Reflections 2015
Series 9
June 6
Mississippi River V: Birdfoot Delta – New Orleans – Return by Rail


For reasons that shall become apparent, I'm dedicating this last posting of the current Mississippi River trip to MICHAEL STROHMEYER, a Louisiana gentleman who knows how to be the perfect host, not only in the tradition of the Old South, but of contemporary Louisiana. He is proud of the natural beauty of the Mississippi River Birdfoot Delta and is consummately skilled and gracious in revealing its mysteries and magnificence to an itinerant New York traveler wandering down the pike to the end of the road.


Great River Road, New Orleans to Venice    When planning this second part of the trip after Texas, as it developed from a trip just to cities in Mississippi to an actual tour of the Mississippi River, it seemed it would come in three stages. The cruise from Memphis to New Orleans was the longest. The second part would be by car, driving along the river to the end of the Great River Road (GRR) in the small town of Venice. The third part would then be somehow (how?) boating out from Venice to the very end of the river itself. We are now up to the second part, so let's take a look at the GRR and the general lay of the land south of New Orleans. Copy and paste these links:


On the first map, just note where the GRR runs along the entire river from top to bottom (usually on both sides); note also what we've already seen, what awaits us now, and also during the trip extension in September. It's almost never a straight road along the riverbank, as you can find on the Rhine and Hudson, but an assemblage of local roads here and there. You can only see the river from atop a levee, or by crossing it by ferry or bridge. That's what's cut out for us.

The second map shows the GRR where we've just been, and up to Edgard, just beyond Vacherie. Note how far it can veer from the river. You can discard these two maps now.

The third map is the most important. It shows the GRR from Edgard via New Orleans to Venice. Note first how the GRR on the east bank out of New Orleans makes a large loop to accommodate a large bend of the south-turning river; then find Belle Chasse, Pointe a la Hache, where the east bank GRR ends, and Venice where the west bank GRR ends.

Secondly, note three non-lakes called lakes, both on this map, and even better on the fourth map. We already know that Lake Ponchartrain and its little sister, Lake Maurepas, are actually semisaline bays of the Gulf. Particularly on the fourth map, note the so-called Lake Borgne, which is even more obviously not a lake, but a bay. You'll see why we mention Lake Borgne in a moment. You can now discard the fourth map, but still keep the third one.


We've gotten off the American Queen in New Orleans, but we're not staying. We're on our way to Venice for tonight, and we'll come back here tomorrow night. Keep on holding onto the GRR map, but then copy and paste these two links:


The first map is a wide-scale map of New Orleans (a common nickname includes the state's abbreviation: Nola). To the left, in beige, is the Garden District, once a suburb established outside the French Quarter to house, along with downtown areas west of the French Quarter, arriving Americans when the area was taken over by the US. Beyond the interstate is downtown (click), which includes the Union Passenger Terminal (UPT), the rail (and now bus) station we'll be going home from. In pink is the French Quarter, the original part, and therefore oldest part, of the city. The French name was the Vieux Carré, or "Old Square", because of its rectangular shape (other than at the river). But Nola maps are often shown this way, by putting the river at the bottom. In actuality, the French Quarter is not rectangular, but diamond-shaped. Mentally (or physically, if that helps) turn the map a quarter-turn to the left so that its upper right (north) is at the top, and you'll see the reality of how the French Quarter is located on the river—facing southeast.


Find, at the river side of the gold area, the Cruise Ship Terminal, which is where the AQ docked at 8 AM on a Saturday, officially at the Hilton Riverside Hotel. It's an easy one-block walk to the end of Canal Street, the main street of Nola. You can see where the ferry to Algiers leaves, which I took both in 2007 and 2008. Technically, those were my first sailings on the Mississippi! One block in is the shopping center at Canal Place, and on its upper floors is the Westin Canal Place. I checked my bag at the desk after taking out a couple of essentials for one night in Venice, explaining that my reservation was for the next day, and then it was time to go get the car at Enterprise for the weekend. It was still early to call them for a pickup, and anyway, I wanted to take the streetcar, which was on Canal, right outside the perfectly-located hotel. Follow the route up Canal to the elevated interstate on Claiborne Street, and Enterprise was just three blocks beyond, on Canal at Prieur Street.


Note how the upper border of the French Quarter is on Rampart Street, and follow that as it bends with the river until it becomes St Claude Avenue. That's our driving route to our next stop, in and out of Nola in a trice. Now look at the second map. This is the metropolitan area, and we saw it before, when were talking about the levees in Algiers and Gretna. Now let's talk about how the crazy meanderings of the river affect local geography. Opposite the wild bend at Algiers is the French Quarter in purple shown in its actual diamond-shaped position. Below that in red are the twin bridges of the Crescent City Connection (CCC), over which, because of the river bends, eastbound US 90 has to actually turn west to get across the river, to then continue east. In the beige Garden District you can see the famous St Charles streetcar line bending all the way around to Carrolton. Next come Metairie and other lakeside communities that I visited on earlier trips after Katrina. And Lake Pontchartrain is the reason Nola is where it is. Remember that the Louisiana Purchase covered the west bank (here in the south!) and beyond, but specifically included Nola on the east bank, which was otherwise West Florida. Why was Nola here? It was originally the riverside settlement where Native Americans would portage their boats between river and lake.


Find St Claude Avenue as we cross Marigny, Bywater, and the Lower Ninth Ward, that suffered particularly hard in Katrina. We're headed to that dark green rectangle in Chalmette (shahl.MET), but there's an error in the map—it's not in Arabi, which is actually to the left--where that zig in our road is. We ARE really in Chalmette, and the site of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, and this close to the French Quarter, which was the totality of New Orleans at the time.


War of 1812    We've spoken recently in Canada about the War of 1812, so we need add just a little here. It tends to be the forgotten war, even among history-conscious people. What was that about the Star-Spangled Banner? The burning of Washington? The Battle of New Orleans? Since it was a war with the British, wasn't that sort of connected to the American Revolution?


No—but then, maybe yes. It's been called the Second War of Independence, so maybe it should be thought of as a 2 ½-year appendix to the Revolution, three decades later. Americans were upset about matters like the British impressing their seamen into the Royal Navy, trade restrictions, outrage over insults to national honor after humiliations on the high seas. It really seems that the British thought they might have another go at getting the US back as a colony, and the Americans thought they could have another go at getting British North America (Canada) to join the US. The peace treaty had been in 1783, and 1812, although in a new century, was only 29 years later, so in many ways it was an appendix. But it did solve issues, and no territory was exchanged.


As we've said before, in Europe the War of 1812, if anyone is aware of it at all, is just considered a minor, distant theater of the Napoleonic wars. After all, the Battle of New Orleans was in January 1815, and Waterloo was in June 1815, so Europe had other matters on its mind. The countries really involved on a practical basis were British Canada and the US, and nowadays, it's an essential part of Canadian history and almost as thoroughly forgotten in the US as it is in Europe. I'll again quote a poll in 2012, the bicentennial of the war, that presented Canadians with a list of items that could be considered to define their identity. In first place, at 53%, was universal health care and in second place, at 25%, was the fact that Canadians had successfully repelled American invasion in the War of 1812. 77% of Canadians also thought that the bicentennial celebration of that war was important. I don't think most Americans were even aware that the bicentennial was being celebrated (it was). Indicative of Canadian feelings is this statue put up in Toronto in 2008 (I've never seen it) depicting life-size toy soldiers, where the Canadian toy soldier is defeating the American one (Photo by HBW 40). And remember, they built the Rideau Canal to avoid traffic having to go near the US border. Copy and paste:


Other than the war at sea, there were the battle areas (click). Looking at the St Lawrence River, and Lakes Ontario and Erie, you can see what the Canadians were upset about. But American amnesia has nevertheless overtaken the War of 1812, with perhaps a few exceptions. Many Americans do remember Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie having a battle flag that said "Don't Give up the Ship", and his message that said "We have met the enemy and they are ours . . ." But others, while recognizing it, would wonder what war that was, maybe the Revolution. Americans do remember, but perhaps with similar vagueness (see map), the British invasion and burning of Washington, as well as the successful repelling of the British in nearby Baltimore, where Francis Scott Key, visiting on legal business, witnessed ". . . the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air . . ." And maybe they do remember, equally vaguely, the Battle of New Orleans, which stopped the British trying to take over that city and the entire Mississippi River. On the map, follow Andrew Jackson arriving overland, plus the British invasion by sea. Then discard that map, and copy and paste these links:


Battle of New Orleans    On the basis that travel with just a contemporary map is intellectually wasteful, the first map we have is a period map covering the two weeks ending on 8 January 1815. It's a delight to look at New Orleans and see just the original town, which is the French Quarter in its diamond shape. I would have expected to have seen an early version of Saint Claude Avenue, perhaps as a country road. Maybe that developed later, but at this point, the area was accessed by land from town on a road along the levee. Note how many cypress swamps surrounded the area, and then note what surprised me the most. I would have expected the British forces to have arrived from the south, up the river, but instead they came directly from the Gulf by way of its bay called Lake Borgne (which is why we determined its location before). We see their arriving up a local waterway to meet the American defenders.


There were several engagements over the two weeks, but, as the second map and illustration shows, the decisive one was on 8 January 1815. There were, as ever, plantations along the river, and the battle was fought on the subsequently destroyed plantation of the Chalmette family, by then owned by the second son of the original Chalmette, and so we see how the area gets its name. When one visits the battlefield, one sees the abandoned mill race on the neighboring Rodriguez plantation, which was by then a dry ditch It was dug deeper to make a rampart (which sounds like digging a ditch to make a levee), and this rampart held successfully, and New Orleans was not invaded.


This was the final major battle of the War of 1812. It had to be, since it was fought after the war was technically over! Although the treaty was not ratified until February, it had been signed on 24 December, the very day hostilities here commenced. Not knowing about the treaty, hostilities continued until 18 January, when all the British forces retreated.


The third map (click) shows what we see today. We drive in from St Claude Avenue over the railroad tracks down the left of the battlefield up to the monument to it. We can get out and inspect the defensive line along the rampart (Photo by Infrogmation), with cannon and the monument visible, along with a restored plantation house. We can walk down to that postwar Beauregard House of 1833, and walk up to the levee. We then can drive around the loop in the British positions, and note how very compact the whole battlefield is. We then leave the property and enter again on the right side, and find we're in the tiny Chalmette National Cemetery, which is, curiously, only about one block wide and ten blocks long. This is a view from the cemetery to the battlefield (Photo by Infrogmation). Click to see the monument again, plus industry in the area. I read that the majority of the graves are from the Civil War, and include burials up until Vietnam, while there are only four graves of War of 1812 soldiers, and only one of whom was at the Battle of New Orleans. I researched that further, and found that the cemetery was only founded in 1864, which explains that situation.


When we leave, we find that we are on the wrong side of the river. Go back to the GRR map to see that continuing on the loop around this bend of the river will not get us far enough. So we swing around to where we can take the Belle Chasse Ferry, not the last, but the last practical crossing of the river. As we approach the river for the ferry we find—what else—a levee in front of us (Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans). Click to see that a left turn will keep us on the east bank up to Pointe a la Hache, but that there's a ferry ramp up the side of the levee ahead. The line of cars you see is longer when we're there, and over the top of the levee we're seeing either the top of the pier or of the ferry itself. The ferry is free to cross over to the Belle Chasse side, and from the ferry we get to peek at the river again.


The whole distance from Nola, actually from Gretna, to Venice along LA 23 takes about 90 minutes without stops. With the exception of a short stretch through Port Sulphur, the entire highway is four lanes wide, although not controlled access. This is not just to please us visitors. It's a critical hurricane evacuation route for thousands of inhabitants along the route. Opposite Pointe a la Hache on the other side, where that road ends, is the appropriately named West Pointe a la Hache. Just before we get there, those who are in the know turn left to see Woodland Plantation, c 1834. It's not one of those grand mansions that the word "plantation" tends to conjure up. Remember that some plantation houses were just large farmhouses. And not all plantations were north of New Orleans. But the special thing about Woodland is that it made its way to a well-known Currier & Ives chromolithograph in 1871 named A Home on the Mississippi. It's a lovely experience to see the building, but one figures out immediately that the artist took liberties to make it more charming than it actually was/is. The two-chimneyed red roof with five gables over the seven-columned porch with steps leading up to it—they're all true, and are still there. But the house faces west, and at least today, there's a large lawn running down to the highway. Check our GRR map, and you'll see that the river is BEHIND where we are at the house, not charmingly flowing in front of it—and no steamboat, either. The print is beautifully evocative, but includes a lot of artistic license. And in addition, there is—what else—a levee (Photo by Infrogmation) somewhere behind the house next to the river (I did not go and check it out).


But there's another interesting depiction of the house--actually of the print of the house. Starting after Prohibition in 1933, Currier & Ives licensed the depiction of its print to be used on the label of Southern Comfort liqueur (Photo by Hamish2k). Click and you'll see it perfectly. Unfortunately, they stopped using the image in 2010 when the product was rebranded.


I have a good picture of Woodland Plantation today, provided to me by Michael Strohmeyer (see below) and is on my Flickr account. Check it out—two chimneys, red roof, five gables, seven columns on the porch, with steps leading up to it; perhaps the iron railings are new. Woodland Plantation is on the National Register of Historic Places. Copy and paste:

It's today a bed-and-breakfast (they have some trouble spelling "West Pointe a la Hache").


But that's where we are, and there is another ferry here, over to Pointe a la Hache, where the road on the east bank ends. I had said the Belle Chasse Ferry was the last practical crossing, with frequent service and heavy use. But technically, this ferry is the very last public crossing of the Mississippi. I hadn't seen the river since Belle Chasse—that's how it goes with levees in the way--so I turned off the road a bit to just take a look at the river at the Pointe a la Hache ferry landing. Copy and paste:


It doesn't look like it, but you did have to drive up a slope onto the levee, but that afforded a nice view over to the other side. There was one car parked, waiting for the next ferry to come over in a while. I'm glad I got the view, but it isn't a crossing you want to have to depend on—I'm glad we were coming down the west bank.


On our GRR map, we reach the oddly-named Port Sulphur. This is the stretch that is just two-lane. But given the number of hurricanes that devastate this area, and the houses that are built on wooden stilts all along the Gulf Coast, I saw something that made me pull off the road to investigate. Copy & paste:


It was the evidently newly-rebuilt South Plaquemines High School, solid, massive, and of brick. And you could spot even from the road that it was built on multiple brick columns, an alternate version of stilts. It struck me as such a clever idea, but odd for such a large building. You can see more easily on the right that it's empty space underneath, but it's the same on the left, as well. The open area underneath has some parking, and is also the pick-up and drop-off area for school buses, teachers, parents, and students. I though it was so clever that I took a drive under the building, just for the experience. Only on the Gulf Coast. I later checked, and of course, for a bit of local gallows humor, their teams are called the Hurricanes.


Venice    Shortly afterward, we arrive in Venice the end of the road. Venice, like the rest of the area, was almost completely destroyed by Katrina in 2005, but has seen significant rebuilding since. This house raised on stilts (Photo by Infrogmation) is in Boothville, immediately before Venice and adjoining it. We used this picture when discussing Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula in 2015/3. In the background is the levee, so we're apparently looking east toward the river. Boothville is the home of the Boothville Heliport, which ferries workers and freight to and from the oil rigs out in the Gulf. I walked up on the levee at two locations in Venice to see the river for the third time only since Chalmette, getting a peek in between only at the two ferries.


While Venice is the end of the road, actually a small local road goes a bit beyond into the area of the Venice Marina. Since we were on a roll, I passed the hotel and went out to see that area. Not surprisingly, virtually all the buildings in the Marina were on stilts as well. Copy and paste:


But then I went back to check in to the recently rebuilt Lighthouse Lodge in Venice, which you couldn't miss, for obvious reasons:


The Birdfoot Delta    But we've only done two of our three segments, the AQ, then the GRR. How do we get from Venice to the mouth of the Mississippi? Well, you certainly don't wait to the last moment to find out. Months in advance I'd checked, and there are no commercial boat services in the area to give river rides, even for just a few hours. Sure, there are boats for hire in the marina, at hundreds of dollars a day, meant for the sports fishermen who come to Venice who don't have their own boat here (many do). A group of them would make a day of it by hiring a boat, sharing the cost, and going out into the Gulf to fish. But I wanted to see the Birdfoot Delta and the land and water areas surrounding it, including Venice. That put me in the minority—probably a minority of one among the fishermen. What to do?


My records show that I was looking into this situation eight months in advance of the mid-November Sunday morning I wanted to do it, based on the arrival of the AQ in New Orleans that weekend. It was in March 2014 that I contacted the Lighthouse Lodge where I'd be staying to ask if there was anyone local that had a boat that I could pay to take me on the river tour I wanted. In a couple of days, I got an email from Michael Strohmeyer, who turned out to be none other than the owner of the hotel, who said he'd be glad to give me a tour in his boat. I asked him what he would charge to take me out on the water, and he just fudged answering, with something like "we'll see" or "we'll worry about that later". On top of that, he told me he'd arranged at the front desk that for my one Saturday night staying at the hotel, he'd give me the same corporate rate he gives Shell Oil, and a senior discount to boot. So once again I got "an offer I couldn’t refuse", and I accepted Mike's offer all those months earlier. Maybe there's an advantage after all at being a "fish out of water". (Mild humor intended.) Mike did point out that you can never plan on the weather, and that, as a worst-case scenario, we'd have to cancel it, but that's true for a lot of travel, so I hoped for the best. Over the months, Mike and I carried on a periodic correspondence, and he sent me a number of pictures of his boat and the area. Corresponding with him, I learned a lot about where to go, to supplement what I'd already learned online. Copy and paste:

So let's start with the most obvious, by looking at an actual bird's foot: three toes forward, one to the back. Now compare this excellent NASA photo from space of the Mississippi River's Birdfoot Delta, and you'll see the direct parallel. (This was taken in 2001, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made changes in 2005—still, it gives an adequate idea of the general lay of the land.) There are the three "toes" forward and one to the back. Voilà. If you want a copy of this image to keep on the side, here's the link:


It's amazing looking at this entire area as a whole. The parallel that comes to mind is a road paving machine. Asphalt is dumped down up front of the steam roller, which then flattens it and moves on, actually "using" the road it's just paved. Here we can see how the "muddy Mississippi" deserves that nickname. From earlier lobes that it's made, it spread its bed eastward to form what is today the south bank of Lake Pontchartrain, and New Orleans (see GRR map), then kept on going, more southeasterly now, and this is where it's reached. The area further north is a wider peninsula now, but this area has yet to grow sideways, so it's hardly much more than a more recently laid river bed that looks like a trough which just contains the Mississippi and its distributaries. If you doubt that this "road-building machine" will spread sideways as well all the way to the end of the distributaries, just look how they leak! The distributaries have created sub-distributaries, and plumes of sediment continue to pour out of them, particularly obvious at the bottom of the image. These plumes of sediment shooting out sideways are "building up the neighborhood" along the sides of the "new street being paved".


While the "leak" out of the Mississippi further inland is called the Atchafalaya River, all these "leaks" have a unique designation. They are distributaries, like many others, but they aren't called "rivers", they're called "passes". While that's a good English word, it doesn't seem to me to be original in this case. It's just speculation, but since une passe in French can imply a passageway, just as a mountain pass is a passageway, I'm going to make a guess that early French settlers used these as passageways to reach the main river, hence the French name, followed by the English translation.


If it was ever wise before to click to expand an image, it's just that much wiser to expand this one. When you do, you'll really see the many minor passes (distributaries, "leaks"). Follow the light green cultivated area to where it ends, and you're in Venice. Take that side road we saw on the GRR map, which leaves Venice at about the eight-o'clock position. It's called Tide Water Road and runs southwest. You can see even on this map from space the left turn that comes up, a very sharp left turn to a road leading east. This is Venice Boat Harbor Drive, and brings one to the north side of the far rectangle, which is the Venice Boat Harbor. You can also see two passes leading out of the Mississippi at this point. The exit for the passes has the curious name of The Jump. While Grand Pass boldly makes its way south, scraggly Tiger Pass is to its left, and goes right along the Marina before sort of petering out. Keep these two in mind as we discuss the major passes.


Looking downstream from Venice, we first see a wide pass "bending backwards". This is North Pass, the "back toe" of our birdfoot. Further downriver we see what to me is an absolutely amazing spot (and is so in real life, too) the point where the Mississippi River splits three ways, all at once. It has the appropriate name Head of Passes. It's particularly amazing when you note how haphazardly most passes leave the river, that all of a sudden there should be such neatness, such regularity at this point. These are the three "toes" of our birdfoot. From left to right, they are Southwest Pass, South Pass, and Pass a Loutre. We'll be concentrating on the first two, but the third deserves recognition because of its unusual, perhaps even humorous, name. Any ideas?


As you may know, in French autre (O.truh) is "other" and so l'autre (LO.truh) is "the other". It's been altered now to Pass a Loutre—"the Other-One Pass". My guess is that it's pronounced like the world "looter".


When I'd written Mike to assume we'd go down Southwest Pass, since it's the longest, he advised against it. Yes, it is the most commercial shipping route. All major shipping, freighters, cruise ships, container ships, tugs, crew boats, work boats, all use it. It's ten miles (16 km) longer than South Pass, and there's no light at the end, but ten miles further inland instead. And all that would make it a less pleasant ride—less wildlife, more commerce. I think he also said there are more shored-up walls along the banks, and less greenery. I understand a shipping channel is maintained from the end of Southwest Pass all the way to Baton Rouge, so it's the "business route". On the other hand, he said South Pass is where most fishermen go; it's narrower, safer, more weather-friendly, more attractive, and its end is easily reached. So South Pass it would be. It's good to have someone who knows what's best.


But where's the mouth of the Mississippi? You could argue two ways. The term Mouth of Passes refers to the total of the individual mouths of the four passes, including North Pass (but not including the Atchafalaya, or minor passes). Therefore, the passes are defined as having both a head and a mouth, as though they're their own individual rivers. It can be argued that the Mouth of Passes is the mouth of the Mississippi, on the basis that that's where the water finally reaches the sea, or in this case, the Gulf.


But the Head of Passes is actually considered to be the mouth of the river, since everything beyond is part of these "new rivers", the Passes, and I agree with that. It's the same with all the distributaries--the Atchafalaya distributes Mississippi waters, but is considered its own river. In the same way, the passes are their own rivers, leaving the Head of Passes to be the mouth of the Mississippi. That means it has to be one of the most unusual mouths a river can have—a river mouth that doesn't directly abut the ocean.


Two interesting measurements are based on the Head of Passes, the more important one is the AHP, and there's also the BHP. Mileages on the Lower Mississippi (Cairo to the Gulf) are based on the distance Above the Head of Passes (AHP). For instance Cairo is 953.8 AHP. Mileages on the three passes downstream are measured Below the Head of Passes (BHP). These designations further define where river ends and passes start.


Visiting the Birdfoot Delta    Late that Saturday afternoon, Mike and his wife Gail left their home in a development partway down from New Orleans, and drove by the Lighthouse Lodge. They had me follow them to their place in the Marina, and we made plans for the next day. First, though, I asked for a restaurant recommendation, and Mike sent me to a nice little place right in the marina, but up on stilts. It was the first time I ever had occasion to walk up ramps to a location on stilts.


The next morning, Sunday, I checked out of the hotel and met Mike at his place in the marina. I can describe it as one of a row of attached boathouses, with living quarters upstairs. The lower level with the boat was attached on both sides, and closed in the back facing the road, but open to the marina. I estimate it's the equivalent to a building on stilts, but partially closed on the bottom.


Mike then introduced me to someone going with us, Mike Adams, a dentist friend who travels the world hunting (Africa, Siberia). Mike Strohmeyer has retired from his furniture business back up in Gretna, opposite New Orleans. So now we have both our original Mike S, our new Mike A, and moi, off to our river adventure.

 Both before and after the trip, Mike sent me pictures. We already saw his picture of Woodland Plantation above, and the next two are his as well. I've posted my favorites on my Flickr account, and hope I can link properly to them there. I knew the boat was a 26-footer, and was called "Pass a Good Time"—which we certainly did do. But for those who want more details, I recently wrote Mike for more data. He says it's a "1987 Shamrock Stalker center console, 330hp, mercruiser inboard, completely re-built by PANGA MARINE in Sarasota FL" and that it's "a popular hull, as it has a keel for shaft, prop, and hardware protection in shallow water running." This is the Pass a Good Time in the water in Sarasota months earlier, and here it is on a trailer.

We'll use the satellite image shortly, but it might be easier to start out with this one, which emphasizes Venice and the Marina area, but doesn't show much of the passes beyond Head of Passes (click):


Find the "wishbone" of Tiger Pass, near the Marina, and Grand Pass. I had expected we'd go directly into the Mississippi from the Marina, but Mike had something far better planned. Although I remember our route very well, some of the details, especially at the beginning, were vague, so I've been in recent touch with Mike again for details. I know we had to have started in Tiger Pass, but now read Mike's recent update: ". . . we started south down Tiger Pass then turned through a small almost non-navigable bayou used only by locals and commercial fishermen with smaller shallow draft boats. We then turned south in Grand Pass and crossed [Dixon Bay, Scott Bay, and Zinzin Bay.]" Of the three, Zinzin Bay appears at the bottom of the map. Now return to the NASA map and click.


As I was rapidly discovering, Mike's plan was to cross these bays in the Gulf in order to see more wildlife (during the whole trip we saw porpoise, gray pelicans, and white pelicans), as well as to see a bit of Southwest Pass. And he found a "back door" to it via one of the "leaks" it has. These are called spillways, which gives us a third level of reduction, with water going from the river to the pass to the spillway. There are a couple of them, and we were to go from Zinzin Bay into the First Spillway. Mike again: ". . . the spillway is not a huge opening, but large enough for small tugs, crew boats and commercial shrimpers and crabbers." It's hard to find it exactly on the NASA map, but it has to be one of those spidery channels you see.


Out of the spillway, we made a left turn up Southwest Pass. It was like making a left turn from a side road onto a major highway. We crossed the southbound "lane" where a large freighter was approaching on the left, and swung left onto the northbound "lane" in plenty of time to still get that feeling of David confronting Goliath. I could understand why Mike suggested we only see a bit of this pass in favor of South Pass. We continued upstream in Southwest Pass for what Mike estimates to be 3.5 mi (5.6 km) before arriving at Head of Passes. And it was glorious.


As I pictured the NASA image, I found that everything was just as it showed. The greenery was higher than our boat, but still not all that high, and was just as flat as the water was. Where the Mississippi has gentle bends on that image as it spreads out into Head of Passes is exactly what it looked like. And better still were the two points where the passes separated, with South Pass in the center. It must be the constant flow of water to either side that keeps those separations unbelievably sharp, just as they appear on the image. Entering South Pass between those two points was like entering through a gateway.


It didn't take too long to travel South Pass, and I don't believe we met anyone the whole time we were there. We finally passed on our right Port Eads and the South Pass Lighthouse, also called the Port Eads Lighthouse, and went just a bit further. As the image shows, the right bank does continue, but the left bank peters out to a jetty with just a few rocks. So we'd made it to the "end of the road". We then turned around and went back the short distance to Port Eads.

 The name Eads keeps on coming up when talking about the Mississippi, so it seemed time to look it up. Captain James Buchanan Eads of St Louis was in the mid 19C a world famous civil engineer. He was named for a distant relative, James Buchanan, who later became US President. He made his fortune in salvage, retrieving goods from the bottom of the Mississippi after steamboat disasters. Because he'd acquired such detailed knowledge of the Mississippi, equal to any river pilot, navigated the river well, and had a personal fleet of snag-boats and salvage craft, Mississippi rivermen gave him the honorific "Captain", which he used for the rest of his life.

At the time of the Civil War, he was contracted to construct seven ironclads for the US Navy, and did so in five months. One of them was the USS Cairo, whose salvaged remains we saw in Vicksburg. Eads designed and built the first road and rail bridge to cross the Mississippi at St Louis, and we saw earlier a picture of the American Queen with the Eads Bridge (1867-1874) in the background. It was the first steel bridge of its size, and the longest arch bridge in the world in its day. He was the first bridge builder to use the cantilever method so steamboats could continue passing during construction. The Eads Bridge is still in use today for cars and light rail traffic.

Finally, the present area. The Mississippi and its outlets had been silting up terribly from New Orleans to the Gulf, stranding ships or temporarily making areas unnavigable. Starting in 1876, Eads solved the problem with a wooden jetty system that narrowed the main outlet of the river (I presume Southwest Pass), which caused the river to speed up and cut its channel deeper. The deeper channel allowed year-round navigation and safe access for large steamers. In the 20 years afterward, trade at New Orleans doubled. Eads was then honored by having Port Eads named after him. It has a lighthouse, and the structures, accessible only by boat and helicopter, are used mainly by offshore fishermen coming out of Venice. Port Eads was featured at the time in an 1884 issue of Harper's Weekly.

Here's Mike's picture of the South Pass Lighthouse today. The height of the greenery along the shore is typical of the whole area of the passes. As soon as we got there, Mike stopped the boat for a little surprise. He pulled out three large-bell wine glasses and a bottle of Australian Yellowtail Merlot and poured some wine (and later brought out some sandwiches). This was then followed by a toast to the itinerant New Yorker that wandered down the pike to Venice and then managed to reach the end of the Mississippi River. And Mike photographed the toast for posterity, showing me and Mike Adams in front of Port Eads and the South Pass Lighthouse. Now how nice is that?


The weather had held out very nicely, and it was quite comfortable. But as this picture shows, clouds were rolling in and it was getting overcast, so we were very lucky. I've checked, and from Port Eads back north to Venice is 20.3 mi (32.7 km), so we got going northward up South Pass, still munching sandwiches. But that didn't distract me to enjoying once again the two-pointed gateway out of South Pass into Head of Passes. And from there to Venice, believe it or not, was the first time we'd been on the Mississippi proper all day!


We turned off at The Jump and worked our way into Tiger Pass and into the Marina, where we debarked. We had been on the water for 3h10, which was just perfect. I again asked Mike how much I owed him, and he waved me off. I offered to at least cover the cost of his gas, and he refused that, too. And then, HE gave ME the rest of the sandwiches and the remaining half bottle of wine!


As I was getting ready to leave, I took Gail aside privately and wondered about at least covering for the gas. She then pointed out that Mike is proud of the river and is pleased to show it off. And anyway, since he retired, it gives him just one more thing to do!


New Orleans    After goodbyes and thank-yous, I took off up the GRR to New Orleans (see GRR map), but once again, being on the west bank, we were on the wrong side. After Belle Chasse, we were in Gretna (see metropolitan area map, with Chalmette). To get to the dual bridges, the Crescent City Connection (click), we'd have to get on US 90 eastbound, then "bend over backwards" to cross the river westbound, to continue east. But that's the meandering river for you. The outbound bridge is on the left, and I've crossed that in the past. This time we're on the inbound bridge on the right, which is the furthest downstream bridge on the Mississippi, with only ferries beyond. In the distance is Lake Pontchartrain, and the highway goes around the high-rise business district to the low-rise French Quarter further on the right. Where you see some small boats is where the American Queen had docked yesterday, so we've now come full circle this weekend.


The GRR map is the one that shows the French Quarter standing properly on one point as a diamond shape. That point is where the hotel is. Also, that's Canal Street along the border of the French Quarter, not going north as one might expect, but going northwest, to the Enterprise dealership. The minor problem is, that for this two-day weekend rental, Enterprise is closed on Sunday and doesn't accept put-the-key-in-the-slot dropoffs for completion in the morning. On the other hand, overnight parking at the hotel is the equivalent to renting the car another day, so I'd arranged in advance to leave the car outside Enterprise on Canal Street and come back in the morning to settle the paperwork. After the dropoff, I took my small bag, now including sandwiches and wine, and got the Canal Street streetcar down to the hotel. Perfect.


The Westin New Orleans Canal Place is connected to the Canal Place shopping mall, and on top of it, so its lobby is up on the eleventh floor. I got my bag "out of hock" and was given a room on the 24th floor, free on Starpoints for the three nights I wanted it. We'll repeat here the picture we had in 2015/8 taken upstream from the Moon Walk that included the Westin (Photo by Infrogmation), seven blocks away (click). Its lobby is behind those large windows next to the name. On the flip side, we have this downriver view (no attribution). It couldn't be from my very room, but certainly is similar. Algiers Point is seen at the right. On the left is the east bank of New Orleans with the downriver edge of the French Quarter, followed by the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods heading toward Chalmette, and in the distance at top left is Lake Pontchartrain. While Chalmette has to be off this picture, one can see how close the War of 1812 came to New Orleans, which was just then the French Quarter. With this view, it was time for sandwiches and wine. At this point, I emailed Mike that I was watching the water that's on its way downstream to him.


You can drop the metropolitan map and go back to the wide-scale map of Nola. You can't miss in purple where we came back into town from the CCC and turned to exit at Canal to return the car. You can also see the Shops at Canal Place at the bottom of Canal Street, where the hotel is. It's a beautiful accommodation, with a beautiful view, can't be better for streetcar connections, and is free on points. Still, it's connected to a shopping mall, and is much more modern than of the French Quarter atmosphere we want to enjoy. But we can work around finding our atmosphere in plenty of nooks and crannies.


I am unabashedly parochial when it comes to being in the historic center of a city, and in this case, it's the French Quarter, which we could see on the War of 1812 map was the entire city. I've enjoyed walking tours I've taken by myself in the Garden District and on an earlier trip, I enjoyed dining at Commander's Palace in the Garden District, where they treated me very well as a solo diner. But it was just too far—I had to struggle with taxis each way in Mardi Gras traffic. We'll take the St Charles streetcar there on this time, but that's it. Parochial we shall be. One last thing on this map—find the Union Passenger Terminal (UPT) on Loyola Avenue near the freeway. The rail station has been beautifully spiffed up, and now includes an intercity bus terminal. Best of all, I don't have to take a taxi to and from there. They have now built the Loyola line, the newest streetcar line that starts at UPT, goes up Loyola to Canal, and then ends at the bottom of Canal, right at the hotel. It's like they built it just to please me, offering me door-to-door service between the hotel and the station.


French Quarter (Vieux Carré)    But now drop this last map, too, and copy and paste this one, just of the French Quarter (and at the correct angle), which we'll use from now on:


Reorient yourself on this ideal map. Canal Place, Canal Street, the green St Charles line, a piece of the new Loyola line at the upper left. Moving north—yes, north!—into the Quarter, find the Natchez, Moon Walk, Café du Monde at Jackson Square with St Louis Cathedral at the far end bordered by the Cabildo and Presbytère, former government buildings that are now museums. At the upper end is the French Market. You will recognize the names of some famous streets. That's it for the Quarter, from Rampart Street to the River, from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street. However, some killjoys, such as this mapmaker (who otherwise has made a very good map), say Canal is too built up and don't include that last strip of blocks between Canal and Iberville. Fie on them.


If you've been to Nola, you will recognize these locations. If not, we'll try to absorb their atmosphere together. Between the Venice day Sunday, and train day Wednesday, we've allowed two days this trip to soak it in. I've been here before, but wanted two days of relaxation (something I rarely build into a trip) to enjoy it all over again.


I visited Nola twice in the 1960's, once by plane on the way to study Spanish in Mexico City and once on one of our two extensive North American tours by VW camper. I was less enthusiastic about the city then, but the intense summer heat might have been part of that. I then visited again in 2007 after Katrina (2007/1), arriving by train on the Crescent and leaving for El Paso on the Sunset Limited, again to visit Mexico. On this trip, opinions changed. I then came back the next year, 2008, to go to Mardi Gras and visit Plantation Alley and Avery Island, where they make Tabasco sauce. I was much more enthusiastic then (despite the chaos of Mardi Gras!). Both of these trips were in the winter, and the city seemed more amenable and cozy (although frigid!). Well, this present trip was in mid-November, and after being so lucky in Mike's boat, winter arrived overnight, and so once again the Quarter had its chance to make itself feel cozy.


But as knowledgeable travelers--or visitors--and definitely not as gullible and uninformed tourists, we dig deeper into the history and try to appreciate the Quarter's intrinsic value, and don't fall for a lot of the tourist malarkey. We recognize that the name is merely historic, and that the Quarter hasn't been French for a long time. Digging, we discover that the infrastructure isn't even French, but Spanish, and even those wrought iron balconies and galleries aren't French, but Spanish. And in addition, there's a significant layer of Italian immigrant influence. Here's the nitty-gritty.


As we know, the city had been French, but became Spanish for four decades at the end of the 18C, just up to the American Purchase in 1803, though it still had a significant French population, and French architecture. The big main square had been the Place d'Armes (as in Québec, 2013/6), which I would translate as the (military) Parade Ground, and it was already the Spanish Plaza de Armas (today it's called Jackson Square, after he saved the city in the Battle of New Orleans). But then, still while under Spanish rule, came the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 (click). It destroyed 856 of the 1,100 structures in the city between Conti and St Philip and from Dauphine to the river, except for some riverfront buildings. Because it was Good Friday, priests refused to allow church bells to be rung as an alarm. (!!!) In any case, we now have two maps to compare, the historic one and the present one.


Then, after six years of rebuilding came the Great New Orleans Fire of 1794, which destroyed 212 structures, some, such as the Cabildo, just having been rebuilt. After both fires, officials replaced wooden buildings with masonry structures with thick brick walls, with courtyards and arcades, and wrought iron balconies and galleries. The old French peaked roofs were replaced by flat tiled ones, and wooden siding was replaced by fire-resistant stucco, painted in the pastel hues favored at the time. This architecture from the Spanish period is what one sees today, and most French-style architecture has long since disappeared from the French Quarter. Now go tell that to the tourists!


As for the Cathedral, with the Cabildo and Presbytère on Jackson Square, they had to be replaced after the first fire. The Cabildo had to be replaced again after the second one, but the Cathedral, despite widespread fire damage, was able to be dedicated only two weeks after the second fire.


While there are some 20C buildings in the Quarter, such as along Canal Street, they date before the 1920s. Since then the Quarter has been protected by law, nothing can be demolished, and renovations have to be consistent with the style of the Quarter, early 19C Spanish, viewed by uninformed tourists as French.


Early on, the Quarter, even after having lost its French architecture, still preserved much of its French population. Anglophone Americans who moved in after the Louisiana Purchase mostly built upriver in what became the Garden District. Canal Street became a cultural dividing line, and the median of the wide boulevard became a place where the two cultures could meet and do business in either French or English. For that reason, the median became known as the "neutral ground", and, as we've explained in the past, it's not only still called that, but all such medians in southeastern Louisiana are called that.

 It's one of those unique things about New Orleans. English doesn't have a unique standard for the area separating opposing lanes of traffic that may have landscaping and trees, a barrier, or rail or streetcar lines. In British English it's the "central reservation". Australians like to call it the "central nature strip", and, as I understand it, share with North Americans the terms "median", "median strip", perhaps "traffic island". But New Orleans usage stands apart with "neutral ground".

By the mid-19C, French Creoles had become a minority in the French Quarter. Then, in the late 19C, the Quarter became less fashionable, and started to become an immigrant area, notably from southern Italy. In 1905, it was estimated that 1/3 to 1/2 of the Quarter's population was either first or second-generation Italian.


On our map of the Quarter, locate on the left, outside of the Quarter, Iberville and St Louis, then Basin Street. Calculate where Robertson Street is, two blocks beyond Marais Street. Between 1897 and 1917, this rectangle was the legally established red-light district known as Storyville. (Louis Armstrong grew up there.) But the closing down of Storyville in 1917 sent much of the vice into the French Quarter, which was the last straw for most French Creole families, who left.


In the early 20C, the Quarter's cheap rents and feeling of the past attracted a bohemian artistic community, which heightened in the 1920's the period when preservation became more pronounced, which continues to today. Tennessee Williams was a resident of the Quarter, where he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947.


Visiting the Quarter    It's Monday, the first of our two full days in town. It's also rather cold and windy. This weather would've cancelled Mike's boat ride yesterday, but is just fine to seek out cozy corners in the Quarter. The first question is, how do we fit in all the food venues we want, both elegant and plebian? Well, who needs breakfast, when we can consider a po' boy as brunch instead? So we walk up Peters (see map) to where it merges with Decatur, turn left there at St Louis Street, and at 511 is Johnny's Po-Boys—he prefers to hyphenate the word. Careful—they're only open to mid-afternoon and take only cash. Copy and paste:


It doesn't get more unpretentious than this, as you see in the first picture. But that doesn't stop lines from forming between the tables with their red checkered cloths as in #2. This is a no-frills place if there ever was one. The third shows the menu's variety of Po' Boys available. And the fourth shows a shrimp Po' Boy with a side of gumbo, all in styrofoam and plastic. I don't remember what kind of Po' Boy I ordered, but I could not resist getting a side of gumbo. Only second to my rule of not letting a historic marker pass you by, is my rule to not let a bowl of gumbo pass you by in Nola. It's too good to miss. Anyway, gumbo is the official dish of the state of Louisiana and you don't want to insult your hosts. (If you're interested, Wikipedia has a good article on its multinational origins and multinational origins of the name.)


When you step up to the register to place your order and pay (it'll be delivered to your table), you'll be asked "Dressed?" Do not thing it's a comment on what you're wearing. It's Nola parlance for whether you want extras on your sandwich such as lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and "mynez" (see bottom of menu) . If you don't, then you want "nuttinonit". Of course, eyes being bigger than stomach, with the gumbo, I could only eat half my sandwich that morning and she wrapped the rest for me for later.


I then had a destination I wanted to see on Burgundy off Dumaine (see map), still in the Quarter, but rather far back from the river, so I took a zigzag route to get there. This, of course, is how you find hidden architectural gems. As an example, you might find this building with balconies (Photo by Pete Unseth). At four stories, the building is a little taller than most buildings in the Quarter, but it does have genuine balconies, which are self-supporting and attached to the side of a building. Balconies are the structures that are most recognizable as exciting in various forms outside of Nola. But rather distinctive of Nola are buildings with galleries (Photo by Sami99tr), structures whose primary support is from the ground up by means of poles or columns. These tend to be much more elaborate, and felt as being even more typical. Still, they follow a Spanish wrought-iron tradition on rebuilt Spanish buildings, and yet it's called the French Quarter for people that once lived there.


Here's one more idyllic scene of a building with galleries (Photo by Sami99tr). But the Quarter isn't Disneyland—it has its share of shabby areas, which make it real. But if I were taking this picture, I'd have left out the horse-and-buggy. That's just tourist crap. But I suppose it makes them happy, thinking they're in Disneyland. And some French Disneyland of course, not a Spanish Disneyland. It's so easy to let yourself be misled about history. The Quarter is like Greenwich Village in New York, or Louisbourg Square in Boston, but maybe a little grittier, but just as real. Maybe they can ban tourists and just let in locals, plus travelers and visitors like us. Nah, they'd lose too much business. People want to see the preset fantasy in their minds.


What I wanted to see on this leisurely—but chilly--stroll was another hotel I'd been looking at earlier. Once I found I could get the Sheraton free on points--and with its spectacular view--I gave up on this typical little boutique hotel, but I still wanted to visit it, since it had sounded so quaint. It's the Hotel Saint Pierre at 911 Burgundy at Dumaine (see map – Think of it as similar in quaintness to some of the b&bs we've stayed at in Nova Scotia and Mississippi, but with a French Quarter twist. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and consists of a collection of 18C Creole cottages, the oldest from 1780, and many from that decade. (I think this is a case where you can safely talk about "French" and not "Spanish".) A family moved the cottages to the French Quarter from their plantation. Louis Armstrong was a visitor, and Tennessee Williams, who lived across from the hotel at 1014 Dumaine, would visit regularly. The area reeks of New Orleans history. Copy and paste:


I zigged and zagged to get to the hotel. The street façades are quaint (first link above). I went inside and checked out the little courtyards between the different buildings (second link) that lend to the atmosphere of the Quarter. But it was COLD outside, so I sat down in the petite, quiet lobby (third link) to warm up and decide where I'd head to next. Across the lobby I spied an urn of complimentary coffee (fourth link), and partook of a cup. Well, two--it was cold out. And that's just where I had my déjà vu moment.


A couple of years ago I wanted to buy some groceries online—nothing fancy—including my usual, standard brand of coffee, hazelnut flavored. They didn't have it. Instead they offered what seemed to me to be some off-brand, Community Coffee, which also came in hazelnut. Well, I tried a three-bag pack, and have stuck with it ever since. (It's regular coffee, not mixed with chicory—that we'll talk about later.) I looked it up, and it's been made in Baton Rouge since 1919, so it is a Louisiana brand. Copy and paste:


And lo and behold, the first time I walked up to the urn, I saw the card saying that they proudly serve Community Coffee. It wasn't hazelnut, but I'll forgive them for that. The feeling of being in the Quarter, of being in a landmarked building, of being in out of the cold (!!), and of finding the coffee in my cup was Community Coffee led to a marvelous feeling of contentment that only travel can bring about.


But then it was time to button up and go around the corner to visit with Tennessee Williams, whose former home had a plaque designating it as such. It took a little digging afterwards to find out that he first moved to New Orleans and the French Quarter in 1939. At first he spent short spells in a string of apartments and hotel rooms within the Quarter, which he famously called "the last frontier of Bohemia", which confirms what we said about the interwar period being a bohemian one for the Quarter. He lived at 722 Toulouse Street, and then moved here, to 1014 Dumaine. It was a once-grand 1835 Greek Revival townhouse, which had been restored. In 1962 he bought this property, which was the only home he ever owned in New Orleans. There were now three full-floor apartments and three small ones in two dependencies. He would live off-and-on in the second-floor Apartment B for 21 years, until his death in 1983. Copy and paste:


Click for details. Now does this house have a balcony or gallery? You decide. One last time, find this Dumaine location on the map. Then note that for many years, a streetcar line started at Canal Street and ran down Bourbon Street headed to Desire Street in the Bywater district (off the map). But that was one-way. On the return trip, it came back down Royal Street. But at that point, it would have instead been A Streetcar Named Canal, wouldn't it have? It's a good thing Bourbon was one block closer to Williams!


We continue in the cold and zigzag over to the river to the French Market. Don't be fooled, it's no longer French and no longer a food market, but has gazillions of stands selling trinkets. It actually runs from where it's shown on the map down to the Café du Monde, and is where there are several shops selling, among other things, New Orleans-style pralines (Photo by Katescm)—consider them candy-cookies. French settlers modified the rather different European praline since sugar cane and pecans were plentiful in Louisiana. To those they added cream and butter, and ended with a fudge-like, but very sugary, consistency. Now New Orleans pralines are a great delicacy, but let's face it, sugar is sugar and calories are calories. Though tempted, I've never purchased a praline (or two), because I'm afraid my system won't take all that sugar. But I have an out. Every shop has bowls of broken-up samples, so I have a sliver of a chocolate praline here and pecan one there, and hope my system won't notice.


And then we come to the Café du Monde (Photo by Didier Moïse), at 800 Decatur at St Anne, literally the World Café, which no visitor should miss. This time was the first time I went there both full days I was in town, and not only because it was warm inside. To estimate its importance, count up how many restaurants or cafés you see indicated on our map—New Orleans has more than its fare share--and you'll find only this one. After Katrina, it did close down for a while, using the period to refurbish itself, and when it reopened, it made news everywhere that New Orleans was on its way back. It has a large terrace covered by an awninged terrace that often appears in TV programs, but I've never used it. I like the inside room (Photo by John Cummings), air-conditioned in hot weather, and blissfully heated now.


But I always wondered why there should be such a huge, high-ceilinged room, with massive columns, just to house a café. So I dug deeper. The very first French Market building was replaced by the Spanish (so what else is new?) in 1791. It was damaged by a hurricane in 1812, so a new building went up in 1813, which is this. This particular location at the end of the French Market was called the Butcher's Hall, so when the Café du Monde moved in in 1862, it was an early instance of recycling. It has been here ever since. So why should anyone with a sense of history want to eat outside?)


It's open 24 hours (!!) and has a pleasantly meager menu. I've seen orange juice and white and chocolate milk on the menu, but have never seen anyone order them. Everyone orders a café au lait with beignets (Photo by Ed Johnson)—and pays cash, $5.30, as the picture shows. You can also get your dark-roasted coffee black, but always with chicory. And aside from being a delightful treat, what you see reeks of local history.


I never did fully understand what chicory was beyond some sort of root, so I did some digging (sorry) and was surprised by what came out of the ground. The chicory plant is a woody plant with blue flowers. It is cultivated for its leaves and (particularly one variety) for its roots. Leaf chicory is used fresh, in salads. It goes by the name of (surprise!) Belgian endive or radicchio. Root chicory is baked, then ground, and used either as a coffee additive, as in New Orleans, or as a complete coffee substitute, as during the Great Depression and in Continental Europe during WWII. Interestingly, some beer brewers use roasted chicory root to give flavor to stouts, which are expected to have a coffee-like flavor, or in some strong, blond Belgian ales. This is a great picture of Belgian endive growing out of chicory roots (Photo by gegin of january).


When the French began to settle along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River in about 1700, they brought coffee with them. During the Civil War there was a coffee shortage, and New Orleans Creoles roasted chicory, and developed the chicory-blended coffee that has been served in many New Orleans restaurants ever since, including the Café du Monde. Chicory adds something of a chocolate-like flavor to the coffee.


In the 18C, Acadians/Cajuns from Nova Scotia arrived, bringing other French customs, including the beignet (ben.YAY, but locally BEN.yay). They are similar to donuts, but square, and without a hole. The beignets are served in orders of three, and traditionally, under an avalanche of powdered sugar. You shake off as much powdered sugar as you can, then indulge. Afterwards there is still more sugar than you want, so you wipe it from your chin, hands, and clothes, and are done.


I finished the afternoon by riding the new Loyola Line end-to-end from my hotel to the rail station, just to "break it in" before I actually needed it on departure day two days hence. I then connected to the St Charles line, and rode that end-to-end. The only time I ever rode that famous line before was after Katrina, when it was truncated to about half its length because of the destruction. We'll discuss those and other streetcars below.


I finished the rather complete first full day by going to dinner at the Pelican Club, which serves Creole food. I'd been there only once before, quickly during Mardi Gras, when I was much too full to have anything but a memorable bowl of gumbo. The Pelican Club is located in a semi-secluded alley which is an extension of Exchange Place just beyond Bienville, just steps from my hotel, at #312. It has two main dining rooms, a large white one, with a feminine aura, and the smaller dark-paneled Club Room, much more masculine, and to my taste. It's one place where the atmosphere itself adds to the meal. I had Pelican Club Baked Oysters, "served on the half shell with apple-smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, parmesan and garlic herb butter", and then Louisiana Cioppino "in its own pot", with "Gulf fish and shrimp, scallops and mussels with a side of linguini in tomato basil sauce". Nice meal, nice atmosphere.


Tuesday is our second full day in town and is turned over mostly to eating, and idly strolling around. The Café du Monde is a good a place for breakfast as any. While browsing further in the French Market, while I rarely bring anything home, I did buy a wooden brown fleur-de-lis about the size of the palm of the hand. It looks good near my desk, and brings memories of both French and New Orleans culture.


By the middle of the day I made the stop I do every trip at the Central Grocery (Photo by Jan Kronsell) at 923 Decatur, between Dumaine and St Philip, just a block up from the Café du Monde. This might sound rather mundane, but while this Italian-American grocery, which reflects the Italian-American immigrant influence on New Orleans, does sell extensive grocery products in the old-fashioned store, the crowds line up at the sandwich counter selling muffulettas (Photo by Infrogmation), some of which are consumed in the sitting area in the back (Photo by jc.winkler). If you think it's like dining in a grocery store next to bottles of olives and cartons all around, that's just what it is—I've done it.


The store was founded in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo an immigrant from Sicily, shown here, and is still family-operated. He was the one who invented the New Orleans muffuletta sandwich to feed the immigrant workers in the area. The word muffuletta originally just referred to a round, flat, dinner plate-sized, sesame-seed loaf of Sicilian bread. The sandwich Lupo invented that is made from that is now what most people call a muffuletta.


It came about because workers at the turn of the 20C would come to the grocery and order cold cuts, cheese, and bread, and perhaps olive salad, and eat them separately, in traditional style. They would sit on crates and barrels and precariously balance all the items on their knees. Lupo then suggested slicing the loaf and putting everything inside instead, making it a sandwich, non-traditional as that was. From then on, the workers would come in asking for a muffuletta, now meaning the sandwich, and not just the loaf.


The muffuletta you get today is the same thing. The loaf is split horizontally and filled with layers of mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella, and provolone. But all you have at this point is a hearty, Italian hero sandwich. To this, a layer of olive salad is added, which gives the muffuletta its particular distinction. The signature olive salad is the traditional giardiniera, sold commercially in jars. It consists of olives diced with celery, cauliflower, and carrot, seasoned with oregano and garlic, covered in olive oil, and marinated for at least a day.


A muffuletta (Photo by jc.winkler) is large, about 25 cm (10 in) across, so it's sold in quarters. You can buy one quarter (a waste of your trip), two quarters (better), or four quarters (finish the rest tomorrow). And while the owners of Central Grocery pronounce the end of the word "-letta", a lot of locals alter it to "-lotta". Go figure.


The weather had warmed quite a bit, and it was comfortable in the sun, so I bought my full-sized muffuletta and walked down Decatur to Jackson Square (Photo by Royalpt78). Click to inspect the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of St Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo to the left, the Presbytère to the right, and the tourist junk in the foreground on Decatur Street (our backs are to the levee with the Moon Walk). By now, it was open-your-jacket weather and enjoy the sun, so I sat on a park bench and ate the first quarter of my muffuletta (Photo by Emily C). The second quarter actually survived until I was back in the hotel room, and the last half was for tomorrow, to eat at the station before taking the City of New Orleans to Chicago.


Dinner was, on Mike Strohmeyer's suggestion, at Muriel's Jackson Square, at 801 Chartres Street, next to the Presbytère and facing a corner of the Square. Copy and paste:

It also had a Creole menu, and so I just had to start with a bowl of gumbo, then had a pork chop with "Louisiana sugar cane apple glaze, and pecan-candied sweet potatoes and southern-style greens", followed by bread pudding with candied pecans and rum sauce. It was all as good as it sounds.


New Orleans Streetcars    Some cities are known for streetcar preservation and ongoing use—Melbourne, Australia comes immediately to mind. New Orleans' record is less than perfect, but is now rapidly improving. By the mid-20C, only the St Charles line was left. Not only a major street like Canal became bereft of streetcars, even the iconic Desire line had disappeared. Imagine. New Orleans without a Streetcar Named Desire. Heresy.


But today, it seems that every time you turn around, a New Orleans line is either being restored to where it was, or a new line is being built, and in 2013, streetcars accounted for 44% of the ridership of all public transportation. We'll look at the present, the future, and also the past. Copy and paste:


This is a stylized map of the present system. Click to see details. As ever, Canal Street is the spine that holds everything together, and it's odd to think that there was a recent time where there were no cars left on Canal. Let's move from left to right.


The very long line in green is the famous St Charles Line. It's the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the WORLD, having opened in 1835. The route starts where Carondolet Street (rhymes with "let" and is end-stressed) meets Canal, and, after a block on Canal, goes down St Charles Avenue (compare with map of the Quarter). At Lee Circle, the split route comes together to continue down the neutral ground (!!!) of St Charles to its end almost at the river, then turns sharp right to continue on the neutral ground of Carrollton Avenue to its last stop at Claiborne. Each individual car (Photo by Poco a poco) operating on the St Charles Line is a historic landmark. You see a car here in its signature green livery (click to see its Carandolet location), which is why the line is shown in green on both maps. This line is the busiest route in the system, heavily used both by locals (70%) and visitors (30%).


The car you see is typical, a Perley Thomas streetcar built in the 1920s. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA), the operator of the streetcars, maintains a parts shop that can not only produce no-longer-available replacement parts for the cars, but can build a fully functional replica of a car from scratch. As a matter of fact, that's just where the cars on the newly restored and newly built lines came from—locally produced, modern replicas of 1920s cars.


The orange line is the newest, the Loyola-UPT Line, and didn't exist on my last visit, since it just opened in January 2013. As a matter of fact, it looks like they built it just for me so that I don't have to take a taxi from the station. It starts at the foot of Canal, right outside the hotel, then turns left down Loyola to the Union Passenger Terminal. These two lines were the ones I rode on the first full day (above). I wanted to "break in" the new Loyola Line, then at Carandolet, I took the St Charles line to its end. The only other time I'd ever ridden that iconic line was after Katrina, when service was severely truncated due to storm damage.


The Canal Street Line originally operated starting in 1861, so rail need on such a main street started long ago. (This street was intended to be the route of a canal connecting the Mississippi with Lake Pontchartrain, but it was never built.) But the streetcar line was closed down in 1964 (!!). People came to their senses in 2004 when it was rebuilt and reopened. It runs the entire length of Canal Street (Photo by Ebgundy), within the neutral ground. Click to see that we're on Canal at Bourbon, and that these are two Loyola cars. The route starts near the river at my hotel to two inland destinations. Some cars stay to the end of Canal to City Park Avenue at some cemeteries and bear that word as their destination while others branch off the same Carrollton Avenue as above to another part of City Park Avenue at the Museum of Art and bear those names.


Finally, the Riverfront Line, also relatively new, dating from 1988, is a short line running along the river both west and east of Canal, the latter direction serving the Quarter. These latter lines I've ridden in the past, as well as on this trip. On weekends, some lines on Canal turn downriver to give extra service to the Quarter.


To complete our discussion of present service, inspect this non-stylized map showing the actual layout of the system (Map by Jkan997). The first thing you notice is why Nola is called the Crescent City, and why the train from New York here is called the Crescent (2007/1). The meanderings of the river define the city. The entire Garden District fits in one large bend, which also gives the crescent shape to St Charles Avenue and the streetcar line along it. You can see the Canal Line with its two branches, now actually resembling a backwards Y, the Loyola, and the Riverfront.


This map can also serve as our initiation to the future. The light yellow lines are thoughts for future expansion, but the gold line is actually presently under construction, listed here as the French Quarter Expansion, which will have a zig-zag connection with the Loyola Line. We said earlier that the former Desire Line went through the Quarter on Bourbon and Royal. This new expansion will leave Canal and skirt the Quarter on its inland edge, along Rampart Street. Copy and paste:


Compare this with our Quarter map to see that Rampart Street is wide, with a neutral ground, quite suitable for streetcar service. It will then twist onto Saint Claude Avenue, the same one we used to go to Chalmette, but won't go nearly as far as that. It will run 2.4 km (1.5 mi) and have six sheltered stops, ending at Elysian Fields Avenue. It is now under construction, with service expected to start in 2016. Although Rampart is three blocks further inland than Bourbon, there is such eagerness in New Orleans to reinstate a streetcar named Desire that this new line is being referred to by enthusiasts as the Desire Line, since it's near the original route and goes in the same direction. Copy and paste:


This map shows better how the new route will use two streets to connect with the Loyola Line. It also shows two additional extensions that were NOT funded, and are NOT under construction. One would have bent back down Elysian Fields Avenue and connected with the Riverside Line. The other would have continued along St Claude into the Bywater neighborhood to Press Street, with dotted lines for even more future extensions. It is interesting to note that Desire Street is just six streets beyond Press and a full ten streets before Poland. Finally, look at this:


Given that much of the above has not been funded, this last map can be considered "Hopes & Dreams". Why not connect the two lines on Carrollton? Why not connect Loyola, St Charles (at Lee Circle), and Riverside through the Warehouse District? Why not build Elysian Fields and run it along Claiborne for an outer Quarter loop? And why not extend what people are now calling the Desire Line? Let's wait and see.


When it comes to the past, we just want to talk more about the now lost, and long lamented, original Desire Line. It was established in 1920 and closed down in 1948 (at the age of 28), when the route was converted to buses (ugh). But do consider this irony: Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947 and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948, the very year the line closed down! I've been referring to its route quite a bit, but finding out about it required quite a bit of online digging. I finally got a description, but no map. We already have a pretty good idea, but here's the complete story. It ran from Canal down Bourbon. Once out of the Quarter, it zigged inland one block to Dauphine (which is three blocks closer to the river than St Claude), and ran down to Desire Street, 13 blocks beyond Elysian Fields. It then turned inland on Desire for 15 blocks, hence the name of the streetcar in this direction. Returning (presumably now named "Canal"), it completed a large rectangle in the Bywater neighborhood, coming back closer to the river to Royal, on which it returned all the way to Canal.


Knowing what we now know, gives further insight to Blanche Dubois, the fragile, unstable woman in the play. When she arrives, she states a rather amazing route: "They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!" There is nothing about that route that's possible. If you took the Desire streetcar, you'd be going away from Canal, which is the streetcar leading to "Cemeteries", so you couldn't transfer to it. And if you're on the Canal car, you're nowhere near Elysian Fields Avenue. This can be interpreted in more than one way. One is that Williams was just using poetic license, taking advantage of New Orleans's colorful street names. But he was a Quarter resident, and had to know his streetcars. More likely, he was trying to show Blanche's fragile mental state, having totally muddled the instructions given to her through "the kindness of strangers".

 One of my favorite quotes is Blanche's "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers", and I have one particular, regular use for it. I stopped any travel photography years and years ago, and have been amazingly successful in finding online pictures that show EXACTLY what I want, which satisfies me enormously. But I don't have many personal pictures, including pictures of me on a trip. I've been fortunate in these situations, because I've always depended on the kindness of strangers to supply me with such pictures. The perfect example is above, Mike Strohmeyer's picture of me (and Mike Adams) at South Pass Lighthouse. You see, the kindness of strangers comes through every time!

Jazz    As we move along the Mississippi, we continue to bring up the associated music, and that brings us to jazz, something hard to define, since it starts with ragtime and has added subgenres to the present day. Jazz originated in the musical traditions of early 20C New Orleans, and combined elements of brass band music, blues, ragtime, and spirituals. It then spread to Chicago and New York by New Orleans bands in the 1910s. New Orleans Jazz is also called Dixieland to distinguish it from other subgenres.


We've looked for the earliest recordings of the best-known earliest selections, which quickly became standards. The first jazz recordings ever date from 1917 by the ODJB, the Original Dixieland Jass Band (note early spelling, also "Jas", changed to "Jazz" later that year), who billed themselves as the Creators of Jazz, since their early records were the first jazz hits. One of their 1917 hit recordings was of the Darktown Strutters' Ball. This is the cover of the sheet music, this is the 78 rpm record label with the old spelling, and this is a YouTube video of the original 1917 ODJB Darktown Strutters' Ball (2:57).


Tiger Rag is one of the most recorded jazz compositions of all time. In 2003, the 1918 ODJB recording of it was placed on the US Library of Congress National Recording Registry. This is the cover for the sheet music (see lower left corner), the 78 rpm record label, and the YouTube video of the 1918 ODJB Tiger Rag (3:10). The music for the famous phrase "Hold that tiger!" is most prominent starting at 2:00.


Place names are significant to this music. In Memphis, we played the Beale Street Blues and the Memphis Blues. In St Louis, we'll do the St Louis Blues. And one of the important early New Orleans hits is the Basin Street Blues. Look at our map, and, one block inland from Rampart, is Basin Street, or Rue Bassin. The name comes from the turning basin of the Carondelet Canal formerly located on the street. The street was commemorated by the blues named after it, written by Spencer Williams in 1926 and recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1928. This is the YouTube video of the 1928 recording (3:15).


We have to end with the icon of them all, so well known, that it's name is usually shortened to just "The Saints". It's of course When the Saints Go Marching In. It was a traditional gospel hymn possibly originating as a 19C New Orleans funeral march. It was first recorded in 1938 by Louis Armstrong, who went on to record it over 40 times during his career. He had heard it as a child as a hymn, and his recording transformed it into a jazz standard, an American icon. New Orleans jazz bands usually end with it, even if they're sick of it. Supposedly a sign at a jazz venue once read: "$1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests, and $5 for The Saints". This is the YouTube video of that recording of The Saints (2:43).


Mangled French    Place names in the US coming from European languages other than English are largely Spanish and French in origin. Little can be done to screw up Spanish words. Everyone can say Palo Alto, San Antonio, Las Vegas, El Paso.

 There's one gross exception I can think of that grates on my nerves. The Spanish word for "orange" is naranja, pronounced na.RAN.ha. But not to the people of Naranja, Florida, south of Miami. Let me prepare you. Take the word "banjo" and change the last vowel to an A to get the non-word "banja". Now rhyme Naranja FL with that, and you'll see what I mean.

But French lends itself easily to being mangled by anglicization, and the good people of New Orleans are experts at doing this. We've already discussed "beignet" and "Carondelet" (and the Italian word "muffuletta"), and there are many more to add to the list. If you speak French, or even have an inkling as to how to pronounce French words, put tape across your mouth when you reach Nola. It'll save you a lot of embarrassment.


Let's start with some place names that will surprise you. I think I've managed to mention all of them in the past so that they might ring a bell.
For instance, the area to the northwest of downtown called Metairie. I'd always pronounced it to rhyme with "prairie". Silly me. On a good day, it sounds like Mettary, on a less good day even Metry.
Immediately to the east of the Quarter is Marigny. In French it's ma.rin.YI. Not here. It rhymes with "barony".
We took the ferry to Belle Chasse. I kept saying it like SHOSS, but it's pronounced like "chase".
As for Pointe à la Hache, ("Hatchet Point"), I was wise enough not to try to pronounce the first word in French. Just make it "point". But the last word I was pronouncing as OSH. No, it all turns into hash. The name is read Point-a-la-hash.
And then we come to the splashiest French granddaddy of them all, the Vieux Carré. It's not the second word, which simply follows the pattern of "café". But what about the first word? Comments I found online from people from Nola seemed to indicate that, up until recent decades, many people made it French, with a reasonable facsimile of the pronunciation VYÖ. But it's become quite common to pronounce it VOO. It makes me want to write the question as "Parlez-vieux français?".

 It's noteworthy that many speakers of English who wish to avoid both the Ö sound (spelled EU in French) or the Ü sound (spelled U in French), take refuge in OO as in "too" to replace BOTH of them. So "vieux" (VYÖ) becomes VOO, as above, and "[déjà] vu" (VÜ) also becomes VOO. Of course, "vous" stays VOO, so we have many English speakers pronouncing all three, "vieux", "vu", and "vous" all the same, as VOO.

You think I'd learn to tone it down a bit, but I keep on striving for authenticity. The day I arrived on the AQ and took the streetcar up Canal to get the car rental at Prieur Street, I decided to confirm with the driver that he stopped there. What should I call Prieur Street? I rejected the original French pri.ÖR as being too unlikely, and decided to go the safer OO route, and asked him if he stopped at pri.OOR. He turned with a surprised "Wha-a-a-t? Oh, you mean PROOR. Yeah." Will I never learn?

As for street names in or near the Quarter, probably the biggest disappointment for me was Chartres Street. I always had visions of the famous cathedral in Chartres with the mismatched towers, and called the street SHARTR or more simply, SHART. No way. Chartres Street is pronounced as in "[he] charters [a bus]".
I always rhymed Conti Street with "Monty". Nope. Conti follows the pattern of "bullseye".
What could go wrong with Toulouse Street? A close imitation of the French city's name is the phrase "to lose", end-stressed, with a Z sound. But Toulouse Street is pronounced as though something is far "TOO loose", first part stressed and ending with an S sound.
For Iberville Street, would you rhyme the first syllable with "[Justin] Bieber" or with "fiber". Online commentators say that some years ago, the first pronunciation, which is the original one, was more common, but now the second seems to be taking over.


I suppose I shouldn't be that concerned, since non-French words get mangled, too. I understand that you have to "lie" to say Loyola Street in the local fashion: But the strangest of all is Burgundy Street. It's an English word, since the French word for the province and the wine is Bourgogne. When sampling the wine, we all say BUR.gun.di, but the street here is bur.GUN.di. In other words, you might be in a restaurant on bur.GUN.di drinking a glass of BUR.gun.di. Go figure.


Trains Home    Just as a reminder, we're dealing with four long-distance trains on this trip. Take another look at the Amtrak National Route Map:,0.pdf


The (+) at the top will expand it so you can get re-oriented. We came out on the Capitol Limited from (New York to) Washington to Chicago, then the Texas Eagle from there to San Antonio. Now we take the City of New Orleans to Chicago, and then the Cardinal (via Washington) to New York.


After our two full days in the Quarter, Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday is our day to start going home. The train leaves in the early afternoon, so we can spend the morning writing in the hotel room until checkout time. Then we take the Loyola Line end-to-end, like it was set up just for us, from the hotel up Canal and down Loyola to the station. We still have time, so this is the ideal point to finish the last two quarters of yesterday's muffuletta. I continue to say it's a waste to buy anything less than a whole one.


Just before the departure time of 1:45 we board the City of New Orleans, showing here in New Orleans the double-decker Superliner sleepers with an internal staircase to get to the upper level. This is the front view, also in New Orleans. While, as we discussed earlier, the Crescent had come down from New York around the east side of Lake Ponchartrain, this train to Chicago swings gently around the west side, then north, following this route (Map by jkan997). We go up central Mississippi, through Jackson, and not along the river. Later, we pull into Memphis Central Station (Photo by Reuben Perelman), where you can see more easily the two levels of the Superliner trains. (In actuality, it was between 10:00 and 10:40, so it was dark.) We had stopped here the day we visited the Civil Rights Museum, so this stop marked the conclusion of a mini-internal rail 'n' sail subtrip. Although we had driven the rental car north in Mississippi, from Memphis we went down to New Orleans by steamboat, and now completed the loop back to Memphis by train.


I would have liked to have seen us cross the Ohio River to enter Cairo IL, but that would have been in the darkness of the middle of the night, to no avail. In addition, poor Cairo has declined from its once-mighty status so that the train doesn't stop there, despite what the map says (we stop at all the other stations on the map). The two adjacent stations are each about an hour's drive from Cairo.


After daybreak, the City of New Orleans is in Kankakee (Photo by Russell Sekeet), here crossing the Kankakee River. But as usual, we're late arriving in Chicago, having lost 2h25. On top of that, it's cold. After the (lucky) morning in Mike's boat, the only other warm weather was that sunny stop in Jackson Square. It was solidly cold at the Memphis stop, Chicago, and on to New York. I'd had quite a layover scheduled in Chicago, 8h45, so I'd considered wandering around downtown, but with just a little over six hours, and particularly because of the severe cold outside, I decided to spend the afternoon in the Metropolitan Lounge, snacking and writing. This was also the stop there where that gas fireplace gave a cozy feeling, and it was a pleasant afternoon spent waiting for the Cardinal to be ready.


Please do refer back to 2015/1 (Ctrl-F "Take" is enough to get you to the right paragraph). This paragraph will remind you of the very interesting origin of the name of the train, plus review which two earlier routes were blended to form the route of the Cardinal (Map by jkan997). This train runs out of Chicago only on Tu Th Sa, and today was a carefully-planned-in-advance Thursday to fit that pattern. In the late afternoon, we were led out to board the Cardinal (Photo by Russell Sekeet). This is a marvelous picture (although it seems posed—I don't think the train is moving), that goes to prove that there are far better pictures online than I could take. Look at the perfection of the Chicago skyline we discussed on the trip out, and the train pulling out of the lower level ("basement level") of Union Station.


But it's a good opportunity to point out the difference between Amtrak's two level Superliner, shown on the train in the background and such as was just the case with the City of New Orleans, and the single level Viewliner, on the Cardinal. Superliner cars operate all around the US outside of the Northeast, where they are two high for overpasses and tunnels, most notably the river tunnels into New York. Any train connecting to the Northeast has to be a one-level Viewliner. My personal preference is the Viewliner, where the roomettes that I use have their own toilet. On the Superliner, toilets are not only in the corridor, but most are down on the lower level.


But very few people got on the Cardinal, noticeable on boarding and also at dinner, where there were only about seven people in the whole dining car. But the attendant said it was just a quirk—the following week should be as busy as usual, especially with Thanksgiving coming. But then I had a pleasant revelation. When the conductor checked my ticket, he seemed surprised that I was going all the way to New York, which in turn surprised me. I was taking the Cardinal because its route is known as being attractive, and also because it was the last overnight Amtrak train for me to take. Then I figured things out.


Most people going between Chicago and New York by train would avoid the Cardinal because it sweeps down in such an arc to do so (see route map) and takes a scheduled 28h13. They instead would take the Lake Shore Limited, via Cleveland and Buffalo (see top of map), most obviously because it does so in a scheduled 20h53. I did find that most people I met on the Cardinal were taking it only part way. I wouldn't be surprised if I were told that I was the only one going the whole route. Ah, but did I ever have the last laugh. I not only enjoyed the scenic route through the mountains--when I left Chicago, I heard that, because of a huge snow storm in Buffalo, the Lake Shore Limited had been canceled, and might continue to be canceled for a week or so. Ha!


I would have enjoyed looking out at Indianapolis and Cincinnati, but we stopped there during the night. When I got up, we'd already crossed the Ohio River to the Kentucky side. We were already 2.5 hours late, which would remain that way until New York, but this had the advantage of me being up while we were still along the river. After Ashland, we were in West Virginia and headed for one of the most scenic areas on the route.


The New River is part of the Ohio River watershed, flowing north from North Carolina through Virginia to here in West Virginia. Much of its course in WV is designated as the New River Gorge National River, where it's considered one of the American Heritage Rivers, flowing through the longest and deepest river gorge in the Eastern US. It got its name because it was unknown to the early explorers on the Atlantic Coast. The oldest river in the world is the Finke River in Australia; second oldest is the Meuse/Maas in France/Belgium/Netherlands; and a three-way tie for third place is taken by three US rivers, the New (WV), Susquehanna (NY/PA/MD), and the French Broad (NC/TN), all three of which are estimated to be between 260 and 325 million years old.


The New River (Map by Pfly), here in dark blue, cuts through the Appalachian Plateau, forming the New River Gorge. It then joins with another river to become known as the Kanawha, in light blue, which flows into the Ohio. Particularly in its Gorge, the New River is lined with steep cliffs and rock outcroppings, and we have nice, sunny weather as the Cardinal moves along the New River Gorge (Photo byjpmueller99) where the rail line parallels the river, and occasionally crosses it (Photo by NKS22). This 200° panorama at river level (click) is even more idyllic—rail bridge to the right (Photo by Ken Thomas). Following on our rail map, the towns of Thurmond, Prince (Photo by jpmueller99), and Hinton are in or at the Gorge.


The Cardinal then stops at White Sulphur Springs, with its iconic resort hotel, the Greenbrier, which I unfortunately could not see from the train. We enter Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains (Photo by jpmueller99) and Shenandoah Valley, stop in Staunton (pronounced Stanton) (Photo by Ben Schumin), and keep rolling onward (1:05) . . .


By nightfall, we're back in the Washington area, so the city views one always gets from trains to the south of the city will this time be illuminated nighttime views. Copy these two links to maps of Washington we used in 2015/1:


Our Cardinal railmap showed two stops approaching Washington, Manassas and Alexandria; find them on the first of these two maps (click the + several times), and you'll see that we're approaching right into the middle of Washington for great viewing, day or night. The second map (click) shows Washington. At the bottom center, follow the tracks across the Potomac Bridges, past the Jefferson Memorial; then follow the line to where you can see the Washington Monument; then continue to where you can see the US Capitol, before the line plunges in a tunnel under the Capitol area to Union Station on the other side. Now copy and paste these:


In daylight or the present night view, you can see the Jefferson Memorial (first link) right from the train, at about this distance. If you watch carefully between the trees, you might even be able to make out the statue of Jefferson (second link) within the Memorial, although further away and it's now later than sunset. As the train turns, you can see the Washington Monument (third link), and a little later, the US Capitol (fourth link). It's a spectacular show from any train on the south side of the city, day or night. After Union Station, we have the usual string of Northeast Corridor cities before arriving at New York Penn. We'd been due about tennish, but it's now after midnight. No matter. It's been a great trip.


Trip Distance Summary    These were the trains taken on this trip (compare with the earlier Amtrak National Route Map): NORTHEAST REGIONAL: 362 km (225 mi); CAPITOL LIMITED: 1,255 km (780 mi); TEXAS EAGLE: 2,100 km (1,305 mi); CITY OF NEW ORLEANS: 1,503 km (934 mi); CARDINAL: 1,846 km (1,147 mi); Total rail trip: 7,066 km (4,391 mi). The return by rail was only 90% of the total rail distance traveled on this trip, since the return didn't swing west over to involve Texas.

In addition, we have below some other rail statistics based on decades of travel.


Amtrak Overnight Sleepers    Having just added the four trains of this trip, I've now traveled on all 14 of Amtrak's overnight sleeper trains, all of which are NAMED trains, the starred ones more than once: *Auto-Train, *California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, *Coast Starlight, Crescent, *Empire Builder, *Lake Shore Limited, *Silver Star, Silver Meteor, *Southwest Chief, *Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle.


Amtrak Named Day Trains    My criterion for counting day trains is whether they are named or not. Where Amtrak offers significant day train service, there are usually no train names, just numbers. Amtrak lists these generically under Empire Service (NY), Keystone Service (PA), and Northeast Corridor (Regional) Service. I also do NOT count several of Amtrak's named day trains nationwide, since they are merely shorter, truncated duplicates of overnight routes: Carolinian, Palmetto, Piedmont (all duplicate parts of Silver Star/Silver Meteor); Hiawatha (duplicates part of Empire Builder); Hoosier State (duplicates part of Cardinal). But to the point: in the Northeastern US (and ONLY there!), I have taken all 7 of Amtrak's named day trains, the starred ones more than once: *Acela Express, *Adirondack, Downeaster, Ethan Allen Express, *Maple Leaf, Pennsylvanian, Vermonter.


Longest Rail Routes Taken    These, in ascending order, are the longest single international rail trips I've taken over the threshold of 1500 km / 900 mi:

Lake Shore Limited, New York to Chicago: 1543 km (959 mi)
Silver Meteor, New York to Miami: 2235 km (1389 mi)
Silver Star, New York to Miami: 2449 km (1522 mi)
Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Lhasa to Xining to Xi'an: 2864 km (1780 mi)
Empire Builder, Chicago to Seattle: 3550 km (2206 mi)
Southwest Chief, Chicago to Los Angeles: 3631 km (2256 mi)
Empire Builder, Chicago to Portland: 3632 km (2257 mi)
Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Beijing to Xining to Lhasa: 3753 km (2332 mi)
California Zephyr, Chicago to San Francisco: 3924 km (2438 mi)
Indian Pacific, Sydney to Perth: 4352 km (2704 mi)
Canadian, Toronto to Vancouver: 4466 km (2775 mi)
Transsiberian Railway, Vladivostok to Moscow: 9289 km (5,772 mi)
(but the Transsiberian trip by Private Train went to St Petersburg, then to Moscow, so it was a bit longer)


Shortest Transcontinental Rail Trip    In 2004, we crossed the North American continent from Pacific to Atlantic by train in 55 minutes, and later did it again going back. We had just come through the Panama Canal on the Caronia, and a shore excursion brought us to the newly refurbished wood-paneled coaches of the Panama Canal Railway (Map by Jkan997)at Balboa on the Pacific. The train ran for 76.6 km (47.6 mi) mostly right along the side of the canal to Colón on the Atlantic, in 55 minutes. After being bused to Gatún Locks to watch other ships doing what we had done the evening before, we returned by train in 55 minutes to Balboa. The route opened in 1855 as the Panama Railway, built as a result of the California Gold Rush in 1849. This was well before the Canal opened in 1914, and the railway was actually used to help build the canal. In those years before the Canal was built, the railway had separate intercontinental shipping connections on each side of the isthmus.


Around the World by Rail (via Siberia)    In 2005 I went around the world by rail, as extensively as physically possible (2005/5-10). It included a trip to Halifax, so that I simultaneously could cross Canada coast-to-coast by rail: day train "Adirondack": New York-Montreal; Ocean: Montreal-Halifax rt; day train Montreal-Toronto; Canadian: Toronto-Vancouver; [flight Vancouver-Seoul-Vladivostok]; Private Train on Transsiberian Express Route: Vladivostok-(via St Petersburg)-Moscow; Moscow-Berlin; Berlin-Paris; Eurostar day train: Paris-London; day train London-Southampton; [Queen Mary 2: Southampton-New York]


Six Subways in 19 Days    When I got home from that 2005 trip, it struck me that totally without having planned to do so, from June 14 to July 2, a period of just 19 days, I had ridden six different subways, those of Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Berlin, Paris, London, and New York.


Continental US Rail Rectangle    In 1993, while we were living in Florida full time for two years, we wanted to visit California, then go to New York to get ready to move back there, then return to Florida. We ended up doing a Continental US Rail Rectangle. We drove first in a rental car from Tampa to Miami, to see Beverly's brother. On August 8th we took the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles; on the 20th we took the Coast Starlight to San Francisco; on the 24th, the California Zephyr to Chicago, then the Lake Shore Limited to New York, where we stayed in a hotel. On September 2nd we took the Silver Star back to our temporary home in our Tampa condo, completing the Continental Rectangle (see Amtrak Route Map), which came to a total of 13,081 km (8,128 mi). However, it is no longer possible to do this as we speak. In those days the Sunset Limited left from Miami; later it was curtailed to starting in Orlando; since Katrina, it's been cut back to starting in New Orleans, in the hope that infrastructure will be repaired so it can leave from Orlando again. Still, you cannot do this today]


Other Memorable Overnight Rail Trips    This is an assorted collection of overnight rail trips over the years:

AFRICA: Cairo-Luxor, rt; Blue Train: Pretoria-Capetown; Rovos Rail: Capetown-Victoria Falls-Dar es Salaam

AUSTRALIA: Sydney-Brisbane; Sundowner: Brisbane-Cairns; Ghan: Darwin-Adelaide; Overland: Adelaide-Melbourne; Melbourne-Sydney; Indian Pacific: Sydney-Perth

ASIA: Eastern & Oriental Express: Singapore-Bangkok; Bangkok-Chiang Mai; Sapporo-Tokyo (Ueno); China/Tibet: Beijing-Lhasa & Lhasa Xi'an

EUROPE: Munich-Amsterdam; Zurich-Hamburg; Paris-Rome rt; Krasnaya Strela: Moscow-St Petersburg rt; Transcantábrico (northern Spain); also sitting up overnight in coach as grad students: Paris-Mainz; Germany-Italy rt; Germany-Denmark rt

AMERICAS: *Canadian: Toronto-Vancouver; *Ocean: Montréal-Halifax rt; Hudson Bay: Winnipeg-Churchill rt
Mexico City-Guadalajara; Copper Canyon, rt
Tren Crucero (Ecuador): Guayaquil-Quito [newest trip, to be posted ASAP]


Adding "Trail" to Rail 'n' Sail   Other than a car rental in Dubai, two short ones in Australia, and one once in the Dominican Republic, all my driving has been in the US/Canada and Europe (but including the Azores, Madeira, and the Canaries). This driving in North America and Europe has been far to extensive to enumerate, criss-crossing both continents. But there were four huge car trips, one over a period of two years in North America in our VW Camper, and one over two years during our mutual sabbatical in Europe. Only now do I realize that these four extensive, very long trips, each taking at least a month and a half, were so close to each other in time:

1968 Western US & Canada
1969 Eastern US & Canada (completing Alaska & Hawaii in 1970)
1971 from Western into Southeast Europe and back
1972 from Western into Northeast Europe and back, including the Soviet Union (Slovakia-Moscow-Finland)

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