Here we are, back in France, after almost 100 days of traveling, often full of adventures, sometimes tiring, always wonderful.
Some of you left us a note now and then, and we thank you a lot. Others read assiduously and silently, and we also thank you.
Now that we will close the blog, we would like a trace of each of you, a word telling us you were there, you were following us from home, we met traveling or you landed randomly on our blog looking for tips…
We will leave this space open until the end of December, and then we will archive it, leaving it available for travelers in a shape that still has to be determined.
Now is the time is ask you for a comment, a signature or a novel if you want. It can public, in the comment section, or discreet, by e-mail. We’ve been writing to you all this time, now we want a word from you too !
After a 30-and more hours long journey, 18 of them being delays, we landed in paris. And as everyone knows, landing doesn’t mean being home ! You still have to get through immigration, relatively fast because automated (with only 3 working machines out of 10, welcome back to France !), retrieve our luggage (phew, it’s all there !) and take the region train to the center.
But we’re fine now, we got back our winter clothes (because Paris is cold as hell, it’s quite a shock !) and we are resting (and working on the blog, too).
For those of you that are in Paris, we will leave on Monday morning, so we are available this week-end, text us :). After that, we will be (in that order) in Vendee, Doubs and Jura for the holidays, so if you are around, we can meet !
SECOND SPECIAL EDITION FROM ATLANTA – 7:36 AM local time
To be clear, let’s make a list :
We left Atlanta. We had navigation issues, so once we reached the canadian border (2 hour flights), we turned back (2 hours again).
We landed in Atlanta and waited in the plane while the instruments were checked and repaired (about an hour).
We left Atlanta again. After an hour, the instruments turned out not be repaired. We turned back again, which took an hour and a half (we needed to dump some fuel).
We landed in Atlanta again with the promise that we would be well taken care of, because we deserved it.
We waited for 2 hours with promises of hotels, food, next flights… We heard potential departure times of 7AM, 5PM, 2PM, and now it seems we will leave at 4:30PM. We hope we aren’t getting what we deserve. We also hope they will change the plane this time…
SPECIAL EDITION FROM ATLANTA – 1:30 AM local time
After taking off to Paris and around 2 hours of flight, we’ve been told that we are turning around to change planes, because ours seems to have lost navigation. If we had stayed in the US it would have been fine but apparently, to cross north Atlantic, it’s not. We will arrive much later than anticipated in France, but we don’t know when!
NORMAL EDITION – 10 PM local time
This morning, we packed our bags! Our friend Jeannine gave us one of her old suitcases to transport our surplus (a hammock and a ton of food!) and she was supposed to pick us up for a last tour of Louisiana.
We emptied the fridge, packed our stuff, and in the middle of the morning, the landlady asked us if it was ok if two painters came to repaint the room while we finished. It was strange but they were nice, and meeting them, craftsmen of medium education level and ex-military, made us realize how different our countries are.
When Jeannine arrived, we put our stuff in her car and went for a ride. We saw a few nice neighborhoods and the other side of City Park. Then, we went to see lake Pontchartrain, which is the one that overflowed and flooded during Katrina, because it’s really shallow, and even more, the surface can get pretty windy. We first went on the levies and then on the causeway going right in the middle of it (a few kilometers of plain straight road, from where you can barely see the banks ).
Yes, I know, it’s not really mardi gras, but every tuesday is fat tuesday if you really want it to be ;). And we really wanted it, so we went to the Blaine Kern factory, which produces most props and floats for the krewes who organize parades during the Fat Tuesday season in New Orleans. And between the number of krewes and other contracts with big shots like Disney, the factory is kept busy all year round!
In the warehouse, we walk between heaps of giant props, almost up to the ceiling sometimes. The props are re-used each year, but as the theme of the parades change, they are re-sculpted and repainted (and also repaired, because they often need it !). Among a crocodile and a princess, you might spot an artist working on what might be a future Poseidon
The company also recently bought a warehouse nearby who had been outfitted as a waiting room by a local entrepreneur. Because here in Louisiana it’s forbidden to have a casino on land, they all are on boats on the river. As a boat has a limited capacity, this entrepreneur wanted to have a waiting room ready for when he launched his casino. So he built this amazing room decorated with live oaks, bayous, a fake plantation house, a star-filled ceiling and even frog and alligator animatronics. From the outside, it looks like just another warehouse, but when you step inside, you’re teleported in a garden in the countryside of Louisiana.
But of course, just before the grand opening, the city notified him his permit for opening the casino didn’t come through. In a “totally” unrelated matter, the city authorized the first ever casino on land to open a few weeks later. So we learned 2 things : casino on land are still forbidden in Louisiana except in the city of New Orleans, and New Orleans is knows for its corrupted administrations.
After the tour, we had to get back to a more real world. But the real world we had to get back to was New Orleans, which isn’t that bad afterall ;). So we took a walk in the French Quarter and went to visit one of the buildings around the main square, built around 1850 by a baroness with a pretty interesting life (she has, among other things, survived at being shot 4 times by her husband who wanted to get her inheritance!). The house was in an impressively good shape, and furbished with very nice furniture.
Then we when through the French Market, historically a very busy place where you could find anything and here a multitude of curses in a multitude of languages. But today all that’s left is a line of very touristic stands, and way too expensive local food (probably much less tastier than in the small local restaurants). So we continued towards Frenchmen street and ate local hot dogs (the alligator is definitely worth a try ! )
After going to a record shop with an impressive collection (where we bought random records), we wandered around town and on the Moon Walk (named after the nickname of a local politician, so not at all related to Michael Jackson). We definitely like this city, and were really happy to see more than just the French Quarter (which is still nice, but the city has much more to offer!).
After this we went back home to have a beer and bake a quiche, and we thought the day had been well filled with new adventures. So we enjoyed our last night in the U.S
Today we went out to explore the city a bit more. Because the french quarter might be on every postcard, it’s not where most people live, and it’s just a part of the city.
So we found a bus to get to the end of the oldest continuously operated streetcar in the world : the saint Charles streetcar. The cars were renovated after Katrina, but still have the old wooden benches and the old green color. It’s a bit slow, but it goes through some of the most beautiful parts of town. Our first stop was the Audubon park, with its hundreds of live oaks and a lot of wildlife.
Here most squirrel are gray, and mostly considered like tree rats by locals. They eat in the trash, and reproduce way to fast. So most people don’t really notice them anymore, even when they’re 2m away. But for us, it’s not the same, we’re not used to seeing squirrels up close !
After a stroll in the park, we walked nearby and looked at the houses. And so we now understand where the design from the Sims comes from! All were huge, freshly painted and surrounded with a perfect little lawn. Columns, moldings, dormers and of course Christmas decorations were everywhere, varying in color and dimensions, but quite uniform in style.
We also visited a public library, which is located inside the old house of a silent movie star. The building is majestic, and the library very well organized, with cool reading rooms furbished with old furniture and a fireplace.
After this, we took the tram again and went to eat a Po-Boy, short for Poor Boy, the official local sandwich, invented for the working class who had to eat while working. Today it’s still cheaper than a restaurant, but probably too expensive for a poor boy… But it’s really good. The bread is really good, it looks like a giant baguette. Inside you can put a multitude of things, like an alligator sausage (Ben liked this a lot !). Afterwards, we had to hurry a bit to get the ferry to Algiers Point, the part of town across the river.
This part of town is much quieter, and we walked a bit around with the sun really low on the horizon. The house are painted in a lot of different colors, and we talked a bit with a man renovating his house. We really liked the place!
Then, we had to find our way back by bus, which brought us to wait under the Crescent Connection. As the bridge is so high, the slope actually starts very early inland. From underneath, it’s pretty impressive, but also not the best place to hang around…
Once back in the center, we met with our friend Milan in an Irish pub and had a couple rounds, and then we went to visit City Park, a park in town that is bigger than Central Park in New York ! Each year it hosts a lot of huge Christmas decorations, and they are quite something. But we only saw a few of them, because the park is way to big to see it all in one night!
And then we went to sleep ! See you later, alligator !
Today we went upriver along the Mississipi, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
So Jeannine very nicely drove us around all day. We started with the Crescent Connexion, one gigantic bridge on the Mississippi, long enough to cross the largest river in the U.S but also high enough so as to enable the passage of huge commercial ships underneath !
As it was the first bridge we crossed, it really seemed impressive, but between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, there are several of a similar size. The only low bridge around here is the one in Baton Rouge, built on purpose to prevent any city upriver of building a competing port!
In the morning we followed the Mississipi, with to our right the Mississippi, mostly hidden by the huge levies protecting the area from floodings and to our left the big colonial plantation mansions, facing the river (which used to be the main means of transportation). They are easy to spot with the long entrance alleys bordered by very old live oaks.
Jeannine owns a property with a lot of forest in it, and when Katrina hit, she had a lot of trees uprooted. So she bought a sawing machine to make planks out of these trees, and she then sold these planks as rebuilding materials for the damaged buildings around. One of these buildings was an old plantation house along the Mississippi, that was partly destroyed by a fire. So today we visited this sugar cane plantation house, who is now a touristic attraction.
The guided tour was very interesting, and showed the master’s living condition in the main house but also the harsh lives of the slaves and the small houses they had to live in. And even after the civil war, it did not necessarely get better. A lot of slaves had fought for the Union, against their masters. But most of them had to come back to their original plantation after the war, as they couldn’t be employed elsewhere. They were now payed, but were also charged board and room, which were often more expensive then their small pay !
After visiting the on site slavery museum, very interesting and precisely documented, we drove further up the Mississippi. We saw a lot of wooden constructions on the levies. They are actually bonfires built by families or group of friends, and are lit for Christmas eve. We saw some under construction, and there seemed to be a very nice vibe in the constructing groups, like they were having fun doing this together on a sunny afternoon.
Then we drove to Baton Rouge, and saw a lot of industrial buildings. The industry is very present along the river, you can see industrial complexes everywhere. Unlike most other ports in the world, the port of Louisiana is not located at a particular location, but rather all along the river from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, so it extends over more than a 100 kilometers!
Once in Baton Rouge, you immediately notice a big difference with New Orleans : the city is empty! Jeannine explained than Baton Rouge, which is the capital city of Louisiana, is mostly only administration and offices, so no one lives there, which means it’s empty on weekends!
Luckily for us, the New State Capitol is open on Sundays. Which is pretty cool, because it’s the highest building in Louisiana, so it has great views on the surrounding region. It’s also a historically significant place, with statues and paintings of important Louisianian historical figures and events. It’s also here that the Governor than decided to build the place was assassinated, officially by a doctor who didn’t like a remark the Governor made to his wife. But the Governor was also a strong and popular rival of Roosevelt, so some say the later may have had him killed.
Once back in New Orleans, we visited the Business district and looked for a restaurant with overlooking the river, but didn’t find any. Be we did find that if you get to certain of the luxury hotels in the skyscrapers, you can get a very nice view on the city and river without spending a dime! In the end we went to a very nice restaurant to have oysters, duck, shrimps and grilled fish… it wasn’t that bad at all 😉 ! We even had a trio of a Capella singers singing local songs.
That’s all for today, but it’s already a lot ! Theses last two days were quite packed, so we’ll probably sleep well tonight :).
P.S : ok, I know we slept well because we’re way too late for the writing of this article :p .
Today we woke up early and full of motivation for our first day of excursion into the Louisiana bayous!
When we were in Ecuador, we met an American women at the breakfast from our hostel. Her name is Jeannine, she’s about sixty years old and lives near New Orleans! She told us we should visit her there.. and we did! So she’s the one driving us around in her Chevrolet, which allows us to see things we couldn’t have seen using only public transportation…
It was cold as hell yesterday and last night, and parts of Louisiana even woke up under 4 inches of snow on the car (in the countryside, because in the city it melted immediatly)(yes, inches, America’s starting to rub on us…). So the bridges where closed, and so were some highways, and it didn’t help us to plan our itinerary. Jeannine came to meet us an hour late because the Causeway on lake Pontchartrain she uses to come to the city had been closed (it’s a 40 something mile long bridge on this huge lake). So shortly after our start, we were stopped by a nice State-trooper with a big badge because the road ahead was still iced on the shadowed parts at 10am. He was very happy to speak French with us, or rather Cajun French, which is the local French based language, that sounds like Quebec French spoken with a southern accent. He was super nice and gave us an address to go eat while the iced melted.
A little further, we visited a butcher shop who smokes his own meat. It’s a very old family run business, so they only have to comply to the rules from the time it was created. Which means they can smoke it the old way with the wood they like. It smelled incredible in there! We tasted beef-jerky, which doesn’t really exist in France, and it was delicious. We didn’t take any pictures, and we won’t tell you what wood they’re using, as it’s a secret according to them (they didn’t want to tell us, but Jeannine works a lot with trees so she just took a look at one of the logs for like 5 seconds and guessed it, the guy was stunned 😉 ).
After the smokehouse, we drove along a bayou, which is kind of a river between one swamp and another swamp. Out here every piece of land was once the riverbed of the Mississippi, the ground is soaked with water and the swamp often acts as a buffer between the salted see water and the clear water on land. In there you’ll find alligators (they’re hibernating right now with the cold), frogs, turtles, fishes, shellfishes… in big quantities, sometimes even as invasive species. So everything that lives out in the bayou is very welcome in the local cuisine!
As the climate is quite warm, often very hot in summer, there are a lot of citruses everywhere! And it was really cold just before, which means the fruit are delicious right now. So we stopped at a house where Jeannine asked a very kind old man in his bathrobes if we could pick some in his garden, and he said yes. So we got some very delicious oranges and tangerines!
Louisiana is very flat, so there are lakes everywhere, and also very clear views, which is awesome! On the left in the photo, it’s a tree covered in Spanish moss, which is a plant that gives the bayou landscape this enigmatic and gloomy look in the local folklore (well this and the voodoo myths brought from Haiti by some of the initial immigrants). It can be used instead of straw in the cob for old sugar cane plantation houses.
When the bridges where reopened we managed to get to Avery Island, the home of Tabasco! It’s not really an island, but rather a dome of salt surrounded by bayous. The dome itself is kind of a geological mystery, there are a dozen of them in the area, and they can be as deep as Mount Everest ! As it’s elevated ground, it’s a great place to settle in (but it isn’t that high above sea level either…).
The McHilleny family who produces the Tabasco created a museum to show how it’s made, but one of the ancestors also created English-style gardens to shelter a lot of plants and animals. He managed to rescue the white egrets that were almost extinct due to the use of their feathers in the production of hats. But he also mistakenly released some south American rodents who are now a plague. The garden were open to the public in the hope of developing automobile tourism, so you visit them mostly by car, and they are quite something!
During the factory tour, we understand that the success of the sauce enabled them to enter certain wealthy circles, but they also were quite handy and had natural talent for marketing. Some of them were military, explorers, politicians (not many women in power positions though) and their business has been growing for many years now, even entering pop-culture.
To summarize the process, a few peppers are grown bit on Avery Island, but a lot are grown in Mexico, South America and Africa. When harvested, they are mashed with salt, put into barrels and sent to Avery Island, where they stay a few years in the cellar. Then, vinegar is added and the mixture is stirred for a few days before bottling.
Of course, the exhibitions showed us how amaaaazing Tabasco is, and the gift shop had a lot of samples to taste, including green Jalapeño tabasco ice cream and raspberry chipotle tabasco ice cream (this one has an indescribable colour but tastes great anyway).
About food, because here that’s really something important, between lunch and dinner, we tasted fried breaded frog legs, local oysters, fried breaded oysters (we didn’t like them so much), crawfish, stuffed crab, turtle soup (from the bayou, not the sea), gumbo, local fishes… Anyway the local seafood platter is not seen as the luxury food, but is really cool !
We went home late, tired but happy, and tomorrow we’re continuing !