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Driving towards The Big Easy

sunny 26 °C


See this beautiful highway? This road was our last memory of Mexico - our payback for every wrong turn, every pothole, every tope, every roadblock and every detour. This was bliss - mostly toll roads, but plenty of free roads as well - each kilometre well-paved and scenic; we zoomed along towards our very last Mexican mystery - the dreaded border crossing.

Just as our trip began in Nogales, so it ended in Laredo - no big deal. First we drove through a booth to have our car sticker removed and our money refunded (this was done at the beginning of the trip - we paid $400 US to have a sticker put on our car; an initiative put in place to discourage illegal car imports). Then, we waited in line at the border for about 45 minutes - a typical day at the Peace Arch. Pleasant chat with the border guard, he wished us a safe trip and waved us through. And that was it - we were unleashed into Laredo at 8:30 pm, after a 10-hour drive from San Miguel.

After such an uneventful border crossing, we had an even more uneventful night in Laredo - we chose a Super 8 because we can't get enough of cheap motels that smell like cleaning fluids and ate granola and yogurt for dinner as the Burger King looked too scary and everything else was closed.

Our luck turned the next day - we stopped in Victoria, Texas for lunch and a little visit. Texas is pretty darn flat, as our friend Bey had warned - so we wanted to break up the drive a bit. Stephen had read about Victoria, and especially about their old-fashioned deli - Fossetti's - which has been around for decades. The young woman in the grey T-shirt (a Fossetti) allowed Steve to take a photo - she said she was "selfie-ready" at all times! And indeed she was - so funny - my "selfie" readiness could use a little tending to at this stage in our travels, and our re-entry into the U.S. is a good reminder of that.


We loved the d├ęcor - the long bar, the high wooden ceilings, the fans, the memorabilia. We also loved the clientele - very southern. The gentlemen in generously-cut suits, the ladies coiffed. Our waitress' black hair was teased, back-combed and beehived. We chatted with our neighbour; a charming man with fine manners and a very nice watch - he was in ranching. This deli was a microcosm of southern society - beautiful old town with gracious homes and gracious residents - all brought together over potato salad and peach cobbler. We ordered iced tea and sandwich plates - BLT's, chips and a dill pickle. I was disappointed not to have room for dessert.


We were driving through oil country, so stayed the night in Sulphur, Louisiana - and splurged a bit after our Super 8 - this motel was clean, quiet and civilized. Next morning , we headed out for New Orleans - first stopped to get a long-overdue oil and filter change and wash for the car, and feeling all scrubbed up and ready for the big city, we zoomed out of town, over the bridge, and right into the arms of a state trooper waiting at the bottom. Apparently Stephen was driving 69 in a 50 mph zone, but the argument that he was simply following traffic was not compelling enough to prevent a ticket. We have no idea the amount (it will be large, and we don't want to annoy ourselves by looking just yet as we have until June to pay it online), but here's the irony:

On our second day in Mexico, I was stopped by the feds for speeding and got away with it. On our second day in the U.S., Stephen was stopped for speeding and got nailed. We drove for thousands of kilometres in Mexico without mishap - no police bribes, no flat tires - none of the potential dangers/annoyances that could have happened. Now we're on what feels like home turf, and we have to kep our guard up.

But NONE of that could dampen our excitement and enthusiasm for arriving in New Orleans just two days before one of the biggest FREE music festivals - the French Quarter Music Festival begins tomorrow. I'll tell you all about the line-up in the next posting. Our friends Dave and Laureen are flying in tomorrow night, and we'll meet on Friday morning to begin some serious partying. In the meantime, some New Orleans impressions.

This brass band is one of many bands and buskers playing on the street, in addition to the scheduled line-ups


This young man is either waiting for a gig or working up his nerve to perform.


Bourbon Street - the most famous street in New Orleans, and for all the wrong reasons. This sign shows its origins (most streets have similar signs), but somehow Bourbon Street lost its way.


The locals hate the fact that Bourbon Street and New Orelans are synonymous, but tourists have to go there at least once. It is over-the-top in excess, bad behaviour and poor judgement. We've been warned to stay away, to be discreet with our money, and to not engage in the hustler's banter. Fair enough - our walk home last night gave us our Bourbon Street fix - no need to return.

The strip clubs make me sad - very young girls wearing almost nothing posing by doorways, visual promises of "topless, bottomless" inside and watched over by large, ponytailed doormen. You can't come to New Orleans if you are easily shocked or offended - everything goes here. But the young girls and boys get me every time - still young enough to tug at the heartstrings, but already lost and at the mercy of someone else's agenda - this for me is the dark side of New Orleans. The Huge Ass Beers, the frozen daiquiris, the yelling in the streets- they do seem to be part of the NOLA experience for many tourists - and for them, hopefully nothing worse than the inevitable hangovers.


Do they still call them "pasties?" Do they still use them?


Old-fashioned neon - this city is a treasure trove of old signs, both neon and painted.


On to more decorous, or at least more typically New Orleans signs. From this point on, I hope to show you images of the New Orleans we love. Like the graffiti and street art I found in Mexico, New Orelans is filled with fabulous graphic signs. This hat shop is a landmark in New Orleans


Who can resist Dr. Seuss? This shop is filled with Seuss-inspired paintings and sculptures.


The restaurant, Court of Two Sisters, a NOLA institution


Royal House - great spot for a mid-afternoon beer break


Cigar Bar - sweet aromas wafting out - if only we smoked!


Swamp Dog - Google it for a great story


Apparently being haunted is a selling point in New Orleans


Bargain drag show (although Ru Paul is in town at a different venue)


New Orleans-speak - "dat" is a real word


Cafe du Monde is another New Orleans institution.



Chicory coffee and beignets - hot dough dredged in 1/2 pound of icing sugar and dipped in milky coffee - mmmmm. The restaurant is cavernous and tended to by a squadron of ladies who careen around tables with heavy trays, and manage to clear, wipe tables, serve and collect money at an astonishing rate. The average turn-over on each table is a half-hour, so the line-up moves quickly. Great people-watching.

We left Cafe du Monde and crossed the street to see this sign on the back of a bike-taxi.
The World's Most Interesting Man has joined us for the Festival.


Psychics and tarot card readers do a big business in New Orleans. There were tables set up all over the French Quarter; possibly they have taken business from this establishment, as this lady had time to check her phone and survey the street.


The stores here could make you swoon. Everything from high art to low camp. These folks know how to merchandise - this is a typical window.


Every Wednesday is Music in the Park at Lafayette Square - last night the headliner was Kermit Ruffin. Music is free, and you buy tickets for beer, wine and the food outlets - all so good. We ate jambalaya, burritos, drank Abita Amber and had a perfect seat on the steps of the statue of Henry Clay. We chatted with folks from Alberta, New York City, Jamaica and Chicago, and had a grand time.


So much more - the magnificent architecture, the distinctive homes, the awesome live oaks, the food, the people, the music - all to come. Today we are off to see the Rebirth Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, and Irvin Mayfield - all on the waterfront stage. Thursday is a warm-up to the festival. Tomorrow we meet up with Dave and Laureen in the morning, and the fun begins.

I'll leave you with this image. It is perpetuating Louisiana stereotypes, but they're kidding, aren't they?


Posted by millerburr 08:02 Archived in USA

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Excellent. yep see you tomorrow Dave x

by dave robinson

Ok I am now officially a Swamp Dog fan!

by Jean

Your pictures and descriptions of New Orleans are bringing back such fond memories ... I can almost taste the beignets and smell the coffee! It sounds like you're having a marvellous time and the party hasn't even begun! Wish we were there!

by Heather

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