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18 April - 17 May 2016 Louisiana - New Orleans

Monday 18th April

Made our way down highway 1 from Marksville, passing through several small towns until we came to the Mississippi and on to Baton Rouge. There were homes with boat houses sitting alongside the river near Baton Rouge and on the other side of the highway we passed some very impressive and substantial homes. South east of Baton Rouge we came to Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans.

Stopped for some fuel on the way and our dollar debit card was refused. This has happened before at gas stations and will mean another lengthy phone call to Lloyds Bank.

We had booked in at Pontchartrain Landing RV Park which is situated on the navigation canal between the lake and the Mississippi and very convenient for downtown. The Park has a marina, boat slips, waterfront and floating vacation villas, bar/restaurant and swimming pool. They also operate a daily shuttle to the French Quarter which is 15 minutes away. This was once a boat and ship building area and still has an industrial feel to it, next door is a yacht repair factory.

This evening we went into the French Quarter. We were too late for the shuttle, therefore we called a cab company. We waited for a while and then received a call from the driver to say she was on her way. The first thing our driver asked when she arrived was why I hadn’t answered her two previous calls, I apologised and explained that the signal here was a little intermittent. Next we were told to get in the vehicle, ladies in the back and to put our seat belts on. This was Leanna - as in bananna, as she told us. We were hardly half a mile down the road before she had got us all singing – My Girl, and I have to say the harmonies weren’t bad. Well this is New Orleans – music town.

Leanna dropped us off in the French Quarter – after demonstrating to the men the correct way to help a lady out of the vehicle - and we walked around the bustling, lively streets of bars and restaurants with music drifting out of doorways everywhere. The buildings are very reminiscent of old style French/Spanish Mediterranean with plant strewn wrought iron balconies.

We had been given a recommendation for a gastro pub called Sylvain in Chartres Street. When we arrived at the restaurant there was an hour wait. They took our phone number and we went off to find a music bar. We heard some particularly good sounds coming from one corner bar. Inside there was a three girl group with backing musicians. They were excellent and could, back in the day, have given the Supremes a run for their money.

The building that houses Sylvain was built in 1796 and was very atmospheric.

We had a good meal and then phoned Leanna to pick us up. It wasn’t long before we were all singing our way back to the RV Park.

Tuesday 19th April

Had a leisurely breakfast and Tony then had the familiar long phone conversation with Lloyds about our blocked dollar debit card. The outcome was that if it happens again Lloyds will send a text to our US phone, we will verify what has happened and they will un-block the card and all will be well – Hurray!

We had lunch on the veranda of the Lighthouse restaurant at the RV Park and then got the shuttle into the French Quarter. As we approached Jackson Square Simon was stopped by someone who said, I bet I can guess where your shoes come from’. The premise being he wanted to clean the shoes and get remunerated for it. How he proposed to shine and polish a pair of canvas shoes was a mystery but he made a valiant effort of cleaning the rubber edging around the shoes.

Continued our walking tour past some very European looking houses and eventually came to the oldest building in New Orleans, Lafittes Blacksmith shop, now a bar in Bourbon Street.

We stopped off at an outside café for lunch and listened to the jazz band they had playing.

On a recommendation from Peter, we called in at the Roosevelt Hotel to try their signature cocktail in the Sazerac Bar. A mixture of Rye and bitters it was surprisingly good. The bar had a 1920’s feel with lots of walnut furniture. It was very lively with plenty of pre-dinner drinkers. We met four sisters that come away together every year to meet up and enjoy themselves somewhere in the US.

Wednesday 20th April

Wilson arrived this afternoon from Orlando. We met up with him at the Loews Hotel downtown where Simon and Ninette will stay until they fly home on Saturday.

Dinner this evening was at another recommended place called the Bon Ton Cafe in Magazine Street. The building that houses the Café dates back to the 1840’s but the restaurant opened in 1953. The room had exposed brick walls, checkered tablecloths and an old fashioned Lyons corner house feel with every table taken. Quite brightly lit with plenty of, what looked like, experienced staff milling about who had probably worked there for years. Our waitress was old style, no nonsense and efficient. She knew the menu like the back of her hand and knew exactly what to recommend.

She had a great sense of humour and we a few laughs. The menu had plenty of old time Louisiana Cajun dishes like crawfish etouffee, I was spoilt for choice but decided on fillet of redfish served under a mound of fresh crabmeat. All in all a great night, good company, excellent service, good food.

Thursday 21st April

Looked around the shops in a rainy downtown and then stopped to have nachos in a small bar called the Copper Monkey before meeting up with Simon, Ninette and Wilson in the Loews Hotel Bar. While waiting in the bar for the others to come down I was looking through a book about the history of New Orleans that I had picked up in the hotel lounge. The man sitting next to us noticed the book and said he was a Louisiana resident and lived just north of New Orleans. He had a lot of information about the town and gave us recommendations of where to eat. As is usual in most places in America it is very easy to strike up conversation.

This evening we went to another restaurant on our recommendation list, Pascal Manale, a family owned Italian restaurant in the garden district of the city that opened in 1913. Walking into the restaurant we came to the old fashioned Edwardian wooden bar where we waited until our table was ready.

The specialty here is the BBQ shrimp but the place is also famous for its oyster bar. Another night of good food and company.

We waited outside for our cabs home, one to the RV Park and one to the hotel. Ours came first and we left Simon, Ninette, and Wilson outside the restaurant talking to the doorman. After we left they continued chatting to the doorman who at first seemed a little unapproachable but eventually they got on to music and he started singing in a beautiful baritone voice. The taxi driver they had was from Pakistan and he sang them a Pakistani love song as they drove back to the hotel, Ninette said it was really sweet. I think everyone in this town has a tune in them.

As we approached the RV Park our driver told of how in the 1970’s this was a busy ship building area where he used to work. It was thriving at that time and he earned good money but as in other parts of the world the ship industry here died.

Friday 22nd April

Tom arrived this morning and we headed into town on the shuttle bus to meet up with Simon, Ninette and Wilson at Jazz Fest. This is the first day of what has been an annual event in New Orleans since 1970 and runs over two weekends.

The event is held at the Fairgrounds Racecourse. On the way there I took a tumble over a raised sidewalk flagstone. I went down with a real thud and took the impact on my left hand and knee. Therefore, the first place I went at the Fest was the Medical Tent to get the cuts and scrapes cleaned up. They said I was the third one with similar injures they had seen already and the festival had only been open a couple of hours.

There were several stages and tents at the festival all featuring different types of music, jazz, blues, gospel etc. Our first stop was the jazz tent where a trad band was playing and several people were dancing around to the music.

Next was the gospel tent and a great rendition of Oh Happy Day.

On to the blues tent and then to the Acura Stage and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brother.

The festival had a great atmosphere going with wonderful music and artists, we had a really enjoyable afternoon.

We all got on the school bus the hotel was using as a shuttle for a ride back downtown.

Back in town it was drinks at the Loews Hotel Bar and then on to the Herbsaint Restaurant in Saint Charles Street. It was a fine evening and we sat on one of the sidewalk tables. Great menu, beautiful food.

Back to the hotel for a nightcap in the bar and to say goodbye to Wilson who was flying out in the morning

Tom came back with us to the RV and we left thinking we would see Simon and Ninette in the morning. Back at the RV we received a text from Ninette, their flight was in the morning not in the evening as she had thought, good job she checked.

Saturday 23rd April

Spoke to Simon and Ninette by phone from the airport to say goodbye and safe journey.

This afternoon we took a trip down the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez.

We found ourselves a nice seat on the top deck with a good view of the town. As we moved down the river there was a narrator describing where we were and what we were passing.

We glided past the French Quarter and St Louis church.

Next we came to Cape Kennedy and Cape Knox two Ready Reserve Force ships. They are government owned roll on roll off ships that provide prompt emergency relief for humanitarian or peacekeeping missions anywhere in the world. Crossing the Atlantic in six days. The bulbous bow saves fuel, reduces drag, increases speed and stability.

Past the opening to the intercoastal waterway that stretches across the Gulf into Florida and along the Atlantic coast to New York.

We came to some damaged levees and docks, the aftermath of Katrina.

Next the historic Andrew Jackson Barracks, headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard.

The Domino Sugar building looked rusted and derelict but it is still a working factory. We could see the sugar being loaded onto a ship at the dock side.

We came to St Bernard Port and the monument to Andrew Jackson after the 1812 battle with the British.

Turning around we headed back to New Orleans and the downtown skyline soon came into view.

Before docking we went to have a look around the engine room

and then to main salon where there was a jazz band playing.

We came past the Oriana docked in New Orleans harbor.

After disembarking

we walked around Jackson Square past the horse drawn carriages.

The square was busy with tourists sitting in the sun watching the street entertainers.

Dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant on the veranda - Crawfish Boil.

Sunday 24th April

Tom was picked up this morning by several friends from Bennett’s Ski School. They are going to Jazz Fest, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are on today.

Visited Rouses the local supermarket to get supplies. Outside the shop was a large boiler where they were cooking crawfish and then selling them freshly cooked.

Monday 25th April

Tom arrived back this morning from the hotel after having a late night, or I should say early morning, partying in downtown. I think a good time was had by all. He went back off to Uni and then there was just us three. We have said a lot of good-byes this last few days. It has been a fun packed three weeks and we have got used to having friends and family around us, it was sad to see them all go.

Managed to get a few jobs done today. Replaced a broken winch on the trailer. Tried again to get the wifi router working. After several phone calls to RadioLabs it is to be returned for a second time. The RV has a crack in the windscreen which is too big to be repaired. After talking to our insurance company Tony phoned the manufacturer who will arrange for a local company to fit a new windscreen.

Went to CVS to see the pharmacist. The wound on my knee is not looking very healthy, might have an infection in it. The pharmacist was very good and said I should see a doctor and get some anti biotics but first I will try antibiotic cream to see if that works. I came out the shop with an armful of stuff, sterile cotton wool balls, sterile nonstick dressing, Hydrogen Peroxide to clean the wound and antibiotic cream. Let’s see if that lot does the trick.

Tuesday 26th April

Took a trip to Walmart Supercentre and the opticians they have there. Tony badly needs new lenses, the ones he has are very scratched. The service was good, Chema, the assistant that helped us was attentive and efficient.

Wednesday 27th April

As predicted today we had thunderstorms and heavy rain. I decided to take the pharmacists advice and go see a doctor about my knee. The nearest walk-in centre was in downtown New Orleans. On the way the weather deteriorated and visibility on the highway was bad. There was some flooding in the downtown area as the drains struggled to cope with the downpour. I had to wade through nearly a foot of water to get into the walk-in centre. The doctor said that the abrasion was infected but it was still localised and I didn’t need antibiotics but I did need a tetanus shot as the town full of horse manure, only he didn’t say it quite so politely. The knee (looking nasty colours of red and yellow) was dressed and I was given antibiotic cream, gauze dressings, strapping and told to change the dressing once a day. I was also advised to not go wading in any dirty water, local lakes or the Gulf of Mexico – I did mention that I had already been wading today to get into the building.

Thursday 28th April

More thunderstorms today. The wind got up and I could somehow smell the rain coming and oh boy did it rain.

About a year ago our US phone fell on the floor and the glass cracked. We have managed since then and just got accustomed to the squiggly black lines on the screen. However, Tom suggested we try replacing the screen ourselves. Tony got on YouTube to watch videos on how to disassemble the phone and sent off for a new screen and the appropriate tools – a good job to do on a rainy day. After several hours with lots of bits of phone strewn across the table, it proved impossible to separate the screen from the LED panel. Tony gave up and went off to source another phone.

I managed to speak to Cerys via WhatsApp. It had been a while since we had chatted and it was nice to catch up on all the family news. Cerys said that the UK was experiencing similar weather as here, except we can still wear shorts and a tee-shirt, I don’t think that would be the case in the UK.

Went for dinner at the RV Park restaurant, the rain had stopped and we sat out on the veranda.

Friday 29th April

On the way to get a new phone yesterday Tony stopped for fuel and guess what, they refused his card. The new system of text to advise that payment could be made didn’t work because he did not yet have a new working US phone.

Started to watch Downton, series six.

Saturday 30th April

Our hopes of going to Jazz Fest today have been dashed. This afternoon there has been severe thunder storms across the area, plus a tornado warning.

The festival was closed down and the final acts, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, Snoop Dogg, amongst others, didn’t appear. As I write the thunder and rain continues. Not much good news this week!

Sunday 1st May

Saw the first flash of lightening and heard the first clap of thunder at 1100. The rain started at 1130 and continued for the rest of the day. There are concerns about flash floods. The water seems to be draining away from the RV Park quite well but we are positioned at the side of a canal between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain, that’s a lot of water.

Monday 2nd May

Bad weather still dominates the area. Temperatures are in the mid- twenties centigrade with 99% humidity. Only one heavy shower today and the sun came out this evening.

Tuesday 3rd May

Viewed a film in the function room here at the Park called Hurricane on the Bayou. The story was told by a young girl and her family and friends who were here at the time of hurricane Katrina. She is a musician and together with other Louisiana musicians they were appealing for the restoration of the wetlands in the area. They described the impact that Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands had on natural hurricane protection.

One of the musicians was Cajun and grew up in the bayous. He was also a pilot and could see from the air how much the wetlands and outlying barrier islands had reduced since he was a child. The seasonal flooding of the Mississippi that carried sediments onto the land, creating healthy growth of the wetlands and filling any areas of subsidence, was stopped years ago by the building of levees. The sediment carried by the river was now discharged into the sea. Another factor was the dredging of canals which allowed salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to intrude into the brackish/freshwater wetlands. The film went on to tell the story of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Wednesday 4th May

The first day of good weather for a week but we have the RV booked in to have the windscreen replaced. Our route to Accurate Auto Glass in Matairie about ten miles away was via the I-10 west and the traffic was heavy. Belle met us when we arrived with the staff who would be fitting the window.

The first thing the staff noticed was that our windscreen was unusual because it was not sitting in a ‘gasket’ surround. The guys would need to be careful when fitting the new screen to hold it in place until fixing agent had dried.

We were given a company vehicle to use while the work was done. It was a new Chevrolet pickup, at last we were getting the chance to drive a pick up. Tony was very impressed, it drove beautifully.

After doing some shopping we stopped off at La Madeleine for lunch, a really good French style bakery and café. I liked everything on the menu but eventually settled for croquet monsieur and salad, Tony had chicken in a cream sauce, broccoli and rice, all delicious.

We got back to Accurate Auto Glass and the new windscreen was in place and looked much better fitted than the original. The old one was sitting on the floor of the workshop with a large crack down the middle waiting to be disposed of.

We were very pleased with the work and the service we had received from everyone, particularly Belle who looked after us very well.

Sandy relaxing.

Thursday 5th May

This morning we had a look around the French Market

and then took a walking tour of the French Quarter. Our guide Nancy

explained about the beginnings of the city in the French Market area where the original settlement was a Native American trading post on the bend of the river. Before we moved on Nancy gave us a warning about the uneven pavements due to the area being built on swamp land and silt from the Mississippi River which causes subsidence because the bedrock is so far below. As I had already fallen foul of the New Orleans pavements I was already on alert.

In the early 18th century the area belonged to the French and a grid pattern development was put in place on high ground at the side of the river. In 1762, the king of France asked his cousin the King of Spain if he would take over and manage the territory. Hence, the Spanish era started and the resultant architecture can be seen today.

There were two serious fires first in 1788 and again in 1794 after which the Spanish put in place strict building rules. Typical buildings from this period are two story with a first floor balcony decorated with wrought iron. Shuttered windows and a courtyard garden.

Usually the ground floor was for business and the floor above for living. The first inhabitants came from France, Spain, Caribbean and West Africa and had the collective name of Creole

The catholic faith dominated and the Ursuline Convent acted as a hospital for the town and was known for growing medicinal herbs. The convent survived the two fires where most of the original French Quarter buildings were destroyed.

We looked at houses and heard the stories of some notorious households. For example, the Lalaurie mansion which is said to be haunted. There were stories that Madame Lalaurie mistreated her slaves and in 1834 when a fire broke out in the house rescuers reported finding seven slaves horribly mutilated. The Lalauries left New Orleans and were not heard again. A more recent owner of the house was Nicolas Cage who apparently had it reposed by the IRS.

Our next stop was the Hop On Hop Off bus for a tour of the city. Starting at the French Market.

Sandy has become obsessed with catching geckos since we have been here.

Friday 6th May

Went into the French Quarter on the shuttle bus run by the RV Park. We walked along Royal Street which runs at the back of St Louis church and is a smart street with nice boutique shops and art galleries.

Walked around Jackson Square in front of the church past all the street artists.

Moved onto the French Market and had something to eat at the Market Café. There was a jazz/blues group singing and they did a great version of Hi De Ho Man.

We had a New Orleans invention called a Muffaletta. An Italian style bun layered with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone and swiss cheese. Topped with olive salad and baked. Beautiful but one between two is plenty.

Just across the road is Central Grocery which is still an old fashioned Italian deli and grocery and it claims to have invented the muffaletta back in the early 1900’s.

Our ticket for the Hop On Hop Off bus runs for three days and we waited at the stop across from the market.

While there we spotted what looked like a National Guard helicopter flying over with people sitting at the open hatch door.

The bus took us around the town again.

This time as we passed St Louis Cemetery we spotted the pyramid shaped tomb purchased a few years ago by Nicolas Cage which is to be his final resting place.

As we neared the river we passed a gaping hole in the road that was cordoned off. There appeared to be an open space or tunnel down in the hole.

We got off the bus in the Garden District and met our guide Christie who would be taking us on a walking tour of the district. First we had the usual warning about the broken pavements before we set off to view this lovely district.

Built in the 1830’s as a settlement for the new American residents made wealthy by cotton and sugar, the houses are large antebellum mansions build along shady oak tree lined streets. These days oil is the money spinner and the area has attracted some Hollywood stars to buy mansions, such as Sandra Bullock and again Nicolas Cage.

Writer and New Orleans born Anne Rice famous for her vampire books and particularly, Interview with a Vampire has a house here.

We finished the tour at Lafa