The St James Hotel was located just ten minutes away from the French Quarter. First impression was that it was dated, tired looking and over the course of the next few days, the impression didn’t change. A far cry from the Sheraton in Memphis but the staff were lovely. Warm, friendly, helpful. I checked in after the long excursion, showered and with the night still young headed out for something to eat and a first look at the city known as the Big Easy, the Crescent City, take your pick. With a trip on the Mississippi steamboat booked for next day I decided to seek out the quay and ticket office to exchange my voucher and save a bit of time in the morning. If i thought the humidity was awful in Memphis, New Orleans was a couple of notches higher! Barely had I walked twenty yards and my shirt was sticking to my back. Not far short of unbearable.
Maybe it was because I was shattered but New Orleans seemed confusing, roads going off in every direction. The receptionist in the hotel had gave me a map and pointed out where I would find the ticket office, but it still took time of going in circles to get my bearings. Finally I saw it and was relieved to find they were still handing tickets out. Mission accomplished I looked for a bar and some food. Right opposite the Steamboat ticket office was the Crescent City Bar, right by the famous Jackson Square and Brewery. Which I have to admit, I had no idea about. Famous? It’s in acknowledgement of General Andrew Jackson who led the Yankees to victory over the British in the infamous Battle of New Orleans. Lionised in song by Johnny Horton and Lonnie Donegan. ‘In 1814, I took a little trip…along the mighty river they called the Mississip..’
Lonnie’s song was going to be wedged into my head for all of this trip I could see!
The Crescent City Bar was busy, a jazz trio of sax, guitar and double bass entertained whilst I took a pew and ordered a beer and a dish of Brewhouse Shrimp Salad. It was delicious. Music was wonderfully laid back jazz, perfect.
Making my way back to the St. James’ took ages. Turning down side streets and looking for main thoroughfares, the area was quite compact as it happens but with tiredness, drink, it was slightly disorientating. I went into another bar for respite from the humidity and a beer, and to ask the bartender to point me in the direction of my hotel.
The bar was busy and after waiting patiently I gave up. I walked outside, and lo and behold, there was the St James Hotel right opposite! Told you I was knackered! I slept well.
Today was a day I had been looking forward to ever since I booked this trip some months before, a Steamboat River trip on the Mississippi. The heat was suffocating again but rain was forecast so going by that I decided on wearing a light shirt and shorts and I also bought a hat. Queues were forming early for the 11.30am start. I sat under the shelter of trees nearby and waited. The Natchez Riverboat was right out of an old film set, big massive wheel at the back. Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Proud Mary’ suddenly infiltrated my brain..’rollin’, rollin’ rollin on the river..’ Loved that record and Creedence. Saw them at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970 which was a great thrill. However it wasn't Proud Mary or Green River that was blaring out from the boat but a racket which went on for the duration until we sailed. Apparently it was a tradition in the old days when the steamboat was set to sail the captain would turn its’ Calliope, a steam organ on to warn customers of its imminent departure. It is quite enchanting for a while, noisy and fairly melodic and I have to say, after fifteen minutes of it, rather irritating! I joined the queue and got talking to a nice couple from Edinburgh. The chap turned to me and said; “hope this noise isn’t playing for the whole trip!” Unappreciative but it was said lightheartedly.
I had a premium ticket which included a dinner for the two hour trip. The Dining Hall was magnificent. A Creole Jazz combo adding a terrific atmospheric feel to proceedings. The waitresses and bartenders all dressed appropriately in old style costume. I marvelled at it all. It was like being transported back in time to the 1800s or early 1900s. The three course meal was surprisingly good as well. Surprisingly because normally these things are a disappointment but on reflection it wasn’t a Great American Theme Park I was visiting. If you get what I mean. A couple of glasses of Savignon to wash the meal down did the trick too.
Satiated I made my way to the top deck to get a better view of the river and surrounding areas as we sailed past. Clouds were blackening and a cool breeze was getting up which sent a few people into the sanctuary of the bar. The weather didn’t bother me and before long it was lashing down! A few of us sat it out. It was refreshing after the humidity we had been suffering and being an old postman ‘a bit of rain never hurt any twat’, as I used to say. Mind you, when I used to come out with that Sue always used to retort; ‘well what are you moaning about then!’ Funny what memories come into your head at times!
The Captain’s mate or tour guide on the bridge gave a commentary throughout, telling us about the Battle of New Orleans fought out ‘on our left’ and also the area where Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city further down river. That disaster which occurred in 2005 still hangs heavy over the city.
There are some things you only dream about and for me a riverboat trip on the Mississippi was one and I sat taking it all in, the history, the views, could hardly believe I was doing it. In such moments my mind drifts to what Sue would be making of it all if she was here. Not that she would have been envious Sue was quite indifferent to these sort of adventures but I still do wish she was here to share such moments.
The return back to New Orleans was magical. The skyline, the bridge, the great merchant ships slowly ambling their way to their destinations unknown.
While I sat there in a chair by the railings lost in my own little world, the rain became heavier by the second. My thoughts took me to what it must have been like during the hurricane, terrifying beyond belief I should imagine. I mean well over a thousand lost their lives. How do you comprehend that?
Amidst the dark clouds and the squally rain, blue skies tried to pierce through the gloom. Everybody except a handful of us faced it out, the bars on the upper and miship decks were crammed. I took the view that as uncomfortable the rain and wind was, it would soon revert to type and we’d be dry and baking again soon enough. I didn’t want to waste a moment. Coming round the bend in the river to see that marvellous road bridge over the Mississippi was something to savour.
It was soon over and I was back looking for a Blue Moon beer in the Crescent City Bar. Checking the photographs I had taken and savouring the atmosphere. Before heading back to freshen up for the night i called in some souvenir shops to buy T-shirts and a New Orleans mug for my collection. The next couple of days were going to be concentrated on sightseeing and spending time in the French Quarter, and taking in what I came here for. The music.