you’d expect it to be it was almost disappointing, we also saw The White House which is also a lot smaller than you’d think. We went to the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed, saw the World War Two memorial, the Martin Luther King statue. The Lincoln statue was very surreal to see and its as imposing as you’d imagine. We visited the Air and Space museum which was really cool, and I’d highly recommend going because not only is it free but it’s actually really interesting. There are two “best things” about Washington though. First of all, the bars. I’ve never had drinks so strong and neither had Ana – as the pavement soon found out (no judgement Ana, my time would soon come too!). Secondly, we got the chance to go to a baseball game. A proper all-American baseball game with pizza and beer and the whole shebang. It was so cool, a definite movie-moment.

State: Virginia

We passed through Virginia on our way from Washington DC to Nashville so we stopped off at Shenandoah National Park where the first of our group photos was taken. Virginia was our first time staying in a motel which was another movie moment, despite the murder vibes, but it was so nice being in a double bed rather than a single bunk bed. It’s the little things.