Friday – March 21, 2014
VIP City Tours
New Orleans, Louisiana
Another warm, sunny day with the temperature in the mid-seventies provided a wonderful opportunity to further explore the New Orleans area. On Wednesday we had made a reservation with VIP City Tours for their tour on Thursday at 1:00 p.m. This is a two hour unique and informative sightseeing tour of New Orleans.
Henry, our tour bus driver, greeted us with a hearty New Orleans welcome as we boarded his tour bus where Canal Street and Royal Street intersect, in the French Quarter. Henry is a big man, an African-American, born and raised in New Orleans. He has a wonderful personality, a hearty laugh and made us all feel welcome in his home city.
The tour included the following places of interest:
- The French Quarter
- St. Louis Cathedral
- St. Louis Cemetery #3
- Lafayette Cemetery
- Lower 9th Ward
- Garden District
- Lake Ponchatrain
Since we had visited the French Quarter and the St. Louis Cathedral on a previous visit, the highlight of the tour for us were the visits to the Lower 9th Ward and the St. Louis Cemetery #3.
To witness first-hand, the devastation still remaining, caused by Hurricane Katrina in the lower 9th ward is an overwhelming experience. You could hear the emotional toll it took on Henry as he spoke about the terrible loss the people had experienced during this catastrophic event. Abandoned homes showed the water line left near the rooftops. The graphic markings left by emergency personnel still remained on the front of those homes; depicting the home had been searched and no survivors were found.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeastern Louisiana and the subsequent storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging eighty percent of the city. It was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. Over 1,800 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods. Total property damage was estimated at $81 billion.
Thanks to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of volunteers along with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie through their Make It Right Foundation the lower 9th ward is very slowly making a comeback. New single-family housing is sprouting up in newly developed neighborhoods as well as next to homes that are destroyed and waiting to be rebuilt. I remember seeing the televised reports as the tragic events of the hurricanes aftermath unfolded at that time. To now observe some of the destruction that still remains is a most profound experience. As we drove through the neighborhood people walking on the sidewalk or sitting on their front porches would wave and smile as we passed by; very touching moments.
After we leave the lower 9th ward, we enter the Garden District, well known for its antebellum homes. Two totally different lifestyles are merely separated by a short drive. In the lower 9th ward there are modest homes being rebuilt out of the devastation. In the Garden District, there are multi-million dollar homes, such as the Belfort Mansion as seen on MTV’s The Real World New Orleans. This is also home to the acclaimed local author Anne Rice. Quite a contrast indeed!
Only in New Orleans could cemeteries be a major tourist attraction. However, because the city is built on a swamp, the deceased have to be buried above ground here in elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums. Over time the cemeteries, with elaborate sculptures and other decorative artwork embellishing the tombs, have come to resemble small villages. They are known by the nickname of "Cities of the Dead." Our tour included a visit to the St. Louis Cemetery #3. As we walked through the cemetery, our knowledgeable tour guide, (Henry) provided a detailed narrative on the history and burial methods employed on the departed that now reside in these unique final resting places.
Lake Ponchatrain is New Orleans largest lake and home of the 24-mile long Causeway Bridge, one of the world’s longest bridges over water.
As we reentered the French Quarter, on the completion of the tour at 3:00 p.m., we had Henry drop us off at Bourbon Street. We walked over to Royal Street to have a late lunch at the Pere Antoine’s Restaurant. We had spotted this restaurant on an earlier visit, liked the atmosphere of the place, and decided to give it a try.
We ordered an appetizer of stuffed mushrooms. Sharon ordered their Blackened Chicken St. Ann served with broccoli and green beans. I ordered their Crawfish Etouffe (one of my favorite Creole dishes). Well… the atmosphere was great, but the food preparation was mediocre at best. The stuffed mushrooms had a hard crusted coating that required them to be cut with a knife. The etouffe was too soupy and bland for my taste. The blackened chicken breast came with a steak knife (our first clue that something was amiss here). The steak knife indeed was required to cut the chicken! It was definitely way overcooked. The only redeeming quality was it had a good flavor. This restaurant will never see us there again on our future visits to New Orleans.You win some, you lose some!
We arrived back at our campsite at the Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, Louisiana at 6:30 p.m. Time to settle in for an evening of relaxation.
Tomorrow another adventure begins.