We were very lucky to find that Megabus had just launched new services in the US and so they were offering a special introductory fare of just $1 per person on all routes from Miami and Orlando – which meant that our tickets from Miami to New Orleans came to a grand total of $6 (including the booking fee). After a fairly comfortable 19-hour journey, we arrived early in the morning at a very humid bus stop in N’awlins – ready to celebrate my birthday!
Our first stop was the famous Cafe Du Monde for birthday beignets (french donuts). They were served warm and covered in icing sugar, which made them pretty tricky to eat – but they were delicious!
We spent the rest of my birthday exploring the beautiful French Quarter. Just walking around the city we can see that it differs the most from the other American cities we’ve seen so far. Although parts of it are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina (you do see the odd abandoned house with smashed windows that’s been reclaimed by undergrowth), it’s got a wonderful character and life all of its own.
After a day of walking around the city, we decided to sample another famous New Orleans staple – a Po-Boy. We went for Johnny’s Po-Boys, which had been recommended to us by someone in our Miami hostel, and we were happy with our choice – but I think where to go for the best Po-Boys in town is a hotly contested debate!
We finished off the day with a visit to Preservation Hall – established in 1961 to perpetuate and protect traditional New Orleans Jazz. The queue was huge, but we were lucky enough to get front row seats to see Lucien Barbarin leading the Preservation Hall All Star band and it was incredible. There was no recording or photography allowed during the performance – but you can see some videos of performances on the Hall’s own YouTube channel here.
Deciding we needed to see a bit more of the city than the French Quarter and Treme (the neighbourhood we’re staying in), we took a free walking tour of the Garden District. This was a place where wealthy newcomers to the city in the 1800s built opulent mansions, many of which are still standing and occupied by celebrities such as Sandra Bullock and John Goodman. It’s also where Lafayette Cemetery #1 is located – which has been used as a set in films such as Interview with the Vampire.
It was really interesting to learn about why New Orleans’ distinctive tombs are designed the way they are, and we got to see some of the more famous mansions in the city – including the Nolan House (used to film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and a house on Prytania Street where Django Unchained was filmed.
As we’re not visiting during Mardis Gras – which is generally in February or March – we went to Mardis Gras World, which is a working warehouse where the magnificent parade floats are designed and created. We got an overview of the history of New Orleans’ Mardis Gras, tried a slice of ‘King Cake’ – which is only normally available during Mardis Gras season – and wore some of the real parade costumes. We also got a behind-the-scenes look at the floats being made for next year’s parade and a look at some of last year’s.