Sorry I haven’t posted in ages! It has definitely been a hectic couple of months, including a laptop crisis which didn’t make blogging easy. But more of that later – I’m going to take you way back and catch you up on some of the travelling I’ve been doing in North America this semester.
So towards the end of winter, after the time of the Beanpot and lots of other icy activities, we decided to get an Enterprise car and drive on up to Montreal for the weekend. I was lucky to have a friend studying at McGill there, which is a really nice university. Boston got pretty cold during winter (down to -15 degrees) but Montreal was something else. And we were there when it was ‘warm’ – I’ve been told the late -20s are what is considered standard.
Driving up to Montreal is actually fine. Once we got past the crazy Boston traffic (we went during rush hour at night) it’s pretty quiet through the north part of New England. We made the stellar decision to stop off at the amazing steakhouse chain known as Longhorn. I don’t know if I’ve talked about it before, but if you get the chance to go, it will not disappoint. The car journey took us around 5 hours, but with the greatest hits of Avril Lavigne, my roommate Aoife and I made it through the long journey without a hitch. Well almost – the French roadsigns were a bit confusing, but we still got there in one piece.
We didn’t have that much time in Montreal, but we got to wander around the university, see some of the busier parts of the city – some of which is actually underground! There are loads of shops and malls that are built underneath the city, so that during the winter months you don’t need to walk out in the cold. It was also really weird looking around everywhere and seeing French being used so widely. It felt like I was back in Europe rather than just across the border from America – which I would say is true for Montreal more generally. It’s much more European in architecture and the general feel of the place. It’s a very cool city, in both definitions of the word. I enjoyed buying my first legal drink in North America, the whole attitude towards which really emphasises the redundant and counterproductive laws in the US. But the real discovery of Canada is its obsession with another treat.
They’re literally obsessed.
Everywhere you would go, you’d see bottles of that stuff, they’d put it in coffee, leave it on all the tables in restaurants, and my favourite use of it was for a wintry ‘maple taffy’ which was just as much fun to watch being prepared as to tackle eating.
It was a fun thing to eat – just kinda sticky. They spread a trail of warm, melted maple stuff over a box of crushed ice, leave it for a while and then roll it up onto a stick. It was really nice with the warm cider they sold with it. Along with Tim Horton’s (a donut etc chain) Canada has some great sugary snacks. Go Canada. We had a really good time in Montreal and I would love to go back there to properly explore it – it’s a great contrast to Boston and I would encourage anyone in NE America to go visit it if they can!
But if you think that’s all the travelling we’ve been doing here, you are greatly mistaken. American college kids have a tradition of going on holiday to somewhere exciting for their Spring Break, which is basically a week off classes. Again, with my fellow international roommate, we decided to go for the culture over the sun, sea and sand option. This led us to choose New Orleans and Washington DC as a double whammy Spring Break. I’m going to talk about our trip to New Orleans first, as there is certainly a lot we fit into our (unfortunately) extended visit there. Here we go.
After finishing mid terms (literally, as soon as I finished mine I was off) we went to Boston Logan airport to fly out to New Orleans via North Carolina. North Carolina is a place that is the very definition of fantastic. We stopped off in Charlotte, which was filled with rocking chairs in place of normal chairs, singing bathroom attendants, and above all, the most amazing accent ever. I swear I will be returning there just to listen to people speak. Hilarious.
Something that recurred on my year abroad, was dreadful transport luck with Aoife – we are cursed. However, the transport gods didn’t quite get away with it this time around, and although the captain of the flight went missing (yeah, really), we eventually were on our way to Louis Armstrong airport (again, yes, really) in New Orleans.
We got a room in a hostel for a couple of days, which was a very cool place and had some nice dorm style rooms. Our room however can only be described as a voodoo two person shed. Situated by a picturesque bubbling green pond, the room offered some lovely decor of pagan rituals and allowed for nightmares to ensue easily. Here’s a taster:
But other than this weird room, it was a totally fine hostel. Any hostel with a soft white cat roaming around wins me over.
New Orleans as a city was definitely a funny one. The jazz music and culture that we were looking for is there – the French Quarter is totally beautiful and the streets are just what you’d expect. However when you wander over to the famous/infamous Bourbon Street, a whole other side of the city is revealed. It’s tackier than blutack. Expect lots drunk people people begging you to go into strip bars and then throwing beads down at you on the street (free stuff is always good, so actually can’t complain there). As someone who has never really been interested in the whole culture of those holiday destinations in the Mediterranean (e.g. Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents), this didn’t really appeal. But the live music there is excellent, and the traditional food is amazing too. Get hurricane cocktails, gumbo, jambalaya and above all – beignets! They are SO good – but don’t go to the famous Cafe Beignet where they are just average – there’s a place called Cafe Beignet in a little square of ‘Jazz Legends’ on Bourbon Street that has the best ones I had whilst there. They are basically warm dough snacks covered in sugar – but it was a definite highlight of spring break, if not the whole year. It worries me how uncertain I am that that is a joke…
We also did a swamp tour where we got to see alligators, snakes, some weird birds, pigs and turtles. It was a fun day trip – the bus tour to which also allowed us to see some parts of town that have still been left devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It’s pretty crazy to see so many houses just abandoned after the storm – and it did make me uncomfortable to think about such a fun party city be shaken by something that horrific. The city is really built in the flattest place I’ve ever seen, and the way it’s woven into the swamplands and other bodies of water does hit home the scale of that disaster. The rebuilding is very much still going on with some parts of town just being moved back into now.
Other things worth seeing in New Orleans are Jackson Square, which is very European in style and a lovely change from Bourbon Street; Canal Street which is the main street; Royal Street is really pretty too; and one of our favourite experiences was a very fancy cinema which was hilarious highlight. We saw the average film that is Identity Thief but thanks to the classy cinema we had a great old time. Served food and wine at the push of a button as we sat in comfy leather seats reclining our feet, we spent an evening feeling classy. I guess as students it’s the little things in life.
Anyway, I’m going to continue Spring Break Part II in another blog, featuring DC, flight cancellations, sassy hostel exchanges, and rushing to see as much as we can in just under 2 days. Hope to update you all soon and let you know how our experience in the capital was!
Till next time,