Almost five days have passed since we returned from our trip to New Orleans. Twice I have tried to put my experience into words and come away from a blank computer screen.
I was overwhelmed from the time we arrived. Long before we reached downtown I could see party beads hanging from all the overhead hydro wires and trees above. We traveled by streetcar from our hotel room on Canal St. to the French Quarter. The famous red streetcars are all still out of service due to Hurricane Katrina but some old green ones that had been stored high and dry have been put back in commission.
We were tired and hungry by the time we arrived and fought through traffic along unfamiliar streets to find a hotel. Because it was Halloween weekend most were full and the usual coupon deals were invalid (special events weekend!!!) We ended up at a dumpy Days Inn but oh well, we were here, which was all that mattered to me.
Wandering through the French Quarter trying to agree on where to eat lunch, we were approached by a gentleman who wrote us out a citation for an unforgivable offence in New Orleans - walking along the street without a smile on our faces. He charged the Captain $10, which we found out was really a voluntary donation to feed the homeless in the city. In return we received a nice hat with New Orleans French Quarter on it (pink - smart guy), so we felt we had made a small contribution to the survivors of Katrina.
We explored the charming streets of the French Quarter from 2 p.m. until 3 a.m. Yeah pretty late for boaters who normally crawl into bed with a good book around 9. I couldn't believe it when John told me it was 3 a.m. when we finally crawled back to our hotel room.
How do you do justice to a city like New Orleans in just one day? We had hoped travel by boat so we could spend a week but there are no transient slips available because so many of the marinas were damaged by Katrina so we rented a car in Mobile and drove there. We had planned to explore the next day as well but we were just too exhausted. I slept the whole way home and then the whole day and all the next night.
We got totally caught up in the party! It was the Saturday night before Halloween and thousands of revelers, many in costume wandered up and down Bourbon St. People lined the balconies above throwing beads down to the crowd. A woman beside us bared her breasts for beads! I bought one set and had one set thrown at me (shirt on). We bar hopped along Bourbon St, we danced and sang (well I did). I was all for trying the mechanical bull ride at one country and western bar but the sensible Captain talked me out of it and as I watched others I realized it was not set up for anyone to stay on for more than a few seconds.
The lights along Bourbon Street were an amazing sight. You can buy drinks to go at the bars or anywhere along the street. The garbage was ankle deep by the time we left. The beauty of the day gives way to a seedy sort of ugliness at night.
So how do you describe N.O.? Well sort of like Savannah only not as dignified, sort of like Key West but much more decadent. In the afternoon she seems sensuous, by evening she is decadent and by 3 a.m. she is just plain wicked!! Who me? No, this crazy city.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company as la Nouvelle-Orléans, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. The site was selected because of its relatively high elevation along the flood-prone banks of the Lower Mississippi River and its location adjacent to a Native American trading route and portage between the river and Lake Pontchartrain.
In 1723, New Orleans became the third capital of French colonial Louisiana, following Biloxi (1720), and Mobile (1702).
In 1763, the French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire and remained under Spanish control for 40 years. Most of the surviving architecture of the French Quarter dates from this Spanish period. Louisiana reverted to French control in 1801, but two years later Napoleon sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. The city grew rapidly, with influxes of Americans, French and Creole French.
During the War of 1812 the British sent a force to conquer the city. The British were defeated by American forces led by Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. A peace treaty had been signed between the United States and Britain on December 24, 1814, but news of the treaty did not reach the United States in time to prevent the battle from occurring.
We saw no signs of destruction from Katrina in the French Quarter where we spent all our time but we did see a long swath of destruction en route along the coast, especially through Gulfport. TV and newspapers does not do it justice. Driving mile after mile after mile through it and witnessing rubble among the surviving live oaks gives you an idea of the magnitude of the destruction. If we had more time we would have seen destruction around New Orleans itself but we were spared the sad sight. There certainly is a lot of tourist dollars flowing into the city so hopefully she can recover.