Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
220Trip End Jun 17, 2009
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Union Station in time for the 'Sunset Limited' train to New Orleans. We should arrive in New Orleans (NOLA) on Tuesday afternoon. We check our baggage in, as there is no room for it in the 'sleepette' and board. Same set up as the San Francisco train, a small compartment with pull down beds, dining car and view coach. Across the way is Martin G, an ex pat from Ilkeley who now lives in NOLA.
A steady run through California and a great sunset, unfortunately early at 1630. Through the night we clear Palm Springs but in the morning we are losing hours as the tracks are owned by the freight companies and freight takes priority.
Into Arizona, New Mexico and on through Texas (El Paso)
By next morning we are approaching 'Houston' and the scenery is now green with trees and fields. We met many friendly people on the train and it was a good alternative to flying. In the afternoon we reach Louisiana, with great areas of water and swamps. There are occasional 'smoke' stops, when you can get out and stretch your legs. I was snoozing at one but Norah saw a crew member amusing himself by throwing stones at a snake in a trackside pool. 'Its a water moccasin', he explained, 'two bites and you're dead' ! I can think of better ways of getting to know the neighbours. Eventually we reached New Orleans at 2100, 5 hours late. It is hot and noticeably humid - but hey its Louisiana - what do you expect !
We wait at baggage collection as the luggage is offloaded - and wait !! All the bags are gone, as are the rest of our fellow passengers and we can't see our luggage. We show our luggage checks to the baggage handler. 'Oh', he says, 'these are storage tickets'. Meaning that the handler at LA has put our bags into LA storage and not on the train !!!! The NOLA handler does all he can to contact LA, but no one answers. We give him all the details and he promises to follow it up in the morning. It is now 2230, we get a cab to the hotel and just crash out.
Thankfully we had taken a change of clothes and wash kit on the train with us as hand luggage, so we're not completely lost. It is the day before the American Thanksgiving, which is like Christmas in the UK, ie everyone is holiday happy and not bothered with work. The NOLA handler, Bert is doing all he can and tells us to leave it till tomorrow. Oh well !! We go off on a 'Plantation Tour', to see one of the great Louisiana mansions on a sugar plantation. It is a coach ride out of town and along the mighty 'Mississippi' - see I did remember how to spell it from school days ! The weather is fine and sunny in the mid 70's. The restored mansion and grounds is quite impressive
Back to the hotel, change and then venture out for a meal. New Orleans - named the 'big easy' cos its so relaxed and laid back. We had been advised by our hotel receptionist not to go out after 7pm as it wasn't safe! We had this qualified by a tourist information guide the next morning, who drew on a street map all the areas to avoid after dark. The town had an unrelaxed air during the day but at night it felt really uneasy. Normal big city alertness was heightened and we were very much on uncomfortable guard - something I have never felt in any city anywhere
Thursday 22nd Happy Thanksgiving
After breakfast we phone our NOLA baggage handler, Bert. He tells us that our bags were moved from LA storage to LA 'lost and found' automatically after 24 hours but that they are not in L & F and no one who is in at LA, on this holiday, knows where they have gone. The best theory is that someone has put them on a train to Chicago, to be onwarded to NOLA but there is no documentation anywhere. Bert tells us that the Chicago train comes in at 1530 and to come back then and see.
Out of our hands, we go on a walking tour of the "Old French Quarter', which is the historic tourist part of NOLA. It is now decidedly colder with a wind blowing from the sea, a cool 61 deg and we wear our fleeces. It is quaintly attractive and interesting but there are many old, delapidated buildings, which seem to have just been abandoned and just detract from the atmosphere of the place. Surrounding the French Quarter is a modern city but everywhere the pavements are broken and dangerous in places, the roads are rutted, there is the smell of dog poo and urine and a general nobody cares feeling
We go down to the station at 4pm to see Bert. Lugage was not on the Chicago train. He tries again and again to get some sense out of LA on this holiday and eventually talks to someone, who tells him that our bags have been put on the next 'Sunset', due to arrive in NOLA on Friday afternoon at 4pm (plus delay time). Whether he is being told this just to 'shut him up', we don't know but sometime after 6pm we arrive back at the hotel.
We are booked to fly out to Miami tomorrow but without luggage we are just extending the 'lost' link. Anyway our tickets, etc are in the bags, so we need to stay. I manage to get a room for another night at the hotel and then try to change the flight tickets. I have a schedule of flights, hotels, etc but no ticket numbers or references. American Airlines have our flight but cannot change it because it was booked as part of a 'Round the World' ticket by British Airways. I explain the predicament to British Airways (USA) who cannot understand why I don't have the flight references
We call it a draw at this and go out to 'celebrate' Thanksgiving Day with a quick supper and then to bed. On a happier note we watch "High Society' on the TV and this happy distraction lifts us.
A phone call to the previously 'on holiday' department of British Airways results in the flight to Miami being changed inside 5 minutes, without the need for any reference numbers !!!!!!
Keep your fingers crossed for us.
I considered going into movie script writing after this trip, but decided that I couldn't even begin to invent a fraction of what is actually happening. Soaps - who needs them ????
STOP PRESS Its 1850 Central Time. We've just phoned the baggage dept at the station and they have told us that the 'Sunset' is in and our 2 bags are on it !!!!!!!!!
If you go out tonight, dear reader, have a drink for me.
Heff yo hoid thiss wun ??? We saw on the web news, we do look occasionally to see if the world is still out there, that there's a small tourist ship that is in the Antarctic, that has struck an ice shelf
We go down to the station and yes, it is our cases. They are intact and all is OK. It is now 2000 and we go out for supper in a lighter mood. Fried green tomatoes, followed by blackened catfish served with dirty rice - just don't tell Crocodile, I don't think he could handle it. Follow this with a weight watchers defying dessert and we are deliciously full. It is Friday night in New Orleans and in the town there are police cars on, what seems like, every other street corner. There are police walking round (and mounted police) and even police stood at the entrances to restaurants. Every few minutes a police car screams away on some call and is instantly replaced. I've never seen that many police even for a Manchester United v Liverpool match!!! There is a weird feeling of - do we feel safe because there are so many police about or unsafe because they have to be there in the first place ? We again did not attempt any night life.
Reflections ?? New Orleans was one place that I did quite a bit of checking on, after all the horror stories in the press, before we decided to go there. My view was that the city had taken a battering and although things were bad, they were improving and that the city could be helped by tourists returning. I have always had a bit of wonder for the American "Deep South', its history and its peoples. I have sadly been a little disappointed by the visit. It is a 'Jekyll and Hyde' city. Some people would ask, 'Hi where you folks from' and then say 'Thankyou for coming to New Orleans', as if our being there was appreciated in their difficulties. I have had barstaff, hotel reception, meal servers and ticket agents who were unfriendly - uninterested we have seen before but this was actively unfriendly, as if they didn't want us there (whyever not, when we were providing their income)? A waitress told me that most people come to NOLA 'just to get drunk and fall over'. It has too many tacky (and some are really tacky) tourist gift shops. The 'Big Easy' was uneasy, unnerving and unfriendly and I was sad at how my anticipated 'mystic' place actually was in reality. I really hope that things do improve but that is all in the hands of New Orleans itself.