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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Four days in New Orleans

Sarah's Mum had accrued too much annual leave and had to take some time off work, so Sarah did some (very mild) arm twisting and convinced her to come over for 3 weeks, and do a 5 day cruise to Mexico out of New Orleans.

Unfortunately, my annual leave situation wasn't quite so abundant, and I had a lot going on at work, so regretfully I didn't join them on the cruise, and instead went to New Orleans for a four day weekend when they returned.

From all reports, the cruise was very good. Zoe handled it well, although she did say "home" a lot. One of the two stops in Mexico was to check out some Mayan ruins, which looked awesome from the photos. The other stop involved a dolphin encounter. I was incredibly envious of all that they got to do, and would have loved to have gone with them, as I've never been on a cruise ship either.

I can also report that no cats were lost during this bachelor stint.

I had a night flight on the Wednesday evening to get there, which was scheduled to get in at around midnight, and I'd booked a motel room near the airport for that night, and we'd booked a vacation rental home for Thursday to Sunday nights. Unfortunately, my flight ended being delayed something like 2.5 hours, so I didn't get into New Orleans until around 2am.

The house we rented did the trick nicely. It was a small "shotgun" duplex in what looked like a nice neighbourhood. It was advertised as being close to the street car line, but they were doing some work on the tracks, so the street car didn't seem to be running as far down the line as it usually did, so it ended up being a bit more of a trek to get to it. It was also extremely slow, and there was a marathon on the Sunday, which closed everything down for a long time, making it a generally pretty unreliable form the transport.

We ended up renting a car for Saturday and Sunday, which was something of a saga in itself, as Enterprise didn't have any cars at the location we'd booked one, so after a couple of hours cooling our heels there (Zoe was incredibly well-behaved, all things considered), they shuttled us over to another location and we ended up with a minivan instead of a compact, which for the same price, allayed our concerns about being able to transport all of our luggage to the airport on Monday morning.

We had a very early morning flight on Monday morning to come back, which got into SFO at around 9am, and I went directly to work from there.


We all arrived at the house, separately. It ended up taking them 2 hours to disembark the ship when it came back into port, with Customs taking an eternity to process everyone. I think we went exploring the local area that afternoon, and took a street car into the city to check out Bourbon Street, having a Cajun dinner at Remoulade.


In the morning, we went to check out Lafayette Cemetery Number 2. Sarah took Zoe back to the house for a nap, and Sarah's Mum and I continued back to explore the French Quarter some more, walking down the length of Royal Street (which was vastly different from Bourbon Street, just one block over). We had lunch at the French Market. The cemetery was interesting, as pretty much all of the graves were these huge above ground tombs, that seemed to have multiple family members interred in them. Apparently the cemetery filled up quite quickly courtesy of a Yellow Fever outbreak.

After lunch, Sarah's Mum and I continued wandering around the French Quarter. We went and took a look at the Mississippi River, and I had an encounter with a grifter who was so good at his job I couldn't bring myself to argue with him over the $20 he diddled me out of.

We tried to get to the Civil War Museum, but it closed at 4pm. We looked at the Robert E. Lee Monument, which seemed to be draped in drunks, and then I think we rendezvoused with Sarah and Zoe back on Canal Street for dinner at The Court of Two Sisters (which apparently we were under-dressed for, as Sarah and her Mum said we were getting a lot of dirty looks from other patrons).


On Saturday morning, we had the aforementioned car rental experience from hell, and by the time we had the car it was lunchtime, so Zoe napped in the car after lunch on the way out to Oak Alley Plantation, where we were introduced to the delightful beverage known as the mint julep, and took a tour of the house and wandered the grounds.


On Sunday, Sarah and her Mum did a swamp tour, and Zoe and I went to the zoo. As I said earlier, there was a marathon that completely closed down Saint Charles Avenue, which is where the street cars run, so after walking down to where the street cars started operating (which ended up being most of the way down South Carrollton Avenue), the driver informed me that the street cars were queuing up at the corner of South Carrollton and Saint Charles, and I should get off her street car and get on the one at the front of the queue. I did this, but the driver of the front street car informed me that she wouldn't be leaving for an hour and half. At this point, I started considering a bus instead.

Zoe and I went to check out the Mississippi River, which was quite close to where we were, and then I went back, and despite a street car having left (without any passengers) the driver of the current street car couldn't tell me when she'd be leaving, so I started walking down Saint Charles Avenue.

Unfortunately, Zoe's going through a phase where she wants to be carried everywhere, so I was lugging her all over the place on my hip. Sarah didn't take a stroller with her, and instantly regretted it. Lesson learned.

Eventually we managed to get onto a bus, which dropped us off at Audubon Park, which had Audubon Zoo at the other end of it. There was a playground near the Saint Charles Avenue end of the park, so Zoe had a bit of a play on that, and then we continued through the park to the zoo.

Mercifully, the zoo had dodgy strollers for rent, and there was no way in the world I wasn't going to rent one of them, so that made getting around with Zoe a lot easier on my back. We had a really good time at the zoo. There was some sort of a music festival on in the parklands within the zoo grounds, and that included a jumping castle, which Zoe expressed a desire to have a go on. She had a fabulous time on it. I think she probably spent about 15 minutes in there, without any tears. I was very impressed. I took a brief video of some of her antics.

It was getting close to Zoe's nap time, and she was getting tired, but fortunately Sarah and her Mum were able to pick us up from the zoo after their swamp tour and Zoe got to nap back at the house.


We had a very early start. Unfortunately, our flight (with United) was a couple of days after United and Continental officially merged, and despite having checked in online, we had to queue up with everyone else (for an extended period of time) to drop off our checked luggage. Then there was a 45 minute line for security screening. We pulled the "toddler going to melt down" card and jumped to the head of the line, but Sarah's Mum had to wait. The flight ended up being delayed because people were stuck in the security line.

Overall impressions of New Orleans

Fabulous architecture. There were so many gorgeous houses on Saint Charles Avenue and the surrounding area. I'd have loved to do an architecture tour.

Crap (but cheap) public transport. $3 gets you a day pass. The street cars are cute, but slow and unpredictable. The drivers were remarkably unhelpful. The buses were okay.

Great food. Zoe seemed to have a liking for the spicy stuff. I gave her some fresh alligator jerky, and after some initial coughing and spluttering at the spiciness of it, she came back for more.

Post-Katrina recovery. We really only saw a very small part of the city, but there were still some houses with boarded up windows, and some vacant blocks where buildings had been demolished, but largely you'd not have been able to tell that large parts of the city had been underwater, from casual inspection.

I really enjoyed the trip, even though it was brief, I feel like I got a good feel for the place. We were there just after Mardi Gras, and there were still beads everywhere. Draped all over fences. Over power lines. Trees on the parade route were absolutely covered in beads. I'd have loved to have been there for Mardi Gras. My friend Brandon, who is an excellent street photographer, took some great photos that capture some of it.

Photos from Sarah's cruise and our time in New Orleans are here.

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