Louisiana April 11-16, 2016
Today we are exiting “the great state of Texas” and entering Louisiana known for Jazz, the French Quarter, Mardi Gras and humidity. Our goal was New Orleans which was 2/3 distance across the state. This required an overnight stop…….we overnighted in a rest stop that touted “overnight security”. This was already scarring me. Why did we need “overnight security”?
There was an immediate stark contrast from the prosperity of Texas to the somewhat depressed economy of Louisiana. There suddenly were billboards all along the freeway touting only two things….casinos and attorneys. Every sign for a casino had a disclaimer at the bottom with a 800 number to call for gambling addiction. Some lawmaker had its hand in this one.
In all fairness….have you ever looked at Los Angeles through the eyes of a tourist?
The other noticeable difference was the humidity. As it turns out, we were in the middle of the largest river fed swamp in North America, Atchafalaya. Can you say it? We learned that they have only two seasons in this particular Louisiana swamp…high water season & low water season. This explains why the trees looked like they were underwater along the causeway.
Four Days in New OrleansYou have heard me discuss the amenities of the various RV parks we have stayed in. This one, The French Quarter RV Resort, is located about 2 blocks from the French Quarter and perfect for walking (if you have pepper spray). It seems an unusual spot for an RV park…..flanked by a very very old cemetery (no one is buried underground in New Orleans due to the water table), the I-10 freeway, and industrial and abandoned buildings. It is probably the most expensive place we will stay on this trip at $105/night. The park itself is very nice and caters to very high end travelers. Compared to the $500,000-1 million dollar coaches around us….we fell like “Jed Clampett and his Beverly Hills Hillbillies.” We are surrounded by a Prevost Club Rally! After we moved in and we were all hooked up, we were told we were in the wrong space and “had” to move. We immediately made friends with our other “errant” neighbors and went to dinner with them. No one had to move and we made new friends with the couple from San Diego, John and Debbie.
We had our first taste of what Louisiana is famous for…. Gumbo, soft shelled crabs, charbroiled oysters, and bread pudding. The four of us ate at the Acme Oyster House on Iberville St.
We dashed back to our RV to watch our Long Beach neighbor, Caity Peters perform on The Voice. This was the week that the “people” could vote. The participants had been narrowed down to 24. One Half would not be returning. Sadly she went home. Keep your ears tuned, this is not the last you’ll hear of Caity Peters. Doug says “she is not a dancer or a prancer”, as the show seems to like, but a beautiful singer of soulful ballads and praise songs.
(Doug here – I really see her as having great talent but the “show and staging” of the TV show required action and “hip hop” antics. Her talent is her VOICE and her soul. Can you imagine Barbara Streisand jumping and hopping on stage? I can’t. Barbara, time to move over – Caity has arrived.)
Day # 1
I have never been in rain like this……..all night long and into the afternoon there was a down pour. If it rained like this for one day in California….the draught would be over. Not wanting to miss one minute of sightseeing, we went on a City Tour that took us from the French Quarter to the 9th Ward where the flooding following Katrina was most damaging. We drove out St. Charles Avenue near Tulane University where the homes are fabulous Southern mansions (one of these being being a model for staging of Gone With The Wind). St. Charles Ave. is the beginning of the Mardi Gras parade route.
The rest of the day was spent at the World War II Museum….originally called The D Day Museum. It has expanded to include the Pacific Theater. It is beautifully done with actual planes and tanks and war gear, interactive displays and narratives by men and women that were actually there.
I was born a few years after the end of the war. My father was essentially an orphan from England…his mom died in childbirth when he was 4, leaving no siblings, and his dad was a Merchant Marine. He came to the US and was raised by a family that were not relatives. My maiden name was Cheesebrough…very English. My father had polio as a child, so was not physically able to serve in WWII. Because I had few cousins or uncles….I grew up not hearing much about “the war”. It was only after I met Doug that the fascination about WWII started. His dad and all of their Southern California transplants were Vets. His dad was in the Army Air Corps as an aviation engineer and was actually in an airplane crash out of Long Beach Airport. All of their friends were also transplants in California working in the Aerospace Industry after the war. As you well might understand, I have heard story after story from the “supreme story teller” about his dad and WWII.
One of the things I learned today, that I never realized until now, was that our entire world could have be ruled by tyrants like Hitler……we were on the brink of this being a reality. All of our generation, the Baby Boomers, have lived a life of freedom because of our fathers. Once we were in the war, this entire country put their heart and soul into winning it. Can you imagine graduating from college and within hours being inducted into the service and wondering when your life was going to start? I feel like such a spoiled and unappreciative person when I read about all the sacrifice. Again, very emotional.
Doug here. One of the great quotes of the day was in a display of the new role of women in the war. It showed women being trained as welders and aircraft mechanics. Underneath it read “Aircraft can sink battleships and women can build aircraft” . You bet they can – and they did!
On a lighter note….we ran into friends from Redding outside the museum….a half a world away. New Orleans had been invaded by four additional Redding ladies celebrating a “29th” birthday.
Doug is a meat & potato type of guy….never very experimental with his food and not much of a fish eater. He has ordered fish both nights here. Tonight was fish tacos at Kingfish in the Quarter. Andy, these were almost as good as yours.
Day # 2
Again, it rained most of the night. Everything is damp. Our day got started a little late since we had to move the RV. Our new found friends, Debbie & John Giiaquina, are on their maiden voyage, moving their brand new RV back to San Diego.
We are fascinated by the enthusiasm of the locals about their city. They are very proud of how the city has been rebuilt after Katrina – a long 11 year process. We happened upon a tour driver retelling his personal experience during the unexpected flooding following Hurricane Katrina. If you didn’t have someone to move in with out of the area, you had no place to go. This man spent 2 years living in Philadelphia waiting for his home to be rebuilt. Where would you work or make a living while waiting to come “home”? It was harrowing. We are often quick to criticize how this tragedy was handled, but can you imagine dealing with unexpected flooding when all the communications systems, except am radio, were knocked out by the hurricane just before the flood? Can you imagine a world without cell phones or the internet, even for a few days?
Doug and I saw one big hospital that sits empty surrounded by barbed wire. It never reopened after Katrina. We are told there are several others.
Imagine being a nurse working at that hospital – the flooding happened at 6 am. You can’t leave. No one can come to relieve you and you couldn’t get home anyway. You have no communication with your family or with the families of your patients. Where are you kids? It’s hot and there is no ventilation. You can’t even open the windows. Your supplies are running out. All electricity is shut off. You must ventilate your respirator dependent patient by hand! The oxygen supply system is gone. When do you stop the hand ventilation? The hospitals became morgues. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror.
We walked to the waterfront (Mississippi River) and Cafe Du Monde for beignets. It is open 24 hours a day and closed only on Christmas and for the occasional hurricane. These are fried dough with powdered sugar on top. This is equivalent to eating three donuts. We did this so late in the day that we were not hungry for dinner. I hate to miss one meal in this city of wonder food. We walked through the French Market which had become a bit shabby and touristy, as has Bourbon Street. As our Swamp Tour guide mentioned, “the locals don’t go there”. We found that one pass was enough and thoroughly enjoyed the street music.
The evening found us back at City Park….1200 acres of wonderful beauty. It is slightly larger than Central Park in New York. It is home to many many activities. We stopped in at a concert with local Jazz and happened upon the night lights of a temporary exhibit call China Lights….you can guess what Doug was doing. We had hoped to do an earlier bike ride, but we were exhausted and needed a nap.
Day #3 Swamp Tour
This can only by described in a picture show. We did choose a swamp barge instead of a ride on an air boat. It was peaceful, warm, out of the rain, quiet, and fun to watch the kids fascination with the alligators and other reptiles available for “petting”. A great suggestion by Lori Goyne. One of the people selling tours sort of suggested that Doug and I were too old for an air boat.
Doug and I have made a big mistake by eating lunch late….we are not hungry at dinner time. We did it again at a small diner called Pier 51. I had crawfish chowder. We asked the waitress “how do you eat crawfish?” A patron at a table near us gave us a few of his and instructed us on how to twist the little body and pull it apart, suck on the head, and maneuver the itty bitty body out…tasty, but I think I would rather eat a raw oyster.
Final thoughts on New Orleans…….there is so much more to see. As always, the more we see, the more we want to see. The weather has been oppressive with what feels like 100% humidity and we have not seen much of the sun. One of the last things our Swamp Boat captain said was Louisiana wants to be remembered as “friendly” by its travelers. The folks of New Orleans love their city and it shows. New Orleans is far, far more than the side show that is the French Quarter.
Last bit of information….30% of the residents have never returned after Katrina.
On to Natchez, Mississippi!