From St. Louis we packed up and headed towards the gulf coast. We rolled into New Orleans pretty late, making good time up until a traffic jam entering the city. The one-ways and side streets made finding our hostel interesting to say the least, and some of the neighborhoods we passed through didn't look that promising. Eventually we found the right street and checked in, right behind a couple of girls in from Texas and France.
The hostel itself was in a great neighborhood, with plenty of street parking, a safe location near a Wal-Mart and right down the street from the scenic Garden District. I'd go again, but the next time I'll be sure to bring along some earplugs and eye shades for sleeping. It was a nice place to hang out, with free breakfast, internet, parking, and a ton of friendly faces, but not everyone goes to sleep at the same time, and sound deadening can't be expected to be up to Hilton standards. Certainly not a big deal for the price paid.
Most of the trip centered around food, which I'll get to in another post, but I'll preface it by saying that the South, and New Orleans in particular, has a tremendous amount of good food, particularly if you love seafood as we do. We look forward to the time we can visit again when it's crawfish season.
As for sight-seeing, the first day we ambled up and down Magazine street uptown, which is the main touristy shopping district. Lots of semi-interesting antique stores, and even more not-so-interesting stores that sell antique-themed junk. This was our first taste of how football-crazy New Orleans is, as everyone had on their favorite Saints outfit, jersey, or whatever, and most of the signs had something to the effect of "Geaux Saints" or "Who Dat?" which was cute, at first anyway.
We met up with my old College room mate Alex, who has made a home in the city, and watched the Saints game with him at a local pizza place. We later went a few doors down to a bar, and were greeted by a massive crowd inside, probably 10 deep at both bars, and standing room only. To say it was surprising understates the situation by quite a bit from a Lions fan's perspective.
On another day, we decided to check out what was going on over in the French Quarter. Not much apparently - the area is home to the sleaziest of strip-clubs and sex shows, bars upon bars upon bars, and silly little Jackson Square, where the area's worst artists and musicians come to hock their wares, apparently. The place may have seemed cute in the evening or at night, when you have a few pints in you, but in the light of day it just looked like it was trying too hard, like the Carney sideshow that has overrun Niagara Falls.
We took the streetcar back to the Hostel. The streetcar thing would be quite the public transportation option if it went more places - as it is the city only has the St. Charles Ave line running as far as I know. It's cheap, seems reliable, and the center lane that they take up makes for a nice spot to jog for locals too. Plus, they give the area a feel of history and provide a good way for tourists to see the incredible Mansions that line St. Charles.
Just as we packed up, we met a fellow who was just stopping in the Hostel for some much-deserved R & R after biking 9000 miles from Canada, through California and Texas. His friend had continued on to Mexico, but this guy wanted to check out New Orleans first. His setup was odd to say the least - a mountain bike frame with flat handlebars, internal-geared hub, and drum brakes. He and his partner had also done most of the trip so far offroad, on singletrack. Impressive, no? His advice rang true to me - use what you know works, and when you're ready to go, just go. Don't overanalyze things, just start riding. He found no reason to train at all; he just started to ride 30-40 miles a day at first, and eventually got to a good rhythm where he was averaging 90 miles a day or so. Their plan was eventually to get down to Argentina, so if you see a British guy riding this down Latin America way, buy him a beer.
Our last bit of New Orleans was a Christmas light show outside of town, undoubtedly the highlight of the trip (besides the food). An entire park was lit up, a high school band was playing Christmas carols, and beautiful greenhouses were filled with decorations to help you get in the spirit. If that didn't do it, the Hot Buttered Rum they sold at the concessions did. Mmm.