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NYC2NOLA Road Trip 2011

Savannah, GA – Get outta town! To Bonaventure and Tybee

savannah spanish moss

After a few days, we come to a point that we just have to get out of Savannah.

Not because we hate it…on the contrary, we consider pulling the emergency brake on this nomadic life to stop for 91 days in Savannah like our friends Juergen and Mike. After all, there is so much to see in dreamy Savannah. We just want to explore two places we kept hearing about, so we just hop in our rental car and headed to two popular places outside of the city center – a graveyard and an island. If you’re looking for day trips from Savannah, read on:

Savannah Day Trips

Bonaventure Cemetery

As one of the stars of the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Bonaventure Cemetery outside of Savannah is one of the most beautiful we have ever visited, easily on par with our favorite Gothic cemeteries in London, the colorful cemeteries of Latin America or the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Savannah Day TripsEntering through the main gates, we find ourselves on a tree-lined road, a slight breeze blowing through Spanish moss draping down from the centuries-old trees causing an eeriness among the calm. We lock up the car and wander aimlessly between the graves for hours, reading inscriptions on the tombstones that tell succinct life stories of German settlers, Jewish merchants and Southern generals buried here.

gravestones at bonaventure cemetery in savannah georgiaThe cemetery is quiet and peaceful, and somehow traipsing over grounds filled with dead bodies takes on a romantic feeling. Bonaventure is set along the Wilmington River, and is home to unusual flowers, plants and trees, which add to its unique atmosphere as do the incredible obelisks, statues and tombstones which are as much works of art as tributes to the dead.
bonaventure cemetery angels

Tybee Island

Relaxed after exploring the serene cemetery, we are curious to see tiny Tybee Island, just outside of Savannah. A short 30-minute ride through the marshes, and suddenly we are in an entirely different environment. The ocean comes into view, and along the quaint main street colorful one-story buildings house surf shops, souvenir stores and seaside restaurants.

Savannah Day TripsA wide sandy beach stretches around most of the island, inviting us to lay like lizards and recharge in the late afternoon sun. We could have rented a kayak or cycled around the island, but we are feeling lazy. Later on, we do make our way to the Tybee Island Lighthouse, which is Georgia’s oldest and tallest, and one of the few lighthouses from the 18th century that are still in use.

tybee island lighthouseLike many places we hit on the road trip, we wish we would have planned in more time here on the beach, to laze around, maybe rent a cottage and take in the gorgeous sunsets at night…how could we know just how many places throughout the south would appeal to us so much. Instead, this is just a day trip, and we are back in town by nightfall.

Savannah Day Trips

How to take this day trip from Savannah

Take the Island Expressway to Tybee Island, or take the detour that passes Bonaventure Cemetery: follow the Truman Parkway and then turn east on the 80, get off at Bonaventure Cemetery, and then get back onto the 80, which will meet the Island Expressway again.

 
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Vegetarian Dixie: The Best of Southern Food

savannah breakfast at clary’s

We. Love. Food. One of the best things about traveling is the new food we try in each new place we visit, and our NYC2NOLA road trip was no different. We were super excited to try all the local specialties and from New York until we hit the South, this was a piece of cake. However, it turns out that finding vegetarian dishes in the Land of Dixie is a challenge when plates are normally piled high with pork, chicken and shrimp. We did manage to belly up to some fabulous southern restaurants for some traditional soul food. If you’re planning to visit the Southern USA and are looking for some great vegetarian food, these are some places we loved:charleston mac n cheese sandwich

Vegetarian food in the Southern USA

Vegetarian food in Atlanta, Georgia

Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While visiting a college friend and Atlanta local on our road trip this summer, she insisted we dine at Mary Mac’s, an Atlanta institution which has been serving up classic Southern cuisine since Mary MacKenzie opened it in 1945. 60 years later, this old school southern restaurant serves up southern staples like country-fried steak, chicken pan pie with gravy and sweet potato soufflé, and always with the utmost, genuine southern hospitality. To start, all diners (most of whom are locals – this ain’t no tourist trap) are served ‘potlikker’ (broth of cooking up greens) with bread – and though this usually have chicken in it, the waitress organized us two vegetarian bowls of the stuff. Mary Mac’s is meat-heavy Dixie food, so we both opted for the vegetable plate of four sides, which was a great way to sample several small plates of Southern food. We were already familiar with the Southern Vegetable Plate concept from our road trip stops at Cracker Barrel along the way.

vegetarian food southern USABetween the two of us we had broccoli soufflé, cheese & vegetable soufflé, fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese, coleslaw, a vegetable medley, fried okra, and of course, a side of fresh home-made corn bread on the side. For dessert the three of us split the banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler, which were all seriously good, before waddling out to the car.

Vegetarian food in Savannah, Georgia

This open-minded everyone’s-welcome city may not have many purely vegetarian restaurants, but plenty of places in town have veggie-friendly options on the menu.

Breakfast at Clary’s
You might know Clary’s already from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which hosted many of the scenes of the film. This traditional diner opened over 100 years ago, so they know a thing or two about pleasing local customers to keep ’em coming back for more. Veggie options here include mouth-watering Stuffed French Toast, Eggs Benedict or the ‘Elvis’ – thick-sliced sourdough toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas, the sandwich the King made famous. You can also try classic Southern items such as griddle cakes (pancakes), Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns, grits or Biscuits & Gravy.

savannah breakfast at clary's

The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
We have a special place in our hearts for our home-base in town, the Westin Savannah Harbor– where we not only had the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in, but a staff that went above and beyond the call of duty for us. We happened to be in town for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, which was held between the Westin and the neighboring convention center. We got to talking food to Westin’s General Manager Mark Spadoni, and once Mark discovered that we did not believe an intersection of classically Southern and vegetarian food to be possible, he put a challenge out to the head chef to create just that: a classically Southern vegetarian dish. Less than twenty minutes later we were each served a soft, succulent grit cake topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and green asparagus, lightly covered in a subtle, yet tangy sauce. Until that night we hadn’t touched grits (they just seem so slimy), but this grit cake blew us away with its flavor and consistency. Mark made sure to follow this up with two pots of blueberry crumble cake – which literally melted in our mouths.

savannah grit cake at the westinThe ‘Vegetarian Food Challenge’ was a one-off, but we also had the Sunday brunch held in the hotel’s Aqua Star restaurant – which might just be the best brunch in town! Brunch staples such as made-to-order omelets and waffles, blintzes, hash browns and all the meat you could want (bacon, sausages, beef medallions, lamb, etc), an entire table of sea food and sushi, fresh made-to-order penne pasta dishes, garlic bread, salads, and a dessert buffet that would alone be worth the price: fresh macaroons, éclairs, pies and cakes of all varieties, ice cream, homemade chocolate truffles and pralines, chocolate covered strawberries, bread puddings, crème brulee and mousse, and the Westin Savannah’s signature dish – bananas foster.

sunday brunch at the westin savannah

The Distillery
The Distillery is first and foremost a beer lover’s bar, with hundreds of craft brews to choose from, and though not really a veggie-hangout, we left the place absolutely stuffed. Along with the Black Bean Burger (which we went back for it again the next night) we sampled the grilled cheese, deep fried pickles (surprisingly good) and soft pretzels with a variety of dips. We could also have ordered  a hummus plate with veggies and pita bread, sweet potato or stout fries served with home-made Creole remoulade or chili & ale cheese. We could have ordered a salad without the meat, as well, but somehow the deep-fried pickles seemed to go so much better with craft brews. To top it all off, the owner Michael decided that us two out-of-towners needed to try his ultimate southern dessert creation – a deep-fried moon pie a la mode. Whether this sounds delicious, disgusting or just plain dangerous to your health – order it. Just once. It’s so good!

savannah deepfried pickles at the distillery

Vegetarian food in New Orleans, Louisiana

In the land of gumbo, jambalaya and po-boys, it was not easy finding vegetarian food in the Big Easy – but we managed to find a few top spots for vegetarians in town.

Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters
One place where we found plenty of options was at the Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch, which we would recommend to anyone visiting New Orleans.  The tables are set in a shady, breezy courtyard  surrounded by flowers under a canopy of trees. A jazz trio entertains guests with live music at the perfect volume to still hold a conversation. The sprawling brunch buffet has a generous selection of breakfast and lunch items and if you are not a vegetarian, you can eat your way through dishes like creole seafood omelets, ceviche, spinach and crawfish pasta, seafood mousse, roast beef and chicken breast and shrimps. We enjoyed brunch staples like eggs and potatoes, creative waffles and delicious salads, and with the bottomless coffee we enjoyed classic Southern desserts like Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster or Mardi Gras King Cake. Do not waste your time like we did at the disappointing Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues – which serves up a limited brunch (eggs and hash browns, the only veggie options), put on a forced show to tourists and they kick you out when the show ends after an hour. The Court of Two Sisters brunch is an authentic, relaxing experience any day of the week.

jazz brunch at the court of two sisters new orleans

The French Market
This foodie market is a collection of some of the freshest, healthiest options in New Orleans. We loved Meals from the Heart, where we gobbled up a Black Bean soup with fresh avocado. Then we ordered an amazing salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, pistachios and apples from Albertos Cheese & Wine, right next door. More than just simple stands, these two market eateries have completely different, yet equally veggie-friendly dishes. Meals from the Heart is run by a friendly New Orleans native, while Albertos is run by Spanish Alberto and his Mexican wife. We even went back to Albertos for a second salad we just could not forget about – the mixed vegetable salad with walnuts and gruyere cheese. Yum!!

vegetarian food southern USA

Mahony’s Po-Boys on Magazine Street
Po-boys are traditional Louisiana sub sandwiches, the most classic option is stuffed with shrimp so not a dish we thought to try. One day while strolling along Magazine Street, we discovered Mahony’s Po Boys, a laid-back po-boy shop with several veggie options. We couldn’t resist being able to sample this NOLA staple, and tore in to the eggplant parmesan po-boy. We rate it as only okay, but that is because we compare it to what might be the best sandwich in the world – the New York-style Eggplant Parmigiana sub sandwich. However, the other options – like the grilled cheese po-boy or fried green tomato po-boy – we would probably have really enjoyed. We had the the fried green tomatoes on the side and loved them.

vegetarian food southern USA

Café du Monde
Dani’s favorite thing about being vegetarian on the road is that any and all local sweets are not only an option, but an exercise in intercultural understanding. Translation: it is our duty to try the sweets. We could not leave New Orleans without stopping in at the city’s most famous institution: Café Du Monde. This French-influenced, Chinese staffed New Orleans cafe on the Mississippi River has one of the simplest menus in town. Eat the famous beignets (deep-fried dough pastries covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar) and drink the Café au Lait (coffee with milk) made with chicory. The beignets were so good,  we ordered a second plate right away.

beignets & cafe au lait new orleans cafe du monde
This is not a comprehensive list of veggie-friendly Southern restaurants, so please add your suggestions on where to get great vegetarian food and also any tips on other typical southern dishes we need to try on our next trip through the south.

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Dreamy Savannah in pictures

savannah spanish moss

Savannah, Georgia, was one of the destinations on our New York to New Orleans road trip that we both looked most forward to, having wanted to visit this little town in Georgia for a long time. We both had certain images of the town in mind before we even arrived: grand Victorian mansions, little squares with locals reading the papers on the benches, trees filled with Spanish moss…

And when we arrived, we were not disappointed! Savannah turned out to be one of our favorite places in the U.S., and we loved the small-town feel, the friendly people, the independent cafes and walking the tree-lined streets for hours and hours.

Enjoy Savannah through our lens:

savannah lionssavannah sculpture

savannah sculpture

We love the public statues in the squares around town…

savannah red houses

savannah building

savannah purple yellow house

savannah houses…and can easily imagine living in one of these gorgeous buildings…

savannah church...hell, we could even find religion – these churches are so beautiful!

savannah butterflyThis butterfly fluttered by us in a square…

savannah historic house…on our way to this supposedly haunted house.

savannah architecture

savannah georgiaThe details around the town make Savannah such a unique city…

savannah turtles

savannah black lions

fish rain gutter…with unexpected quirks that make you laugh out loud…

savannah theater

savannah architecture…and intricate, yet crumbling features that make us realize Savannah’s rich deep history…

savannah statue

savannah fountain figureWe could easily spend hours in the squares of Savannah…

savannah forsyth park…but seriously, couldn’t you?

savannah gravestonesSoldiers chose to spend time in the graveyard instead and trampled it – leaving mismatched or unmarked graves.

Savannah GeorgiaWe were so charmed by the sprawling properties…

savannah spanish moss…and even more so by the Spanish Moss…

savannah vintage cars

savannah sunflower gate

savannah windowEverywhere we looked, tiny details were just begging to be discovered in Savannah, and we can not wait to go back for more!

Savannah, Georgia: Practical Information

If you plan a visit to Savannah, we recommend For 91 Days in Savannah – anecdotes, advice and photos from three months in Savannah, now available on Kindle, by our friends Mike Powell and Juergen Horn.

Tours we recommend in Savannah, Georgia:

 

 
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Great American Road Trip 2011 – From D.C. to the Blue Ridge Mountains

asheville street north carolina

As Hurricane Irene approached Washington, DC last night we weren’t sure where we would end up today, but although our plans were completely rearranged, a little serendipity seems to be a great thing!

The original NYC2NOLA road trip plan was to pass through Richmond and Jamestown, Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks and Wilmington, NC and then on to Myrtle Beach before hitting Charleston, SC on Monday. Instead, we headed out of DC and spend the day driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains on our way to Asheville, North Carolina.

Farm in VirginiaToday was one of those deliciously perfect road trip days. The ominous clouds hanging over DC and Alexandria very quickly gave way to sunny skies, just as gentle green hills rolled up on either side of us. We sang to old school classic rap on the satellite radio and stopped off at the classic American roadside restaurant Cracker Barrell, where Dani had uh-mazing Cherry French Toast.

French toast with cherriesDespite passing by the Bristol Motor Speedway, which is hosting a major Nascar race event, there were almost no cars on the road with us as we weaved and curved through the Blue Ridge Mountains, stopping off at viewpoints as they came up along the highway.

Blue Ridge Mountain Road

After driving through three states (Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina), and literally as the sun was setting we pulled in to our hotel outside of Asheville, North Carolina surrounded by 360 degree views of fresh green foothills. We can’t wait to go hiking, explore Asheville and the nearby town of Biltmore tomorrow before heading to Charlotte tomorrow night.

sunset in asheville north carolina

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Great American Road Trip 2011 – Irene and MLK go to Washington

north america road trip

What a day in the nation’s capital! We started off with bikes from Capital Bike Share and visited an interesting diner in Northeast DC called Capital City Diner. It sounded like a great local gem – the diner was bought on eBay and shipped over on a truck from New York. Unfortunately, the restaurant really needs a makeover from the Food Network’s Robert Divine.

Capital City Diner outsideAfter that adventure, it was back on the bikes and over to the Capitol Building for a free tour. The architecture of the building is really incredible and worth taking the free 45 minutes to discover it!

Capitol Building Washington DC

We took a whirlwind tour of the memorials, a couple of museums, peeked at the original Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, but the best part of the afternoon was visiting the brand new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The memorial has undergone a soft launch this week, although the official dedication has been postponed thanks to Hurricane Irene. Seeing the crowds of proud people taking pictures around the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial made the weight of the momentous occasion hit home. Plenty of visitors take pictures of the other memorials, but it felt like everyone was taking pictures with the MLK Memorial.

Martin Luther King Memorial DC

Tomorrow is still very much up in the air thanks to Hurricane Irene. We hope that we are able to leave DC and travel south tomorrow!

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Observations from the halfway point on the Great American Road Trip

north america road trip

Since we started this NYC2NOLA Great American road trip, we hit NYC,  Philadelphia and Washington, DC, before we were forced to forgo Virginia Beach, Wilmington and Myrtle beach and made a hurricane detour through the mountains of North Carolina to Asheville, then on to Charlotte, before rejoining the original course down to Charleston, South Carolina and now into Savannah, Georgia. We have been loving every minute of this on the road lifestyle. However, until we have time to process this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is difficult to produce poignant generalizations or in-depth articles, but that will come in time. For now, at the halfway point, we have come up with a list of some Great American road trip observations. We hope you enjoy!

American road trip observations

1. There are Germans everywhere.

Being a German-American duo, of course we love Germans and are happy to meet them along the way. It’s unbelievable how many Germans are traveling through the U.S. at the moment – at times there seem to be more German tourists than Americans! The only problem is that German is our ‘secret’ language we use when we want to gossip, speak privately in public or even carry out a polite argument (which does happen!). It’s still better than speaking our only other shared language, Spanish, which far too many people can understand here in America for that to be private.

2. Southern food is not diet food.

Since hitting the Carolinas last week we have learned that here, Mac’n’cheese is considered a vegetable (!). We certainly make no complaints about the availability of the cheesy, delicious pasta dish, but it plus buttered carrots or fried green tomatoes are about as much roughage as we have gotten from any restaurant so far. We did a nice big fruit/veg shop yesterday to get us back on the healthy track again.

charleston mac n cheese sandwich

3. It’s hot.

Last year at this time we were in Mexico. It was hot there. Last June, we spent three weeks in Tucson, and it was extremely hot then. But nothing compares to the intense humidity of late August here in the South. Sightseeing sure isn’t easy, though historic homes, museums, even CVS are welcome stops on our days out in order to soak up some air-conditioning as often as possible.

4. Americans love to road trip!

We have managed to spot license plates from nearly all 50 states, including both Hawaii and Alaska. Today alone we saw 4 Ohios, 2 Illinois, a Wyoming, a California, that Alaska and others, highlighting the willingness of Americans to cover massive distances in the comfort of their own cars.

American road trip observations

5. Southern Charm and Southern Hospitality are alive and kicking!

People actually talk to you, a complete stranger, about nothing at all and happily so. The men are so helpful and chivalrous, while the women change it up between calling us baby, sugar and sweetie, and sometimes all three in one sentence. I am adamant about the friendliness of Americans over all (friendly chit chat and conversations that make many Europeans uncomfortable) but down here, there is a warmth (unrelated to the weather) that is unfamiliar to me as a northerner.

6. Having a rental car is expensive.

Even though we locked in to an amazing initial rate,  this car is draining the budget quickly. In addition to the rate, we pay the insurance, the gas, the parking -$10 minimum per day fee in any parking garage, toll roads and one parking ticket so far. But again, what is a road trip without the car – so we’re cutting back in other areas to make up for it.

American road trip observations

7. All of America is suburbanized.

As soon as we cross out of the city limits, the pattern of suburban strip malls is strangely so familiar. We drive down one long four-lane road with well-spaced stoplights at the start of each new strip mall, with chain stores showing up in nearly the same pattern: McDonalds, Taco Bell, Hardee’s, Wendys (out front) with Home Depot, a bookstore or a supermarket (further back), followed by a smaller strip mall that as been there longer, this one with a China Buffet, a Hobby Lobby, a SuperCuts, maybe a card store and a dollar store. We love the flair that has remained in the downtown centers, but the suburbs everywhere are all the same.

8. Being environmentally-friendly travelers on an American road trip is hard.

Too hard, we say. In America we both find shocking the degree of apathy toward planet-friendly behavior. Even food we pick up from the supermarket is heavily wrapped or packed in plastic and hotel chains (the cheap ones) use styrofoam cups and plates for breakfast as if it weren’t common knowledge that this material doesn’t biodegrade at all. Health and Safety Standards for people have now become so illogical they override being good to the planet – the worst is McDonalds (shame on them!), who won’t even pour coffee into our travel mugs at all.  We have to buy the coffee in the paper/plastic cup and pour it in ourselves, defeating the purpose of a travel mug and killing the planet all at the same time.trash in the car

9. Road Trips with iPhones/iPods are on a completely different level.

Not only can you download city maps and walks for each city, but the actual time spent in the car is so much more controlled. We can listen to whatever we want – music, podcasts, audiobooks, rather than flip between the two or three local stations which, for whatever reason, tend to only play country music – from as far north as Quebec, all the way down to Charleston.

10. The quality of these common roadside hotel chains varies drastically – even within the same brand.

We have been lucky to spend many nights in beautiful big hotels and charming gems, but have also booked in to some of the more common roadside chains. In Washington, DC, the room we booked at the Days Inn was spacious, clean and on par with some 3 star hotels so we went ahead and booked in to one on our last minute trip to Asheville, NC. For nearly the same price, the room was shabby, and the complimentary breakfast was so disappointing it was not an option. One of the most interesting American road trip observations is that unlike with 3 star chains and above, with these Super 8, Motel 6, Days Inn, Red Roof Inn brands results may vary – big time!

American road trip observations

We are now in Savannah, relaxing in comfort at the Westin Savannah and planning our day out in Savannah tomorrow thanks to the incredibly thorough Savannah travel guides by For 91 days and VisitSavannah.com.

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Go Beyond…Bourbon Street, New Orleans

new orleans louisiana pictures

If you like to alternate woo-ing at the top of your lungs with gulping alcohol from a plastic cup on the street, you might think that the open container laws on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street were written for your convenience. A more likely scenario stems from the fact that this famous street was once the very pulse of the city itself, and lively celebration a nightly occurrence.

Of course Bourbon Street was on our radar on our big trip to New Orleans, but after our overpriced Hurricanes from Pat O’Briens and a few minutes watching booze-thirsty tourists falling out of tacky ‘dance’ (read: strip) clubs, we kept right on walking…and walking…and cycling…and riding…

bourbon street new orleansWhat we discovered were neighborhoods as distinct and unique as the city itself, brimming over with culture, class and a style which ignited a passion for New Orleans inside us we could never have expected. Read on for our tips on going beyond Bourbon Street for an unforgettable New Orleans experience.

Wander the French Quarter

In New Orleans, the most unique city in the U.S., we were constantly reminded of places we have been around the world. Most predictably, this happened first in the French Quarter – but not exactly why you might think.

Bourbon Street is located in the French Quarter, which means wandering just a few blocks brings you to sleepy side streets lined with with gorgeous colonial architecture. What we didn’t expect was that the Spanish influenced this quarter as much as the French, having been in power here from 1762-1803. The ‘Rues’ (French for streets) were also marked in Spanish with decorative tiles typically seen in Spanish cities like Madrid even today, and because two major fires ravished the quarter in the late 1700s, Spanish design like wrought iron balconies and central courtyards replaced much of the previous French construction. In reality, however, most of the 2,900 buildings in the quarter are either Creole, Greek revival style or, post-Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in the traditional Victorian style of the day. We were actually reminded of another city colonized by the Spanish here. A walk through the French Quarter reminded us of Casco Viejo, in Panama City.

french quarter new orleans

Eat and shop at the French Market

Popular with tourists and locals alike, the French Market is also located in the French Quarter, just off famous Jackson Square, and stretching down to the Mississippi from there.

A popular trading post since 1791 when the Native Americans traded herbs and spices to French, Spanish, Italian, German and Caribbean immigrants, today the most well-known eatery has got to be Café du Monde. In this French-influenced café, we washed down beignets with chicory coffee served by an entirely Chinese staff. Only in New Orleans.

what to see in New OrleansThe sprawling market is also home to a European-style food market (where we had delicious salads), and a flea market packed with tourist kitsch and musical masterpieces. Digging through albums and CDs reveals music by New Orleans locals – those who made it big, and those who plow through life proudly playing small stages seven nights a week. The lesson we took home is that New Orleans pride goes beyond anything felt in other cities (save for New Yorkers). The people know their history, their roots, they love their local musicians and their place in the music world. Transplants to New Orleans don’t just end up here, they come here on purpose, and at times, have more knowledge and pride than even the locals.

Faubourg Marigny

One late afternoon we cycled through the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, just as the blazing New Orleans sun had admitted defeat and begun its descent.

The golden glow colored the classic Creole cottages, which reminded us of the clap-houses of Belize, each reflecting the love invested by its residents. Some of these colorful one-story houses are falling apart while others keep neatly manicured gardens and watch the world go by from rocking chairs on their front stoops.

New Orleans beyond Bourbon StreetYears ago, the French Quarter claimed fame with its Dixieland jazz, but today, Marigny’s Frenchman Street is ground zero for live music in New Orleans. The locals don’t want you to know that, though, and are more than content with you staying over on Bourbon Street.

But I’ll never forget what was sadly our only night out on Frenchman Street. It was the experience that signified the culmination and purpose in our 30-day road trip from New York to New Orleans. Live music flowed out of every tiny joint. People poured out onto the sidewalks. A mix of vintage bombshells and bikers covered in leather and tattoos were back-slapping and laughing so genuinely together. The kind of friendliness you see in films from the 40s or 50s and wonder if strangers were ever that friendly to each other. We hopped from bar to bar, each with their own live band spitting jazz, blues and funk, and ended the night watching a dozen or so guys pound out a two-hour, never-ending jam on five trombones, a sizzling electric guitar, three screaming trumpets and two booming tubas. The players were a mix of black and white dressed in hipster skinny jeans and baggy hip hop pants, teens and a couple with salt and pepper in their hair. It may have been the booze, but more likely the beats that made my heart swell at bearing witness to this entirely unique scene happening nowhere else in the world like it does on Frenchman Street.

frenchmen street live music

Outdoor Art at the Sculpture Park

Although we had already achieved that happy ending of our road trip, the access to creativity didn’t end. For a combination of art and a cool breeze, we cycled up to the Sydney Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a park with meandering footpaths to view the over 60 sculptures by artists from around the world. We spent over an hour relaxing and admiring world-class art for free. The sculpture garden is open seven days a week, so perfect for whenever a peaceful escape is needed.

what to see in New Orleans

Magazine Street

Before we visited here, I imagined Magazine Street to be similar to London’s Fleet Street, which was historically home to the newspaper and media industry through the 20th century. Quite the opposite, in fact, Magazine refers to the French world for shopping ‘magasin’. Mainly window shoppers these days, we managed to walk for miles and miles, peeking into the hundreds of charming, unique shops and restaurants that give this part of New Orleans a local, small town feel.

magazine street new orleans

Cemeteries and Voodoo

It seems like we are always talking about cemeteries, but the ones in New Orleans are legitimately distinct. Because the city is built on swampland, all white above-ground tombs form “cities of the dead,” more similar to cemeteries in Latin America than anywhere else in the US. The easiest to reach on foot from the French Quarter is the St Louis Cemetery #1 on Basin Street.

This cemetery is the burial place for legendary Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. We easily spotted her tomb. The dozens of X’s scrawled across it gave it away, but the offerings that believers leave are what’s truly interesting: alcohol bottles, cigarette packs, but mostly, and strangely, lip balm. Chap-stick. Why, we don’t know.

what to see in New OrleansLaveau was famous as an oracle, performing private rituals behind her cottage in St Ann Street in the French Quarter. A devout catholic, her influence on Louisiana Voodoo affected many aspects of the practice first brought over by West Africans before mixing with French, Spanish and Creole customs and beliefs.

Today, the offerings are made in return for favors believers ask of Marie Laveau even in death and even gamblers shout her name for good luck. It is rumored, though entirely unofficial, that her grave has more visitors than Elvis Presley’s grave at Graceland.

How to Go Beyond Bourbon Street

Streetcar: New Orleans runs several streetcar lines, used as a major mode of public transportation for the city. These antique vehicles run for long distances. In fact we would recommend riding at least one from end to end.

New Orleans Beyond Bourbon StreetBicycle: New Orleans is an easy cycling city (avoid summer midday heat) We rented two groovy bikes from the American Bike Rental Company in the French Quarter. The enthusiastic owner provided helpful maps with areas to visit and others which are better to avoid.

New Orleans Beyond Bourbon Street

Where to stay in New Orleans

Most of the international hotel chains are located in Downtown New Orleans, on the western shore of the Mississippi River. Inside the French Quarter, you find a number of boutique hotels, but if you want to get to know New Orleans beyond the French Quarter, I recommend staying in Faubourg Lafayette just south of Downtown New Orleans and the Warehouse District.

 

If you want to stay further out, in the Garden District for example, you’ll be better off looking into Airbnb’s since there aren’t any hotels in the Garden District. However, there are a couple of B&B’s / vacation rentals, I’d recommend:

  • The Garden District Bed & Breakfast – a beautiful B&B in a historic home right on Magazine Street. Double room starts at $115 per night, including breakfast.
  • JT’s Hidden Gem – a holiday home that feels more like an Airbnb than a Bed & Breakfast. Double rooms start at $119 per night.
  • Luxury Historic Shotgun Home – a two-bedroom house in the Lower Garden District. The entire home is a vacation rental, gorgeous house with a porch and beautiful interior. The house starts at $119 per night.

 
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New Orleans: Get outta town! Swamps, alligators and plantations

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Although we could spend months immersed in that particularly sweet blend of  New Orleans urban life, there came a point during our visit where we just had to get out of town…what we discovered were the rural roots that throughout history have melted together to make the Crescent City so unique.

new orleans louisiana get outta townOut on the Bayou

The picture of Louisiana I had in my head had been formed by the movie ‘No Mercy’. A very 80s Richard Gere plays a Chicago cop gone to N’Awlins to settle the score with some gangsters. He ends up having to escape them with a seductive Cajun woman, played by an equally 80s Kim Basinger, by trudging on foot through the swamps of Louisiana.

louisiana swampsI wasn’t interested in the danger but wanted to experience what life out in the Louisiana Bayou was like. In New Orleans we had seen plenty of tour options to explore the swamps, most of which take place in Honey Island Swamp, the closest swamp to the city. We opted for a tour with Cajun Encounters, who pick you up at the hotel and use smaller, slower passenger boats instead of fast airboats, as they are quieter and made for getting up close and personal with much more wildlife.

louisiana turtle & swamplandThe hour drive out to the swamps meant passing by camps, or houses built on seven to ten foot high stilts. We’ve done a lot of road-tripping through the States, but I’ve never seen anything like these houses, completely off the grid and built to withstand massive floods and hurricanes.

louisiana house on stiltsWhen we arrived, 16 of us were loaded into our boat and greeted by Captain Mike, who was Louisiana bayou through and through. Between rolling his cigarettes and drinking his coffee, Mike entertained us with stories about growing up in the swamps and we sat, mesmerized at the deep southern drawl escaping through his tar-stained teeth.

swamp boat tour louisianaI couldn’t have felt safer with anyone else for our day of alligator-spotting along the Pearl River, a wide river bordered by huge cypress trees covered in Spanish moss on both banks. The river led us into narrow channels where the still water was covered by a thick layer of green algae and looked like a bright green carpet undisturbed on the top of the water.

louisiana swampsIt didn’t even take ten minutes until we spotted our first alligator, and we all jumped to our feet for photo ops as our captain beckoned them to approach the boat with pieces of meat.

alligator in the river louisianaWe saw plenty more of these giant native lizards sun bathing on the shores and wading discretely just under the water’s surface, along with turtles and birds like herons and eagles. Then, as we were taking in the beautiful scenery around us, Captain Mike announced he had a surprise for us: He introduced us to baby alligator Brian, only six months old and barely as big as my hand. We all got to hold him and feel his smooth white skin.

baby alligator louisianaLater, we drifted past a few very basic houses up river. Old boats tied to rickety wooden piers and porches, some ravaged by weather and storms, others with families sitting outside waving as we go by. “Cajuns,” explains Captain Mike. “Couldn’t be happier out here, these families, but plenty of ‘em moved into the city a long while back.” We only notice that these houses look like people are having a great time, even boasting water slides that drop right from the porch into the river. Yes, the same river that we just went alligator spotting in. When we asked, Mike answered only, “Tough guys, Cajuns are,” with a glint in his eye.

houses in the swamps of louisianaThe Laura Plantation

We had learned so much from our visit to the Boone Hall plantation in South Carolina and couldn’t wait to visit a Creole plantation in Louisiana, though we weren’t entirely sure what ‘creole’ really meant.

While Cajuns descended from French settlers in the Canadian provinces who relocated to Louisiana, Creole people were originally the first generation of French and Spanish settlers born in the Louisiana colony. Two very distinct cultures at the time, people often mistakenly combine the two today. Creole plantation owners were some of Louisiana’s most successful businessmen, and although having a New Orleans ped a terre in the French Quarter was common, most of the hard work and daily lives were primarily based out on the farm. It was a two to three day boat-trip to the city back then, but now, at just an hours’ drive away, we squeezed in a visit to two different properties.

laura plantation porchThe first stop was the Laura Plantation, and we arrived just in time for a tour of the house, grounds and gardens. Originally named l’habitation Duparc after the Duparc Family who owned the plantation in the late 1700s, today the property (named after the great granddaughter who sold it) is one of the best preserved examples of a creole plantation. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable. In fact our guide was a direct descendant of some of the landowners in the area, a true Creole with a working knowledge of French, English and the French Creole dialect.

Laura plantation pantry louisianaWhen asked to clarify questions on Creole culture, we learned how Creole business practices were reflected in the architecture of the main house of the Laura Plantation, and, as we made our way to the slave cabins in the back, he explains another significant aspect of the creole plantation. Pre-Louisiana Purchase, the mainly West African slave population could purchase their freedom from their earnings on the plantation. Thousands actually did, until the practice was made illegal when Louisiana joined the United States in 1803. They joined a free mixed-race class that had developed over time when (white) Creole men took black mistresses in addition to their wives, creating second families. The children’s education was paid for, and the family of the mistress, if slaves, were set free.

laura plantation gardens louisianaAlthough a co-existence of free blacks and slaves is hard to understand now, the role these racial attitudes played in the culture of New Orleans certainly played a major role in making the New Orleans of today so distinct from the rest of the country.

Oak Alley Plantation

After touring Laura Plantation, we continued our until suddenly a row of impressive oak trees came into sight. We had arrived at Oak Alley Plantation, named after the 800ft long alley of 300-year-old oaks on either side.

oak alley plantation louisianaAffectionately referred to as the “Grande Dame of the Great River Road”, this Greek-style antebellum mansion continues to impress today with its towering oaks and the 28 massive white columns that surround all four sides of the house. In fact, Oak Alley Plantation has hosted some of the world’s biggest celebrities. Brad Pitt’s character Louis in Interview with a Vampire called the mansion home, and more recently, Beyonce and Jay Z star alongside Oak Alley in Beyonce’s Déjà vu video, filmed here in 2004.

oak alley plantation louisianaOn the day of our visit, we were the last guests of the day and had the place to ourselves. Amazed at what a grand entrance the trees make, I sprinted the 800 feet and back and then we explored the grounds, including the modest cemetery where the most recent owners and their pets are buried. We had essentially a private tour of the house by a beautiful young Southern belle, dressed in traditional costume. She told us stories of the owners throughout the years and that, like the Laura Plantation, Oak Alley had been a sugar plantation and how, after releasing the slaves post Civil War, the plantation could not sustain operations and was auctioned off for only $32,800 in 1866.

old oak at oak alley plantationAs we drove back into the city that evening, we felt like we had a much more profound understanding of the city: the people who created the French Quarter and those free blacks and slaves who would have gathered together on Congo Square, and how the music grew to reflect the struggle and the celebration of the people of New Orleans.

road with oaks in louisiana

We’d like to thank the New Orleans Visitors Bureau who helped make our trip to the plantation possible. All ideas and opinions, as always, are our own.

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Great American Road Trip – Nothin’ but love for ya, NOLA

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Every day spent in New Orleans leads us closer to hiring a real estate agent – we are loving it here in NOLA that much! Fluctuating feelings of respect vary between immense reverence for the incredible landscape of swamps, bayous, lakes and the wildlife and people who inhabit it, and the deep respect of the entirely original, utterly eccentric culture that exists here among NOLA locals.

New Orleans skeletonsOur third day in town began with a gospel brunch at the House of Blues, which, although geared to tourists, managed to get tables of stiff, slightly uncomfortable white folk clapping and waving after platefuls of classic southern food and free-flowing mimosas, which was served by tattooed hipster types. For a more authentic gospel experience, we would prefer next time to head into the Tremé neighborhood and spend a Sunday morning in St Augustine’s church, minus the brunch and with a whole lot more of that clappin’ and wavin’.

gospel brunch house of blues new orleans singersAs the mercury hit 95 oh-so-humid degrees, we drove north through an hour of nearly uninterrupted swamp land to visit the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, LA. At one hour and twenty minutes, this plantation tour was by far the most-well organized and informative we’ve been on since setting off on this NYC2NOLA road trip three weeks ago. The subject matter stretches from the history of the four generations of the family who ran the plantation to a deep, insightful look into 18-19th century Creole culture of French and Spanish, German and West Africans, concepts like free blacks vs slaves, languages spoken, architectural style and a quote we’ll never forget: Louisiana didn’t join up with America, America came to Louisiana (in 1803 with the Louisiana purchase).

Laura plantation pantryJust down the road, the Oak Alley Plantation is a more traditional plantation, and we managed to jump on the final 5pm tour, which we had all to ourselves.

oak alley plantationBack into the Big Easy for dinner on Magazine Street we drove,  before retiring to our second to last night at the InterContinental…It is hard to believe that our time in the city is almost over.

Time has flown by, and this road trip from New York to New Orleans is coming to an end. We will be writing about our discoveries in much more detail over the next few weeks, so please stay tuned for acute observations on our discoveries in the South.

New Orleans streetFor now – make sure to read tomorrow for an important road trip announcement! If you enjoy the pictures, like us over on Facebook for a photo of the day, everyday, and follow us on Twitter for daily updates on our globetrotting adventures.

Whether you and your partner are heading off on a short vacation or a long-term trip together, we would love to recommend The Art of Couples Travel ebook for terrific insight (two chapters of which written by us!) on what life is really like when a couple heads out onto the road together.

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Reality check in Rap City | Atlanta, GA

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When people meet know Dani and I, they are often surprised to find out that we are both huge fans of rap music. But I can remember way back in 1993, being 13 and rapping to Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle CD in the mirror with my best friend. At that time, suburban white girls were probably not who Snoop had imagined his demographic would be, but he hooked us and millions of people just like us around the globe onto rap- including Dani, all the way over in Germany.

So when the two of us put our heads together on places we wanted to see on the southern part of our NYC2NOLA road trip this year, we were thinking as much about the Dirty South as we were about Southern Charm and Georgia Peaches.Atlanta skylineFor us, Atlanta is a music Mecca: smooth R&B artists like Usher, Monica, Keri Hilson and TLC and some of our favorite rappers like T.I., Ludacris, Ciara, Soulja Boy and above all, Outkast. As we planned our trip, however, we just couldn’t figure out to make the Atlanta music a tangible part of our trip. I am still not entirely sure what we expected, but there seems to be no way for an average visitor to interact with the music scene in the way that is possible in New York with its made-for-tourists hip hop music tours or the ease of hanging out in the blues bars of Chicago, country bars in Nashville and the live indie rock scene in Austin. Instead, we opted to hope for the best and find it when we got there.

After all, music wasn’t the only reason we wanted to visit Atlanta – in fact one things we love about Atlanta’s main attractions is that they are truly unique to the city: the Behind the Studio tour at the CNN center, the World of Coca Cola and the Olympic Park area. We accomplished all of these only-in-Altanta attractions and fit in a visit to the famous aquarium and Mary Mac’s Tea Room, which you can read about here.

Dani and I looked high and low, but found no signs of a visitor-friendly connection with the city’s music scene. There are hip-hop and R&B concerts, but none on the days we were in town (during the week in early September). When we were recommended Lov’n It Live, a raw vegan restaurant in East Point, an alarm sounded in my mind. East Point? Andre 3000 from OutKast is from East Point – let’s go! (Rap is not an omnivore-only thing – vegetarians and vegans love rap too!)

east pointAfter a half hour drive from downtown Atlanta, it turned out that Lov’n It Live was closed and East Point is a pretty bleak, lower-income yet ‘up-and-coming’ area similar to where we lived in Deptford, London. What did I imagine? Rappers on every corner or that OutKast would be holding a free concert in the park? Of course not…but still…

We discussed our rap city reality check on our last night in town with a friend who really wanted to help. Very much a Southern Belle, however, she could only reveal that Usher used to live on the same road as the governor’s mansion. At first light, before heading out of town for the long drive to New Orleans, we attempted to find Usher’s mansion and though we didn’t know exactly which on it was, the size of these incredible southern homes could only confirm that Usher has done very well for himself since his ’97 hit ‘You Make Me Wanna’.

Ah well, the road trip must go on. We left Usher’s ritzy Buckhead area of the city, rolled down our windows, blasted a mix of OutKast, T.I. and Ludacris and rapped our way right out of Atlanta. We were headed west to New Orleans, our final stop on the NYC2NOLA 2011 road trip, and home to the most authentic (and easy to find) music scene in all of America.

great american summer.

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