New Orleans has been on my bucket list for many years so of course, I was hoping to squeeze in a visit during my stay in Louisiana. It was a 4 hour drive from where we were staying. Just a hop, skip and a jump for a gal that drives an hour each way to the nearest mall. The only hitch, if I were to visit New Orleans I'd have to go it alone.
I thought about it for a while. Could I safely navigate my way in and out of a big city like New Orleans (gulp!) all by myself? Heck, I wasn't sure I could find my way out of the subdivision I was in! I have experience with "city driving" but I've lived in Northern Michigan for a long time. Tractors, lawn mowers and ORV's account for a good portion of our traffic. I'm glad I had spoken to my Aunt Junie before I left for Louisiana. She had encouraged me to visit New Orleans if I had the chance. She walked all over the French Quarter and said it had been fine. I was encouraged by her words. My Aunt Junie is a woman I admire. She has always been hip and cool, independent, confident and strong. I only strive for those qualities so I decided it was best if I do my research and have a plan before calling my mother and Jason. :)
I borrowed a map of Louisiana and started Googling rental cars and parking information. With a car secured and directions to a safe paid parking lot in the heart of the French Quarter, I made the first call to my mother. Of course she was worried! I think she checked my story with Aunt Junie too. When I called back a 2nd time with more information she seemed much more at ease. She told me to be careful, have fun and pick her up a cool t-shirt. (Yes! One down.) My next call to Jason took a little more convincing. It was the conversation I expected. I gave it my best sell and he shared his reservations. After teasing me about being stubborn and hard-headed he said, "You're going to do it anyway so you better have a good time. Just be safe and pay attention!"
It was raining the morning I left for New Orleans. The traffic was heavy leaving the Pineville/Alexandria area. I was in the thick of the 6 a.m. commute, dodging traffic and an aluminum step ladder in the middle of my freeway lane! The skies were dark and gray, heavy rain and standing water on the roads made the journey slow going. As I made my way down Highway 49 toward Lafayette there were a few times I started to second guess my decision. Should I really be doing this? Hmm, maybe not. But I knew I would kick myself if I chickened out. I pulled off for a fresh cup of coffee hoping the chicory blend would provide the same motivation as my regular brew.
When I exited the freeway and hit the streets of New Orleans it was like entering a whole new world. The streets were very narrow. The homes were old, small but colorful. A few of the houses looked a little sketchy but others looked nice. I made a turn at the 1st stop sign and drove straight into a puddle of water that covered the street. The puddle got deeper and deeper until I began to worry the car might stall. It was definitely touching the headlights! Luckily, I rented the little Malibu that could and I was able to make it safely through. Phew!
I parked next to the Steamboat Natchez in one of the French Market parking lots. Had I been a 1/2 hour earlier I would have caught the "Early Bird Parking Special" but the water on the roads had slowed me down. I ended up paying $30 for the day instead of $10. I thought it was worth the money though. I had a great parking spot close to everything.
It was still raining when I parked the car. I was glad I had thought to borrow an umbrella.... until I opened it and it was broken beyond repair. Ha! That figures. But, I had made it this far. I wasn't going to let a little rain slow me down! I headed straight for the French Market and bought myself a ball cap. Actually, I bought quite a few things in the French Market. The gator souvenir Jason requested, a few t-shirts including one for my mom, a really cool Mardi Gras mask and a New Orleans tote bag to help me carry my treasures!
The rain stopped shortly after I arrived but the sky remained overcast. It was cool but I was comfortable in shirt sleeves. I think the weather really worked to my advantage. Everything was open but the streets were quite empty. No crowds anywhere and not one person on Bourbon Street when I stopped to take a photo. Guess I'll have to collect beads on my next visit. LOL
I was sad to leave knowing there was so much more to see and do but I had a long drive ahead of me and a flight to catch the next morning. I double checked my directions with the parking attendant on my way out of the lot, followed one narrow street through the French Quarter and all the way out to the freeway. My feet were tired so the long ride back didn't seem half bad.
Turns out it was an awesome ride and a great way to top off my adventure. The sun came out so I had a much better view of the scenery. The roads were dry and I was able to travel the speed limit - 75 mph in some spots! I saw a road kill gator on the freeway just east of Baton Rouge and a live armadillo crossing the road. Now that's something you just don't see in Michigan!
I was proud of myself for making the trek to New Orleans all by myself. It was one of those moments that required "big girl panties" and I had pulled mine up and managed just fine. I thought about my flight home the next day. I had two plane changes on the way and prior to my visit to New Orleans I had been a little nervous about the layover in Atlanta, GA. Now, with newfound confidence and courage, I looked forward to the journey home.
P.S. When my flight arrived in Atlanta I chose to walk from one end of the airport to the other to catch my next flight instead of taking the train just so I could see the sights. The airport walls were covered with murals and story boards that told the history of Atlanta, the Civil War and its aftermath and the struggle for equal rights. It was a long walk with a carry-on but well worth the effort.