[Amtrak trip] From Houston to Tucson

After enjoying the three days in Houston, it was time to head to Tucson, Arizona. The departure time for the train was 6:55 PM. This train ride was supposed to be very special to me because it is the longest ride (about 26 hours) during this Amtrak trip and it was the only train ride that I would be staying on the sleeper car.

Other than this trip, I just used ‘reserved coach’ seats. It was free with Amtrak rail pass and the legrooms were spacious enough for me to have a good enough rest. However, on this train ride from Houston to Tucson (Sunset Limited,) I chose to try a sleeper because it was looooong ride, meaning the upgrade fee should worth it especially considering that all meals are free for sleeper car passengers.

The upgrade fee to use ‘roomette’ type sleeper for this ride was $338. This amount was for the entire roomette that up to two people could stay. If you are traveling alone, you wouldn’t be staying with a stranger but use the whole roomette by yourself. If two people are traveling together (like us,) one should be using the lower bed, and another the upper. In either case, the upgrade fee is the same.

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Roomette on Amtrak Sunset Limited

I made a reservation for the roomette about two months ago, by visiting the Amtrak office in Boston South Station. The sleepers are known to sell out fast especially during the summer vacation season, so I booked for it as soon as I could.

When I arrived at Houston three days ago, the train was about two hours late due to some kind of construction that made our train detour. It was the same train that I needed to take to go to Tucson, and as expected, the train arrived about 1.5 hours late this time too. Passengers at the (tiny) Houston Amtrak station got pretty frustrated because the only staff at the station would tell us she had no idea where the train was, or when it would arrive.

When the train FINALLY arrived around 8:00 PM, sleeper car passengers were allowed to board first. The room number was already printed on the ticket. We were advised to find our room on the first floor. I was excited+nervous to see my first sleeping car and dashed to the sleeper ‘#13.’

It was very very small room with minimal decoration. One thing that caught me surprised was that there was only one outlet for electricity! Every coach car had two outlets per two adjacent seats, so on this matter the coach seats were better. I wished I would have brought one of those multi tabs, but I didn’t, so I had to manage to switch between my gadgets.

And I also found out there was no wifi on the sleepers either. This kind of shocked me too because when I asked the Amtrak staff a few days ago (when I was on a coach car) about the wifi, he answered “only in sleepers.” I am still not sure it was only us who didn’t catch wifi or the entire car was ‘off.’

After dropping the luggages+baggages down, we went for our first free meal on this ride. We were advised by the staff to head to the dining car as soon as we got into the train because it was getting close to the closing time (for the dining car.) I didn’t want to starve whole night so hurried to the dining car.

I was informed if number of people on your group is less than three (one or two,) you must share the table at the dining car. Ok, I was expecting this, but sharing the table with strangers was never easy for me, considering my poor English speaking ability! We were party of two and the staff advised us to sit side by side. In front of us were empty seats  at first, but the seats were soon joined by very nice middle aged husband and wife. I nervously greeted “hello!” and they greeted back to us with a nice smile. And then the silence followed, and we were saved by a menu given by the waiter. I chose Angus beef steak (‘Amtrak Signature Steak,’ $25) because… it was the most expensive one on the list!

And then again, a few awkward minutes of silence passed by… everybody just looking out the window.  The sunset was beautiful and I accidentally (?) shouted “wow!” After my brave action of breaking the silence, the conversation naturally evolved to “where are you from?” and stuffs. It was nice little chat and the food was better than my expectation. For sleeper car passengers, even desserts and tea/coffee were free, but one has to pay extra for alcoholic beverages (beer $6.00~7.50, wine $7 per a glass etc.) I learned by googling, that I should leave gratuity according to the original price of the meal so I left $10 in cash on the table. Other people seemed to be doing about the same.

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Angus beef steak as a dinner

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Seats at Amtrak dining car (soon to be filled by strangers)

***dining car menu in case you are interested (click to enlarge)

After my first experience ever of having dinner with complete strangers, I headed back to the sleeper. It was getting late and I was so tired after walking a lot around the city of Houston, so immediately got ready to go to bed. If I needed to, I could have asked the train attendant to make bed for me. However, there was an instruction of the wall about making beds that seemed pretty simple. We managed to do it ourselves without any problem. I chose the upper bed without contemplating about anything. I climbed up the simple ladder, turned off the light, and crawled inside the blanket which seemed very new and clean. The train was keep moving and I realized the bed was shaking with the train, up and down then right to left and down and up. Despite the rattling of the bed, I fell asleep fast.

I hoped for waking up in the morning without waking up in the middle of the night, but unfortunately, I woke up around 2:00 AM. I never had any problem with closed space in my life  but I suddenly panicked and felt stuffy in my chest because the ceiling was so close (like 30cm from my face) above. I adjusted myself to face the open space on the right hand side, which made me feel a little better.

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Roomette with beds installed

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Upper bed at the roomette

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Shower room that sleeper passengers can use

After half sleeping for a while, I decided just to get up around 5:30 AM. The train was passing around San Antonio, which was still Texas. The breakfast was from 6:00 AM so after washing my face, I headed to the dining car again, now for free breakfast. There was also a shower room in the train. It seemed very clean and there were plenty of towels and everything but I was not brave enough to take shower in the shaky train so I decided to pass this time and go straight for the breakfast.

While having egg omelette as a breakfast (again with very nice middle aged gentleman and lady,) I realized the scenery had changed a lot from Houston. There were definitely less trees and more sands. I even spotted some whirling sands ascending upward. The gentleman sharing the table kindly taught me that special things were called ‘dust devil.’

After the breakfast I moved to the observation room, because I didn’t like the feeling of being trapped in the small space and also there were more outlets there. It was amazing to see the scenery changing to desert, and more surprisingly it was STILL Texas. Later I found out Texas was about seven times larger than my home country, South Korea!

The train ran and ran and ran across this huge state. I had four meals during the 26 hours of train ride (dinner-breakfast-lunch-dinner.) The sun went down and came up and started to go down again and it was still Texas! And then we touched the border of New Mexico and finally crossed the border of Arizona.

When the train was near Sunland Park, NM, we could see the huge wall lining up along the border between Mexico and the US. Passengers took pictures like crazy, thinking that the walls were the world famous Trump wall. However, the gentleman we were having a lunch with told us the wall was already there before Mr. Trump’s presidency. Naturally, the conversation started to point toward the topic of politics, which was not the best theme to share with strangers so it quickly gave a way to more fun stuffs like the experiences on the train.

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Looking out the border wall near Sunland Park, NM

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Looking out the border wall near Sunland Park, NM

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Looking out the border wall near Sunland Park, NM

Now I was definitely on the desert. I was so excited because it was the first time for me to see the real desert this closely. I exclaimed “wow” too many times and the nice lady told me she found my reaction very interesting because she thought the scenery of endless desert was the most boring thing in the world. We laughed and wished each other the best of luck while traveling. After having four meals straight with strangers, I found myself not to be too scared of talking to people I didn’t know. It was even a bit fun to guess who my next meal companions would be.

The train finally arrived at Tucson around 8:00 PM. I was to stay in Tucson only one night and head north to Sedona, Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas by a rental car. I thought of Tucson as just a passing city, a city with not too many interesting things to see, which proved to be 300% wrong!

***Amtrak trip: full list***

***Here are some pictures from Sunset Limited train from Houston to Tucson. They are all ‘day two’ pictures because it was already too dark when the train was leaving Houston on the day one.

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Day 2, morning: Pecos River, TX
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Day 2, morning: between San Antonio, TX and New Mexico
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Day 2, morning: between San Antonio, TX and New Mexico
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Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico

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Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico

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Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico

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Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico

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Day 2, evening: near Peloncillo Mountain Wilderness, New Mexico
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Day 2, evening: sunset near Sierra Vista, AZ 

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Arrival at Amtrak Tucson station

[Amtrak trip] 24h in Houston (2)

After the quite interesting first day in Houston, I was excited to discover more attractions of the city. I started the day by putting on my proud dark-pink NASA t-shirt that I purchased the day before. I had to take the Amtrak train to Tucson at 6:55 PM, so I couldn’t be too lazy. After having a simple breakfast, I decided to head for the museum district that every guidebooks seemed to be praising.

According to its website, Houston museum district has 19 museums over the four walkable zones. I never thought of Houston as an art city like NY or Chicago. But looking back, it was obvious that Houston has such good art museums because it is usually the riches who are good art collectors, and Houston is not short of the riches, it seemed.

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The Menil Collection’s main building (under construction until September, 2018)

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The Menil Collection’s main building (under construction until September, 2018)

The first museum I headed to was the Menil Collection. Like Whitney Museum, Guggenheim, or J. P. Morgan Museum in NY, the founders of Menil Museum were the rich people, the late Mr+Mrs Menil. The main building of the museum that is so famous to have precious artworks from all over the world was under construction (until September 2018.) But I did not hesitate to go anyway because I really wanted to visit the Rothko Chapel, a project also commissioned by Menils, that is right beside the main building.

I took a bus (#82, day pass $3) to go to the Chapel. Maybe it would be more appropriate to call it a ‘chapel’ with a small ‘c.’ It is not intended to accommodate any particular religion. It is just a place to find something ‘spiritual,’ whatever that word means to an each visitor. Not like many museums in NY, it was free. I was grateful about the generosity of Menils.

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#82 bus, not many bus riders in Houston it seemed

Like many travelers visiting the US, I had this stereotype about the museums founded by the riches. A family gets or is rich that they have so much money to spend for something valuable. Buying something like a handbag wouldn’t work, because they would need to buy sooooo many of them to spend all the money. So they decide to buy art works, that are known to have so many digits on their price tags. After collecting considerable volume of collections, they build a museum as a goodwill to the society. Then I (the tourist) go, and enjoy them for a reasonable ticket price, right?

However, these Menils were a bit different. They didn’t stop at BUYING the artworks. They called the artists and asked them to do some project for THEIR museum. They would build a building for the projects, so fitted to the style of the artists. You know, like Medici family of Renaissance Italy used to do.

And there the Rothko Chapel was. The building so solemn and tranquile with the paintings of Mark Rothko covering every walls. Fourteen huge paintings were hung on the walls of the high ceiling chapel. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the walls were built for the paintings. I always adored Mark Rothko’s paintings, but being inside the building overwhelmed with his paintings was nothing like seeing one or two painting of him (with other artists’ paintings nearby.) It felt like being captured inside the artist’s mind. It was a bit depressing to learn that Rothko committed suicide not long after finishing the project and he didn’t get to see this beautiful chapel.

Inside Rothko Chapel. credit: http://www.rothkochapel.org

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Sculpture right in front of Rothko Chapel, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.

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Sculpture right in front of Rothko Chapel, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.

Anybody was allowed to stay in the chapel (as long as one doesn’t take a picture), so I stayed for a while and headed outside for a very secular activity, a lunch. On the neighborhood, there wasn’t many restaurants but the restaurant run by the Menil, Bistro Menil, was close by. The interior was beautiful and the food was casually tasteful (cheeseburger $16.)

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Bistro Menil

After the lunch, I visited a few more museums also on the so called Menil Campus. Cy Twombly Gallery, Dan Flavin Installation, and Byzantine Fresco Chapel were all jaw dropping projects, all commissioned by Menils. Every museum was free, again, as long as you don’t take photos (they were very strict about this rule.)

At this point I finally looked up who these Menils are (yes, I had no clue who they were) and found out they got rich from the oil and finance industry. It was interesting that NY Times actually called them Medici of the modern society.

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Inside Cy Twombly Gallery. credit: http://www.menil.org

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Byzantine Fresco Chapel
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Flavin Installation. credit: http://www.menil.org

I had a few hours left before heading to the train station. There were so many interesting and small museums on museum district, but I decided to finish my journey in Houston by visiting the representatively large museum in the district, The Museum of Fine Arts. It was huge museum with well curated artworks (and of course, super strong A/C.) It curated whole range of artworks, from old time European to cutting edge contemporary 3D printer produced sculptures. Personally, I especially enjoyed the artworks by Edward Hopper and Henri Matisse.

It was especially interesting to see another example of what the riches can do for artists. There were a huge artworks by Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, that Nelson Rockefeller commissioned for the fireplace in his Manhattan penthouse! Wow!!! How nice it would be to look at the empty wall of your new penthouse thinking ‘hmm… I should call that Matisse guy to paint it for me’ (I can do this thinking too, of course except the penthouse part, haha) and then REALLY order the artwork tailored for the space!

Thanks to the city and the riches, the Museum of Fine Arts was also free. On my way out, I visited the museum gift shop to buy a magnet to give my mom (=the magnet collector!) and colored pencils to use for my drawing practices, thinking ‘well, maybe it might be super cool to be super rich!’ Money surely cannot buy everything but it certainly CAN buy something, I learned in Houston.

I took a bus back to the hotel to collect luggages, called Lyft, and headed to the very tiny Houston Amtrak Station. Next destination would be Tucson, the city of cacti. 🌵

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Painting by Henri Matisse, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston

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Painting by Pablo Picasso, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston

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Oh, let’s have Matisse paint the fireplace!…thought Nelson Rockefeller

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…or Fernand Léger!

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Painting by Frederic Remington, the Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

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Painting by Edward Hopper, the Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

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The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

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3D printed artworks in The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

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3D printed artworks in The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

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3D printed artworks in The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

[Amtrak trip] 24h in Houston (1)

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Space Shuttle and its carrier 747 aircraft in front of Houston Space Center

Frankly, I did not expect much from Houston. People I know had been telling me negative things about the city. One friend told me I would be wanting to leave as soon as I arrived because it should be so hot and humid. Another person said the city did not have much thing to enjoy as a traveler. However, while staying in Houston for two nights, I found it quite contrary to my negative prejudice.

First, Houston was the coldest city I have encountered during this trip. Of course, the temperature was high and yes, it was humid. But the A/C was absolutely stronger than any other city I’ve visited. Moreover, I encountered a few rain showers in the afternoon that cooled down the city  dramatically. It was like pouring cold water to a sizzling pan.

And the second point, ‘not-much-to-enjoy’ (aka ‘boring?’,) was certainly not true. I truly enjoyed the world-famous Houston Space Center and well curated museums established by the Southern philanthropists. So here’s how my first day in Houston went by.

8:00 AM Breakfast at hotel

I started my day with a simple breakfast (more like snacks but sufficient for me: bananas, breakfast bars, coffee etc.) provided by the hotel, Club Quarters Houston. The hotel chain primarily serves its member organizations, then opens up its rooms at reasonable price when there are some rooms left. The hotel was very clean, and the location was also good. The best thing for a long-term traveler like me was the free Whirlpool laundry & drying machines (six of each) on the basement.

9:00 AM Houston Space Center

Right after the breakfast I headed  to the place I have been wanting to go for decades, NASA Space Center Houston! I usually prefer public transportation but this time decided to rent a car, because it was 30 mins by driving but 1.5~2 hours by bus. Yeah, the Lyft driver was right about Houston being the city of car, car, and car.

Before I go, I signed up online for the annual membership. There was close to zero possibility that I would be able to visit the center again within a year, but after doing some research I decided it would be better deal to purchase the membership because of: 1) reasonable pricing ($90 for two persons) of the membership  which includes general admission (general admission is $29.95 per one person) 2) fast track privilege for the (two) tram rides that is the essence of the Space Center visit 3) 10% discount at the gift shop and restaurants and 4) free parking ($6 without the membership.)

I printed out the temporary membership card at the hotel and drove 30 mins to the Space Center. As soon as I was entering the parking lot, I was greeted by the huge Space Shuttle (real size mock up) and its carrier Boeing 747 airplane (original.) Space Shuttle was on top of 747, just like the good old days when they flew together across the country. When the Space Shuttle (now retired) landed on Earth, it had to be carried by other vehicle to its home in Florida. It was fascinating to find out that moving the space shuttle by another airplane was the result of one enthusiastic outside-of-box thinker, John Kiker.

As I entered the main center, I headed straight to the tram station. There are mainly four parts to the space center visit (all included in general admission): 1) inside museums (where you can touch the moon rock!) 2) Space Shuttle and Boeing Carrier (inside and out) 3) tram ride to the historic  mission control center 4) tram ride to astronaut training center. I jumped to do the one of the tram rides first, because the weather report said it would be raining hard that afternoon, and when it rains hard the tram tour would stop.

Thanks to the membership, I could ride the tram to the historic mission control by waiting only about ten minutes. The non-members’ line was very long, looking like a good 40 mins wait. The open-air tram took us to the historic mission control room after about 10 mins ride. It was interesting to see longhorns looming around the center. It’s Texas, for sure there are longhorns, right?

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Longhorns looming around Space Center Houston

I didn’t know what to expect at the ‘historic’ mission control room. I thought it would be some kind of mock-up with cheesy mannequins and stuffs. But I was so wrong (again.) It was very genuine and real. It was THE real control room that was used from 1965 to 1998. The room was where the historic words from the first moon lander Neil Armstrong’s were received in 1969 (“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”) The room had also received the desperate call from Apollo 13 saying “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

NASA preserved the room so well that it even had ashtrays on the observing room that we the visitors were allowed to stay for a while (The observing room was originally built for the families of astronauts on mission.) The guide told us that they were preparing for 50th anniversary of moon landing (1969) next year and hot debate was going on regarding whether to allow visiting people to smoke in the control room, just like the old days.

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Historic Mission Control Room at Houston Space Center

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Historic Ashtray at Historic Mission Control Room at Houston Space Center

As we were coming back from the control room, rain started pouring down, literally soaking us all like in a shower. We jumped into the icy cold air-conditioned museum building as soon as the tram driver dropped us off. We had brief lunch at very good cafeteria on the first floor while trying to dry ourselves.

It kept raining so another tram to astronaut training center was not running. I took that opportunity to look around the museum itself. There were various spacecrafts, satellites, and pictures that tell the challenging history of America’s ongoing journey to the space. One of the most popular artifacts was, of course, the moon rock that you can touch. It was small black rock, maybe size of two quarter coins. It was surprisingly soft like a velvet (maybe too many people have touched it?)

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Space Center Museum

 

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People touching the real moon rock at Space Center Museum

Around 3:30 PM, right before the closing time, the weather cleared, and tram started to run again. I dashed to the tram line and headed to astronaut training center. Not like historic control room, the training center was being used by real astronauts right now! Visitors were allowed to follow the long corridor upstairs with glass windows and watch astro-people (not just astronauts but also mechanics and administrators) working. It was interesting to learn that the US is (seriously) preparing for the Mars man landing! The guide explained to us that it is planned in early 2030s so the astronauts in the future are likely to be 7 to 16 years old now. That meant I was certainly excluded, but who knows? There are also biologists working hard to turn back aging………😳

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Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston

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Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston

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Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston

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Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston

I ended my Space Center tour with a one more visit to the space shuttle and the very well stuffed gift shop. I bought those cool ‘NASA’ t-shirts that every tourist was wearing and NASA stickers for my MacBook.

6:30 PM Dinner: Gorgeous Texan Barbecue at Killen’s

On a way to the hotel, I had a dinner at Killen’s Texas Barbecue, the famous Texan Barbecue restaurant. Woods that would be used to smoke the meat were stacked right beside the restaurant building. I hurried inside and ordered one-pound bone-in beef short rib. It was a single huge rib ($22,) smoked so black outside yet moist and juicy and chewy and almost melting inside. It was nothing like any Texas barbecue I had been tasting outside Texas. The mind soothing side dishes, collard greens and cole slaw ($8 each) were perfect match to the tough-guy style barbecue rib. A glass of local Karbach draft beer upgraded ‘perfect’ to ‘more-than-perfect.’

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Killen’s one pound barbecue rib

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Killen’s one pound barbecue rib: juicy inside

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Woods used to smoke meats at Killen’s

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Killen’s menu

I drove back to downtown Houston with a happy scent of barbecue smoke still lingering in my hoodie, thinking ‘who said Houston was boring?!’

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On a way to Space Center, Space McDonalds (?). Who said Houston was boring?

***Amtrak trip: full list***

[Amtrak trip] 24h in New Orleans (2)

 9:00 AM Plantations Tour

After eating surprisingly good free breakfast (with warm sausages, egg scrambles, grits etc.) at the Drury Inn, I went for a tour to a couple of plantations in Louisiana. There are several plantation tours offered by tour companies. I made a reservation the day before to go for Gray Line (one of the biggest tour companies it seemed) Double Plantation tour ($88.) You could choose two plantations among three on the list (Laura, Whitney, and Oak Alley.) I googled some pictures and basic info, and picked Laura and Oak Alley plantations. The tour was from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM and the pick-up area was near the French Quarter, right beside the Mississippi pier.

The big coach bus was about 2/3 filled with tourists. 1.5 hour bus ride itself to the plantation was quite fun. The New Orleans native bus driver (interestingly without the accent though) was also a very good tour guide, telling us various interesting stories about New Orleans with his headset microphone (something like that New Orleans people call an avocado ‘alligator pear.’) The view of Mississippi river, the second longest river in the world after Nile (according to the driver, fourth longest river according to Wikipedia,) through the bus window was stunning.

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Mississippi River from the tour bus to the plantations

The first stop was Laura plantation. About 10 minutes after the bus dropping us off, the tour guide walked us through the plantation. Laura plantation is a typical creole sugar plantation that was happened to be run by women most of the time. I had been confused about the word ‘creole’ that was being used everywhere in New Orleans, from food to housing, and the guide finally made it clear for me. The term means people who are ‘French speaking (doesn’t need to be a French), Louisiana born (regardless of ethnicity), and Catholic.’

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Laura plantation

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Laura plantation

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A pot that was used to purify sugar in Laura Plantation

After about 1.5 hours at Laura plantation, the bus drivers picked us up again and headed to the next plantation, Oak Alley (15 mins drive.) Oak Alley plantation is one of those very photogenic spots that make you shout out ‘OMG, I must go there!’ The real thing was no less than the pictures in the internet. Big oak tree branches were making a beautiful entranceway to the front door of the main building.

There was a restaurant in one of the buildings inside the plantation complex, so I had a quick lunch there. They served mostly traditional Louisiana meals in a cozy atmosphere.  We had chicken+smoked sausage gumbo ($9.95) and fried oyster poboy royale ($14.95.)

After the lunch, the tour guide of the plantation walked us through the main house. Contrast to the beautiful scenery, we of course learned about the painful history of slavery embedded in the plantation. It was also a little bit sad to learn that the family who owned this beautiful plantation couldn’t hold it for more than two generations due to mis-judgement on some investments.

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Oak Alley plantation

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Oak Alley plantation

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Lunch at Oak Alley. (top) Poboy and (bottom) Gumbo

5:00 PM Dinner at Pier 424 Seafood Market

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(top) Boiled jumbo shrimp and (bottom) alligator fries at Pier 424 Fish Market

After coming back to New Orleans by the same bus, it was a time for an early dinner. The day before, I reserved the famous Natchez steamboat cruise ($48, without dinner) that goes up and down the Mississippi River and the boat was to leave at 7:00 PM. There was an option to eat dinner on the boat ($83, including the cruise) but eating something on the boat wasn’t my thing, so I went for a dinner before the cruise. There were still several things left on my list of ‘ten things I must eat in New Orleans’ and I was to leave the day after, so I felt like I should hurry.

I went to Pier 424 Seafood Market for the dinner because they had boiled crawfish on the menu. However, I was disappointedly told it was not the season. I tried boiled jumbo shrimp with potatoes and corns (MP, around $30 I think I paid) and fried alligator ($12, tasted like chicken)  instead. Big dishes of fresh seafoods were satisfying enough.

7:00 PM Natchez Steamboat

After the dinner, I finally headed for the cruise, the famous steamboat that had been hosting various people since 1823. The current boat is the ninth generation of Natchez, cruising since 1975. The jazz band was already playing on the boat. The vibe was lively while the boat cruised into the sunset. My last night of New Orleans was passing with the tune of jazz and the sound of the steamboat foghorn.

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Natchez steamboat (panorama)

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Natchez steamboat (panorama)

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Jazz at Natchez steamboat

9:30 PM Jazz at Musical Legends Park

The boat brought us back to the land at around 9:00 PM. For the last sprinkle of New Orleans, I headed to the casual outdoor jazz bar in the middle of French Quarter. Cafe Beignet at Bourbon St. was located in the Musical Legends Park. The tiny park is famous for the three statues of jazz legends standing near the gate (Al “Jumbo” Hirt, Antoine “Fats” Domino, and Pete Fountain.) And of course, there was a live jazz being played in the middle of the courtyard. The wind was still warm as the sound of live jazz danced through the night air.

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Musical Legends Park

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Jazz at Musical Legends Park

***Amtrak trip: Full List***

[Amtrak trip] 24h in New Orleans (1)

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Be nice or leave! Motto of New Orleans

 

10:30 AM The oldest tram in the world

I started the second day in New Orleans quite late. It seemed it was the way everybody was doing it in New Orleans. After taking a good rest, I went for a lunch at Carrollton Market in the west side of the city (Carrollton) beside the Mississippi river.

It was about 4.7 miles from my hotel. I decided to try the historic New Orleans tram #12, oldest streetcar in the world! I could buy the ticket very easily with the smartphone app ‘RTA Go Mobile.’ One day unlimited ride ticket (Jazzy pass) was $3.00.

The tram was made with wood and rattled as it went slowly. There was no window glass on the driver’s seat so the driver could announce whatever he/she wants (like “take the next tram!”) by shouting it out loud to the streets. The tram took the historic St. Charles Ave, which was filled with beautiful/huge houses and large trees.

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The oldest streetcar in the world

12:00 Lunch at Carrollton Market

Carrollton Market was reported in Forbes magazine as one of the four restaurants that you shouldn’t miss today in New Orleans. And the owner/chef Jason Goodenough had been named the chef of the year by New Orleans Magazine last year. The food was very elegant and interior was cozy. I had Oyster Goodenough French Omelet ($17) that was very unique and rich in taste.

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Carrollton Market

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Oyster Goodenough French Omelette at Carrollton Market

2:00 PM Waking around Magazine Streets

Magazine Streets are 6 miles stretching streets in the west side of New Orleans filled with local shops. The streets are abundant of vintage shops, antiques, and various local products. I was not planning for shopping but ended up buying a leather pencil case at Box Paper Scissor (beautiful stationery shop) and two vinyls (SP) of Quincy Jones and George Harrison at Peach’s Record.

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Kaweco fountain pens at Box Paper Scissor

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Peach’s Record

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Very very interesting coloring book at Peach’s Record

4:00 PM Cocktail time

We took the tram again to come back to the French Quarter. It was now sizzling and impossible to stay outside for too long. So like everybody else in New Orleans, we went for cocktails. At first, we just grabbed any seat at the bar Famous Door that was playing live music (something like Irish country songs…?) and drank a big cup of Hurricane cocktail that so many people were drinking (rum+passion fruit juice.)

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Famous Door at Bourbon Street

It was a bit early for a dinner and too hot to walk around, so I decided to go for… another cocktail, thinking it must have been weather that made New Orleans a birthplace of cocktail. My next stop was Carousel Bar at Monteleone Hotel. The bar is the only rotating (yes, spinning slowly like a carousel) bar in New Orleans and according to its website it had been spinning for 65 years now! I had Vieux Carre ($12.00), signature cocktail created in 1938 (Rey Whiskey+Sweet Vermouth+etc.) which was strong enough for a hot summer day

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Vieux Carre cocktail at Carousel Bar (minions not included :-P)

7:00 PM Seafood Dinner at Felix

I had this list of ’10 things that you must eat in New Orleans,’ from USA tourism site and felt like I was running out of time to eat them all in three days. So to check out several menus at once, I went to Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar. It was very casual restaurant that served New Orleans style seafoods. We had half shell oysters, char-grilled oysters, Crawfish Etouffee, and Jambalaya. The waitress recommended seasonal local draft beer which was watermelon (!) beer. It was perfect for the weather and the food.

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Char grilled Oysters at Felix

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The list of ‘ten things I must eat’ in New Orleans

After the dinner, it was cooler than before so we walked to the next spot, Frenchmen St. On a way, I encountered a wonderful shop (Magnolia Sugar & Spice Praline Kitchen & Hot Sauce Bar) that had hundreds (or thousands) kinds of hot sauce. They even had hot sauce tasting bar (“Taste at your own rick”) to feel the different tastes of hot sauces. I couldn’t resist but to buy one Louisiana ‘original’ hot sauce, although for me it was almost impossible to tell the difference among various kinds.

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Magnolia Sugar & Spice Praline Kitchen & Hot Sauce Bar

 

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Hot sauce tasting

 

9:00 PM Jazz time

The main street for New Orleans jazz is Frenchmen St, about 15~20 mins walk from the crazy Bourbon St.  According to the website, Frenchmen St. is “the capital of live music in New Orleans. With 20+ bars, venues, and restaurants all within a 2 block area, each hosting various live music events 7 days a week.” So how could I skip it?

The first jazz bar we hopped into was the Maison where the band, Smoking Time Jazz Club, was playing. We sat at the bar and nobody asked for a cover charge. (Later I found out the show is all free unless otherwise specified.) The show was great and so jazzy, quite different from something like $50.00 cover charged live in New York.

After the show and a glass of local IPA, we headed to another jazz bar nearby, the Spotted Cat. This time we had to pay $10.00 entrance fee but the didn’t have to order anything. We were standing in the crowd so it was not easy to drink anyway. The night was turning deeper and so was the music. It was getting warmer from heat of the crowd, but nobody seemed to care and nor did I.

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The Mason

 

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The Spotted Cat