Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Post Katrina

I'm not sure what I can add to the discussion about New Orleans, Louisiana almost two years since Hurricane Katrina changed the area forever. I feel compelled to say something...

"You can stand on Bourbon Street and the sounds of Jazz will wash over you as the deep smells of bread pudding and coffee laced with chicory fill your nose."

The New Orleans that many folks remember and love is still there, although it is harder to find. It is easy to think that everything is fine when you visit but much has changed. For the locals who still live there, basic services are a challenge. Water, electricity, banking, groceries and all the things we take for granted are slow in returning to "normal". There is a staffing shortage and many former residents never returned to the area. New arrivals are filling in the gaps and the new cultural influences on the town will change it too. This is a city in transition.

Some want it to return to the way it was and some want it to become something new. I'm not sure what will happen in the end but I am sure that we need to be willing to visit New Orleans and participate in her recovery. It's the right thing to do.

Who ya gonna call?

We met at Rev. Zombie's Voodoo Shop on St. Peter Street and I knew we were in for a treat. Our guide, Midian, was dressed in leather from head to toe and had the "look". You know, the look that he knows something you don't but if you follow along he will reveal his secrets to you. Well, he did and them some.

The Haunted History walking Ghost Tour in New Orleans, Louisiana is top notch! It is theatrical but not silly and the stories are good for all ages. This is one of the best Ghost Tours I have been on and I would do it again.

Not only did we hear great stories from a great storyteller but halfway through the tour we stopped at the wonderful “Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop” bar where we warmed up and heard tales of hauntings that took place in the building. It is a unsettling with the candlelight in the “actual” location. We even got a creepy Vampire story as a bonus.

The best part is that the tales are told in a "you decide" style for any non-believers in the group. Excellent storytelling sets this tour apart and leaves everyone satisfied. Do you believe?

"Let the good times roll"

The New Orleans Super City Tour is a great way to start your visit in New Orleans, Louisiana. Starting at the river front near the JAX brewery building, you travel in comfortable shuttle buses and learn the amazing history of the Crescent City.

The cultural influences in this area are enormous from the food to the music to the customs. This tour gives you an insiders view of all that is "Nawlin's" and will have you saying "ayeeeee" in no time! (The focus is not on Katrina for this tour since they have a special tour for that but, of course, it is mentioned.)

I really enjoyed hearing about the history of the city and the many countries that influence every facet. A highlight is stopping at St. Louis cemetery #3 for a quick tour. The elaborate sculptures in this above ground graveyard are striking. We talked about Carnival and Mardi Gras, the best places to eat and the state of the City now. Very nice. After this tour, you can explore the city with confidence.

Spirits in the night

A walking Ghost Tour in New Orleans, Louisiana just seems natural. The mood, the buildings, everything works. I'm a fan of Ghost Tours and often learn unexpected history that you don't get on daytime tours.

We started from the JAX brewery building and walked to our first spot at Jackson Square. The guide shared with us the rich history of New Orleans and the triumphs and tragedies that lead many to believe that the town is haunted.

Site after site was revealed to be haunted until you began to feel that every building had a story! Our intrepid guide took us all around the French Quarter until we finished near the Church. We left creepier and wiser than when we started.

Kilroy was here

My Father served as a Marine in World War II.
My Mother was a "Rosie the Riveter" building planes for Airco during the war. They never spoke much about it but I knew they were proud to serve their country.
That is why the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana meant so much to me. It helped me to understand that time in my parents lives and in America's history. It is an important place to visit.
You can't miss the location on Magazine Street right across from a huge mural of the American Flag raising at Iwo Jima. My Uncle Bob was laying communication lines down the other side of the hill when they were raising that flag behind him.
Inside the lobby a great collection of vehicles big and small for land, air and sea are on display. The main building tells the story of World War II from start to finish in vivid detail. There are warnings that some exhibits are not suitable for children. The story must be told, though.
Many Veterans are there. Some rubbing their eyes. Others stand squeezing the hand of the person next to them. Most are alone and silent, taking in the exhibits. I think of my parents and the reality of War. The times that forged their personalities. The experiences that changed their lives. I feel that I understand them better now. Kilroy was indeed here.

"I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome . . . "

"There are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples." - Bram Stoker
New Orleans, Louisiana is a perfect setting to talk about Vampires. When I signed up for Haunted History's Vampire Tour I didn't know what to expect. Would a "Vampire" lead the tour? Could I expect Vampires leaping out of the shadows to attack me? Did I have enough garlic?
My fears fluttered into the night as our guide greeted us in front of St. Louis Church dressed in regular clothes and no sharp teeth. This was not too theatrical and very interesting. We learned about the history of Vampires in lore, legend, literature and film. We visited sites where the movie "Interview with a Vampire" was filmed. We heard tales of New Orleans incidents that many consider evidence that vampires do exist.
In the end, I was entertained, delighted and just a little creeped out. I started back to my hotel alone as a light mist of rain started. Could Vampires be real I thought turning down Pirate's Alley? Really, some of the local stories were very disturbing. Shadowy figures, unsolved murders, dark alleys...then I heard the footsteps behind me.

Something's fishy

The Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans, Louisiana is right on the Riverwalk near the French Quarter. Great jellyfish displays and shark exhibits! An IMAX theater just adds to the experience.

The layout is designed for exploring and surprises come around every corner. Like the Mississippi exhibit. It is easy to miss tucked back behind the gift shop but a must do. You are greeted by a large white alligator and the whole area is designed to resemble the bayou. Native fish of all sizes and shapes can be seen and it is interesting to find out what is under the river (or under your feet!) Very prehistoric. Don't forget to look up.

One of my favorite areas is the Rain forest. Tree houses, waterfalls, parrots and lush greenery fill your senses here. Something is definitely fishy here.

Zoo me

The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans looks great, post-Katrina, and you can see that lots of work has been done. From the moment you are greeted by a flock of Flamingos at the entrance to the instant you see the White Tiger lounging in the sun, you are hooked!

This is a place you can spend the day and I really enjoyed the effort they made to recreate the geographic environments of the animals. Native Statues, Asian shrines, Mayan temples in the Jungle and Bayou houses on the swamp all add to the atmosphere and make you feel immersed in the origins of the species. The roaming peacocks were a favorite of mine. You can truly lose yourself in this wonderful place in New Orleans.

Trying to recover

(Heavy Sigh...) If touring the results of a natural disaster can be done tastefully, then the Hurricane Katrina Tour in New Orleans, Louisiana has managed it. I won't pretend that it was easy to hear the stories and see the damage but the guide was respectful and compelling. We travelled to the hardest hit areas and heard the very personal stories of hardship and recovery. This tour is a good reminder of how quickly your life can change. It is a tribute to the folks who are helping New Orleans recover. It is a testament to the residents who didn't give up or give in. Less than two years after Katrina much has been done and there is much work still. I'm glad I was able to see it...