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Spring Break in New Orleans

IMG_0450 (2).JPGIMAG1408 (2).jpgOne of the perks of studying in the US is the opportunity to travel; It's a pretty big country after all. One of the downsides of studying in the US is that you're actually there to study, so opportunities to travel are restricted by the academic calendar. I've mentioned previously that getting out of Columbus can also be slightly tricky, so heading away for a weekend isn't always worth the time, money or effort. Thankfully, spring break is a thing here, and it's basically a US substitute for what we'd call 'reading week' back home. It's the only extended period of time I get out of Uni before the semester ends, so I figured I'd make the most of it, by flying to New Orleans direct from Atlanta. From the state capital there are plenty of options, but I was curious about New Orleans ('NOLA'), and wanted to see how it measured up to my expectations of the city. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

New Orleans, situated a few hours south of Columbus and an hour away by plane, is a city crammed with culture, and for a tourist or traveller it's an ideal hive of activity. I stayed for five days, and don't remember being bored once. I remember being tired most of the time, but I'd be doing the city a disservice if I wasn't. You aren't supposed to sleep too much there. I arrived on Monday, and caught a shuttle over to the hostel I was staying in, sandwiched between the lush garden district and ludicrous French quarter, which is renown probably internationally for its vibrant nature. I spent a great deal of time there, most of it just walking around because, oddly enough, walking around was actually the most entertaining thing to do in New Orleans. If Columbus is at times too quiet then New Orleans is frequently deafening in contrast - heading down there was quite the shift, albeit a welcome one. It's a city which never really slows down, packed with bars, music venues, museums, art galleries, more bars, tourist spots and interesting characters. The French quarter in particular served as a hub, both for the more bizarre elements of the city, and it's most touristy. Every street corner featured an entertainer of some sort, every street itself a collection of unique stores and lively bars. The sound of jazz wafted over the rooftops, and the scent of exotic perfumes mingled weirdly with the less exotic scents of the city - it's not worth mentioning those. As a keen music listener New Orleans was ideal regardless of genre, and I often found myself standing in a doorway or sitting at a bar watching an open mic morning / afternoon / evening / night. That possibility was probably what I liked most about the city actually.

IMG_0530.JPGAnother perk of studying in the US is meeting new people from new countries, and there's no place better to do this than in a hostel. I ended up staying in one particularly social, and over the course of the week I interacted with friendly folks the world over. In the evening we'd head out together as a group to see the city, or experience Bourbon Street at night. During the day I could go solo or with others, if only to wander around the city and take in numerous different cultural influences painting New Orleans a vibrant shade of life. I could walk alongside the Mississippi River and find myself chatting to people from Portugal, Tunisia and the Caribean as if they'd been my next door neighbour for years. I could nip into a bar for half an hour and hear somebody's life story, just so I could shake their hand and then move on when they'd finished. I think it's awesome that a city could encourage that in people, and I think it's something we tend to avoid in the UK. I know for a fact that I'd find it difficult to step into a Wetherspoons and immediately have an interaction like that. In New Orleans it was weird not to. I like that about the American people, they're friendly in abundance, and I can't imagine many places being friendlier than NOLA.

I don't want to give the impression that all I did in New Orleans was go out and drink, I didn't, although that was a substantial part of my stay (it was spring break after all). Elsewhere the city had plenty to offer, and I took in all of the tourist sites, and uncovered some spots which weren't advertised as extensively. I saw Jackson Square, and visited several museums (including The Presbytere and The National WWII Museum). I rode the streetcars out of the centre and saw the city park and art museum, then somehow ended up joining a game of American Football even though the rules are still quite foreign to me. I participated in St Patrick's Day like a good quarter-Irishman should, getting to experience the craziness of a New Orleans street party while dancing a jig with a giant from Turkey. I took a ferry across the Mississippi and was able to look across at the skyscrapers from an area hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and which had not yet fully recovered. I took an airboat ride into a Louisiana swamp, and then fell asleep on the bus ride back into the centre of New Orleans, which promptly woke me up again. I saw a rock band I wouldn't be able to see in the UK necessarily, and then I played a game of FIFA with an Egyptian couple at three in the morning. There were plenty other things as well, which further added to the experience, but they blur together during a week which was probably the highlight of my US trip so far.

Being back in Columbus at present feels a little alien, and it may take me a day or two to readjust to the breezy pace of life here. If spring break is about getting away, then I got away, and I had a blast doing so. I suppose the only negative it that I have to wait six weeks to leave Georgia again, at which point my semester here will finish and I'll be given free rein to travel the country. Like I said at the start of this entry, America's a big place, and exploring it further is definitely something I'm looking forward to.