The above is how I am led to believe one pronounces “New Orleans”. If you recall, last summer Maggie, Kali and I met up in New York City for our first Post-Poland Reunion. This year, for Post-Poland Reunion #2, we were headed to New Orleans, Louisiana. We were supposed to be there for 2 and a half days but (for me) it ended up being barely 2. I was meant to arrive at noon but ended up getting there at 1am. It was probably the worst travel experience of my life.
Before heading for Louisiana, I spent 6 days in Toronto. I planned my Toronto trip before going to New Orleans, rather than after, for strategic reasons. Knowing I would only have a limited time in the latter, I didn’t want to spend it all completely jet lagged. So I used my time in Canada to get over the time change before heading down south (note there is a one hour time difference between Toronto and New Orleans, but that proved inconsequential).
Have you ever heard of the movie From Hell? It’s a Jack the Ripper film starring Johnny Depp. The sequence of events I’m about to describe had neither Johnny Depp nor Jack the Ripper-like qualities, but could equally be titled “From Hell”. The first leg of my journey was meant to be a 1.5 hour flight from Toronto to Chicago. I tried my hardest to ignore the fact that my plane looked like a children’s toy and told myself it was fine because it was such a short flight. However, it turns out there was a massive storm in Chicago so we couldn’t land. At this point I’m wondering why they even let us head for the city with this storm looming, to which I never really got an answer.
We flew around and around and around, waiting for the storm to clear until, over an hour after we should have landed, our little toy plane began to run out of fuel. Our pilot came over the speaker and said due to low fuel we would need to make an unscheduled stop (re: emergency landing) in Fort Worth, Indiana. Yes, my plane ran out of gas while in the sky. Nightmare. But, it got worse …
Once we landed in Forth Worth, we were not allowed to get off the plane. Something about how our immigration papers had been sent to Chicago and needed to be faxed to Fort Worth before we could deplane. Now, I can only imagine that by “faxed” they meant written out in painstaking calligraphy, put in a leather pouched and ridden to Indiana on horseback because we sat in the plane, on the ground, for two hours before we were allowed to get off. And remember, this is not a big plane, with 11 seats across. That would have been fine. This was teeny, tiny plane that I could have put in my pocket and still had room. For the first time in my life I prayed the oxygen masks would drop from the ceiling just so I could breathe, and spent the entire time trying to stave off a panic attack.
But finally, we were allowed off the plane and into the Fort Worth airport (which, by the way, is basically one large room). There was another plane full of people there who had also been diverted from landing in Chicago. We had to wait a further three hours before we were cleared to take off again. In that time I had to gauge my bathroom break very carefully. There were about 150 people in the terminal and about 50 seats. I was sitting in one of them and knew that if I got up, I wasn’t sitting down again.
When we finally left, our flight from Fort Worth to Chicago was 36 minutes including take off and landing. I probably could have walked there in the time we waited. Now, everyone knows that Chicago O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world. I had always thought it was because it’s a halfway point across America. But now I think it’s just because it’s always delayed. All over the airport I saw signs that indicated places which were “hazardous weather shelters”. Who finds a place near water, that has such poor weather they need shelters and says “Yup, this is where I’m going to build a giant airport. No problems here, at all.”
Anyway, needless to say, because the airport had been essentially shut down for most of the day, the place looked like a refugee camp. It was past 4pm (recall I was supposed to be in New Orleans at noon) and had been rescheduled onto the next flight, which didn’t leave until 8pm. On top of that, my phone, computer and iPod had all lost power. I had packed the cords in my checked luggage because I figured it would be two short flights. Never again. The book I had brought, the one that was supposed to last me the whole trip, including the 8 hour flight back to Switzerland, I read it all. And still had time to get halfway through re-reading Harry Potter. Why? Because my flight kept getting pushed back as every single plane was trying to take off.
We didn’t actually leave until 10:30. By that time I had decided that if the flight was delayed passed midnight I would throw in the cards and fly back to Toronto. Thankfully, I did, eventually, get to New Orleans, and rocked up to the hotel just after 1am.
Horrible experience over, though, we had a good time. We were staying on the outskirts of the French Quarter, which was really cool. Someone asked me later if New Orleans looked like Disneyland. I said no, except for Bourbon Street. It looked like a dirty movie set. Like if a bachelor party had gone nuts in Disneyland. That’s what it looked like. Honestly there are not enough wet-wipes in the world.
Kali (aided by some sort of wizardry on her phone) gave us a walking tour of some notable houses in the Garden District and we went on a creepy Ghost Tour of the French Quarter. Unfortunately our regular daytime walking tour got rained out because of thunderstorms but we took shelter in a nearby bar, where we ate alligator and had fancy drinks.
On the second day, Maggie and I went on a full day trip to see some plantations, while Kali opted to stay behind and do the previously-missed walking tour. The plantations were definitely worth it. The first one we went to, Whitney Plantation, was dedicated to the lives of Louisiana slaves and was …impactful…to say the least. The second, Oak Alley Plantation, was more about the lives of the people living in “the Big House” and I felt it was a bit more of a romanticized version of the time period. If you can only go to one, I recommend Whitney, though they were both good.
Prepare yourselves, for a second, as I am about to say something extremely cliche: The sky is huge in the south. Honestly, I noticed as we got out of the city, driving an hour away to the two plantations. I have never seen clouds so big. Never.
Apart from alligator, I also had catfish while we were there. This ticked off two of three foods on my list (I couldn’t find any okra). The city was hot and muggy but actually not as unbearable as I had anticipated. In fact, I found the plantations much more humid than the city (though the city was by no means cool). Perhaps it’s because the plantations were closer to the swamplands?
I didn’t find any souvenirs that compelled me to buy them (which is too bad because I had a joke about my Louisiana Purchase all cued up) but getting there aside, it was a really good trip and I actually wish we could have stayed a day or two longer.
Where to next? Who knows. Maybe Vegas? Maybe a road trip through Canada’s East Coast? Maybe somewhere completely different. Watch this space.