Google Maps says the drive from Live Oak Ridge Park in Belton TX to French Quarter RV Resort in New Orleans LA is 522 miles and would take 8 hours 9 minutes, but that doesn’t compensate for food and fuel stops nor for my “less-than-the-limit-while-pulling” speed; sooo, I planned a one-night stop at Twelve Oaks RV Park in Lake Charles LA. That gave me a final leg of just over three “Google Maps” hours and 200 miles which would place my arrival time in the heart of New Orleans between the morning and evening rush hours. Informational Irene (my GPS) again performed flawlessly, and both trips were uneventful save some major road construction that caused a couple of major delays between Belton and Lake Charles. I was glad I hadn’t tried to make the entire trip in a single day.
In planning for my stay, I found numerous interesting articles, a few of which my readers might find of interest:Brief History of the New Orleans French Quarter
, A First-Timer's Guide to the French Quarter
and, my favorite and omnipresent resource, Wikipedia’s French Quarter
. During my research, and prior to booking my reservation, I had found that Google Maps calculated the walk from French Quarter RV Resort through the French Quarter and then to Woldenberg
Park on the banks of the Mississippi River at 0.9 “mostly flat” miles. Pricey by any RV park standard known to mankind, Uncle Larry decided to “spend some of his children’s inheritance” and pay for the convenience French Quarter RV Resort offered. A leap ahead, I’m glad I did.
Not having any plans to cook while staying in, arguably, the dining mecca of the United States (and thusly arriving with a mostly empty pantry), I made my way to Oceana Grill
for supper. The bartender, who was from Trinidad and Tobago, said she has worked as a roady for various bands for over twenty years and tends bar between gigs. I had an enlightening conversation with a young man I sat next to at the bar who was born and raised in Malaysia. He now lives in Houston but has lived in numerous locations around the world, including China and Buffalo NY, where he actually liked the snow! I’m sure glad somebody likes it. I’m kinda thinkin’ he worked there for a very short period of time – before the novelty wore off. I opted for the “Jazzy” Crab Cake Platter. The cakes are topped with a fresh crawfish mushroom
cream sauce, and I selected roasted garlic mashed potatoes and greens for my sides. Collard greens, mustard greens, spring greens, winter greens, spinach greens, who knows, who cares! Very tasty. Yes, indeed, Uncle Larry was off to a fantastic start!
Thursday morning, April 19, 2018 found me walking 0.3 miles from the RV park to Basin St. Station. This tourism hub is a major visitor center (housed in an interesting building unto itself) and is a pick-up/drop-off point for many of the tourist shuttles. I spoke to one of the attendants, got some questions answered and selected some literature before I purchased a 3-day ticket on the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus
. The bus makes a two-hour narrated loop with 18 stops along the way. Unlimited embarking and disembarking is allowed, and a bus arrives at each stop approximately every 20-30 minutes; however, the bus only operates from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Briefly, a leap into the future as an aside. All buses begin and end at Basin St. Station. That proved helpful later in my stay when I showed up slightly before 9:30 only to find 6-8 buses poised at the starting line. Suspecting that not all buses would be following
each other along the standard route, I asked if one of the buses would be an “express” to the World War II Museum. I was directed to the correct bus and did not have to ride the bus for an hour via numerous “unimportant” stops to reach the museum. All the other buses also started in this “shotgun” fashion. Prolonging briefly, there is ample parking available at Basin St. Station. FYI, one yelp.com
report states the fee is $5.00 for 10 hours. I saw several parking lots within the French Quarter that had signs indicating $20.00 for 2 hours. That’s a pretty damn expensive lunch!
Moving back to Thursday’s agenda. My regular followers might remember that I got an unexpected surprise when I visited Boston in 2012, the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812. Part of that celebration was a week-long stop by the tall ship flotilla (along with several operational naval vessels) in Boston Harbor – Exploring Salem MA and Nearby Boston MA
. Little did I know when I began planning this trip that 2018 was the 300th Anniversary of the founding of New Orleans, and little did I know that during my week-long stay a part of that celebration would be a
five-day visit by the tall ship flotilla! Timing is everything, and Uncle Larry sure has it when it comes to the tall ships.
I had learned of the docking date and time a few days before my New Orleans arrival; however, the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus tour guide told the passengers about the tall ships arrival (some were quite obviously surprised by the revelation – planning is, indeed, everything), and he advised us when the bus reached the stop closest to the tall ships docking point. I disembarked and walked to the riverfront. With no ships in sight, I decided to grab breakfast before the pageantry began. A stop in Cafe Beignet’s Decatur Street
location found me listening to a player piano while I awaited the Cajun Hash Browns, complete with Andouille (ann-DOO-ee) Sausage. Quite tasty! One tall ship was docked, and one was preparing to dock as I returned to the riverfront. I watched a couple more ships maneuver to dockside and took another stroll through the French Quarter before boarding the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus to see the rest of the route through central New Orleans and then returning to Basin St. Station and the RV park for a well-deserved nap! Later
that evening, a well-rested tourist walked back to Oceana Grill for the Fried Oyster Platter, which the Malaysian gentleman had ordered the previous evening. It looked (and was) mighty tasty.
Friday, April 20, 2018 found me getting off the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus at Stop Number 11 for the Garden District Walking Tour. The walking tour does not make a loop, but there are a couple of options at the end of the tour. I chose to proceed to St. Charles Street (Stop Number 15) to catch the next Hop-on, Hop-off Bus. Another aside – The three-day bus pass includes both the Garden District Walking Tour and the French Quarter Walking Tour. Both tours start at 11 AM, 12 Noon, 1 PM, 2 PM and 3 PM which is during the heat of the day in the summer and requires a “ya gotta wanna” effort to plan your other activities around the walking tours. The tour was okay but was nothing exceptional – it’s free (saying again, with a three-day Hop-on, Hop-off Bus ticket) and is worth the time if it HANDILY fits into your schedule.
Back on the bus, I got off at Mardi Gras World
and took a tour
Waiting for the Paint to Dry
Mardi Gras World - New Orleans LA
of the warehouse where many of the Mardi Gras floats are constructed. Mardi Gras 2018 had been held on Tuesday, February 13, and work already was underway on the 2019 floats. Many of the float decorations are recycled in that the basic form is modified and repainted and sometimes merely repainted. Several hundred recycled float decorations line the tour route, and the guide said this location is only one of a handful of similar-sized warehouses where Mardi Gras float inventory is held. What I can say is that this attraction is a walk through a huge warehouse that is chock full of all kinds of awesome artifacts and is also home to a handful of artists at work. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves while I will speak for the tour guide. A native of New Orleans, she provided an interesting history of Mardi Gras, dispelled many myths and misconceptions and provided an insider’s perspective to the season – indeed, Carnival is a season that begins on January 6 of each year whereas Mardi Gras is a single day, Fat Tuesday, that falls on a different day each year. Here are a couple of articles I found of interest
– Beginning of Carnival Season
and Mardi Gras in New Orleans
– and a web site with great photographs and links to sub-topics that is easy to navigate - Mardi Gras New Orleans
Aside – I did learn that Mardi Gras World has a shuttle that operates between the facility and French Market (in the French Quarter) and another that operates between the facility and Basin St. Station. For those unwilling to spend the dinero for a taxi or for the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus, one could take the shuttle from Basin St. Station to Mari Gras World, wait for the shuttle to French Market and …. You get the idea. When its eminent departure was announced, I decided to take the Mardi Gras World shuttle to French Market – my next planned destination anyway. From French Market, I made my way to Stanley Restaurant
, surveyed the menu and ordered Eggs Stanley – Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters, Poached Eggs, Canadian Bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a Toasted English Muffin. What a treat. Fried oysters on eggs in the middle of the afternoon – yummy, yummy! I did a little more walking around the French Quarter, made my way to the long ships docking area (the lines for the free ship tours were
insane), took a few photos from the pier and headed back to the RV park. Uncle Larry was just about walked out for the day, and he has learned that naps are a good thing!
Weather-wise, Saturday April 21, 2018 was the iffiest day of my stay. There was a slight chance of light rain forecast for throughout the day with increasing chances as the day progressed and storms forecast for overnight and into Sunday. Tourism-wise, the timing was perfect. I had hoped to visit The National World War II Museum
on Saturday, the last day of my three-day Hop-on, Hop-off Bus pass, when there would be no competition from school class outings. Visiting the indoor facility on a questionable weather day was frosting on the proverbial cake. Many have asked, “So why is The National World War II Museum in New Orleans?” I asked that question and actually didn’t have the attraction on my “A List” for that very reason. After all, I had been to the National Vietnam War Museum
in Weatherford TX in 2016, Stockyards and Presidents, Huh??? – Fort Worth and Dallas TX; Week 2
. What a bust that turned out to be!
The National WW II Museum, formerly known as “The National D-Day Museum,” opened on June 6, 2000, the 56th anniversary
of D-Day. Although New Orleans-based Higgins Industries manufactured PT boats and lifeboats, it was most famous for the design and production of the Higgins boat, an amphibious landing craft used extensively in the Allied Forces D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Furthermore, New Orleans was the home of historian and author Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the 1994 book entitled D-Day
and who spearheaded the effort to build the museum. A reviewer for the Journal of Military History
as the "most comprehensive discussion" of the sea, air and land operations that coalesced on that day. D-Day
became Ambrose's first best seller. Those two factors, Higgins Industries and Stephen Ambrose, gave New Orleans the edge it needed to host “The National D-Day Museum.”
Since its opening, “The National D-Day Museum” has undergone several expansions, and another was underway at the time of my visit. The museum maintains an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution and was designated as America's official National WW II Museum by the U.S. Congress in 2003; thus, the name change. In 2017, the museum was ranked by TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards as the #2 museum in the United States. Visitation at the museum in 2010 was slightly over
400,000 but grew to nearly 700,000 in 2016 (that's an average of 1,918 people per day). Alright already, I’ll go! Just quit pestering me!
First, I must admit that I am having a difficult time writing this review in a fair and unbiased manner. Second, I don’t think the original planners envisioned such a warm reception from the general public. Indeed, the literature states that the museum “opened as the D-Day Museum, focusing on the amphibious invasion of Normandy.” Now, exhibits include “US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center” (opened in 2013) and “Road to Tokyo” (opened in 2015). The Solomon Victory Theater, Stage Door Canteen, and American Sector restaurant opened in November 2009, and the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion (restoration of what and where it would be located is anyone’s guess) opened in June 2011. There is no parking space for RVs or vehicles over 6’8” tall or FOR MOTORCYCLES in the museum parking deck (which costs $10.00 for 3-7 hours). Instead of building the attraction on a large parcel in the hinterland, the brain trust decided to build it too far from the French Quarter for many to walk and too close to justify driving for others,
but far enough away from the French Quarter that it would be a time-consuming walk for anyone.
Third, the visitor must select a viewing time for the 4-D movie "Beyond All Boundaries" with the admission ticket, which means the visitor must continually “watch the clock” and either spend idle time between buildings or interrupt an exhibit to watch the movie. Fourth, and part of my conclusion that founders did not envision such mammoth attendance, there is an inadequate number of individual interactive multimedia stations, such as handsets, where the visitor can listen to first-hand accounts of combatants or can engage interactive computer-style presentations. With no “waiting line” configuration, the next visitor to the handset or computer monitor is the most aggressive, selfish, inconsiderate SOB in the immediate area. The obvious solution would be to recommend that visitors attend on a “slow day;” however, with so many accolades and so much crammed into such a small space, I doubt there are any “slow days.” All of the “fourth” points also apply to the non-electronic materials as well. While reading a placard or taking a photograph, inconsiderate SOBs step directly in front of the first-arriving patron without so much as a
passing glance. After several episodes, the battle and/or the wait became unworthy!
With all that having been said, the portions of the museum that I was able to enjoy were very well done, and the museum is deserving of the tributes it has received. Unfortunately, I have no worthy suggestions for management to correct the noted deficiencies nor for the general public to cope with the mayhem. Second, for those who have not attended a 4-D movie, don’t forego the additional expense. Third, eat before you arrive – a small cup of coffee and a mediocre pastry was over $8.00. That’s pretty steep even for the tourist-oriented genre. The facility, HOWEVER, seems to be on a path to less of an "historic mission" and much more on a path focusing on capital generation and the creation of an empire. The Bollinger Canopy of Peace (coming in Winter 2018) is “set to stand 150 feet tall, will unify the Museum's diverse campus and establish the Museum as a fixture on the New Orleans skyline,” the Hall of Democracy (coming in Spring 2019) will add another a 34,800-square-foot pavilion to the Museum campus and, of course, The Higgins Hotel & Conference
Center “will support the Museum’s mission and growth.” All of this wouldn’t be possible without funding, lots of funding – “The National WW II Museum's capital expansion is made possible by a $400 million capital campaign: The Road to Victory: A Vision for Future Generations. This major project funds bricks and mortar, exhibit design and fabrication, endowment, and digitization of our collections.” I found no statement bragging about how little the director of the facility is paid!
As predicted, thunderstorms appeared Saturday night, and rain continued until about 3 PM on Sunday. After the skies had cleared, I took another walk to Oceana Grill, ordered Cajun Jambalaya Pasta and struck up a conversation with a man from Boston, a lawyer by profession, who was in town with a choral group. Some might wonder why I gravitated back to the Oceana Grill when so many other options were available. As I cruised through the French Quarter, I perused the dozens of posted menus and found few that appealed to me more either at a financial or a gustatory level. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I never had a bad meal at Oceana Grill.
Monday, April 23 found
me embarking on what I dubbed the “Streetcar Marathon.” New Orleans has good, old-fashioned streetcars that run four different routes. The web page, Streetcars in New Orleans
, has a nice overview of each route as well as a short history of streetcars in New Orleans. Horse-powered ''streetcars'' serviced New Orleans for more than 60 years before ''trolleys'' began carrying electric current from the overhead wires to the electric motors that power today’s streetcars, trolleys and some buses. For my first streetcar adventure, I walked five blocks from Basin St. Station to Canal and Rampart Streets where I boarded #49, the Rampart/St. Claude Streetcar. I rode the car to its “end of the line” at Field Avenue, where the operator made the trolley switchover. An electrified cable hangs above the streetcar, and an arm (a trolley) extends from the rear end of the streetcar roof to the electrified cable. Electricity is transmitted to the streetcar via the trolley, and the streetcar is “pushed” along its rails. At the end of the line, the operator disengages the “rear” trolley arm from the electrified cable and engages the “front” trolley arm. The seat backs are flipped to the opposite side of the seat, and the reversal
process is complete – the former rear end of the streetcar becomes the front end of the streetcar.
I backtracked on #49 past my boarding point and rode it to its other end of the line, New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal
. Opened on January 8, 1954 to consolidate passenger rail operations from the city’s other railroad’s stations (one of which was Basin St. Station), the waiting hall contains four recently restored mural panels (totaling 2,166 square feet) which depict the history of Louisiana representing the ages of exploration, colonization, conflict and the modern age. There was not enough time to visit the passenger terminal during this trip, but the murals have made my “next time” list. Again backtracking, I got off #49 at Canal Street and waited for the, ta-dah, #48 Canal Streetcar. I hopped onboard the first car headed for the Mississippi River, got off at the end of the line and boarded #2, the Riverfront Streetcar bound for the New Orleans Morial Convention Center
(one end of that line). I stayed on board during the switchover so I could ride the full length of the line to French Market where I wanted to explore this New Orleans icon and grab some lunch.
a recommendation for the Gazebo Café
where live music is a fixture. Unlike the jazz and blues most frequently heard in New Orleans, Gazebo Café (at least on that day) was hosting an oldies trio. Appropriately, the song I heard as I approached was “The House of the Rising Sun,” the Number 1 hit by The Animals in 1964. When I spotted the (fried) Alligator Poboy, my menu search ended. Mighty tasty. As I finished my lunch, a man sat down at the table next to mine. We had a nice chat, and I learned he is a retired police officer who lives in Sanford FL, where my aunt lives and my destination a couple of weeks hence. He was out enjoying the French Quarter while his wife was being held hostage in a professional improvement seminar.
I boarded #48 Canal Streetcar again and took it to the end (%!&(MISSING)$#*@*&) of the line. Actually, there are two “ends of the line.” One “end,” the City Park Spur, terminates at the New Orleans Museum of Art
. I stayed on board and returned to the main line where I disembarked and waited 2-3 minutes for a streetcar headed for the second “end of the line” (Anthony
… And It Was Totally Accurate
Trolley Marathon - New Orleans LA
Street Spur). Near the Anthony Street “depot,” there are 3-4 old cemeteries that might be of interest to many tourists. “Hurry up, Edith. I can’t wait to get to the cemetery,” just doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me! I stayed on board and then returned to the intersection of Canal and Bourbon Streets where I caught the #12 St. Charles Streetcar. I, intentionally, had saved the best for last. The #12 services the Garden District, showcases splendid vintage homes, passes along tree-lined boulevards and is the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world – even Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop service on this iconic line.
If one has time for only one streetcar ride, I would recommend the #12 St. Charles Streetcar. If there is time for a second streetcar, add the #48 Canal Streetcar bound for Anthony Street. The #49, the Rampart/St. Claude Streetcar, is a mundane trip but might be fruitful if there is time to walk to New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal to enjoy the murals and the building’s architecture. The #2 Riverfront Streetcar is an unspectacular transportation tool that services the New Orleans Morial Convention Center and the French Market. The #48, Canal Streetcar,
intersects the other three routes where an easy transfer can be made.
On the various streetcars, I had conversations with a New Orleans native who was riding the street car to a local park with her husband, with a woman who worked for a local YMCA in northern Wisconsin, in town for a YMCA seminar and with a girl about eight or nine who was riding the streetcar home from school with her mother – her mother rides the streetcar round trip twice a day to accompany her daughter to and from school. Pretty cool. The $3.00 fare for an all-day ticket (not a calendar day, but a full 24-hour period) is a true bargain, and riding the streetcar is a hoot, say nothing of a great, albeit unnarrated, tour of a classic portion of New Orleans. From Bourbon and Canal Streets, I walked to the Oceana Grill for a thirst-quenching beer and sat between a Frenchman, who was on vacation, and a man from Detroit, who was in New Orleans on business. The three of us had a nice conversation, but I must admit the combination of the Frenchman’s accent and my poor hearing did not enhance our
On Tuesday, April 24, 2018, I made a drive to Houma LA to meet, Casey, the daughter of one of my adopted Louisiana kin. Roy, Rudy’s younger brother and Casey’s father, by all accounts had never been the same after Rudy was killed in Vietnam in 1967. His death changed my life as well, and I believe that is what made our bond special. Over the past few years, Roy had developed numerous health issues and finally succumbed to their cumulative effect on March 17, 2018. For whatever reason, I had never had the opportunity to meet his daughter (nor his son live who lives in Mississippi). During conversations with my Louisiana connection following Roy’s death, one of Roy’s niece’s (Rose’s daughter) shared Casey’s phone number with me. After a couple of text messages, I made the trip to Houma where I was warmly received. Casey owns a seafood shop, Crawfish Corner Houma
, where she, her boyfriend and I got to know each other between customer interactions. I now have another great reason to visit south Louisiana in my east/west travels. As I was preparing to leave, her boyfriend asked if I’d like some crawfish. I headed back to
New Orleans with a sack of crawfish and made three meals of the delicacy.
I had an extraordinary time in New Orleans. Although I had ill-founded, preconceived notions about The Crescent City
, I was quite pleasantly surprised. I found my pivotal area, the French Quarter, easy to navigate after a short orientation, never felt uneasy about my welfare (although I admittedly was back in the Bighorn by the time alcohol was able to fuel the insanity), was approached by only one panhandler and saw only two sleeping, apparently homeless individuals. The locals I met were rightfully proud of their city, and the tourists I met were friendly, eager to have a good time and willing to share information and helpful hints. The only negative people experience I had was at the World War II Museum where thoughtfulness and courtesy were absent.
I would like to toss out a couple of hints for the prospective New Orleans visitor. First, parking is crazy anywhere in the French Quarter. I would suggest a) staying at a hotel in the French Quarter, b) staying at a hotel near the trolley lines or c) parking at Basin St. Station and walking or summoning a pedicab
or taxi for a ride to the French Quarter. Second, the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus is a good way to get an overview of New Orleans’ central city and will get you within walking distance of many attractions; however, the limited hours of operation prevent it from being a viable two-way method of transit between attractions and housing. On my next visit, I plan to stay at an outlying RV park and to use public transportation (yes, even the buses, for I am no longer leery of this magnificent city) to get to and from the French Quarter. Third, plan to walk at least a moderate distance even from premium parking lots in the French Quarter to get to your first choice of restaurants. Almost all streets in the French Quarter are narrow and one-way with limited parking available on only one side of the street. Indeed, some streets are closed to motorized traffic for at least a portion of the day. Last, if you don’t know, ask. I didn’t encounter anybody that was unwilling to assist as best they could.
New Orleans has more than twenty nicknames, the most common and most famous of which is, “The Big Easy.”
Start the Day with a Good Supply of Ones and Fives
Moseying Around the French Quarter - New Orleans LA
While planning my visit and doing a little research about New Orleans, I found an interesting article, “Why is New Orleans Known as ‘The Big Easy?
’” The last paragraph of the article summarizes the vibe in a nutshell, “The nickname’s origin, among the many in circulation, may never be deciphered; however, the city’s easy-going, laid-back attitude toward anything life-related could never be disputed. What is guaranteed? That ‘The Big Easy’ is a synonym for the city’s spirit; that it defines how folks in New Orleans embrace life; and that people here do things their own way, without ever fearing judgement.” After spending a week in this incredible city, I couldn’t agree more.
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