Whilst my current update comes from Florida, since I last gave an account of my trip I’ve visited every time zone in mainland USA (albeit briefly). Following the (long, tedious) drive from Memphis to New Orleans, here’s what happened.
New Orleans, LA: 6 – 10 September
Our arrival at the airport in New Orleans to return our rental car was severely hampered by a lack of signage, so our final minutes with Podge the Chevrolet were sadly stressful. Eventually, we navigated our way around and our pair became a trio when we met up with one of my colleagues from camp for this section of the trip.
One of the main objectives of our visit was to sample the local cuisine, and we did so in style. At a variety of restaurants, I tried gumbo, jambalaya and – my favourite – Rockerfeller Dip. These are things I’d happily consume repeatedly: grits, however, got the thumbs down from all of us. Although the best food we tried was offered by The Old Coffee Pot – an establishment we explored as it was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives – the best dining experience award goes to the Steamboat Natchez. The cruise isn’t a scenic one, but the food was brilliant, the jazz band were great and there was an interesting commentary provided by the boat’s Captain.
We stumbled upon another new cultural experience during our visit: the football season has just begun in the US, and the New Orleans Saints had their first home game, which was against the Atlanta Falcons. There were so many fans wandering the streets the evening we arrived that we assumed the game had already taken place – in fact, it was two days away!
The city definitely delivered in terms of a party atmosphere, but when someone else I know described it as “grimy”, I knew exactly what they meant. I’m pleased that I went, but don’t feel the need to return at this point.
Las Vegas, NV: 10 – 14 September
When I left the UK, Vegas wasn’t on my list of places I needed to go. I was talked into it in a moment of weakness, and my plan to stay in the eastern US crumbled.
Unlike the other cities I spent more than one night in, I didn’t have a guidebook for Vegas and initially felt a little lost. Fortunately, this city thrusts and grinds in your face with all of it’s best (and some of the worst) features, making it fairly easy to decide what to do and where to go. Needless to say, it wasn’t a cultural experience in the style of DC, but it is a place I quickly fell in love with.
Avoid Vegas if you dislike the tacky and brash – think grown up Disneyworld and you’re close – but if, like me, you’re a fan of all things sparkly and ridiculous, book your ticket now. We visited some of the main resort attractions, wandering up and down the Strip to take in the Bellagio fountains, the canal at the Venetian, the gaudy displays at Treasure Island, the sphinx at Luxor and Caesar’s Palace. On our final night, we rode the rollercoaster at New York New York and, as usual, we ate a lot of food, indulging in the buffets at Treasure Island and our own MGM Grand.
Las Vegas and New Orleans are similar in that they both feel very repetitive, but whilst I feel like I’ve “been there, done that” with New Orleans, I don’t feel that way about Las Vegas. The advice I’d give those bound for Vegas is as follows:
- take lots of money. This should go without saying, but even if you aren’t gambling, Vegas isn’t cheap. Food and drink are expensive here (and this coming from a former-Londoner)
- pack lots of clothes. Everywhere in Vegas is cold. The air conditioning is fierce in casinos and restaurants all over the Strip
- avoid taxis. We took one from the airport to our hotel for $30. Shuttle fare in the opposite direction was $8 each. No brainer
Incredibly, my trip is drawing to a close. A last-minute change of plan means I’m in Florida for just a week: I’ll fly back to New York on Saturday in order to spend time with friends prior to flying to London a week on Wednesday. My final ten days are set to involve beach and city time. If anyone needs me, I’ll be making the most of it.