After a good couple of years of researching and saving, I finally got to take my first trip to the USA with Trek America.
Trek America have been running group tours through the USA since 1972, and they definitely know their stuff. My sister and I opted for the 8 day Deep South BLT (Budget Lodging Tour), which takes you on a whirlwind trip through New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and more. Since I have been fascinated by New Orleans for a long time and desperate to see the cities where the blues and rock and roll emerged, it was a no brainer.
Pre-Trek: 1 Day in New Orleans
We decided to book an extra night in the departure hotel before our Trek started, so we would have a full day (and night!) to explore New Orleans. On arriving, I was immediately blown away by the cheerful, brightly coloured houses, especially juxtaposed with the crazy Halloween decorations.
Our first night didn’t start off too well. We were warned by fellow Trekkers who had arrived earlier in the day, that our pre-departure hotel in New Orleans was fully booked, and they’d been sent to stay in a townhouse a few blocks over. After getting lost in the dark, we eventually found the townhouse. Confused and jet-lagged, we bumbled into the huge house thinking we were alone.
The townhouse was beautiful. Huge, dark and spooky with a huge tall staircase… and no doors. To get to one room, you had to walk through another. There were 6 different rooms that all adjoined. We got a serious shock when two other Trek mates appeared out of the darkness!
This was our first time meeting, and we awkwardly expressed our hellos, and our confusion over the hotel mix-up. Looking back, we laugh about the forced bonding experience between a group of very tired, jet-lagged strangers wandering through a huge dark house. It became the first of a million inside jokes.
After a somewhat good nights sleep (the house was old and creepy. My sister was afraid of the chairs.) we headed to St Louis Cemetery No.1 for a tour we had pre-booked the night-before. Save Our Cemeteries is a brilliant company that conducts historical tours of the cemetery, and re-invests the money into restoration and preservation of the cemetery.
Following new rules set by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, only family of the interred or those accompanied by a licensed tour guide may visit the site.
Even then, the traffic in this relatively small site was seriously heavy and we found ourselves continuously having to turn and change direction to avoid other groups. Either the cemetery needs a few sets of traffic lights, or a limit on how many groups can enter at once. It felt a little disrespectful to have so many people stomping around.
St Louis Cemetery No 1 is the oldest and most famous in New Orleans. Sometimes known as the ‘City of the Dead’ due it the above ground tombs and graves, the cemetery was fascinating to visit and to hear its back story from an expert. The most notable tombs I saw were the alleged Greek-revival tomb of famous Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau and a pyramid tomb which will one day be occupied by the eccentric Nicholas Cage.
The tour last around 1.5 hours and I’d recommend it to any history nerd. New Orleans has a rich and often macabre history just waiting to be explored…
After retreating back to the hotel to cool down and change clothes (New Orleans is still sweltering in late October, as a Northern Englander, this is bizarre to me) we headed out to explore the French Quarter some more.
I visited Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. There was even a queue to get in and a bouncer at the door. Luckily, the line moved quickly and I was inside after a few minutes. No pictures were allowed inside, but the window displays were pretty cool. I couldn’t resist picking up some souvenirs! I spent a hell of a lot of money on this trip. Mostly on black t-shirts. I regret nothing.
Evening came around, and we had booked onto a Voodoo tour, operated by Bloody Marys. Our guide for the evening was a legit ordained Voodoo priestess. She really impressed with her in-depth knowledge and storytelling power. Again, we had to fight for room on the sidewalk as there were dozens of other tour guides leading herds of tourists through NOLA’s spookiest spots. I didn’t mind the crowds, as being Halloween weekend pretty much everyone was in costume.
After the tour, we headed down to the famous Bourbon Street. I was blown away by the vibrant, exciting atmosphere and the ridiculous costumes. Meeting the Sanderson sisters was pretty cool (I ducked out of those pictures, my sister looks less like an old potato than I do) I wish every day was Halloween.
Our evening was finished off by visiting the best bar known to man, Cats Meow. I am not a karaoke person, but even I enjoyed crawling on stage and dancing to Sweet Caroline with giant Looney Tunes characters and our new Trek friends. The $14 Hurricanes probably helped.
My first day in the USA was amazing, and I’m excited to return to New Orleans in April.
Stay tuned to read what happened on the rest of my trip!