Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Big Easy

Our drive from Florida's panhandle to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, took us across three state lines. We crossed the coastal portions of Alabama and Mississippi before entering Louisiana. It was a bit longer of a drive than we like, but got us to within striking distance of New Orleans. Fontainebleau State Park is large and popular, with big group picnic areas, three campgrounds, cabins, beaches, trails, and the remains of a sugar processing plant.
The campground we stayed at was nice enough, a bit more crowded than we prefer, but better than private parks. They've recently upgraded to 50 amp service, but didn't bother to regrade the disturbed ground, so much of our site was lumpy and torn up. Sloppy. But we enjoyed our stay, hiking on the trails and looking out onto Lake Pontchartrain.

There are many enormous live oak trees at the park, and here is their grand-daddy. My bike is leaning up against the 7 foot diameter trunk, and I am standing on a limb (circled):

And Kinsey is offered as gator-bait down on the bayou:

To get to New Orleans from our camp we crossed Lake Pontchartrain on the 24 mile long causeway. The Lake is 40 miles long by 24 miles across, covering 630 square miles, but averages only 12 feet deep. The far shore is over the horizon when you first get on the causeway, with the result that it appears to be a bridge to no-where:

Once in town we parked outside of the touristed area, but along the trolley line, thus avoiding the inflated parking fees of downtown and the French Quarter. The trolley is great and costs only $1.25 for a ride. In just a few minutes we were strolling the storied streets of the French Quarter.

Downtown New Orleans was not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina the way much of the rest of the city was, being slightly above sea level as opposed to slightly below it. The beautiful architecture, shops and restaurants remain as they were.

I was thankful that I wore a ball cap, as I was unlucky enough to be directly underneath a pigeon as it evacuated. As the saying goes: Thank God cows don't fly!

Nancy tried some of the local chickory infused coffee brew, and we sampled pralines in The French Market:

We also took the old St. Charles Street trolley out to the Garden District, to walk the quiet street among the stately old antebellum homes. Gorgeous.

Back to Vieux Carre for a stroll along the Mississippi River waterfront, where we saw the steamboat Natchez, an authentic steam fired paddlewheeler that takes tourists out for jazz and dinner cruises on the Mississippi.

We had a lovely, if expensive, dinner at Muriel's Jackson Square, then wandered up to experience the phenomenon of Bourbon Street. You hear it before you see it. The thumping base from the open doors of countless night clubs reaches your ears first. Then the crash of club promoters swinging metal "3 for 1 beers" signs against metal balcony posts, trying to lure passers-by into their doors. Then the whooping cries of the enthusiastic party-goers penetrate the night as you round the corner and encounter the full spectacle. All of the noises hit you like a wall, a confused cacophony of sound, the din of a street that never stops partying. The neon lights glare from every window. Gas-lights flicker from the lamp-posts. Gawkers on balconies fling bead necklaces to young women on the street in hopes of a gratuitous flash of bare breast. Hawkers beckon from the dark doorways of strip clubs and bars. Girls in negligee writhe invitingly. It's a sensory overload that can hardly be described. "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

And just 100 feet down St. Peters hands a small sign over a nondescript doorway, that of Preservation Hall, the famous New Orlean jazz club of 50 years. We lined up with over 100 others, sure that we were too far back in line to get in, but we must have been number 95 and 96, and we squeezed our way into the back of the tiny room to hear Dixieland jazz in its purest form.

In between sets we got up closer and Nancy was able to sit and see, to get the full effect of the trombone-wielding front man, Glen David Andrews, and The Lazy Six:

back in Middletown...
one of the tall white pines which looms over my deck and backyard came down during our recent blizzard. Thankfully it missed our three-season room and deck, but unfortunately it took down half of our old dogwood tree:

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