The Big Easy

29/12/16. Change of plan. The motel was worse than “shabby”. It was awful! Neither of us slept at all well, thinking of how horrible the room was and imagining all sorts of things, and we woke up feeling “unclean”.

First thing in the morning, Stephen walked across the road to our Plan A motel to see if they had a room and could store our things while we went into the city for some sightseeing. They did, and although it was $25 more than the fleapit where we had spent the night, he signed up immediately. On the way in, he had bumped into a young German who had been in the room next door the previous night and with whom he had spoken about how horrible the room was.

It transpired that he (the German) had spent 2 hours on the phone to Expedia (through whom he had booked the awful room) trying to get their booking changed. Eventually Expedia had agreed but he had “lost money” on the way. But he was fulsome in his praise of the second motel and said the breakfast provided was OK even though it didn’t include “cheese and sausage”!

By 9.30 a.m. we were checked into the new room and the first thing we did was shower to “wash the other hotel away”.

We then caught the bus towards the city centre (a bargain at $3 for a 24 hr pass that was valid on the streetcars as well). A change of buses was needed but we misunderstood how far from the centre we were and so started walking when we just missed the second bus.

Another mistake! It was a long, long walk beside a busy main road through not very salubrious areas. Eventually, when it felt “safe enough”, we waited at a bus stop for the next bus and were relieved to jump on even though we were, by now, close to the French Quarter and the bus got caught in traffic meaning it would have been quicker to walk.

We followed a walking tour suggested by the Lonely Planet Guide and were very impressed by the atmosphere and the architecture. The buildings reminded us a lot of both St Augustine (Florida) and San Juan (Puerto Rico) because of the Spanish influence while the jazz musicians and “general feel” was a mixture of American and French (Startling revelation. Not!) which we had not experienced before.

By the time we decided to head back the sky had clouded over and, as we stood at the bus stop, the rain came. It had been wonderfully warm and sunny up to now (mid 20s) but, with the buses running only every 30 minutes and the state of traffic in the centre of the city, it was not far short of an hour before we were out of the rain.

For Thursday we decided to revert to Plan B (or was it C? Or A?) and head for the campsite in the Bayou Segnette State Park on the south western edge of the city. It was less than 20 miles away but “city cycling” is often slow going.

Initially, we carried on along the US90 which after the first few miles at least had a sidewalk we could use, followed by a bike lane with a hatched area of paint between us and the main carriageway. Then we turned off onto quieter roads which led us through a mixture of affluent and needy areas into the heart of the French Quarter.

After a spell along the main shopping/tourist street we hit the river bank to gaze again at Ol’ Man River. We have to say that, for a major, major world river, so close to the sea, it was a little underwhelming. The Danube and the Rhine are more impressive.

We were also surprised at how few bridges there are. We were psyching ourselves up to use one of the busy main roads when we saw a sign for “river ferry” and leapt at the opportunity to avoid them.

A very reasonable $2 a head (“Exact money only. No change. No credit against future trips.”) and short (5 minute) ride later we were on the western bank of the Mississippi. For a while we followed the levee alongside the river which was remarkably pleasant, not least because of the strong north east tailwind.

Then, however, we were forced to rejoin the road, which, while not busy, had some large trucks and led through a long stretch of uninspiring heavy industry. We were pleased to turn off this and into a more residential, but not prosperous, area before arriving at the State Park at about 2.30.

For somewhere so close to a major city centre, the State Park does an impressive job of preserving a flat and swampy area of countryside that fits in with our preconceptions of what the bayoux of Louisiana are like. Tomorrow, we continue to head south west (ish) into what we are expecting to be even more archetypal countryside.

As the sun dipped in the sky the temperature fell from an unseasonably but very pleasant low 20s so we have got the “cold weather sleeping gear” (inner sleeping bags and socks) at the ready!

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