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  • Writer's pictureAnne B 10milesfrom

Big Trip 2024 - The USA Part 1 - Los Angeles and New Orleans

So, suddenly and sadly, our time in Australia is over. The location of our very convenient air bnb meant we could walk the 15 minutes to the International terminal which involved crossing Cooks river. It was quite strange walking into such a major airport!  Ahead was the longest flight of our trip...14 hours to Los Angeles. Thanks to our amazing round the world ticket, we were in Business Class and had a lie flat bed, and lots of bedding. Chris seemed very far away, so I had to throw things at him if I needed to talk to him!

We also had the very bizarre experience of leaving Sydney at 10.20 am on Tuesday February 27th... when we were 11 hours ahead of the UK! We then flew for 13.5 hours and landed in LA at 06.05 am.... on Tuesday February 27th!! And were then be 9 hours behind the UK!! How strange is that? All because we cross the International date line! We then had a 12 hour layover in Los Angeles which has no left luggage facilities!

Well, suffice it to say that the flight was fine, the bed was very comfortable... but we hardly slept at all! I watched 2 films and then discovered the Hugh Laurie drama 'House'. 5 episodes later and we were there. We actually landed at 5.35am and were held on the plane because Customs don't start work until 6.00am! Current tally 18 hours without sleep. We were through customs by 7.00, so breakfast first, and now we needed a plan to keep us busy, and that would work with us towing our suitcases!! We called an Uber taxi and went to the Peterson Automobile Museum, which had left luggage facilities. Sorted!

Founded in 1994 by a magazine publisher with a passion for cars, and particularly Porsche, the exhibits were beautifully displayed in themed galleries, including the history of the Motor Car, a Porsche gallery, concept cars, and Cars from Movies.

So here is a quiz for you. Name the TV programme or film that these vehicles were from! Answers at the end of the blog!

There was also an interesting exhibition about the relationship between black people and the motor car. Black people often learned to drive because segregation meant they couldn't travel on public transport, and it highlighted The Negro Motorist's Green Book, first published in 1936, which was a directory of garages, cafes, hotels, shops and businesses that were friendly towards black people on the road. The building itself was quite striking too!

Next, another Uber taxi through the LA traffic and just out of town to the entrance plaza for the Getty Museum. This had lockers for our cases, then we boarded a tram to take us up to the modern buildings high on the hill.

The home of J. Paul Getty's art collection since 1997, it was purpose built, with sweeping views and interesting gardens.

Also a great cafe for lunch. Awake now 24 hours! It is not a vast museum, but does contain works by most of the great masters.

We joined a Collection highlights tour, which turned out to be an art appreciation tour. The guide picked just 6 or 7 works, and invited us to think about each one in different ways.

Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach around 1520. Why have they both got apples? What is the significance of their hair styles? Why is Adam scratching his head? And, most importantly... if they were the first humans, why have they got tummy buttons?!! We certainly understood a lot more about art, it's symbolism and hidden meanings by the end. Brilliant. The gardens are interesting too, containg sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and others.

We particularly liked the Cactus gardens. I should point out that the Galleries, gardens, tours and tram are all free! Time was running out, so another Uber was called to return us to the airport for our 18.40 flight to New Orleans, which is another 2 hours behind on time! We landed at 12.40am and arrived at our hotel in the heart of the old French quarter at 1.30am.The Villa Convento is an old french colonial house which was once a boarding house, and then had a chequered career as a brothel! During this time it is said to have been the influence for the Animal's song House of the Rising Sun! It is now a family run, friendly hotel and very well positioned.

We got to bed at 2am having been awake 36 hours! A lie in next morning until 8 45, then out to find breakfast at French Toast, around the corner. Great breakfasts, and, even at 9.30am, some amazing Bloody Mary's with olives, chillis and pickles seemed very popular.

This area is perfect for mooching around. Almost every street is full of ornately balconied buildings, and some were still decorated from the renowned Mardi Gras celebrations a few weeks before.

There is an amazing mix of small shops and stalls selling everything from very funky, alternative clothing and Voodoo to high quality art, designer clothing, handbags and jewellery.

Tables were set in the street in case you want to grab a quick tarot or palm reading! And music seeped from everywhere, both live and recorded. Bands and soloists were setting up on pavements, in parks or in cafes and bars. It wasn't just Jazz. Most genres were represented!

Overall the quality was really great. We had just 2 days here, and spent quite a bit of time walking around soaking up the atmosphere! This is the Catholic Cathedral of St Louis which was dedicated in 1793 and is one of the oldest cathedrals in the USA. It had the most beautiful ceilings, and contained a copy of the cathedral's beautiful 13th century illustrated bible that once belonged to King Louis IX.

At 11.00am we had a date with a jazz cruise on the only genuine steam paddle steamer on the Mississippi. It had to be done! This ship, the Natchez IX was built in 1975 in a line of Natchez ships that once carried cotton.

The Mississippi is navigable inland by a small vessel as far as Minneapolis, and through the Illinois connection to the Great Lakes, over 1000 miles! The Mississippi River system is the 3rd biggest in the world. Its total length is 2340 miles and 65% of the United States water drains into it. Incredibly, 1 million cubic feet of water per second flow into the Gulf of Mexico, and 400,000,000 tons of silt are moved by its water each year. There are 20 miles of wharves, but many of the wooden ones were burned in a fire during hurricane Katrina. All along the banks are 17 feet high Levees built with rocks known as Riff Raff, from 'up north'. New Orleans is actually below sea level, so it has 100 pumping stations. It is still a very active port. The Domino Sugar factory has been operating over 100 years. Huge container ships visit, and I finally learned what the big Bulbous bow is for! It reduces the wake and effects a 12% reduction in fuel costs!

The steam powered engines in the ship were taken in their entirety from the steamboat Clairton and they were built in 1907. We were able to go down to the engine room to watch the engines and paddle in action. These days the power comes from oil, burned in the 2 huge boilers.

We were welcomed aboard by a small jazz band who were playing traditional New Orlean's jazz  that Chris really likes, and he thought they were very good. It was a bit too trumpety for me, heathen that I am! As we pulled away from the Dock, I could almost hear Paul Robeson singing Old man River! The 2 hours was divided between an excellent commentary on the history and development of the river, and the jazz band playing. There was an optional buffet lunch, but we have decided to go out for dinner and brave the night life, but of course Chris sampled the ale! We were slightly concerned about the 120 life jackets above our heads, apparently released by one string! Drowning in a sea of lifejackets!

Following the excellent steamboat trip we walked, popping into the rotating Carousel Bar, admiring the tiled Street signs and the statue of Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans.

Next we caught a street car to the Garden District, an area of beautiful houses mostly built in the 19th. We followed a heritage trail and learned about the grand Lafayette cemetery. All the graves are above can't dig down because you hit water! Some of the celebrities who have homes here include Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt, Nicholas Cage and John Goodman. Some of the houses are shotgun houses, which are built so that, whatever size the house, the back door is in line with the front door, so if you fired a gun straight into one, the bullet would leave through the other!

Another streetcar back into the city centre and we visited Sarazec distillery. This is a must visit. It is completely free, and you go on an excellent self guided tour telling you about the history of the family whose ancestors were Cognac producers in 17th century France. In New Orleans, they invented a special drink with a secret recipe called Peychaud's bitters, in the late 1800's. They combined that with alcohol to create the first cocktails which became all the rage! One family member made a herbal variant using absinthe, which was banned. He learned how to make Pastis while stationed in France in WW1, and he used this instead! Their products were pushed underground by prohibition, but the company survived. They now distill Rum on site, and still make all their cocktail mixes. When you arrive you are given a wristband. All through the tours are staff at little bars, and at each one, if you scan your wrist band, you get a little sample of a different drink or cocktail. Then you can have a card with the recipe, all free! And, incredibly, the prices in the shop were very reasonable!

A quick freshen up and then we head out to a local restaurant to try to dodge the really hot chillis!! Gumbo was packed and we had a traditional meal - we have tried to eat only local food at every stage of our trip!

The food was really tasty, but our advice if you come here is to have the tiniest taste of any sauces or dips that are offered. To the waiter they are 'not very spicy'. If you aren't used to hot chilli, your tongue and throat feel on fire, sweat pours down your face and you are sure steam is coming out of your ears! There are plenty of dishes which aren't spicy though.  I adored the blackened fish, coated in a peppery rub, but no chilli's. Then, we headed to Frenchman street, the centre of the Jazz clubs. It was a Tuesday night, and the low season, so quite quiet. Did I say quiet? The clubs that were open were all emitting music from live bands at a very high volume! All really good, with the genre ranging from Blues - Jazz - Bebop - Rock!  The option is either to pay a cover charge to get in, or they have a 'buy one drink' policy. We listened to a few good bands before our jet lag caught up, and we headed back to the House of the Rising Sun!!

Our 2nd day started with a bus ride to the National World War 2 Museum. It wasn't cheap, but they have certainly created an excellent museum experience, chronicling America's involvement in WW2. We were astonished at how few military resources the USA had prior to the war. This chart showed the relative strength of Japan, USA and Germany!

We particularly enjoyed the exhibition on the attitudes of the American people to joining the war, and the one on the War in the Pacific, where we both learned so much that we had no idea about. For the first 18 months, the majority opposed the war. That gradually changed, and the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour changed everything. Once they got involved, production of war equipment was incredible.

There were excellent sections on the Holocaust, and a reconstruction of Anne Frank's house and story, and also one about the more millions of Artworks 'stolen' during the war, and the role of the 'Monuments men*' in finding over 1 million of them. * Many of the men were women!!

Another highlight was a 40 minute film, narrated and directed by Tom Hanks called Beyond Boundaries, about the US involvement. It was a 4D experience, and very well done. The seats shook when the bombs dropped, or the torpedoes hit, and we were machine gunned at one point! I was next to a school group of teenage boys, and several of them were wiping away tears at certain points. I would like to have hidden under the seat at times, but I thought that might let the side down! He mentioned the concept of people  who believe in freedom and democracy fighting the tyrannies, and related it to the terrible situations in the world today which was so pertinent. We thought it was an excellent museum, from a very American perspective, but we thought there could be more acknowledgement of the vital role and sacrifice of the many countries in the Allied forces that were crucial to the final victory in Europe.

A quick loo stop and then another bus to the Treme area of town to visit the very unusual Treme petit Jazz museum. The door opened into the front room of a house which was full of papers books, instruments and photos. A group of 10 people were already there, sitting in a circle, and the lovely Al greeted us with 'Do you play piano?' We didn't think chopsticks really counted, so he was disappointed when we said No as he was hoping for an impromptu jamming session! He is a jazz historian and grew up in that street. Al then told us the history of Jazz and how, over hundreds of years, influences from European, African and South and central american music,m combined to produce blues, and jazz, samba, salsa etc and then continued to morph into bebop and Rock and Roll.

His 2 rooms were full of old cassette and cd players, and each one played a clip of the type of music he was talking about. Black musicians were not allowed to perform in white bands, or in many venues.

The first company to license black musicians was here in New Orleans, and he had some of their first licences on the wall, allowing them to perform. Who can you recognise? There were also licenses for Ike and Tina Turner, and Louis Armstrong. Al was so interesting. He explained the origins of marching bands, which came from German immigrant soldiers in the 1800s, which combined with parades and street dancing in New Orleans to produce the famed Mardi Gras parades, and party atmosphere that exists today. We learned so much in a brilliantly laid back way!

We just had time for one more hidden gem, the Hermann-Grima house. This is a large house, built in 1831 in the centre of the French quarter. The guided tour is from the point of view of the enslaved persons that would have worked there. Our guide was from an enslaved family, and was so passionate about the stories he told. There were so many things we had no idea about.

Slaves were bought and sold as a commodity. If a female slave had a child that child became the property of the slave owner, and they could sell them when they reached an appropriate age... say 10 or 12! They would not be taught to read and write because the authorities thought they were more likely to rebel if they were educated. However they were often trained in laundry skills, gardening etc as slaves with this training could be sold for much more! The 2 most horrific facts were that after the slave trade was stopped, people still continued to keep slaves, but no new ones were arriving, so in some Southern states, women were kept on slave farms purely to produce children which could be trained and sold into slavery. They were known as Slave farms. Louisiana, this state, actually allowed slave owners to grant their slaves their freedom earlier than many others, but this was a double edged sword. Yes you had your freedom, but if you tried to leave, had nowhere to go, you could be instantly arrested for vagrancy, so many slaves stayed with their families anyway.

Our last evening was spent walking through legendary Bourbon Street. This is the heart of the club and bar seen that probably attracts a slightly younger crowd than Frenchman Street, and has a wider range of music. There was a lot more rock music! We were heading for another busy local restaurant, Olde Nola, where we had another great meal. Walking back, there were so many people getting ready to party the night away. You never know what you will see in the doorways!

This city is party central with so much heritage, but it pays the price. A lot of homeless people, drug culture and associated crime, and many sore heads and groggy people in the mornings. However the french quarter is policed well, and felt quite safe. Definitely a place to visit. Chris and I agreed it was 'Edgy' but great.

How do we follow that? Watch this space! Phew!

Answers to the Quiz!


1. Herbie

2 .The Bat Mobile

3. Starsky and Hutch