A Travellerspoint blog

48 hrs in the Big Easy

semi-overcast 25 °C

We finally arrived in New Orleans at about 9am on a sunny morning, but absolutely shattered after our <30min kip on the floor of Houston airport. Into tropical climes - the air was humid and heavy, a welcome change from the arid desert we'd been in. We made a quick trip to a former colleague of Angi's charter school, which was great to see – it was a challenging urban school that had been in a total mess but was starting to be turned around by solid leadership and proper pupil discipline and was getting to be a model of order. It had its own vegetable garden that the kids tended to and from which they ate their school lunches – although we were in a bit of a tired, travel-rumpled state to really appreciate it (or have much contact with the kids!); then we checked into our hotel and slept 'til mid afternoon.

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Got up then and had a wander around town. It's another very interesting, very distinct place – one description in the Lonely Planet (or 'The Book' as we refer to it) is that it's the northernmost Caribbean city, which makes a lot of sense – it definitely feels more non-1st world in the way of the pace of life, the infrastructure and the division between locals and tourists. We are staying smack in the middle of the French Quarter which is the major touristy concentration of bars, music places and voodoo shops. We quickly start to fall in love with the town as we realise that everyone is obsessed with music and food – our kind of place!

We gorge ourselves on Creole and Cajun cuisine, eating (deep breath): Fried oyster po'boys; A 'muffalletta' – ham, provolone and olive salad in a bun; turtle soup (no, really! A bit like the EAT chilli soup but much tastier) served with a dash of sherry; jambalaya (chicken, sliced sausage and rice in a spicy tomato sauce); gumbo (similar but saucier and with more stuff thrown in); chicory flavoured coffee and beignets (gorgeous little flat rectangular doughy doughnuts dipped in masses of powdered sugar); fried alligator chunky bits; fried green tomato and crawfish au gratin; and finally some fantastic pig preparations at a place called Cochon: hogshead cheese (like a soft pate made of the head flesh, all made on-site), a ham hock cooked on (and falling off) the bone and the cochon itself – a delicious pie-shaped serving of the shredded rib flesh.

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We decide that we could easily stay here for a fortnight, eating massive meals out every lunch and dinner. There really are so many world-class restaurants that it wouldn't be difficult to do at all. We also had a quick wander around the Garden District and Magazine Street, ogling the beautiful Southern houses, visited a bizarre art gallery full of saucy pictures a lesbian artist had drawn of Hillary Clinton, and (of course) caught some great live jazz. We went out to see some music both nights, both nights half way through the band's set they were joined by some wrinkled old crooner with a dodgy backstory but with the voice of an angel.

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On Friday we got up early for the long drive to ATL and the Bhole clan. To be honest we were a bit hungover and unprepared for the gruelling 500-mile drive that we had ahead of us so it was a tough day. The highlights was getting stopped for (and then let off from) speeding in Alabama. Thank you English accent! We drove through four states: impressions are Louisiana (flat/swampy), Mississippi (flat/river delta), Alabama (roadside greenery like England but very very rednecky), Georgia (can't remember, too tired).

Jon

P.S. As a footnote, I also ate breaded snake goujons in Arizone, meaning I've eaten I think my first three reptiles within the space of one week! Turtle is the best so far. [Don't worry, I checked it wasn't endangered first]

Posted by pendleton 11:23 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Go West Young Man

Life is peaceful there

sunny

From Vegas we headed to the Grand Canyon, or to be precise to Tusayan which is the one-horse town closest to it.

The big crack itself was.. very big. And very difficult to figure out the scale of (most of it is around 10 miles wide and a mile deep down to the river) as your eyes just lose focus as you look across it. We had an excellent walk/talk with Ranger Pat and a bunch of kids, explaining that the rangers have to protect the Indiana Jones-style top-secret archeological relics that actually exist down in the Canyon and also telling us about different ways to look at time. The rocks at the bottom are about 2bn years old - half the age of the earth!

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From there we drove to Phoenix, missed our flights, managed to send our luggage to NOLA on a second flight which we then also missed (as we didn't have enough time to get to it, honest), eventually caught a third flight to Houston, TX later that evening, spent a marvellous night sleeping in the airport, and finally caught our flight to New Orleans at 6am, looking and feeling like death warmed over.

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Jon

Posted by pendleton 23:40 Archived in USA Comments (0)

When I Go To Vegas...

sunny 21 °C

So, Las Vegas is a madhouse. It's a sort of colossal desert monument to excess of any kind, be it gambling, drinking, smoking, sex, food or entertainment.

The casinos are full of people pumping money into the slots or the tables (and in turn having free drinks pumped into them by scantily clad service girls) 24-7. All the bars are open 24-7. On the street young men proffer cards offering "Hot girls in your room in 20 minutes for $40" (which brings to mind the old corporate adage that a project can be delivered a) on time b) on budget or c) to the required spec, but never all three together). It's bonkers.

We tried the buffet at our resort on our second night there, which involved a lot of queuing and average food. On the third night we hit the Strip, went to an excellent sushi/fusion food place and enjoyed a tasting menu which involved such delights as 'Kobe vs Wagyu beef head-to-head' and then went to see a magic show (Lance Burton, one of the creepy old-school top-hat-and-tails & bringing kids on the stage sort of magicians, not the homoerotic tight pants and leather new-school ones). Then we wandered around a bit more looking at the sights and sounds and drinking martinis.

I put $1 in a Star Wars slot machine on my way to get breakfast and took $73 out. That was pretty much the extent of our gambling.

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We tried to get married (again) but couldn't find a chapel that would do it for less than $200 (and that wasn't even an Elvis wedding) so it wasn't to be (Sorry Maz...)

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Jon

Posted by pendleton 15:40 Archived in USA Tagged food Comments (0)

Jonny Rhythm R.I.P.

Our friend Jonny Sedassy has passed away after a long fight with cancer. Always at the centre of the party, he will be missed a great deal. Have fun up at the party in the sky, buddy.

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(in the top hat)

Posted by pendleton 15:45 Comments (0)

California Lovin'

sunny

The Golden State, land of dreams and opportunities. We've seen a fair cross-section of it in the last week. Two days in San Francisco wandering around and soaking up the culture, two days in the picturesque rolling hills of the wine country and then we hit the road.

First we tackled the all-american classic, Highway 1. The route of Beat poets, beatniks and freakazoids throughout the ages. It's an amazing winding coastal road which feels like it barely clings to the jagged cliffs jutting into the sea at times. Nothing I've experienced in this life has ever felt more like being in a video game, like Outrun. Fantastic, amazing scenery, especially around Big Sur, a real feast for the eyes. Also it was the furthest west we'd ever been, looking over the Pacific! The first evening we watched the sun set right down to the horizon. We stayed one night in a hostel by a lighthouse at Pigeon Point and almost got blown away looking for gray whales on their migration returning from Alaska to Mexico. Didn't see any :(

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From Cambria we headed inland to see some of the National Parks. The countryside here continues to amaze, it's just.... vast. It's on a scale unlike anything we've seen in the UK or in most of the other places we've travelled. Distances become elastic as you can easily spend 30 minutes crawling along the same section of road between two distant points. We passed through more gently undulating green hills, very green with lots of land to pasture, then flat open farmland with farms selling aubergines, avos, oranges, tomatoes, nuts, tasty baked stuff and elk jerky, straight from the ground/bush/tree/animal. We move higher into more rugged, Peak district-style hills with exposed rocks underneath, then higher still into lushly wooded hills. This is Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP, home of some of the biggest living things in the world. Higher still into the evergreen coniferous forest, and there's still hardpack snow on the ground here. We see General Sherman the giant sequoia tree, the biggest living thing (by volume) on the planet. Fun fact, the tree has been named for a Civil War general famous for his brutal 'scorched earth' policies towards the South – we've actually heard people muttering about how he'd be called a war criminal these days. We came back down the crazily winding road, through another glorious sunset, and then overnight in Bakersfield. Which seemed like the most villainous hive of scum and villainy that we've yet encountered. It took us a while of shopping around hotels to find one that didn't seem full of brasses and thieves. We had to go a bit over budget so dined on Pot Noodles in our nice hotel room.

(look out for Angi in the bottom right...)
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Wednesday we drove up over the Sierra Nevada mountains , down into the bare terrain of the Panamint valley, up into more mountains and then down into Death Valley. Stark, brutal terrain, with the road coalescing out of a strip of blue mirage ahead of us. Lots of warning signs about having lots of water, keeping you car topped up and basically not dicking about in case you die. Amazing that we were walking on snow the day previous and sand dunes today. There is a bit of a dearth of lodging available here at the moment as it's peak wildflower season, so we have had to stay at the expensive Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch. Appropriately for Death Valley, it's full of really old folk who look like they haven't long to go, with crows circling all around. And there are masses, coachloads of people here, loads more folk than we've come across anywhere else outside the cities. It's a slightly odd atmosphere, the Dharma Initiative in Lost meets Jurassic Park. And it's 190 feet below sea level!

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We spent the next day driving around Death Valley. It's a huge area, the national park is bigger than the state of Delaware. There are various sights and viewpoints within the park but a lot of them are a touch underwhelming, the most interesting things are some of the amazing vistas and Badwater, the lowest point in the continental USA and the hottest place in the world. We were turned away from one of the scenic drives by the rangers, on the grounds that "There's a guy up there that doesn't want you to go up there"...

Last night we drove over the state line into Nevada and to Las Vegas. Which has to be the weirdest place we've been yet. It's a 24-hour city which has a place in the American mythology as some sort of Shangri-La where you come out to play. You can even smoke at the bars here! We checked in about 11pm, had a shower, then a martini in the hotel bar and then collapsed into bed.

We've taken loaaaaaads of photos but the cable we need to upload a lot of them has gone AWOL at present. I'll repost this with lots more pictures when it's possible.

Also, it's my birthday soon! Cards might be a bit difficult. We will be in Atlanta over the weekend of March 20th but for the big day itself we'll be in Guatemala, I can collect any mail sent to our spanish school at www.sevillantigua.com. And the ebay shop is still open... http://stores.ebay.co.uk/pendleton-odyssey

Jon

Posted by pendleton 12:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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