The Big Easy

Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The drive into New Orleans on I-10 was brutal. The roads from Alabama and through Mississippi were not bad; Mississippi's roads were especially nice. Recently paved, smooth asphalt and wide lanes. Then we got into Louisiana. The views were amazing because the road cut through lakes and bayous; however, this also made for tough driving. Anyone who is familiar with the roads around Lake Waccamaw will understand. Multiply the bounciness of Canal Cove Road by 100, then add speeds up to 65 mph with traffic rushing by on both sides and a travel trailer behind the vehicle. After hitting the first of these areas, I slowed down to about 45 and just poked along with both hands wrapped around the steering wheel in a death grip. We finally found our exit, but had to make a u-turn to get into the campground; no small feat since our length is over 40 feet. Finally in the campground, we found a site and backed in - another act at which we're getting better. Whew.

Since we got a late start to New Orleans, it was almost dark when we finally got set up, so we ate a small supper and checked the weather for the next few days. Rain and cold was all we saw until the last day of our New Orleans stay. So we planned some indoor activities to stay out of the rain. At the top of the list was the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

The next morning was, as predicted, soggy and chilly. We geared up and headed into the city. Parking in New Orleans was definitely the easiest and quickest we had experienced yet, and we managed to find a spot in a lot quite near the aquarium. The line for the aquarium wasn't too long, so we were inside quickly. We scooted upstairs and into the food court to grab a hot dog each before heading into the aquarium.

The first thing we saw in the aquarium was the usual round of tropical fish in a reef mock-up. We walked through a glass (or Plexiglas) tunnel where we could see all the different kinds of fish, turtles, and sharks swim beside, around, and over us. The tunnel led to a corridor which opened into an Amazon Rainforest display where we got to see anaconda, piranha, freshwater stingrays (which are endangered), and an educational briefing about the delicate ecosystem which supports these animals. From there, we entered a room with many different shapes and sizes of tanks. The neatest thing in this room was a touch tank with a small nurse shark in it that we got to touch. Its skin felt like the inside bottom of a frying pan, but more supple. What a patient shark it must be to have people rubbing it all day long; but maybe the shark likes it. The next thing we saw was a set-up for some penguins. These penguins enjoy milder weather and the temp in their cage was maintained in the mid-fifties. One of the most interesting things I saw was the seahorse exhibit. I have never seen seahorses except in pictures (even with the reef diving I've done), so this was a welcome experience. There were even some pregnant males floating about all bloated with babies.

We walked through a Gulf of Mexico exhibit and into an area where two sea otters are kept. There was one male (Buck) and one female (Emma) and they seemed to enjoy showing off for the crowd. In the bottom of their tank were about as many toys as Bandit has. As with the penguins, I felt their cages were too small. Zoos and aquariums always possess a conflict for me (as well as for others, I'm sure). While I enjoy being exposed to these animals which I probably would not see otherwise, it is still sad that they are kept in cages which don't allow them the freedom of movement of their natural habitat. But some of them were born in captivity and don't know any different. I digress . . . back to the topic at hand.

We also viewed a wonderful jellyfish exhibit where we learned that secretions from the Lion's Mane Jellyfish are being used to treat gout, a fact we later passed on to "E" since Josh, her fiancée suffers from gout, and Dan, since he was recently diagnosed with gout. Past the jellyfish, we moved into the frog exhibit where we saw all sorts of wonderfully colored poisonous and non-poisonous frogs. Then it was into the Mississippi River Gallery to see what the ecosystem surrounding New Orleans held. We saw turtles and alligators (one of which was a very impressive white alligator), and several species of fish. One of these species (I can't remember its name) fed by opening its mouth as it swam around to strain small freshwater plankton out of the water for its meal, much like baleen whales. We also saw several raptors which had wing injuries that kept them from flying. There were two owls, a hawk, and a bald eagle named Murdock. Neither Ed nor I had ever seen a bald eagle before, and even in captivity and injured, he was an amazing sight.

That was the end of the aquarium, so we walked through the gift shop (nothing bought) and then headed outside where it was pouring rain. We weren't quite ready to return to the camper, so we booked it across the Spanish Plaza and into the Riverwalk, a mall set up along the river. We walked from one end to the other and into the food court where we split a Stromboli and Caesar salad. Then we walked back down to the entrance. The only shop I spent any time in was a store that sold jewelry made from amber. I've been on a copper jewelry hunt and was hoping to find a copper ring with an amber stone, but no such luck. All of the jewelry was set in silver, so off we went. Back outside, the rain had slacked off, but we had to wait for a train to pass before we could cross the road. Then back to the camper to walk Bandit around in the rain and mud.

The next day was rainy and cold yet again, so we mainly just lolled around in the camper and cleaned some. Ed caught a nap and I worked on the computer trying to catch up the travel blog. Finally that evening, the rain broke and we got outside a little before deciding to head downtown for some supper. After parking, we walked around to Bourbon Street where we caught a short street parade, complete with a marching band, a float, and a crowd of revelers throwing Mardi Gras beads. I caught one strand and Ed caught another, and neither of us had to show our boobs, haha. Then we headed into the Redfish Grill where we put our names down for the 75 minute wait and headed to the oyster bar. We both got drinks and ordered a dozen oysters on the half shell. The oyster shucker (Roddie) was stationed right in front of us and was very competent. After the first dozen, Ed and I both got another drink and ordered a half dozen more oysters. Roddie (working on a very good tip) slipped us another half dozen after we polished off the half dozen we ordered. Still hungry, we ordered yet another dozen oysters and told the hostess she could give our table to another couple. After the third dozen oysters, we paid the tab and headed home, happy and full.

The next day, St. Patrick's Day, dawned bright, if not exactly warm. We decided to take advantage of the sun, put on our green, bundled up, and headed to the French Quarter. The first stop was Café du Monde for café au lait and several beignets. Beignets are fried dough topped with powdered sugar - yummy. The line stretched out the door, but we were patient and made it inside. The interesting thing here was that the wait staff was all Asian females. And very efficient.

After Café du Monde, we walked down to the City Market where we wandered in and out of stalls looking at fresh produce, cookbooks, seasoning, jewelry, handbags, voodoo dolls, sunglasses, clothes and more stuff. One of the booths had lampwork glass and beads. We stopped to look at the beads and began chatting with the booth owner. Turns out that his mother lives in New Bern, NC, and he travels to coastal NC quite regularly. And he loves NC barbeque. But of course. After our chat, we continued on through the market where I spied a fantastic little outfit which, after much consideration and negotiation, I bought. Now we needed to find some warm weather so I could wear it.

Out of the Market, we began strolling along the streets and ducking into more little shops filled with Mardi Gras beads, hats, feather boas, alligator heads, leather goods, and more. Really, anything you want can be found in downtown New Orleans. It's amazing. The people on the streets are quite interesting as well. Generally, the tourists all wander around looking at the stores and architecture while the locals stand around talking or try to sell their goods. Ed and I enjoyed listening to the tourists talk to identify their dialect or language (we heard everything from Japanese to Swahili, as best we could guess). Finally, we stopped for late lunch in the French Market Restaurant and Bar, open and operating since 1803. We ordered yet another dozen oysters on the half shell, some gumbo and a muffaletta. A muffaletta is an Italian sandwich with pepperoni, salami, and ham, and provolone cheese topped with diced green and black olives and garlic marinated in olive oil. We couldn't for the life of us figure out what such an Italian sandwich was doing in an area that was mostly French, Creole, and Spanish. Roma, our camp host in Houston, later informed us that the French and Italian Mafia had been fighting for control in New Orleans for years, so that explained the presence of the sandwich.

After our meal, we headed down to the river and then into Jackson Square. The Square was nice, but couldn't hold a candle to the squares found in downtown Savannah. Beyond Jackson Square, we entered St. Louis Cathedral and marveled at the beautiful murals painted on the ceilings and the stained glass in the windows. Back outside, we walked back around the square past tarot and palm readers, sidewalk artists, and several musicians. On the walk back to the truck, Ed and I agreed that we love New Orleans, but only as a place to visit. It is a wonderful, colorful city with rich history, but is too all-the-time busy for us.

On our way back to the campground, we stopped at Greenwood and Metairie Cemeteries to see the graveyard architecture of New Orleans. Since the city is so swampy, the graves fill up with water before the coffins can be lowered, so bodies are interred in tombs and mausoleums above ground. The cemeteries are incredibly beautiful and some of the crypts are amazingly crafted, but it also feels a little claustrophobic to someone who is used to headstones.

Done with New Orleans, we headed back to the campground for supper and to plan our travels across Louisiana and into Texas the next day.
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