I recently read the book "Text Me When you Get Home" by Kayleen Schaefer (and I highly recommend it). It focuses on the importance of female friendships where history has not been kind to such a concept. Society has historically either tried to pin women against each other, or ensure that husbands and family take precedent, filling that 'best friend' role. This is why it can be so frustrating to explain just how fundamentally important these female relationships are.
How does this relate to a travel blog? Well, my best friend Jackie and I celebrated our 10 year FriendAversary this past year (can we please all make this a thing?), so what better way to celebrate than by booking a trip? We quickly decided on New Orleans, a place neither of us had ever been. We snagged some pretty cheap seats on Spirit Airlines. (Although please don't read that as an endorsement for Spirit because they get about a 2/10 in everything other than price). Right after we graduated, Jackie and I had taken a road trip to Vermont and Montreal together and it was a fantastic trip, so I knew we made a good travel team. I would imagine that just because someone is your best friend does not guarantee that you travel well together ... so either start small or hope for the best.
We flew down south from Thursday through Memorial Day Monday, giving us three full days and some change. This was the perfect amount of time for a best friend getaway and to take in a lot of what New Orleans has to offer ... that is if you're like me and work a little too hard to strike a balance between doing / seeing as much as humanly possible and having downtime to take it all in.
So let's look at this by days, shall we?
Day One - French Quarter
So obviously you can't go to New Orleans without spending time in the French Quarter, the oldest part of the city that luckily missed most of the horrific hurricane damage. It was a no brainer that we would start off our day by getting Beignets at Cafe Du Monde. Jackie loved them, but I thought they just tasted like funnel cake. However, Molly's on Market Frozen Irish Coffee made up for it in my book. After completely filling ourselves with sugar, we walked it off by strolling through the old streets and admiring all of the incredibly unique architecture. I've truly never seen anything like it - a mixture of Caribbean and European style with its own Southern twist. Once the sugar crash hit, we got lunch at the French Market, offering a plethora of unique options and some bomb smoothies.
Attractions We Visited
Voodo Museum (5$) - do not recommend ..... it's super tiny and they let tons of people in at once so you can't read anything. As an alternative if you actually want to learn a bit about Voodoo, go to Voodoo Authentica, a store right down the street with locally made products and lots of educational descriptions.
The Pharmacy Museum - (5$) - totally reccommend ..... it may not sound super appealing but this one of the coolest museums I've ever been to. It's an old apothecary that showcases medicines and medical practices throughout the 18 & 1900s. It made me very thankful to be alive in 2018...
Jackson Square - where you can do such things as take a picture with the tricentennial sign, see St. Louis Cathedral, get a glance of the river, or buy a Trump Voodoo doll.
After a full day of FQ explorations we headed back to the Garden District (details on where we stayed at the end), hit up a grocery store for a few supplies and took a little rest in our perfect AirBnb Cottage. That night we went to NOLA Brewing Company for a few tasty beers and a few rounds of BattleShip.
Day Two - To the Swamp
The middle day of a shorter trip is usually a great day to pick for an excursion out of a city to break things up a bit. But before our swamp trip, we fueled with breakfast crepes at Deville Crepery in the Garden District.
After breakfast we had a little more time to kill, so we browsed the shops on Magazine Street, one of the best shopping streets in NOLA. We both found unique pieces of jewelry crafted by local artists (the best way to purchase souvenirs!)
Around mid-day we headed to Jean Lafitte National Park to board swamp boat number three. I was really excited about the opportunity to see more than just the city and get out into some nature, but let me tell you folks, this was not the way. The things we did enjoy include : the gorgeous Spanish moss and all of the turtles and gators we saw in the water. The things we did not enjoy include : endless large crowds, disrespectful tourists, our tour guides dad jokes, and when they brought a baby gator out of a cooler for people to take selfies with. This one really tipped me over the edge and made me want to jump off of the boat and swim back to NOLA in gator infested waters. Seriously. If you want to do a swamp tour in NOLA, I highly reccommend doing more research than I did and try to find something more sustainable and less touristy. All lessons learned!
When we arrived back in the city we got a taste of what the rain can be like down there. It POURED for just 20 minutes and the streets were already flooded past our ankles. After drying off and freshening up, we headed out for a night in the FQ. We had an incredible dinner at SukhoThai on Royal St. If you like drunken noodles, this place is for you. It was also super reasonably priced and more understated than your touristy FQ restaurants pushing catfish in your face.
You can't go to NOLA without going out to Jazz Bars on Frenchman and Bourbon Streets. We personally preferred Frenchman Street, which was no less exciting but a bit classier and more about the music. We started off at Maison, which had no cover charge and a great band. There was also an incredibly cool open air / night art market on Frenchman St. with tons of local artists, food trucks, and instagram worthy scenery.
On Bourbon St. we stumbled into Bourbon O's, a beautiful bar with rum, alcoholic rootbeer and vanilla bean floats that I cannot reccommend enough if you catch wind of them. The fun of the FQ at night is weaving in and out of bars to find ones that suit you, your musical tastes, and trying the many different drinks NOLA has to offer. There truly isn't a better place to experience a night out in my book.
Day Three - Lessons from Katrina
On Sunday morning we boarded the street car for the last time, something we really enjoyed doing during our stay. It was so lovely and easy to sit back with the windows open and cruise through the Garden District into town. I had booked us a Grey Line Hurricane Katrina Tour for the day, as a way to see more of the city and learn about its recent history. I'm always skeptical of tours, but this one had incredible reviews, and honestly we couldn't have asked for a more purposeful, educational day. Jack and I would both agree it was our favorite part of the trip. Our tour guide John was an older man who had stayed through Katrina to help his neighbors, and to be there to start rebuilding immediately. He has spearheaded incredible efforts and the depth of his knowledge and gentleness in sharing it was awe-inspiring.
The tour included many sites. We drove past the SuperDome, visited a memorial to pay respect to the graves of still unidentified dead, saw the 17th St. Canal Flood Wall where the water came through, and visited the light house on Lake Pontchartrain (the second largest Estuary in the U.S.) We drove through highly impacted areas such as the 7th ward, 9th ward, Treme, and saw the X's and waterlines on buildings that made the damage feel shockingly real and still present. The tour ended with a stop in City Park, where we wandered amongst the towering 800 year old Oak Trees. We even met a girl on the tour alone, because her friends "weren't into this sort of thing." She made the right choice... and I gave her kudos for going it alone. (AKA its ok to ditch your friends sometimes when traveling so that you don't miss out on an opportunity you might find important).
In light of what we had seen that day, I made a donation to a local non-profit focused in the 9th ward. Whenever I travel somewhere new, after I learn a little more about the place, I try to make a donation to give back to the place that has generously taught me so much while visiting. Even if it's 5$, it's a great way to engage with a location and make your time their more meaningful.
Once we said goodbye to John, we headed back to the Garden District for our last evening in NOLA.
We started off at the Hot Tin Roof Bar, which I cannot reccommend highly enough for amazing cocktails and a panoramic view of the city skyline. You may have to fight for a spot at sunset, but its worth it. We had dinner at District Donuts (this place is totally worth every calorie). Then we finished off the night at the BullDog Beer Hall, which has great outdoor seating and a massive beer selection.
We were super sad to fly home on Monday morning, but felt assured that we had used our time wisely to experience different layers of this varied city. With a rich culture and history, booming night life, great food, friendly people, and stunning scenery, there's no reason not to grab your BFF and go to NOLA.
** AirBnb ** https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22359491?euid=364ed079-f7ff-ba73-9d1c-0743318e73c4