Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Orleans!

Emily and I just returned from an amazing week in
the dirty south city of No’lins
(Naw-lins) as they call it
down there. Honestly, the city is pretty much the last place I cared to visit but because Emily’s job was paying for a 5 star hotel for us and we’d just have to pay one airline ticket and one extra night for the hotel it was pretty cheap and well worth the trip. She even got $50 per diem that we used for meals. When she first told me about the trip I thought it was going to be just a few days but when I got the itinerary emailed to me I was shocked to see that I would be missing a full
week of school towards the end of the term. This proved pretty difficult as I had to arrange my TA responsibilities and classwork around it. Luckily I was able to convince Jim Duncan to cover my Friday recitation and finished my other classwork beforehand. Plus, with the amount I had been working at 3 jobs and school full time I really needed a break! Emily and I were both glad we didn’t push it and climb Thielsen the day before we left.
It was a long day of travel an flying on Monday getting to New Orleans. Rachel (Em’s co-worker for the trip) and her boyfriend Zack drove us from their apartment complex to the airport. Rachel is about 5 months pregnant so she wasn’t able to really party it up with the rest of us which was too bad although she was always more than willing to come out with us without drinking. The whole
purpose of the trip was for the largest critical care nursing conference where
the girls hoped to recruit some nurses for Good Samaritan. The girls would have to work Tuesday-Thursday from 8am till 5pm, but on Thursday they were done by lunch time. That meant that Zack and I were free to roam the town during the day.
On Monday after our cab ride to the Marriott hotel across from the conference center we all went out to eat down the street in the Warehouse District at the Gordon Biersch Brewery. Apparently it is a chain restaurant but we didn’t know. I got some authentic gumbo and despite being weary of the southern spices like I always have been I
found it delicious. We then went back to our hotel rooms and drank a bit before heading off to bed.
On Tuesday I spent the entire morning in the lobby of the hotel online correcting papers for one of my TA classes. I had told the professor that I was going to be out of town but apparently she still wanted me to get a lot of stuff done. The most annoying part of the whole ordeal was that Good Samaritan was paying $250 a night at this dump and the hotel room lacked a fridge, a
microwave, a decent tv, decent channels, wi-fi, and even a fan in the bathroom! We got all those things staying at $40/night Comfort Inn’s on other trips! Finally, after I was all caught up I headed for a walk through the Riverwalk shops towards Harrah’s Casino. The Riverwalk shops were very tourist-oriented with many focused on Mardi Gras but there was also authentic southern food throughout (too expensive for me) and great views of the “bend in the Mississippi” where New Orleans was
built. Moving on I walked down Canal Street and then busted a right down a side street towards the French District. I considered the afternoon a “scouting trip” for the rest of the week as I usually turn out to be the trip planner and wanted to make sure the four of us had plenty to do and see for the week. I walked many miles around all the streets of the French Quarter taking many
photos of the intricate iron railings of all the houses and the many hanging plants from balcony’s. At around 4:30 I got a call from Emily saying they were out so I suggested we all eat a cool place I had walked by on the Riverfront called the Crazy Lobster. It looked to be mostly seafood and I was excited to try one of their so-called famous steam pot of southern seafood. Unfortunately, I quickly found out that a steam pot for just one person was $70!!! I couldn’t believe it! Instead I got a plate of mixed gumbo, jumbalya, etoufe, and crawfish instead with a couple characteristic New Orleans Hurricane drinks. Our server brought our drinks over in plastic cups and we learned that it was perfectly legal to walk around the streets at night with a plastic cup full of booze! Only in No’lins! A
next to us couldn’t finish their seafood bucket and donated it to us which I quickly and happily devoured. Next it was on to the French District where we decided to take a carriage ride with our authentic native driver Paul and his mule “firefly”. Before the ride we stopped at Mango Mango to get some massive Daquiri’s to carry around. We also stopped by a gift shop on Canal street filled with gator heads and went into Urban Outfitters briefly. It was about a half hour long ride but Paul really told us a lot about the Quarter and of the impact of Katrina to the region. We learned that many of the old buildings in the French Quarter still have gas lines that run to them and keep their gas lanterns by the street lit up. We also learned that what we see from the road is simply the back of
the house while the most beautiful parts of the houses are the lavish courtyards protected from the road
and eyesite of tourists like us. Apparently Brad and Angelina had a house that we passed along with Nick Cage and Brittany was known to frequent the area. After leaving beautiful Jackson Square we headed to Bourbon Street to the Bourbon Street Blues Co. bar for some cheap by 1 get 2 free beers on the 2nd floor. Even for a Tuesday night the street was jumping! We stayed out till about 11pm when Rachel clearly was tired out so we headed back to the hotel walking the whole way back. When we got back to the hotel we were able to get into the hot tub area for a little while until a nice guard told us it was time to leave. We then headed back to our rooms for a couple more beers. Without a fridge Zack had called room service saying that Rachel had diabetes and needed a fridge for her medicine.... again... $250 a night for the place...
Wednesday morning I rented a car from Hertz and spent the day driving to Florida’s Highpoint Britton hill near Lakewood, Florida. It was
a highpoint in a part of the U.S. that frankly I didn’t see myself ever returning too so I thought I should definitely go for it. At 345 feet
it was a joke, hardly worth the 4 hours of driving each way to get to it from New Orleans. It was a pretty uneventful trip and the highpoint was nothing to write home about. It was a simple park with an engraved stone at the highpoint with cows in the field across the street. The only thing interesting was the wild boar I saw on the side of the road being eaten by vultures. On the way out I stopped in Defuniak Springs at a hamburger stand to grab a bite to eat and then headed back
through Pensacola towards New Orleans. Getting closer to New Orleans I decided take a quick detour through Waveland, Mississippi, which reportedly was the hardest hit town on the coast during Katrina. Literally every structure I saw was either brand new or simply just a left over foundation. It was very clear that the entire town had been obliterated.
Destroyed peers were everywhere and the empty shell of a church almost brought tears to my eyes. I made a quick dash towards the Stennis NASA launch area but
it was 5pm and everything was closing so I decided not to stay. I was determined to get the car back to the parking lot by 6pm so that Hertz wouldn’t charge me another day. I drove like a madman back into the city and made it with just 5 minutes to spare.... all to waste because that night Emily and I drank so damn much that I slept in too
late in the morning and they charged me another day anyway... bastards. I was so pissed that they didn’t have a key drop off box for after-hours. They explained it was because of security issues... bullshit, it was to screw the customer over who probably wouldn’t be able to get back early enough to return the keys the next morning... like me!
Wednesday night was the big night for Emily and I out on Bourbon Street. We ate dinner at the Coffee Pot on St. Peters Street in the French Quarter, again getting authentic cajun food. Conveniently, we were then able to walk directly next door
to Pat O’Briens, home of the Hurricane to start our night off with several of those in front of the flaming fountain in the back courtyard. From there it was on to Bourbon
Street and Tropical Isle for some Hand Grenades (supposedly the most powerful drink in New Orleans). We both bought cigars and smoked them walking down the street towards the famous blacksmith shop called Lafittes which is purportedly the oldest bar in America. There is no electricity in it and it is lit by candlelight. Pretty cool. We watched a
few street performers sing with tourists then headed back down Bourbon Street for a couple more cocktails. At World Beers (or something like that name) we bought two pints of
New Castle and I was blown away when the bartender asked for $22 dollars! We ended up talking to him for a little while and he explained that after Katrina everything tripled in price to make up for the lost income of 2-3 years without tourists! Restaurants lost their best chefs because their best chefs lost their homes in the 9th ward and reviews were poor, although we thought the food was great.
I think he felt bad because he made us a couple shots on the house. From there it we headed back towards the hotel passing through the Marriott where Emily took her chances spending $10 bucks and quickly losing it in the slots. By the time we got back to the hotel I don’t remember anything because the hurricanes and hand grenades had hit me hard... really hard. I was impressed Emily made it through the next day!
On Thursday after sleeping off my hangover the girls got out of work early and Zack and
I helped them pack up their stuff. We all decided to go explore uptown and the Garden District via the historic Charles Street streetcar (don’t call them trolley’s!). We got off the streetcar near Lafayette Cemetery #1. New Orleans is famous for its above ground cemeteries and this particular one was one of
the cities most beautiful according to guide books and my New Orleans Iphone tourist app. The Garden District had the most beautiful Oak trees that lined the streets and the mansions and houses were enormous and very ornate. We came to Magazine street and the girls spotted a sushi place called Sake Cafe II. I preferred to stick to southern food but didn’t argue. On the flight home in the seat magazine the restaurant was mentioned as one of the better Sushi places in the south.. what a
coincidence! We then walked up 1st street through the Garden District again back to the Charles Streetcar to head back.
My half sister Starr new I was in the area and we both decided it would be nice to grab dinner together. She and her daughters Kirby, and
Christina came along with Christina’s children Nathan and Jersey. We all met up in Jackson Square, but before we met I was threatened by a 60 year old bum! Emily and I were sitting by a fountain when the guy came up to us and sat down, visibly messed in the head with his eyes barely open. He talked to us but I could barely understand him. Finally I could tell that
he wanted to tell me where I got my sandals at and if he could guess I would buy him a coke. I said sure and regrettably shook his hand. He said, “ you got them shoes on yer feet, right here in Jackson Square!” I smiled and said, “nice try” but I’m not going to buy you a $2 coke
for that... which is when his tone turned to very threatening. He got up said, “don’t con a con artist” mumbled a few things about gathering friends and beating me if he saw me later while also saying that if Emily wasn’t there he’d kick my ass. First off, the guy could hardly stand up straight and was making a scene. Thankfully nothing happened and Starr approached us about 10 minutes later.
We walked back down to the riverfront street car and took a ride to Landry’s Seafood House where Starr treated Emily and I to dinner where I had red snapper with crab if I remember right. On the way to the restaurant I was pushing Jersey around fast in the stroller
which she really loved. Nathan cried just a little bit at the restaurant and then was quiet and passed out. It was a great dinner and Emily and I learned a lot about my parents, especially my father, that I had never known before. This was the 3rd time I’d ever seen my half-sister and the visit really imprinted a sense of respect for her that I had not known before. My father’s previous children had a really rough time growing up but I think Starr, although being through quite a lot in life, has turned out wonderfully. Family comes first for her and it could clearly be seen in her interactions with her children and grand children. After dinner we took a walk back to the French Quarter and stopped in a Chiwawa clothes store (yes, you read that right). I found it funny how all of them were obsessed about dressing up their little pooches but having a business as a dog groomer explained that. :). We then walked through the French Quarter where a street performer helped Jersey act out a still pose. We chatted all the way back down Canal Street to where they had parked and said goodbye. I will be seeing her again soon at my father’s memorial service in August.
Emily and I had a very rushed Friday trying to see all that was left in New Orleans. We took the Charles Street car in the morning down to the
Audubon Zoo in Uptown. We got off the streetcar across the street from Loyola University and walked through the Audubon golf course to get to the zoo. Again we were surrounded by beautiful huge oak trees and we even spotted a lone turtle walking
across the green. Hopefully he didn’t get plugged by any golf balls! The zoo was amazing and we saw a lot of very cool animals. Of particular note was Blaze the Sumatran Orangutan who captured everyone’s hearts with his begging poses with hands
outstretched for food! Upon walking around a corner we came across a variety of native, or I assume they were native as they were out of their cage, birds which followed us down the pathway looking for handouts. We also got to see one of the famed white alligators (not albino) that were caught years back in the Everglades.
At around
2:30 we left the zoo, got a ride back to the streetcar and headed back towards the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas to check it out for an hour and a half before it closed. It was a typical aquarium with a pretty cool amazon rainforest display. I was able to test our new camera out in a tank of rays that they encouraged children to touch gently. We left the aquarium just before
it closed and headed back to Le Pavillon, the hotel that we checked into for Friday night because it was $100 cheaper and was far superior than the Marriott which only had the convenience of being across from the conference center which we
didn’t need to be near any longer. We met Zack and Rachel on the roof which had a swimming pool and hot tub. We then all went out to the French Quarter for dinner at Pat O’Briens for our final night and drinks on Bourbon Street on the 2nd story of Tropical Isle where I was foolish enough to get a Hand Grenade
without any ice in it to dilute it. I didn’t think it was that powerful but I don’t remember the walk home, or hanging out in the hot tub for half an hour or so before bed.... those things are vicious!
It was pretty hard to drag ourselves out of bed the next morning to head down to the lobby for our van pickup for our Cajun Encounters swamp tour of the Honey Island Swamp with Captain Ted. It was a 45 minute drive outside of the city and our van guide was nice enough to give everyone on the bus a narration of how New Orleans
was devastated by hurricane Katrina. We drove past the 9th Ward and the driver described all the new buildings and showed us several areas that were literally ghost communities still waiting to be rebuilt. Our tour guide for the swamp Captain Ted was a genuine native cajun and he pretty much did not stop talking for the entire trip. We saw snakes, various swamp birds such as cranes and herons and about 5 or
6 small alligators which Ted threw marshmallows to. He told us all about how the waters came and left the boat we were in 25 feet up in a tree and how they had to rebuild the entire operation
only to have no tourists to take out... it was all pretty sad to hear. He told us all about how alligators live and breed and about the old local cajuns that live in the swamp without electricity, and about the history of the cajun culture and the history of the native species in the south such as the gator. It was
definitely one of the best tours I’ve ever been on with by far the best guide I’ve ever had. On the way back to New Orleans our van driver took us by the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility where the rockets for the Saturn
V moon vehicles. The 1st stage rocket booster was 140 feet long 33 in diameter and when empty weighed 300,000 lbs but when fully loaded with fuel weighed 4,800,000 lbs! Guess I got to see some NASA stuff after all!
Our swamp tour was supposed to get us back by noon but we arrived back at the hotel around 1pm, just in time to meet Zack and Rachel with all of our stuff and get a cab ride back to the airport for an uneventful flight home. I had my doubts about New Orleans and was never that excited to spend time in
the dirty south but this trip changed my mind. The swamp tour was absolutely amazing with very few bugs, the French Quarter with it’s historic buildings and ornate iron railings and flowers was gorgeous and the city itself was beautiful. Everyone was very kind, especially to tourists which they welcome back with open arms due to the need of cash
to rebuild. Even most of the poor and homeless had some sort of gig or song, or talent, minus the one that verbally assaulted me. My only gripe is the outrageous cost of everything in the city. Even for a tourist area the prices were absurd! Two pints for over twenty dollars! Come on... Next time I visit it will be to my half sisters outside of the city where we can cheaply dine on tons of crawfish!

No comments: