New Orleans, sweet, New Orleans…but first, Destin, Florida and Mississippi.
Upon punching in New Orleans to our GPS, we found out we were not going to be going through Florida. We really wanted to get in the Gulf of Mexico waters, so we decided to take a detour down to Destin, Florida.
Decided to go to Destin, Florida meant that we would have to drive, drive, drive until about 1:00am to be able to spend an entire day relaxing at the beach before heading into New Orleans. The route we were taking was having us drive basically from the northern part of Georgia, to the southern part of Georgia, and across the Georgia/Florida line. We were very excited for this. We thought we would be able to find a Walmart fairly close to the border, stay there for the night, then get up in the morning and get some Georgia peaches at a peach stand before heading into Florida the next day. This plan changed quickly..
As we were driving, we were chatting away and taking care of some banking business when we started realizing things that were all about Alabama. We saw Auburn signs, a sign for Montgomery and then an Alabama state high way sign. We were like.. wait what?!! We are in Alabama? We stopped at the nearest rest stop/visitor center and asked the attendant if we were in Alabama. She chuckled for a second and said in her little southern accent, “Sweetheart, you have been in Alabama for over an hour now! And you didn’t even know it?!” We all got a good laugh out of this for a while, then we composed ourselves to and began trying to figure out how this happened- especially with us having absolutely no idea we were in Alabama until we were at least an hour in! We figured we just clicked on the wrong route Google Maps had offered us, and were clearly just driving to get the driving done since it took us so long to figure out we were in the wrong place.
This was the first state that we went into that we didn’t get a sign with the welcome sign, luckily after going down into Florida we would drive back through Alabama and would be able to get a sign there. Anyways, we stayed at a Walmart in Alabama for the night, saw our first armadillo, and got up in the morning to head into Florida.
Destin, Florida was the perfect relaxing beach day! If you haven’t been to Destin before, it’s a great place for a vacation in the Gulf of Mexico. You have to cross over this HUGE toll bridge ($4) before entering the island that Destin is located on. We found a public beach access spot, packed our beach bags and some lunch, grabbed our floaties and chairs, and headed for the water! We literally spent the entire day at the beach, floating in the water eating lunch, taking naps on the warm sand, reading in our chairs, watching dolphins swim by, and then ended it by watching an amazing sunset. During the sunset, we enjoyed watching birds swooping down grabbing fish out of the water, and watch a blue heron fish literally right in front of us.
After sunset, we seriously debated staying there one more day to enjoy the beach for one more morning, but decided it was best to get back on the road. We passed through Alabama, this time knowing we were driving through it, drove into Mississippi and slept at a Walmart just outside of the Gulf Island National Seashore of Mississippi. We though Arkansas was humid when we slept in the car there, but that was nothing compared to Mississippi. We parked the car, and started moving the boxes in the back around and began putting up the blankets when we both noticed we were getting bit by something. We looked down and saw the ground covered in fire ants. They were everywhere, and they were biting like crazy. We both jumped in the car with our legs hanging out, wiped off the ants from our legs, feet, and shoes, then moved to the other side of Walmart praying for no fire ants. Luckily there weren’t as many where we parked for the second time. Throughout the night we had to wake up and turn on the AC six different times to try and cool ourselves down. Neither of us used blankets, and we were up and our of there early in the morning because we couldn’t sleep with the humidity.
We got to Gulf Island National Seashore of Mississippi hoping that we would be able to get some beach time again. Our lack of research made us not away of the fact that this was not a beach place. This was a bayou and a huge one at that. We enjoyed walking around finding an alligator, a cute little turtle, and seeing the bayou environment. After walking around for a bit, we got back on the road and began making our way to New Orleans. Driving down the coast in Mississippi was an experience neither of us had had before.
As we were driving, the water was extremely dirty, there were piles of sand built up everywhere along the road, the few buildings that were there were all brand new, scattered along every street were foundations for houses and buildings with nothing on top of them but weeds and sand, and there were beautiful carvings in old trees all along the road. We stopped in at a Waffle House to talk to some locals about the neighborhood, use the restroom, and get a waffle since we had seen a bajillion of these Waffle Houses everywhere east of Colorado and hadn’t stopped at one yet. (If you haven’t been to one go.. their waffles are super cheap and super good!)
We began a conversation with our waitress by asking if the water was always so dirty. She explained to us that when storms hit, especially Hurricane Katrina, the debris from the storm gets trapped between the shore and the islands just off the shore and has no way of getting out. It basically just sits there swaying back and forth between the islands and the mainland making the water always dirty. We then had a conversation with our waitress about Hurricane Katrina, it hit Mississippi pretty bad and she had lived through it. She explained that she took her three-month-old baby and dad and left once it was rated a five on the scale and they barely made it out in time. On their way out of town they got a call from her uncle saying that him and his family couldn’t get out of town, and the hurricane shelters denied them because they were too full, so they had to stay at their house. Her uncle and his entire family drowned in their attic because they couldn’t get out. (This happened to many, many people down there) She continued to tell us stories of people she knew, buildings that used to be there, that will never be rebuilt, entire casinos that completely uprooted and ended up in the middle of highways miles and miles away, and her experience coming back after it was “okay” to head back to her home that was no longer there. Our hearts were broken. She was so strong talking about it. It was almost like a therapy to her talking with people that truly cared about her experience with Hurricane Katrina. For us it was so hard to hold back tears. We waited till we were in the car before showing how broken our hearts were feeling.
This conversation changed the rest of our drive down the coast. Every foundation we saw that didn’t have a house and every brick staircase that led to nowhere made us sink a little further in our seats and pray a bit more for the people that still live with the damage of Katrina. For every three-five houseless foundations, we saw immaculate houses that were extremely nice and all built on huge stilts, just in case another Katrina happens and leaves their town covered in 14 feet of water again. After seeing all this, we were anxious to see how New Orleans compared to the devastation we observed in Mississippi.
We were heading in to New Orleans on a Thursday, and Jason’s birthday was on Friday, so we decided to treat ourselves to a nicer place than the car. We booked an AirBnB room with Will and Pierre. For those of you who do not know what AirBnB is, it’s where you rent out a room in your house and run it like a bed and breakfast. We were supposed to check in with Will and Pierre just after three, and we had some time to kill, so we decided we would drive down to Bourbon Street. We walked down Bourbon Street, saw our first Mardi Gras beads, and headed to Will and Pierre’s.
We hung out with Will and Pierre for quite a while learning about what brought them to New Orleans, and all about their experiences there. Then jumped in the shower, talked about good food in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and what neighborhoods were okay to walk in at night and what weren’t so good to be in after dark. Will and Pierre live only a mile and a half from the French Quarter (downtown New Orleans) so we were able to walk there. Our first stop was a little mini market that carried handcrafted beer from all over the country. Jason grabbed a beer and I grabbed a cider and we hit the streets. Yes.. you can drink straight out of the can on the streets in New Orleans. So of course we had to partake in that experience!! These little beer markets we scattered all over the French Quarter, and it was way cheaper to get a drink there than at the bars, so we stopped at a couple more of those throughout the night.
We had dinner at a restaurant that had outdoor seating and a live band. We enjoyed shrimp gumbo and fried alligator for dinner. Yes, they were both delicious!! We recommend getting both if you are ever in New Orleans! After dinner we walked around a bit more, sat and watched a steam boat on the river, and engaged in the best people watching around!
In the morning, we went to a little restaurant called Café Du Monde and had the best beignets ever!! Café Du Monde is also a must do in New Orleans. This restaurant is open 24/7 and only sells beignets, coffee, hot chocolate, and soda. We will let you all in on some local secrets that our AirBnB hosts shared with us… First, at this restaurant it is cash only. Second, the waiters and waitresses have to buy the food that you order with their own money before they can get it for you. Third, you don’t wait in line at this restaurant. (This is the biggest secret of them all!!) Literally at all times of the day there is a huge line down the street for this place, but there is nobody there to seat you. You just simply walk in, and find a table that is empty, or stand over people that look to be almost done so you can steal their seats. We watched someone get up at a six person table and then someone else sat down in their seat, assuming that they were leaving, just so they could have their table! It’s a crazy and interesting restaurant, but oh so good!
After breakfast we got on the road to have a sushi dinner in San Antonio for Jason’s birthday before getting to Del Rio to spend some time with Dylan and Emily.