2017: New Orleans

The Big Easy

March 29-31


Mike decided the 368 miles from Houston to New Orleans was just a bit over his daily driving limit, so we stopped for an overnight in the appropriately-named Sulphur, LA.

Despite the town name (and the looming refinery spires), the A+ Motel & RV park was pleasant and quiet. At least it was until the blinding thunderstorm we outran from Houston caught up with us that evening.

The next day we swept the puddles off the slideouts and continued our drive to New Orleans. We knew we weren't in Kansas, er, Texas anymore when we drove for many miles on an elevated highway above the swamp.

A drive across the Huey Long Bridge took us into an area just south of New Orleans, where we entered our next campground, a huge and beautiful state park named Bayou Segnette.

I had been able to pre-select our site online, even "driving" through the park using Google to see what all the available sites looked like. And I done good! Our site was as spacious as five or six spots in a regular private RV park. On one side there was auxiliary car parking, so no neighbor there; and on the other side, the nearest rig was at least 30 yards away.

After we got settled in, we did a little local exploring. This park was probably the greenest space I've ever seen, simply covered with trees and bushes and green grass. On our walk, we found several boardwalks that go right through a swamp! Ruh-roh, get out the bug repellent!

Local color. Beignet, done that.

The next day, I had booked a walking tour in the French Quarter. We didn't know the traffic patterns yet, so we left pretty early to find a parking place. We had heard about the bad roads around the French Quarter: I guess they consider the rutted pavement part of the charm?

We parked in one of the horrendously expensive private lots. Then I had to fulfill another must-do: my first beignet. Essentially a fried donut smothered in powdered sugar, this is one of the unique foods of NOLA. It was good enough, I guess, but nothing I couldn't live without.

Andrew Jackson. St. Louis Cathedral.

We congregated for our tour near the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson square, dedicated to the president who repelled the British in the 1812 Battle of New Orleans. Our tour guide Sean was a young animated fellow wearing a jaunty beret.

Saint Louis Cathedral is the most striking sight on the square and we started the tour there. Sean explained some of the history, going back as far as 1718.

Sean was very entertaining, but I was tired from traveling and rising early; so I really didn't absorb much of his machine-gun patter about the history of the city, the restaurants, the museums, yada yada yada. I settled for photographing some of the architecture.

After the one-hour tour, we stopped for some lunch, choosing a restaurant at random because I couldn't remember any of the ones Sean pointed out. I tried a combo of some of the New Orleans specialities -- gumbo, Creole shrimp, red beans and rice -- and honestly it wasn't very good. So much for the heralded New Orleans cuisine.

After lunch, we walked over to the Old Mint building which is now an eclectic museum. Built in 1838, this is the oldest existing building to have served as a U.S. Mint. The bottom floor contains some artifacts from the mint's 19th-century operation.

Old Mint.  Gold bullion scale. Coins.
Counterfeiting mold. Bullion cart. Metal crucibles. Coin press.

There were portraits of the mint's first director and his wife hanging on the wall. I had to take a photo of the wife's portrait for the hairdo alone.

Another floor of the museum was devoted to the city's most famous musicians, their biographies and some of their instruments. The piano at right belonged to Fats Domino. It was rescued from his New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina and completely restored using $30,000 of donations.

Legendary clarinetist Pete Fountain had his own room in the museum. In addition to being famous for his musicianship, he was known in NO for participating in most of the Mardi Gras parades with the Half-Fast Walking Group.

Pete Fountain. One of his clarinets. In Mardi Gras costume. King Cake 'baby'.

A second room memorialized Louis Armstrong, another famous Orleans musician. I didn't know about his early history; twelve-year-old Armstrong was arrested for firing a pistol and confined to the Colored Waif's Home for boys. It was there that a band director gave him his first trumpet.

Louis Armstrong newspaper arrest notice. Waifs band. His first cornet. His last trumpet.
Nave. Altar. Ceiling detail.

We left the mint and returned to St. Louis Cathedral to see the inside. It was pretty enough, but I've seen more impressive cathedrals in my travels.

We'd had a full day. As we made our way back to the car, I enjoyed some of the quirky sights that make New Orleans unique.

It was good to get back to our rolling home and put my feet up for the evening. Well, I'd put them up if SOMEBODY would give me a place to put them...