Monday, March 28, 2005

New Orleans

There has been no snowshoeing for the last 2 weekends. Amy arrived home late on March 18th. A few hours later I was up to head to the airport to fly to New Orleans for a user group meeting (for COEUS - grant pre-award tracking software). Note to self - do not book 7am departures, they require being up _way_ too early.

The flights) to New Orleans by way of LaGuardia were uneventful. I even got a movie, "After the Sunset", on the flight from NYC to New Orleans. "After the Sunset" is the story of a diamond thief, played by Pierce Brosnan, who retires to a Caribbean island with his assistant/love interest, Penelope Cruz. He's followed to the island by an FBI agent, Woody Harrelson, who is convinced that he moved there to be in position to steal another of the "Napolean diamonds" which is being exhibited on a cruise ship soon to be docked at the island. The movie is a study of the relationships between the thief, the FBI agent, and the love interest. It has a small amount of action, nice shots of beautiful scenery and some cool technology. I'd give it 2 1/2 stars out of 4.

On the ride from the airport to my hotel, entertainment was provided by the van driver. He started off with a pronunciation lesson, kept us quite entertained with detailed instructions on the art of eating crawfish like a native, pointed out the "beadtrees", and finished with warnings on how to avoid getting ripped off. Among his advice - you should suck the head of the crawfish until its eyes are cross-eyed, then bang your head on the table to uncross your own eyes. The patter definitely made the trip go faster.

First stop in New Orleans, after checking into my hotel and having lunch was the Audubon Aquarium. The aquarium is a relatively short walk from the hotel, about 6 blocks. It sits on the banks of the Mississippi along the Riverwalk. It's a nice aquarium, although I'd avoid it on Saturday afternoons, if possible. It was full of noisy children. Highlights were the Amazon Rainforest and the white alligator.

Sunday, Monday, and most of Tuesday were taken up with conference meetings. I did make use of the rooftop pool (heated) and hot tub each day. The pool was too short for much real swimming, but I was getting enough exercise walking around the city so I really didn't need to swim for exercise.

The hotel, Le Pavillon, is quite posh. There are many crystal chandeliers in the public areas, the dining room has small painted vignettes along the ceiling beams, the elevator door on the top floor is painted with a vineyard scene, and above the chandeliers in the center of each hall is painted some sort of plant life. My floor had lavender, other floors had ivy, and grapes - I did not do a full survey. The pool decor includes marble statues.

During the conference we (Tony and Jen from work and I) walked into the French Quarter for lunch and dinner. We had very good bar-b-que at Zydeque, Po'boys at Mother's (which is not in the French Quarter, and messy burgers at Yo Mamas.

Once Tuesday afternoon arrived we went our separate ways - Jen to the airport, and Tony to the casino. I headed for the French Market an area of small shops near Jackson Square. I managed to get on the wrong streetcar, one that didn't go all the way to the French Market, and ended up walking an extra 7 blocks but it was a nice day so it wasn't that bad. (The forecasted rain never did appear.)

Jackson Square attracts a variety of artists who set up along the perimeter of the square. In addition to the visual art, there were several musicians - I particularly enjoyed the saxophonist playing on the corner near Cafe du Monde, and the jazz band playing in an open air restaurant.

After shopping for an hour or so I set off in search of dinner. I ended up in a seafood restaurant on Bourbon Street. The food was passable, and entertainment was provided by the people walking by. On the way back to the hotel I passed several musicians playing on the sidewalk. One highlight was the 2 trombone players at opposite ends of one block who were dueling. It was a lot of fun to listen to at the middle of that block.

Wednesday was my play day in New Orleans. I headed to the Audubon Zoo by way of the streetcar. I hopped on the streetcar a few blocks from my hotel. The streetcar runs down St. Charles Avenue and gave many opportunites to view the "beadtrees" and lots of pretty houses. After exiting the streetcar at Audubon Park, on the edge of the Tulane University campus, I boarded the zoo shuttle for the last part of the journey.

The zoo is a nice small zoo. The day I was there it was full of children on field trips. There is a really beautiful fountain near the entrance with elephants in the center, and hippo heads peeking out of the water on the edges. It's ringed with benches enough to seat close to 100 people.

I headed first for the African Savannah exhibit, mostly cause it's on the way to the Louisiana Swamp exhibit. It includes Monkey Hill which is not were the primates live. It was built early in the last century so that the children of New Orleans, which is a very flat city, could experience a hill. It appeared to be a favorite spot for the children. There were dozens climbing up the hill, rolling down the grass section, playing in the rocky stream, and climbing down the rope spider web on one edge.

The swamp exhibit includes a black bear, for lack of a better place to put him. Several alligators - some small, one extra large, and one white (sibling to the white alligator at the aquarium). Also, on exhibit are raccoons. Given the number of raccoons I have seen in the "wild" I did not linger. Several of the children who were nearby were thrilled by the raccoons, though.

From there I headed through the Jaquar jungle where the highlight was the misters - there are several strategically located throughout the zoo providing a spot to cool down. I also enjoyed the cotton top macaques - a small primate with what looks like a ball of cotton on the top of their head. After a quick tour through the Primate exhibit - where the only active critter was one orangutan who put on a 4 minute show before retreating into the shade - I headed back toward the hotel.

I took a small detour on the way to stop in Jackson Square to pick up a book I'd seen the day before. This time I took the correct streetcar, so didn't have to walk any more blocks than necessary. I also took the time to pick up dinner, so that I wouldn't have to venture back out after dark, or eat expensive hotel food.

The trip home on Thursday was fine, although not without it's unexpected moments. It too started _way_ too early in the morning. (Did I mention that 7am flights should be avoided...) My flight was supposed to include a layover in Philadelphia but no change of plane. After we landed in Philly, we were notified that there was to be a "change of equipment" airline speak for "different plane". And as long as they were making us change planes they decided to make us change terminal wings as well. So, it was off to gate C21 from gate A21 where we were. The Philadelphia airport does have strategically placed moving walkways, however, so the walk wasn't that bad. The gate area was overcrowded with many people standing - the result of the airline having scheduled two flights to depart from that gate area (two gates) at basically the same time. Because of the change of planes our departure was delayed while the replacement plane was pulled out of the hanger.

Once on the plane the flight was uneventful. Upon arrival in Boston I dutifully proceeded to baggage claim. When the baggage from my flight arrived it consisted of 10 bags - just 10, and did not include mine. After waiting a bit to see if more baggage appeared from the portal, I checked in with the baggage office. The woman there was fairly sure my luggage would be on the next flight from Philadelphia which was due in 30 minutes later. I decided to wait rather than having it delivered by the airline. An hour later the luggage from the next flight arrived, and it did include mine. I gladly gathered it up, headed out to the van which showed up less than 5 minutes later and was off to home.

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