It is 8:45 in the morning and this is our second day in Orlando. The kids just woke up and are watching the Half Blood Prince on the TV. We are all recovering from a very long day at Universal studios where, yes, we visited Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. But all in good time, all in good time… The weather is hot and we are fighting dehydration and in my case, withdrawal from good coffee. But these are minor ailments in the face of spectacular adventures. Peaked your curiosity? Well you will just have to keep reading these long winded travel entries…
This post will be dedicated to the day and a half we spent in New Orleans, as in my mind at least, it is the most confounding, interesting city so far. We arrived around 5 pm across a very long bridge that spanned the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Lake Pontchartrain on the other. Palm trees lined the streets and from the highway we could see the ruined roofs of ramshackle houses, streets and streets of them. It was a little disquieting.
Here is the first building we saw as we got off the exit for Canal st.:
For some reason, Jeremy could not get his bearings in New Orleans, for the whole time we were there he thought North was South, East was West, etc. It was weird- he usually has such an infallible sense of direction. The palms of the streets weren’t helpful either- very counter-intuitive. Still, we found our hotel, The Intercontinental on St. Charles st. We used hotwire.com to find it, and for once we decided to splurge for a 4 star hotel, which wasn’t much more than a 3 star. Our first impression was one of intimidation. The bell hops wouldn’t let us carry our own bags up to the hotel (of course, we had to tip them) and Sylvie and Clea were amazed that there was actually a gift shop (a gift shop!) in the hotel lobby. We got up to our room on the 8th floor and yes, it was fancy, with 6$ Evian bottles and fridges full of over-priced snacks. Although it was kind of cool, we realised rapidly that 2 star hotels, with free internet, complimentary breakfasts, fridges in the room that we could use and some with microwaves, were a way better deal for us. In this hotel, everything extra cost money. Internet was 5 bucks for an hour, breakfast was in the fancy dining room and we couldn’t use the fridge. Oh well, lesson learned.
Once we were settled, we went for a walk around the French Quarter. We didn’t do much except for roam the streets, gawking at the houses with their ornate balconies lining the narrow streets. We stopped and got the girls a couple of hot dogs from a street vendor. Then down Bourbon street, where I think our mouths didn’t close as we witnessed the most decadence I had ever seen. People walking around with foot long drinks, girls dancing on tables, every bar featuring live music blaring out of their windows, rivalling for sound space with every other bar. Blues, New Orleans Jazz, rock’n’roll. The place was visually, (some of the strip bars ads were worthy of a modern day Kama Sutra), emotionally, and auditorily (is that a word?) overwhelming. We walked down Bourbon street to Canal and back tou our hotel, where we sat there for awhile, trying to close our mouths. Then a swim in the hotel pool and to bed, for an early morning of sight seeing.
I went for a run before everybody woke up. Down Canal St., past the aquarium and along the water until the path ended at St. Phillip then up through the French quarter to Tremé, where I did a little bit of TV tourism. I was pretty sure I went by Steve Zahn’s house in the show, as well as the stripper’s house down the street from where he lived! As soon as I told Jeremy, we determined to take a photo of our car, the exact same make and model as Zahn’s in Tremé, in front of the house. On my run, I kept on seeing people dressed in white with red accessories, as if they were getting ready for a bull run. And indeed they were – I found out later that that Saturday was the day New Orleans paid homage to their spanish heritage by reenacted Pamplona’s running of the bulls. Except, instead of actual bulls, they used rollerderby girls donning horns and swinging plastic bats.
After I got back to the hotel and Clea and I went for our requisite swim, we headed out to find a breakfast place. We tried to go Mother’s, a popular diner right around the corner from our hotel, but the line up looked long and we were hungry. Little did we know that long line-ups are the norm in New Orleans. We settled for this hole in the wall called Hobnobber’s where we had a mediocre, expensive breakfast. At least we had coffee in us and I got to taste grits, which I just looked up ’cause I had no idea what they were – coarsely ground hulled corn boiled, if anybody is wondering. Okay. Caffeined and fed, we went exploring:
We headed down to the water and jumped on the ferry to Algiers Point, a little island about five minutes away. The ferry is free and runs from about 6 am to midnight everyday. Although it was only about 9 in the morning, we were all sweating buckets. It was the hottest day yet. The ferry ride didn’t take very long, and once on the other side we wandered around aimlessly through the residential neighbourhoods, looking at the beautiful old, wooden houses. On our way back to to the ferry, we stopped to chat with a man pruning his bushes, an unusual plant that had thin, light green star shaped clusters of leaves. He didn’t know what they were, but he was nice enough to tell us a little about his experience of Katrina, what neighbourhoods were most affected by the hurricane (Algiers point did not get flooded- only suffered some wind damage). He, like many people we met, was very nice and willing to spend a few minutes chatting with strangers. The whole city seemed really glad to have tourists – proud of their city and unabashedly grateful for the income we bring in. It was kind of nice, actually, to not feel like a burden on the locals. Growing up in Victoria, J and I both have an aversion to tourists, which makes being one somewhat problematic. We took the ferry back and headed straight for the fountain commemorating Spain, where we stuck our feet in. There was a mall right beside the fountain where we went to use the bathroom and fill up our water bottles. For a city where all of the bikes have cup holders for their drinks and people spend the day walking around with their beers, there was an acute lack of public washrooms. Oh, and the bikes? We saw so many beautiful cruisers in New Orleans. A whole city of people with good taste in bicycles – who knew?
We walked around for a while in the French Quarter, where we were accosted on Decatur St. by a man selling hats. His schtick was so silken smooth, so rapidly fired off, I couldn’t repeat it if I tried. Let’s just say that we left with two baseball caps for the kids and 20 bucks lighter. Apparently it was for meals on wheels for the homeless, but I will be taking that with a grain of salt. I did get an Indian religious text for my trouble though…
Okay. Now we are getting tired. Through Tremé, and down to the Cemetery St. Louis #1 where…it was closed. It was 3:30, and the cemetery closed at 3 pm, so after chatting with Walter, who promised Clea he would marry her, that he’d wait, we headed home. But not before we picked up some liquor at the pharmacy (yes, you can even get gallons of vodka from the pharmacy- we chose a nice cabernet and a six pack however):
Back to the hotel, where we went directly to the pool. After a swim, a shower and a marathon postcard writing session on my part, we decided to go out for dinner. “Cause we were in New Orleans dammit, and so far the food wasn’t living up to its reputation. Or we weren’t finding the food that made the reputation. Or something.
The Next Morning ( New Orleans still)
I’ll be brief, as I am tired and we have another day at Universal studios tomorrow. The next morning, we got up and, yes, I went running, this time to the Garden District where I ran around very big, colonial style mansions. As soon as I got back, we went out to see the St. Louis Cemetery before we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Pensacola.
The cemetery dates back to 1789. It is one of the most peculiar and beautiful cemeteries I have ever been to. Jeremy took a picture inside one of the crumbling holes of a tomb, the tomb of the young women’s association (under the protection of la dame de Lourdes) and when we pulled the camera out we could see the bones. Awesomely creepy. And astounding that they are just there.
Okay. Now I am going to bed.