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NYC2NOLA Road Trip 2011

Great American Road Trip: Alligators and all that Jazz…

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We started our second day in New Orleans by actually leaving the city and driving straight to the swamps! We went on Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters to witness Louisiana wildlife – alligators, turtles, water birds and snakes! On the way, we passed by some interesting architecture. Houses in the swamp and bayou areas, called Camps,  are built on seven to ten foot high stilts – to be protected during floods.

Louisiana style houses on stiltsArriving at the Honey Island Swamp, we jumped into the boats and went deep into Louisiana’s wetlands.

Swamps Louisiana honey islandNot long after the trip began, the first alligator came into sight…

alligator swamp louisiana… a very curious alligator, as it turned out, who showed a lot of interest in our boat, filled with lots of fresh meat!

alligator by boat swamp tour Back in town, we saw more alligators in the French Market…

french market alligatorsAlligator is a culinary specialty in Louisiana, and hunting season kicks off later this month. In New Orleans, you can try alligator meat in any form – in a burger, on a stick, in a soup… or just pick up a head as a souvenir!

It has not always been easy to find fresh & healthy vegetarian food since we got to the South, but we were pleasantly surprised when we found this delicious apple, pistachio, feta cheese and mixed green salad salad in the French Market – only one of many healthy food options there.

french market saladAfter our lunch break, we headed back to the French Quarter to continue the exploration which had begun on our first day in New Orleans.

New Orleans Jackson Square

new orleans french quarter balcony rocking chairs

new orleans french quarter balcony

As Saturday night in NOLA rocked into full swing, we chose to bypass the French Quarter and headed instead to Frenchman Street for dinner and jazz.

Jazz bar frenchman streetWe bar-hopped through several little jazz venues and not a single one disappointed – we heard some of the best live jazz we’ve ever heard!

Jazz singer frenchman streetWe ended our night at a bar where a band of ever-changing members of all ages and backgrounds flowed from song to song for hours, blaring their five trombones, tuba, sax and trumpet.

Jazz band new orleansHave you been to New Orleans? What are your favorite live music venues in the city?

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Great American Road Trip – We’ve arrived in New Orleans!

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Ah…the Big Easy, NOLA, N’awlins, call it what you will, we’ve arrived in New Orleans – the final stop on our NYC2NOLA American Road Trip! After eight stops (New York, Philly, Washington DC, Asheville, Charlotte, Charleston, Savannah and Atlanta) and just 24 hours in town, we couldn’t be happier or more impressed with this city.

bourbon street at night new orleans

Following in the footsteps of millions before us, we walked the well-beaten path directly to the French Quarter upon arriving in NOLA and ended up on the infamous Bourbon Street just as the sun went down. Tired from the 8 hour drive we didn’t make it very long, but we will most certainly be back to have at least one hurricane! Last night, we fell into bed at the InterContinental New Orleans, where we’ll be sleeping incredibly soundly for our five nights in the Big Easy.

Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters

We broke the fast this morning with brunch at the NOLA institution The Court of Two Sisters. A low-key jazz band made the atmosphere atmosphere unmistakeably New Orleans, as did the countless creative cajun seafood options. We found plenty of vegetarian food to stuff our bellies before heading to the Mississippi river through Jackson Square before hoofing it over to the Garden District.

New Orleans Garden District house

Several square blocks of impressive historical mansions sit along wide tree-lined roads, and the peaceful 4 mile stroll was incredibly relaxing.

What was supposed to be a snack ended up as a full meal when we stopped at Mahoneys Po-Boy Shop on Magazine Street for Fried Green Tomatoes and an Eggplant Parmigiana Po-Boy (a traditional Louisiana sandwich) before continuing our exploration of Magazine street’s unique independent little shops.

make me up new orleans magazine street

We continued our tour of New Orleans by hopping on the St Charles tram line (so cute!) and stopped at Lafayette Square for the kick-off of the New Orleans seafood festival. While nothing on the menu tickled our (vegetarian) fancy, we really enjoyed the Zydeco band Rockin’ Dopsie Jr, and if you like seafood and Zydeco music, you need to make any excuse possible to get down here for next years even!

New Orleans seafood festival 2011

A special Thank You to the New Orleans Visitors Bureau for all their help and Hotel Intercontinental for allowing us to sleep in great comfort.

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Great American Road Trip – Feelin’ peachy in Atlanta

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We left Savannah’s 90 degree heat and drove over 248 miles to arrive in a chilly, rainy Atlanta – our second to last stop on the NYC2NOLA road trip.

The dark cloud that loomed over us threatened more rain than it actually produced, but luckily we each had Atlanta CityPasses, which gave us the freedom to explore the best (indoor) attractions in Atlanta.

Atlanta skyscrapers

The CNN tour at the CNN building offers a fascinating look behind the scenes at one of the world’s largest TV stations. We saw studios, the newsroom, and learned why, despite being able to choose their own outfits, anchormen and women should never wear green.

CNN Jess

Next we headed over to the World of Coca Cola. At first, the experience is like jumping inside your TV into a Coca Cola commercial, but we’re glad we stuck it out til the end. The last room is a tasting center, where you can sample 64 different colas from around the world and tried out a hi-tech vending machine with every flavor of Coke you can imagine, including rare ‘Zero’ options like Pibb and Cherry Vanilla Zero. We gave up drinking soda a year ago for the most part, but this was like traveling around the world in 64 flavors: Inca Kola from Peru, a Melon soda from Thailand, and other drinks from as far as Africa or Germany (much to Dani’s delight!).

World of coke tasting room

Our City Passes also included Atlanta’s aquarium, which is conveniently located right next to the World of Coke and which is the largest aquarium in the world! We saw massive manta rays that reminded us of snorkeling in Belize, and 18 foot long whale sharks that made us wish we had made the trip to swim with them in their natural habitat in Holbox while we were in the Yucatan in Mexico.

atlanta aquarium whale shark

The most exciting part was the Behind the Scenes tour we went on which comes as standard for holders of the CityPass! The tour allows views of the exhibits from above. Here, above the giant tank with Mantas and Whale Sharks (can you spot him in the picture below?), we spotted six snorkelers! It turns out that for $275 you can snorkel in the tank, for $350 you can dive.

Atlanta Aquarium behind the scenes with whale shark

We got a good feeling of the city while walking around, from the downtown financial district to chic Buckhead, and from the charming area of Vinings to the up-and-coming East Point, where many of our favorite rappers come from. There was no stalking…though we may have also driven by Usher’s house. Maybe.

Atlanta building with muralAnother highlight was dinner at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, an Atlanta dining institution, where our good friend Nicole introduced us to classic Southern cuisine and desserts. We stuffed our bellies with ‘vegetable’ options like home-made fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese and vegetable soufflés (ah, the South!) and melt-in-your-mouth desserts like banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler.Sure, we might each out on fifteen pounds from this road trip, but we’re loving every minute of it!

Mary Macs Tea Room Atlanta

Thanks to the Atlanta Visitors Bureau for the great suggestions and helping us maximize our  short time in the city by providing us with a pair of CityPasses.

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Polaroid of the week: A roadside diner in Alabama

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polaroid of the week usa american dinner alabama

At noon on Thursday at a roadside diner in Alabama, six tables sat nearly 15 locals putting away chicken fried steaks and Angus beef burgers, all with a side of hash browns and a coke. Conversation varied from so-and-so’s unwell son, a recent business deal and there was definitely talk of a tractor. We ordered a waffle and a grilled cheese, and took the scene in. The only two from out of town, we couldn’t have felt more different. But the servers were actually super friendly, and there was a good-time atmosphere in spite of the fact that, looking around, there wasn’t much of anything to do in this town – ever. In fact, we don’t even really know the name of the town in Alabama where we stopped to eat. The best part of traveling, in particular this current NYC2NOLA road trip, is catching those glimpses of people around the world going about their every day lives.

Check out more of our Polaroid of the Week series or see a photo of the day on our GlobetrotterGirls Facebook Fan Page.

Follow along on our Great American Road Trip: NYC2NOLA here.

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Great American Road Trip – Raising the Spirits in Savannah

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They say Savannah, Georgia is a city built upon its dead…atop over 26,000 bodies, in fact. Victims of wars, Yellow Fever and infamous duels are buried just beneath parks, parking lots, and house plots throughout town, and are apparently quite easy to raise. This Labor Day weekend, however, in addition to traipsing through cemeteries, exploring haunted houses and hearing plenty of ghost stories, we have been raising a friendlier type of spirit here in town, too. We happen to be in Savannah just in time for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest 2011!

savannah craft brew fest

Since we have arrived in Savannah, it has been all about the beer! On Thursday, we GlobetrotterGirls were lucky enough to be beer judges at the professional tasting events to decide the top domestic beers for the festival. Best in Show accolades go to Plowboy Porter, a micro brew from Missouri.

Beer Tasting

The Craft Brew Fest officially opened with a beer dinner on Friday, where we sampled as many beers as possible while nibbling on cheese & crackers (who says cheese only goes with wine!).

cheese board craft brew festival

Yesterday’s Craft Brew Fest beer festival was all about home-grown brews. We drank various domestic beers from around the country such as RJ Rockers, Magic Hat, Sweet Water beers and Woodchuck Cider. We were really amazed to see how many people came out to the festival, which is growing exponentially from year to year.

beer float Savannah Crafts Brew Fest
Our first Beer Float!

Of course, we’re not only drinking beer here…we have explored the city’s squares, cemeteries, and sampled both the world famous Leopold’s Ice Cream (top ten in the US) and Mrs. Myrtles Cupcakes. We recommend you go to both while in town – your heart won’t thank you but your taste buds will!

Cupcakes Savannah

Needless to say, we are loving Savannah so far, and with only two days left- have some mega exploring to do, along with more heavy beer drinking this Labor Day weekend.

Dani & Jess at Craft Brew FestStay tuned for further adventures in Savannah, followed by our next step – Atlanta! If you have suggestions for us on what we should see or do in Atlanta or New Orleans, please share! You can get in touch with us here in the comments, or on Twitter or our GlobetrotterGirls Facebook page.

A special thanks to VisitSavannah for inviting us to the Craft Brew Fest and to the Westin Hotel for accommodating us so comfortably.

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Observations from the halfway point on the Great American Road Trip

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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.

Palm Tree Road Palm Island South CarolinaHowever, until we have time to process this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is difficult to produce poignant generalizations or in-depth posts, but that will come in time. For now, at the halfway point, we have come up with a list of some observations to be made about this Great American Road Trip 2011. We hope you enjoy!

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 sandwich3. 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.

alaska lisence plate5. 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.

Our Ford Focus at Boone Hall Plantation

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.

road trip garbage9. 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. Unlike with 3 star chains and above, with these Super 8, Motel 6, Days Inn, Red Roof Inn brands results may vary – big time!

red roof inn motelWe 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.

Stay tuned this weekend – rumor has it that we GlobetrotterGirls will be judges at a beer tasting event during the Savannah Craft Brew fest this weekend here at the Westin!

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Great American Road Trip – The Carolinas: From Charlotte to Charleston

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Phew… Road-trippin’ is hard work! Between the massive detours to avoid Hurricane Irene and driving through severe thunderstorm warnings two days later, it’s been a crazy couple of days on the road, but we’ve also been having an amazing time. We spent yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina exploring the downtown, the adorable NoDa area and driving through the gorgeous mansion and tree-lined boulevards of Dilworth. We especially loved the great outdoor sculptures downtown.

skull sculpture charlotte downtown

We met Andi of My Beautiful Adventures for a late lunch, and had such a good time! This road trip, and indeed the majority of our life on the road, has been about as much about Who we meet as Where we go and this was no exception. We’ve communicated online back and forth for the last year on Twitter, Facebook and our sites, but when we finally sat down a major girly chat took place and we all really regretted not having more time (and bottles of wine!). Instead, it was back in the car and on to Charleston, South Carolina.

Charlotte road signs

A three hour trip turned in to a nearly six hour adventure, thanks to a severe thunderstorm in the area. At one point, the wall of water pouring down reminded us of our recent trip to Niagara, and instead of staying on the side of the road we actually excited and took shelter in a McDonalds in Columbia, the state capital. Back on the road after an hour, we continued through the storm and had an easy last 60 miles to Charleston.

charleston mansion entrance

What a city! Downtown historic Charleston oozes with charm and is remarkably different than anywhere in th U.S. we have visited so far. The hot and humid weather, the clapboard houses and palm trees reminded us at times of Belize, other times the cobblestone streets and colorful rows of mansions looked like Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama.

charleston ornaments

At no time could we compare this city with anywhere else in the U.S., though tomorrow night we will head to Savannah, and have heard many comparisons between these two southern cities from our readers.

charleston king streetWe would like to say a special thanks to Explore Charleston for providing excellent sightseeing passes for us to maximize our time in the city.

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Great American Road Trip – Asheville, NC and the Appalachian Trail

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We feel so lucky to have been able to avoid the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, and can’t imagine how difficult it is for everyone in the affected areas at the moment. We also feel pretty lucky to have had the opportunity to discover Asheville, North Carolina, a spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains we otherwise would not have ever visited on this  New York to New Orleans road trip.

asheville street north carolina

‘Keep Asheville Weird’ is the motto of this small but strong city filled with proud independent shops and a population of creative artist types who fight to keep it that way.  Being on the road we pass through countless restaurant and hotel chains, and start to wonder where the individuals have all gone. What a relief it is to find an entire town so focused on keeping things local.

asheville mural

Asheville is also a great base to explore the truly stunning mountains of western North Carolina. Just 30 minutes north is the town of Hot Springs, set smack dab on the Appalachian Trail, which makes its way over 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. We hiked just a small portion of the trail, and spent some time in town, where there was an eclectic mix of hardcore mountain hikers resting and refueling, groups pumped up for white water rafting which leaves from Hot Springs, and friendly bikers giving their Harleys a break from day cruising through the endless green mountains.

hot springs rafting north carolina

15 minutes south of Asheville is the charming village of Biltmore, purpose-built in the 1890s at the entrance to the Biltmore Estate, still the largest home in America. The village is packed with shopping and independent restaurants, and for the road-trippers out there, a great aspect of a visit to Biltmore is the free parking throughout the entire town!

biltmore buildings north carolina

Tonight we sleep in Charlotte, NC and are ready to explore here tomorrow morning before heading back to the coast, on to Charleston, South Carolina. We would love some advice on what to see and do in Charleston, our next two-day stop, or the following stop in Savannah, Georgia! Tweet us, leave us a comment on our Facebook page or comment here. We will try to do as many of your suggestions as possible and let you know here that day if we took your suggestion!

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

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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 Virginia

Today 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

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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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