Let The Good Times Roll

Trip Start Sep 14, 2010
Trip End Nov 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Laissez les bons temps rouler" - New Orleans motto meaning "Let the good times roll". The people of New Orleans are certainly living by this as they recover from Hurricane Katrina. However, some things in New Orleans have changed and this made the trip back to New Orleans a little disappointing for Pete.

When Pete was here 15 years ago, the infamous Bourbon St was full of cajun and zydeco music, dancing and good food. Now, the zydeco music and cajun culture has gone and been replaced by numerous strip clubs and shocking third rate pub bands. Most of the places Pete wanted to show us have changed or closed down and the cajun and zydco culture appears to be getting slowly lost. Bourbon St and the French Quarter is much nicer during the day.

We decided to take it fairly easy in New Orleans, having had some really late nights and very hectic days since we arrived. One way to relax was to drive out to Oak Alley, an old plantation house. The driveway was lined with 300 year old oak trees with Spanish moss hanging from the branches. The gardens were beautiful and shady and the house decorated with period pieces. We spent all day out there having lunch, a mint julep (3 parts Bourbon and the rest, mint sugar and water) and finished off with icecream!

 Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and caused massive damage. We first saw evidence of this in Mississippi as we drove along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans. The waterfront casinos in the town of Biloxi were devasated in the hurricane and although rebuilding of the casinos and homes have begun, much of the coastline from Biloxi to Gulfport is still desolate and as you drive down, you see vacant lot after vacant lot with For Sale signs.

After spending a morning on the steamboat Natchez along the massive Mississippi River, we did a tour of New Orleans and went to the Lower 9th Ward where New Orleans most extensive damage from post Hurricane Katrina flooding occurred. Here we saw destroyed houses, water markings, and homes that still had the markings left on them by the search and rescue teams noting how many occupants were in the house, if evacuation was needed and how many were dead. It is hard to grasp just how much damage was done by Katrina. Electricity was off for months, businesses closed for months and residents unable to return. But, in the spirit of New Orleans, houses are being rebuilt and we saw the homes Brad Pitt funded.

The tour also took us to the Garden District where oak trees (some still adorned with beads left over from Mardi Gras) and lush gradens surround ornate houses. The houses are absolutely beautiful and many celebrities own houses here including Sandra Bullock, Nicholas Cage and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We also saw the house where The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was filmed.

One of the most interesting things on the tour were the cemeteries. Due to the high water table, the dead have to be buried above ground. This has led to elaborate mausoleum-like grave sites. Many of these are family graves and instead of being cremated, it's like you are slowly baked instead! When you die, the grave is opened and your shrouded body is put inside. Due to the high heat and humidity, you slowly bake away and break down. When it is time for the next person to be buried, what is left of your bones gets pushed to the back, down the 'receiving chamber' and the next person is loaded ready for the process to start again. Courtney doesn't like the idea of a slow bake but she does like the idea of having a massive mausoleum left behind with her name on it!

Having done a horse and carriage ride in New York, we couldn't leave New Orleans without doing a mule and buggy ride! Apparently, one day a horse was literally driven in to the ground, from then on, mules have been used. At least they are stubborn enough to stop when they have had enough! It was a lovely way to relax at night, going through the narrow streets of the French Quarter while our driver told us all sorts of stories - a few ghost stories, pointing out some haunted houses including one owned by Nicolas Cage. Apparently he never stayed there at night - he left that place for his guests!

Voodoo is still a big part of New Orleans culture with many museums and shops specialising in the form of spiritual expresssion brought to New Orleans by the West African slaves. At night, the French Quarter is also full of tarot and palm readings. It's good for a bit of fun!

Eating in New Orleans can be a challenge for the uninitated due to the different local cuisine and range of flavours. Luckily Pete was able to help us out a bit! Creole cooking is french influenced and Cajun food leans towards the hot and usually involves seafood. We tried nearly everything - blackened fish (the spices make it dark and crispy), gumbo (stew-like) jambalaya (rice based, often with seafood, chicken and sausage), po'boys (often seafood, thick sandwich made on French bread) and bread pudding and Bananas Fosters for dessert (ice-cream filled crepe with bananas and chocolate syrup on top). The best way to start your day is at Cafe du Monde where they serve yummy beignets; rectangular french doughnuts doused in icing sugar and chicory cafe au lait. This is the only thing this cafe serves and it has been open, 24hours a day (except Xmas Day) for over 100 years. It also had to close for a short period post Hurricaen Katrina. Alcohol is also a massive part of your trip to New Orleans and we have all had too many cocktails including New Orleans speciality, Hurricanes, and margheritas at Jimmy Buffets Margheritaville.

By the far, the best dining experience any of us have EVER had was at The Commander's Palace in the Garden District. Way too much to tell you now so it will have to wait until we are home.

We left New Orleans, bound for Houston and stopped at Beaumont for the night. The restaurants were on the other side of the highway so we walked through the under pass to get to them. It looked like there had been an accident, with a bunch of cars lined up. As we got closer, the cars were moving but the first car was still stopped. Pete asked the lady if she was ok and she had run out of fuel. Pete and Courtney pushed her across the intersection to a nearby petrol station (thank God it wasn't one of those dually pick-ups!). The lady was very nice and suggested we eat at the Mexican restaurant which we did. Later, the waiter came over and told us a lady had been in and taken care of our bill as she was so grateful for our help. We thought that was a really nice gesture but we certainly didn't need thanking like that. The people here have been absolutely lovely and have certainly made our trip. We hope we will all go home nicer people.

Texas , The Lone Star State, and the home of two Presidents Bush, surprised us all. Everything about it is big and though we did see a few cowboys, it was much more cosmopolitan than we expected and there were no tumbleweeds tumblin' down the streets. Houston is a big concrete city with wealth, San Antonio is the most Tex-Mex (60% of the population have Hispanic heritage) showing Hispanic culture and Austin is the alternative Texas. Cattle ranching was the core of Texas' economy post Civil War, but when black gold spewed up from Spindletop near Beaumont in 1910, things changed and from then on, the economy has run on oil.

Driving in Houston was a challenge with the many concrete overpasses - even the sat nav got confused at times! The road system is amazing to look at, but difficult to negotiate and Texans have definitely been the least friendly drivers. If you indicate to change lanes, no way will they let you in - they will do anything to prevent you from entering. And if you slow down to let someone in, they dont go!! Downtown Houston is surprisingly free of traffic, but that's probably due to the metro area sprawling out 50 miles in each direction!!

Our main reason for visiting Houston was to visit Denielle and Andrew Pooley and we had a wonderful time doing so. It was lovely to catch up with them and see their beautiful home. Even though it was not a great priority for us, we thought should go and visit The Johnson Space Center (NASA) which was ok but nothing fantastic. We really should have spent our full day in Galveston instead of the brief look we got at it. Galveston is only 30 miles long and 3 miles wide and sits only a few feet above sea-level. It is regularly devastated by hurricanes so God only knows why people live there - insurance must be a killer! But it is pretty and areas were quite funky and artsy. Oil refineries are everywhere surrounding Hosuton, particularly near Galveston. And no wonder there are that many - the amount of traffic on the road at all times is huge. America must use a bunch of fuel.

We said goodbye to Houston and continued our tour of Texas, stopping at Gruene (pronounced Green) a German and Czech influenced town on our way to San Antonio. Gruene is a rustic, quaint little town full of antique and gift shops and a lovely river. We had heard San Antonio was a great city and even though we were only there overnight, we were not disappointed! After visiting the Alamo, we spent the evening strolling the picturesque, tree-lined Riverwalk. We were expecting something similar to South Bank but it was a lot better. The Riverwalk is the natural path of the San Antonio river - narrow paths, restaurants and hotels line the winding banks and at night, the fairy lights in the trees sparkle making a romantic feel to the place. It felt like a cross between Venice and Amsterdam and doing the boat cruise gave us a great look at it.

The next day we travelled to Austin via a small 'cowboy' town called Bandera and called in to The Running R Ranch. Pete and Courtney decided to 'cowboy up' up and go for a trail ride whilst Dawn stayed back at the ranch! It had been a long time since either had been in the saddle and were expecting to be quite saddle-sore after their two hour ride through a Texas state park. Courtney loved riding western-style and though she found neck-reining difficult to get used to at the start, luckily she had the hang of it by the time her horse startled after being kicked by another horse and had him under control quickly.

Austin was a quirky, musical city, mixed with tattoo-covered artists, fitness freaks and suit-wearing businessmen. All types of music can usually be found down 6th St but on the Monday night we visited, it was fairly quiet. Locals are concerned too many people are moving in to Austin and the alternative culture may change, thus t-shirts and bumper stickers sporting "Keep Austin Weird" can be seen eveerywhere. Lady Bird Lake is a dammed section of the Colorado River and in the evening, it was full of people exersicing - running, walking, kayaking, rowing, you name it, people were doing it! And why not - the park areas around it were beautiful and cool and there were free water stations posted around. Another great thing about the lake is the many 'leash free' areas for dogs. In one section, nearly 30 dogs were running, playing with each other and even swimming in the lake. Perfect for dog and owner a like! Between March and November, 1.5 million bats swarm nightly out of Congress Bridge just after sunset. We did a cruise of the lake to watch these bats (mothers and babies only as it is a maternal colony) fly out to feed. After a few 'scouts' fly out to see if its clear, they all fly out, and a steady stream will continue to leave the bridge for an hour-and-a-half. It's an amazing site - as you look back along the tree line, it is like a black cloud travelling across the sky. The bats can reach speeds of 30 miles/hr, can travel up to 300 miles a night to feed and one bat can consume 60,000 mosquito sized insects each. Late November, the bats will migrate back to Mexico for the winter.

This blog is being written on the flight to las Vegas. On the way to the airport we stopped to push yet another car that had run of of fuel. The Chevy Impala was handed back and we are aboard our one and only internal flight. Our next car may have to be a little bigger - the luggage seems to be growing quite quickly! No idea what to expect of Vegas, we have heard all different views so at least we are going in with no expectations.

Apologies for the long entry but we do hope you enjoy hearing about our travles and experiences.We hope you are all well and safe and do think of you (from time to time!) ;)

Courtney, Dawn and Pete
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Gank on

Where are the pictures...???

Gank on

Also, you guys are certainly odd...you spent a whole paragraph on New Orleans buriel proceedures, but couldn't find the words to describe your best dining experience EVER. I know which one i would have preferred to read about!!! :) It must have been one hell of a meal to knock off my fish tortillas!!

3reds on

Photos are up now impatient one.
And the experience was so good....words cant describe it! You missed out!

Gank on

Sorry they're up now. Not sure why I couldn't see them, they seemed to take a long time to come through.

Gank on

I'll cook you something extra special when you come home that will make your New Orleans meal fade into a distant memory.

3reds on

There's more to it than just good food. We expect the same star treatment that New Orleans gave us.

helen nikitin on

great to read about your trip you are having a goody!! looking forward to seeing you helen

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