Today we had a full day of activities planned and so were both up and getting ready at 7am. Pleasingly there seemed to someone else in charge of the breakfast room today. Everywhere was spotlessly clean and all the food was being kept replenished.
By 9am we were waiting at the tram stop having purchased a couple more Jazzy Day passes. We headed to the French Quarter again, but this time got off at Canal Street and walked to Jackson Square along Bourbon Street. It was as seedy as I recalled despite it mainly closed at that time of the day. Karen was not impressed especially by the Larry Flint Strip Bar called ‘Barely Legal’.
People were already sitting lining the street in preparation for what we correctly assumed to be a parade to mark today being the first day of the French Quarter Festival. There was already quite an atmosphere building.
We made our way to outside St Louis Cathedral where we were due to meet our tour guide for another walking tour, this time of the French Quarter. His name was Daniel and had the looks and voice of Jack Black which amused Karen. The tour was good as we learnt about the history of the French Quarter with its Pirate/French/Spanish connections. Poor Daniel had to fight to be heard over other noises going on around us. There was a real cacophony of sounds. At one point we had a marching band going past, a leaf blower, an ambulance and a jazz band all at the same time. It was almost like a sensory sound overload.
We learnt about Storyville being the forerunner of Bourbon Street with the 3 story houses and how it was the inspiration for the song ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ which I then couldn’t get out of my head all day.
By the time the tour had finished the festival was well underway. It was crazy busy everywhere. We wandered around trying to decide where to get a drink and some lunch. Being creatures of habit (or perhaps not very adventuresome), we ended up again at Café Beignet as it was in the direction we were heading, where we both had a sandwich and a hot drink.
It was then time to make our way to the docking point for the Creole Queen on which I had booked a river cruise (using Groupon) for us. It was something I had done previously on one of my ‘corporate’ trips and I knew Karen would enjoy it. It was a bit of a Pfaff getting on as they insisted on trying to take everyone’s Photo (we declined) and then doing the most cursory of a bag search. Karen was worried we would not get a seat outside on the top deck, but we made it. We shared a table with an elderly couple from Scotland who were very pleasant company.
The paddleboat was quiet and steady apart from its loud whistle for which we were all warned to cover our ears. The cruise itself on its own is not that interesting as the Mississippi is not exactly a pretty river, vast as it maybe. What made the cruise was the narration being given by Charles as we went along. An ex-army vet (as he kept mentioining) who had a degree from Oxford and then retrained as a lawyer, he had a velvety voice, tone and phasing to die for. His love of history shone through and he made the history of New Orleans and the river so interesting. In particular he told the story of the 1814 Battle at Chalmette so well, which was very relevant as that was where the paddleboat was taking us to. We were also told about the song ‘Proud Mary’ is about all about life seen from a Mississippi paddleboat something I hadn’t ever thought about before.
We were given just under an hour to explore the battlefield and it was almost long enough and I enjoyed it. Karen was keen not to miss the return journey as the captain had said the they would depart on time regardless of whether everyone was back on board.
The journey back was even more interesting as Charles told us in almost hour by hour detail the story of Hurricane Katrina and the many mistakes the State Leadership made in responding. At times it was almost laughable other than the fact so many people lost their lives.
For instance, on the day the Hurricane hit, there was a voluntary evacuation order issued. 24 hours later there was then a mandatory one issued for the entire City. This was the first one in the USA since the Civil War. The trouble was the plan they had for a mandatory evacuation meant using all City & School buses to remove people from Hospitals and other such vulnerable people. Except almost all bus drivers had left the city under the voluntary evacuation the day before meaning there was no one left to drive the buses. The Hospitals were left full for days with no power and no running water.
Charles was no fan of any of the political leaders or National Guard leaders who tried to lead and keep order after the event either. It wasn’t until a 3 Star Army Colonel known as the Black John Wayne took charge 5 days after the disaster struck that the situation was brought finally under control.
It made me think of the days when as Disaster Recovery Leader for the Aviva Datacentre we used to have to role play for days at a time what we would do in different scenarios that consultants would throw at myself and the team. We almost enjoyed the exercises and never came out with anything other than an excellent review of how we handled it. Now I know that ours was not on the scale of an entire City being under water with no way out or in, but surely, they must have rehearsed what they would do in such a situation?
Anyhow this whole story had us transfixed for the entire journey home.
By now Karen was hungry despite it being quite early and after going up market yesterday she fancied down market and was keen to go in the Shake Shack we had walked past earlier. She had a ‘Chicken Shack’ whilst I had a cheeseburger. They were both very nice.
In the early evening sunshine, we decided to finally try and sample the festival that was going on around us. It was really good. There were thousands of people enjoying the various live bands coming from different stages along the Riverwalk. The variety of food and drink on offer was impressive. The boys would have liked the Southern style choices on offer from Po-Boys to Jambalaya. As we had just eaten, we stuck to the drinks. Karen had a Louisiana Strawberry beer (that she thought was not Strawberry enough) whilst I had a Gin and Grapefruit (which was not Grapefruit enough).
There was a lovely atmosphere everywhere. The only disturbing thing we saw were the two Coastal Guard boats patrolling alongside the Riverwalk, both armed with guards on the mounted machine guns at the front. Then we saw them waving at children in the crowd as they went past and so we relaxed a bit.
We stopped to listen to one band attempt to play a Bohemian Rhapsody melody. Attempt is the kindest way I can describe it though.
We then left the Riverwalk and went into Jackson Square that had been shut earlier. It was like the Riverwalk with a stage and food and drink stalls.
By now we were quite exhausted and had walked well over 7 miles. So we headed back along Bourbon Street (after having a quick look round the original Pat O’Brien’s bar). It was more alive now and even sleazier than earlier. Karen disliked it even more. There were lots of undesirables hanging about along with street hawkers. All the bars were trying to drag people into them as were the strip joints. The latter had very scantily dressed young ladies trying entice people. It was all very sad.
We went back to the tram stop and waited. And waited and waited and waited. After 20 minutes there were dozens of people also waiting with no resemblance of a queue. The app said a tram should have been there but one didn’t turn up. We assumed there would be scrum when one eventually turned up and negatively assumed that we wouldn’t get on it.
So, we decided to walked the 0.9 miles back. Karen despite her aching feet was stoic. She never once blamed me for the lack of trams or lack foresight of this happening. Not once.
What she did though was almost get us killed instead. About half way back, the road was suddenly filled by about 40 youths riding past us almost in a peloton and having fun with many doing wheelies. Then out of nowhere 2 of them came past us on the pavement. Admittedly one of them was going quite fast and was close to Karen which made her jump. Rather than just tutting quietly, Karen reacted and shouted loudly that he should be on the road. Now fortunately he just turned round and mouthed back at her rather than pulling out a weapon. I pointed out the foolishness of her action which did make her go pale when she realised what could have happened on a street in New Orleans.
An exciting end to a good but long day. We made a cuppa in our room before retiring for the night.