Monday, February 24, 2014

The French Quarter of New Orleans

I have been to New Orleans three times now - I guess you could say I kind of like it!!   New Orleans was founded in 1718 by French Canadian naval officer Jean Baptiste Bienville on a grid of 70 squares,   Today this is prime tourist turf called the French Quarter.

In this post I will be highlighting the French Quarter as that is where most tourists hang out . When I left New Orleans I thought "okay three times should be enough"  Guess isn't!!!  Someday Nawlins I will be back but after three trips in January I think I will choose to go at a different time of year. (not summer though!) 

So here are some of the photo highlights of this very busy part of the Big Easy. 

St Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square - the original church was built in 1727. 

With statue of Andrew Jackson in front

At the weekend the square is filled with artists selling their wares as well as all kinds of fortune tellers
Let's visit the French Market!

Hmmm...maybe not...I did try alligator sausage at the buffet in Biloxi - one bite was enough.  It tasted okay but I could not get past the idea of eating an alligator. (ewwwww....) 

They sell everything here from beautiful handcrafted jewellery and pottery to cheap t-shirts and keychains.  A fun place to visit.
Oscar got quite a bit of our money - we ended up going to see him every day and purchasing something.  Very unique jewellry!  And he has quite the unique personality as well.  A local treasure.  
Let's stretch our legs a bit and walk along the Mississippi...usually there are paddleboats on the river but not today
The Immigrant monument

Okay I think it's time to take a breather at Café Beignet on Royal St. and have a beignet or two... with a café au lait...


Now that we have a serious sugar high going on let's do some serious wandering around the streets of the Quarter....particularly Bourbon Street.....

There is always music playing in New Orleans - a band will set up and start playing on a corner or some fellow will do the following...have some dollar bills in your pockets! 

They even get their dogs in on the game!!! 

There is a never a dull moment in the French Quarter! 
Here are a couple of examples of the architecture found in the French Quarter...the wrought iron "lace" balconies are stunning.

Yes you can take a carriage ride around the Quarter as well - but be prepared to pay big bucks!!!

This place sells some pretty wild stuff including voodoo dolls and all kinds of things I can't even begin to understand, sadly photography was not allowed. 
And you can't spend time in the French Quarter without experiencing one of its many bars.  At night especially the music beckons you through the doorways.

We opted for the very touristy Pat O'Briens and enjoyed the dueling piano players and singing along.  I think we were there for about four hours at least and got through a couple of big hurricanes - rum and fruit punch, etc.  (my motto is "rum is yum")

Monty looks a little worse for wear on his second Hurricane.
 While you won't see the real New Orleans in the French Quarter it is a fun place to hang out and as I always say to people...if you want a party town forget Las Vegas, go to New Orleans!!!  Culture, scenery, river cruises, cool cemeteries,  music, food, shopping - and plantations and swamps an hour or two away...what more would you want? 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"I blame it on the blues (the winter blues:)" - analyzing my US winter holiday

"Ha"!  I can hear you say... "that's a bit rich being as she barely blogged and told us anything about her trip"  Yes ladies and's been 13 days since my last blog post and that is a very bad thing....I have personal friends who love to read my blog and come along on my journey and for that I apologize.  I did post on Facebook but those not on that addictive social network will think I am vanished off the face of the earth...  I wish I had a good excuse....being busy, being tired, being pissed off, having "writers block".   I really can't tell you why. 

It definitely was a trip of highs and lows.  I am still processing it all.  Maybe it was my mood during the trip?  I never quite shook the winter blues for obvious reasons you will know if you've been watching the news reports on the dire weather in all parts of the US.  There were good bits believe me...lots of good times and I am hoping those memories of the good times will over ride the bad times.  Or so called bad times.  I didn't get mugged, I didn't injure myself...I got sick the day AFTER I got what the hell is wrong with me...why didn't I come back glowing like I did from my UK holiday (despite being sick for the last ten days of it)?  It's a mystery to me...I blame it on the winter blues.  I don't like winter...never have, never will. (who do I live on the prairies then you ask?  that's a whole other post or two or three...)   I knew traveling in the US in the winter would be a gamble but I had my hopes.  New Orleans provided a brief did Jackson and that one beautiful day in Biloxi....we won't discuss New York's weather....okay we will...later....

So I have to break this down....

Jackson's capital building
Jackson - hey I got a free upgrade to a suite at the Old Capital Inn and felt like a queen. Here's where I stayed.  Pretty nice, eh? That's not a negative.  I loved this hotel.  The breakfasts were buffet style and very good.  The walk I did there was a bit on the boring side at times but otherwise it was okay.  the locals were friendly.  Hmmm...can't really find a negative there.  Okay the taxi from the airport cost me $45 with the tip...OUCH.  However I was able to walk to the Greyhound station and explore the downtown at my leisure...I am all about the city's downtown.  Suburbs look all the same with their strip malls and chain restaurants. 

yep snow on the sand...first time I've seen this.
Biloxi - oh Biloxi....I still really like you and want to come back to see you (and your pretty neighbour Ocean Springs) but NOT in the winter.  I LOVED the sunny day I had there walking along the Gulf Coast beach in the sun.  The next day and the day after...not so much fun walking in the sleet and (melting) snow feeling you are in the apocalypse as there is no one around. (only in the casinos which was depressing enough in itself - I don't gamble - not even one little penny). Although I did enjoy the free (by joining their player's club which I had no intention of using) or super cheap buffets and oinked down some very good southern food.   I never did get back to Ocean Springs as there was the threat of the Bay Bridge closing and not being able to get back and then it finally did close...Ocean Springs downtown is adorable and one of the main reasons I wanted to go back. (I visited back in the winter of 2010)   I had wanted to do the 10 km walk there and look in the cute little shops they have there.  I was very anxious and stressed - constantly phoning Greyhound, facebook messaging the friend I was meeting in New Orleans. I felt very lonely for some reason - an unfamiliar feeling for Ms. Independent Solo Traveler.  It was the feeling of being "cut off" I am sure. Of being out of control for a control freak. Luckily I was able to stay another night in my room and the hotel was very accommodating.  So I am going to give a plug for the Grand Casino Biloxi - especially their cheap winter rates of $49 a night.  They will soon be changing to Harrah's Casino so will be interesting to see what changes are coming....I bet those $49 rates will be gone.  (not that I plan to need winter rates again anyway!)  I was due to go to New Orleans on Wednesday afternoon on the Greyhound - I arrived there early afternoon on the Thursday on an expensive shuttle. I was lucky (see, that word again..) enough to be able to be fitted in and on the road within an hour (after I was told they were pretty well booked up for the day) However I was picked up at the hotel and dropped off at our adorable little shotgun house in the 7th ward.  I sat in the front seat and was much more comfortable than sitting on the Greyhound IF I could have gotten on the bus IF it was running.  So really it wasn't that bad after all...I did miss doing my 10km walk though but I had done it before....and I saved money by not going to the Ocean Springs shops right?

House decorated for Mardi Gras
New Orleans - okay not much to complain about here. Love this city!  Our accommodation was adorable - we both loved the house.  The neighbourhood was fine although we laughed at the thought of certain friends staying there.  Our airbnb host Miriam was a doll and she even drove us to the marathon.  We had fun singing along with a hurricane (or two) in our hands at Pat O'Brian's, ate good food, visited all the places we wanted to, did a bit of retail therapy, completed a half marathon and got a really cool looking medal (they did run out and initially June didn't get the proper one but they found another bag as I came in so luckily she got hers).  It was all good.  Only negative?  Oh man was I stiff and sore for days after that walk...the worst EVER....but that was my shoes....let's not even go there.... so New Orleans ALL GOOD.  And you will be reading more about that very soon.

Wow the paths were cleared along Fifth Avenue - I wish I had taken pictures of the snow situation in East Harlem!
New York - by the flights were fine and (mostly) on time.  We won't discuss United and how many times they changed my flights so that I was unable to check in online...I took public transit to my airbnb accommodation in East Harlem.  My host was sweet and well meaning but a bit intense and it was not the relaxing stay I had anticipated.  The weather was the PITS with wet snow my first morning.  Before I even got to the subway my feet were soaked from stepping in horribly cold wet water.  Intersections were almost impassable for pedestrians with huge piles of wet snow and icy water.  Did I mention it was cold?  Okay I am from Saskatchewan, I know cold. However I did not take a winter coat with me (FOOL!!!) thinking it would be too heavy for the deep south so I opted to take my well traveled goretex jacket with layers underneath.  With the damp cold I felt chilled my whole time there. This cold weather continued my entire time there.  Despite the weather I tried playing the tourist bit as much as I could...yet I felt like I barely covered much that I didn't do due to being out in the cold...and the &*($#@! subway system.  Oh my, please don't get me started.......dirty, disorganized are two of the nicest words I can use to describe it.  As I told a friend the more I visit New York the more I love London.   A future blog post...New York vs. London. (and I think we all know who is going to win)   I attended the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan at the Fest for Beatles Fans. What fun that was - seeing old friends and immersing myself in all things Beatle.  I will be doing a post on that as well.   In the meantime I had moved to the Ramada Eastside for four nights and loved it there - my mood certainly changed with having more space and also being in midtown Manhattan.  While walking to the fest each day I could see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.  My buddy Pat came and stayed with me for two nights and we had such a blast together.  We visited the Ed Sullivan theatre which had put up the original marque for February 9th and we photographed each other screaming and acting crazy under the sign.  Hey we don't know anybody there (except other Beatles fans) so we didn't care!!!  There is nothing like watching the 50th Anniversary special on TV with two old penpals from the 60's, Linda and Mary.  We are friends again after being out of touch for over 35 years.  Thank you Facebook!!!  I had planned to take the Megabus to Albany to do the capital walk but the megabus stand was just too far away, it was too early (7 a.m.) for a very cold day so I spent the day doing more exploration of New York.  In fact I didn't do any of the New York walks -   it was just too cold and miserable to spend much time outside. While I am in no rush to return to New York I am sure I will at some point however it will be in better weather.

So in analyzing it really WAS a great trip and I have lots of stories to share.  I have just given myself a slap on the side of the head....seriously I just did...I was very lucky, am very lucky to be able to do all this traveling and so what if I run across a few snags on the trip now and again.  Take a deep breath, put on your big girl panties and carry on.  I have to roll with it as they say...hard things for a control freak to do but I will work on that. 

Then again...anyone want to buy me a plane ticket to Hawaii? 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Got the medal!

It's been a whirlwind of activity here in New Orleans and I haven't had time to blog.  I finally got a very expensive shuttle but let's not talk about that....we are in our cozy little shotgun house in the 7th ward and we love it.  Drinks and sing-a-longs at Pat O'Brian's bar, a cemetery tour, wandering around the French Quarter, exploring the Garden District and trying that delicious New Orleans food.  I have lots to talk about that's for sure.  Look for future posts.  New Orleans never disappoints...

This morning we walked the half marathon. The music was fantastic, the actual course...not so great.  I think if I see the non elegant part of St Charles Avenue again it will be too soon... Let's not talk about my feet right now okay?  After over a year hiatus from half marathons I am back in the game.  The medal has beads instead of a ribbon and is pretty cool.  We are heading off for a  celebration dinner soon (complete with dessert)  but for now we are relaxing and drinking wine.  Our sweet host Miriam drove us to the start point of the half today so we are going to take her out for a meal tomorrow night as a way of thanking her.  We got a taxi back because I could not face walking back...yes I was whining and bitching as my feet were not happy and let me know it.  On the way out of City Park there was a gal doing massages for a dollar a minute so I got a quick five minute job on my neck.  I have to watch my posture when walking long distances as I got a horrible pain in my neck.  All better now.

Tomorrow we have to stroke some more stuff  off on our "to do" list and then it's home for June and on to New York City (woo hoo!) for me.  I certainly hope there are no more winter storms...I've had my fill....MORE on that later!!!

Walked through misty rain and rather boring scenery but got the medal - it's all about the hardware!

A picnic in Peter Rabbit country

When I was visiting England two and a half years ago I stayed with friends Janette and Martyn who I got to know through my German friend Cl...