A couple years ago I Went with some friends on a mini vacation to Chicago. The trip was a huge success and we vowed that we would travel to New Orleans in the near future. The near future came. One of the Chicago ladies was unable to join us, but our friend Ellen made up the foursome even though she knew there might be a chance that a new grandchild might be born while she was in Louisiana . Cindy complained that she wasn’t sure she wanted to go, since she had already been there in the past with her husband.. Others from our Pickled lily woman group made some noise that they might join us but because of personal commitments they didn’t .
We met at Helenas to discuss and book a hotel. Refreshments of wonderful home baked scones were served by our hostess. We chose to book at the Omni Hotel on Saint Louis street in the French quarter. We thought we had booked directly through the hotel but in reality we had booked through hotel.com and probably paid a premium.We planned another get together at my condo unit, mainly to discuss what our priorities were to do in New Orleans and what restaurants to patronize. We had multiple suggestions and recommendations from multiple sources. We booked ahead to attend a cooking demo at the New Orleans School of Cooking. We printed some coupons and other stuff off the internet. We booked transportation to get to the airport.We had planned to draw to see who would be roomies with who (or is it with whom?) This part of our agenda was put on hold because Cindy didn’t come to our lunch meeting because she had something more important to do. What? More important than us? We decided to wait until we were having coffee with the lilies and let the Lilies have the pleasure to make sure we didn’t cheat.
At the restaurant where the lilies gather for coffee Ellen put each of our names on a piece of paper. Her plan was for everyone to choose one of these paper slips. We had to explain to our friend who really is very intelligent, that this wouldn’t work. What if we each picked our own name or in another possible scenario what if Cindy picked Helena’s name and Helena picked Ellen’s name. Hmm, you get the picture. It really didn’t matter to any of us who we shared a room with, because we know each other so well and most of the time we actually really like each other and make each other laugh. However I have to admit I was thinking that whoever got to share with me would be so lucky–😇.
Instead of names we put two sets of numbers on pieces of papers. Everybody picked one and the plan was that those with matching numbers would be together. Helena and I were a match and Ellen and Cindy were the other match. We knew this would work out well because Helena and I compatibly shared accommodations in Chicago. We both like a warm room and Ellen, Cindy and another Lily on a recent South American cruise stayed in one room with one washroom and they arrived home still talking to one another.
Sunday, the day before our departure, we were all busy packing and unpacking and repacking again. What to take? What not to take? I was going to take my iPad. Helena wasn’t going to take her device. I decided not to take mine, Helen said she would take hers. In the end none of us took one, only our phones. Helena was upset because her computer broke down before she left. Ellen didn’t have much time to think about what to take because she arrived home from the Maritimes late Saturday afternoon. She was there to attend a wedding and hopefully to be there for the birth of the expected grandchild. But the baby had other ideas and wasn’t quite ready to vacate his warm and cosy home. Elena spent the few days we were away clutching her cell phone, waiting for some news from her son. Cindy doesn’t, have a short term memory problem but I suspect she has a selective memory problem. She denies that she had a bad cold before we left and maybe just maybe she might be partially responsible for the rest of us except for Ellen getting sick.Then again maybe it was me, because I had a tickly throat that I thought I had warded it off by taking Vitamin C.
We were up early, very early Monday morning. Apparently at the last minute Helena and Cindy had to change purses due to broken zippers etc. that they were planning to take on the plane. We took two taxi’s to the airport The taxi to transport Cindy and I arrived at her place a half hour early at 4;30 A:M. When the taxi came to pick me up, Cindy and I discovered we were wearing identical hoodies that we had purchased a couple years ago at Chico’s.
We met our travelling companions at the airport, checked in reasonably easily and then had a gourmet breakfast (I am lying) at the airport. At least I didn’t drink Helenas tea like I did at the Chicago airport, thinking it was really bad coffee.
It was a nice flight-a smaller plane with comfortable seats. One problem, though was the man sitting across from Cindy was extremely large and had to sit with his legs in the aisle, practically in Cindy’s lap.
MONDAY OCTOBER 23, 2016 IN NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans time is one hour earlier than Toronto. We arrived shortly after 10 on a warm and lovely day. I was surprised to see that the entrance of our hotel was through a small door and to get to the lobby there were about 6 to 8 stairs to ascend with our luggage. Although there was a doorman we decided not to make use of his service. I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs and thought there is no way I can do this without putting a strain on my back or hands. A women behind me, probably anxious to get going, and feeling sorry for a little old lady, picked up my case and carried it to the top of the stairs. The next day Elens back was bothering her. We decided when it was time to check out we would let the doorman take our bags down the stairs. Some things are worth tipping for.
We checked into our rooms. Of course Helena and my key cards didn’t work. After a couple trips down to the lobby our room was changed . We were in room 338 and our friends in room 448. Our meeting place was by the two sofas that flanked the elevator In-between our rooms.
We were starving and went up to the lovely roof top pool and cafe that overlooks the Mississippi River and much of the French Quarter. We had a nice lunch accompanied by delicious peach sangria. We took a walk and went to the famous Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets and coffee and known for its long lineups. I couldn’t eat the beignets, due to my gluten sensitivity but I enjoyed the icing sugar that fell off the beignets of my companions. It added a nice touch to my coffee. On the walk to the Cafe we passed The New Orleans School of Cooking.where we were going the next morning. We were pleasantly surprised to discover it was only a few doors down from the Omni Hotel.
We had dinner at the Royal Oyster House. It wasn’t great but the staff were accommodating and didn’t charge us for an entree because the shrimp tasted like iodine. I embarrassed Cindy because I kept dropping my cutlery.
TUESDAY OCTOBER 24
While we were walking to the elevator in the morning I asked Helen if I had snored during the night,. She answered in the affirmative. I asked her to demonstrate how I sounded. While we were waiting for the elevator to arrive she did, While she was gently snorting the doors opened. The people inside starred at us in amazement. We had some explaining to do and one lady said that’s why when she travels with friends they take separate rooms.
We went to the hotel restaurant. Three of us had a light breakfast because we knew we would have a hearty lunch. One of us had a hearty breakfast, because she knew she would have a light lunch. Elon was a good sport. She knew that there wasn’t much she would be able to eat, but she agreed to come to the demo followed by lunch at the cooking school. We arrived early and enjoyed meandering In the cooking schools boutique.
The demonstration was good and with the help of mirrors and good lighting it was easy viewing. The menue featured Cajun, French Acadian and Creole cooking–gumbo, jambalaya, bananas Foster and the confection, pralines that they pronounce prawlines made with pecans pronounced paycans. Praline was the last name of Louis the 15th chef. Gumbos are traditionally made with a roux which contains flour. The chef had a gluten free gumbo brought to me and another lady. I found it to be tastier than the regular gumbo. There was a side demonstration on how to make a roux, The longer it is wisked while cooking the darker it gets. Different shades of roux are used for different dishes. It was good that Ellen had a good breakfast because lard and sausages are key ingredients in Cajun cooking-things she doesn’t eat. The rest of us enjoyed our lunch and we all enjoyed the stories and trivia imparted to us by our chef.
We returned to our hotel to leave off our parcels and then walked to the Hop on Hop Off Bus depot. We had printed some coupons at home, found by Ellen on the Internet which we brought with us.We each purchased a ticket for $44.00. which was good for three days, Cindy was our tour leader for most of the trip. She complained bitterly, but secretly she loved it because our capable friend likes to be in control and to keep us organized and let’s face it, some of us are more directionally challenged than others.I admit I am one who is..
We chose to sit on the upper level of the hop/on hop/off bus. The guide was informative and entertaining. We passed many monuments commemorating various battles and significant events. The cityscape boasts homes and commercial buildings built in many different archeological styles. We passed many shot gun houses. Taxes were based on the width of the lot, so to save money the houses were built on narrow lots usually no wider than 12 feet across. The 3 to 5 rooms were built one behind the other with doors at the front and rear of the house. If someone were to shoot a gun from the front door, the bullet would go straight out the back door–thus the name Shot Gun house.
We were enjoying ourselves until the bus stopped suddenly, we lurched forward and Cindy slipped off of her seat and disappeared under the seats in front of her. We found her but we couldn’t get her up. A man came to her assistance. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, but another lady cut her head. We had to wait for the police and emergency vehicles. We made Cindy fill out an accident report just in case an injury showed up in the next couple of days. The lady bus driver was a nervous wreck. We were surprised that they didn’t send a replacement driver. Apparently a car went through a red light and almost side swiped the bus. After waiting around for what seemed like an eternity we were on our way. We moved down to the lower level of the bus. Possibly a good thing because just as the bus got going again the driver had to move closer to the curb to make room for the passing fire truck from our near accident. Branches from the overhead trees brushed through the open air top level.
Luckily no one was hurt, but with our luck if we were up there a branch could have swept Cindy off the bus and how on earth would we get her down from the tree? Cindy had another close call that day. When we were crossing the street a bike almost collided with her.She is like a cat with nine lives.
That night we walked to the Chartres House Restaurant, a pub recommended by the waiter/ bartender/poolboy from our rooftop pool. Like in most big cities there are homeless people and people begging for food and money. On the way to eat we were approached by a man with an armful of hats. He thrust a hat to each of us and gave us each a name and said he was giving each of us a hat as a present. We thanked him very much. He asked us to give a ten dollar donation to support a soup kitchen. He said he was a volunteer and had some sort of identification. Genuine?– probably not. Ellen and Cindy handed him $5:00.
Me and Helena didn’t.. The chatty man grabbed back the hats. But in his defence he did give Sandy and Elaine a small paper back vegetarian cookbook which Sandy said she used. Ellen said the $5.00 was worth the entertainment,.
At dinner three of us enjoyed a portobello mushroom entree and Cindyi had shrimp. We were feeling a little giddy probably partly because we were on holiday and partly due to what we were drinking with our dinner.
We speculated that our comrades in Toronto probably missed us and didn’t have much to talk about over coffee. We decided to add some excitement to their lives and give them something to talk about. Among peals of laughter just thinking about their reaction, we composed a group email that Ellen sent on her phone. We mentioned that we were having fun and that we were all well. We said there was an incident in the afternoon and we are happy that Cindy didn’t, have to go to the hospital. We said we will tell them all about it when we are home. Upon our return we learned that some of the lilies were less than amused. Sorry, we didn’t mean to frighten anybody, but we certainly amused ourselves .
Helena didn’t sleep the whole night because of an upset stomach, probably due to the heavy garlic used in the gumbo and jambalaya at the New Orleans School of Cooking. She joined us for tea and toast in the morning at the hotel dining room and then retired back to her bed.She told us to let her sleep and she would try to catch up with us later.
We didn’t want to leave her but we did. She promised to call us when she was up and about. We said if we didn’t hear from her we would call her.
We went back to the Hop/on Hop/off bus. We were hoping it wouldn’t be the same bus driver. It was-but a different guide. She was a former teacher and she was warm and informative. Because of the bus route we past most of the sites where we had been the previous day including the site of the bus mishap. We debused at the Garden District and joined a walking tour of this beautiful area, featuring lush flowering gardens wrought iron fences and majestic homes displaying an unusual mixture of Spanish, English, French and Greek Revival architecture. This area was populated by the first Americans to settle in New Orleans following the Louisiana purchase in 1803. The Creoles shunned the area and preferred to live in the French Quarter. Many of the homes have been passed down from generation to generation.
Numerous celebrities including Anne Rice and Nicolaus Cage lived here. Cage lost his house for failing to pay his taxes. John Goodman and his family live here. Sandra Bullock adopted two little boys from New Orleans. She bought a home in the Garden District to acquaint her sons with their roots. This isn’t their permanent place of residence but they visit frequently. The area is beautifully maintained except for the sidewalks which are a mess. It is best to walk looking down so that one doesn’t trip in a pot hole or stumble on a jagged piece of pavement. Interestingly we didn’t fall walking, but a couple of us lost our footing ascending a step on a streetcar. Go figure.
After the completion of the tour, we took a short jaunt to the Lafayette Cemetery that was founded in 1843 on the site of an old sugar plantation. This isn’t the traditional North American cemetery that we are used to. There are no graves. Tombs are built over a below ground vault known as a caveau ( French for cave) Because of heat and humidity tissue decomposes quickly, leaving behind the skeletal remains. These remains are placed in the cave to make room for the next inhabitant. Many tombs house multiple deceased – on shelves often from the same family. The newcomer Is given the top shelf. The one previously occupying that space is moved to the shelf below. This process continues until his remains are put in the cave. Family Names are often seen on the tombs.
After our walkabout in the cemetery we took a ride on the Charles Street streetcar. We were pleasantly surprised when we were about to pay the regular fare and the bus driver said “seniors only pay 40 cents. ” How did she know we were seniors? We didn’t tell her ? It didn’t matter that we didn’t know if we were headed in the right direction or the wrong direction. Cindy was too proud to let us ask. We did find our way. After we descended the streetcar we went in search of ice cream. We still hadn’t heard from Helena and we were getting concerned. Elaine tried phoning her but there was no answer. We couldn’t find any ice cream parlours but we did find an I Hop. They were out of Ice cream. We tried Helena again – still no answer. While we were enjoying some refreshing thirst quenchers at the restaurant, we finally heard from our sick friend.
We told her we had called her numerous times. She was quite adamant that she never received any calls. It wasn’t until much later that it was discovered that instead of calling Helenas cell phone Ellen had called her Toronto number. We walked back to the hotel via Bourban street and had a snack or very late lunch by the pool. Helena joined us but still wasn’t feeling great.
We relaxed on the pool lounges and then made our way to another recommended restaurant by our pool main man. We all loved the Orleans Grapevine wine Bar and Bistro on 720 Orleans Avenue in the French Quarter. The food was wonderful. I enjoyed my fish. Even Helena enjoyed her light dinner of bread and cheese to pamper her ailing tummy. We sat in the Garden courtyard amid fountains and lush flora. The night air was delightfully warm. Apartments were situated above and surrounded the courtyard. I am sure the people living there were sometimes overwhelmed by the chatter and tantalizing cooking odours emulating from below. We enjoyed the walk to the restaurant and back to the hotel There were lovely little stores to pop into. Halloween was just a few days away and the streets and store windows were eerily decorated for Halloween.
We slept well that night.
THURSDAY- our last day–where did the time go?
We had a delicious breakfast at Brennan’s on Royal street. It was a lovely day and we opted to sit outside in their courtyard- even more beautiful than the courtyard at the .
Grapevine. We walked to the Grey Line bus depot and purchased tickets using our discount coupon for the afternoon tour all about Hurricane Katrina. We had time to spare so I reminded Cindy that I played bridge at her request. Even though I played badly she owed us a trip to the casino. We walked along the river to the casino and spent one hour there. We all lost with the exception of Cindy-She didn’t play.
The bus was very comfortable and our guide was excellent. His name is Bruce Nolan.
I believe he does private touring and encourages if anybody has questions or concerns to contact him. 504-717 6423
Bruce Nolan is a reporter who stayed behind after evacuating his family to cover Katrina and help the 10 to 20 percent of the population who were unable or unwilling to leave. Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 and proved to be the costliest natural disaster in the United States. The devastation wasn’t due to winds, but rather from flooding and poor drainage that impacted or wiped out 80 percent of the city due to breaches in the levees and flood walls, that was under the jurisdiction of the United States Army corps of engineers. Areas affected were below sea level. The French Quarter and elegant Garden District are above sea level and thus mainly escaped water damage although they experienced wind damage, loss of power and other inconveniences.
Those that stayed either died in their neighbourhoods or made their way with or without the help of friends and neighbours to the Super Dome and New Orleans Convention Centre. Here they were met with deplorable conditions and more deaths occurred. They were cut off from communication, with no water, food or medical care. It wasn’t until September 3 that FEMA sent buses to transport and relocate them out of the city. Some never returned.
Our tour took us to various neighbourhoods affected by Katrina. We saw the levees and flood walls that failed The first neighbourhood we visited was beautiful Lakeside. This affluent white neighbourhood was levelled during Katrina, but has been rebuilt. Most homeowners were able to afford good insurance policies and had the means and finances to return to what was once the site of their home. Next we toured a middle class neighbourhood that had been affected. While Lakeside had virtually no vacant lots, this area did -indicating a percentage of the population never returned. Ward 9 is a area of mainly Blacks who are less economically privileged . There are huge areas of vacant lots. People living here were largely renters or owners with little or no insurance and couldn’t afford to rebuild or return. Lower ward 9 is in such deplorable and dangerous condition that tour buses are not allowed in. 175,000 displaced Blacks left New Orleans and only 100,000 could afford to return.
In 2006, the year after Katrina, volunteer groups came to help rebuild Katrina and to give assistance to those in need. One of the first groups to come was a library group to sort through and restore where possible damaged books. Coincidentally two ladies from that group were revisiting New Orleans and were on our bus tour. They received a round of applause.
Many of the volunteers that came to New Orleans after the hurricane fell in love with the city and decided to stay or come back with their families. The rehabilitation of New Orleans has come a long way, but there is still much to be done.
Will New Orleans be able to ward off another flood disaster? Improvements have been made and are continuing to be made, Higher walls are being built, old levees are being raised and strengthened, new and improved pumping stations are being erected to pump out the water to the lakes in case the levees fail. However despite all these improvements some are still sceptical.
We bade goodbye to our guide and thanked him for a wonderful tour.
We made our way back to the hotel, taking a break to have a beignet and listen to some jazz . We made a slight detour to walk along notorious Bourban Street, known for its bars and strip clubs and brothels. IWhen we entered the street, we saw a young lady dancing down the road carrying a beautiful white parasol with streamers hanging down. It took us a minute or so to realize that the streamers from the parasol were the only things attempting to cover her body and they did a very inferior job. Helen elegantly stated “hey she,s nude”
Bourban street comes alive at night especially during French Quarter festivals -the main one being Mardi Gras. It is legal to drink alcohol on the streets.
Bourban Street is accredited for the birth of jazz. New Orleans was the only place I19th century where slaves were allowed to own drums. In the 19 century New Orleans was dancing to VooDoo rhythms. European horns joined African drums and Jazz was born.
Jazz greats include Buddy Bolden, NickLa Rocca and Jelly Roll Morton. Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, but moved to Chicago at an early age.
People love to dance and sing on the streets. Bourban Street used to be the centre of jazz but there are now numerous Jazz clubs in the French Quarter.groups play on the street and in cafes and restaurants.
We had a wonderful dinner that evening at Commanders Palace in the Garden district.
Elaine Sone said that was the best steak, she ever ate. It was that evening that Elaine sone learned that her daughter in law was in labour. She sat and later slept with her cell phone clasped to her chest. Her grandson was born in the wee hours of the morning. He was born with a full head of hair.
We said goodbye to New Orleans. We did a lot but there was so much more we could have done. Maybe if we return we will take a plantation tour, a swamp tour cruise along the mighty Mississippi on a paddle boat or take a dinner/jazz cruise. There is an outlet mall that I wasn’t aware of. We actually passed a Chicco store and didn’t go in. Now that is a miracle. Cindy did buy a leprechaun hat in one of our meandering .