It’s not where you go, but rather who you’re with.

Spent the first part of the holidays here, in and around Toronto visiting friends and family.  It was busy of course, but had the opportunity to start some new traditions, including midnight service at a historic downtown church and Christmas building far too much lego (alright, so the second one was more of a flashback to my own childhood, which I now live vicariously through other people’s children).  I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually been in Toronto (as opposed to the suburbs, in Eastern Ontario or the States), and I’ll admit, it was nice to be unrushed in the big city, where the masses seemed to be non-existent.

After a week though, it was time to head off, first to Washington D.C., and then to New Orleans and Memphis (connecting through Atlanta).  The reason you ask?  Well, two actually.  The first being that my travelling companion lives in DC, and secondly, by flying through DC, was able to save about $400 on the airfare, vs. flying direct from Toronto.  A two-hour flight delay (with no explanation… thanks Air Canada) suggested that the trip would not be as planned.  A late arrival in DC, only to turn around and be back at the airport 8 hours later, and we were off, to the heart of the US South.

I had suspected all along that I was going to like Memphis more than New Orleans, but will admit that New Orleans was far more enjoyable than I thought.  Arriving in town, it was the Sugar Bowl (i.e. US College Football), between the Louisville Caridinals and the Florida Gators… well… if you’ve never seen American College Football, up close and personal, you should.  Gator fans were outnumbered about 40 to 1, and all of them were bedecked in official apparel for their teams.  It would have been interesting to have caught the game, but hotel prices sky-rocketed the night of the game, and provided the impetius for us to travel north to Memphis.

On arrival in Nawlins, we headed off to the French Quarter, careful to pace ourselves, knowing that we had $135 tickets for a party that evening (i.e. non-refundable).  The French Quarter is what you’d expect: drunken, touristy and missing anything resembling live jazz. That being said, we did meet two Nawlins’ traditional drinks, Hurricanes (four shots of rum in each) and Hand Gernades (five shots of booze) and well, apprecaited their warm welcome, throwing caution to the wind.  A return to the hotel to prepare for the evenings festivities resulted in a five hour nap, only disrupted when my travelling companion was awoken by the sound of fireworks.  “It’s 12:17!” came his response.  Yes, had slept through New Years Eve.  We were warned of the power of the French Quarter, shrugged it off (after all, WE’D gone to McGill and knew how to handle ourselves) and paid the price (i.e. 2X$135 bar tickets).

Woke up after a 12 hour sleep to explore more of Nawlins, avoiding our beverage choices from the night before.  A quick check of Tripadvisor suggested that Mother’s Restaurant was a Nawlins’ staple… so we went, and were thoroughly unimpressed.  The sooner we got out of there in fact, the better.  Took the streetcar up to the cemeteries stop, and explored. I wonder how long it took them to figure out that caskets will float to the surface if you bury someone under sea-level.  If it had been foggy (as opposed to 80o and sunny) the cemetery would have been a lot scarier.  Back downtown, a quick bite to eat and then off to the National Museum of WWII.  A great museum, undergoing a substantial expansion, and worth the visit because it also exposed us to the Warehouse District, where the mood is more classy and relaxed, the drunken tourists are nowhere to be found, and you can actually appreciate the city as it was meant to be.  

Up the next morning, to pick up our rental pick-up truck (which was $3 cheaper than the cheapest, smallest car), and off to explore the Lower 9th Ward, home to some of the worst flooding after Hurricane Katrina.  Armed with nothing more than a general sense of direction, of we went, driving along, hoping for the best.  Stumbled across Elizabeth’s, which from the outside, doesn’t appear to be much.  Except for the sign that says “Praline Bacon”.  A quizzical look at each other, and the decision was made.  In we walk, and order breakfast, along with the bacon.  Praline bacon, from what I can deduce, is baked, with sugared pralines on top of, and is possibly the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  Granted, the palm sized cockroach climbing up the wall (that made a spectacular flop onto the table, and subsequently to the ground before meeting an untimely death under a shoe) was enough to make me wonder if Nawlins would benefit from a food inspection program.  I’m just saying is all.  

The Lower 9th, bordered by a canal on one side and the bayou on another, looks like something from another world.  Some homes have been rebuilt.  Many have not.  Empty lots abound and the roads belong in the third world, rather than in one of the richest countries in the world.  I don’t think the scope of the devastation set in, until we were driving to the causeway, saw a similar neighbourhood, on the other side of the canal, and realized just how densely packed the Lower 9th had been beforehand.  Almost six years later, and still a lot of recovery to do.

Drove across the Lake Ponchatrain Causeway (for some reason we expected it to be more exciting that a big, long, straight bridge) and headed to Tenneesse, traversing the length of Mississippi.  Part II of this entry, later this week, explains our visit that seemed to revolve around royalty.  

Pictures of the cemeteries of New Orleans can be found through this link.

Pictures of the southern food and drink consumed can be found here.  More pictures later.

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