Saturday, May 7, 2011


I started my New Orleans trip by taking a ride on the St Charles Ave streetcar from The French Quarter, through The Garden District, into Uptown and beyond!  As we passed down the tree lined street that perfectly shaded the elegant houses behind them you couldn’t help but be reminded of Mardi Gras.  There were thousands of strands of beads still hanging in the trees, wrapped around power lines and dangling from the street signs.  Some people had even decorated their wrought iron fences by wrapping the beads around them in an intricate pattern, perfectly symmetrical on either side of the fence.

My visit to the Lower Ninth Ward which got hit the worst by Hurricane Katrina was eye opening.  Hearing the stories and being reminded of how many people died in this horrific event, in their attics while trying to escape to higher ground and in their homes where they thought they were safe only to have them washed away while they were still inside, was heartbreaking.  The houses that remained still have debris on their roofs left behind when the water finally retreated.  Some houses have large holes in the wall or the ceiling is completely imploded, clear that it had taken a vicious blow from a car, a truck, another house or a boat that had crashed into it.  There were eerie spray-painted markings on the houses, put there by the rescue workers indicating how many bodies were found inside. 
Few homes have been rebuilt because the insurance money never came through and these people literally have nothing left.  When the hurricane hit life stopped for weeks – there was no electricity, no air conditioning, no debit cards, no money, no communication systems, no way to find out if your relatives from across town were alive or dead.  Can you even imagine?  18,000 lives lost – 15,000 in the lower ninth ward alone.  On a much more positive note Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation has made huge strides in turning these people’s lives around.  The only pre-requisite to receiving a new energy efficient, flood resistant home is that you lived in the lower ninth ward before Katrina hit.  These houses are really neat, complete with solar panels and water absorbent cement.
Speaking of Brad Pitt, I stopped by his and Angelina Jolie’s house in The French Quarter but they weren’t home.  Darn!  I also stopped by Sandra Bullock’s house in The Garden District but she wasn’t home either.  But she does live in a gorgeous neighborhood.  The Garden District has big, fancy, historic homes, lots of flowers and greenery, and wide streets with low hanging trees that meet in the middle.  Every street you turn down is just as nice, if not nicer, than the previous one!
The food.  Oh good Lord, the food!  Wonderful!  I never knew I liked southern cooking until now.  From the jambalaya to the beignets, and the creamy red beans and rice to the po’ boys, there’s some good eatin’ to be done down here in good ol’ Nawlins!  I bought some southern spices and such and am anxious to try to recreate these amazing dishes at home!
The French Quarter is something else.  While I ate on the balcony of a restaurant on Bourbon St a random jazz band marched beneath me playing, gathering participants along the way who danced and followed along with them.  The guitar player from the club across the street brought his electric guitar and microphone out into the streets to liven things up.  The Lucky Dog vending carts were out in full force on every corner.  The streets were blocked off as evening approached and people spilled out into the streets hoping from one bar to another.  The neon lights from the signs shown bright beckoning you in to see what was going on.  Music filled the streets and everyone, and I mean everyone, proudly carried a drink in their hands down the street.  The street cafes are always packed with people listening to the various jazz or blues bands playing either across the street or in the cafĂ© themselves.  I loved the energy!
I took a leisurely cruise down the Mississippi River on the Creole Queen, a fancy paddlewheeled riverboat.  New Orleans is the only city that is split by the Mississippi.  In all other places throughout the country the river acts as a state or city border.  The cruise took me to the Chalmette Battlefield, which was super thrilling because you know me and battlefields.  I just can’t get enough!  (I really hope you noted the sarcasm!)  There are reminders of the hurricane everywhere, especially along the river where there are docks still standing…just barely.
 The people of New Orleans are fiercely loyal to their city and are proud of how they’ve rebounded after the disaster that affected nearly every resident’s life in 2005.  What a city!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


One of the things I loved most about Nashville was that music was everywhere!  And not just country music either, there was bluegrass, rock and roll, pop, blues, opera and jazz coming out of the speakers on the streets, filtering out the doors of the dozens of live music bars, restaurants and hotels, coming from the many street musicians and from the droves of struggling musicians playing in the yard of my hostel.  The Second Fiddle, The State, BB King’s Blues Bar and Cadillac Ranch are just a few of the places featuring live music at all hours of the day. It’s not uncommon to see cars from California, Iowa, Florida and all over packed full of all one’s possessions as they packed up and came to Nashville to try to get discovered as the next big country star.
No visit to Nashville is complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.  I had no idea that the shows at the Grand Ole Opry are broadcast on radio, 650 AM, and have been for 85 years!  Every Friday and Saturday night and some Tuesdays you can tune in, or log in to's live stream, and eavesdrop on what is going on in this fabulous venue!  I took a backstage tour and walked the path that the greats have walked to their dressing rooms, waiting room and right out onto the stage.  My tour group stood at the microphone at center stage, on the famous circle of the stage from the original Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, and sang our little hearts out to an auditorium full of 4,400 empty seats.  We didn’t sound very good, and the song was “You Are My Sunshine” (not exactly a country classic), but it was a pretty awesome feeling to get a small glimpse into what it must feel like for the stars.  I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I had a tear in my eye while I stood there looking around, taking it all in and imagining what it would be like to be Carrie Underwood.  Could this be a sign that singing and performing is in my future?  In my dreams yes, but in reality no.  I can’t carry a tune to save my life!  That night I watched lots of country music legends (i.e. they were so old I had never heard of them) perform and John Michael Montgomery and Montgomery Gentry!

Next up was a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame where I spent 3 hours and was being ushered out of the place before I knew it because it was closing time.  The building alone is really neat, which even all you non-country fans could appreciate.  It’s designed so that when seen from above it looks like a giant treble clef, the windows are designed to look like piano keys, the four discs of varying sizes on top of the building represent a CD, a 45 record, a 78 record and a LP, and the angle of one of the corners of the building is designed to be the exact angle on a fin of a 1950s Cadillac as a homage to Elvis Presley.  The building is filled with memorabilia and exhibits about country music throughout the years, on radio, on TV and LIVE.  I loved it!
Honky Tonk Row in downtown Nashville is Nashville’s Vegas Strip.  It’s filled with music venues, bars, cowboy-wear stores, restaurants, neon lights, huge signs and tons of fun!  It extends right out to the Cumberland River which famously overflowed its banks and caused so much destruction in the city just one year ago.  The city has rebounded and is working hard to repair the damage that remains, like Opry Mills Mall which is still closed with no expected re-opening date.  Next door to that the amazing Opryland Resort is up and running again and more glorious than ever.  It’s a 4.5 acre resort filled with indoor gardens and waterfalls, grand atria, a river complete with a boat, restaurants, and elegant balconies off the most expensive rooms overlooking it all.  It really was quite spectacular.  On my last day in Nashville I went on the Nash Trash Tour, a hilarious and bizarre musical comedy tour through Nashville’s top sites.  The Jugg Sisters are so entertaining and quick witted.  It was the perfect way to end my Nashville jaunt.