From my travel journal: Sunday 10 April, 4 pm

Somewhere in Florida

Today has been a day of many states. We started in Louisiana this morning, and have been through Mississippi and Alabama (or at least, through the little bits at the bottom of them), and now we’re in Florida, about four hours from tonight’s stop in Gainsville.

We crossed the Mississippi river yesterday in Louisiana (which confused me a bit, because I expected to cross it in Mississippi, given the name). It wasn’t as wide as I thought it would be, either – it was wide compared to NZ rivers (except maybe the Rakaia when it’s in flood :-)), but I’d expected something more like the Congo, where you can’t see the other side. There’ve been some pretty wide bays we’ve crossed on bridges and causeways that have almost met that criteria, though.

New Orleans was amazing. There have been a lot of perfect moments on this trip, and a number of them happened last night. After checking in at our motel we drove into the city centre and found a parking building, then walked to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. The atmosphere there was incredible – I’ve been to a lot of “party” towns, and most of them have a faint undertone of desperation – everyone trying very very hard to have fun. Lots of drunk people of course, but almost nobody was being aggressive (we did see one fight start, but policemen on horses broke it up before it even really started (that was really impressive to see, actually – they basically used the horses to create a physical barrier between the aggressors, and then when one didn’t calm down, they squeezed him between two horses to hold him)). It may have been that highly visible (but friendly – they were letting people pat the horses) police presence that contributed to the generally good behaviour, but there seemed to be more to it, like a contagious good mood in the crowd.

The policemen weren’t the only ones with horses – we saw two men taking a tiny shetland pony for a walk! They didn’t look the sort to be into ponies, but the mystery was soon solved when we saw how young women were flocking to them 🙂

We wandered along the street listening to the music (almost every bar had live music) and watching the spectacle, and even managed to acquire a few strings of beads each (we’re not telling how we earned them, though!*)

We had a late dinner in an oyster bar, where as well as oysters we sampled all sorts of local delicacies. There was much swapping and sharing between plates so we could sample everything: crawfish ettouffe, soft-shelled crab, gumbo, alligator burger, mint julep (that contained a lot more bourbon than mint!), a dangerous-tasting cocktail called a Category 5 Hurricane, and beignets. The waitress had the most gorgeous southern accent, called us all honey, and gave us each a hug when we left 🙂

Even though it was way past midnight and we had an early start ahead of us, it was hard to drag ourselves away from the party and head back to the motel and our beds!

* Oh, alright, we found them lying on the ground.

This trip really is turning out to be all about the food. We stopped for lunch in Mobile, Alabama, in a restaurant on the shore that looked like it used to be a fishing shack.

Felix’s Fishing Camp

It served mostly seafood, of course, and the food was amazing again. We shared a crab and spinach dip, then I had some sort of fish (I never did figure out which variety – the waitress’s accent was rather dense!) with hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. Even though we were all so full none of us had finished our meals, we decided that this time we had to have desert (an aspect of American food we’ve not sampled up until now, the mains always being so big that we’ve never had room), so shared a moon pie a la mode betwen us. Definitely worth squeezing a few extra mouthfuls in for 🙂

I still can’t get over the cheapness of eating out in America. Our meals today, including drinks, taxes and a generous tip, still only came to about $20 each. I’d have probably paid closer to $50 for an equivalent meal at home.

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