This follows on from TR #4 on the Biloxi MS forum.
Heading from Biloxi to NOLA, a stop at the LA visitors centre proved to be very good value. As well as free maps and a warm welcome, we received a tourist booklet with discount vouchers that saved us money on quite a few occasions.
Finding our hotel, the Place D’Armes in St Ann St, was relatively easy, although the French Quarter streets are narrow and interesting! Our car was duly ‘stack parked’ in the adjacent garage and we were fortunate to be able to check into our room early.
I had previously posted concerns about booking a ‘windowless room’, on account of the favourable price, and in fact started quite a TA conversation. However, I need not have worried. Our room actually had a small window, looking out onto the lift area, so we knew when it was morning! It was also about 2 steps from the delightful courtyard area where we took our drinks and nibbles each evening – and could certainly have easily escaped to, had evacuation been necessary.
It was wonderful to be in New Orleans – a place I’d long wanted to visit and somewhere that people repeatedly speak of having a unique feel and charm.
We hit the streets to explore – including nearby Jackson Square, and up the steps to the waterfront area. On the way I was overcome by an inexplicable emotional response to the sights, sounds and smells – complete with physical symptoms such as tears in the eyes, lump in the throat and elevated heart beat. Yes I’d fallen in love …. and it was still broad daylight!
We explored the waterfront, noting the levee and flood wall, and a number of streets and the Market area before heading ‘home’ for drinks. By now I’d developed quite a taste for Margaritas!
Changed and refreshed, we set out in search of food, settling on Gumbo at Coop’s Place. The atmosphere was good, as was the food – except for the accompanying bread rolls which were woefully stale. We then indulged in some night time shopping before heading to Bourbon Street. We wandered its length, enjoying the music and stopping in at random places …where there was no cover charge. At one point we stood still and could identify at least 6 different bands playing different music! Having already been stung by the shoe shine bloke on the levee, we quickly learned not to stop, even for the official looking party police! It was a fun night, although for us oldies, not a late one.
Next day after breakfast enjoyed in the hotel, overlooking the street outside, we headed to the museum in the Presbytere next to the Cathedral to view the Katrina Exhibition. Despite a disinterested staff member who did not pause in his phone conversation while taking our money, this was a wonderfully well done and comprehensive coverage, which really helped our understanding. There was also a Mardi Gras exhibition upstairs that was worth a look. By now we had realized that Mardi Gras is just one big party for everyone! Back home, our Sydney Mardi Gras is a Gay Festival. Thus we had initially by-passed ‘Mardi Gras’ shops etc thinking they probably were not of interest to us! Dumb!
Having spent more time than we expected in the museum, we headed to Café du Monde for another iconic NOLA experience – Café au lait and bengeits! I’m sorry guys, but for this Aussie coffee lover, the coffee was disappointing – but then my quest for coffee, as I like it, was in vain all over... but hey...that's why we travel ...to experience the differences! The French donuts were OK – and I certainly found out why you don’t wear black! This was a great place to sit and watch for a while and listen to live music performing on the footpath.
After getting an extra jacket, as the cool change had now hit, it was time to board the Steamship Natchez for what turned out to be a wonderful 2 hour tour of the Mississippi. Our tourist book coupons gave us $5 each off the cost. (Something I more than made up for in the gift shop, later!) The amazing whistle/bells heralded the start of our 8 mile journey downstream, past Chalmette battlefield, and then, more slowly, back up the river against the current to the twin bridges before returning to port. We spent most of the time outside, enjoying the river scenery and traffic and commentary but inside was beautifully fitted out with live music. We opted not to pay for the lunch option, as the tour started at 2.30pm. I really recommend this trip, and as the last remaining true steamboat on the river, I hope it can remain viable. I bought some gifts in the on board gift shop – and wish I’d bought more. It really was the cheapest souvenir shopping in town!
A little more wandering … and shopping (Yes, I did my bit for the local retail economy!) and it was back home for drinks before dinner in Bourbon St at the Red Fish Grill. We had to wait a short time for a table, but really enjoyed our meals-after I got over the fact that my ‘rare’ tuna wrapped in beef, was in fact ‘raw’… and therefore cold! We again had a tourist book coupon for a bottle of wine with our meal. This was coolly received, but duly provided never-the-less.
Another wander down Bourbon St on the way home and our NOLA experience was nearly done. Two days was definitely not enough time – we didn’t get to ride a street car, or visit any of the other areas of the city. A quick early morning trip back to the French Market, and surrounding shops for me, before packing up was all we had time for, before heading out past the infamous superdome, to plantation country.
The drive was a little longer than I expected, but pleasant enough. First we stopped at Laura, but having decided just one tour would be enough, we only took photos – sent my husband across the road to climb the levy for a better view! The gift shop was not big; I had a hard time trying to find anything suitable to bring back for my friend ‘Laura’. We drove on, briefly seeing Oak Alley and then crossing the river again, to find the Houmas House. The industrial neighbourhood at Burnside was disconcerting, but the house and gardens excellent.
This was the tour I’d decided on, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, DO make sure you have time to watch the 15 min video on the history of the house in the amazingly well stocked gift shop, before you start the tour. Our guide, Judy, was more of a performing social commentator than a purveyor of historical detail! It made for an interesting hour+ (including singing from the balcony!) - but I was glad I already had an idea of the facts!
This brings our time in Louisiana, and indeed the South almost to a close.
Final report on Mississippi forum.