Thursday, 6 August 2009

Lost in Louisiana, part 1

I am in the process of transferring travel stuff from my old travel site to this blog. This is the trip where I got culture shock in the USA. Hope it doesn't make too many Americans laugh at me too much!

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These pages are a record of our 6-day visit to New Orleans in April 2000. The first day began with an unexpected visit of Chicago O'Hare airport after we were grounded there by bad weather. We spent several hours in the shops and cafes of the new terminal and the artistic subway between the two. The most astonishing thing is the absence of Gate 13 at any terminal. I don't know if this is typical of airports in general but I never noticed it before and can hardly believe a folk superstition being condoned by an airport, or any other 'serious' organisation.

Once we won through to New Orleans airport our only problem was to discover how to get to the city centre. First, we went to a desk marked Tourist Information and asked the lady there. In retrospect I suspect her job is to sell tourists the package deals that are so popular in New Orleans rather than to provide information. After this we went and stood by what looked like a bus stop. After we gave that up, we found some mini-buses but we discovered that they will only take you if you are staying in the French Quarter. We were staying a couple of blocks away in the Banlieue so that was no good. So finally we took the first taxi that came along.

The place we had chosen to stay was a self-catering flatlet. I had chosen this based on my previous experience with the amount of food people give you in America. I thought it would allow us to eat as small a breakfast as we wanted and store our 'doggy bags' in the refrigerator, prior to making them into packed lunches for the day. Our flatlet turned out to be a small, nicely renovated cabin in the backyard of a larger house, and we were very comfortable there. Our hosts were very nice to us, considering how late we showed up, and gave us lots of advice about the restaurants that served the largest portions of food. I regret to say that we filed these in our minds as places to avoid.

Late in the afternoon we set off to explore the French Quarter and get dinner. Our short walk to get there took us along a main street. We were sauntering fairly aimlessly, and I supposed we must have looked like tourists who were lost because a man approached us out of the blue and warned us off exploring on the other side of this main street. Hmm..

The French quarter is extremely pretty and I would have been quite willing to live there, though Mike told me I would feel differently in summer. As all the books say, it looks far more Spanish than French. Also, a surprising amount of it is very quiet, it is mostly the end near the modern city which is festooned with bars and nightclubs. Coming from the Banlieue you walk through pleasant residential backstreets, with a few craft or antique shops. I had come prepared with a list of restaurants to try, so we went immediately to the one I thought would be best. Here we discovered that the only time they could seat us in the whole week was for lunch the following day. We found that we could make a reservation, but that we would be expected to ring and confirm it later and this happened at several other restaurants. We quickly adapted to this as being the 'New Orleans reservation system', and I felt very glad we had a cell phone with us. For that evening, we went to one of the types of restaurants where you queue. It had a huge and very noisy dining room, but Mike managed to wangle a more intimate corner for us. I must say that the food was excellent: Mike tried alligator and liked it whereas I had some kind of blackened fish, followed by New Orleans bread and butter pudding. And the portions were not too large! Already I was enjoying myself.

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