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.