BigWeather's Blog

April 6, 2012

Worth saving

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 5:17 pm

Woke up before 6a to finish packing and get ready to go to the airport.  Carried the luggage downstairs teetering on the edge of falling a few times with our large suitcase.  Shortly after Mom and Dad showed up from breakfast at La Peniche and we chatted a bit and said our goodbyes as the airport shuttle showed up.

The shuttle picked up a few other couples, almost all universally late by a few minutes.  What is up with that?  There was a German family on the bus that was snapping pictures of the Mercedez-Benz Superdome sign.  Arrived at the airport (Louis Armstrong International) and went through security pretty uneventfully.

Genetta had a Subway breakfast sandwich while Addison, Michelle, and I had a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and grits or hashbrowns (I had the hashbrowns, of course, blech grits) from a small Praline Connection branded eaterie.  Yes, again!

Our Southwest Airlines flight took off on-time and we enjoyed seeing the marsh south of New Orleans and then the eventual narrow strip of sand just prior to the Gulf of Mexico.  The trip was pretty uneventful with the exception of some bumpiness right before landing in Orlando.  Once in Orlando Genetta, Addison, and I got off the plane to get some food and visit the restroom.  As we were about to step off the jetway, however, we noticed that they were about to board the Orlando folks onto the plane.  So we turned around, not wanting to risk being stranded in Orlando.  Though, come to think of it, that wouldn’t have been too bad…

Flight to Raleigh was also uneventful but the Southwest Airlines crew came more alive.  They announced before takeoff that they “…apologize for the sub-standard service that section D will receive.”  During the safety spiel they told parents to put on the air mask first then put the air mask on their child.  If there were multiple children, put the air mask on the one with the “most potential” first.  Haha.  On landing they sang a little ditty in a Southern accent.  Kind of funny, except that Raleigh is about as Yankee as you can get now-a-days.

Adrianne, Darby, and Conner picked us up in their mini-van and we set off for home.  While traveling (or, rather, being somewhere else — the traveling is actually a bit of a pain) is wonderful it was good to be home and with our kitties.

Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, killing 1,464 people and leading to a fundamental population shift from the city that persists to this day.  As pictures aired constantly of the flooding and stories of some of the terrible things the city endured (some true, many not) questions would be raised by friends like “Why build a city there?”, “Why don’t they move?”, and “Should we even rebuild, particularly on my dime?”

The city’s location is unfortunate, to be sure.  While the early 1700s French settlers chose the best place they could (the French Quarter is the highest ground in the area) they did not, or could not, anticipate the expansion of the city into lower areas.  Nobody moved to New Orleans, or was raised there, thinking “Heck yeah, I want to be under sea level!”  It is no different than those living in earthquake zones — 99.9% of the time it is not an issue.

New Orleans, more than perhaps any other city in America, is unique.  Few cities are so defined by and take pleasure in their music and food to the extent that is seen with New Orleans.  No other American city evokes European cities as much as New Orleans.  It is the product of its environment, that it improbably survived.  The French and Spanish origins.  The influx of Caribbean people.  The climate, which is distinctly subtropical.  It is at once a very old, decaying city and also a city alive with music pouring out of doorways and delicious smells filling the streets.  Would you leave?  I sure wouldn’t.  The good far outweighs the bad.

Should we have rebuilt?  Of course!  Not only for the reasons above, but because the Port of New Orleans plays a major part in the economic health of our country.

Contrast this with where I live.  Sure, it’s great, but when the best thing you can say about a region is “good hospitals”, a “safe place to raise the kids”, and “business-friendly location” I know that if both this area and New Orleans were flooded, and I could only save one, which I’d choose…

April 5, 2012

Wrapping up NOLA

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 10:36 pm

Woke up early and went to La Peniche for breakfast.  I had this excellent sausage and egg concoction on top of cheddar toast with hash browns to the side.  Very, very yummy!  Michelle, Addison, and I returned to the room to wait to do our Southwest Airlines Early Bird sign-up while Mom, Dad, and Genetta went out for the day.

Corner house in Faubourg Marigny

Cool painted wrought iron fence

After sign-up we lolligagged about, even napping, until about 1p when we figured maybe we should do something with the beautiful (if a bit warm) day.  The three of us headed to Decatur and bought some beads to give to friends as well as a t-shirt for Michelle.  We then headed to House of Blues and had a fairly late lunch.  I had a BBQ burger that was great (the bacon was wonderful).  Afterward we swung by Southern Candymakers and bought some candy (some gummi alligators for Addison, chocolate for Michelle, and a couple of pralines for me).

JAX brewery

We headed up to the river and walked along it until the wharf, enjoying watching the immense tankers power by and enjoying what scant breeze the day offered.  Back on Decatur we found a ATM and then returned to the unit.

French Quarter balcony

Dad was there and we chatted a bit while we waited for Genetta and Mom to return.  They called and said that they were at the Louisiana mint enjoying a free concert performance by the rangers there.  They were particularly impressed by the accordion playing and that they could play many different musical styles (jazz, zydeco, etc.).  I went out to meet them but ended up encountering them on their way back to the unit.

Look at the third floor unit we stayed in from the courtyard

Fountain in the courtyard at The Courtyards Inn

All together again for the first time since breakfast we rested a bit before deciding to go to Praline Connection (yes, again — it’s so good!).  I (again!) had the red beans and rice with smoked sausage.  On return I worked on yesterday’s blog a bit (getting more than one day behind is deadly) while Michelle and the kids packed some.

At 10p we headed to the streetcar and rode it down to Cafe Du Monde for the final beignets of the trip.  One cool thing we observed is that at the end of the line the driver reverses the seat backs of all of the seats so that they face in the correct direction.  Nifty!  At Cafe Du Monde we had a few helpings of beignets, some cafe au lait (both frozen and not) and some OJ.  I’ll really miss those once we get back to North Carolina.

We paused on the way out of Cafe Du Monde to watch the beignets being made.  This huge roll of dough came off a roller and was cut into squares.  A guy then removed any excess pieces and stacked the proto-beignets before tossing them behind him into the hot oil.  OSHA would probably have a field day but it was fascinating to watch.

Returned to the streetcar and then the unit.  Finished yesterday’s blog then went upstairs to type today’s blog.  Early to rise tomorrow for the trip back home.  Ugh!

April 4, 2012

Mardi Gras World

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:51 pm

Happy Birthday Adrianne!

Due to the thunderstorms that rumbled throughout the night and well into the morning we didn’t get out of bed until super late, about 11a.  Met my parents downstairs and we all headed to Croissant d’Or on Ursuline.  This time they were open, rejoice!  I had a yummy breakfast pastry with ham and cheese in it as well as a blueberry croissant.  Dad had two ham and cheese pastries.

Breakfast concluded, Mom and Dad went their own way shopping on Decatur while the rest of us waited for the Riverfront Streetcar to take us towards the Warehouse District where Mardi Gras World had moved (having previously been across the river in Algiers).  We had a very nice driver who informed us that we’d be better off going back to Canal (we had ridden all the way to almost the end) and catching the shuttle to Mardi Gras World.  Once there we called the shuttle, it appeared in five minutes as if by magic.

Small park flooded by last night's rain

After a short ride we were let off in front of a large warehouse.  Inside was filled with all manner of fiberglass and Styrofoam props and beyond that the gift shop where we purchased tickets for the 2p tour.  We browsed a bit and also admired the Mardi Gras costumes on display in the meantime.  At 2p we were herded into a theater with about fifteen or so people and watched a 15 minute video about the history of Mardi Gras and of Blaine Kern, the founder of Mardi Gras World.

Fiberglass and Styrofoam props

Mardi Gras parades started in the mid-1800s and the first krewes, organizations that collected dues from their members to pay for a private ball followed by a public parade, emerged in the 1850s with Comus being the first.  Other krewes followed such as Rex and Zulu.  In the 1940s Blaine Kern started making props and floats for the krewes, his studio eventually working on 90% of the New Orleans Mardi Gras floats.  He also helped form the first super krewe in the 1960s — super krewes having a much more open membership and being led by a grand marshal.

There are 54 parades during the 11 days prior to and including Mardi Gras.  They have different routes and different themes and are not connected.  Each krewe or organization only parades once.  Members, who pay hundreds to thousands of dollars a year to join, are also responsible for buying the Mardi Gras throws — beads, cups, doubloons — which also can run hundreds to thousands of dollars.  A particularly prized throw is given out by Zulu — a coconut.  Though they don’t throw it but rather hand it out for fear of knocking out spectators!

A parade can have as few as 14 floats or as many as 28 floats, though a float can be a collection of floats strung together and pulled by a single motor vehicle.  By law those tossing throws must be masked.  In addition, the law stipulates that there be no corporate sponsorship of floats nor advertising on the floats.  We also learned that Mardi Gras parades no longer go through the French Quarter as the modern floats are too large for the narrower streets.

After the movie we moved into the warehouse proper where we were given a guided tour.  We were able to see Styrofoam props being built by taking multiple 4 foot by 8 foot sheets, gluing them together (and possibly reinforcing them with plywood within), and then cutting them.  The lady that was working on one was covered in tiny Styrofoam beads.

Area where the floats are designed and props built

More permanent props are made out of fiberglass but cost far more and are harder to modify.  Those props would typically be made for a krewe’s signature float — the float that they use year after year.  These floats typically have fancy LED lighting, audio-visual equipment, etc.  The rest of the floats are typically torn down each year and built to the theme of the following year.  They typically use Styrofoam props which can be easily modified.  We saw a minotaur that was a soccer player previously but had its head replaced with a bull’s head.

Sculpting Styrofoam props for the float in the picture below

We also saw some props being painted as well as several float designs that had been drafted.  It looked like a really creative and fun place to work.  It didn’t hurt that there were “shrines” to the New Orleans Saints all over the place.

Design for a 2013 Mardi Gras float

Painting an Egyptian-themed prop

One of many "shrines" to the New Orleans Saints

Every ten years or so a float is brought in and refurbished, sometimes from the chassis on up.  After about thirty years they are beyond saving and recycled into new floats.  A float costs roughly $50,000 and considering that a krewe needs a minimum of 14 floats to get a parade permit new krewes must often rent floats from Kern Studios at first.  We saw the second largest float, a multi-car train.  It carried 190 krewe members and even had toilets on board as parades last up to six hours.  It was interesting to see that the floats were equipped with hooks to hold the various throws that members tossed out.

One odd part of the tour was seeing row upon row of Chik-fil-A cows shrouded in cardboard and ready to ship out for their billboards — except the eyes.  Apparently the eyes had needed inspecting.  Made for a spooky picture, at least.

Eet mor chikin... OR ELSE

The tour over we were allowed to walk around and take as many pictures as we wanted.  In the back of the warehouse there were stacks of decorative flowers to be reused for future floats.  They really do try to salvage as much as possible year-to-year.  We saw a really cool Louisiana-themed float (complete with crawfish, Tabasco, and beignets) as well as a Halloween-themed one.  Prop-wise we saw props for Stitch, lots of cool Egyptian and Greek stuff, Harry Potter on a broom, superheroes, Jungle Book, etc.  There was even a Batplane from one of the earlier Batman movies.  Kern didn’t make that, however, but rather had bought it.  Still was neat to see.

Wheeee wheeee! Pure. Adrenaline.

Stacks of decorative flowers for the floats

Louisiana-themed float

Why?! Because I'm the BATMAN that's why!

Afterwards we returned to the gift shop and got a free slice of king cake each.  It was good, and I got to eat everyone’s icing yum!, but it was hardly free as it left us having to buy overpriced drinks.  Oh well, that’s vacation for you.  Bought a few beads and a magnet and then headed out.

The shuttle was nice enough to drop us off at the National WWII Museum.  Genetta and Addison wanted to visit the gift shop so despite it being 4p we had plenty of time.  We went fully through the museum in 2010 and found it fantastic.  I did duck into the lobby and check out the progress towards expanding the museum — not just with a building for planes and such but also campaign (Battle of the Bulge, North Africa, Guadalcanal, etc.) specific buildings.  The building housing the planes is slotted for completion in 2012 but, as the security guard noted as he pointed to the naked girders springing from the site, it probably isn’t going to make it.

Growing up in Baton Rouge getting Mardi Gras (and the day before) off was AWESOME!

I wandered about the lobby and took some pictures of the most beautiful machine ever built, Britain’s Spitfire, as well as a D-Day landing craft, Jeep (after the war 75% of the Soviet Red Army’s vehicles were American-made as they obtained them through the lend lease program), and the Stuart light tank.  The Stuart, while woefully undermanned against the German armor in North Africa, proved to be the perfect tank for the Pacific theater as it was small, fast, and very maneuverable and operated in jungle environments well.

A gorgeous piece of machinery, the Spitfire

Stuart light tank, perfect for action in the Pacific

Why New Orleans for the National WWII (and D-Day) museum?  Besides being a kick butt city, New Orleans was home to Andrew Higgins, designer of the craft used during the D-Day landings that had the front that opened as a ramp.  That craft was central to the strategy outlined by Operation Overlord.  Also, in September 1943 92% of all Navy craft in used were designed by Higgins and over half were built in New Orleans by 30,000 workers working in 7 factories.

The kids didn’t find anything they wanted (mostly t-shirts) in the gift shops though I did see (and forget to buy, grrrr) a 45th Infantry pin, the division my grandfather on my mother’s side served with.  They fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, southern France, and southern Germany.  I also saw some Memoir ’44 and Flames of War accessories — they are so neat.  I may get Memoir ’44 to play with the kids some day.

We left the museum and went past the reproduction Victory Garden and a fancy restaurant on the museum grounds.  Walked to Lee Circle and waited for a streetcar that wasn’t packed to the gills (it took about five or so before we got one, about thirty minutes) to take us back to Canal.  We had originally intended to see the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in Lafayette Square but sadly they canceled the concert because of the rain the night before (and the threat of further rain).  Once at Canal we traveled to the river and then got the Riverfront Streetcar to Esplanade.

Victory Garden

Canal Line Streetcars

After returning to the unit and resting a bit we met Mom and Dad downstairs and proceeded to Praline Connection.  Excellent as always, and again I had the red beans and rice with smoked sausage.  Got some cheesecake with praline sauce to go.  Yummy!  Returned to the unit and watched Psych and then later some of Happy Feet 2 with Addison.  A good day!

April 3, 2012

Jazz Funeral

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:35 pm

Woke up and the six of us headed to breakfast at the Croissant d’Or on Ursaline.  Unfortunately it was closed on Tuesdays so we decided upon Cafe Beignet all the way down on Royal.  I had a breakfast croissant with bacon, scrambled eggs, and white cheddar cheese — yummy!

Afterwards Mom and Dad took Addison shopping for a bit while Michelle, Genetta, and I also did some of our own.  Michelle looked at lamps at a store that sold lots of various home accessories like fountains, bar stools, and yes lamps.  Tiffany-like lamps.  It’s like her kryptonite.  There was a beautiful one in there and Michelle succumbed once it was offered at half-price with free shipping.  It really is a beautiful lamp, hopefully it’ll make it to North Carolina in one piece.

We also did some shopping on Decatur at some places Genetta saw the other night and really wanted to visit.  We went into a place called Jazz Funeral and bought some shirts and other stuff.  In another store we saw a really cool shirt with Boba Fett in a gold suit and the NFL Saints symbol on his shoulder.  I’m sure it was licensed by Lucas, haha.  We picked that up for Addison, as we knew he’d love it.  We even managed to find something in one of those Christmas-themed stores.

Afterward the three of us went to Cafe Du Monde (yes, again) for a couple of beignets and some frozen cafe au lait.  We sat inside the air conditioned part of the place and it was wonderful.  Did capture a glimpse behind the scenes while waiting for the bathroom, though.  Not an easy job.  Very, very loud clattering of dishes being stacked (it is a wonder that dishes last more than a day or two there) and all of the waiters / waitresses lined up to pay for their orders.  That’s right, they pay for the orders out of pocket and then go collect from the patrons — all the while hoping they don’t get shorted, or drop the order, or what-not.  It seemed to be a brutal pace as well.

Another shot of Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square

After Cafe Du Monde we three walked up to the kiosk for the Natchez and Gray Line tours to wait for Mom, Dad, and Addison.  They showed up shortly thereafter and we bought tickets for a 1p cemetery tour.  As the Final Four was over it was markedly less crowded and the bus itself (one of those short tour buses) was only half full.

The ride up to the Basin Street Visitor Center (in an old train terminal) didn’t take long.  Along the way the guide, a short blonde-haired New Orleans native, filled us in on the history of New Orleans, from discovery of the Mississippi by the Spanish in the 1540s through founding by the French in the early 1700s then rule by the Spanish then the French again prior to purchase by the Americans.  Apparently many of the early settlers to New Orleans were told that the colony was above sea level (nope) and that there were gold and silver deposits all over (double nope).

The colony did relatively well until it was struck by Yellow Fever in the late-1700s.  The tour guide went into great detail on the course of the disease as well as the efforts to treat it — blood letting, glass heated to super hot then rolled on the skin to remove evil vapors, etc.  I think she enjoyed watching some of the people squirm.

Obviously calamities like the Yellow Fever outbreaks and fire (such as the Good Friday fire of 1788 that wiped out much of the town) created a significant problem — what to do with all of the bodies.  Earlier burial methods were problematic — originally bodies were interred in the levee but spring floods would bring them floating up.  Bodies were later interred in the swamps to the northwest of town (which then was mainly just the French Quarter) which helped somewhat as the alligators would eat any that floated to the surface.

The fire of 1788, however, provided an opportunity for the Spanish to re-imagine the town.  They built a cemetery just to the northwest of the quarter, Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1.  As it wouldn’t do to inter a body without a service but holding services at Saint Louis Cathedral was ruled out (due to fear of any diseases spreading) a chapel was built adjacent to the cemetery.  The cemetery originally spanned six blocks but has since been reduced to just one via several public works projects in the mid-1900s.  In fact a tomb at the very entrance once stood in the middle according to historic documents!

Tombs at Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

As the water table is very close to the surface (in many places no farther than a foot down) it became necessary to bury the dead above ground in tombs.  Unfortunately, though, southeastern Louisiana also lacks stone.  So the tombs were made of bricks made from Mississippi river mud mixed with oyster shells.  These deteriorate over time, however, leading the cemetery to be in a state of disrepair in modern times, though there is an organization called Save Our Cemeteries that raises funds to renovate a tomb or two a year (at an average cost of $45,000 or so, ouch!).

Tombs at Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

As more and more people were buried it became necessary to make room.  Bodies were to be interred by law for one year before they could be disturbed, under the belief that a year would be sufficient for whatever disease killed the person to be gone.  An extra day was often taken, meaning that the year-and-a-day deceased were disinterred and moved elsewhere in the tomb or were moved to be interred in the walls of the cemetery.  Space in the cemetery is less an issue now that Catholics are allowed to be cremated in more recent times (a majority of New Orleans is Catholic).

Tombs at Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

The guide pointed out several tombs that had attracted the attention of the local homeless or “emo and goth” kids.  They had been adorned with Mardi Gras beads, had candles lit in front, sometimes a mirror placed in front, and other such things (sadly including graffiti) done to them.

Decorated tomb

In the back of the cemetery was a separate section for the Protestants, many of whom were Americans flooding into the area after the Louisiana Purchase transferred the city to the United States.  Protestants preferred to be buried underground and their coffins were put into a shaft and capped with a marble slab.  In the days before the water level under the city was better regulated the rising and falling water level would cause the floating coffins to sometimes bump against the marble slab, creating a dull knocking sound.  Spooky!

Tombs at Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

Behind the Protestant section were projects built on top of the famed Storyville.  They have been abandoned since Katrina, however, as they were infested with mold.  Plans to tear them down have been in place for a while but they remain there still.

Next we came upon the memorial to those that lost their lives in the Battle of New Orleans, which occurred on January 8, 1815.  Though the War of 1812 had already concluded and a treaty had been signed the combatants were not aware.  New Orleans sought the help of Andrew Jackson and the pirate Jean Lafitte in defeating a far superior British force.  Lafitte was able to get a pardon for his brother, Pierre, himself, and his men for the acts of piracy they had recently been accused of.  The battle was an overwhelming victory for the Americans with only 13 dead to the British’s 291.  The memorial incorporated cannon into its design as Lafitte’s men were experienced artillerymen and instrumental in defeating the British.

Tombs at Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

Next we visited the tomb of Bernard de Marigny, a French-Creole man that owned a huge tract of land east of the French Quarter.  Our guide told a story about his family entertaining the future king of France by serving a 17 course meal (it took six and a half hours to eat!) on a total of one hundred solid gold plates.  Afterward they announced that the plates would never again be used out of respect for the future king and were tossed in the river — where a hidden net scooped them up lest they be lost.  After his father died in 1800 he was shipped off to Europe where he learned Hazard, a game he brought back to New Orleans that would later be known as Craps.  Increasingly in debt due to his gambling, de Marigny sold off many small pieces of his land in the area now known as Faubourg Marigny.  He died penniless in 1868.

Our guide took us past a pyramid-shaped tomb.  That one belongs to Nicholas Cage, who apparently believes strongly in mysticism and the power of the pyramid.  Five of his cats are already buried there, but he’s still out and about making movies.  Maybe the next National Treasure movie should involve his tomb!

It was sweltering hot at the cemetery.  No trees and the short tombs providing scant shade.  The sun’s rays bounced all over the place off of the often bleached white tombs.  As the cemetery was back from the river a good distance there was no breeze to speak of.  The guide told us that often the insides of the tombs would heat to 400F or more.

One tomb that did provide welcome shade, however, was one of the ones built for Italians that belonged to a benevolent society.  Sadly the designer and architect of the tomb, both Italians, died of Yellow Fever just a week before they were to sail home.  There were tombs for other immigrant groups as well, but this one became famous due to the movie Easy Rider.  In it Dennis Hopper is seen sitting in a lap of the tomb’s statue.  About the time the movie was made the statue’s head disappeared.  Many still believe Mr. Hopper took it, something he vehemently denies.  The film changed the way that movies were made in the cemetery — it had only been allowed at all because the film makers provided a false, much cleaner, script to the Church and filmed on a Sunday when they were least likely to be observed (as the Clergy would be busy with the Sunday services).  Now only documentaries are allowed to be filmed in the cemetery.

"Mr. Hopper, I'd really like my head back!"

We wrapped up the cemetery tour with a visit to the tomb of the Glapion family, the supposed resting place of the Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau.  Supposed because the Glapion family claims that the intense attention drawn to their tomb led them to move her body over a hundred years ago.  That doesn’t stop people from drawing three Xs on the tomb (supposedly something that a “hippy tour guide from the 60s” said would guarantee one’s wishes would come true) nor decorating it in other ways.  Marie Laveau would stage public voodoo ceremonies for thrill seekers and charge lots of money.  She was also known as someone that could get things done in town — mainly because as a hairdresser and also one whom many slaves confided in she had dirt on all the town’s movers and shakers.  The tour guide considered her a good woman, though, as she had spent much of her money on building orphanages for all of the orphans in town (on account of all the disease outbreaks and such).

Glapion family tomb, supposed resting place of Marie Laveau

On exiting the cemetery Michelle noted that the lowest row of graves in the wall were barely visible above the ground.  This was apparently because New Orleans continues to sink (“faster than Venice!” according to the guide).

Note that only the very top of the lowest arch is seen -- New Orleans is sinking

Returned to the Visitor Center and admired some of the model railroad dioramas there and then boarded the bus back to the French Quarter.  Once there we went to Cafe Maspero’s where I had a pastrami and swiss po-boy.  It wasn’t too bad but the pastrami was a bit dry.  Michelle had shrimp and got to make her own cocktail sauce by adding ketchup to the horseradish base.  The salads were odd in that they were piled high with white cheese.  Yummy though.  Our waitress was Australian and had moved to New Orleans in 2005.  Her boyfriend was from near Rocky Mount, NC.  Her parents were visiting and we had a good chat with her (as it was mid-afternoon and the place was empty).

Tribute to the 1,464 that died in New Orleans due to Katrina

After a quick trip to the Southern Candymakers shop (where I got some pralines and Addison some gummi worms and alligators) we waited on the Natchez’s dock to board for our night-time Jazz cruise.  At 6p we boarded and took a seat at a table not far from the band, Dukes of Dixieland (apparently Grammy-nominated).  They were great, and played a while for the crowd.  We also visited the gift shop and the engine room — very impressive, two huge arms driven by steam that attached to the paddle wheel in the stern of the ship.

The Natchez

Our entertainment aboard the Natchez, the Dukes of Dixieland

At 7p we got underway, traveling downriver past Algiers Point (deepest part of the river at 214 feet) and making our way through that very steep bend.  To the left (errrr, port) we saw the entrance to the Industrial Canal, the canal which had levees that famously failed in Hurricane Katrina, flooding the adjacent Ninth Ward.

Sunset over New Orleans

The beautiful New Orleans skyline

We later passed Arabi as the guide dropped many facts about the river and the port (third largest river, first largest port in the world — something I’m not so sure about, major export is grain, import steel, etc.).  We learned about various boats and the industry on the river, including seeing the Domino Sugar factory — second largest in the world after one in Brazil.  We also passed the sight of the Battle of New Orleans and saw the large granite monument marking it.

Sights seen from aboard the Natchez

Domino Sugar, second largest in the world

Site of the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815

Finally, as we neared a large industrial area we turned around and started the trip back.  This would go much slower as it was upstream and fighting the current.  We all went back to marvel at the paddle wheel.  On returning we listened to the band play more.  At one point the bassist stood on his upright bass and played an amazing solo.  They wrapped up with a rousing performance of “When the Saints Come Marching In” as we pulled into the dock with the very impressive New Orleans skyline and bridge looking down upon us.

Sights seen from aboard the Natchez

Sights seen from aboard the Natchez

Sights seen from aboard the Natchez, the New Orleans skyline

On the way home we stopped at Cafe Du Monde for some refreshment then made it back in time to catch the second-to-last episode of Justified.  What an amazing show!  It began to rain shortly after, along with great thunder and wind, and did not let up until well into the following morning at about 10a.  When all was said and done we got about 3 inches at the unit, with the airport getting over 4.

April 2, 2012

Stormy weather

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Woke up pretty late and headed to breakfast at Cafe Rose Nicaud on Frenchman Street.  It was OK.  I had a cinnamon roll while Michelle and Addison had bagels and Genetta a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich.

Headed into the quarter to do some shopping.  First went by the Voodoo museum on Dumaine so that Genetta could buy gifts for her friends.  We got her a Baron Samedi doll for her birthday as well.  There was a very nice lady behind the counter talking about how brutal the weather was.  We decided not to go through the museum, however, as we had already done it in 2010 (and it was decent).

As it was getting hotter and was humid we decided to head towards the river.  The wind was really picking up near the levee and we took time to relax on a bench while the kids went to Cafe Du Monde to get some drinks (for them and for us).  What looked to be bird droppings on the ground turned out to be confectioners sugar from someone earlier.  Good thing — as the pigeons were eating it up happily.  Turns out a pigeon hyped up on sugar isn’t any smarter than one that isn’t as they bobbed aimlessly around.

Skyrats snorting sugar, sweet sweet sugar

Climbed the levee and took a seat on one of the benches.  As it was cloudy (finally!) and very breezy it was quite comfortable.  We watched a couple of huge cargo ships come downstream from under the bridge and round the bend between the wharf and Algiers Point.  They were really trucking, and we were sure they wouldn’t be able to make the turn without plowing into the wharf.  They all did, thankfully.  Also was a huge flock of seagulls (not the awesome 80s band!) gliding on the wind and picking up scraps left by any of the people on the levee.  A few people were getting dangerously close to the river but it looked like common sense prevailed — that current is way too strong to risk swimming (inadvertent or otherwise).

Cargo ship rounding the bend near Algiers Point

Seagulls riding the breeze

The Nachez started playing its calliope concert for those boarding for the afternoon cruise.  Michelle went to get information about the cruise and we decided to go for the evening cruise but forgo dinner.  The menu was frustrating — each entree started great and then fizzled out: pork-loin… with artichoke sauce, bbq beef brisket… with mango pineapple sauce, and so on.  Blech!

Calliope concert from the Natchez

Headed into the JAX building to use the restroom and eat at the food court.  Nothing remarkable there, just hotdogs and fries and such.  Did a little shopping at some of the stores (most selling just souvenirs) but found nothing remarkable.  Headed out and along Decatur where we found a Final Four 2012 pin I’m hoping to turn into a magnet for our collection.

Turned up Iberville and then onto Royal where we shopped at several stores.  Michelle and Genetta enjoyed sweet tea at Cafe Beignet before heading over to Jackson Square.  There we went to a doll shop where she had bought a ceramic doll on a cypress knee in ’95.  We found it broken several years ago under mysterious circumstances…  They still had a few and Michelle picked out one to replace the fallen one.  Sadly the store is closing in a few months — dolls don’t sell like they used to and the economy was killing them.

While Michelle was purchasing the doll I went out to Jackson Square to snap some pictures of Saint Louis cathedral and the Andrew Jackson statue.  What a beautiful place, with wrought iron fences surrounding short, well-kept grass and live oaks.  The sky was taking an ominous looking gray cast, however, and we decided to start heading back to the unit.

Saint Louis Cathedral with storm clouds gathering in the distance

Along the way we stopped at a Mardi Gras mask store where Michelle and Genetta bought a couple of nifty masks.  Headed down Royal and past the Cornstalk Fence Hotel to the unit just as it started to really rain and thunder.  Tried to wait the storm out in the unit but eventually gave up and made a dash to La Peniche during a semi-lull.

Cornstalk Fence Hotel with its famous fence and a horse and buggy out front

At La Peniche we had a great dinner.  I went the breakfast-for-dinner route, yummy!  Made it back to the room just before tip-off of the National Championship game.  Blogged while the game was on, Kentucky won 67-59.  Even well after dark the thunderstorms still continued to rage.

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