Monday, 3 March 2008

New Orleans

I love the sound of the city at night. It's really hot and humid tonight, and sitting in the RV with the windows and doors open, the fly screens closed, listening to the sounds of the interstate traffic, and the odd police siren, feels kind of cosy and snuggly - the way it does when sitting inside during a rain storm. Having just typed that, I've heard a huge clap of thunder. It feels like the weather for a big storm. Really humid and muggy. I heard a shop keeper earlier mentioning something about the big storm coming.

The city is New Orleans, and tonight is our first night RVing in the heart of it. I had heard that the French Quarter RV resort was right in the city centre, but I was surprised at exactly how central it is. The huge superdome that became famous across the globe during the floods of hurricane Katrina, is literally next door to us. I remember seeing these images on the news after the levee broke and New Orleans was flooded - image 1, image 2, image 3. So that's right where we are staying now. Just under the interstate bridge, a stones throw from the RV park, are hundreds of homeless people living in tents. It's a bizarre site to see. I tried to get a photo of it from the RV whilst driving, but it didn't really show the magnitude of the amount of people living there.

We set off from Covington at 8am this morning, and our drive took us onto the longest bridge over water in the world! At 26 or so miles long, this bridge drives over Lake Pontchartrain heading right into Louisiana. We were all very excited about this, and the drive across it took about 25 minutes. Again I tried to take a photo from the RV to show just a tiny section of the bridge. You can see that photo by clicking here, if you want to. If you look closely you can see the tall New Orleans skyscrapers in the distant mist.

We didn't head straight to the RV park though, as we wanted to visit one of the sugar plantation mansions along the Mississippi River. The closest one for us to drive to was Destrehen. The house was built 200 years ago on 62 acres of land, which first was used for indigo crops, and then for sugar plantation. It housed the Destrehan family, who bore 14 children, of which only 3 survived to adult hood. Life was hard in those days, even for the rich. They owned many slaves who were skilled workers. The slaves were worth a lot of money, and were treated well if they were skilled. Slaves built the mansion, totally by hand, in just three years, and then worked on it and maintained it for many years after. We were give a tour around the house by a man who was obviously very passionate about the place. He was dressed in authentic clothes from the period. Destrehan house was eventually left desolate and fell into disrepair. Looters broke in and stole every thing of value, leaving only one thing - the marble bath (which was too heavy to take away). They even stole the fire places. It wasn't until recent years that the historical society took it over and raised funds to restore the building to its original state. We really enjoyed the tour around it and all learnt a lot from it. After the tour we watched a cooking demonstration in the old kitchen, then were able to stroll around the grounds. There are lots of photos from the house in the Louisiana photo album.

Since starting this blog post the most amazing thunder storm has started. I had an awful headache and went to lie down (I always get bad headaches during humidity when an electrical storm is about to break). I have never seen anything like this. Constant lightening, constant thunder and rain drops the size of bullets. From my window here I can see one of those big advertising billboards above the freeway. Its all lit up from underneath, and the rain is lashing against it in a way I've only ever seen on the movies. All the time I watched those American films where I thought the rain fall looked so fake and obviously added for effect, I never realised that this is actually what the rain fall looks like here! Like rain from a film set. Anyway, the rain is so heavy, and the lightening really doesn't stop for a second, and I'm rather worried about Dan. He went out for a walk about 2 hours ago, and is obviously sitting the storm out in a cafe somewhere. I get the feeling he may need dry clothes when he gets back.

So anyway, after our tour of the mansion house we drove along the river road to New Orleans. We were desperate to see the Mississippi river but there was only one point at which we could view it as the levee between the river and road is too high to see over. When we did eventually stop to see it Jimmie ran over as he wanted to be the first to put his hand into the Mississippi River that he'd read so much about.

The drive into the RV park was memorable, and scary. New Orleans roads seem to be constructed of mostly high bridged freeways. With lanes that chop and change, slip roads entering and exiting everywhere. I'm sure that without the sat nav we never would have made it. And whilst I was supposed to be navigating Dan to the RV park, I was also snapping photos of the super dome and homeless people and marveling at all the sites I'd seen on the news at home. Poor Dan had to tell me to stop and concentrate on which lane he should be in.

The French Quarter RV park is somewhat of a posh RV prison. It is walled, with barbed wire on the top, has a gate with a security code for entry, and has a security guard patrolling the grounds 24 hours a day. It makes me wonder what the area we are staying in is like. But the park itself is very nice. It's much posher than the nature loving places we've been staying in. Theres a pool and hot tub, gym, and showers & lounge area fit for a king. Along side the park is the interstate which goes over a bridge, so I can sit here and watch all the motorway traffic driving by.

Not long after settling in here we took a walk down to the French Quarter of New Orleans. The French Quarter is on higher land than the rest of New Orleans so it wasn't effected so badly from the floods. I've never been in a place quite like it. It was only a Monday afternoon, and once we got onto Bourbon Street there was music coming out of every pub, cafe and shop along the way. Walking along we just went from one jazz tune to the next, whilst the bustling bars and cafes looked so busy for the time of day. There were voodoo shops selling all sorts of weird and wacky paranormal paraphernalia, and shelves upon shelves of hot sauce - all with weird rude labels on!

We walked right down to the Mississippi River and watched the paddle boat getting ready for a tour. Tomorrow we will spend the day walking around the area and hopefully plan to take a cruise along the river. I'm hoping to try out some good Cajun cuisine, but this will be dependent on funds, and Dan's mood. The architecture in the French Quarter is just stunning. I spent all afternoon taking pictures of buildings that no ones gonna want to see. Don't forget to check out the Louisiana album for all the photos though. There are some of Barney holding a lizard that he caught himself! Well, I guess that's enough for now.

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