1 June 2014, Sunday - Charlotte, North Carolina (On Way to New Orleans)
We spent the last 2 days in Richmond, Virginia. We joined the 10 year reunion of our university. Before arriving on campus, we spent some time in Richmond and its surroundings. All the while, I’ve been thinking that thank God that I live in London and not Richmond. If I had stayed here, I don’t think my mental health would be stable. As soon as one goes south of Washington, D.C., the conservative, religious and slow USA starts. The way of thinking, level of education are very different here. Also, besides the big and rich houses and the empty fields by the large highways, there is nothing. One feels like going mad.
We spent some time in places we used to eat and walked around Carry Street to reminisce about our student years. We noticed that Carry Street has developed a little with more variety of shops and restaurants. There was more life and activity on the street. There are more people riding bicycles, driving hybrid cars, generally being more environmentally friendly than they used to. There are even street musicians who did not used to exist when we were students here.
Then, when we reached the University of Richmond campus, I remembered again how we easily managed to spend 4 years here. Without exaggeration, this campus is one of the most beautiful in the world. It is like a holiday resort, green, clean, the buildings have beautiful architecture. Even the new buildings constructed in the last 10 years are respectful of the old. The opportunities offered to students gobsmacked us once again. This university has incredible wealth and opportunities thanks to only private donations and no state funding at all. There is even a trading room for students in the Business School. The Dance and Theatre School where I used to take classes has facilities, which don’t exist in world famous stages.
Apart from the new buildings and arrangements constructed after our graduation, there are other additions such as free bicycles, car rental and electric car charging point. I had the opportunity to visit my favourite dance teacher and I was very happy when she actually remembered me. The Director of Study Abroad, the professors in business school, old friends, many other graduates whose faces looked familiar but we couldn't quite remember the names…It was very nostalgic seeing everyone. We went back 10 years. We think that we didn't age too much. We entered our old dormitories and reminisced about old days. It was as if we were university students again.
But I understood again that one appreciates one’s surroundings differently at different stages in life. When I was a student, running from one class to another, worrying about my grades and finding a job after graduation, I don’t think that I fully grasped and appreciated the beauty and facilities of the University of Richmond Campus. 10 years after graduation, my eyes see things differently, they can appreciate the beauty.
As soon as we landed in New Orleans, thunder storms have started. As soon as we left the Louis Armstrong Airport, we found ourselves in an incredibly hot and humid weather. Thankfully, by the time we reached our hotel, Le Marais, in the French Quarter, the rain and storm have ended.
First things first, we had our lunch at Mr. B’s Bistro, which is close to our hotel. More than the food, the atmosphere was very nice. Without a doubt, we were in the US but the blues singing live orchestra, the interior design, the waiters’ uniforms and service style reminded me of an America, which we know from old movies with a little hint of French. As we were walking around New Orleans’s French Quarter, I noticed that we were somewhere that we could walk on the streets near downtown, like Santa Monica, Santa Barbara and San Francisco in California. Along the Conti and Royal streets and nearby, with the French, Spanish and Caribbean characteristics, I really liked this city. These areas are relatively clean and safe during day time.
However, as we reached the banks of the Mississippi River and walked along towards the famous Café du Monde and the French Market, the feelings and impressions started to change.
The sheer number of people asking for change, of drug addicts, and seeing people walking under a bridge for drugs and other reasons were very saddening. The view offered by the country’s longest serving cathedral on Jackson Square is very nice.
Nevertheless, whilst the heavy scent of essence and the voodoo shops in streets like Decatour around the square are what make New Orleans what it is, in a way, I am glad not to have come here with L.
What actually ruined everything for me was witnessing on Decatour Street, a high man playing music with a kitten hanging on his back, strangled with a belt. I had a nervous breakdown. I wanted to interfere directly but because I am pregnant and because the man was high, I hesitated. For a long time, I looked for police without success. Then, I asked a lady working in the tour bus operator’s office whether there is a number to call to report animal cruelty. Thankfully, she immediately dialed the number. We were told that they would come and check the situation but I wasn't really convinced by the tone of their voice. Later on, as we passed through that street again, I didn't see the man in question. I hope that the poor kitten is saved. However, this has completely ruined this city planned liked crescent for me.
When I saw the little horses pulling carriages for at least 7 people, I also got very angry and upset. Even on the Prince’s Islands in Turkey, they don’t work the poor horses that hard.
We took a breath at a bar called Three Muses on Frenchmen Street, which was recommended by our hotel and listened to some music.
The sounds of jazz and blues come out of every bar on the Frenchmen Street.
I am sure that, especially in the old days, New Orleans’ French Quarter was very different and nice. Now also it is an area with a character; however, the drunkard university students and tourists and the middle aged, drug addict locals turn it ugly and make it difficult to enjoy the place with a clear and clean mind.
02 June 2014, Monday, Hotel Le Marais, New Orleans, Louisiana
In the morning, we found the streets of the French Quarter washed with detergent. The city had washed away the ugliness and dirt, which we had seen and smelled the day and night before. Just to ensure that we are not missing anything, we went around the entire city with a tour bus. Even though it was quite expensive, it was a good way of seeing the parts of the city outside the French Quarter. Just like San Francisco, it is a place with more character and different than other big American cities. The humid weather is very uncomfortable though. Jazz and blues has major impact on the city’s history and culture.
My favourite area has been the Garden Quarter.
Beautiful houses with nice verandas built very close to each other are situated in nice gardens. In the warehouse called Mardi Gras World, the vehicles, ornaments and statues used during the carnival are kept. They create quite an interesting and creepy look.
If I hadn't come here pregnant, I wouldn't have anything to stop me from trying the local delicacies; however, the local cuisine has developed around spicy seafood like oyster, shrimp, catfish etc, so my options are limited.
Nevertheless, I got to try the famous dessert Beignet. It is like a very sweet doughnut with powder sugar on top.
It is impossible to avoid the smell of fried oil and oyster whilst walking on the streets.
Actually, a trip, which could have been very nice was ruined by witnessing what that poor kitten went through yesterday and having a nightmare about it last night. Probably, the poor kitten passed away before the help could arrive. I am angry with myself for being late.
It makes more sense to spend time around Conti and Royal Streets, Garden Quarter and by the Mississippi River when in New Orleans than on the famous Bourbon Street.
This street is like one of those Spanish, Greek or even Turkish holiday towns ruined by drunk tourists. One or one and half days is sufficient to go around in this town.