This trips marks our sixth
adventure aboard a long-distance train and I was pretty excited, as
we had heard some good things about the train and the trip itself.
Yvonne's parents were to accompany us on what was to be their first
long-distance train trip, so we had prepped them on the great food ,
high level of service and fun to be had while making the trip in a
sleeper car that we had experienced on our previous trips.
Unfortunately -- and I will not go into details -- this train ride
seemed to be jinxed from the start: an uncaring and rude agent in Chicago, a
terribly and inexcusably late departure and sloppy -- almost
non-existent -- service were nothing like that to which we had grown
The ride itself was one of the
bumpiest yet provided... but the following afternoon (around 3 pm)
we glided across the border into Louisiana, passing through some
some incredibly low-lying and swampy areas, slipping slickly between
Lake Maurepas on the west and Lake Ponchartrain on the east and
arriving at the New Orleans station, no worse for the wear. We
detrained to what I had imagined New Orleans must have been like:
warm and humid. The station is just a few short blocks from
the Superdome, and I tried to imagine what things there must have
looked like in late August of 2005, with winds in the downtown area
reaching the category 3 range (111-129 mph). Although
the worst part of the hurricane actually missed the city itself, the storm
surge from it extended over six miles inland; at one point -- on
August 31st -- over 80% of the city was flooded, with some parts
under fifteen feet of water.
city, the storm surge
caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees, leading some
to refer to the result as the worst engineering disaster in the
history of the United States. Interestingly, many parts of the
city sustained little or no flooding at all, The French Quarter
dodged a bullet, as did our destination in New Orleans:
Hilton Riverside. (The hotel, by the way, is a short distance
from the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, another shelter area
for Katrina's hurricane survivors.)
Unfortunately, our time in New
Orleans was going to be short and our itinerary was not; we had
planned a lot of things with a minimal amount of time in which to do
them. This I would definitely not recommend if you plan a trip
to the Big Easy; there is way too much to do and see, without even
considering the number of dining venues at which one can sample
Cajun and other interesting fare. But we would do our best!
Our stay at the Hilton was nothing
short of marvelous -- from check-in to check-out. As a result
of some of the difficulties in 2011, I had made contact with a Mr.
Roger Lawson, the Assistant Director of Property Operations there
(although I did not know that at the time; he came across as just
one of the employees there). He was truly representative of
the level of care and service we experienced at the hotel;
perhaps he is the one responsible for it. Whichever the case
may be, this hotel and its staff rank right up there with some of
the best the Hilton chain has to offer and I would highly recommend
you consider it if your travel plans include New Orleans!
The hotel includes a restaurant on
the ground floor called Drago's Seafood. Specializing in
seafood (obviously), they have something called charbroiled
oysters. To me a blend of Rockefeller and a fillet mignon slathered
in garlic Maitre d' butter, these treats are alone worth the trip.
But don't overlook the other great selections from the menu either!
And make sure to also check out the River Blends Cafe and Spirits
Lounge; both have great ambience and excellent fare.
Had we been
in town for a
convention, we may not have left the hotel. However, we were
there to take in the sights, sounds, smells and food of New Orleans.
So, bright and early on Monday morning (after exercising in the
gigantic fitness center of the hotel, we sipped coffee and checked
the view from the 29th floor executive lounge. WOW!
Views to the east and the sprawling, meandering Mississippi from
one side and views to the left from the other side (we would also
catch a couple of sunsets from there). Sunday evening had
included a walk along the river to get our bearings and this morning
we headed out to find Cafe du Monde and a chance to sip some cafe au
lait and munch on a
More about Cafe du Monde, some
cajun food and a trip aboard the Steamboat Natchez in
New Orleans - Part 2!