Today we had a much needed day off for rest and sight-seeing.
We agreed to do our own thing for the morning and meet up for lunch at 1pm. We therefore had a lie in, leaving the hotel for breakfast at the French Market around 9:30am. We ate breakfast in the place Sharon had lunch yesterday: a place called Meals From the Heart, which sells healthy food with dairy and gluten free options: the dairy free pancakes were superb. A family run place, the guy serving was the owner’s father. He previously owned a bar on Bourbon Street and was fascinating to talk to.
New Orleans is the largest city in Louisiana with a population (in 2010) of almost 345,000. It was founded by French colonists in 1718 and named for the Duke of Orleans, who reigned as regent for Louis XV from 1715 to 1723. It is well known for its French and Spanish Creole architecture and, of course, for music: it is the birthplace of jazz.
In 2005 New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Flood walls and levees constructed to protect the city from flooding failed in what is described as the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. 80% of the city flooded and more than 1500 people in Louisiana died, most in New Orleans.
We took a wander around: walked along the Mississippi and checked out some more of the French quarter by daylight. We didn’t stray far, but it was great to be able to see the architecture – some still swathed in Halloween decoration – and to come upon impromptu jazz bands playing in the street. The city has a really great vibe.
We met the others for lunch as planned, but decided that we were going to leave them to their own devices for the afternoon and do our own thing.
Walking along the Mississippi we had come upon a paddlewheeler called the Natchez. Paddlewheelers are the typical boats that you associate with the river, driven by a large paddle at the rear. They used to be called paddlesteamers, but are no longer powered by steam. Sharon decided that she wanted to take a trip on one of these, but having bumped into some of the Hadrian V-Twin guys decided that, although it would be a good experience, you don’t actually get to see much.
Instead we decided on the option of a hop-on, hop-off bus ride. This is not bad value for a three day ticket, giving you the opportunity to see a lot of New Orleans and have a guide tell you about what you are seeing. For just a half day, however, it is a little extravagant. Nonetheless, we decided that it was worth it: more restful than running around the city with the others.
The guide was interesting. He inevitably mentioned Katrina, but mainly in a positive way, speaking with pride about the city’s regeneration. Although you could see some signs of hurricane damage, we didn’t see any of the really badly hit areas which are still being re-built. I don’t know if we may see more on our travels over the next day or two.
The only time that we got off the bus was to visit St Louis Cemetery Number 1, the oldest existing cemetery in New Orleans, founded in 1789. We had a self guided tour, but inevitably, in trying to work your way around you got caught up in on-going guided tours. Perhaps I got too tied up in one as I got a telling off from the guide! Before I slunk away in embarrassment, I did learn some interesting things, in particular a little about the tomb of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau who died in 1881. It seems that her tomb could be any one of three, so followers leave favours at all three just in case.
Another interesting tomb is a large pyramid that Nicholas cage has had refurbished ready for his death. The guide speculated that it probably cost him in the region of $3 million.
The bus took us on around the business district and into the Garden District, where we would have liked to stop if we’d had the time, but now we were getting perilously close to the end of the bus times. It was pointed out that houses here are owned by the likes of Sandra Bullock (which was nearly enough to get me off the bus) and John Goodman. The guide also pointed out a restaurant where Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly dines.
As we were passing through the Garden District I spotted Andy running down the road furiously waving a greeting and, sure enough, there were the rest of the gang who had been more adventurous (and frugal) and ventured out on the street car.
Other interesting facts that I learnt (and can remember) from our bus guide:
- New Orleans is a National Park, and the only one to be inhabited.
- Jazz music originated in an area of New Orleans known for prostitution. It was originally called Jezebel music, but was re-named to cut the association with prostitution.
- St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the US
- Mardis Gras floats are these days made from Styrofoam sprayed with fibre glass. This is the same technique used for the facades of hotels in Las Vegas.
The bus tour finished in time for us to have coffee in a cafe near the hotel, where we met up briefly with some of the other Hadrian V-Twin crowd again, before going back to the room to chill out for a bit before meeting the others for dinner.
We set off looking for a restaurant recommended by my pre-trip research, only to find that it doesn’t open in the evenings. Not really a problem as there are plenty of places to choose from: we ended up in a Gumbo restaurant nearby, which was superb. We also finally got a Hurricane cocktail – a New Orleans speciality – which was very good.
Having finished dinner it was announced that we were heading back to the hotel. What? It’s 8:30pm! I know that we have an early start tomorrow and a long ride but this is ridiculous…
I tried to convince everyone to at least stop at one bar for a drink on the way, but my suggestion fell on deaf ears. There seemed to be a feeling that I wanted to stay out until the small hours getting pissed, which I didn’t. I tried to explain that between that and our current position of one drink and bed by 9pm there was some middle ground to explore, but my protests fell on deaf ears. Even Paul deserted me, so in the end I grudgingly returned to the hotel, where I found myself writing this blog at 9pm, killing time until a reasonable hour to go to bed. Not, I would suggest, the best use of valuable limited time in a city like New Orleans.
Miles today: 0
Total miles: 2331