There IS at least ONE good thing about being over age 50, gainfully employed, divorced and having grown children... you can TRAVEL! It's even better if you or one of your friends has On-Line Travel savvy!
Last week, five of my girlfriends and I set out for New Orleans. Pronounced Nor-Linz, if you want to sound like a local. We saved quite a bit of money going there in the month of August, although we did have to take 3 showers a day and stop in many, many local bars to keep cool.
We stayed right in the French Quarter, which was not flooded out by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent breaking of the levee's.
Over 200 years old, it's filled with colorful history. The Dauphine Orleans was originally built as a bordello, and to our delight we discovered that it was ranked as one of the top 10 most haunted hotels in the USA. Or... so they say. About 50% of the employees could recall "haunting experiences" and some of them actually saw at least one ghost. Aside from a few curious incidents, like missing keys, flickering lights, TV and radios being turned on without us doing it, and my sister swearing to God that she felt someone get into bed with her one night (she thought it was ME), we didn't actually see any spirits ourselves. It was great fun to let our imaginations run wild though. We brought along a Ouija Board in the hopes of getting the answerers to some of our burning questions, but sadly, the oracle didn't move an inch, after we all promised not to 'cheat' and move it ourselves.
Personally, I felt a trip to see the Bayou was a must, although 3 of the others girls opted not to come along. It was a 45 minute bus ride away from our hotel, but I learned a lot in that short time. I found it very hard to believe how much devastation was still left after Katrina. Huge neighborhoods stand abandoned. Miles of boarded up houses stand as a sad reminder. Scores of people without insurance, and many covered by companies that still haven't paid up, have no money to repair their homes. The Guide told me that 150,000 people left New Orleans before and after Katrina hit, but only 25,000 returned. At least 1200 people were killed. Some endured sitting on roof tops for 5 days, waiting to be rescued. Most of the people we talked to had no reservations in telling us their Katrina stories. I could still see the fear and almost hopelessness in their faces as they spoke about losing all of their possessions and having to start their lives over. But I could also see that they were filled with determination. Katrina may have interrupted their lives, but in no way did it destroy them.
I found the short walk to the swamp boat a little difficult for a city girl likemyself. Hundreds of dragon flies hover in the air and land on anything that doesn't move. Once we were in the boat however, they seemed to all but vanish. Our Guide told us that the swamp gets bigger every year. Land is eroded by flooding and certain types of vegetation grow rampant in the Louisiana climate, overtaking the waters. We only saw a few alligators that day, but it was quite a sight watching them swim over to our boat. Our Guide tossed marshmallows into the water to attract them. Although they are primarily meat eaters, the alligators seemed to have an attraction to the sweets he threw them. Clyde informed us that he would never throw meat into the water, as it would make the gators aggressive and there was a possibly that they might actually try to climb into the boat looking for more. That was a scary thought! Some parts of the swamp were covered by a thin coating of duck weed which gave you the impression that the surface was hard. From a distance it appeared that you could actually walk on it.
On Saturday we signed up to go on a walking Ghost Tour of the French Quarter. Our Guide filled us in on all the details of gruesome murders that have taken place in many houses and establishments in the district. He had quite a talent for story telling so the tour was entertaining as well as informative. Nicolas Cage recently purchased of the most infamous houses, where hundreds of slaves were tortured and killed by their captors.
On Sunday we all took a 2 hour Paddle Boat ride down the Mississippi River. It was quite relaxing and definitely enjoyable.
Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to take the Katrina Tour or visit one of the Plantations. In retrospect I would advise anyone planning a trip to New Orleans to keep in mind:
1) Purchase all of your Tours On-Line before you go. It's much cheaper than buying them when you get there. Don't plan more than one tour per day.
2) It's HOT. Pack enough underwear and personal items to afford three showers a day. Wear only minimal make-up and don't bother putting on body moisturizer. Carry a personal hand held fan. Especially if you have frequent hot flashes. Drink plenty of water. A ratio of one alcoholic beverage to one glass of water seemed to work for me.
3) See the Swamp and the Cemetery in the morning. The heat is too much in the afternoon and the alligators are sleeping.
4) Don't walk anywhere alone. Especially at night. We felt quite safe wandering around in a group but the crime rate in the French Quarter is pretty high.
5) The French Quarter entails a large amount of walking. Wear sneakers or walking shoes. I saw one girl traipsing around in high heels. I doubt that she will ever recover.
6) I didn't feel there was a need to put on insect repellant, even on the Swamp Tour. Our Guide told us that the dragon flies EAT the mosquitos, so we didn't have to worry about bites.
7) Talk to everyone. The locals are more than happy to tell you about New Orleans and their own personal Katrina stories.
8) Although there is plenty of competition in all of the stores for souvenirs, buy what you want when you see it, cause you probably won't get a chance to go back and get the item later. Besides, you won't remember where you saw it, anyway.
9) Don't waste your money going to Emeril's. It's extremely expensive, and really just a 'chain restaurant'.
10) Tip well. The locals work long, hard hours to make your trip more enjoyable. It was somewhat difficult having FUN in the heat. I can only imagine what it would be like having to WORK in it.
We had a great time and I would definitely go back to New Orleans again. The streets of the French Quarter were like a huge block party every night. Even in August. I wouldn't want to go there during Marti Gras though, even if I were 20 years younger.
Hopefully, traveling will become my new hobby. There's a big world out there, and damn it... I want to see it!