Hello World

New York

Today was pretty much spent killing time until we could head to the airport for our flight home.

We slept in, checked out, then spent the rest of the morning exploring Times Square for tacky souvenirs for the folks at home. Unsuccessful in finding a pink NY bucket hat for James - New York, it appears, acknowledges no other headgear but the baseball cap.

Rather than the shuttle bus, our hotel had recommended hiring a town car to take us to the airport as a more cost-effective option. Cheaper it might have been, but at the cost of an "Omigod, I want to live!!!" factor. I don't know how typical our driver was in terms of ducking and weaving and having no respect for lanes, but the trip was enough to undo all the good work New Orleans had done on my blood pressure. Amazingly we only got honked at once or twice, so perhaps driving like you're in an arcade game is normal hereabouts.

We made it to JFK unscathed, and in an hour less than the concierge had estimated, leaving us with plenty of time to kill before our flight to LA. Luckily Terminal 4 is equipped with a Sam Adams Brewhouse and a Panda Express. Beer and kung pao chicken await.
King of all Wild Things

New York

I headed down to CrossFit NYC for their 8am class where the mistress of the blog, Allison, took us through max reps of bench press, pull-ups and low-bar back squats. Five rounds.

I still find the bench press a profoundly strange exercise: start by lying under something heavy...

I got headspins from the third round of squats, which I think was the result of not breathing correctly; after I'd sat down for a few minutes, I was good to go again. I really need to concentrate on pushing my knees out when I squat: it's something that coaches consistently pull me up on, so I don't think I'm understanding the cue correctly.

Showered and dressed, it was time for one final round of shoe shopping (KSOs for me, orange Asics for Meg), one final round of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes (red velvet stained my fingers) and a trek back to Times Square to find Hershey's Kisses for Alex.

On the way through we were accosted by a woman dresse as Princess Leia. Amusing. Then, a few metres further on, a guy dressed as Princess Leia. The iconic hairstyle is hard to mistake. We stopped to see what this Alderaanian fashion parade was in aid of.

Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, as it turns out. Perhaps we could get a Broadway show in after all. And at Studio 54, no less.

Wow she hated that hairstyle.
Hello World

New Orleans/New York

Another day spent mostly in transit. Our airport shuttle driver was very Southern in his reaction to my Vibrams: "Damn, girl, where'd you get those shoes?"

We flew into New York, continuing our trend of early arrivals with domestic flights in the States, and took the airport shuttle to the Port Authority. Funny coming back into New York the same way twice: the second time it was no longer wide-eyed foreign city, but instead kind of familiar. This is the way the traffic crossings work, that cab will turn in front of you, walk to the right. We lugged our bags up through Times Square to our last hotel of the trip.

The Magnolia Bakery being only two streets away, Susan led us on another cupcake expedition. I was tempted instead by something called a "whoopie cookie": a pair of brown sugar cookies held together by a thick layer of maple syrup cream cheese. Entirely indulgent. Half the size would have been better, but needless to say I ate the whole thing.
Hello World

New Orleans

We were woken in the wee small hours by one of our neighbours back home, letting us know about their small beagle visitor.

At a more reasonable hour we were picked up by a shuttle to take us out to the Honey Island Swamp. The swamp is out northeast of New Orleans, about 30 minutes away, past Slidell.

The bus took us through parts of New Orleans worse hit than the French Quarter. There were sections that were two thirds deserted, houses with painted Xs denoting that the building had been inspected and recording how many dead had been found in each. (Mercifully all the buildings I saw were zeroes.)

There was a McDonalds with a broken M, and an entire shopping mall lying empty. So many people fled New Orleans after Katrina, so few have returned. And yet, there's construction work going on all over: building and rebuilding. Houses that are reoccupied have been repainted, covering over the X and the tide line.

The road takes a route directly over Lake Pontchartrain, a long bridge over a shallow lake.

The office of the Cajun Encounters swamp tour was supervised by a grey cat, affectionate for scritchies but languid in the heat and humidity.

We went out on the West Pearl River in a shallow-keeled (or was it flat-bottomed?) boat, captained by Bishop Keller. He had a degree in Environmental Management, a job in fishing, and a silvering goatee. We travelled upstream, took a side route through an oxbow, saw gators and turtles, woodpeckers and skinks. A startled little tree frog jumped onto my leg, then across the boat to the other side before fleeing entirely.

We paused at one of the few trees in the swamp that's older than eighty years: most of the cypress trees were felled, since it's apparently an excellent timber. This tree, known as the Whiskey Tree or Moonshine Tree, was the meeting place for folks in the region to meet and compare their distilling efforts.

Back in town we were directed by the hotel's doorman, Randy, to the best burgers in the French Quarter: Yo Mama's Bar and Grill. It was so classic an American bar - neon signs, lemon ice box pie, seating booths, tattooed rockabilly barmaid - I was tempted to look around for the set dressers.

My burger - half a pound of medium rare beef, bacon pieces, peanut butter - was delicious. The accompanying beer, an Abita Purple Haze, was good but not flavoursome enough to go with the burger.

In the afternoon, it rained. Big, heavy, intermittent raindrops like the tail end of a shower after you've turned the taps off. It wasn't enough to budge the heat at all - the rain just mingled with the existing humidity, and this is only September.

Dave had told us, when we'd asked about the chance of bad weather, that it would only rain for half an hour and he was pretty much dead on. No point wearing a raincoat in these conditions.

While it was raining we were walking through the St Louis Cemetery, the grey sky suited to the squat brick and marble shapes of the crypts. Some were neatly maintained, freshly painted, marble polished, flowers set in memoriam. Others were broken: jumbled bricks, the plaques of names cracked in half and left leaning up against the tomb. There seemed to be no correlation between the dates on the gravestone and the condition of the crypt.

St Louis Cemetery had none of the austere stillness of Arlington: it was old and tired and functional.

I went back to the hotel and ran three miles on a treadmill overlooking the Mississippi River.

Dinner was a tuna salad at the Crescent City Brewhouse. I'm not sure the name of the dish gives it proper credit: the tuna was thin-sliced like sashimi, seared and pepper-coated on the outside, rare and melting tender on the inside. The wasabi buttermilk dressing could have used more of a kick to it, but the tuna couldn't be faulted.
Hello World

New Orleans

In an attempt to reclaim the verve that four Abita beers had taken from me the night before, I headed to the hotel gym first thing in the morning. All the gym equipment was treadmills and weight machines; I put in some reps and then ran a mile.

Machines don't do the same job as free weights: I "benched" my bodyweight for 5 reps, which I know I can't do with a bar.

We had brunch - "Jazz Brunch", with the addition of Joe Simon's Jazz Trio of trumpeter, guitarist and double bassist - at Muriel's, as per several recommendations. I had turtle soup and the house salad, with a virgin Bloody Mary. Turtle has both white and dark meat, and a texture I have nothing to compare to.

We took the St Charles streetcar to the end of the line, and back to Canal Street, taking the time to look at the buildings and the Mardi Gras beads dangling from the trees.

We bought pralines on the way back to the hotel, and are sitting watching dog agility trials on ESPN.

Tonight: dinner at Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse with Dave. Tomorrow: a tour of the swamp.
Hello World

New Orleans

It was raining when we touched down at Atlanta Airport after the most turbulent flight we'd yet experienced. (It turns out there was widespread flooding in Georgia.)

Atlanta Airport is crazy busy: at the gate our flight to New Orleans was due to depart from there was a flight arriving from Memphis, a flight to or from New Mexico that I couldn't quite follow, and a flight due to depart for Seattle as soon as we'd gotten out of the damn way. And that was one gate, in one terminal, at an airport that has at least five.

Our shuttle bus driver from Louis Armstrong Airport had a lovely mellifluous accent as he described the sites of the city we were passing. There were some signs of rebuilding, but probably no more so than any urban area of similar size.

(Dave later said that some sections of the city had been rebuilt better than before.)



Our hotel, the Monteleone, is located on Royal St in the French Quarter. Right in the heart of the tourist area but a safe arm's length (just!) from the debauchery of Bourbon Street. It's an old building and would probably have wowed us with its history if we hadn't just come from the gleaming edifice that is the Shoreham Hotel.

We took a stroll through the French Quarter in the late afternoon, then along the Riverwalk where our ears were assailed by the calliope tunes of the Natchez steamboat. The French Market was closing up for the evening as we reached it, and we made a mental note to come back the next day.

The air was warm and humid but not oppressively so, and the forecast rain failed to eventuate.

I rang Dave, whose number Gabe had given me in New York, and we arranged to meet up after dinner.

We ate gumbo at the appropriately named Gumbo Shop. It was an unexpectedly brief dinner: the soup came quickly, and was as quickly eaten. Meg had the Seafood Okra Gumbo, complete with an entire crab's leg in it. Susan and I had the Chicken Andouille Gumbo.

Thus recharged we headed back to the Monteleone to rendezvous with Dave. "I'm wearing a shirt, jeans and flip-flops", he said, failing the basic rendezvous strategy of the white flower in the lapel. Nevertheless we managed to locate each other and he took us out to a couple of bars - including Pat O'Brien's, where we gaped at the Hurricanes, tall glasses of rum with some sort of kool-aid mix - and a wander down Bourbon Street. Dave's a local, and he valiantly outlined for us the quintessential (yet less touristy) aspects of the city.
Hello World

Washington DC

I think we're starting to get to the point where travel is wearying us. We slept in, got bagel at Cafe International - which has become our breakfast venue of choice more for convenience than for any brilliance in fare - then returned to the National Mall to look at monuments. And ducks. And geese. Big, black-headed geese who were snacking voraciously on whatever was crawling out of the grass around the Washington Monument.

The FDR Memorial, a winding maze of stone blocks and waterfalls, was magnificent. Children were clambering, as children inevitably do, all over the statue of his dog; meanwhile a young woman was leaning against the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt. Try not to read too much into that.

The White House and its apiary were glimpses through a tall fence, and that after negotiating a barricade. I can't imagine Pennsylvania Avenue is much of a neighbourhood for kids growing up, however expansive the front lawn might be.

That left us pretty much touristed out for DC. Susan and Meg headed back to the hotel, while I caught the metro up to Cleveland Park to catch up with Tom and collect my CrossFit DC t-shirt.

Dinner was meatloaf sandwiches (tastier than they sound) and peanut butter mousse cake at the Open City Coffee House. Then an early night - the following morning would see us headed south to New Orleans.