August 24 – 28 Florida and Louisiana…Oh Yes – The Big Easy

We left Georgia and headed south to Florida.  I had discovered what they call tree canopies and we decided to take a drive off of Old Centerville Road that leads into Tallahassee – upon arrival we discovered it was unpaved so decided not to do the whole road.  Regardless, it was quite beautiful with huge oaks sporting the long bearded moss that we discovered while traveling through Georgia. 

We also passed more  blackwater swamps on the side of the road, some of them had huge denuded cypress stumps that looked like the Baobab Trees in South Africa.

As we had time we scheduled a desperately needed pedicure – thankfully the stars aligned and our feet now look glorious!  

We stopped by one of our friend’s house (an Adidas employee) to pick up some sportswear we had ordered.  We had to cut the visit short as Bob had tested positive for Covid as a result of our exposure in Charleston – he is fortunately asymptomatic, but we want to be prudent on where we are hanging out though in this region of the country they seem pretty cavalier about masking. 

We overnighted at a hotel that had a kitchen so all in all it turned out pretty well and we were able to keep to ourselves.  The next day we set out for the Gulf Shores KOA; it rained most of the day as we were getting the remnants of the tropical storm that had pounded Texas and New Mexico.  We were getting flood alerts but the rain wasn’t any worse than what he had experienced in Oregon and we got to our destination safely.  

We woke up to the thunder of the Blue Angels practicing nearby:  This is where they are stationed and there is a subculture that caters to their notoriety including street names and eateries.  

We spent the day exploring Pensacola; I was on the prowl for some pink flamingo kitsch and we discovered that this area was a bit of a Hawaiian spin-off with Tiki bars and paraphernalia – I found it quite amusing!  We lunched at the Shrimp Basket and I had my first Shrimp and Grits.  It was like polenta with a creole spin and it was quite good🍤

Shrimp and Grits!

Having satisfied our cravings we poked around a bit more – it’s off-season and I can imagine this place buzzing when the weather is a bit cooler.  The humidity makes me feel like I’m drunk, and I have been getting my exercise at the hotel gyms or resort swimming pools.  Otherwise any minor exertion outdoors leaves me drenched in sweat.  

Per the local weather people this has been the least active August for weather events since 1982 – this has bode well for us as I was worried we would be driven north by storms but we are lucky, bearing only the occasional thunderstorms and humidity.  

We headed out the next day to New Orleans (NOLA)!  I was excited to visit the Angela King Gallery as I was looking into getting an original Anne Bachelier.  We left the Gulf Shores early to catch the gallery while it was still open as they closed at 5:00 on Saturday. We parked on the outskirts of the French Quarter and walked into town. When we arrived, and much to my disappointment, they had a sign on the door that they were closed until August 30th.  There was nothing listed on the website.  I emailed the owner about my discontent, though as it stood I would not be seeing the real paintings anytime soon.  We then walked down Bourbon Street and did not find much in the way of traditional jazz, but there were plenty of loud bands playing rock and roll and punk.  It was still quite busy considering this is the slowest month for New Orleans tourism, and there was a perpetual haze of pot smoke on this strip that was even worse than downtown Portland! This is definitely a spot for the marginally clothed party crowd.  

We were still hoping to catch an authentic jazz bar and after talking to a proprietor of one of the local shops she said we need to go down to Frenchman Street.  Upon further research we found that these were the clubs we were looking for and decided to save those for the next day, catching the bands as the city grew dark.  

We went into the shops around Jackson Square and perused the artists displaying their street crafts much like you see in Paris.  We promenaded for a while, marveling at some of the architecture and amusing ourselves at a voodoo shop though I couldn’t find much that actually inspired me.  We stopped by a small cafe to get some lunch; the poke with a Cajun twist was surprisingly good and Bob decided to try a beignet and became immediately addicted.  

Unfortunately the famous Cafe Du Monde had a huge line outside so we decided to try and catch it another time but we at least had a beignet fix😍

We finished meandering through the streets and as it had been a long day, we set out to the New Orleans KOA and relaxed for the rest of the evening.  

Artist rendition of what a fantasy New Orleans looks like

Bob decided to book a swamp tour on an air boat for the following afternoon and grab some lunch prior to the trip.  We stopped at the recommended restaurant next to the bayou and I had crawfish crepes that were fantastic.  What I love about Creole cuisine is that it’s spicy, but not obscenely so, and has a very definite taste; having had my fair share of West African food the spices were familiar.  Here we really got the Louisiana vibe, especially as the thunder rumbled nearby.  

We boarded the airboat piloted by Danny, a Louisiana native with a thick drawl.  It was one of the smaller vehicles that could go fast which beat the other overcrowded boats.  We skimmed past houses built over the bayou on stilts that were for rent then headed into the swamp with its lovely water lillies, egrets and herons.

Danny hit the accelerator and we torpedoed at warp speed through the wetlands.  When we slowed down, I noticed something coming through the water, skimming just above the surface; it was an alligator heading straight for the boat. In fact, everywhere we went they would come toward us, some would submerge as we got closure but otherwise they were pretty nonchalant. They ranged from 5 – 8 feet long and though not as big as the Cayman in Guyana, they could still do plenty of damage to a human.  

We stopped by one of the houses that was set on the bayou that had been devastated by Katrina then partially resurrected – the structure was now sound but there was still a fair amount of debris.  Here Danny showed us a massive “garden spider” that was black and yellow that freaked out the gals sitting behind us.  He then presented a baby alligator that if you hold it by the neck, it won’t bite you.  

Bob making friends with little dude

We went further down the bayou and Danny stopped looking for his “buddy.”  A large alligator appeared and he started feeding him marshmallows.  This beast had apparently been through a lot:  He had been injured by a boat and had a chunk taken out of his side by another alligator, yet he healed and was happily swirling around the boat while Danny continued to entice him with more marshmallows. 

Buddy

I almost prefer to call these ecosystems wetlands, rather than swamps, as the latter gives you a sense of something sinister and they are quite beautiful despite the idea there is wildlife in the water that can eat you. 

We headed back at warp speed until we got to the stilt homes and motored slowly back to the dock.  We then headed back to the French Quarter, parking on the outskirts hoping that no one would notice our RV; we had heard stories about break ins, though there were expensive cars in the vicinity so figured we would be fine.  

We walked through the neighborhoods and eventually stopped by Cafe Du Monde for the chicory roasted coffee and more beignets and more site seeing.  We then had a dinner at Muriel’s which is a stately restaurant built in the 1700’s by the French and eventually passed onto many different owners until it became the establishment it is today.  I had my first taste of Turtle Soup and then Drum Fish and it was all so very good.  It was starting to get dark so we headed out Frenchmen Street as the quarter started to ignite the gas lights.  It was Sunday night and the cruise ship crowds had apparently left.  It wasn’t crowded at all and some of the streets we strolled along were empty with the houses beautifully lit up with enticing court yards tucked behind wrought iron gates. 

The French-influenced iron work on the balconies and facades is what makes New Orleans architecture so distinctive and many have taken pride in keeping their homes restored.  It was humid, but not to the level of obscene, so I wasn’t on the verge of passing out.  We could hear the jazz drifting down the streets, riding along the vapors of Louisiana cuisine as we approached Frenchmen Street.  

The street itself is surprisingly cozy – meaning it isn’t a sprawl of clubs and eateries. Tucked into these smaller venues are the Spotted Cat which was pretty much standing room only, but is renowned for its hip NOLA jazz, and just down the street is Marigny’s that was belting out some fabulous more traditional jazz.  Marigny’s is also a cafe, and wasn’t crowded at all, which I found delightful but somewhat perplexing; perhaps due to it being Sunday and at the end of August.  Here we fulfilled our fantasy of live New Orleans jazz, sipping on whiskey at a table with plenty of elbow room.  

Bob diggin the local jazz on Frenchmen Street

After getting our jazz fix, we strolled through more quiet neighborhoods and onto Bourbon Street where the insanity spilled out in all its neon splendor (if that’s what you want to call it, though it didn’t quite fit the vision I had when I think of Bourbon Street). 

It was all a blur to me

Sadly New Orleans was a major hub of slave trading or in reality, human trafficking, even after slavery was abolished.  The Creole cuisine comes from the blending of French and West African cultures that becomes apparent as you immerse yourself in its delights.  Add to that the Venetian influence on Mardi Gras and you have yourself an intoxicating elixir that permeates throughout the cafes,  clubs, celebrations and architecture.  

But what brings the community together is the love of music, specifically jazz that evolved over the decades, creating a legendary hub for the Black community that has transcended into world-wide fame.  It was such a delight to partake in this indelible slice of Americana.  

The Big Easy

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