Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Orleans Trip, Days 1 and 2

Day 1 - Home to Hattiesburg, MS

We left home at 6AM, an hour earlier than we had planned, which was great because we avoided a load of early traffic that way. We got on I-65 at Elizabethtown, then it was on through Bowling Green, then to Tennessee through Nashville. We stayed on I-65 through Huntsville AL (see the Jupiter rocket) to Birmingham AL, then took I-59 southwest into Mississippi, passing through Meridian, MS, to Hattiesburg. A nice day, finished off with a nice meal at Chesterfield's in Hattiesburg. We arrived early enough and with only a bit more than an hour to go to Biloxi, we COULD have made it to the Gulf Coast in one day.

Day 2 - Hattiesburg to Biloxi, MS and on to New Orleans, LA

Leaving Hattiesburg, we drove toward Biloxi, about an hour away. The countryside was rolling and hilly, but the road was straight as an arrow. As we approached Biloxi, we caught our first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico. We quickly and easily found our target -- Hard Rock Cafe and Casino. Right next to the Casino, we saw a building which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina -- the first of many we noticed later.

At the Hard Rock Casino, picture two veteran gamblers playing on the slots. Then picture one of them hitting the JACKPOT! The machine went, "ding, ding, ding, ding" for about 20 minutes! Of course we were only playing the $.01 machine, and Barry won $9.54. Quite a haul for a $.01 investment though!

We also saw gulf shrimp for sale. Barry asked one of the vendors if these were Louisiana shrimp. The guy drawled, "Naw, these all are MISSISSIPPI shrimp." Oops! Anyway, they were selling for $2.00 a pound. Jumbo ones are 4 to a pound, large are 7 to a pound. One of these days, we're going back to Biloxi and coming home with a cooler FULL of these little critters!

As we left Biloxi, going through Gulfport and Pass Christian, we noticed there were many, many house lots for sale. We also realized that there USED to be houses there.

The live oaks in the median strip were gone, the houses, some 150 years old or older, were gone. The storm surge from Katrina reached 26 feet in the Biloxi River. So sad.

We stopped along a public beach and actually got our feet in the water in the Gulf of Mexico.

On our next trip down here, we're definitely going swimming there! Of course, swimming season there is from March to November, so we have all kinds of chances to do that.

After we left Mississippi, we took I-10 to New Orleans. The causeway had been partially destroyed by Katrina, but it was still amazing to see this huge 4-lane expressway built over the eastern end of shallow Lake Ponchartrain.

We finally arrived in New Orleans (NOLA). We checked into our hotel, then began our stroll around the French Quarter. This was the original area of the city, built on relatively high ground compared to the rest of the city. It was practically the only part NOT flooded by Katrina, though the flood waters did reach south from Lake Ponchartrain to the very front doors of our hotel -- the Chateau Bourbon.

Most of the buildings in the French Quarter date from the early 1800's and it shows. They are often painted pastel colors, with bright accents, typical in the warmer climates of Florida and Mexico. They all front on the sidewalk, but most have a private courtyard in the back -- we got a glimpse of some between the buildings.

As the sun set, we found ourselves on world-famous Bourbon Street. It was fairly quiet -- doesn't get hopping until midnight (WAY too late for us old folks), and grabbed dinner at Oceana, a very nice, reasonably-priced restaurant specializing in -- wouldn't you know? -- seafood. We both had the fried shrimp -- the first of several shrimp meals we were to consume!

Then it was back to Bourbon Street as things began to hop. The place is so touristy with really tacky strip joints along with fine hotels and restaurants. It's sort of like Old Orchard Beach on steroids! When New Orleanians say "Laissez les bontemps roulez" they mean "Let the good times roll"!

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