Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bourbon Street

Bucket List -- Bourbon Street check! Granted the last time we were in New Orleans we came early before getting on a cruise and did visit Bourbon Street then. But that was the year after Hurricane Katrina and some of the bars and restaurants had not been reopened yet. This time everything was open and there were people everywhere. If it was this busy in September I can just imagine how crazy it is during Mardi Gras! If I were 20 years younger I would definitely want to experience it during Mardi Gras but now? I am ok with just seeing it when it is relatively "calm"!

We actually took the New Orleans city bus from our campground to Canal Street and then took the streetcar down to Bourbon Street. You pay $1.50 per person and can get a transfer that is good for the next 2 hours and transfers to the streetcars. While we were waiting for the bus at the bus stop two neighborhood people came and waited with us. The guy told us to be careful on Bourbon Street if someone says that they bet you they know where you got your shoes. He told us to just ignore them which is hard for me as I have even talked to the pimps on the Strip in Vegas - with Bill continuing to walk away at a very fast pace (Hey, I've got to practice my Spanish somewhere!).  Anyway, he says that if you answer them at all they will say, "You got them on your feet!" and expect you to pay the bet. It can get a little nasty if you don't pay up! Of course this guy had somewhat of a shoe fetish because when we were talking about jobs and unemployment all he kept saying was how much his shoes had cost.

Then came the bus. It was an interesting ride to say the least as the bus was standing room only because they run less buses on weekends. We were standing near the front when a very, very large African American lady decided to get into it with an African American guy who had just gotten on. She was a bit loud and riled to say the least. The guy next to me said "You're not from around here are you?" Ummm...no. He then said that if that had been two guys getting into it the best thing would have been to get off the bus right then and there. He said that you never know what will happen then and it might be knives or guns that would be pulled out. He said very clearly, "This is N'awlins baby!" Yes, it sure is.

I was thinking about adding some music to this video but I thought it would be better to present you with the real sights and sounds of Bourbon Street on a Saturday night.

Just a heads up when you are using your credit card anywhere of course, but especially somewhere such as Bourbon Street. We had the credit card numbers lifted from one of the locations that we visited where we used a credit card to purchase adult beverages. Yes, we could have avoided this by using cash but cash can be stolen and then you have no recourse. This is the 4th time since leaving home that we have had one of our credit card numbers stolen and each time the bank has voided the transactions and we were not liable for any fraudulent charges. The most you could possibly be liable for is $50 and we have never run into that scenario.  The same protections are not available when you use your debit card either so in my opinion, using a credit card is the best protection you can have in a Bourbon Street type situation. We believe it happened at a bar called Huge Ass Beers as their charges never did post to our card and we believe it was because Capital One knew that is where it happened and they void all transactions originating at that location so that the merchant employs better card security. Capital One hinted as much to me on the phone but was not able to give me all of the details due to "security reasons".

The other thing I was a bit disappointed in is that the last time we had visited Bourbon Street there were at least three or four bars that had Cajun or Zydeco bands playing live music. This visit there was only one bar that we found that had a Zydeco band. The rest were playing classic rock or hip hop. Not that I have a problem with classic rock and some hip hop, it is just that it is sad that the traditional music of a location seems to be disappearing in favor of mainstream culture and music. And of course, I luva de Zydeco! I decided that I wanted to stay at the bar that was playing Zydeco for most of the night and Bill was nice enough to stay there too -- not that he could have gotten me to leave! I even had the opportunity to go in front and play the washboard with the band! I woke up the next morning with my smile muscles hurting as I don't believe I've smiled so much in a really long time! Next time we are in the area we will probably bypass Bourbon Street and look for a smaller, local bar that has live Cajun or Zydeco bands playing. STILL on my bucket list - learning to play the Celtic and Cajun fiddle!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

New Orleans

One of our concerns with taking this Gulf Coast route in hurricane season was, well to be honest, hurricanes. Coming from the Northwoods this was a whole different thing for us and we decided that without a brick and mortar house we would be in the first wave of people fleeing inland if it came down to a storm of any sizeable strength. So wouldn't you know it that the first week we are in Lousiana so was Tropical Storm Lee. Lee changed from a tropical depression to a tropical storm in a flash. We were in Baton Rouge at the time and scheduled to head farther south to Houma which is located on some very low lying land. While debating what to do about taking the RV down there with the storm coming on, Home Depot Corporate took the decision out of our hands and called off the teams that were in the areas where Lee was supposed to make landfall. So we spent the weekend at a campground right near to the LSU stadium. All the natives were very unconcerned about the storm stating that we were going to just "get a little rain" and I guess we should have listened to them. Although it rained the entire weekend, flooding in the Baton Rouge area was minimal and we sailed through our first tropical storm with flying colors.

We then headed down to the New Orleans area as there were about 8 stores in the greater NOLA area that were getting done. We decided to stay at an RV Park on the northeast side off of I-10 for the entire week instead of moving from store to store. We had the opportunity to drive around New Orleans doing some work and it is very sad at the amount of buildings still not repaired or taken down or the people who are just getting to rebuilding their homes. Now, by law, homes in New Orleans must be raised at least 3 feet above street level. There is a $1.2 billion grant program to help homeowners pay for this but there are not enough businesses who do the building raising so many are still waiting, living in FEMA trailers or not near their homes at all. And it has been 6 years since Hurricane Katrina!


One day we were working on the west/south side of the Mississippi and the GPS took us to the Chalmette-Lower Algiers ferry instead of routing us on the Crescent City bridge. It costs $1 cash per vehicle when you are heading into Chalmette but is free when heading back to Lower Algiers. Pedestrians travel both ways free.


 In Chalmette there is a huge Exxon Mobil oil refinery which you will see in the video. The smell of petroleum was so strong that I almost could not breathe and developed a bad headache. I cannot imagine working with that smell, much less living nearby. In fact, there is a web page dedicated to lawsuits from former workers of the plant who have developed cancers. The plant used the carcinogen Benzene which "can cause leukemia, a potentially fatal cancer of the blood-forming organs. In particular, acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) may be caused by benzene." This page just mentions former workers but I cannot believe that by just living nearby and having the chemical in the air and water and being exposed to it for years is not harmful to humans also. Just one more thing that the City of New Orleans and the people living there have to deal with on a daily basis.


Also on the video you will see the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge which, at 23.8 miles, is the longest continuous bridge in the world. It connects the New Orleans suburb of Metairie with Mandeville on the lake's north shore. Like the Chalmette-Lower Algiers ferry it only charges a toll going one way. When you head north the bridge is free, when heading south into New Orleans you pay $3.


And last but not least on the video are the famous New Orleans streetcars which are the oldest continually operating streetcars in the world. One of the nicest rides to just enjoy the experience is taking the St Charles line from Canal Street to the end and watching one side of the street and then taking the ride back to see the other side of the street. You will see Tulane and Loyala Universities as well as the Audubon Zoo and many old Garden District mansions. If you look closely in the video you will see beads that are thrown in the trees during Mardi Gras parades. The best side to see the beads is on the south side of the street heading back towards Canal Street.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Gulf Coast Route

Bill received a call back in July from one of the project managers at work who offered him the first choice of three different routes for a new Home Depot project that would be staring in August and lasting all the way through the first of the year.  They all started north and wound their way south throughout the fall and early winter. The first route included Ohio, Kentucky, Tennesse and Alabama which would have been nice as we would like to see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall when all  trees change color. Another route started in West Virginia and would have taken us through Virginia, Tennesse and North Carolina. This route would  have been even more tempting for us as it would have more of the Blue Ridge Mountains and we already love the Gatlinburg TN/Cherokee NC area. But when the third route was listed and it included the Gulf Coast and all of Florida including Key West at the end of the year, we knew we had a winner! We have always wanted to go to Key West and why not when Bill is getting paid to do it?

So at the end of August we left Atlanta (finally!) and headed towards our first stop in Shreveport Louisiana. Along the way we made a stop in Vicksburg Mississippi to check out their casinos and stay at the Ameristar Casino RV Park near the Mississippi River.  We have found casino campgrounds to be some of the nicest places to stay and they normally are priced extremely reasonable as they want you to come inside and part with your money in the machines or at the tables. . You don't have to be a gambler to stay in the RV parks and you can actually wind up making a little money if you "play your cards" (pun intended) correctly. We always go in and get whatever free play and other perks they offer for signing up for their player's card. We also eat at the buffet at least once. It is hard to keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the RV due to space constraints so at least I know I'll get a good salad bar eating at a casino buffet. Most of the casinos will have a shuttle that will pick you up and take you to the casino and many, but not all, will have amenities like a pool, game room and laundry room. If they don't have the amenities in the campground itself you can usually use the hotel amenities instead. A good resource for finding both casino boondocking and campgrounds is www.casinocamper.com. You can join the website and help update it with information on parking, camping, promotions, and food prices and quality as well as pictures of the boondocking or camping areas at any casino across the country. This not only helps others but may help you out in the future when you forget what a certain casino offers because you have been in 31 states in two years and everything begins to look the same!

As Vicksburg is located right on the Mississippi River, it had record flooding during the Spring of 2011 like many other river towns and cities. The picture on the right of the levee shows the previous record of 62.2 feet which was set in 1927 when the levees were not able to hold back the Mighty Mississippi and over 1,000 people died. This year on May 19 water levels hit 57.1 feet, which is over 14 feet higher than flood stage which is a mere 43 feet.   


Along with the high water marks, the levees of the City of Vicksburg also have a set of riverfront murals painted on them and unveiled in 2002 that depict scenes from the city's past, present and future. A future whose story, in large part, is still solidy entertwined with that of The Father of Waters, .The Big Muddy, or Ol' Man River, the Mississippi.



Friday, October 7, 2011

U.S National Whitewater Center

Although most of the time in Charlotte it was too hot to do much of anything outside, we did manage to go to the U.S. National Whitewater Center one day. The center has much more than just whitewater rafting. They also have kayaking as well as land activities like a zip line, mountain biking along with many ropes and wires courses.

And the price just can't be beat! You can get an all day pass to do everything at the center for just $49, you can go with all the activities except whitewater rafting for $34 per day, or you can do just one of the activities one time for $15/$25.  If you would like to do the canopy tour, which is a steel ropes course that lasts three to four hours it will cost you $89. Parking for the day is $5 or $40 per year. The best, and I mean BEST, deal and something I would jump on if I lived in the Charlotte area, is the season pass. This will get you in to the center all year for all the activities for only $149 if you buy before December 31! I would definitely be a kayaking ace.

Granted on a busy weekend you aren't going to be able to do the zip line ten times nor do the whitewater course much more than once, but it is still a great deal if you get there when they open the courses at 10am and stay until they close at dusk. They do recommend that you make rafting reservations as that fills up first.

While we weren't able to do the white water rafting as it was an extremely hot weekend and the time slots were all full, that will be at the top of our list the next time we visit. We did do the zip line and Bill decided to try a couple of the ropes courses. I had thought about it but with my fear of heights and the fact that you have to hold on really good with your hands and my shoulders have been bothering me, I decided to pass and be the videographer instead.