New Orleans and on to Biloxi
May 8th. is an important date in Norwegian history. On this date back in 1945, the war was over and Norway was free from the Germans. This is celebrated yearly at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New Orleans - where old war sailors (several of them went on shore in NO and stayed) and other Norwegians are invited to a memorial at the cemetery and a lunch at the church.
The backyard of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church
Selma woke up first, and had a cigarette and a photo session in the backyard while she waited for Louis to get up. The staff was up and about, preparing for the upcoming event, and a few of the regular guests (Norwegians living in the area) were already there, relaxing on the patio. When Louis got out and joined us, we were treated to the best meal on the entire trip! At least that’s how it felt at the time! Kjersti was preparing the luncheon, and had made some delicious homemade rolls, Norwegian style - and we got a couple each with lovely, melting Norwegian goat cheese. After weeks of Italian herbs&cheese form Subway, it was heaven to let our teeth sink into something with a taste of home!
We had planned to stay at the Norwegian church for two nights, but there had been a mix-up during the booking process, and Selma had misread the e-mail confirming the dates. All the rooms were occupied for the next night, so we had to find another place to stay - or leave town. We decided to pack up, put our stuff in the car, check out New Orleans and then contemplate whether to stay for one more night (possibly in a guest house further down on Prytania street) or move on towards the Florida pan handle.
We had to “check out” before we left, but inside the church everyone were busy preparing the lunch. So we managed to have a closer look at the church while we waited, which was nice since it was dark when we arrived the day before. Inside they sold Norwegian food and candy - chocolate, cheese.. things we’d missed for so long! And they had a rack of Norwegian newspapers! We’d kept ourselves somewhat updated by reading Norwegian newspapers online, but there’s something special about flipping the papers and feeling the ink of a traditional paper!
“The day is not the same without it” - a slogan for the Norwegian newspaper VG
Exploring the French Quarter
As the norwegian “settlers” started to pour in (with their very amusing mix of Norwegian and English), we snuck out and set out to have a look at the must-sees of New Orleans. We parked on Rue St. Ann in the French Quarter, and walked around for a while, looking around and shooting pictures. It was extremely hot, and Selma was tired and a bit moody - so the enthusiasm wasn’t exploding. But that’s the downside of a trip like this - you’re bound to have days where you’re not as eager to explore and take everything in, but then the next day you’ll be on to a new place, so you only get this one chance to experience the place you’re at. So we tried to make the best of it, and checked out Bourbon Street, stepped into Marie Laveau’s house of Voodoo, had a trip up to the gay quarters and stopped for a cold coke in a bar. There Selma visited one of the nasties bathrooms of the trip, and was relieved that we were there by day and not during the pulsating partyhours at night.
Brad posing with the Bourbon Street sign
For the umpteenth time on this trip, Selma was fascinated by how close her Tony Hawk skateboard games (for Nintendo GameCube) portray real places. While skating around the virtual New Orleans (and San Francisco, San Diego Zoo and other places we’d visited on this trip), she thought the environments were just inspired by the real places. But over and over again, she realized that the game makers had done an appropriate share of research! Thus started a game of spotting the different locations for certain actions in the game, which eventually led us to Jackson Square and the St. Louis(!) Cathedral. We also walked down to Moon Walk, a brick path between the Mississippi River and Jackson Square which got it’s name from the former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu - not from Michael Jesus Juice Jackson.
Louis looking at the Saint Louis(!) Cathedral, with his back to the Moonwalk
Saint Louis Cathedral and the Jackson Square
We then checked out the French market, located just a few blocks from the Jackson Square. It wasn’t really much to talk about, mostly Chinese people selling the same junk they sell everywhere else in the world - with the local addition of beads and feather boas…
By then we’d gotten a fairly good impression of the French quarter, and we agreed that Bourbon street by night was something we could easily miss out on. So the only thing we wanted to see before leaving town was the “famous” Lafayette cemetery #1, and perhaps the Garden district surrounding it. But Kitty couldn’t help us find it, we had no map, and no access to Internet - where our own directions were plotted down. So we went up and down the Garden district, stopped at a gas station and asked for directions (and got two, leading in opposite ways), and then started cruising around with the Powerbook up and running (on low battery), trying to find an Internet connection. Finally, awkwardly and not totally legal parked on a corner, we managed to pick up a signal and find a street name we could navigate to.
It was getting close to five in the afternoon, and as we finally arrived at the cemetery the gates were closed. Well, they closed already at two, so we wouldn’t have made it even if we had found the spot right away. We peaked in through the gates (together with a group of tourists and their guide) , and had a brief look at some of the towering tombstones. Then we figured we had to make something out of the effort of finding the place, so we took a series of photos with the cemetery wall as a backdrop.
Louis posing in front of the wall surrounding the Lafayette Cemetery #1
And then, we figured we’d seen enough of New Orleans, and decided to drive on further east towards Florida instead of spending another night in the Crescent city.
While driving around NO (searching for the cemetery), we went by several locations we’d seen under the coverage of the Katrina disaster. Now the town was clean and tourist friendly, but as we passed the Superdome on the highway, we thought of the pictures we’d seen of hundreds of people filling up these very streets after the hurricane.
As we drove out of the city, the evidence of the catastrophe was still very evident. We went past neighborhoods that looked normal at first glance, but as we looked closer, we could see that a wall was missing here, parts of the roof had disappeared there, and the entire hood was deserted. Along the road were piles of debris, damaged vegetation, wrecked boats stranded on weird places and provisional trailer parks (where all trailers were alike, obviously put up by the government to house some of those who lost their homes).
Debris after Katrina along the road
We had told Kitty to take us to Biloxi, Mississippi, but obviously the GPS system hadn’t been updated after the hurricane. ‘Cause after a while, we got to a huge bridge that was still under construction after the disaster - and thus, the road was closed. We had to turn around and drive back (into a sunset that was beautiful - but painful when trying to keep track of the road) a few miles to get to the detour around the bay that the bridge normally crosses.
Around 9pm we entered Biloxi, a not-so-pretty place along the Mississippi shoreline. We found a motel just outside town, checked in and went for a short ride to get some dinner and snacks for the night. After the fantastic Norwegian breakfast of rolls with goat cheese (which Selma had grabbed a few extra of, and snacked on throughout the day), we weren’t that picky about dinner - and the place hadn’t all that much to offer.
So we ended up at McDonald’s - again. And this McDonald’s restaurant had, by far, the most useless pack of employees EVER. One of the guys (who fortunately seemed to have just ended his shift) was standing around licking(!) his palms and yelling childish gibberish, while five(!) people behind the counter were trying to accommodate a lady with her order. The manager on duty obviously had a hard time doing the simplest additions, not to mention trying to keep track of the orders from the stressing total of four customers. We waited for half an eternity to get our food, and when we finally got it, we were so disgusted by the staff that we’d lost our appetite.
But we brought the grub back to the motel, where we settled for the night with poker on the TV and blog updates on the computer - and went to sleep, content with the decision to leave New Orleans early.