Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: New Orleans

USA – Deep South – 11

Union Station departure Board

Union Station departure Board

Wednesday 8.11.23

We are on the move again and our first stop this morning is Union Station where – given the usual generous Great Rail timings – we have a wait for our train to Houston.  As before all cases are handed over to porters and loaded aboard the train and we follow separately to our assigned seats.

Union Station probably handles less passengers (and many less services) than Sandhurst station on an average day.  So in European eyes it is unaccountably well appointed with a large number of seats, catering facilities and so on.  The other travellers are also here in plenty of time – walk up and go is not the way they do it here!  The train is scheduled to depart at 09:00 and we leave more or less on time.

Sunset Limited

Sunset Limited

We leave New Orleans by what seems a slightly twisting route eventually leaving the City over the Huey P Long Bridge with the train then coming to a stand on the raised section on the south side of the Mississippi river – and we are there some considerable time, although later in the day we appear to be back on expected timings.  Freight is always more important than passengers in this country of course.

I turn to listening to radio recordings – time to catch up on events in Ambridge amongst other things.  To break the day up we book lunch on the late sitting (yes there are two!).  The countryside rolls by – generically we are heading just about due west to Houston, Texas on the Sunset Limited which will (eventually) terminate in Los Angeles some 48 hours after the journey commences.  Our route passes through Lafayette, Lake Charles and Beaumont amongst others.

Historically this was not a rich area and from a passing train it is hard to establish any definitive conclusions – but it does not reek of prosperity – there are some nicer houses and there are some which are far less attractive – with I suspect a predominance of the latter!

Lunch is excellent and we stay talking at the table as they have cleared up and do not seem bothered about making us go.

Once on the outskirts of Houston we are routed through a freight route and we end up passing the station and backing into it – but that will be to enable it to head off on the remainder of its journey to the West Coast.  We arrive a little later than planned due to the Houston circumlocution – which means that eating out tonight is not on.

A quick coach hop to our hotel and with communications re-established (no wifi on trains) we can check in for our not too distant return flight.  Dinner is in the hotel tonight  and is perhaps one of the lesser meals of the trip.  The warm weather has gone and it is raining.  Houston is a modern city – at least in the centre.  It is, as might be expected, heavily dependent on the car – but outside our hotel there is a modern metro shuttling back and forth.  Time (and a wish not to be stuck somewhere distant) will preclude travel on it on Friday morning.

USA – Deep South – 10

Charles Street streetcar

Charles Street streetcar

Tuesday 7.11.23

Today is a free day as far as the tour operator is concerned but that is not how we see it.  There are shops, this is the USA and so it is time to acquire some Levi jeans as outlet shops are always very cheap and so our trips to the USA always include an opportunity to acquire jeans.

We head down to the mall by the river and soon my purchases are completed.  Less happily the food outlets are at the very far end of the mall and no-one is doing anything particularly breakfast like.  I think we all wanted a bacon butty or something similar even if it is not good for us.

With my shopping needs satisfied (three pairs of Levis – always bought on trips to the USA) I am released and I head for the Streetcars first taking the line along to the terminus at French Market.  At the time of our visit the Riverfront service is not running and only the service back from French Market runs to Cemeteries  “Canal Street line” is running and so I go to the other end of the line which is mainly a ride along Canal Street.  At the end I double back slightly and then take another streetcar to the other northern terminus at the City Park and Museum.  It is now mid-afternoon and incredibly warm.

Modern NOLA Streetcar

Modern NOLA Streetcar

Returning to Rampart Street I then take the service to Union Station – a location we shall visit tomorrow.  The service to Elysian Fields Avenue is not running so I return once again along Canal Street and can then take the historic trams operating to South Claiborne Avenue.  However for reasons which were poorly explained the driver of the streetcar insisted that I and others leave the vehicle at St Charles Avenue about 9 stops short of the terminus.  She was pretty insistent and it was annoying to then wait a good 10 minutes or so before there was a streetcar to return to the hotel.

This trip on the St Charles Avenue line as it is known was the most interesting as it traversed a very different part of the city – and the oldest in the world opening in 1835 and electrified in 1893.  It has operated continuously apart from storm disruption throughout.  The other lines at some point closed and subsequently re-opened.  St Charles Avenue itself is fascinating with a tree lined avenue and some stately houses on both sides.  Plus Universities and restaurants – which are too far in the wrong direction from the hotel for us to experience.

We dine at Mr B’s Bistro tonight – again in the French Quarter – a place which had been spotted on our walking tour yesterday and opposite the Hotel Monteleone where cocktails are taken.

By the way when arriving in a restaurant in the Deep South there is an absolute need to order a cocktail.  Obtaining a whole bottle of wine seems to require a member of management being summoned with keys to unlock some remote distant storage to enable a full bottle to be extracted.  This takes so long that the ordinary wine drinking punter can die of thirst before the bottle arrives.  No wonder people order cocktails.




USA – Deep South – 9

NOLA French Quarter

NOLA French Quarter

Monday 6.11.23

A walking tour of the French Quarter this morning – but watch out for the pavements!  They are very uneven and broken with holes in various places – so as the group wanders around the area those at the front are constantly warning about watching the ground – which makes it hard to observe the architecture and surroundings.

The surroundings are of course fabulous and there are far too many photographs which makes it difficult to select one for the photo in this post.  The history is complex – whilst known as the French quarter most of the buildings reflect Spanish influences – here is why.

The French had claimed Louisiana in the 1690’s founding the City in 1718.  However in 1763 the area was ceded to the Spanish at the end of the Seven Years War.  Two fires in 1788 and 1794 led to subsequent large scale rebuilding during the period of Spanish control – although retaining the “French” designation – which is what we see.  Through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 the territory eventually came under the control of the United States.

The French Quarter is not a large area and we end near St Louis Cathedral and then walk to the waterfront so that we can see the departure point of our cruise later in the day.

Lunch, much to the detriment of my normal regime, is beignets which in New Orleans are fried pastries of leavened dough covered with huge quantities of sugar, taken at the Café du Monde – a busy establishment.

Creole Queen

Creole Queen

We then amble along the river front noting the odd passing tram to the berth of “Creole Queen” – our paddle steamer for the afternoon river cruise.  Our destination is the Chalmette Battlefield – where in January 1815 the British went into battle against some sneaky Americans.  The British were banging their drums and making a huge fuss as they approached whilst the sneaky Americans quietly hid until they were able to destroy the British soldiers.  It was also an unnecessary battle as a peace treaty had been signed in December 1814 but had not been ratified as the news had not travelled across the Atlantic.  Our American guides – aboard the boat and also at the battlefield are of course entirely able to maintain their good humour given the poor organisation of British troops and the overwhelming defeat the Americans delivered!

In the evening we initially planned to eat at a nearby hotel – annoyingly a similar sized party arrived just in front of us and took the last table.  Annoyed!


USA – Deep South – 8

City of New Orleans

City of New Orleans

Sunday 5.11.23

An early start today (0545) and the coach takes us to the station.  Unfortunately the City of New Orleans is not arriving for some considerable time.  So we return to the hotel and we are able to have breakfast (thank goodness) before returning to the station.  A wait but the train does arrive and we all climb aboard for the best Amtrak can provide – we are upstairs with a great view over the countryside and we wend our way south towards New Orleans.  No great speed reached but there is a constantly changing landscape rolling past with many little junctions no doubt providing for freight traffic at many places.

Train timing obviously allows for the service to be horrendously late as it is probably going to arrive at its final destination on time!  Given the early start the odd doze is in order as well!

Our itinerary means that we disembark at Hammond, Louisiana where our coach has been waiting (probably for several hours).  The drive onwards is along Interstate 55 in Louisiana where Wikipedia confirms that 23 miles runs through the Manchac swamp and is one of the longest bridges in the world – with the railway running alongside for most of the distance before it veers away toward New Orleans.  It was completed in 1979 and although the map shows ground beneath us it looks more like water to me – and presumably the usual residents of any swamp!

Oak Valley Plantation

Oak Valley Plantation

Our return to the coach is predicated, as we are now really in the Deep South, by our visit to a cotton plantation – Oak Alley.  The house  appeared in “Interview with the Vampire” and other television programmes and films.  Care has been taken to try and explain the two stories – those who lived in the big house and those who lived, originally as slaves, in the huts which are probably in a better physical state now than they ever were when in use.

The weather has been much warmer since leaving Nashville and even though we are here in the later afternoon it is very warm.

Our onward journey picks up Interstate 10 which uses another long bridge  – I-10 Bonnet Carré Spillway Bridge – along the edge of Lake Pontchartrain and various wetlands before reaching the City of New Orleans, often these days referred to as NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) where we will be halting for a few days.

Our hotel is not far from the famous French Quarter and we head there for dinner.  The first couple of places are already busy and Hard Rock has empty tables – and nothing available for an hour!  Across the way however is the Bourbon House which asks us to wait for a few minutes and a space is cleared – so it is all possible.