Before moving to Sweden, in the summer of 2015, I decided to spend all my savings and invest in a trip to the US. And what’s the best way to visit the US? On wheels. Get in my written car and join me in this journey.
This destination was also chosen because my boyfriend has family living there. Cousins and uncles conveniently located in Miami and San Francisco: the starting and ending points were defined by that. We flew from Gothenburg to Miami and we were greeted with high temperatures, but the air conditioning is taken very seriously in the US and as soon as we reached the car, the temperature dropped.
The first stop was Ocean Drive: an exciting mix of palm trees, modified cars, restaurants and bars. The sun was setting when I took off my shoes to test the waters on that side of the Atlantic. The water was warm and the excitement in the streets was starting to grow, predicting a lively evening.It was time to find a restaurant and order the largest margaritas I’ve ever seen, real aquariums filled with the cocktail. To go with it we chose spicy tacos and after dinner we went to Port of Saint Lucie, where Oscar’s aunt lives. One of the things I realized quickly is that the measures in the US are extremely exaggerated. And I’m not even referring to the conversion system that makes 2 gallons into 1.89 liters. I’m talking about “small” drinks in restaurants and the size of the cars and the roads. I have never felt so tiny.
The next day, we had planned to do some paddling, but a typical Florida thunderstorm didn’t make it possible. We ended up taking a swim in the ocean anyway and some pelicans decided to fish a few meters from us.
The next stop was Orlando. Yes, we went to a theme park. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Needless to say that both Oscar and I are worthy of the label “Potter heads”. Oscar’s cousin and her husband accompanied us on a day of roller coasters, butterbeer and chocolate frogs. But yet again, by the end of the day another thunderstorm spoiled our plans of few more hours of fun, since all open-air roller coasters closed down, so we decided to search for an hotel for the night.Innocently, we thought that we could just go to the reception and get a room. The old-fashioned way. It was impossible, everything was full. So we returned to the car and, from there, we reserved a room in the same hotel through Booking. Saved by the internet.
Orlando is a thematic city itself: it has over a dozen theme parks, a number of hotels and a clear focus on fun. We didn’t get to walk around the city, but if you looked around you would find at least one theme park and a hotel.
The next morning was a road morning to conquer the many kilometers that separated us from Pensacola. I managed to convince the gang to do a quick stop in Silver Springs, a nature park famous for its boats with a glass bottom and crystal clear waters. Everywhere there are signs that warn for the presence of aligators, so you can’t swim, but you can go canoeing and do other sports. It was also in Silver Srings I came to know the Banana Spider – named like that because it was “shipped” to the US through the banana trade – it’s not lethal, but it’s poisonous.For lunch, we exited the motorway and entered Talahasse. To make the most of the American experience, we went to a drive-in – different from a drive-through – you just have to park and order, the food is brought to the car. I tasted my first Corn Dog there: a kind of hot dog dipped and fried in corn. Yes, it’s as greasy and as tasty as it sounds.
From Orlando to Pensacola, we traveled more than 1000 km and had a change of time zone.
When we arrived in Pensacola, we had a very special opportunity. Since Oscar’s cousin works at the military base, we were able to visit it. We saw a number of planes full of history, including the one that carried the body of Osama bin Laden. This particular base is called the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” in the US, and it includes several training centers for special forces, a museum, a lighthouse and even a cemetery.We slept one night in Oscar’s cousin’s house before getting back on the road. We decided to have an evening of board games: Guillotine, Tsuro and Munchkins. Early the next morning, we got on the bus that would take us to New Orleans across the state of Alabama.
I will not even try to be impartial. This was the region and the city that I most liked to visit. We stayed at the Creolle Inn in Dauphine Street, and the friendliness of the people was widespread. We trusted the suggestion of the Inn keeper and went out to dinner at Coop’s Place. A very relaxed bar where the waiter will not allow you to order anything that is not typical. My choice was Pasta Jambalaya – a very spicy Creole dish but delicious (just thinking about it, my mouth waters). We tasted local beer and we ended up talking to an Australian couple sitting next to us.
One should not, and can not visit New Orleans and miss the opportunity to hear a jazz band play live. The trick is to stroll through the French Quarter and choose the bar for what you hear at the door. Then just go in, order a drink and enjoy the music. Most bars have no entrance fee, but request that you have at least one drink. Prices are not the most friendly, but once in a lifetime, let yourself go and invest in a good time.
The next morning was reserved for Alligators. Since we had some coupons we chose the one that had the bigger discount – Jean Latiffe – and we called to make a reservation. After that, we had breakfast and waited for the bus that would take us to the swamps. We did a boat trip on which we can see and hold a five years old alligator and see several other in the swamp.We had planned to stroll around the city all afternoon, so we traveled to Canal Street – the longest avenue in New Orleans – and got lunch at Mc’Alister, a fast food counter inside the casino, famous for its iced tea. We had lunch overlooking the Mississippi River, next to The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
After that we crossed the French Quarter again to visit the Louis Armstrong Park. A park with 130,000 square meters, very quiet, dedicated to Jazz music. I recommend a walk at sunset to enjoy it at its best. That night, we had dinner at Bourbon Street and yet again we went to see a live jazz band.New Orleans is easy to visit on foot. We were careful to arrange stay relatively close to the center and it helps. Moreover, the people are extremely friendly and it is very easy to feel that New Orleans is indeed a city of artists.
This post was also written in Portuguese. Read the Portuguese version here.