New Orleans

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday 18th November.
Union Station in time for the 'Sunset Limited' train to New Orleans. We should arrive in New Orleans (NOLA) on Tuesday afternoon. We check our baggage in, as there is no room for it in the 'sleepette' and board. Same set up as the San Francisco train, a small compartment with pull down beds, dining car and  view coach. Across the way is Martin G, an ex pat from Ilkeley who now lives in NOLA.

A steady run through California and a great sunset, unfortunately early at 1630. Through the night we clear Palm Springs but in the morning we are losing hours as the tracks are owned by the freight companies and freight takes priority.

Monday 19th November
Into Arizona, New Mexico and on through Texas (El Paso). Meals are good and the scenery changes into more wild desert. Sleep is unsettled as our sleeping coach is at the front of the train and the loco's horn is going constantly all through the night to warn of our approach. By the Monday night he is 4 hours behind and a scheduled stop at 'San Antonio', where part of the train is detached to go north to 'Austin', takes place in the early hours. Sleep is impossible with all the crew bustle and the loco's involved communicating by different horn signals, such as 'I am going forward', I am ready to uncouple' and 'I can waken more passengers than you can'. 

Tuesday 20th November
By next morning we are approaching 'Houston' and the scenery is now green with trees and fields. We met many friendly people on the train and it was a good alternative to flying. In the afternoon we reach Louisiana, with great areas of water and swamps. There are occasional 'smoke' stops, when you can get out and stretch your legs. I was snoozing at one but Norah saw a crew member amusing himself by throwing stones at a snake in a trackside pool. 'Its a water moccasin', he explained, 'two bites and you're dead' ! I can think of better ways of getting to know the neighbours.  Eventually we reached New Orleans at 2100, 5 hours late. It is hot and noticeably humid - but hey its Louisiana - what do you expect !!

We wait at baggage collection as the luggage is offloaded - and wait !!  All the bags are gone, as are the rest of our fellow passengers and we can't see our luggage. We show our luggage checks to the baggage handler. 'Oh', he says, 'these are storage tickets'. Meaning that the handler at LA has put our bags into LA storage and not on the train !!!! The NOLA handler does all he can to contact LA, but no one answers. We give him all the details and he promises to follow it up in the morning. It is now 2230, we get a cab to the hotel and just crash out.

Wednesday 21st November
Thankfully we had taken a change of clothes and wash kit on the train with us as hand luggage, so we're not completely lost. It is the day before the American Thanksgiving, which is like Christmas in the UK, ie everyone is holiday happy and not bothered with work. Going back to the station to try and solve our luggage problem, the NOLA handler, Bert, is doing all he can and tells us to leave it till tomorrow. Oh well !! We go off on a 'Plantation Tour', to see one of the great Louisiana mansions on a sugar plantation. It is a coach ride out of town and along the mighty 'Mississippi' - see I did remember how to spell it from school days ! The weather is fine and sunny in the mid 70's. The restored mansion and grounds are quite impressive. There are very few of these grand mansions left as a monument to the old 'deep south'. They were either destroyed in the American civil war or fell into decay because of the cost of upkeep and lack of working income after this war. Moored near the plantation is the 'American Queen', a big replica paddle steamer, which is a floating hotel moving up and down the river. The river, by the way, is 2300 miles long from Indiana Lake to sea and a mile wide down here - hence the deservedly mighty tag. All the way along the river are 'Levees' - giant earthbanks raised to keep the river out of the surrounding land, which is below sea level. So that's what a levee is! The crew of the 'Queen' raise the loading gantry and as they put power on they realise that she's still tied to the bank! A quick panic as they put someone ashore, untie and then make a fast, red - faced get away.

Back to the hotel, change and then venture out for a meal. New Orleans - named the 'big easy' cos it's so relaxed and laid back. We had been advised by our hotel receptionist not to go out after 7pm as it wasn't safe! We had this qualified by a tourist information guide the next morning, who drew on a street map all the areas to avoid after dark. The town had an unrelaxed air during the day but at night it felt really uneasy. Our normal big city alertness was heightened and we were very much on uncomfortable guard - something I have never felt in any city anywhere. We ate a delicious creole seafood supper and were back in the hotel before 10pm, not even attempting any nightlife.

Thursday 22nd November      Happy Thanksgiving

After breakfast we phone our NOLA baggage handler, Bert. He tells us that our bags were moved from LA storage to LA 'lost and found' automatically after 24 hours but that they are not in L & F and no one who is in at LA, on this holiday, knows where they have gone. The best theory is that someone has put them on a train to Chicago, to be forwarded to NOLA but there is no documentation anywhere. Bert tells us that the Chicago train comes in at 1530 and to come back then and see.

Out of our hands, we go on a walking tour of the "Old French Quarter', which is the historic tourist part of NOLA. It is now decidedly colder with a wind blowing from the sea, a cool 61 deg and we wear our fleeces. It is quaintly attractive and interesting but there are many old, delapidated buildings, which seem to have just been abandoned and just detract from the atmosphere of the place. Surrounding the French Quarter is a modern city but everywhere the pavements are broken and dangerous in places, the roads are rutted, there is the smell of dog poo and urine and a general nobody cares feeling. On this Thanksgiving Day there are quite a few tourists around but many places are closed. Not a very cheery place at all. We saw nothing of any 'Hurricane Katrina' damage, which must be in another part of this town and the general neglect just seemed to be endemic, hurricane or not.

We go down to the station at 4pm to see Bert. Lugage was not on the Chicago train. He tries again and again to get some sense out of LA on this holiday and eventually talks to someone, who tells him that our bags have been put on the next 'Sunset', due to arrive in NOLA on Friday afternoon at 4pm (plus delay time). Whether he is being told this just to 'shut him up', we don't know but sometime after 6pm we arrive back at the hotel.

We are booked to fly out to Miami tomorrow but without luggage we are just extending the 'lost' link. Anyway our tickets, etc are in the bags, so we need to stay. I manage to get a room for another night at the hotel and then try to change the flight tickets. I have a schedule of flights, hotels, etc but no ticket numbers or references. American Airlines have our flight but cannot change it because it was booked as part of a 'Round the World' ticket by British Airways. I explain the predicament to British Airways (USA) who cannot understand why I don't have the flight references. They check back and tell me that they have no record of me ever being on the first flight from Manchester to New York in September!! So I must be imagining this trip!  We are told to contact our agent for reference numbers and it doesn't sink in to them that it is 1 am in the morning in England. We manage to find an Internet cafe, somewhere in the dark and get ticket reference numbers from our travel agent's website.  British Airways then give me the numbers of a department that is closed for the holidays and when I go back to them they put me on hold (whilst they investigate !!!!), until after 20 minutes I just give up, hang up and start all over again. If I ever hear the British Airways theme tune again I'll scream. After two and a half hours of this 'Customer Service' I just give up.  I try to rebook the hotel in Miami and give up after 25 minutes of an answerphone message.

We call it a draw at this and go out to 'celebrate' Thanksgiving Day with a quick supper and then to bed. On a happier note we watch "High Society' on the TV and this happy distraction lifts us.

Friday 23rd November

A phone call to the previously 'on holiday' department of British Airways results in the flight to Miami being changed inside 5 minutes, without the need for any reference numbers !!!!!!. A call to the hotel in Miami results in our room being held but we have to pay for the first night's 'no show'. So as we weren't supposed to be in New Orleans we have nothing planned. As we have seen the city part of NOLA and as we have to show up at the station in the afternoon / evening for the next luggage episode, we decide to have a web catchup day, which is why, dear reader, I am now up to date as I write this. Weather is still cold and windy.
Keep your fingers crossed for us.

I considered going into movie script writing after this trip, but decided that I couldn't even begin to invent a fraction of what is actually happening.       Soaps - who needs them ????

STOP PRESS     Its 1850 Central Time. We've just phoned the baggage dept at the station and they have told us that the 'Sunset' is in and our 2 bags are on it  -  Yippee    !!!!!!!!!
If you go out tonight, dear reader, have a drink on me.

There's more - Heff yo hoid thiss wun ???  We saw on the web news, we do look occasionally to see if the world is still out there, that there's a small tourist ship that is in the Antarctic, that has struck an ice shelf. Thankfully all on board are safe but the ship has now sunk. Naffin clumsy beggars !!!  That is (er, was), the Great Adventure People (GAP) tour that we are (were) - I'm getting lost here- booked to go on in February next year. Does anyone know how much  it costs to ship a canoe from Radcliffe to South America ?  Oh well, look on the bright side - that's one set of tickets we don't have to worry about losing now !!!!!!

We go down to the station and yes, it is our cases. They are intact and all is OK. It is now 2000 and we go out for supper in a lighter mood. Fried green tomatoes, followed by blackened catfish served with dirty rice - just don't tell Crocodile, I don't think he could handle it. Follow this with a weight watchers defying dessert and we are deliciously full. It is Friday night in New Orleans and in the town there are police cars on, what seems like, every other street corner. There are police walking round (and mounted police) and even police stood at the entrances to restaurants. Every few minutes a police car screams away on some call and is instantly replaced. I've never seen that many police even for a Manchester United v Liverpool match!!!  There is a weird feeling of - do we feel safe because there are so many police about or unsafe because they have to be there in the first place ? We again did not attempt any night life, which I found disappointing as I was really looking forward to listening to the Blues music down here.

Reflections   New Orleans was one place that I did quite a bit of checking up on, after all the horror stories in the press, before we decided to go there. My view was that the city had taken a battering and although things were bad, they were improving and that the city could be helped by tourists returning. I have always had a bit of wonder for the American "Deep South', its history and its peoples. I have sadly been a little disappointed by the visit. It is a 'Jekyll and Hyde' city. Some people would ask, 'Hi where you folks from' and then say 'Thankyou for coming to New Orleans', as if our being there was appreciated in their difficulties. I have had barstaff, hotel reception, meal servers and ticket agents who were unfriendly or uninterested. We have seen this before but this was actively unfriendly, as if they didn't want us there (whyever not, when we were providing their income)? Hurricane Katrina knocked the life out of NOLA in 2005, when some 80% of the city was flooded, yet two years later they've not even rebuilt the national rail link on to Miami (one reason why we're flying out of here). This is bad for such an advanced country and maybe the folks round here feel they've been abandoned. A waitress told me that most people come to NOLA 'just to get drunk and fall over'. It has too many tacky (and some are really tacky) tourist gift shops.
 The 'Big Easy' was uneasy, unnerving and unfriendly and I was sad at how my anticipated 'special' place actually turned out in reality. I really hope that things do improve and maybe that is not only in the hands of New Orleans itself.
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