Aviation History Travel Udvar-Hazy Center Virginia Washington DC

July 31st, 2012 … on laughter-silvered wings*

Those of you who have known me for a while knew, perhaps feared, that this day would come.

To those uninterested in aviation, I hope you will rejoin me tomorrow by which time I may have returned to Earth.

The day before yesterday, I was remarking to the kind friends who drove us around in rural Virginia that it was proving difficult to get to the Udvar-Hazy Center, the showcase for the major part of the Smithsonian’s superb collection of air and space artefacts. Mark almost immediately asked if we would like him to take us out there. Though I felt bad about taking him up on his offer, this was so high on my “bucket-list”, that I shamelessly leapt at the opportunity. I am not sure we would have got there without his kind offer.

Another thirty miles of pleasant Virginia countryside brought us to the Udvar-Hazy Centre at the Southern edge of Washington Dulles International Airport. A huge hangar-like building sits behind something that looks like an airport control tower.  As usual, bags were inspected and there we were, within the highest temple of aviation. Oh wow!

General view of the South wing of the Boeing Aviation HangarThe first impression to an aviation geek such as me is overwhelming. There are the aircraft I have seen pictures of, all my life. And with few exceptions, these are NOT replicas. These are the actual aircraft that did the deeds.

The Wright Flyer on display at the mall is not a reconstruction. It is the actual aircraft on which Orville Wright left the ground in controlled flight on December 17, 1903.  Almost every milestone of aviation history is here.  Some are civilian, some are military.  For clarity, I am fascinated by the engineering and science of aviation achievement.Westland LysanderVought F4U Corsair

Two aircraft which represent the very pinnacle of achievement within the purpose for which they were designed are the Westland Lysander which famously dropped spies into rough fields at night behind the German lines in WWII, and the Vought Corsair F4U which served so well in the war in the Pacific (and which was supplied in large numbers to the RNZAF).

Some of the best and worst of human achievement is represented here. Everything from a Wright Flyer to the B29, “Enola Gay” which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, to the mighty space shuttle Discovery. Some are controversial, and Enola Gay has had to have protective plexiglass screens to protect it from those who would rather it were not there.Enola Gay I offer a picture of it not because I am a warmonger, but because this is an actual piece of history, and because in purely aviation terms, this represents the peak of piston-engined powered flight. There she is with the number 82 on the fuselage. A beautiful lady with a dreadful event in her past.

Boeing StratolinerOf course the displays are heavily weighted towards American aircraft as they should be. It is their premier national aviation museum after all. On the other hand, some of the allies and foes of various conflicts are also on display. Among the most impressive of the aircraft on display, are the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first prototype of the Boeing 707 (how huge it was then, how tiny it is now) , the SR71 Blackbird (spy plane), The astonishing SR-71 Blackbirdand the absolute jewel in the crown, the space shuttle Discovery.

I did not expect to be so moved by the shuttle. The earlier shuttle Enterprise got moved to New York to make way for Discovery, but it never went to space. It was sparkling white and pristine. Discovery is scorched battered and dinged. It is patched and repaired. It bears the honourable scars of 238 million kilometres spread over 39 space missions between 1984 and 2011.Space Shuttle Discovery

Up close and personal, the bottom of the shuttle is not black, but rather the ashen grey of burnt charcoal. And that is not a smooth skin, but thousands of small aerated ceramic tiles, each about 4.5 cm thick, and each of which was black to begin with. Each bears a serial number and orientation markings since each has a unique shape for its place on the fuselage and lower wings. The angle of the burn marks speak of the extraordinary angle of attack on re-entry, as the craft presents its entire lower surface as a speed-brake and heat sink. What courage it must have taken to stay calm inside the craft as the skin glowed to red heat and flames of re-entry roared all around. The scorched lower tiles on the Discovery The upper surface is almost white, but again that is not a metal surface. It is like a giant fabric quilt, made of the same aerated silicon material.Upper skin cladding on the shuttle

What speaks loudest, are the scorch marks trailing off from the myriad corners, intersections  and high points in the great mosaic that protects the shuttle from the heat of re-entry. And perhaps even more scary, the occasional black tile where an original has needed to be replaced. The men and women who flew in this and all the others in the fleet have my utmost respect and admiration.

OK, I have got that out of my system. Normal service should resume tomorrow. Thanks again, Mark.

Today, we are off to New York by train.

High Flight, by G Magee, RCAF.
the opening verses go like this:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Academic Birds History Landscapes Social Trees Virginia

July 30, 2012 … the cradle of the civil war*

Yesterday was different.

Some very kind friends (from the days of Usenet groups,, and the old WYSIWYG News) took us out into the Virginia countryside. They had asked what we would like to see. I suggested that it would be nice to see something of the state beyond the city. Since they are both ironmen and serious bike riders, they are familiar with the beautiful byways of the surrounding states.

And so our tour began with a visit to the State Arboretum of Virginia at Boyce. Proudly displaying over 8,000 trees, the arboretum is based on the Blandey farm which encompasses the ante-bellum estate “the Tuleyries”. The grand mansion with its splendid facade sits discreetly among the trees."The Tuleyries", Boyce, VAThe former slave quarters are now part a working research farm run by the University of Virginia.  This is situated in a wonderful pastoral landscape of gently rolling hills, interrupted here and there by outcrops of limestone. Fields are mostly bounded by beautifully crafted stone walls.

The arboretum apparently has examples of about half of the world’s conifers and is collaborating with attempts to make the almost  extinct American Chestnut resistant to chestnut blight which reportedly killed over 3 billion mature trees in less than a century. Experimentation among the oaks and chestnuts at the Arboretum

Birds and insects abounded. A huge wasp like creature deserved a respectful distance, and I would not want to meet it if it was angry. I have tentatively identified it as Cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus). This butterfly is (I think) a Black Swallowtail  (Papilio polyxenes Fabricius).Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes Fabricius)

In addition to trees and birds, there were extensive wildflower beds and herb gardens (I can’t bring myself to drop the “h”) and some real splashes of colour. Wildflowers in the arboretum After a pleasant hour or so in the Arboretum, our hosts took us to Millwood, a tiny and exquisitely beautiful settlement about three miles further East where we enjoyed a delightful lunch from a local deli in the open air. Lunch concluded with a collection of cookies, one of which had the delightful name of “snickerdoodle”. As our hosts observed, it’s impossible to say the name without smiling. And it was delicious.

Just across the road from us was the “Burwell-Morgan grist mill”, built in 1782, and powered by a water wheel, this mill remained in operation until 1943. It is now a tourist attraction, but what caught my eye was the flag, the original stars and stripes with just thirteen stars of the first states arranged in a circle.Burwell-Morgan grist Mill, VA

From there, our wandering journey took us along route 50, through picturesque villages like Middleburg and Aldie. I know that when Paul Simon sang of “the cradle of the civil war”* he was referring to Mississippi, but near here is Manassas close to the site of the famous battle of Bull Run, and the Shenandoah Valley where it all began.  Mark is an academic who teaches writing and he has a strong personal fascination with the civil war and its battles. He was able to speak knowledgeably of the battles that took place in the area and added enormously to the enjoyment of our tour.

It was a wonderful day and Mary and I enjoyed the scenery, as well as the generosity and excellent company of our friends.

* Graceland by Paul Simon (1986)

Architecture Light Travel Washington DC Weather

July 29, 2012 … sightseeing in the capital

Retail therapy is not in our vocabulary.

Indeed, with the exception of camera shops, I personally regard retail therapy as an oxymoron.  Nevertheless we needed to do some shopping yesterday and strolled over the bridge to Georgetown.  This is a very quaint and, I suspect, very expensive neighbourhood. Lots of brand names, lots of high fashion, and expensive decor. The architecture looks very European to my eye, Georgetown morning We were there a little early for most stores so we filled in time by strolling down one of the side streets, and crossed over the very pretty and now disused Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in GeorgetownFrom there, we reached the walkway beside the Potomac, and where I imagine the old port of Georgetown must have been. Already at 9:30 am the temperature was rising and parents with young children were playing in a water feature obviously designed to allow just that. I guess it’s the upscale version of cracking a fire hydrant in poorer neighbourhoods.

Someone whom I imagined to be a vagrant was using it to perform his morning ablutions (fully clothed) and then lay down on the upstream concrete to dry out.Cooling off at 9:30 am in Georgetown

The river is obviously a playground for the city, though the pollution warning notices suggest it would be unwise to fall in. We did our small amount of shopping and then walked back to foggy bottom where we had lunch.

By now the temperature was so hot, we decided that a tour on an air-conditioned bus made more sense than walking. However, we did have to walk almost two miles to get to the start point (corner of Pennsylvania and 12th) , taking advantage of whatever shade we could find along the way.

I was intrigued to see the number of tours based on Segways, with ten or a dozen to the group zipping along the streets. It seems these are illegal on New Zealand footpaths, subject to the outcome of a current court case.Segway tourism on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC

The tour bus arrived a half hour ahead of schedule, and the driver earned our gratitude by allowing us to board and enjoy the coolness and bottled water from an ice chest. Our tour guide (Adam) was the usual personable young fellow who does such jobs. In due course, with seats almost full with people from Missouri, New York, Philadelphia, Florida, Columbia and New Zealand, we set off into the bright afternoon, and got what must have been a fairly routine tour of most of Washington’s major landmarks.

It was well done and enjoyable apart from the heat any time we left the bus. I scored bonus points as we went past Arlington to the Marine memorial, for being the only person on the tour who knew who was the only other president, apart from John F Kennedy,  buried there (William Howard Taft). Our guide was almost disgusted … “only the guy from New Zealand got it!!!”. I sneakily took the credit without revealing we had toured Arlington just the previous day.

Among the many moving monuments we saw, the newest was the Martin Luther King Jr memorial, emerging from the rock, and staring defiantly across the tidal basin at the memorial to that well known slave owner, Thomas Jefferson.Martin Luther King Jr memorial, Washington DC

Mary and I decided that it would be quicker to leave the tour after the Vietnam Memorial, and to walk back to the hotel via 23rd St., though perhaps not by as much as we imagined. The well known long black wall of the Vietnam memorial is a very emotional place, worthy of respect. The Vietnam memorialIt was just a mile from there back to the hotel, but we paused at the national Academy of Sciences along the way, to gaze a delightful sculpture of Albert Einstein.  He looks like the stereotypical grandfather, though that looks like heavy stuff to be reading to the grandchildren. Albert Einstein at the National Academy of SciencesWell, it’s a picture-heavy post today, more travelogue than photo reflection. On the other hand these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities so what could I do?

And I don’t promise a change tomorrow.



Architecture Aviation Travel Washington DC Weather

July 28, 2012 … each person treated with respect

Trial and error means that those who make errors are put on trial.

To some extent, reliance on memories of my last visit to Washington (in 2000) led me astray, and Washington’s overwhelming heat carried out the sentence. But before we got to the surface errors, first we had to overcome our trepidation to use the Metro (underground) to get from Foggy Bottom to Union Station to get the Amtrak tickets for the next leg of our journey.

My compliments to Amtrak. I had left my booking reference behind, but with the surname and the credit card used to book, the kind lady at  window 15 had out tickets printed out in less than 30 seconds, and was peering sternly over her glasses as she warned us not to lose them. Union Station has all the grandeur I recall. Booking area - Union Station, Washington DCI was a bit disappointed though at how the people who stream through it each day have allowed themselves to be treated as mere worker ants by the concession holders. Bad coffee, poor food choices in at least the café we tried, were not made any more palatable by the abrupt manner in which we were treated.

And then into the wider world to walk from the station to the National Gallery of Art. Memories from 12 years ago do not include present day road works, so although the direct route is a mere 1.8 km, with the temperature around 97 deg F it seemed much further. Navigational doubts disappeared once the Capitol was in view, and we got there eventually. As with all federally owned public buildings, there is airline style security before you get in. Once in I was reminded just how magnificent the building is. We stayed in the west building (classical art) since I have no great fondness for most so-called “modern art” … and while I am in confessional mode, I don’t like jazz either. Please don’t waste your time trying to convert me. That’s just how it is.

One thing that intrigued me, and which is not permitted as far as I know in the galleries at home, is other artists copying the masterworks on display. This gallery not only allows it, it provides drop cloths and easels for the artist to work.recreating masterpieces in the National Gallery of Art After a sufficient length of time there, we moved across the mall to the National Air and Space Museum. To some extent, I wish we hadn’t. Though this building contains some of history’s rarest and most extraordinary aircraft, usually the real original, not a replica or reconstruction, it seems to have been dumbed down for the children who seem to be the dominant customers these days. Like our own Te Papa, it feels more like a children’s playground than a serious collection of important artefacts.  Entrance Foyer of the National Air and Space MuseumI intend to get to the Udvar-Hazy Centre at Washington Dulles and hope desperately that its wonderful exhibits are displayed more seriously.

The crowning insult of this visit was the food court which consisted of MacDonald’s and two other providers. It was truly appalling food, and massively overcrowded.Feeding time at the zoo ... the food court at the National Air and Space Museum

We got back on the Metro, and noticing that it was heading on the direction of Arlington, decided to stay on the train. At Arlington it was simply too hot to walk around the massive grounds, so we capitulated and bought into the tour. Generally speaking I am not much into cemetery tourism, and refrained in New Orleans, but Arlington has a grandeur and solemnity that is worth visiting. A fragment of ArlingtonWe watched the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknowns. It is a highly ritualized variant on military parade protocol, and an occasion so embedded with respect and grief, that I thought it inappropriate to take photographs, but instead, to pay careful attention to the ritual before me.

At the conclusion, we boarded the train and returned to our hotel in Foggy Bottom,

Architecture night Travel Washington DC

July 27, 2012 … at the centre of things

Transitions can be stressful.

Our journey from New Orleans to Washington began badly when we learned that the shuttle service had not actioned the discussion we had the previous day about moving the pickup time forward an hour to match the notice we received from the airline. A call from the concierge soon got that back on schedule. We had a 90 minute layover at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport. It is immense beyond imagination and must be almost printing money and still they want to charge their clients for Internet access. Shame on them. The first airport on our journey to be so cheap.

At BWI, we caught a pre-booked shuttle and meandered down I295 in the nose-to-tail traffic of the early evening commute. It was no better for those escaping the capital to Baltimore or points North. On I 295 inbound to WashingtonOur driver was arguably either the best driver I have ever seen or certifiably insane. He juggled, tweaked and dodged through the evening chaos to deliver us safe at our hotel in Foggy Bottom.

Just across the road is one of those admirable Trader Joe’s supermarkets, so we did our shopping and had a fine tea and a glass of wine to soothe the anxieties of the journey. Then, in a fit of madness, with the air temperature around 94 deg F (35 deg C) at 9:30 pm. We strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue to see if our neighbours were keeping their accommodations in order. Our neighbours left their lights onIt’s amazing how many people have their kids out at this time of night taking their pictures against the White House fence. And how many members of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department are keeping a firm eye on the antics of the crowd, and not just the people with a cause and placards who camp on the grass of Lafayette Square.

By the time we got back, past the many homeless people settling for the night on their chosen park benches,  it was nearly 11pm and the temperature had not dropped whatsoever.

But my resilience had, and so to bed.

Art Food Louisiana New Orleans Travel

July 26, 2012 … weighing in, in the bronze corner

This will be a short post because today got out of hand.

We got an email yesterday from Delta to tell us that they had moved the departure time forward, so we were waiting for the airport shuttle at 6:30 am this morning. It’s now 10:45 and 94 deg F.

Back to yesterday. I had two goals in mind for yesterday. One was to try the famous beignets with coffee as described so well in the detective novels of James Lee Burke. The other was to visit an exhibition called “What is a photograph” at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). A bit of Googling suggested the appropriate place to go was the Café du Monde, which, according to Google Maps, is at 1 Poydras St. Well it’s not. It’s on Jackson Square , about a mile further East.

We sat waiting for a streetcar and an engaging old gentleman detected that we were from out of town, and won favour by telling us we didn’t have to buy the already cheap $1.25 per ride on buses and streetcars. Instead, for just $3 each we could get an all day pass, covering as many rides as we liked. So we took the streetcar to NOMA. We saw the exhibition, and enjoyed it.

We admired the sculpture garden, and parts of the botanic garden, before deciding we needed relief from the sun. Another streetcar to the lower end of Canal Street and then along the narrow streets of the French Quarter to the Café du Monde. I have ticked beignets off my bucket list and need never consider them again. They tasted well enough, despite being buried in at least half a bag of icing sugar, but perhaps their taste was spoiled by being served by someone who clearly hated her job, her customers or both, or perhaps it was just the sheer guilt of deep-fried choux pastry dipped in white icing sugar.

Anyway, photos for the day include some water lilies at NOMA. It takes more than a good lens to replicate the work of Monet, But here’s my lily shot.Water lilies in the pond at NOMA

My other shot is of a statue in the sculpture garden. I thought if I included the placard, I wouldn’t need to remember the sculptor or the name of the piece, but unless this pieces is called “please do not climb on sculpture”, I have no idea. I can only surmise that the model lived on a diet of beignets. Unknown sculpture by unknown artist at NOMANormal service should resume tomorrow from Washington DC. Good night.


Animals Bayou Birds Landscapes Louisiana Plant life Travel Uncategorized

July 25, 2012 … farewell to the bayou

The very word “swamp” has a dismal connotations.

My preconceptions were of gloom, mud, gas, frogs and reptiles. Well some of those are true, but it never occurred to me that they could come together in such a beautiful package. Having done the airboat trip the previous day, we elected to take a different, and slower tour.

As before, the bus was late, but this time, the driver had personality. She was an absolute character. Think Whoopi Goldberg on speed. She had us all attempting to pronounce New Orleans as she did … “N’ahlins” and, “it ain’t no ‘Loo-easy-anna’, it’s ‘Loooozy-anna’”. She filled the 40 minute trip with non stop chatter and hilarious and outrageous banter, and earned her tip.

We took a different route to the previous day, and arrived at a jetty in a different place than before, but as we looked across the canal, we were looking at the base for yesterday’s trip, just 200 metres away.  This was not really a problem because, unless you grew up here, you go into a bayou and you can’t tell whether you have been here before or not. Each visit is an entirely new experience.

By the way, I was really impressed at the navigational skills of the “salty old sea-dog, descendant of Jean Lafitte” guides, until I spotted the GPS on the binnacle of yesterday’s boat.

The slow boats are basically rectangular boxes with rows of bench seats down each side and in the centre, a canopy overhead, and two stonking great 175hp outboards on the back behind a control binnacle. Off we went.

This guide was more laconic than yesterday’s airboat skipper, but no less knowledgeable. He took us to different and quieter places, though all too often the quiet was shattered by the bellow of a passing airboat popping out of the trees nearby and across the opening we were in. Thunderous intrusion - airboat passingThe only consolation is that there is no way for an airboat to sneak up on you. By the way, the wearing of ear-defenders is supposedly mandatory, so any ill-effects or hearing damage suffered by the people in the front row of this boat are self-inflicted.

There are boats all over the swamp, and when you are on an airboat the sound of your own propeller tends to deafen you to others nearby.  On the slow boat with well muffled engines it’s like navigating through a beehive.

There are wonderful moments of blessed silence, however.  On such occasions you can see the other inhabitants of the swamp such as this red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) basking on a logRed-eared slider turtleHowever, even though our boat was relatively quiet, many swamp dwellers leapt hastily into the water as we approached, or as in the case of this beautiful “Great blue” heron (Ardea herodias), took to the air.Great blue heronThough I was disappointed not to encounter the mammals of the swamp, especially the raccoon and the nutria, we did get a goodly interaction with several alligators of varying sizes (Alligator mississippiensis). I liked this one’s bright smile. Never smile at a crocodile, don't be taken in by his welcome grin ... (I know he's an alligator)

Tomorrow we leave for Washington DC so just one more report from New Orleans to come.

Animals Bayou Birds Plant life Trees

July 24, 2012 … alligators and egrets

Great shrouds of Spanish moss, cool shaded trees, deep dark water, snowy white egrets, and cold dispassionate eyes peering up through the weed assessing your value as a potential meal.

Oh how magical are the swamps and bayous of Louisiana.

Sure the tourism operation is as cynical and opportunistic as any you will encounter, but for all that, the tour guides have an engaging personality, though even that is probably aimed at enhancing the likelihood of a generous tip.

The afternoon in downtown  New Orleans was sullen, with thunderstorms and periodic rain. The bus was late, and the transit from there to Jean Lafitte, reputedly the base for the legendary (or infamous, depending on your cultural alignment) pirate was rapid, bordering on the uncomfortable, with a minimalist commentary.

At the town of Jean Lafitte, we boarded our airboat with a family from the Netherlands, and went out into the waterways and bayous around the Eastern side of Lake Salvador. The airboat is a quick and effective way of getting around the swamps, but it is not a comfortable vehicle. It offers no shelter from the hot Louisiana sun, gives a bumpy ride in areas of choppy water, and forces you to wear ear defenders when the throttle is open. And when the throttle is open, the noise is truly an unbearable roar. The tour guide had to reduce the throttle to idle or shut down altogether whenever he wanted to communicate.Airboat opens up the throttle

Personality is the stock-in-trade of a tour guide, and ours had it aplenty. Furthermore, he was intimately familiar with his surroundings and the wildlife so he was able to show us a variety of wildlife.

As you know I love herons and all their relatives, and the bird we know in New Zealand as the White Heron or kotuku is merely the “common egret” here. But in a lovely setting such as this it is still a truly majestic bird, but quick to flee with a bellowing airboat approaching. Egret departs as noisy new neighbours arrive

Of course, every tourist expects to see alligators, and our guide knew where to find them. Some were quite tame, bordering on the “well-trained” as the guides throw them marshmallows which they seem to love. Anyway, the alligator seems to come to the call of the guide. Most of those we saw were quite small compared with a big salt water crocodile from Queensland, but sinister enough anyway.

AlligatorJust cruising by

We saw turtles, and the odd squirrel, and a reasonable variety of wading birds, but regardless of the wildlife, I think the real beauty is in the swamps themselves. Spanish moss is as much an unwanted misguided transplant here as gorse and blackberry and rabbits were in New Zealand. But it lends an undeniable charm to the bayou.

Beautiful bayouSpanish moss is everwhere

If you get to New Orleans the swamp tours are highly recommended. We enjoyed the airboat but for tomorrow decided to do the slower cruise.

Architecture Food New Orleans Travel

July 23, 2012 … it’s hard work having fun

Somehow, I feel I am not the target demographic for the City of New Orleans.

This is a party town. It  is food and booze, and even the most respectable of institutions carry unsubtle advertisements for “gentlemen’s clubs”. I don’t mean to sit in judgement on those who seek such things, and heaven knows food is the favourite thing I eat, and I like a drink.  But this is a place for the young, or the very rich.

For those more conservative souls like me, the architecture is fascinating, and swamps, bayous and plantations near the city are all worth looking at. But it does seem to me to be an exploitative city. Even the sacred places (perhaps especially the sacred places) seem to know how to turn a buck. And am I being squeamish when I turn away from the “Katrina Tours”? I just don’t do “disaster tourism”. How would we Kiwis feel about “Pike River Tours”?   Or “Red Zone” tours? (Oh wait …)

Like I said, I am not the target market for most of their product.  So what did we do yesterday? We started out by walking past the Piazza d’Italia which seems to be a combination of public space, fountain, art work or whatever. It was an oddity that served little useful purpose that I could see, but it did provide some sheltered crevices in which some homeless people could stack cardboard boxes to sleep for the night. A young tourist also found the fountain useful to wash his shirt and then spread it to dry on one of the bench seats.Piazza d'Italia, New Orleans

We walked on into Canal Street to see the Audubon Society’s Insectarium, the culmination of which is a live butterfly exhibit. A butterfly in the InsectariumI know the butterfly is sitting on an artificial flower, but I liked the insect. After that it was off to the Imax theatre to see a movie about the impact of Katrina on the bayou (and yes, I do see a difference between this and disaster tourism).  Well worth the visit if you can get there before the crowds.

From there we had lunch on Decatur Street … jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat was very nice indeed.  Then we walked though the French Quarter, admiring the quaint buildings, the expensive artisan shops, and the many many restaurants and bars. We also caught glimpses of elegant but secluded courtyards. A glimpse into an elegant courtyardIn the treacle-thick heat of the afternoon, we felt sorry for the mules pulling multi-seat carriages full of tourists, and smiled at the sight of a police officer whizzing by on his heavy-duty Segway.Mobile policing in New Orleans

We admired the architecture of the city’s Catholic cathedral, but felt it was outshone by the delicacy of the lesser known St Patrick’s church on Camp St.St Patrick's Church, Camp St, New Orleans

By then we were thoroughly “knackered”, to put it bluntly, so we ate at home and went to bed, exhausted.

Aviation Louisiana New Orleans Travel

July 22. 2012 … in a different land

Louisiana is different.

Or at least New Orleans is. Humidity seemed so high when we arrived, you could cut chunks off it with a knife.  Our departure from Denver was uneventful, and the much discussed security processes, while tedious, were simply routine. Mary forgot she had a jar of Marmite in her backpack (she’s normally a Vegemite girl, but we haven’t found a source of supply for that yet), and of course that raised the issue of more than 100ml of any liquid or gel. Somehow she managed to negotiate that before all the bells went off, and then we had a pleasant flight on Frontier Air’s Airbus to New Orleans. A lot of cloud on the way prevented a clear view of the vast landscape below us.Somewhere over Kansas, Oklahoma, or perhaps Arkansas

I was surprised at the both the huge scale of the Denver airport, and the comparatively small scale of New Orleans. It seemed about the same size as Christchurch’s airport. We got a shuttle bus to our hotel. Try as I might I could see no sign of a speed limit on the freeway into town, and if there was one, I am certain the driver ignored it. The little bus obviously had a huge engine and fairly flew into the city, overtaking most other traffic and took corners in a style that would make any rally driver proud.  We got our first sight of the back streets of the city as the driver negotiated the multiple hotel drop-offs for his passengers. Noteworthy from the moment we left the freeway was the density of restaurants and bars, though at 4pm, most had not yet opened. I rather liked this reflection of our shuttle in the window of one such restaurant as we passed.Reflecting on the restaurant trade

At our hotel, we were delighted to be given a “complimentary upgrade” to a good-sized suite. For dietary reasons we have booked places where we can do our own cooking all the way. We have found that most hotels which advertise “full kitchen” don’t really mean it. In Santa Rosa and Boulder, it was two hotplates and a microwave. This one has a huge full-sized stove with a four plate hob and a microwave. As before, they don’t take self catering seriously, or expect anyone to actually use the facilities. There was just one frying pan and one pot (no lid). The moment a steak hits the frying pan, the smoke alarm starts screaming.

The nearest supermarket is vast and stocks thousands of things I would have no idea what to do with.  And huge amounts of food that I would love to try. The city thrives on tourism and the prices probably reflect that.  In Colorado every pedestrian crossing (crosswalk) had a prominent sign reminding motorists that “STATE LAW” required vehicles to yield to pedestrians.

In Louisiana, I suspect there is a bounty on pedestrians because, despite marked “crosswalks” there is no facility for pedestrians to activate a safe crossing period, and no certainty at all that anyone will stop while you cross, regardless of what the lights say. And if you do survive the crossing, the chaotic post-Katrina state of some sidewalks will snap your ankles anyway.

All that said, we look forward to exploring the city and its attractions before we leave for Washington on Thursday.