The Big Easy, Hollywood South, Crescent City, NOLA... I don’t know if it would win, but New Orleans is certainly in the running for “City With The Most Nicknames.” Why? My guess is that so much culture can’t be described by one name.

From the delicious (and sometimes bizarre) allure of Cajun cuisine, to some of the most unique landscapes in the country, there’s always a new experience ready for the taking.

That’s what sent 18 photo-explorers down the Gulf Coast: history, adventure and beignets…lots of beignets.

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Our adventure began early one crisp, Atlanta morning. Most of the photographers barely knew one another, but the air was warm and comfortable–like a bunch of old friends gathering again.

The drive to New Orleans is seven hours, so our first adventure was a halfway point in Alabama. As we approached, we sat behind the world’s longest train before finally pulling up to a metal gate: Spectre, Alabama. Spectre is a fake town that was built on a small island in the Alabama River. It was a movie set for the film Big Fish, but it’s a little more than an extremely fancy accommodation for the 9 goats that live there now.

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After our island adventure, we continued on toward New Orleans. 18 bunk beds in a French Quarter condo were calling our names, and we couldn’t wait to arrive.

When you’re adventuring, you can’t waste a single hour, especially if you want to catch the sunrise. Watching the sun come up over New Orleans from the infamous Levee was so breathtaking that we barely noticed how cold it was. After a while, our frozen fingers needed to find warm coffee cups, so we headed to the world-famous Café Du Monde for our long-awaited café au laits and beignets. Needless to say, they were delicious, and we were properly covered in powdered sugar. Beignets seem to have a way of leaving a trail.

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As we munched our way into the morning hours, we wandered New Orleans streets, listened to sidewalk jazz musicians, and snapped a few portraits and architectural shots. New Orleans is one of the most unique-looking cities in the country. The rich culture born of colonial french, spanish, indigenous, and african influences manifests itself in the creole cottages and enormous southern mansions alike.

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One of the main events for our trip was touring the swamp. Swamp is unlike any other topography. The wet, marsh-like terrain is home to a mind-bogglingly wide variety of animals and plants. Our tour guide, Corey, took us down the Pearl River and through beautiful, backwood bayous (narrow, slow-moving wetlands). As our boat picked its way through tall weeds and overhanging spanish moss, Corey taught us about all things swamp. He even showed us the bayou where the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild was filmed!

During those two hours, we saw alligators, cranes, and tons of wild pigs (who knew that pigs swim?!), but what struck me most of all about the swamp was the peaceful feeling it offered. As we glided through the calm, murky water, the sunlight found its way through the sleepy trees and made streaks across the water ahead of us.

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On our last night in the city, we filled our bellies with a local Nola classic: Dat Dog, a famous hotdog spot in Marigny. We also decided to do the unavoidable Bourbon Street to get the tourist experience. If you want to photograph something unique or take portraits of some real characters, that is definitely the place to go. And when you’ve had enough, fill your belly on the walk home with a catfish po boy from Verti Marte. When you taste that crispy fish covered in their special tartar sauce, you’ll understand why they’re open 24 hours.

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After two days of swapping stories and sleeping bunk-to-bunk, we were strangers no more. In the early morning light, we spoke some words of appreciation for one another and for the memories we had created, packed our things, and hit the road headed home. We set off, separately, in search of our next adventures.

As for me, I know New Orleans will call me back. I’ve still never tried snake jerky or heard the “Singing Tree” in Audubon Park; clearly I am not done exploring Nawlins. For travelers in search of their next destination, I say look no further.

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