NoLa SoLo

New Orleans Day 3:

I am never drinking again.

I spent the morning reading Faulkner on my balcony and chugging coffee, because it was noon before my hangover finally dissipated sufficiently (fyi, here’s what I got up to last night) that I was able to venture out into the 30 degree heat and do some more exploring. I couldn’t start the day’s adventuring without some more classic southern food, though, so I tootled down to Jackson Square in search of some good local grub. I found it in the form of the Cafe Pontalba’s Creole combination, which consisted of a pot of gumbo, a large portion of jambalaya and a crawfish pie. How did I live the last 24 years without Cajun/Creole food in my life?!

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I think I’m going to stop trying to make friends, because everybody I speak to either turns out to be English or hangover-inducing and I can’t be bothered with either of those things right now. I’m on holiday alone, lets keep it that way… just me and my guide book.

So, without further ado… I’ve been told by a neighbour that I really should visit the Garden District, notable for being home to some of the best-preserved historic mansions in in the Southern U.S. New Orleans was pretty prosperous in the mid-to-late 19th Century, and wealthy newcomers came to the city and started building opulent structures in this area. I have also been told that the best way of getting to the Garden District is by streetcar, which is useful as it checks another thing off my list without much extra effort.

The houses were not disappointing.

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Street after street of wooden mansions with balconies, big latticed windows and columned porches surrounded by lush, tropical gardens.

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Built on higher ground, this neighbourhood escaped most of the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina which, in a way, is maddening, because these are the people who could probably afford to pay for repairs without too much bother. Social injustice aside, it’s also extremely lucky, because the houses are so damn historically beautiful that the thought of them being ruined by the weather is a terrible one.

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Taking the streetcar back towards the French Quarter, I decide to get off early and visit the Mercedes Benz Superdome. Home of the New Orleans Saints football team, this is the largest fixed domed structure in the world, and was notably used as a shelter of last resort for people who could not leave the city during Katrina, even though the power of the storm peeled off half the roof. The sun was just going down as I walked around it, reflecting off the shiny roof ad generally being all orange and pretty.

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I went back home past Canal Street again, to see what it looked like in the evening. Answer: nice.

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After grabbing a bite to eat, and before going to bed, I took a wee explore down a street called Pirates Alley. Because pirates. There is a cute wee absinthe bar on the corner. Not that I’ll be touching alcohol tonight… but still, nice to look at.

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Day 4:

Today is my last day here and It’s time we got up close and personal with the Mississippi River. I saw this great river for the first time around two weeks ago, much closer to its source, in St. Louis, Missouri, and I crossed its fine bridges twice on foot and twice on a train. Two days ago, here in New Orleans, I frolicked down by its banks, getting its muddy sediment all over my new trainers. What I haven’t yet done, though, is float on it. Luckily there’s a service here for doing just that. And it’s not any old sorta floatin’ vessel, either. This is the SS. Natchez, a real-life Mississippi paddle steamer, one of only two in the country still powered by a genuine steam engine. As if that wasn’t fun enough, a ride on this boat also includes live jazz. Woo.

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The cruise is 2 hours long, wit the first part being a commentary of all the exciting things you can see along the banks of the river. There’s old breweries, warehouses that have been turned into swanky new apartment buildings, and burnt-out wharfs that were destroyed by Katrina and haven’t yet been rebuilt.

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There’s a crude oil refining plant (bonus points for getting the paddle wheel in the shot)

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And as you pass the Domino refinery, you can smell the sweet smell of sugar in the air. This place is the largest sugar refinery in the US, producing everything from 100-kilo bags to the individual sachets you put in your coffee.

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Ready Reserve Fleet bulk carrier ships Cape Kennedy and Cape Knox are moored not far from the city, ready to be deployed at short notice if the need arises.

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After about an hour of sightseeing and learning, we do a U-ey and head back the way we came. This is when the cruise gets jolly, the jazz band starts playing, and everybody hits the bar. I’ve spent the whole time on the upper deck so far, so I venture inside to see what all the fuss regarding the “historic dining room” is all about. Oh how lovely:

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After a nice expensive drink and some foot tapping, I went outside to have a peek at the scenery on the other side of the river. I was standing by the guardrail on the lower deck, watching the wake of the boat retreat into the distance when it started to look funny, like it had changed direction. I thought it was just one of these weird illusions like when a train looks like it’s going the other way, until it suddenly gushed over the side of the boat, soaking the feet of everybody who was near. It was pretty funny, until I remembered I had already checked out of my hotel and had 24 hours of travelling to do before I was going to be able to change out of my shoes and socks (which were heavy leather hi-tops and weren’t going to dry in a hurry). Oh well, nothing wrong with a bit of Mississippi water going mouldy in your shoes, I suppose… and the gangrene will make a nice unique souvenir.

The final sight on the trip were the twin cantilever bridges that cross the river, which is just as well, because it would be terrible to have spent 4 days in New Orleans and not seen any bridges.

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After the tour, I had a lot of time to kill before I got my evening bus to Atlanta, so time for  a leisurely late lunch (Cajun spiced tater tots and red beans and rice), then apparently an evening sitting in P.J.’s Coffee (New Orleans’s response to Starbucks) writing about my trip.

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Perfect.

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