We spent our second day in New Orleans walking around the French Quarter and the Riverfront, taking a cemetery tour and then drove just outside of town to a National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a jackpot of wildlife. We're staying at a Holiday Inn near the French Quarter and I just can't quite figure it out. It has the strangest mix of décor I've seen. The furnishings are just plain weird and there are Andy Warhol paintings everywhere. Our room has Marilyn Monroe and a can of tomato soup. The hall by the elevators has a cow. A Planet of the Apes movie is being shot a block over from our hotel, so there are trailers and equipment EVERYWHERE for blocks around. We get to see the set at night, but they put up big tarps during the day that block the filming. It's pretty interesting because there are signs directing everyone involved all over the place for make-up, extras, food, etc. We haven't seen any apes walking around, but the tech crew is everywhere and we saw some (I assume) extras because it was at least 95F and they were dressed like it was cold. Ugh. It's been interesting to walk past and hasn't been an inconvenience. Maybe I'll actually watch the movie when it comes out but I doubt it.
I wanted to walk down to the Riverfront because 19 years ago that was the happenin' place to be. Well, not so much anymore. The riverboat casino is gone and replaced by a 2-block Harrah's Casino and Resort. The gorgeous fountain is empty. The tourist trap mall with all the fun stores is mostly empty and will soon be closing for good. The row of giant cruise ships was gone. The aquarium was still there, but no longer looks shiny and new. The skyscraper that used to have a revolving restaurant at the top was still standing, but completely deserted. The whole area was kind of a sad surprise. I hope someone has great plans to knock everything down and start over. Even a casino would be better than what is there now. What we saw of the rest of the town looked great. All of the trendy shops that used to be at the mall moved to strips along the river in front of the French Quarter. The parks were beautiful, the neighborhoods were beautiful, etc.
We are such non-foodies and we go to these towns that are known for great food and eat at the hotel restaurant or the Hard Rock Café. Yesterday I forced Gene to a local place for local food. I don't remember what it was called but it was something like Good Gumbo. I had red beans and rice with smoked sausage and Gene had a shrimp po' boy. It was freaking amazing. If we didn't have plans to go to the swamp today, I'd go back. We followed our delicious lunch with a cemetery tour. I didn't know what to expect, but it was educational and entertaining and wonderful. Our guide Ernie was fantastic. He was so full of it that I sort of doubt he's truly from this area- he probably grew up in Cleveland or something- but the man was smart, knowledgeable and hilarious. I learned more about the history of New Orleans than I ever thought possible and laughed the entire time. We got a great tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 and got to see the tombs of many famous citizens. It was a fun couple of hours and something I'd definitely recommend and do again.
We had been walking all day so we came back to the hotel to rest for a bit before trekking out to the wildlife refuge. The refuge is vast and includes a former landfill and thousands of acres around it. The two public areas were quite small. However, the one area had a long boardwalk that went out into the swamp and on this short walk I could look around and see 9 types of herons/egrets, ibis, stilts, skies full of diving terns and swallows, whistling ducks, a Mississippi kite, anhingas and cormorants and on and on. We also saw two large alligators and several giant alligator gar fish. It was probably the most amazing bird experience I've ever had! The numbers of birds were comparable to the birdiest places I've been in Florida. Wading birds were everywhere you looked! It was a fun time for me and so amazing and full of wildlife that Gene stayed interested (though I'm sure we stayed a little longer than he would have preferred.)
Today we hope to go to Jean Lafitte Park and take a swamp tour. I have added gobs of birds to my year list in and around New Orleans. The bird I hope to get today is the painted bunting. I've spent two years sad that I missed it by only a couple of weeks when we were in Texas and I'd REALLY like to see one. Preferably a very colorful male. I can't remember the exact number of my year count, but I do know that it's early June and I have already surpassed my total for the entire year of 2012!