The Retirees in the South East USA – Antoines on Mother’s day

This was our last full day in New Orleans and it was Mothers’ Day. Veronica had managed to book a table in Antoines for the event. We arrived early along with a few others and even though it was barely 10.00 am the girls were into the sparkly and orange juice. Most of the restaurant is styled in a Rococo architecture and very ornate as can be seen in the pictures. The Maitre de showed us to our table and here we thought we had hit the jackpot as the jazz band was set up in this dining room. However they were like strolling minstrels going to each dining room after finishing a set.

After salivating over the menu, my oysters were served followed by my veal steak then the bombe Alaska. Washed down with wine and serenaded by the jazz trio.

Antoine’s is a Louisiana Creole cuisine restaurant located in the French Quarter. It has the distinction of being one of the oldest family-run restaurants in the United States, having been established in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore. Antoine’s Cookbook, compiled by Roy F. Guste (the fifth-generation proprietor) features hundreds of recipes from the Antoine’s tradition. The restaurant is also known for its VIP patrons including several U.S. presidents and Pope John Paul II.

Antoine’s features a 25,000 bottle capacity wine storage and 15 dining rooms of varying sizes and themes, with several featuring Mardi Gras krewe memorabilia. The lengthy menu (originally only in French, now in French and English) features classic French-Creole dishes. By tradition, Antoine’s is closed to the general public on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mardi Gras. The restaurant can be reserved for private parties on these “Closed Days”. My photos below include the menu and the dishes. Fabulous lunch leaving us gluttonously full. The restaurant is also a museum with each dining room filled with historic items. For instance a photo of Madam Veuve Cilcquot, and old menus of the restaurant. We revisited Bourbon st to see if it was any better – afraid not.

Following lunch it was time for us to move to the Hilton Hotel from which we would embark on the American Queen up the Mississippi River to Memphis. The hotel is immediately across the road from Hurrahs Casino and we could not miss out on that. So, after a cat nap we showered dressed and crossed to the casino. Being minor punters we invested USD $20 and soon showed a profit on the investment and relying on our experience and intuition we lost the profit all bar USD $1.50 walking away with our investment and enough to buy a padded bag envelope from the US postal service. A big day!

The Retirees in the South East USA – Cemeteries, Parks and Rooftops of New Orleans

The following morning, we rose early to catch the city tour. We travelled by tram to the city, then caught the riverside tram back to where we were last night but this time to catch the bus. The tour started travelling through the French Quarter where we saw a sign saying “300 NOLA” . New Orleans Louisiana (NOLA) is 300 years old this year and the signs are erected to remind everyone. We then passed Jackson Sq. named after General Jackson who liberated New Orleans from the British, passed a monument to the workmen who died in the Blue Horizon tragedy, passed a typical American settlers home (a “shotgun” home due to it having a hall from front to back), a typical Creole home (pitched roof and wooden shutters) a restored plantation home and a multi – coloured home (9 colours) finishing with their own style craftsman home.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are full of crypts. New Orleans is surrounded by and has formerly been part of the swamps forming most parts of Florida. So the appearance of many crypts in the cemeteries raised the question why not bury the dead in the ground? Some one suggested to us that they bury their dead above ground because the water table is so high. However the bus driver/tour guide disagreed. He explained that this habit was about recycling rather than water tables and pointed out one crypt which contains over 250 Augustinian nuns and 1 priest – is that heaven or hell? During the yellow fever epidemic it was believed that the fever was spread by the dead so they developed some half way houses to hold the dead until it was considered safe to open the crypt. One of the effects of yellow fever is a comatose type state which lead to people being buried alive in some cases. How do they know? The frantic scratching on the underside of the coffin lid told the story.

From the cemetery we travelled to the City Park and its sculpture gardens. Along the way we passed New Orleans’s oldest oak tree (800+ years). The park is immense and contains the second oldest tree as well – surprised? The sculpture garden is very interesting with its tower of violins, a magically suspended window with its escape ladder (or is someone breaking in?), elongated spiders and hollow horses and the ever – present oak trees draped in Spanish moss. This moss is not a moss but feeds from moisture in the air. It has been used in the past as mattress stuffing, but it must be treated (washed or boiled) before doing so otherwise the small creatures living in the moss bite (hence sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite).

There ended the tour and the bus raced back to the city. I have had better tours but it gave us a better understanding of how valuable our tram passes were. We decided to walk back to St Charles Ave tram and in doing so passed through Jackson Sq and the artists all trying to flog their wares. There is that blue dog again. We saw one in the sculpture gardens. This led us to walk the back streets spotting restored apartments with gardens on their balconies. A quick decision we decided we would return to city park in the afternoon.

Back on the trams again.

The trip on the tram took a lot longer than we anticipated. There are two trams that run in that direction – the Cemeteries tram and the City Park tram. The Cemeteries trams out numbered City park trams two to one. The trip dragged but we made it to City Park – end of the line. City Park, a 1,300-acre (5.3 km2) public park, is approximately 50% larger than Central Park in New York City, and holds the world’s largest collection of mature live oak trees, some older than 600 years in age. It also has rows of Crepe Myrtle trees planted as a result of Hurricane Katrina’s damage to the existing trees. It also has the Issac Delgardo Museum of Art now the New Orleans Museum of Art which our tour driver had said was free to enter. What he did not say that it was free for residents of New Orleans on Wednesdays only. So we skipped the museum and decided to visit the sculpture gardens again and  then the gardens which included the Temple of the Twin Sisters which turned out to be a hot house for tropical plants.

Quite surprising was the model railway tucked away in one corner. We rejoined David and Veronica and made our way to the tram stop.

We managed to catch the tram almost immediately and enjoyed a much faster ride home. After appropriately dressing for the evening to walk through Bourbon St, we boarded the tram once again. The tram terminates across the road from Bourbon St and even though it was late afternoon/early evening the sun shone brightly showing up the seediness of Bourbon St. Brash bands playing in filthy bars, strip clubs, hookers standing in doorways awaiting their next customer, filth in the street – not the scene expected. Where were the jazz bands and the juke joints we had heard about. So after walking a number of blocks we determined to move over onto Royal St. via St Louis St in the French Quarter past our restaurant for tomorrow night. Cleaner but still no juke joints or jazz bands but rather art galleries reflecting the neighbourhood the Supreme Court of Louisiana and antiques shops. We found another Café Beignet with a guitar player serenading it patrons so we pulled in for dinner. We all ordered omelettes of different kinds and no one was really happy with the meals but the music was enjoyable and we sat around for up to an hour enjoying the music.

We finally returned to our tram stop for the journey home. I am reminded of a funny incident whilst travelling back to our hotel. To return to our hotel we had to pass through a round – about with a garden and memorial in the centre. It seems a regular hangout for the homeless and the down and out residents. This evening in question, a fellow boarded the tram dressed in jeans blue underpants barely covered by the jeans and a T shirt with some voodoo cartoon on it. He looked dirty and unsteady on his feet. The tram slows to pass through the roundabout and our fellow traveller strikes up a very loud conversation with one of the fellows lounging under a street light in the park. The conversation goes along until the park resident says, “Are you all comin’ to pick up your bag?” Tram rider says “You all got my bag?” Park resident “yeah you all want your bag?” The tram rider became agitated, rang the bell, hitched his pants up, and pushed to the front of the tram. As the tram slowed the driver opened the door and the now excited tram rider does not wait for the doors to open fully (when the door opens a step extends to make the departure or entrance to the tram easier) and he steps out falling flat on his face on the ground. There was murmuring throughout the tram as that would have hurt, but whatever substance he had taken and whatever was in the bag seemed to fortify him against feeling pain as he pulled himself up hitched his britches once again and strode away. I was astounded as I thought for sure we would be waiting for an ambulance to collect the fallen rider.

On returning to the hotel the others went up to the roof top whilst I went to the room gathered together the wine glasses and snacks and joined them on the roof top. A grand view of the stadium and central business district.

The Retirees in the South East USA – New Orleans

Well we made it. Returned the car to the airport stayed overnight at a new airport hotel and caught that bloody early flight to arrive in New Orleans and travel to our hotel in St Charles St. A city of jazz legend and mixed cultures of French/Spanish/American cultures visible in its architecture and its people. Our hotel in St Charles St is part of the Wyndham Group and has a pleasant old world New Orleans feel to it. It is only a one bedroom apartment so this time it was our turn on the settee.

St Charles St is one of the longest streets in NOLA (better get used to it – New Orleans Louisiana) and has a tram line running up the centre all the way to Bourbon St and out to City Park and the city cemeteries. You can see it from our apartment window. After registering and dumping our gear in the room we explored nearby and took a walk to Walgreen’s Chemist to purchase a tram pass for the next 3 days. In doing so we discovered the Avenue Pub – a local hangout in a building dating back to late 1800s and in some respects was probably unchanged.The exterior reflected the French influence of the earliest settlers and the pressed metal ceiling on the interior reflected its age. Despite the surrounding the offering was of considerable variety. David and I sampled local craft beers – the pub owner had inherited it when her father died and she moved out to NOLA to sell it but stayed and has won a number of awards as the best venue for craft beers. Kerry and Ron played it safe with a Pimms or so they thought. The local variety of Pimms here is mixed with Ginger Beer, horrifying Kerry but I did not hear too much complaint from Ron.

Having quenched our thirst we continued the sight seeing looking for Walgreens. From the Avenue we could take in the full effect of our hotel, the local Baptist Church and its neighbouring properties, which continued the architecture of NOLA. There is also a steel construction of a surprising kind. It was once a restaurant on the top tier of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the restaurant was too heavy and was causing damage to the tower floor resulting in it be dismantled and abandoned in 1981 and purchased for the NOLA Worlds Fair in 1984. It was not a success there either and ended up here in St Charles Ave where it remains an unsuccessful restaurant.

We purchased our 3 day passes (which were in expensive and enabled us to visit most parts of the town) in order to travel to the docks of the Mississippi. We had booked to dine on the steamboat Natchez (yes, a steamboat powered by a diesel fuelled steam engine). Uncertain of the travelling times we arrive 1 hour too early and decided to have a walk on the waterfront. Audubon’s Aquarium of the Americas was the first thing to greet us. The walk would be about 1 mile long, and we passed some interesting monuments including 1 to the “Immigrants”. We were still too early to board so we took a tram down to the French Quarter which as its name suggests it was the market place for the French when Louisiana was a French overseas colony. Nowadays it is a haunt for tourists and the junk they like to peddle to tourists so we moved quickly through this area up to Café du Monde where they serve the famous New Orleans beignet – a deep fried donut like cake smothered in icing sugar. We did not have time on this occasion to stop but we were able to take in some of the street scenes that are typical of NOLA including the Catholic church facing Jackson Square.

We returned in time to join the queue thronging to board the Natchez. Once on board they sat us down straight away to feast on the smorgasbord (the dinner is divided into two sittings and we chose the first sitting so that we could enjoy the sights and our meal). After dining (pretty average offering except for the desserts – bread pudding and bananas forster) we settled back to enjoy the cruise.  With New Orleans being over 100 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi we travelled generally south sissippi Riverviewing the industry along the river and learning about the need for levies along the banks. One of the more interesting sights was the two “RORO” (Roll on roll off) ships moored in the river. These are emergency US Navy transports on call 24 hours a day able to load and unload from the rear of the vessel in all conditions.

We passed the competition the Creole Queen (an imitation paddle steamer – diesel and screw propulsion), the national guard HQ for New Orleans and various other deep-water sea going freighters (the river is over 200 feet deep at this reach). We were also able to visit the engine room and view the boilers “Thelma and Louise” and view the pistons driving the paddle wheel. There was a beautiful sunset this evening and some dazzling lights from the Creole Queen, downtown New Orleans and the bridge over the Mississippi to cap off the day.