Spring Break Down South
Day 1 (ish)
Our first clue should have been the error message we received when we tried to book into our Southwest Airline flight. Hopeful everything was fine we arrived at the airport early and tried to check in. Our connecting flight from Denver to New Orleans was cancelled. It appeared that many of Southwest’s flight were cancelled (the result of the 787 Max 8’s being grounded). I have never experienced a cancelled flight so I asked what we should do. The counter person, seemingly unaffected by our predicament, suggested we take the flight to Denver as scheduled and then fly out the following day to our final destination New Orleans. After following her advice and clearing security I called our travel insurance only to discover it would have been better to try to find another flight through a different airline as our coverage was much better ($2500/person) than to book a hotel for the night ($250/person).
We did have a fabulous time exploring Denver after sorting out whether there was another flight we could take or if we needed to book a hotel for the night. After connecting with Avion Visa Insurance and figuring out our insurance policy we booked a room at the Westin. The room was beautiful and right at the airport which is great seeing as we still had a flight (fingers crossed) in the morning.
From Denver airport there’s a rapid train that goes right into the downtown core. After changing into the warmest clothes we had we took the train to Union Station which took about 30 minutes. Denver really reminded us a lot of Portland-which we love. The person beside me on the flight had recommended checking out the RiNo district, an area full or street art and breweries. It was bumping!! As we walked from the train station through the area around it (LoDo) we left behind the wild and inebriated crowds celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. We stopped at Denver Central Market for pizza and a drink, Our Mutual Friend for a beer and Black Shirt Brewery for a night cap before heading back to the hotel for a good night sleep.
Woke up around 8:00am and packed up. The airport was crazy busy but our flight was on schedule. FUN FACT (but not really): Southwest doesn’t have select seating, instead they do general boarding which meant for both flights Craig and I didn’t sit together. Denver to New Orleans was 2.5 hours from wheels up to wheels down which was great other than the fact it was crazy turbulent. Getting the car from Enterprise was once again a very enjoyable and easy experience. It took about 2 minutes to check in and the counter person was able to change our booking, because of the cancelled flight, not charging us for the lost day. We had selected a mid-size SUV in our booking (learning from the East Coast Road Trip that a small car doesn’t work for our style of road trips). I was hoping to get a RAV4 because I’ve thought about owning one so figured it could be like an extended test drive but they didn’t have any. In fact, they didn’t have any economy SUV’s at all so they offered us a 2019 Cadillac XT5 at no charge. What a beautiful vehicle!! It has everything-all the safety features, navigation, start-stop system and built in wifi!!
En route to our Airbnb we did our customary grocery shop at Trader Joe’s for all the breakfast, snacks and lunches we needed for the first couple of days. Not eating out for every meal not only saves money but just makes life easier.
Our Airbnb was super cute and in an awesome area. Easily accessible to the French Quarter by Blue Bike or Uber. After arriving and unpacking we Ubered into the thick of it. Sunday night St. Patrick’s Day on Bourbon Street was an assault on the senses. It was full of people, music, dancing and drinking. After enjoying a frozen margarita as we walked down the middle of the road taking it all in, we had a bite the eat at Gumbo Shop. After dinner we went to see the muddy waters of the Mississippi and as we walked we noticed people gathering along the streets and heard music blaring from vehicles with people throwing beaded necklaces from floats. A night parade hailed us to watch and we joined in the festivities. By the end of the night my neck was adorned with beaded necklaces (Craig’s too).
We took our time getting up, not because we were hungover, but from the lingering colds we both had. Having heard a lot about beignet I knew I wanted to try one. We took a couple Blue Bikes from our place to Café Beignet. They were SO GOOD!! Basically beignet’s (pronounced ban-yay) are powdered sugar covered warm delicious southern doughnuts. Definitely not the healthiest breakfast, they did fuel us on our bicycle and walking tour of Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District.
It was interesting to see the beautiful homes in the Garden District that once housed the wealthy white families who were the owners of cotton plantations, politicians of the time, or other business people and entrepreneurs. The architecture ranged from Creole, to Greek/gothic revival, to Swiss Germanic. All with beautiful high-ceilinged verandas taking advantage of cross breezes coming from the nearby Mississippi, painted “haint blue” a colour thought to ward off evil spirits and as well as detract winged insects from nesting. My favourite addition to many of the houses and buildings, unique to the local area, were the gas burning lanterns that burn day and night. We read in one of the travel guides that J.H. Caldwell, a theatre manager and gasworks industrialist who arrived in 1833, wired up his house with gas lamps to “ward off evil spirits as well as illuminate his residence at night” sold his wealthy neighbours and business owners on the idea and inevitably made an incredible amount of money.
When we finished our walking tour we got back on a couple of Blue Bikes and headed to the French Quarter so that Craig could get some photos of the buildings during the day not swarmed with people.
After coming back to our accommodations for a rest and something to eat we headed back out to Killer Po’boy for dinner. I think I started following them on Instagram when I searched #neworleans or maybe from Pinterest “vegan eats in New Orleans” while we were making travel plans. Either way I wanted to check them out because they allegedly had delicious vegan Po’boy’s and sandwiches. The food was good but not incredible. I think the most off-putting thing for us was (albeit they were closing soon) the staff was not friendly AT ALL. We could see, and hear, the annoyance of the kitchen staff that we had (God forbid) ordered something. I’m not sure how their food stacks up against other places in New Orleans but I definitely wouldn’t be hurrying back anytime soon based off our experience.
From there we headed to Frenchmen Streets jazz bars. We were not disappointed. The street was full of places to go. We basically just walked up and down the street listening from the outside to the band playing to decide if we wanted to go in and enjoy the rest of their set. After checking out 2 bands at Bamboula's we walked by The Maison where we hear the most capturing female singer who literally drew us into the club with her voice and stage presence. Within moments we were “getting low” because that’s what she was telling the crowd to do…so obviously we did as we were told! Definitely a great street to check out if you love live music.
We packed up and headed out for the 4 hour ~ish drive to Selma and then onto Montgomery.
We arrived in Selma at The National Voting Rights Museum 30 minutes before closing. When we looked online in said they closed at 4:00pm but they actually close at 4:30pm, we were stoked. The museum gave us a real understanding of the movement and the chain of events leading up to and after “Bloody Sunday.”
After the museum we walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge. For us the crossing was easy, unlike that what the non-violent protesters went through in 1965. The architecture of the bridge is quite arched so when you are walking across you can’t see what’s on the other side until you reach the summit. The pose and control the people marching would have had to maintain after seeing what was on the other side would have been incredible. I can’t imagine how afraid many of them would have been. The driving force must have been knowing the importance of what they were fighting for-the vote. After taking our time in Selma we followed the 54 miles route that the demonstrators walked to Montgomery. We planned to go into Montgomery that night but we were both so tired we decided not to instead we stayed in and watched Netflix.
We got up early and headed to the Rosa Parks Museum and to Montgomery's Civil Rights Museum. Both were very well done with tons of information, lots of different elements and interactive displays. The Rosa Parks museum had a "time travelling" bus that you ride which takes you back in time, showing videos leading up to and surrounding the bus boycott with a focus on Rosa Parks involvement in the civil rights movement and eventual arrest for not moving to the back of the bus. It was supposed to be for kids but it was so well done I would recommend anyone to check it out. The Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery was incredibly well done. Old Jim Crow segregation signs from pools, drinking fountains, waiting rooms, restaurants and more were displayed exhibiting the restrictions blacks had to endure. The museum drew a threw-line to present day of the continued oppression black Americans experience through systemic inequalities. Historical quotes from politicians, doctors, and scientists making outrages claims and justifications that blacks aren't as smart as whites, that blacks can't feel pain and don't need anesthetics for surgery, they need to be beaten to be keep compliant, and were considered lesser than or worthless compared to whites was tremendously hard to read. I couldn't help but draw parallels to the treatment of animals in factory farming. Claims that animals don't feel pain or have emotions, and are less important or worthy than humans are just as ridiculous as the claims that were made against black people. We both learned a ton but it was an emotionally exhausting day. We likely could have drove all the way to Nashville but decided to just stay at a motel for the night so we could wake up rested and ready to explore Nashville.
The drive from Athens to Nashville was only about 2 hours. We did our habitual stop at Trader Joe's for some lunch stuff before arriving at our little Airbnb in the Hillsboro neighbourhood bordering the 12 South District. It was a super cute walk up apartment with big windows. The only annoying thing was having to carry the suitcases up 3 floors. Having not really planned what to do in Nashville, other than the Mumford & Sons concert, we found ourselves wandering around but not in a good way. When doing a city in only a couple of days we find it’s best to map out the places we want to go or you just end up either missing things and getting annoyed with wasting time. The weather was also way colder and windier than we had thought and we hadn’t dressed properly which forced us to have to head back to our place after getting about half way downtown. The city has a number of electric scooter companies that you could rent from instead of bikes (like in New Orleans). Craig was stoked because he wants to buy one but I was not. Maybe it was the brand that we tried but the ignition and brake button were both super sensitive and the sidewalks were really uneven so after getting about 2 miles down the road I had had enough. Instead we drove into the city and ditched the car in a lot and walked around the Gulch District in search of street art. My favourite was the giant set of wings on 11th St S between Pine and Laurel.
It was at this point we realized we were aimlessly wandering and we headed back to 12 South then to our place to devise a better plan. 12 South was really cute with lots of street art and instagram worthy shops and restaurants.
That night we Ubered into the city to Music Row and hit up the bumping Honky Tonks. Many of them had 3 floors with different live bands on each. They were all packed! It was really fun but none had original music all just covers requested by the crowd of mainly big country hits with a couple rock songs thrown in the mix.
Was nice to get some laundry done and a workout before heading to East Nashville. I read a few blogs saying it's an up and coming area where lots of artsy locals lived. To me it seemed like a part of town that was being gentrified from light industrial/business to more residential builds with breweries, restaurants, shops and fitness studios popping up. What we noticed about Nashville is that it has tiny pockets/areas scattered throughout the city. A couple blocks along a residential street with restaurants and businesses as opposed to long streets or central areas.
After walking along Main street for a bit and taking pictures of the street art we headed back to our neighbourhood and had lunch at Bartaco. It was bumping!! We ordered the mushroom tacos, the cauliflower tacos, street corn, and coleslaw…and a couple margarita’s... obviously!
It was a beautifully sunny afternoon and we made the most of it. That night we went to see Mumford & Sons playing at Bridgestone arena. The whole trip was planned off getting the tickets to the show. When we bought the tickets no dates for Vancouver were on the tour. The concert was amazing. We got tickets but they were right at the top (I have a hard time spending 100’s of dollars on tickets to a show) but from our vantage point we saw lots of empty seats right in the 1st couple rows so we took a chance, walked with purpose down to the lower level and enjoyed the show in the 2nd row. It was awesome!!!
Memphis wasn’t what we expected. It’s hard to explain but it felt soul-less. Tourism was alive and well on Beale St, at Sun Studios and the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but other than that city didn’t have much else. It lacked vibrancy. Spending only a day there was long enough for us. The tour of Sun Studios is a must. The tour took about 40 minutes and included going into the studio where many bands and performers recorded music including; Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and BB King as well as more modern artist like Bruno Mars, U2, Maroon 5, and Bob Dylan.
The National Civil Rights Museum was also very well done. Its exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to present day. Starting from the beginning with the slave trade detailing the trade routes, where goods were made, transported, and sold. After watching an overview film, we moved through a variety of rooms that chronologically transported you through slavery in America, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Terrorism & the KKK, the Jim Crow laws & segregation, Rosa Parks & the Montgomery bus boycotts, the Sit-in campaigns, Freedom riders, Civil rights act, Bloody Sunday & the voting rights act, Malcolm X & the black Panthers, to the assassination of MLK. Great museum with tons of information and LOTS to learn.
Our Airbnb was a total shit hole. It was hard to find accommodation in Memphis so I knew what we were getting into but it was definitely worse than I thought. We got up early to see Graceland (Elvis’ home and final resting place) as there’s no charge before 8:30 am after which they charge over $60!
After we hit the road for a 7 hour drive from Memphis to Dallas Texas an unplanned addition to our trip to visit Craig’s friend Rory Paine, his wife Kate, and their son Cohen. Originally, we planned on camping in the Ozark’s but neither of us were really looking forward to it. Once we decided that we were going to Texas we were both jacked and ready to see Rory & Kate as well as to check out the state. It was great staying with them, they are such warm and welcoming people. While we were there the craziest rain, lightning and hail storm happened. Luckily for us our car was fine but about 10 minutes down the road cars windshields were smashed in and cars were riddled with dents from golf ball sized pellets.
Craig has always been fascinated with JFK and his assassination. He has many books with differing conspiracy theories. While visiting Rory & Kate we decided to head into Dallas to check out Dealey Plaza where it all went down. Craig was in his element! We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the Plaza and the Grassy Knoll viewing it from different angles. Craig took lots of pictures from a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. I wondered having now physically been in the space if he was convinced of one theory over another but he said he isn’t and he still doesn’t know what to believe. We went to the Sixth-Floor Museum where Oswald allegedly shot the president (at the time it was a book depository) as the motorcade drove down Elm Street. Although the museum corroborates that he was the lone gunman it did go into some detail about the conspiracy theories. Having looked out the window from where Oswald “took” the shot it doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t have taken it earlier while the convertible was directly facing him…anyways, who knows, maybe one day the files will be released to the public.
We said goodbye to our friends and were headed south to Austin when Kate messaged me asking if we’d be cool with her coming with Cohen to Austin. Obviously, we were!! Kate had lived in Austin for 4 years while she went to university so she was very familiar with the city and gave us lots of recommendations. Before heading out we enjoyed hanging by the pool at our Airbnb. It was in a great location (South Congress) with tons of super cute and architecturally beautiful homes. We went for a bite to eat at Magnolia Cafe and then walked along going in and out of shops, although many were closed we still had a good time.
When Kate dropped us in the city before she left to see her sister in law she told us about the bats that migrate from Mexico to Austin and live under the Congress Street bridge. At dusk they fly off in the millions into the night sky in search of food. She wasn’t sure if they had arrived yet but around sunset we were pretty sure they had with the 1000’s of people waiting along the bridge, on boats in the lake, and along the pathways.
We didn’t have to wait long until they started to fly around the bridge and then off in a swirling ribbon.
That night we went to two areas Kate recommended; Rainy Street and 6th street. Rainy Street was a neighbourhood with lots of funky bars/restaurants. 6th street was cool too, known for its live music venues, it wasn’t as busy on a Tuesday with many places basically empty. We had a good time though checking out a band in one of the bars on Rainy street where the band played some original songs as well as a couple covers. One thing we did notice was there were lots of homeless people in this part of the city which did take away from the experience because they were pretty intense and we didn’t have any money which they obviously weren’t happy about. Verdict on Austin: we liked it and would visit again but next time we’d plan to be there on a weekend.
Today was the day I learned Craig's really into space. He had mentioned that our route from Austin to Lafayette basically went right through Houston and it might be cool to check out the Space Centre. Well for anyone that knows me space totally freaks me out. It doesn’t make sense…light years…what???!?!? So I decided to not go inside the centre and instead just hang outside and wait. Well little to my knowing Craig got in line to tour NASA itself. I thought it was like a museum and he’d be in there for tops an hour but with him waiting in line for the tour (30 min), taking the tour (90 min) all in all it was about 3 hours he was gone for. Which is fine but it made for a super long day because we still had 4 hours to drive after already driving for 3. He said it was pretty cool. You actually get to go to the command centre where “Houston” is actually communicating with the space centre. We ended up arriving at our Airbnb around 9:00 at night. I had gone on Pinterest (as I do when researching a place) to get some details on Lafayette and came across a good little post titled “11 Fun Things to Do in Lafayette, Louisiana for a Ragin' Cajun Good Time!” which gave us a ton of good ideas. Whilst driving from Huston to Lafayette I read the blog (hooray for the cars wifi) and booked the swamp tour based off it's recommendation. There were 2 companies to choose from but for us it was easy an easy decision because one of the tours was super into preservation and care for the environment and the wildlife and the other wasn’t. I called Cajun Country Swamp Tours and we booked the 10:00am tour for the next morning. Tickets were $20.00 each and I was able to pay for them over the phone.
We were both super stoked to go on the swamp tour.
Shawn, who was our guide and was awesome, grew up in the area and knew tons about the bayou. He was also hilarious telling lots of silly jokes and interesting stories. We saw lots of different birds; Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Wood Ducks, Yellow Crowned Night-Herons, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Double-Crested Cormorants, a Barred Owl, Red-tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks, Snowy Egrets, an Osprey, Eastern Kingbird, and many other small birds. At this time of year, Shawn told us, Snowy Egrets come to nest in the tree in and around the lake. They like to nest above water because the alligators below offer protection for the eggs as many predators of the eggs are afraid of being eaten by gators. Shawn was very considerate of their nesting area. He mentioned that some of the other tour guides go past the signs that restrict the area so that tourist can get “better” shots which forces the Egrets to nest even further away the next year. On our tour we also saw tons of turtles and alligators. It was cool to see the alligators and it was amazing how respectful Shawn was of them. Many stayed above water some not even opening their eyes to check us out instead they contently kept snoozing in the sunny spot they had found. One alligator in particular was a pretty big boy. The tour was about 2 hours and we learned and saw a lot. I cannot recommend Cajun Country Swamp Tours enough!!
On our way back to New Orleans we went to the Oak Alley Plantation. I was tentative about going to a plantation but it was interesting to actually see one. Oak Alley Plantation is now a museum. The house is decorated from the era and behind it are the slave quarters which display what their housing was like-what a stark difference!
We arrived back in beloved New Orleans in the evening and immediately fell in love with our Airbnb and its location. Situated in the Lower Garden District it was cool to reside on a different side of the city.
That night we biked to Frenchman Street to listen to music. It’s always interesting when you return to a city you have already been to as it is familiar and, in a way, easier than a new place. We had a great time and on the way home stopped in at Café Du Monte for a night cap of Beignet’s. Although in the food blog’s and restaurant recommendations it was rated #1 but for us it wasn’t as good as Café Beignet. Side note: just sit down at a dirty table; only tourists wait in line.
Last full day on vacay is always bittersweet. I went for a run in the morning through our neighbourhood which was really nice with lots of cool houses. Having done many of New Orleans “must see/do” activities we decided to check out the HIGHLY recommended WW II museum. Figured it was the road trip of museums and history so why stop now! It was soooooo good! The “Beyond all Boundaries” film narrated by Tom Hanks was unbelievably well done. It felt like you were actually “there.” It was 4-D which include the chairs shaking when bombs and guns fired, the smell of smoke, and snow falling which all made the experience more real. It was a $7.00 add on and would highly highly recommend it.
The movie could be done before or after checking out the museum but we decided to do it first as an overview and refresher. Afterwards we explored the incredible museums many exhibits, videos, artifacts and displays that were built into realistic settings. For example the exhibit for the War in the Pacific was designed with palm trees, was dark and had jungle sounds. Many of the displays were life size like the plane with the jeep inside all of which created a more impactful experience. We spent about 4 hours at the museum but could have definitely taken more time.
For anyone passionate about WW II a couple days or more could be spent there. We walked back to our Airbnb, chilled out, made food, and listened to music before driving across the river to Dick’s to return our unused camping gear. For our final night we decided just to go to a couple local bars in our area. The first one we went to was the Rusty Nail where we sat outside and the second was Barrel Proof which was more of a cocktail and whiskey bar which we decided would be our local if we actually lived in New Orleans.
Standard travel day, dropped car off (begrudgingly-as usual) and checked into our flight. No real excitement this time both flights are scheduled and on time! Here's some fun picture of Craig enjoying the film Game Night on the flight back:)