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Trip Report We REALLY DID take the Chevy to the Levee!

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Two boomers from IL flew to N.O. LA and in a GM Terrain with California lic. plates explored NOLA, gulf coast MS and AL in January. It was a true adventure.

We didn't make it all the way to Orange Beach as hoped, but almost. Too much fun and things to see and do on the way.

The trip report will follow.

I'll do a brief one, and then detail food etc. later. Thanks, Littleman and bachslunch- your information WAS priceless.

And in two places the mad man DID. Put that car on the top of the levee and turned around once too, up there. Only second time since I met him that he almost made me faint. Another time was in Jerome AZ.

First, we had the most glorious weather any traveler could ever wish to receive. And missed two snow storms at home on top of it. And I actually disreguarded my own universal advice about a winter coat- not taking one- or storing WITHIN CHECKED luggage when coming to or leaving from Chicago. I did the former. Came back without one altogether. Figured I could layer everything I toted, as a last resort, if needed. It worked.
So I traveled much lighter as a result. SO took tech (GPS/notebook etc.) and enough stuff to last 2 more weeks down there, anyway.

The trip was arrive by plane, get rental car- 3 days in NOLA- 3 days in and around Biloxi, and 2 days East of Biloxi- Mobile AL environs. Then the ride back to NOLA, and a day north of NOLA - night in Metairie LA and then car back, plane home, the day after that.

I had a list of about 12 things that were musts. We did about 10 of those. Court of the Two Sisters was one of the misses, and Orange Beach AL- was the other. Completely different types of reasons. At least 4 or 5 events/venues that I never thought we'd get in- like Oak Valley Plantation, we did.

We had FUN. My SO, as a driver- was FANTABULOUS. Driving in the Big Easy, is not easy. At all. One way streets and Michigan left turns and terrible signage and inconsistencies. For instant, right hand lane MUST turn right and they give you about a 60 foot notice for that one. So he gets the applause of the year for his expertise.

AND, btw the roads are truly a mess. Worse than Chicago neighborhoods, and that's saying something. Driving feels like you are riding one of the old stagecoaches and speed bumps aren't as high as the potholes and voids are deep.

Recalculating. Recalculating.

Who would believe that we would get temperatures in the 70's and one day over 80 degrees during January in LA, MS, AL!!! And we did. And I also realized quite quickly that winter month wear for women in the South does NOT equate to moderate temperature or summer or turning weather wear in the North. Not much at all. Especially in shoes and footwear. So I really should have shopped for some clothes, but I didn't. So most of the time I looked like the dark mole amongst birds of many colored feathers- but we had so much fun that it didn't really matter.

Will do this trip report in parts- and it was one of the top 5 memorable in my life. As good as any trip to Europe I have experienced.

NOLA WAS SUPER. There was a thread here about walking and danger etc. etc. So much of life is relative within city experience, perhaps. We walked everywhere. Way beyond the French Quarter. Not late but everywhere. And street people did bother a few times, but nothing remotely threatening. The people seem almost joyous. Nearly all of them. And totally not bitter.

Really hardly any of the tense situations that you would/might encounter in any of many 5 or 6 mile square areas in Baltimore or Chicago, for instance. Not those kinds of looks and eye aversions. And if you did something bordering on stupid, someone usually warned about it. We even saw older guys telling women not to go into places as we walked by.

We heard at least 5 or 6 full length Katrina stories from waiters, waitresses, plane mate passengers etc. etc. With all the nitty gritty details of insurance etc. too. No one is shy.

Mardi Gras is coming up too and all the preparing is vastly under way. And we were greeted at our first hotel, Country Inn & Suites NOLA, with a girl who came out and did a ritual with beads. Rather like the aloha Hawaii thing with the leis. The room was good and on the 3rd floor. This hotel is comprised of 7 formerly different ruined buildings being re-constructed as one. Great open spaces at the bottom and beamed. Very, very nice. Courtyard with pool in the middle like old NOLA homes- in a garden setting- small and secluded. A free breakfast comes with the deal too. Not continental. Full boat. Different each day- but always having the waffle yourself and fruit and eggs features. One day it was scrambled egg with 7 possible ingredients in tortillas that SO loved, for example. Coffee available 24/7 there too. Plus in the room, as well. Also microwave and fridge. Huge king bed and nifty duvet linen- huge tv. Very nice. Wi-fi too.

We dumped our luggage and went walking for dinner- as we hadn't eaten since the morning. I had 4 choices printed out but one was closed on Tuesday, it seemed. So we ended up at Grand Isle, near the Ruth Chris and German place just down from the Riverwalk. Country Inn & Suites is designated as French Quarter, but it is really about 2 blocks within the Arts District. Which then becomes quickly the warehouse district. It is about 8 or 9 full blocks from Jackson Square.

Dinner here was my first Shrimp Poor Boy. SO had the fish stew and we shared a specialty of theirs- the onion rings. We hadn't had those in years. And these were great onion rings. Thinner and more delicate and with a kick. Beat the ones that won the award in Chicagoland by a mile. Wine was good too.

We strolled a little after dinner and specked out directions and sequences for the next day- and on the walk back hit Harrah's. I had my old card in my wallet and went in to see what the deal was. They ended up giving each of us $10 play and also a nice steel coffee mug each for our January birthdays. (BIRTHDAY BOY is going to be 65 this week.) He is an old man now. As usual, I won a little, and he lost a little.

We got back about 9:30 pm and went to bed because we had a whole lot planned for the next day.

---------to be continued.

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    Nice report JJ!
    I am so glad you had a great time.
    So your trip exceeded your expectations?!
    The Country Inn sounds lovely BTW.
    Yes, our weather here in the south has been quite mild.

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    Thanks for a great TR. I have always liked Country Inn and Suites. Grand Isle is nice too. Ernst Cafe is a 100 year old bar and restaurant up the street and Manning's is a new sports bar across from Grand Isle. NOLA is a great city. How was your trip to Biloxi. Come back again soon.

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    Looking forward to reading more! Sorry you missed Court of Two Sisters....I know, touristy and no longer thought that good, but that was my introduction to New Orleans as a young Yankee bride moving there. Imagine how taken this 25 year old was by the fabulously romantic NO courtyard, formal waitstaff, wonderfully zippy Shrimp Remoulade. I thought, "now this is the place for me"...and so began a wonderful stay, and the births of our kids. So--you can see, maybe, why I was disappointed with that miss. None-the-less ;) I'm really looking forward to reading your report and will forgive you that little omission.

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    Oh guys, I could do a 15 page trip report. I am NOT kidding.

    Kenny LOVED NOLA and especially the LA bayou. VERY unusual, as he is NOT a city person. At all. He loved the weather, the fog, the wet and the feel of it. I did too. Everyday going out into that warm air- we almost swooned. It healed his skin stuff, his sinuses and every aspect of the all the physical c**P he has been through in the last year.

    I didn't begin to tell you all we did either.

    In NOLA:

    WWII movie and Museum (The first is like a Disney with the special effects and with spoilers that I won't give.) The second is a huge separate building, soon to be several more. They are rebuilding an entire PT board like JFK's for one. Got through the European Theater without tears, not the Pacific. You push buttons throughout and hear men and women tell their personal stories. Some are German. Some are Japanese. Some are Russian. Some are Allies. Some are Axis.

    Do you know that those carriers that you see land in Normandy on D-Day-(movies, newsreels etc. etc.) the only part that is metal is the drop down door/front landing side! The entire rest is wood painted to look like metal. Bullets went right through. Most died in the water, never even got to the land. Most couldn't swim either. Don't suppose many of us would risk that kind of thing for our country or anything at all today.

    And if the weather had not had a storm on June 5 and it still didn't really subside until late in the 6th. If that had not happened, the landing would have been accurate- not blown off course. And as a result the forces would have been centered. And they would have come in right exactly where the German artillery was cored. The Allies absolutely would not have been able to create any beach hold at all. And the back up was never sufficient. So it would have gone completely the other way. And the next years and decades quite, quite different.

    I could go on about this for 10 more paragraphs. I got to write my Dad's ship and job and story in the big book. And also my Uncle's who was shot down over Poland and Russia- two times. He was MIA for 18 months. They are still alive at 92 and 93 too. I had all the 5 docents 84 to 94 really going. One just about talked Ken's ears off. They are trying to track all the small vessels used to transport over the Atlantic. My Dad's was so small that it was barely like a shrimper. Most of them were.

    We also must be complete anomalies. Because people here say they don't get to know the natives. Honestly, we never met and ate or flew or whatever with so many new people as on this trip. There was a N O family coming home from Vermont skiing stuck at Midway. It was a hugely packed mess of a boarding area and I found this little girl a surface to play with these cups and tech she had- and her family was like our friends for life.

    He told us his entire Katrina story. The were showing us their ski clothes going to be put away "for storage" and I mentioned our skiing in MI and my little lake house. This guy just exploded with his tale about his lake house on Lake Pontchartrain. There were 60 houses ($200 to $300 thousand each he said) of them on this tract. One belonged to John Goodman, one to this guy's mother and brother. All gone. All he ever found was two kitchen tiles and a frying pan. His wife told me later on the plane that that was the only time she ever heard him tell the entire of when he stayed and she and the kids were in Baton Rouge.

    He said you can't even see where his property was or what happened to the 60 foot cypress tree on it. He saved the inside of the house in Metarie but lost the outside. He said he slept near the house, not in the house after. Just about like my house in April 2010 tornado damage- about that same level of damage. He didn't get the water there.

    WE LOVE THE NEW ORLEANS accent. It is so much gentler and sometimes it is almost a whisper. This guy and family had it completely.

    We went to the zoo. Loved the swamps and the birds all free everywhere. Very different species of animals than Brookfield and that was really nice. Rhino and elephant espeically. No Meerkats.

    Did the Garden District, did the Riverwalk one night with Messina seafood- about 3 or 4 different kinds. Cafe du Monde and Cathedral, Jackston Square area. One evening did Chartres, Royal, Bourbon and went to Court of Two Sisters. Ate at Mr. B's one night. He had lamb chops and some FABULOUS creole creamed potatoes. I had the flights of soups and woodfire baked fish that were beyond description. Best Gumbo Ya-Ya I have ever tasted, that is for sure.

    We went to Harrah's and they gave us free play and metal mugs for our Birthday. Both of us. He is 65 tomorrow.

    We drove all over and hit the "eerie" place on the way to Ms and Gulfport. We stopped once and some guys were pushing their boat in. Honestly if I hadn't been with him he would have asked to go, even without a license. The trees were leafless and the fog was thick and it was warm on your skin. OH and it was so DIFFERENT. Many trees half snapped off or going all different ways. LOTS OF CRITTERS.

    In Biloxi before we even got to the hotel we went to BeauVoir and did 2 full hours with 2 docents. It was smashed and the porch and all else gone- but they restored most of the inside- and are still working on the outside. The biggest antiquity mansion there was completely lost. Beau Voir was saved only by its huge stone gates. They stop the Presidential Casino barge and pushed it about a 1/2 mile down. It landed on top of the Holiday Inn- which was invisible forevermore. Flattened. We heard 4 personal stories in Biloxi. Many of debris and the stench for the first 3 weeks. Mostly about losing their jobs more than their homes. Mary Mahoneys's is only a fraction of hours and entity of what it was. The new Half Shell Oyster House is made out of the old bank. Opened and beamed beautiful, locals were going upstairs for family dinners after Church on Sunday. It was fabulous seafood. Best crawfish, shrimp pasta dish fusion. Our waitress is only person we met who still lives and works in Biloxi. Most who work the clubs or tourist resorts now or Casinos like Beau Ravage or Hard Rock- now live in Woolcut or Ocean Springs. Insurance costs are going to make the waitress move soon. She said rebuilding was not worth it, because now the insurance is way way past affordable for her to live there.

    We loved Ocean Springs park/beach/boardwalk the most of any water front we have seen. It was 75 degrees and the kids and dogs and bikes and all were out on it too. Beautiful, beautiful place. Like a semi-tropical Traverse City Bay scenario. Houses on bluffs looking down to the water and beach/park. With parking and public access too for miles. And with for rent signs everywhere. HUUUUUMMMMMM! Orange Beach is supposed to be more for our age- but I think I might like this one better.

    In Biloxi we got "free stuff" everywhere. Mile or two inland there is a new Casino called THE PALACE. I had to call a friend at home. She is the smoke police. It is about 2 blocks square, new and classy and ABSOLUTELY SMOKE FREE.

    The Hard Rock was our friend. Not only is it stunning. Garden, marble, purple, but not like other Hard Rocks. That Resort and Casino has a football field sized walls and rooms of Rock & Rock memorabilia donated for rebuild Katrina. My Son-in-law the musician- he would have LOVED to see all the guitars, clothes, drum sticks etc. etc. I can not believe Elton John was ever that thin. Or that Justin Timberlake has shoulders that big.

    They gave us a free fish buffet for our birthdays at Hard Rock. And I met a lady there playing the Sex in the City duo panelled slot. We played together. She was from Valpo, IN and now from Boca Raton. We had a great evening, one evening. We exchanged emails and she wants me to come to Boca and rent from her. I had many Valpo tales that really made her laugh. I used to drive through there about 10 times a year. Love the Univ. glass library. Well- we really were good partners on this thing. She won some. And I won a Carrie progressive- about $477.00 on a two dollar bet. SO was a little jealous. He did win. But barely.

    Our hotel in Biloxi was the 4 Points Sheraton. It was a discount bid that turned out to be the best choice I could have made. GREAT PLACE. They gave us free appetizers for 2 days because our bathroom door was a slide and it didn't work right. AND THEY FIXED IT. The staff there was FABULOUS. Ken had Gina and her blonde twin saying "y'll want another" every 15 minutes.

    We had Duck Comfit Quesadilas one night for appetizers. YUM YUM YUM. And crawfish etouffee another. And crabcakes there were DIVINE. Much better than the east coast variety to me. Lighter/fluffier.

    We gained weight despite walking 10 plus miles a day on this trip. Coffee was good too. Only thing I missed was my wine. Almost every one I tried there was too sweet for my taste.

    Bloody Marys were spicier and perfecto.

    Beau Ravage is rebuilt to the glorious garden place look- very French and massive.

    Nearly all the places we went to or blocks we visited in 2002 are gone. There are sidewalks leading to nowhere. Parking lots all sprouted. And fences and foundations around nothing but new plant life for miles. Inland Churches and a village Hall and very, very few dwellings.

    As in NOLA, you will see 6 foot saplings growing out of the sides of houses that people are living in. But very little angst, IMHO. Also they were punctured by the Saints loss. Nearly every single person had to bring it up at least once. Almost like a balloon with the air whoooshed out. SOOORRROW and GNASHING of teeth. I could empathize. And then they would change the subject to house or tribe or costume or some other preparation for M.G. issue.

    Monday he took me on the long ride up the Mississippi and we did the entire Oak Alley Plantation Day that ended with delicious Mint Julips. That would take an entire short story to write. The house is awesome. They were breaking ground on the rebuild of the slave quarters in full costumes as we arrived. Truly. I loved hearing the story of Jacques. It was SO sad too. Yellow Fever and TB. They are doing historial follow up on all of the 60 field slaves and 24 house slaves now. With their descendants. Three of Jacques' slaves became slave owners themselves. One developed the modern pecan hybrid.

    But nothing, nothing was like those 14 rowed /alley of 300 year old Live Virginia Oaks. And it had just completed a little drizzle so all the Resurrection firms where erect and blooming on all of those alley of trees- 1/4 mile of a canopy all the way to the levee. Here is where he drove the car to the top and turned around. In the operation days the levee was 5 feet high. It is now 30 feet high. In Kenner at the levee site we walked it was also over 30 feet high.

    Forgot:

    The 4 Points Sheraton Biloxi is the only hotel I think I have stayed in within the last 6 years or so that I would give a perfect 10 approval rating. We even had a fridge and microwave. Cookies all the time too. There is a pool and veranda area with huge tv overlooking the white sand with separate bar and wait staff. Very nice hotel- great personable relaxed restaurant. They are NOT worried about turnover.

    On the drive to Mobile and back to NOLA we saw so much. Way too much to detail. We stayed at the Metarie 4 Points by the airport the night before. Only bad Priceline I have gotten in 10 years. It was inferior. Noisy, bad condition and if I hadn't had so much fun and was so pooped, I would probably have opted for switching. But it was only for 1 night. And we left early had extra time- so the crazy guy took me to the levee again. This time to Kenner. We found LaSalle's original landing in 1682 and watched the barges and huge ships coming down /going up the Mississippi.

    So I went home richer and without a coat. And it was night time and 30 degrees.

    But all's well that ends well. And NO and the Gulf Coast have not seen the last of me, that's for sure.

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    Well, I did this great trip report. Posted it and it did not post. And it is lost.

    I'll try again. Maybe it was too long?

    I'll have to break into parts. My poor hands. LOL!

    Well, we must be anomalies. Because people here say you don't meet or do what the natives do. And this trip we were with N.O. or natives nearly everywhere. Ate with them, played with them. And saw A LOT.

    In NOLA:

    WWII movie and museum (the first is Disney like with all kinds of surprises and I won't put spoilers)and the second is NOT. I got through the European Theater without crying but not the Pacific. You push buttons throughout and listen to men and women tell there stories. And you see the equipment and much else. Some are American. Some are German. Some are Japanese. Some are Russian. Some are Allies, and some are Axis.

    I got to write in the book and tell the stories of my Dad and Uncle who are both still alive. They are trying to track the small craft used to cross the Atlantic for record. And my Dad's was small as a shrimper. Lots were. Do you know that the craft that landed on D-Day (you see them in all the newsreels and in movies) only have the front part that drops down as metal and the entire rest is wood painted to look like metal. Bullets go right through. More died in the water than on the land and many did not know how to swim. And if the storm of June 5th had completely ended the Omaha and Utah fleets would not have been blown off course and would have landed as planned, centered. And would have easily been destroyed as that is exactly where the German artillery was completely cored. We would have had no beach hold and no second wave. At All. It would have been a very different end of the entire last century, at the least.

    It took us the entire day and a 86 year old youngster really talked Ken's ears off. But we also got to walk after.

    We saw in the next 3 days:

    zoo- entire and very different animals from Brookfield. Loved the free birds and swamp animals everywhere.

    Garden District, Chartres, Royal, Bourbon, Riverwalk, all at different times. Will continue again.

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    Disregard the last post. There is some kind of delay going on here that did not exist before. But I'm glad that the long post was not lost. I even brought it up on another computer and there was a 10 minute delay before it appeared. Something has changed here, methinks.

    Oh well, now you know how those old guys in the WWII Museum really talked and talked. You got to hear some of it again.

    Honestly they made me feel like a quiet person. LOL!

    One said, "it's maybe because we are talking for all the others who are leaving us every day now. And for the ones who we remember so well that will be forever young because they never got back home and had no more life."

    And that I can completely understand myself. Because sometimes I think of the best guy I knew and lived my life with that didn't come home from another war. And speak for him and how he thought and believed.

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    OO, we didn't get to eat at the Court of the Two Sisters because they had a late opening. And as usual on our vacations we rarely eat in any regular manner. Only 2 meals at the most and usually fruit or snacks we carry. This time bananas and clementines. One day we made a banana run in NOLA that was interesting. The store ads and signs were either in Asian languages or Spanish. Actually the two side by side looked pretty funny. I see Arabic print and Spanish all the time but not different Asian dialects posted over the fruit.

    Forgot too, since I DID win. And this is a first.

    I bought all the grandkids shirts at Hard Rock. And not Grandma type T-shirts either. My styler Roman is especially going to be happy.

    We also missed Mary Mahoney's which is the oldest building in N. America if you believe some print. And was the historic restaurant for almost the entire period of the last 2 centuries. Because they aren't open for breakfast or weekends as they were. It's just a very high end dinner place now and we couldn't make it work.

    We had 2 breakfasts there in 2002. One was with locals for a Grandpa's birthday and the place is set up in the square middle of a Spanish stone type mission- and the seating was such and density weird that they asked us to join them. And part of the group was the Ladies of the Flower Guild who planted the city square. And we really remembered that. Grits too. All of that square and former Biloxi is gone. Mary Mahoney's structure is back and not on street grids at all. But still there.

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    Fabulous trip report JJ. Your enthusiasm for everything you saw shines right through your writing. Loved that you had your last evening at the levee again. Bet you even belted out American Pie on your way up. :) Truly, it was a joy to read!

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    If I told all we did in NOLA, just NOLA, for instance- it could easily get short story length.

    Sometimes a trip with this kind of activity and differences (weather being huge difference but at least 4 or 5 other categories of difference just as varied from "home")- it becomes a good idea to record impressions later. Maybe a couple of weeks later.

    So I might.

    But those alley of Virginia Live Oaks- with their branches laying like great wide snakes for 40 or 60 feet on the ground or like a cathedral opening umbrella over your head, and covered with saluting green fern! And crape myrtles with their bare and senuous bark announcing to your brain every second that you certainly, like Dorothy, are "not in Kansas anymore." Those kinds of impressions last.

    I made some horrid typos. The buildings in NOLA that are going to open and that are under construction within are the PT BOAT -just like JFK's that sank and some other WWII era materials and equipment. One of the docents who was the talk machine wanted to go on and on and on about our U-2 submarine in Chicago. And we had just seen it after the move to the indoors and complete restore- so he thought we were champions. Especially since SO was in Korea and in SE Asia and absolutely knew much of what he was looking at.

    We also went to see the NOLA shrimpers one day on the walk towards Cafe du Monde. And pecan pie was better than home, absolutely. Ice cream, not.

    But an impression! Looking through huge (old wavy glass)windows into what was the Mardi Grass Museum and seeing 16 foot piles of stuff from floats and manekins and feathers and glitter and green, purple, gold and black sequins or shine in masses of piled hodge-podge. And scrapping the mold off the glass just to see through. Oh, someone could make an artwork out of that. Parts of floats, swords, shields, feathers, platforms. Not just debris? Or debris? What a movie background for a chase or ambush in there?

    I ommitted lots of stuff. For instance, watching the NFL games at the Hard Rock and the Beau Ravage Sport Book bars. Both spacious and full of rooting fans. And this is no lie. They would not take my money for the Bloody Marys I had during these hours. Young bartender at H.R. during the S.F. game- he told me "Didn't you play BlackJack or Slots, today?". Which I did but for a very,very brief time. And he said- well - they are on the house. Lovely enthusiastic crowd with not a whit of nasty or hooligan behaviors.

    Also in Biloxi there is a new Arts Museum. I visited while SO went talking to fishermen. OHR-O'Keef- and it is a very unusal building. Don't think it is in the right place, though. It belongs in a bigger city and one with a different climate.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/us/28ohr.html

    Biloxi and also, IMHO- Kenner, LA- too- those are just not density, population or housing or any enterprise close to what they were. Kenner, LA we tried to see the Mardi Gras Museum, Toy Train Museum, and at least 4 other formerly open activity venues (there used to be tons of small B&B's and other kids' activity or carnival type shops here like go-carts)and the entire downtown is boarded and super, super sad.

    The homes are extremely mixed to livability. There are tons for Rent. As in rural MICHIGAN, it is not that unusual to see a stretch of homes that look "ok" but for a 12 or 18 house stretch are all empty.

    And that is just where LaSalle landed. And the flags of all the authorities that covered that land stand.

    Also, I can see this being an option for me- N.O. and its environs are perhaps one of the few places I've seen and considered where Vespa, or small Motorbike use is pretty common and easily doable. Wouldn't need to buy a car or use a car. Parking for those worked too. And in most areas it didn't look like it was as risky as walking seems to be.

    Overall we concluded that the city environs have recovered far more than the places in between have. And that definitively populations have altered. Perhaps in numbers and in identity and in specific locations permanently. Perhaps in some places it is for the better since Mother Nature can be a harsh teacher.

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    mms, I know there are so many good places to eat. See bachslunch and Littleman's Foodie info. Great and exact.

    And if you go to Mr. B's - try that Gumbo Ya-Ya.

    I had the 3 soup - tiny portions of Seafood Gumbo, Ya-Ya, and the Shrimp/Cauliflower Creme.

    All were delicious. But the Ya-Ya is superb.

    Have a good time. And thanks all for YOUR thanks.

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    JJ5--Thanks so much:) We only have a few days as DH will be there for a conference, but the ladies have the days free at least. We leave in the morning and I haven't even thought about packing. I am usually way more organized, but this trip is really throwing me, so at least I have good ideas from the boards!

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    Have a wonderful time. And regardless of the amount I walked, I would have taken other shoes. And lighter colors.

    Once while walking and once having a cafe du monde coffee- I just looking around and realized I was the only one not wearing some kind of sandal or toe ring shoe or something that did not require socks.

    And layer all you can. That worked the best.

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