Category Archives: USA

Down on the Bayou

Whilst in Louisiana, I’d definitely recommend taking a break from the frenetic music schedule and heading into the wetlands. We had a truly memorable morning kayaking in Shell Bank Bayou in Manchec Swamp. You can easily organise transport through various companies. Despite a mixed weather forecast (you can never trust the forecast in this State!), we were treated to stunning blue skies, which showed off the clear water, green algae, cypress and tupelo trees in all their glory. Two alligators were spotted, along with white egret, turtles and a blue heron. The number of photos will probably make you sympathetic to Paul’s claims he was doing most of the work!

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Festing In Place

After surviving fire, rain and even Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ Jazz Fest succumbed to the Covid-19 outbreak and was cancelled this year for the first time in its fifty-year history. A sad state of affairs. A great number of fans are, however, tuning into WWOZ (a fantastic non-profit, community-supported radio station in Louisiana), to listen to classic sets from the festival’s back catalogue in their gardens or living rooms. And some are going all out: dressing in signature garish Hawaiian shirts, barbecuing in hats and beads, baking beignets and cooking gumbo. Puts a smile back on your face!

It’s inevitably made me nostalgic for past Fests though. So I’ve dug out a few more photos (mostly my own, but with a few of the official ones thrown in). I’m listening to Trombone Shorty this morning and remembering jumping up-and-down excitedly to his closing set – after one too many frozen daiquiris – as the sun was going down over Tremé. Aaah…

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The Crescent City (Part 2)

If you’re reading this before Part 1, you have to ask yourself ‘Why?’. The title should really provide the clue. Come on, people. Anyhow, where was I? Ah yes, the posh bit….

One sunny morning saw us catching the Rampart-St.Claude Street Car to the Warehouse District, where we stopped for a pleasant lunch at Maypop (apparently the crispy fried bourbon oysters were the highlight – I wouldn’t know, since they’ve decided they disagree with me. And I used to think we got along so well!). Switching to the St. Charles Street Car, we continued into the Garden District. This is where you’ll find the homes of the rich and famous (alive and dead): Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Michel Musson (uncle of Degas), Archie Manning (former Saints quarterback*), Nicholas Cage, Jefferson Davis (first and only President of the short-lived Confederate States of America) and Beyonce & Jay-Z all live/have lived in the area. You can also find the home where Anne Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire, as well as various historic buildings such as the Women’s Opera Guild. The architecture is a mixture of Gothic Revival, Italianate and Creole, with a few Reconstruction-era and Swiss Germanic properties (Bullock’s) thrown in. As well as ogling intricate wrought iron fences, doric columns and the like, you can also browse the pretty independent shops along Magazine street.

And you can find some amazing restaurants in the Garden District. If you’re looking for down-and-dirty, then the alligator hotdogs and chilli fries at Dat Dog are pretty special, whilst the best gumbo and blue crab beignets can be had at La Petite Grocery. On a previous visit, we also dined at Shaya, a fantastic modern Israeli place. Both of the latter two have won coveted James Beard awards in recent years.

I seem to have omitted The French Quarter so far. The buzzing heart of the city, Vieux Carre is a story of two halves: part elegant townhouses, leafy squares, antique shops and art galleries; part mad, boozy, vulgar nights out on Bourbon Street (the clean-up operation each morning is pretty epic). We happily avoided the latter side, choosing instead to frequent bars in calmer parts of the city. I spent many a happy morning stroll around the Quarter though, taking the short walk from our homestay to Jackson Square, meandering between Decatur, Royal, Chartres and Dauphine Streets, admiring the handsome buildings, gawping at St. Louis Cathedral, and smiling at institutions like Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (one of the oldest surviving structures in New Orleans). We also had a successful shopping trip in the Quarter on our final day, stuffing our suitcases full of purchases.

The culinary highlight of the holiday was, unexpectedly, in the Quarter. Longway Tavern is a brilliant bar and restaurant on Toulouse Street, with a captivating open-air courtyard and some of the best cocktails around. I’d recommend their shrimp toast and the pork chop, if they’re still on the menu. And you MUST try a muffuletta for lunch from Central Grocery. The king of sandwiches!

Finally, it’s worth getting out of the city (if you can tear yourself away) to head into the Louisiana wetlands. We had a fantastic morning kayaking in Shell Bank Bayou in Manchec Swamp. My photos from that excursion can be found here.

And I haven’t even talked about the main reason we were in the city: the 50th Anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I won’t wax lyrical, but suffice to say we had an amazing three days. As well as catching a range of lesser-known bluegrass, jazz, soul, gospel and funk acts on the various stages, following Mardi Gras Indian tribes as they paraded the grounds, and eating my body weight in food (soft-shell crab po’boy; crawfish monica; red beans & rice; beignets piled high with icing sugar; and redfish baquet…to name just a few), we joined the hoards for Kamasi Washington, Chris Stapleton, Tank & the Bangas, John Cleary, Buddy Guy and Diana Ross (the latter surprisingly good, choosing a crowd-pleasing set covering all of her hits and managing at least five costume changes in 90 minutes). For me, the highlight was Trombone Shorty’s festival-closing set, featuring the Neville Brothers. Nothing better than jumping around to ‘Hurricane Season’ as the sun sets.

*Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?

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The Crescent City (Part 1)

I don’t know how to begin to explain quite how much I love New Orleans. It’s gotten under my skin in a way no other city ever has. Of all the magical, exciting, beautiful, wonderful places I’ve visited in the world, my heart belongs to NOLA. If America would only provide more reasonable annual leave entitlement…I’d move there tomorrow! As it is, I’ll have to settle for regular visits every few years. This was my third, and probably my favourite so far. The sun shone, pretty much relentlessly, for the whole trip (bar a short-lived thunderstorm early one morning) and the city popped with colour. Wandering around the streets, listening to the trills of jazz, blues, zydeco and gospel emanating from open doorways, you can’t help but have a smile on your face. And snap away on your camera every few steps. It is just the most photogenic place.

We stayed, as always, in the delightfully laid-back neighbourhood (faubourg) of Marigny. Once a Creole plantation, the area became the second historic zoned area of the city after the Vieux Carre (French Quarter). It’s full of Classical Revival and Creole houses, rocking chairs swaying gently on their front porches; flags proudly displaying the fleur-de-lis (the symbol of post-Katrina pride in the city); Mardi Gras beads hanging from pretty much every railing and tree branch; and enough cute coffee shops, bars, and restaurants to shake a stick at.

Particular culinary delights in the area include: the okra with bagna cauda at Bywater American Bistro (BAB); the short rib steak at The Franklin; the smoked catfish dip at Bacchanal; and the lump crab eggs benedict at Paladar 511. The gumbo ya-ya at St. Roch’s Market was ok too, though not the best version we had on the trip (see Part 2 for that recommendation). Incidentally, I know there’s dispute over the name of this staple of the New Orleans diet – gumbo ya-ya meaning “everyone talks at once” and referring to a loud community or political gathering. But given that’s the term used on many respected restaurants’ menus, I ain’t gonna argue. In terms of where to drink, the handsome courtyard at The Elysian Bar is a great place for cocktails and their wine list is curated by the people at Bacchanal, itself boasting the best outdoor seating in the city…with live music every night and the best festoon lighting action around.

Further out of our ‘hood, we explored Algiers for the first time – the only ward of New Orleans located on the west bank of the Mississippi. It’s a very short boat ride from the bottom of Canal Street, aboard one of the country’s oldest ferry lines, and is well worth a visit. Wandering around the cute parish, you begin to think you’re on a film set. Everything is pristine and peaceful, and the mishmash of bright homes, small wooden churches, art-deco theatres, and quirky dive bars is beguiling. We ambled round, stopping in the friendly One Stone cafe for a spot of lunch and delicious cinnamon morning bun, trying to decide if Algiers had taken the crown from Marigny (conclusion: no…but it was a close call!).

I’ll stop there for now, and cover some other highlights in Part 2. Here’s a (severely edited – honest!) first selection of photos from the trip…starting with a picture of the house on Mandeville Street in which we stayed.

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Credit: Street Art of girl on trail track – Chris Adnitt

 

The Magic City

Uh, uh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, uh
Miami, uh, uh
South Beach, bringin the heat, uh
Haha, can y’all feel that
Can y’all feel that
Jig it out, uh

Here I am in the place where I come let go
Miami the bass and the sunset low
Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day
No work all play, okay
So we sip a little something, lay to rest the spill
Me an Charlie at the bar runnin’ up a high bill
Nothin’ less than ill, when we dress to kill
Every time the ladies pass, they be like “hi Will”
Can y’all feel me, all ages and races
Real sweet faces
Every different nation, Spanish, Hatian, Indian, Jamaican
Black, White, Cuban, and Asian
I only came for two days of playing
But every time I come I always wind up stayin’
This the type of town I could spend a few days in
Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin’

Party in the city where the heat is on
All night, on the beach till the break of dawn
“Welcome to Miami”
“Bienvenidos a Miami”
Bouncin’ in the club where the heat is on
All night, on the beach till the break of dawn
I’m goin to Miami
“Welcome to Miami”

Will Smith, 1998

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Lobstering in P-Town

Our American mini-odyssey ended with a few days on windswept Cape Cod. Very much peak season inland, with the maples attracting tourists from far and wide, it was decidedly off-season at the coast, with most places ready to shut down completely for the winter. In fact, we were told repeatedly that certain shops and restaurants had been closed since Labor Day weekend at the beginning of September! I’m sure, therefore, that we didn’t experience the area at its best and would like one day to return in the summer, but there was a certain charm in walking across the dunes in the drizzle and passing ice-cream shops desperate for their last bit of trade. It felt like being at the British seaside…particularly when we were tucking into a cream tea in Sandwich.

Our time on Martha’s Vineyard – the affluent island a short ferry ride south of the cape – was definitely the quietest part of the trip. We’d driven to Woods Hole for our crossing to Vineyard Haven and then spent a day pootling round plush Edgartown, the clay cliffs at Aquinnah and Oak Bluffs, where we stayed in a grand but rickety B&B next to the gingerbread cottages of a Methodist religious community. Apparently a favoured vacation spot of the Obamas, as well as other past presidents and celebrities, we found the ghost town quite eerie at this time of year. After one drink in a spit-and-sawdust bar and a fish supper, we retired early to the inn to watch the Red Sox battle to win the World Series. Having never really understood baseball, we got quite into it once the rules were explained by a friendly American couple, and were pleased to learn on our return to England that the Sox had eventually been victorious over the St Louis Cardinals. Boston Strong!

While we weren’t overawed by the Vineyard, come rain or shine you can’t help but love Provincetown! Home to artists and writers, amazing pubs, beautiful homes, a delightful harbour and beach, and some of the best seafood restaurants on the east coast, the little town is such a great place to hang out. It’s famous mainly for being two things: the location of the signing of the Mayflower Compact in 1620, the first governing document of the colonists arriving from England; and a popular gay holiday destination, with its population swelling from 3,000 to close to 60,000 in the summer.

This is a thriving community that still manages to enchant on a chilly October day. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel called 8 Dyer and enjoyed walking the streets, popping into little shops and galleries, racking up ideas for decorating our new flat. Think Whitstable, but multiply by ten. After driving around the National Seashore Park (First Landing Pilgrim’s Point, Herring Cove Beach and Race Point, with their little boardwalks and lighthouses), it was great to return to P-Town in order to sample the great food. Lunch one day at Lobster Pot, a New England institution where I enjoyed clam chowder, pan roasted lobster in sherry sauce and cod morney; dinner at The Mews, a sweet waterfront restaurant; and finally a great meal at the Squealing Pig where we shared Wellfleet oysters and a delicious pulled pork burger. My mouth is watering at the memory!

I’d recommend P-Town in a heartbeat. And I’d also recommend a diet when you get back!

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IMG_5739Dusky Water Coloured Memories

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IMG_5699Long Walk to Nowhere [Credit: Paul Adnitt]

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IMG_5791God Love the U.S.A.

Fall in New England

I’ll pick up from where I left you last, waving forlornly as the train pulled out of New York’s Penn Station on its journey to Boston. Despite the upset of having to leave The Big Apple (see previous post), I was excited about the next leg of the trip. It began in style with a comfortable and sunny four-hour ride through Connecticut and Rhode Island into Massachusetts, all the while watching the colours of the trees become more impressive and the people outside become more warmly dressed.

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My dad was waiting to greet us at Back Bay station when we arrived, having flown in a couple of days earlier. He’d already visited nearby Salem and was excited to show us round the sights of Boston. After checking into our guest house on fashionable Newbury Street, we orientated ourselves to the city with a Duck Tour. Londoners will be familiar with the set-up: a trip on land and water aboard a replica WWII style amphibious landing vehicle, complete with an enthusiastic guide – this time dressed as one of the Minute Men. The tour takes you past the golden-domed State House to Bunker Hill, along Boston Common and Copley Square, past Quincy Market and the towering Prudential Tower – and splashes down in the Charles River, where we enjoyed a sunset ride around the bay.

print2The next couple of days in Boston flew by. The city is actually quite compact and easy to walk around, so we felt the amount of time we had there was just about right. Enough time to stroll down Commonwealth Avenue, take in the grandeur of the homes on Beacon Hill, lunch at Quincy Market (clam chowder and a Boston Barker chilli dog), visit the stunning Trinity Church with its William Morris stained glass, and pop into the spacious library. We also visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with its new annex designed by Renzo Piano. The museum is pretty bonkers: Venetian architecture packed full of an eclectic mix of art, jewellery and furniture, with works by Botticelli, Titian, Rembrandt and Raphael haphazardly hung on walls. Isabella was a patron of the arts and travelled the world collecting pieces. She had the building commissioned specifically to house all her works and created an endowment fund to support the museum after her death, stipulating that the layout of the permanent collection could not be altered. It’s a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours.

IMG_5090And – of course – we walked the Freedom Trail, a two and a half mile brick-lined route – not yellow brick unfortunately – that takes you to sixteen historically significant sites, including Faneuil Hall (where in 1764 Americans first protested against the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, setting the doctrine that would become known as “no taxation without representation”), the Old State House (scene of the 1770 massacre that galvanised public opposition to British authority) and the Old South Meeting House (scene of the heated debate in 1773 that led to the Boston Tea Party). The city is steeped in American revolutionary history and its people are clearly proud of it. These are the haunts of Samuel Adams, John Adams (no relation), Paul Revere, John Hancock and the many other men (and women – there were some important women too!) who were so influential in making the US what it is today. I felt annoyed with myself for not having watched the Paul Giamatti mini-series that my dad had lent us, as I’m sure I’d have had a much greater appreciation of the sights with more background on the conflict. Luckily my dad – the human version of Johnny 5 – was on hand to regurgitate facts and fill the gaps in our knowledge. I wish I could keep him in my pocket, so I’d have him to hand wherever I go.

IMG_5186Boston is also famous, of course, for being one of the foremost seats of learning in the world, home of MIT and Harvard (ranked number 1 and 2 in the world respectively).  Well, actually they’re next door in Cambridge, but that’s only about five stops away from Boston on the subway. The Harvard tour, ours delivered by a funny but precocious sophomore named Jess-Lucy, is worth taking. We were shown around the grounds and regaled with stories. Did you know that a student killed on the Titanic, whose mother made a generous donation to the university library, still haunts the book stacks?  Or that there are three lies connected with the John Harvard statue in the main quad?  No?  Well, I recommend an hour with Jess-Lucy, valedictorian of her high school and budding theatre producer.

As always, I need to mention some notable eateries in the city: Island Creek Oyster Bar, where we enjoyed some delicious fish and sampled Boston Cream Pie (a kind of soft cake with a custardy filling and chocolate on top), and Pomodoro in the North End Italian quarter. Two very nice meals!

IMG_5495After Boston, we hired a car to drive into New Hampshire, where we stayed three nights in the Spruce Moose Lodge in North Conway.  It was here, in the White Mountain National Forest, that our New England leaf-peeping could really begin. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have literally hundreds of photos of trees and leaves! I usually relish editing my photos when I get back from holiday, but I was actually starting to go a little square-eyed by the time I finished this time. In my defence, the scenery really is breathtaking and even though we suffered quite a few overcast days, the colours were still incredibly vibrant…demanding to be snapped at every opportunity. Sugar maple, yellow birch, mountain ash, beech, red oak and red maple dominate the landscape and you never fail (to the chagrin of your long-suffering boyfriend) to wonder in awe at the reds, yellows, pinks and greens…and whip out your camera for “just one more”. It’s a good job that I’m so loveable. Or is it that he’s so patient?

IMG_5260We drove along the Kancamagus Highway (or Route 112, to give it its more boring title) through the heart of the forest, stopping at the Swift River, Albany covered bridge, Lower Falls, Rocky Gorge and Sugar Hill overlook.  The road is named after the grandson of the Native Indian chief who united the tribes in the area, although the grandson himself had to move them all north when the white settlers pushed them out. Still, they named a road after him, so no need to complain. The various stops provide amazing vista after amazing vista, with multi-coloured forest as far as the eye can see. But it’s not all leaves. A group of nuns (is there a better collective noun?) provided plenty of amusement, hopping between boulders on the river and giggling into their iPhones. We seemed to follow them around all day, spying them at every beauty spot. I really wanted to see one of them fall in the river, but chided myself for being mean spirited. It would just have been for the comedy value, I assure you!

A trip on the world’s first cog railway, up Mount Washington – the highest peak in New England – was pleasant, though the bright sunshine at the base did not prepare us for the thick cloud on top.  At least we enjoyed the views on the way up and down, because you really couldn’t see anything at all at the summit! The drive to Mount Washington, through Crawford Notch, was very pretty, with stops at Silver Cascade and Ripley Falls, where we had a mini-ramble through the forest. Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park was also impressive: a well sign-posted walk through the dramatic scenery, with plenty of chipmunks to spot. Our only disappointment was that, despite eagerly looking out for them at every place marked on the map, we saw neither a moose nor a bear during our stay.

IMG_0603The fourth leg of the holiday was in the lakes region. Saying goodbye to Nellie and Leon at the Spruce Moose, and – more distressingly – bidding farewell to their delicious pumpkin pancakes (see previous post), we headed to the lakes via Lucknow Estate (“Castle in the Clouds”). The arts and crafts house overlooks Lake Winnipesaukee and the views are – again – majestic. This was not, however, the reason for our visit. Paul had spotted that the (2nd) biggest horse in the world can be found there and had gotten very excited! Zeus is a 3000lb, 21 hand Belgian draft horse and is – admittedly – a fine animal. I was just glad that the views made the detour worth it. 

From there we drove to Holderness on Little Squam Lake and went to the Science Centre of New Hampshire. Here we saw amazing birds of prey, mountain foxes, bears, bobcats and deer. Much more thrilling – I would argue – than a horse, no matter how big. From Holderness we joined a boat ride on Squam Lake, shooting location for the film On Golden Pond staring Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda (of which the locals are very proud). The lake is the second largest in the region and surrounded by dense forest. Little islands of trees – summer vacation spots for rich New Englanders – provided a rare and exciting opportunity to see nesting American Bald Eagles. Aiming our binoculars in the general direction of the pointing passenger with his dog-eared ornithology guide, we could definitely make them out. A very pleasing day all round!

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Our accommodation was at John and Cindy’s Lake House at Ferry Point in Sanbornton on Lake Winnisquam. The guest house brags that it’s the only B&B in the region to actually sit on the edge of a lake. I don’t know if that’s true, but I would really recommend it if you’re in the area. The rooms were really comfortable, the hosts are lovely and the house has its own jetty and wooden gazebo. Perfect for sunset (and sunrise) strolls…and a good place to spot a beaver collecting sticks. Bonus! John – like all the innkeepers on our trip – was a fantastic cook and we enjoyed a substantial breakfast of eggs rancheros, strawberries and cream, and lemon and poppyseed muffins. Yum! No wonder I’ve come home half a stone heavier.

The next day it was onward to Cape Cod.  Tune in for the next exciting instalment…

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