New Orleans 2003
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Following is my trip journal of our trip to New Orleans:
July 15, 2003
Rick left early this morning, ahead of us, as he had to register for his conference and get his information. We would spend the rest of the 15th and the 16th together with him and then he would check into the Hilton and attend sessions all day and often at night as well, so the kids and I would explore on our own, mostly.
I had ordered a cab to pick us up and we got a nice minivan and a friendly driver. Check in went smoothly too, as well as the nonstop flight on USAirways. When we arrived, Rick was waiting for us.
I had booked a package with Expedia.com, which included airfare, a room at the Royal Sonesta New Orleans and a full size Hertz car. I ended up canceling the Hertz car, as the hotel would charge $25 per day for parking and New Orleans doesn’t exactly lend itself for driving around. I also called the hotel about the room situation (thankfully!) and found out the regular rooms were too small for a rollaway (necessary for us, as the kids won’t sleep in a bed together). But for $100 per night extra, we could upgrade to a suite. Since the package was incredibly inexpensive, we decided for that option and didn’t regret it.
The first night, Rick would stay with us, so we took a cab (nice vans there!) from the airport to the hotel. Upon check in, we were first given a junior suite looking out on Bourbon Street. Having been to New Orleans before, I knew that that would be a recipe for disaster when traveling with kids, as the music and noise would go on till deep in the night!
Thankfully, we could have one of their patio suites, a quiet two story suite which opened up to a patio with a table. Unfortunately, they gave us the only one that hadn’t been renovated, so it was dark and somewhat damp. But it sufficed well and we had lots of space.
After getting situated, we set out to find a restaurant for dinner. Alex Patout looked inviting and we had a delicious dinner there and, although they had no special children’s menu, they were able to accommodate the kids quite nicely.
I had my much desired Mint Julep (not all restaurants serve those, as they have to have fresh mint for it) and a wonderful dish with pork loin. Rick had rabbit, Katja crab cakes and Kai and Saskia pasta.
We were tired after that delicious meal and just walked a little around Bourbon and Royal Streets to take in the music coming from the bars and the souvenir stores.
Unfortunately, the room was very warm upon our return, even though the air conditioning seemed to be working ok. So we suffered through a sweaty, damp night. The next morning, I figured it couldn’t hurt mentioning it to the front desk and they immediately sent out an engineer. He fixed whatever it was and for the rest of our stay the room was sometimes too cold! So, lesson learned, always mention a problem even if you think it can’t be helped.
July 16, 2003
For today we had booked a swamp tour, for which the bus would pick us up at 8:45. We rolled out of bed and had a very quick breakfast. The swamp was about a 20 minute ride outside of New Orleans. First we were taken on a small bus to a full size tour bus. The chauffeur narrated on the way there.
Upon arrival the first thing we noticed were the beautiful dragonflies! They were everywhere! Then we boarded the pontoon boat for our tour through the bayous. The name of the tour company was Jean Lafitte tours.
The tour was in a word excellent! The guide was Cajun himself and told interesting stories about life in the swamps and from when he was growing up. He took us to this place with gigantic black grasshoppers and you really got that mysterious feeling the swamps (bayous) hold (I think).
We saw loads of alligators and on the way back, the guide took out a baby (2 year old but quite small) alligator he had named “Elvis” and whoever wanted got to hold him. I never thought I’d find an alligator cute, but this was a cute one!
Upon return in New Orleans, we had lunch at the Olde Nawlins Cookery, right across the street from our hotel. I tried the turtle soup and the others had different po’ boys (French bread filled with different meats, a kind of submarine).
In the afternoon we decided to go watch the Imax film “Lewis and Clark”, about their exploration of the American West. Very interesting, as most Imax movies are and quite appropriate, considering we were visiting part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Then Rick had to go to his first meeting of the conference and the kids and I went to swim in the hotel pool. We ordered drinks there and their Cajun Mary (spicy Bloody Mary) was delicious!
We met up with Rick again for dinner at K. Paul’s, one of the very well known restaurants in New Orleans. Delicious! And wonderful service! We all agreed, this was the best meal of the week!
After dinner, we split up, the kids and I to the Royal Sonesta and Rick to the Hilton, which is located near the waterfront and is a very upscale hotel.
July 17, 2003
The first morning without Rick. I let the kids sleep in and went for a short workout in the hotel’s exercise room. It wasn’t much to write home about, but it would do for what I needed. I also brought weights that can be filled with water (http://www.aquabells.com), which really came in handy for the weight workouts!
After a quick shower, we all set out to have breakfast at Café du Monde. The kids loved the beignets (so did I!) and I loved their chicory coffee, I got a hot cup and, because of the heat, an iced coffee as well. Covered with white powder (from the powdered sugar), we set out on our day’s adventures.
The weather was extremely sticky, so visiting the shopping mall sounded inviting. But first we bought tickets for the Imax “Into the Deep” for 2pm (I bought the combination tickets: Imax, aquarium, aquarium-zoo cruise and zoo).
The Riverwalk mall is a two story covered shopping mall. It has a lot of fun souvenir shops and I would advise anyone looking for upscale souvenirs to go here instead of Bourbon Street. We spent about 2 hours here, I tried some extremely spicy hot sauce and I’m used to spicy! My mouth hurt for at least a half hour after that small taste!
Soon it was time for the Imax movie and we enjoyed Into the Deep, which was 3D, though it wasn’t the best Imax we’d seen.
When we came out of the movie, it was pouring down rain and thundering. We had no raingear with us and I didn’t feel like getting completely soaked. So after waiting it out for a little, we decided to now go and visit the aquarium (initially planned for another day).
We first had lunch at the Burger King there, which took forever to order and then they were out of ketchup, so Saskia wouldn’t eat her chicken nuggets. Sigh! And it was still raining.
The aquarium was a lot of fun, especially for the kids (it doesn’t compare to the huge one in Baltimore, though). Especially the otters were very cute. And we could pet a nurse shark, which was cool too.
After about 2 hours, we’d seen it all and ran back to the hotel, as it started to rain again. The kids can walk quite fast when they need to, I found out during this week! They also managed to walk *a lot*, the distances seemed small, but before you knew it, you’d walked quite far and that in very oppressive heat and humidity. As far as the latter goes, New Orleans beats any place I’ve been!
Since it was so rainy and no pool weather, we relaxed in the room for a bit. The kids played their Gameboys and I made use of the high speed internet connection provided by the hotel for $9.95 per 24 hours.
Rick had a dinner meeting, so the kids and I chose our restaurant: Mike Anderson’s. It sounded good on paper, but it wasn’t the nice authentic restaurant I had hoped for. Thought the aquariums in the walls are a nice touch, the restaurant is too big to have a nice atmosphere. The service was great though. This is where we tried fried alligator and we all liked it!
After dinner we walked up and down Bourbon Street a bit and on Royal Street, where the kids were serenaded by an “a capella” group with the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, very nice! We ended the night with some great pralines and a soda.
July 18, 2003
Again, lots of self discipline, I started with a workout at the hotel. This time we chose the Olde Nawlins Cookery for breakfast. They had the best pancakes we’ve ever tasted! And I’m not one to like pancakes. So definitely a recommendation there!
We decided to start the day with a carriage ride in one of the carriages parked at Jackson Square. On the way there, we came by the Pharmacy Museum (http://www.pharmacymuseum.org) and decided to check it out. I expected the kids to quickly look around and then be done, but they turned out to be fascinated by all the different powders and concoctions and especially the old syringes! They also have a neat herb garden. So we ended up spending more than a half hour exploring the 2 story museum.
Our carriage driver was Howard and the horse was named Blaine. Howard invited Saskia to sit up front with him, which she loved! We decided to get the tour that includes a trip to the St. Louis 1 historic cemetery. This is the cemetery where Voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried.
It was scorching hot in the cemetery, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there at all. But the above the ground crypts were very interesting, some were eroding, we assumed from the constant moisture.
Marie Laveau’s crypt was covered in triple X’s. We asked the driver what those meant and apparently that means good luck.
After the carriage ride, we went back to the mall, as Kai’s purchase from the day before (a sphere that shows light rays where your fingers touch it) was broken by the maids cleaning our room (the hotel later reimbursed us for this).
Then we had po’ boys for lunch, delicious! On our walk back, we stopped by Leah’s pralines, since Katja’s best friend’s name is Leah. They had delicious soft and crispy pralines and we could taste them all. Yum!
When we got back to the hotel, we were so sweaty and sticky, the swimming pool was the best choice. Kai forgot something in the room, so I sent him back to get it and he promptly forgot the key! Of course, being in the pool, I had no ID on me, so we needed to be met by security in order to be let back into our room. Nasty for Saskia, who needed to use the restroom desperately. The security guy was rather unfriendly, but oh well. I didn’t think I exactly looked like a criminal with 3 kids in tow :-O!
Thankfully, we were ready in time to meet Rick for dinner. This time we chose Patout’s Bistro, which offered balcony dining. At first, we sat just under an umbrella, but when a huge thunderstorm hit, we decided to move under the overhang, but still had a nice dinner outside.
After dinner, we walked on Bourbon Street and shopped a little at the souvenir shops. We bought a couple of t-shirts and then said good-night to Rick and returned to our respective hotels.
July 19, 2003
As on the previous two days, I managed a workout, before we set out for another breakfast at Olde Nawlins Cookery. I tried their Cajun French Toast this time, but I should have stuck to the pancakes. The French Toast (made from French bread), while tasty, was way too greasy for my taste. Kai on the other hand loved it.
Today we decided to use the zoo cruise and zoo tickets. The John James Audubon boat took us to the zoo. It was an incredibly hot and muggy day, unfortunately.
We entered the zoo at the Australian entrance, but much of that exhibit was closed. We were very happy to find a store near to get some cold drinks and fans!
Here, I was really bothered by the heat. I can usually handle it quite well, but I found myself hurrying the kids along constantly, as I found it unbearable!
The zoo is very nice and we could have spent more time there. Especially their Louisiana Swamp area is great. The white alligator looks unreal!
But after a few hours and ice cream that melted quicker than we could eat it, we (or rather I, as Katja was upset about that decision) decided not to take the cruise back, but to call a cab.
In retrospect, this was a great decision as it added to our New Orleans adventure. The cab driver was a nice lady, a little older than I. She loved the kids and even stopped on the way to buy them some “Roman candy” (basically a long stick of salt water taffy) from a cart on the street. She told us those carts were there when she was a kid!
I asked her if she would mind making a small detour through the Garden District, as I knew I wouldn’t make it there with the kids and some of the most beautiful mansions are to be found there. She was all too happy to oblige and even gave an interesting narrative of what we were seeing.
I decided to hire her for our cab driver to the airport (every cab driver in New Orleans will ask if you have a ride to the airport already), she gave me her cell phone and we settled on a time. She was really great. I asked her how she got to be a cab driver (I hope it doesn’t sound bad, but the times that I’ve ever had an English speaking, white cab driver here in the US have been very few and far between!) and she answered the hours were flexible and she loved touring people around the city.
Just before we reached the hotel, she commented on a purple haired bicyclist in front of us, “only in New Orleans”. Now, maybe that wasn’t true, but you do see the most unusual characters, that’s for sure!
Back at the hotel, we decided to go for a quick swim and then we met up with Rick for dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro. Another really nice restaurant! We found it’s better to just find your own place without looking too much at ads, as Mike Anderson’s was advertised everywhere, but our least favorite of the bunch.
After again purchasing some souvenirs, we gratefully retired to bed!
July 20, 2003
Since the hotel offered room service, we decided to take advantage of that on this Sunday. The day started with a huge storm and it didn’t improve much for the rest of the day. I did my obligatory workout and we enjoyed the hotel’s food.
Since Rick had to work, despite it being Sunday, we made a lunch date with him. The rain was not letting up, but we decided not to upset by it. We each got black umbrellas and first tried to get to the Wax Museum. Unfortunately, that was closed on Sundays.
So we walked to Marie Laveau’s voodoo store. This was an interesting little store, with several Voodoo altars and lots of little stuff. Kai and Saskia bought a UV ring, one that changed colors depending on the amount of UV rays. Interesting! Katja found a puzzle ring and now knows how to put it together very quickly!
Then it was time to walk to the lunch place, Mulatte’s, close to the Convention Center, where Rick was having his sessions. I knew approximately where it was, but I have to admit that I despaired at times. The rain was coming down mercilessly and the kids were tired and complaining and the distance was longer than I had counted on. But finally we reached the restaurant, right in time to meet Rick. Their lunch was delicious and wiped out all the frustrations of the long and wet walk.
By the time lunch was over, the weather had improved greatly. So we decided to walk along Decatur Street and visit the big souvenir stores there. This is where we bought our usual decorative masks and the kids selected numerous colorful bead necklaces, which are usually used for Mardi Gras.
When we were done shopping, we enjoyed looking around on Jackson Square, where different artist had set out their ware. We decided on a second carriage ride, this time to a different part of the French Quarter. It was very nice, but we preferred our first driver (this one was very hard to understand, which would be my number one complaint about the carriages, many drivers speak with such a dialect, I doubt foreign tourists could understand them).
Again, the weather had become to hot and sticky, we couldn’t wait to wash off in the pool. I was so grateful to have that at the hotel!
Then it was time to get ready to meet Rick for what we thought the last time in New Orleans. He wasn’t available for dinner, but we came over for a drink at the Hilton. Then he went on a cruise on the John James Audubon, which we had been on just the day before.
The kids and I went to dinner at Café Maspero, which seemed a nice and authentic restaurant and had been recommended by the carriage drivers. All I remember is that Katja ordered Jambalaya and that that cost us dearly!
July 21, 2003
This was supposed to be our departure date. However, at around 6am, I heard Katja call my name and she told me she was feeling sick. Now, when Katja says this, I take it seriously. So I gave her a plastic bag to throw up in, if she needed to. But she slept for at least another hour, so I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad.
But then she needed to go to the bathroom and while in there, she couldn’t hold things in. So, I put her back to bed and called housekeeping to help me clean the bathroom and the hotel’s manager to find out if I could at least have a late check out (our flight was not until 4:30pm). I got a 2pm checkout, which would be perfect.
But as time wore on, it became clear Katja was in no state to travel. So I called USAirways and, at the tune of $100 per person, changed our reservations to the same flight the next day.
Then I called the manager of the hotel back, her name was Julia and she was extremely friendly and helpful! I asked her how much an extra night would be, fully aware that we were staying in a suite and were paying a much discounted package rate. But she was able to give a very reasonable rate for the extra night ($186).
Katja of course was too sick to think about food, but the others were hungry. So I decided to make my workout a walk to Café du Monde and got beignets and coffee. We felt badly about her misery, but to be brutally honest, one more day New Orleans wasn’t a punishment for the rest of us!
Around midday, Katja seemed to be feeling somewhat better and she hadn’t thrown up again, but she was very tired, so she asked us to leave her so she could sleep. I left my cell phone number for her and took the other 2 kids for lunch at the nearby Seaport Café. They had good food, fried alligator again, which Kai and Saskia loved.
After lunch, we went back to the Wax Museum, which was open this time. The first part dealt with New Orleans and Louisiana history. Interesting to Kai, but not so for Saskia. The second part was a haunted part, which depicted gruesome scenes from well known novels (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). Saskia was initially very scared and so Kai and I went to look alone. But then Saskia got daring and asked to be taken around as well. It wasn’t very scary, so she was very proud to have seen a haunted part of a museum!
When we got back, after making sure Katja was comfortable, we went to the swimming pool. Katja slept all afternoon and seemed to be somewhat better. Kai and Saskia befriended a baby anole (lizard) at the pool and took him with them to our patio. There he slept on a leaf all night. This was the second time in a week I found a reptile cute, go figure! It was a teary goodbye the next day, as I wouldn't let them take him on the plane, knowing for certain he wouldn't survive that. We had a didactic talk about leaving creatures in their natural environment.
Of course, every bad situation has positive sides and one of them was that we saw Rick one more time before going home. We decided to go to dinner at the Palace Café on Canal Street, while Katja slept. Unfortunately, as we left, Katja started feeling sick again and threw up, really missing our company then. We felt very guilty about leaving her alone with this and Rick rushed back to the hotel, leaving the other kids and me to our wonderful desserts. Thankfully, Katja then really felt a lot better and she had a quiet night’s sleep.
We did discuss, before Rick returned to his hotel room, that if she would still be sick the next day, she would transfer to Rick’s hotel room and stay there and then travel home with him on the 23rd. Thankfully, that didn’t prove to be necessary, as I didn’t feel comfortable about her being without anyone attending her at all.
July 22, 2003
Katja was much better, though she didn’t get up with us for breakfast and Kai, Saskia and I had a final breakfast at the Olde Nawlins Cookery (the people there really got to know us well!).
I got in a quick workout and then we packed up. We had Katja rest in bed as long as possible and I got the 2pm late checkout again, the manager Julia truly was a treasure! For lunch, we went to Mike Anderson’s, as that was the easiest and quickest.
At 1:30, Shirley, the cab driver called to say that there was traffic on the interstate and therefore she would pick us up somewhat early. We got to the airport quite early and had lots of time to check in and go through security. The flight left on time and we were on there with a bunch of Rick’s colleagues.
Everything went smoothly till just before landing. Over the Shenandoah mountains, the plane got into a lot of turbulence. So much so, that a flight attendant fell and the plane dropped several hundred feet. This scared Saskia especially. So much so, that she’s panicked on every flight since. Hopefully she’ll get over that soon, as we do fly quite often.
We were all happy to be on the ground again and our friend Lauren, who had been housesitting for us, picked us up from the airport. Rick arrived back early the next morning.
We all agreed, that New Orleans is a very fun city to visit and there is still more to explore.