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Sunday, June 1, 2014


The skies were clear and the weather was warm on Friday morning, prior to Memorial Day.  Our flights were on time, according to the latest update on the website, and Samantha had gone home to pick up Edward so that they could go out for dinner after depositing us at the airport.  We were going to leave the office at 5pm, and the roads had been quite clear, so it was possible for us to get through security and have time for a leisurely snack before boarding.  

At 4pm the clouds had started to gather in force and within five minutes huge raindrops were performing pirouettes a foot off the ground.  The call from Samantha was not unexpected.  As I have said before, we are confident that the 'slow down' of Austin traffic during rain is because no one remembers where their windscreen wiper switch is located, and they have to stop to find them.  Unfortunately, no one pulls over to the side, they just stop in the middle of the highway.  The traffic jams had started to form, and they had just left their home. The second call from Samantha was not unexpected.  As the driver stops to find his windscreen wiper switch, the driver behind him does the same thing, forgetting that the roads are now wet and slippery, and that there is a vehicle in front!  The pile up caused a line of traffic to form about two miles away from the office, and there was not a viable alternative route!  We were going to be late leaving the office!  I sat patiently in my chair for approximately two minutes, then went into Dana's room, where I sat patiently in a chair for two minutes, then went into Samantha's room.  The pattern continued. 

Once on the road, the various routes to the airport were discussed.  Edward was accessing the app that told him where the traffic was at its worst.  Various drivers were posting what was happening, and where.  'There are black clouds but no rain yet', Edward posted as we sat in a long queue waiting for the lights to turn green.  'It's raining on Lamar', he posted, as the lights changed from green back to red.  This did nothing to ease my anxiety,  nor did the fact that the next post was someone letting us know that all routes to the airport showed traffic at a standstill! 

Arriving with just under an hour before our flight was not too much of a problem.  The line to go through security was not as long as we had expected, and I did not have to use my 'get through quick' card.  Dana stood in line at the food stop and didn't know whether to pay for the sandwiches for our flight picnic or just give them the shirt on his back!  The ground crew were very obliging, and as the flight was not full, changed our seats to the exit row, looking at my husband's 6'4 stature and confirming that he was probably tall enough to complete the tasks in an emegency, if needed.  This made it a very comfortable first leg of the journey. The flight crew were also very pleasant.  On hearing my accent, I was asked if I was 'going home'.  The steward appeared almost relieved, when he found out I was not having to fly across the Atlantic.  I wondered if he had somehow mistaken me for his ward, and been expected to accompany me on my long journey!  We arrived early in Atlanta and took the shuttle to the next gate, and headed to the back of the aircraft for our next flight.  I called Samantha to let her know we were heading out on the second leg, and how I was having to adjust to the 'time difference'!  My phone had informed me that we were now in a different time zone.  However, the quick flight back to the Louis Armstrong, New Orleans International Airport, put us back into the Central time zone, and my comments of how I was suffering from jet lag, when I let Samantha know we had arrived safely, fell on deaf ears.  It appears that this 'old chestnut', has run its course!

We exited the main terminal and walked along the path to the car rental building.  The young man behind the desk appeared ready to go home, and was not particularly patient with us.  He could not understand why we found it so difficult to decide whether to pay the extra for an 'additional driver'.  "Do you want it, or not?  It's only $33!"  I resisted telling him what $33 could buy in 'my day', as he appeared to be rather fraught.  The midnight hour had come and gone and we were well on our way to the the first.  Perhaps he had experienced more than one person question the 'extras'.  The advantage of arriving late at the car rental facility, is that they have normally run out of economy cars, and we are given the choice of the leftovers.  We drove out in a very comfortable Chevrolet Impala, and arrived outside the International House Hotel just before 1am.  The streets were narrow, and the 'garage' parking did not seem to exist.  Dana telephoned the hotel, and the receptionist told us to 'back up' into a space that had just been vacated, and someone would take care of the car.   The hotel lobby looked as though it was something out of the 1800's.  There were hundreds of white candles burning.  Up until now, I have enjoyed the aroma of 'white linen', but in small doses!  The overpowering smell was a little unsettling at first, but soon diminished into a pungent odour!  Upon closer inspection, the furniture had not been covered with 'dust sheets', but with carefully designed white covers, which merely resembled 'dust sheets'.  I began to wonder if we would have been better going to a less exotic location such as La Quinta, which was next door, and which appeared to have a car park!  'Garage parking is $33 a day', said the receptionist! I resisted telling him what I could buy for $33 a day, and mused at the coincidence. It was as though I had come through the 'Twilight zone' into La Belle Epoque! After all, we were in the middle of the 'French Quarter'!  I looked for posters featuring Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge, with the price tag of $33 but it was not easy to focus through the haze of white linen

Our bedroom was somewhat on the small side, but the bathroom was enormous!  Everything was spotless and there was plenty of wardrobe space.  It was also odourless!  We unpacked, and I fell asleep shortly before the clock struck 2!

Owning a hotel with the name 'International House', and being inthe middle of the 'French Quarter', does not necessarily mean that you are aware of all things International or, indeed, French.  I do not ever recall a 'continental breakfast' consisting of a cup of coffee (or tea) with a banana, apple and cereal bar!  I didn't expect beignets, but even La Quinta have croissants and pastries!  Perhaps the Twilight zone had fast forwarded me to the 1940's, and rationing!  However, we were not perturbed as we wished to venture out and taste some local cuisine!  Since the closure of the original 'La Madeleine' (a French cafe that we frequent on occasion in Austin) we looked for the next best thing.  Cafe Du Monde had a queue which appeared to be never ending, so we continued on our way.  On a small island which separated the road, stood a very popular looking eatery, that offered breakfast, al fresco!  We were handed a menu, and kindly, but very firmly advised, 'we do not sell beignets!'  We replied, 'not a problem!'.  The bill was less than $33, and the breakfast was quite delicious! 

The cruise along the Mississippi River would take two hours.  Although a trip on an old fashioned steam boat seemed like it might be enjoyable, the thought of the calliope playing for the entire trip was enough to sway me against boarding!  Instead, we sat by a nearby gazebo and watched those who did not appear to have the same aversion, stroll along the gangplank.  As 'Daisy, daisy', blasted from the pipes, the sound of bicycle bells overtook.  A convey of two wheelers, with a couple of tandems, came at full speed down the incline, and circled the gazebo.  The first two cycles were ridden by what appeared to be a bride and groom, followed by an array of strangely attired people.  We found ourselves guests at an outdoor wedding!  The bride dismounted and welcomed her bridesmaids, while the groom met with his entourage at the back of the stand.  They waited for the minister, who doubled up as the videographer, and we sat watching them get into position, and wait for the steamboat to leave port as the pipes were still whistling above a level where the minister (who had handed her camera to another guest) could be heard!

We left the ceremony before the vows were exchanged, and had a cup of coffee in the well air conditioned casino, before walking along Bourbon Street, and the other narrow thoroughfares, which were somewhat deserted due to the hour of the day.  We returned to the hotel, where the candles had been extinguished and the coffee removed.  Saturday was a day for relaxation, and recuperation.  Dana rested his (recovering) gout ridden foot, and I attempted to enjoy a peaceful afternoon, doing very little, before getting ready to go to dinner.  As we were travelling with hand luggage only, I had suggested Dana not pack a suit jacket, as it would be somewhat crumpled by the time it was unpacked.  Most of the restaurants around required a jacket, so we were limited as to our choice on Saturday night.  The casino buffet did not have such a requirement, and as they were offering 'surf and turf', (Dana's anti-gout diet was going on its own vacation!) we opted for the 'old faithful'.  Food is normally of good quality at the casino buffets, and of course, plentiful!  The price was 'a mere $33'! 

After stuffing ourselves with prime rib, turkey, and too many desserts, we walked back to the hotel, which was once again plunged back into the nineteenth century.  Escaping the 'white linen overdose', we took the elevator to the fifth floor and entered our room, where we made plans for our big day out!

The receptionist had advised us to call 20 minutes prior to needing our car, as the attendants had several hotels to service.  Dana called down around 7:30 on Sunday morning, and at 7:35, we received a call to say that our comfy ride was outside the front door!  I had been downstairs to claim two cups of coffee, and returned in a thoroughly depressed state, as the lobby was filled heavily with the sound of the blues!  We made use of our enormous bathroom, and were ready to start our day a little before 8am!  The sound of a southern gentleman bemoaning (or bewailing) his fate was still echoing throughout the reception area, as we collected a banana for the first part of our trip, and we left not knowing if his woman ever returned to find him wallowing in self pity!  However, we were in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and despite wanting to burst into tears, I was thoroughly enjoying the experience! 

Making the most of our $33 surcharge for the car, I drove out of town, beside, and then over the various interchanges of the Mississippi River, until I claimed my 43rd State!  I had made it to Mississippi!  After the obligatory picture of me standing under the sign, Dana reluctantly stood with his hand on his head, in a 'woe is me' posture, as I, the alien, went one state ahead of him in the count!  The coast along Long Beach, and into Gulfport was magnificent.  We stopped at the 'Welcome Center', and picked up a map.  The two women who were manning the facility appeared not to be at ease with each other, but were both very friendly towards us.  One was local, whilst the other had been married to a member of the military, and had lived in many parts of the country.  Dana commented that years ago, before they moved the Interstate 'up a few blocks', the I-10 had run along the coast, and was interrupted by several traffic lights, thus making the last part of his journey, from Texas to Alabama, rather inefficient!  The local lady said that she was unaware of the Interstate being anywhere other than its current location, and Dana commented that she was obviously not as old as he!  The other lady announced, 'Oh yes she is!', at which time we Dana and I looked at her, quizzically!  The local lady sent daggers forth from her eyes!  In an attempt to redeem herself, and let us know that wasn't what she meant to say, the other lady added insult to injury, by announcing, 'she is much younger than she looks!'  We left the two ladies to their new argument, and failed apologies by one, trying to explain that was not what she meant!

Breakfast was at the Waffle House.  Although a chain, and not what one might consider to be 'authentic local cuisine', I had never eaten at a Waffle House!  The other advantage was that it was directly opposite the most beautiful stretches of white sandy beach!  We enjoyed steak and eggs, with grits and toast, and then drove across the road to a lay by, where there was one other car.  The beach was almost deserted.  A young couple with three children were about a hundred yards away from us, and another couple arrived shortly after us.  We wadded in the sea for about half an our, and sat watching the waves softly caress the sand.  It was very calming and beautiful.  As it was approaching midday and the temperature was rising, we made our way back to the car, where I turned on the computer and 'checked in' for our flight home the following day.  Our short get away just got better, as we had 'exit row' seats for the first leg, and had been upgraded to first, albeit for a thirty minute flight, from Houston to Austin!  Quite satisfied with the results and with the anxiety level having dropped again, (if I don't check in exactly 24 hours before my flight, my issues start to surface, and all sorts of nonsensical ideas fill my head, the best of which are that we will not get any seat on the plane.  I am very 'broken'!)  I drove on to Alabama! 

The Welcome Center had been moved, to fifteen miles along the Highway!  Apparently, the former facility was undergoing some sort of 'subsidence' repair work, and the nearest place available to welcome those to the 'Beautiful' State, was quite a distance from the boarder.  However, we made the detour and got a map from the very helpful employee!  It appeared that we were a little less than an hour away from Pensacola, and the Floridia coast!

Crossing the Floridian line was rather exciting.  Although I have visited the state on more than one occasion, and have visited places other than where the giant rodent and his canine friends formally reside, I never thought I would actually get to drive across the state line.  Dana did not understand the attraction, although Samantha appreciated my excitement!  We did not, however, venture into Pensacola, nor did we have time to travel down and seek out the said rodent and his canine friends, a trip that would have undoubtedly bored my husband to tears!  Instead, we headed back along the Interstate, back into Alabama, through Mississippi , where we stopped in Biloxi, for another paddle, and strolled along the beach.  The tide had gone out and the sand banks (bars) were quite prolific.  The sea was still calm, and very warm.  Reluctantly, we walked up the white beach, brushed off the sand and got back into the car, Louisiana bound, back to the French Quarter and the White Linen reception! 

Our choices for dinner were, once again, limited.  We had seen a couple of restaurants that looked promising, when we had walked on Saturday, but they were closed on Sunday evening.  The very helpful receptionist called over to one of his favourite haunts, where 'no jacket was required', but they were fully booked until 9:30.  However, we could take our chances that there would be places at the bar, and order from the full menu.  We dressed as 'up' as we could, and walked the two blocks to the restaurant.  'Luke' was full!  The couple who entered before us were not made aware of the 'bar' situation, and left when hearing that a table would probably not become vacant before 9:30!  There were no seats at the bar, and the hostess could not say when they would become available.  "Most people 'loiter', and enjoy the atmosphere!" she exlaimed, proudly  However, within seconds of her giving us a virtual 'no way' speech, two people hoped off their stools, and made their way to the exit.  'The flash' could not have been faster than me, and before Dana could say, 'oh well', I was seated and beckoning him to join me at the counter. 

The menu was amazing!  The prices were less than $33 for an entree!  This must be 'the place to eat'!  The couple next to us were sampling each of the appetisers, an experience they enjoy every Memorial Day weekend!  Dana and I shared the 'Chicken and Rabbit pate', with various relish accompaniments.  My main course was duck with an orange coulis, and more conscious of what he 'should and shouldn't' eat, Dana chose chicken. We chatted to our neighbours, on either side, and discussed the food with relish (both verbal and edible!)  It was well worth the dash to claim the bar stools, as we were also able to witness the barmen (and women) mixing cocktails and the like!  We left quite content and walked back along to Canal Street, where we had coffee and chocolate cake in one of the hotels, as the cafes were either closed, or full with dinner patrons!

Monday morning came all too soon.  We breakfasted at the Ruby Slipper, which was opened after the Hurricane Katrina, and named in honour of the quote from Wizard of Oz, 'There is no place like home'.  Apparently, (and I apologise if I do not have this quite right) the owners, after being forced out by the great storm, wanted to build their restaurant, in New Orleans, their home, as there is 'no place like home'.   Breakfast was southern.  Eggs, Sausage, biscuits and gravy, grits, and fried green tomatoes!  Very agreeable!  Paying a little less than $33, we left and went back to the hotel to 'order' the car.  It arrived just as we checked out, and Dana drove to the airport.  Our first flight was on time, which was fortunate as we had a small window of time to make our second one out of Houston.  As we reached the gate, we were greeted with the news that Austin was 'grounded'.  Apparently, it had been hit by a stream of violent storms and flights were going neither in nor out.  After an hours delay we were allowed on board, and we took up our very comfortable seats, and I ordered my Baileys on the rocks!  We sat, and waited for 'lift off'.  I am not sure whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that the trip took longer than expected.  Due to the storms, we were going to have to re-route, which would make the journey home around ninety minutes instead of thirty.  We had to return to the gate to refuel, and then wait for a gap in the procedure to take off!  Dana reclined in his rather large, comfy seat, and fell asleep while we were waiting.  During the flight he had enough time to watch a full movie, and enjoy a couple glasses of cranberry juice, in a real glass.  Fortunately, he did not think it was an unfortunate turn of events!  Samantha on the other hand was ten minutes from the airport when I called to say we had been turned back to the gate!  However, she returned to pick us up when we exited the airport in a now, very dry, Austin! 

It was a fabulous weekend, and despite my observances about the hotel, it was extremely comfortable, and very authentic.  I would return, although I think my comments on the relevant 'page' would be to perhaps revise the 'breakfast' option!  I slept well in my own bed on Monday night, but was woken around 4am when the storms returned.  They were, it appeared, on their way east, and the residents of, and visitors to, New Orleans would be well advised to take an umbrella on their travels around the city.  We had been very blessed to enjoy the weekend without rain!  Work beckoned on Tuesday morning, and I was already thinking ahead to ...... another story!

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