We stayed in New Orleans over the New Year and were pretty amazed to find that there was an RV park right in the French Quarter. Then we found out that it cost $250 a night. So instead, we opted for Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburb of Westwego, a short, 20-minute drive from the city center on the other side of the Mississippi, all for just $20 a night.
Here, we were in a right next to a cypress grove and swamp, where air boats were taking tourists out on alligator-spotting tours, but we didn't even need to venture that far to appreciate the local wildlife, because our campground was full of armadillos. One of them resided right where we were set up, and each time that we returned to the campground after dark, we found him (or her) noisily digging for grubs around our trailer. Shane was so excited about this that he would have been outside taking photos all night every night if it hadn't been raining.
Another big bonus of camping in Westwego, which is a large fishing area, was that we were right next to several seafood stalls, where you can buy fresh shrimp starting at $3.50 a pound, crawfish, crabs, scallops, red snapper, bass and trout, as well as alligator meat, frogs legs and a huge range of sausages; basically everything you need to cook your own Creole feast.
The downside of camping next to a swamp was that when we had torrential rains for a couple of days, the campground became pretty swampy itself, with the roads in and out covered in over a foot of water in some places. This did not present a problem when driving in The Beast, which has massive tires, along with everything else, but we wouldn't have wanted to try it in a normal car.
What can we say about New Orleans itself that hasn't already been said about its 400-year French, Spanish and American history, its amazing jazz heritage and its incredible music scene today, its 18th century architecture or its food?
Many visitors find New Orleans intoxicating and we were no exception, but after many weeks camping in remote, rural areas, and having just visited Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi, which were pretty tiny by comparison, we were even more excited to experience such an amazing confluence of cultures and to be back in a big, vibrant city, pulsing with life. Needless to say, we fell for NOLA immediately.
We loved the St Charles Streetcar, the oldest continuously operated streetcar in the world; the elegant avenues and mansions of the Garden District; the beautiful City Park, containing New Orleans Museum of Art and its amazing sculpture garden; exploring Tremé and Louis Armstrong Park; walking around The French Quarter and The Marigny at dusk as all the gas lamps came on; browsing in independent bookstores; enjoying the hip vibe of Uptown; eating chargrilled oysters. We particularly loved the fact that you could walk up Frenchmen Street and hear world-class music emanating from most of the venues along it.
A big thanks to all our family and friends for their excellent tips, especially to Kathryn’s brother-in-law Martin, a jazz musician in the UK, who suggested we found out where his friend and reed player James Evans was playing and headed there. We did so and saw him play a great set with Aurora Nealand and The Royal Roses at The Maison on Frenchmen Street; one of several local bands that we loved.
When it comes to jazz venues, by the way, we could have spent every night propping up the bar at The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street hearing incredible music (such as Sarah McCoy, pictured in the main photo above), but if we’d done that, Sonny would have had to learn to drive. Just ask CNN’s Don Lemon.
A massive thank you also goes to our friend Elana, who having lived in NOLA, gave us a huge list of things to do and places to visit, including where in Uptown we could dance on a pool table and eat cheese fries until sunrise, which we didn’t quite manage, and where we could order a chilli cheese omelette as big as our heads, which we definitely did!
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.