Louisiana felt different from the moment we crossed the state line. It sounded so exotic to our British ears. Its name echoed of Southern Gothic, evoking thoughts of Truman Capote, Spanish moss, antebellum plantation homes, a dark history of slavery and racial turmoil, voodoo, graveyards, alligators, swamps, hurricanes, levees. It sounded so mysterious and exotic…but it also looked so familiar. The green, lush vegetation along the roads made us all think of the UK, if we hadn’t built on every square inch of the UK, so we also kind of felt at home here. We didn’t SOUND at home…so many people commented on our accents, but we wholeheartedly complimented them back on their own wonderful southern accents.
We chose not to stay in New Orleans, the goal of our time in Louisiana, but rather to stay about 45 minutes north in the small town of Covington. I have mixed feelings about this, but it was the right decision. We were there at the weekend, and July 4th weekend too. Hotel prices in the French Quarter were astronomical – we saved a lot of money by staying further out. But part of me ached a little to be at the heart of what we’d come to see.
We arrived in Covington late on Friday night, after a very long drive that took longer than we’d expected. We’d crossed the mighty Mississippi river, which was much less thrilling than I’d hoped – wide, grey, murky and busy. But Covington was a lovely little town, lush and green.
We somehow got out of our hotel by 8.30am on Saturday morning (a miracle!) and drove over the 22-mile causeway across Lake Pontrarchain. As we got closer, the gleaming towers of modern New Orleans appeared out of the haze. I hadn’t realised how isolated New Orleans is, floating on lowlands at the very bottom of the country. We also hadn’t quite grasped how modern and impressive the new city is – it was very different to our expectations.
We arrived in the French Quarter at about 9.15 and parked up (super-expensive!) for the day. We had a few things we wanted to do but our overall plan was to wander. So we wandered, and the wandering was some of the best wandering I’ve ever done in my life.The buildings are wonderful. Wrought-iron balconies, lush vegetation, cobbled streets. I took too many pictures.
We did as we had to and queued for café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde. The queue moved quickly and we were grateful to sit in the shade for half and hour. The coffee was excellent and the beignets were delicious.
We explored the lovely shops. There was excellent shopping! We did tacky gift shops, classy gift shops, ridiculously expensive antique shops and astronomically expensive jewellery shops. I tried on a $15,000 diamond ring. It looked awesome on me. We had lunch at Cafe Soule, which was deliciously gothic and had good food! Most food in Louisiana seems to be deep-fried. Then we went to see the Mississippi River.
We went to the excellent Louisiana State Museum for some history of the state. It was very good and surprisingly fun.
There were some things we avoided – the voodoo/creepy stuff which is NOT my thing at all, plus the raucous party streets. We made it one block on Bourbon Street before gracefully recognising that we are no longer party people and sloping off down a side street. Royal Street, with its cafes and shops (and where Truman Capote used to live, squeal) was pretty much perfect for us!
By 4pm, the heat and humidity had beaten us – it must be called the Big Easy because it’s too hot and humid to rush around! New Orleans was wonderful – I loved it so much and the boys all liked it too. I’ve wanted to go there for so long that I wondered if it would be a disappointment but no, it was gorgeous. I loved it.
The next day, before we drove out of Louisiana we went on a swamp tour! The swamps have been incredible to see as we drive past – vast swathes of swamp-land stretching out across the country. We really enjoyed our boat ride. We saw loads of alligators and something I didn’t even know existed – swamp pigs! We saw houses on stilts, some of which are permanently inhabited, some of which are weekend retreats for fishermen, some of which had friendly diamondback river snakes on the doorstep!
And then we were back in the car, heading across the border into Mississippi, the state with the most Fun-To-Spell name. I regret not being able to spend more time exploring Louisiana, but we had a great few days there!
Louisiana, thank you! Alabama, here we come!