New Orleans – Louisiana:
New Orleans was our final stop on Route 61 and one of the most important stops as a lot of jazz origins came to life in Louisiana. The French claimed Louisiana as a colony in the late 17th century and founded New Orleans in 1718. Streets were named after French royal houses. However, a few years later the city was given to the Spanish, which is one of the reasons why nowadays the French Quarter (le vieux carré) displays more Spanish than French influence. This cultural heritage can be seen in New Orleans’ architecture, cuisine (Spanish, Creole, American) and traditions. Bourbon Street, the center of the French Quarter, developed into an entertainment street with clubs and brothels in the 19th century when mainly Creole people traveled to the city on business. That is also the time when Jazz is said to have developed. By the 1940s, over 50 different night clubs and burlesque shows lined Bourbon Street.
On our first day we walked to the French Quarter. It was Saturday, so there were many people in and around Bourbon Street. Bars and clubs on Bourbon Street are open almost 24/7 and provide live music throughout the whole day. The entire atmosphere on the streets was incredible and we were immediately drawn to some spots with live performances. One of New Orleans’ most famous drinks is the so-called “Hand Grenade”, which is a 0,5l cocktail made of Vodka, Rum, Gin and melon liqueur. It is also said to be New Orleans’ most powerful drink. For some reason we had the idea to try one each at 1pm… By 2pm we were lying in the grass of Louis Armstrong Park, a few blocks away from Bourbon Street, and stayed there for about two hours. It really is a pretty strong combination, which should not be consumed before, let´s say 6pm, as it will knock you out and you will be, excuse me, pissed for the rest of the day. We went to bed pretty early that night.
On our second day in New Orleans, we decided to go to Bourbon Street in the evening and not drink alcohol during the day. Instead we took the ferry to New Orleans’ peninsula to walk the Jazz Walk of Fame. Unfortunately, it turned out to be pretty lame, so we took the ferry back to the center and did some more sightseeing there. We went shopping, spontaneously saw a Gospel performance in the Louisiana State Museum and strolled around the French Market. In the late afternoon we made our way back to Bourbon Street and happened to find a guitar store in one of the side roads. I spent some time jamming on some of their amazing Blues guitars until it was dark and we moved on to see Bourbon Street by night. That night we saw about six different live bands in six different clubs with six averagely good tasting pints of Budweiser. It was good fun, though. I really enjoyed the special atmosphere in Bourbon Street. Everyone around seemed to be as intrigued by the music as we were. It was one of those nights when you notice how music can unite all kinds of different people.
Houston, Austin, Dallas – Texas:
We took an overnight bus from New Orleans to Texas and arrived in Houston at 6am on Tuesday. It was raining cats and dogs and the coach dropped us in a parking lot without roof, so we grabbed all our stuff and ran towards a McDonald`s on the other side of the street. The McDonald´s was full of black, middle-aged, kind of miserable-looking people, who made some really weird remarks when we entered. It seemed as if that McDonald´s was their meeting place every morning at 6am. After just one cup of coffee, we rushed out again and made our way to the hostel while it was still pouring down. Obviously we weren´t allowed to check in at 7am. After some planning and checking out transport options in and around Houston, we decided that we can make most of the rainy day by visiting the NASA Johnson Space Center right outside of Houston. It took us about 90 minutes to get there, but it was worth the effort. In the hostel we had been given a $5 discount voucher each, so we could get into the Space Center for less than $20. The museum itself is perfectly arranged. There are galleries, space-related artifacts and interactive performances to get to know daily life on the ISS. Moreover, we did a tram tour, which goes to several official NASA buildings, including the astronaut training center and the mission control center from where most of the Apollo missions had been controlled. Apart from that, we got to see a restored Saturn V Rocket. What impressed me the most was the Space Shuttle mounted on top of the NASA Boeing 747-800, which had once been used as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
On the next day we had typical Texan weather – clear skies and warm temperatures. We did a walking tour around Houston Downtown, the beautiful Buffalo Bayou Park, went up to the observation deck on JP Morgan Chase Tower and enjoyed the view over Texas’ largest city. This walk also made me realize that Houston is so much more than what we had experienced in McDonald’s the day before. In fact, it is the opposite of what we had seen. The city is actually very cosmopolitan and artistic. There is a lot of green space, parks and architecture, which give the city a very intellectual vibe. In the afternoon, we took a bus to Austin, Texas’ capital, where we stayed for two nights. The weather was as good as in Houston when we did our four-hour walking tour around Downtown the next day. I noticed that the city is pretty energetic and liberal compared to many other cities on our trip, which creates a certain vibe. Its culture is laid-back and sophisticated at the same time. There are lots of students in town, which might be one of the reasons why Austin has so many different cultural elements. Apart from that, the local music scene plays an important role, and there are bands playing in bars and pubs around 6th street every day. On top of that, Austin is a culinary haven: there is a high number of restaurants, bars and farmers markets as well as different food trucks serving eclectic cuisine from barbecue to health food, Tex-Mex, Texan fried steak, Pecan pralines and locally-brewed beer. Unfortunately, we didn´t have the time and money to try out everything. However, I did have a tasty medium-rare 8oz Texan Sirloin steak when I met up with a friend of mine, who used to go to school with me and now lives in Texas. In the evening we enjoyed the atmosphere on 6th and a nice evening walk along the river back to our hostel.
On Friday, we made our way to Dallas, from where we were supposed to take a plane to New York the next day. Unfortunately, we didn´t have a lot of time to see much of Dallas. What I did notice during our short stay is that it is a major city in Texas. I read in one of my travel guides that the city had developed as a strong economic center and had recently surpassed other cities to become the fifth largest one in the US. It also has one of the busiest airports in the world being the official hub and headquarters of American Airlines. That night we stayed in a motel close to the airport, had instant noodles from a gas station nearby and went to bed early. Those last days in Texas had been filled with impressions we hadn’t really had time to process yet.
New York City – New York:
Back in Big Apple! We spent our first day walking through lower Manhattan. Having been on Top Of The Rocks back in 2014, I wanted to visit another observatory with a different view. We decided to check out the fairly new One World Observatory in One World Trade Center, which is a three-story observation deck located on floors 100-102. Its slogan “See Forever” is perfectly explained in a two-minute video, which everyone has to watch just before entering the observation deck. The video shows aerial views of the city while there is epic instrumental music in the background. It finishes with the shutters going up and exposing you to an incredible view over lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. Whoever came up with this show did an amazing job. Really fascinating! However, the thing I liked most about One World Observatory was the 60-second elevator ride up. Very modern, floor-to-ceiling LED technology makes it possible to see a virtual time-lapse that recreates the development of New York´s city from past to present day. All in all this was a very amazing attraction to visit. One World Trade Center is America´s tallest building and is located next to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum including the Reflection Pools. Afterwards we did some shopping in Chinatown and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. In the evening we had some ice cream at Ben & Jerry`s at Rockefeller Center and went to Time Square, which is still one of the world´s most visited tourist attractions, as could be read on one of the billboards nearby. It was raining all morning the next day, so we took it slowly and went on the Staten Island Ferry to get a good view over the Manhattan bay, the Statue of Liberty and the skyline. (Thanks again Philip, my former USA travel buddy, for this awesome tip!!). What I learned about the Staten Island Ferry is that it is actually free. There is NO fare, but an amazing view. Since we had already spent the afternoon so close to the Brooklyn Bridge, we decided to see the sun go down behind the skyscrapers at Brooklyn Heights. During our stay in New York, we did another great walking tour, which we started at 110th Street, at the northern end of Central Park. Then we walked through the entire park (~ approx. 1.5hrs), which was a very lovely stroll that I would recommend every tourist, who is overwhelmed by New York´s size, noise and population. From the southern end of Central Park we continued on 7th Avenue until we reached Time Square, the Hard Rock Café, where we had to buy some items as souvenirs for friends and family, and the Flatiron District, which is pretty close to one of my favorite burger places in New York.
This was the first city on our trip that I´d been to before. Back in 2014, the city had overwhelmed me and I had been shocked by the size, buildings and population. This time it was New York´s diversity that impressed me the most. I noticed and appreciated the different ethnic cultures much more than last time – Chinatown, Little Italy, Little India, and Koreatown. I also tried to pay more attention to the characteristics of a typical New Yorker. And I came to almost the same conclusion as last time. It still seems to me they are extremely proud of their own city, of its uniqueness, which sometimes comes off to me as arrogance. One or two stays in New York are just not enough to see everything and to really experience the New York vibe. Then again I guess you´d only understand that vibe by living there for some time. By becoming a New Yorker for a few months. By living right in the middle of this melting pot. However, after my second trip to this overwhelming city, one thing is pretty obvious to me: no matter if you stay there for months, years or just a couple of days, no matter if you love it or hate it, New York is a place that can never leave you indifferent.