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Two Seniors Visit NOLA, Cajuns and MS, Leave Wiser

Two Seniors Visit NOLA, Cajuns and MS, Leave Wiser

Old Apr 29th, 2017, 11:43 AM
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Two Seniors Visit NOLA, Cajuns and MS, Leave Wiser

New Orleans is a one-of-a-kind city I've wanted to visit for many years. Its music, architecture, French influence, spirit and history intrigued me, so I convinced my husband, who hates to fly, that we should go.

Some of my French ancestors were expelled from Acadia by the British in 1755, and although they didn’t go to Louisiana, I added Cajun country to the trip as well as a taste of Mississippi, because we’d never been there.

The trip was set for April 8-18, 2017 -- a night at the Hartford, CT airport, five in NO, one in Lafayette, LA, two in Natchez, MS and the last night at the NO airport.

Now, some friends and family questioned my choice. Why would two senior citizens (68 and 70) who follow a heart-healthy diet, won't eat gumbo, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, muffuletta sandwiches or alligator, AND who don't drink alcohol or dance go to New Orleans?! Others warned it would be dangerous, especially in the French Quarter.

We did enjoy it a great deal, although as we stood in the French Quarter four hours after we arrived, my husband wanted to go home!

My trip report includes the usual tourist activities -- plus chats with the police -- and visits to places I have not seen in any Fodors trip reports. I'll summarize with some things we learned, like why the code for Louis Armstrong International Airport is MSY.

The Adventure – and Hard Lessons – Begin

We used the Doubletree Hotel near the Hartford airport because we had a 6:05 a.m. flight in the morning and could leave our car there. Wake-up was at 4:00 a.m. to catch the 4:40 a.m. shuttle to the airport. (I usually book later flights but wanted more time in NOLA on the last day of the French Quarter Festival.)

Southwest Airlines was good out of Hartford and our connecting flight out of Baltimore-Washington.

We landed around 11 a.m. and easily found the taxi line outside the baggage claim area. I was impressed with the process and how welcoming it felt. The line moved quickly, and an attendant wrote our taxi’s number on a map of the city for us to have in case we left something behind. It cost $36 for us and two carry-ons to go to the Drury Hotel in the Central Business District.

The sun was shining, red roses were beginning to bloom down the middle of the highway, and the charming light fixtures were reminiscent of the French Quarter. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

It was hours before check-in, but the hotel had a room available, so we took it and were off to the French Quarter after I warned my husband that it’s notorious for pickpockets. From the hotel, it’s just five blocks along Carondolet Street to Bourbon Street, which smelled like garbage! Still, I loved the wrought iron balconies, the colorful beads hanging from trees, the music spilling out of every building.

We had grilled chicken breast for lunch at Huck Finns on Decatur Street, which we chose because I had a coupon.

Then we roamed around, stopping to listen to music at some of the many stages set up for the FQ Festival. There was country, jazz, rock, Cajun, New Orleans-style music. People were dancing in the streets and it was a joyous atmosphere.

When we came upon Cafe Beignet's, we briefly broke our diet to share an order of beignets. Three messy, tasty beignets come in a single order.

At Jackson Square, we walked into iconic St. Louis Cathedral, built in 1794 and now the oldest cathedral in the U.S., and took a moment to sit and admire its beauty. We left via Pirate’s Alley next to the church, where artists displayed their work.

With the sunshine and Festival, the sidewalks were packed, and I found myself walking just ahead of my husband on St. Peter Street. I turned to ensure I wasn’t too far ahead and saw him facing a man, holding his arms and nodding. He caught up to me and said the man had backed into him, stepped on his feet with his heels and wouldn’t get off. Then he stopped in his tracks. “My wallet’s gone!”

We rushed half a block back through the crowd, hoping to spy him, but didn’t.

That was when my husband said he wanted to go home. I thought, but didn’t say, “Well, good luck getting on a plane without an ID!” I also worried about our stolen credit cards, because we were on Day One of a 10-day trip so cancelling them would be a problem.

As we walked towards the route to our hotel, I spied two NO police officers and we caught up to them. I knew it was too late to nail our guy but thought they might want to know about the crime for their records.

As my husband explained what had happened, we realized the man who stepped on his feet had a partner to lift the wallet from my husband’s rear pocket. We were out nearly $200, credit cards, a bank ATM card and driver’s license. The officers gave us an incident report and advised us not to cancel the credit cards for 24 hours because if they were used, cameras could help ID the thief. They also said there were many cameras in the Quarter and an investigator would review the tapes.

As we talked to the police, a woman ran over to say her purse had just been stolen and someone had already tried to use a credit card.

Back at the hotel, my husband used his laptop to log onto our credit card accounts and found no charges we hadn’t made. The bank ATM card required a code, so we figured that was not a concern, and our account website showed no withdrawals.

That night, we took advantage of the Drury’s complimentary Kickback supper, then considered how to obtain identification. His passport was in a safe deposit box back home, but that would have involved our daughter, who had warned us about crime.

Fortunately, a few weeks earlier, my husband had gone through Probate to change his name legally to comply with new Real ID rules. (His birth certificate didn’t match his driver’s license, credit cards, etc.) And so, on his laptop were photocopies of his driver’s license, birth certificate and Baptismal certificate and a Probate certificate granting the name change! We printed them and gambled they’d be sufficient for TSA when we flew home.

Throughout the week, we checked our credit card and bank accounts regularly and found no activity. I’d made all our reservations using our SWA Visa card, the only card I had with me, so we decided to continue to closely monitor our accounts and to replace the cards after the trip. Later in the week, a policewoman called us to ask if there had been any credit card activity. Considering that they handle a great number of thefts, we appreciated the follow-up.

Reflecting on the crime later, we realized we were lucky that my husband hadn’t been hurt physically.

Aside from “the incident,” as we have come to call it, the rest of the vacation was great!

NEXT: What we did the rest of the week
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Old Apr 29th, 2017, 05:38 PM
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Wow, glad you were ok. I'd love to visit New Orleans - for the history, I'm not really into the drinking. I'm used to being in big cities and I'm pretty cautious - I always wear a cross-body bag. But I have the same concerns about crime. I've heard it can change very quickly from safe to sketchy before you even realize it. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip!
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 02:17 AM
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This is sooooo good! I can't wait for more!

I love your "stuff happens" attitude. You provide good information to other travelers; bad things happen to good people, but it doesn't have to ruin your trip, much less your life.

Keep it up!
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 05:45 AM
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EsterIris, I too use a cross-body bag and we've traveled to New York City many times, and to Washington DC, Chicago, London, LA, Boston and other cities with no problems. Now my husband will change how he carries valuables when travelling.

Thanks for the compliment, Ackislander! I hope to help others avoid our bad experience.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 05:49 AM
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Streetcars are a fun way to get around and with transfers you can go far. They’re $1.25 a ride (less if you buy a pass), but 40 cents for Seniors! When you put 40 cents in the machine, a recording asks you to show your ID. Most conductors wave you along. One, however, was a stickler who refused to accept that my 70-year-old white-haired husband was 65. We said he’d been pickpocketed, so he had no ID, and my husband told him to call a supervisor. (I would have paid the extra 85 cents, but I wasn’t the one who’d been assaulted.) The supervisor asked if we had a police “incident number,” which I happened to have noted on an envelope in my purse, and the driver let us go “this one time.” Fortunately, most conductors were better goodwill ambassadors.

This is where we went the next four days in New Orleans:

• National World War II Museum – Used a coupon. One of the best museums of any type in the country. A 4-D film narrated by Tom Hanks gives an overview of the Japanese and German wars and is a must see before the exhibits. Visitors receive "dog tags" for an individual soldier and you can learn about his war experience through interactive displays. My husband’s solider was a Japanese-American and I got the actor Jimmy Stewart, who became a successful bomber pilot. Our visit took most of the day.

• Creole Queen – While waiting to board the picturesque riverboat, we checked out Harmony Park on the plaza, where huge xylophone-like instruments – “free notes” -- invite people to play. It was fun. We took a 2.5-hour trip on the Mississippi to and from Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, learning about the city's past along the way. At the battlefield, we walked around and a National Park Ranger told its story. Used a coupon.

• Pharmacy Museum – What a great stop in the French Quarter! We saw leech jars, a package of tampons containing opium, learned about the invention of the stethoscope, vaccinations, pill making, etc. At one time brandy (70% alcohol) was considered medicine. Dosage was one tablespoon for adults, and for kids, it depended on their age!

• French Market – A large area with vendors selling beads, purses, art, t-shirts, food and so forth. My husband bought a wallet!

• Aquarium of the Americas – We were there twice, one to see a great movie about predators, and another to visit the aquarium and see a movie about hurricanes on the bayou. There are cute penguins, sea horses, jellyfish, frogs, many kinds of fish and other sea creatures as well as a neat area with beautiful little parakeets flying around.

• Audubon Park -- Across the street from Loyola University. Very pretty with fountains, flowers, huge trees, a pond, etc. It was nice to experience nature in the city. Taking the Charles Street streetcar for a long ride west was a great way to see a lovely part of the city. On the way back, we stopped in the Garden District.

• Garden District – We’d hoped for an escorted tour with Free Tours By Foot, but it was booked when I went online the night before. On our own, we walked around the pretty neighborhood, looked through the locked gate of Lafayette #1 Cemetery (which had closed at 3 p.m.) and talked to a resident, who said the area had not flooded during Katrina. The sidewalks of cement, flagstone or brick are seriously warped or missing pieces so you have to really watch your step, and it’s tiring.

• Museum of Trade, Finance and the Fed – Not on our “to do” list, but it was free and near the Drury. We learned about the history of money, designed our own currency and got a small bag of shredded money!

We also wandered around the Warehouse/Arts District, stopping into galleries and watching a crew film an episode of NCIS: New Orleans.

I was excited to run into a “second line,” where men in matching white jackets played New Orleans-type music outside the Sheraton on Canal Street. People carried colorful umbrellas that bounced up and down to the beat, and many wore masks and colorful outfits. Such joy! As the excitement built, police officers on motorcycles pulled up and blocked traffic so the parade could proceed down the street.

NOLA Restaurants

We try to follow as healthy a diet as possible, and because typical NO fare doesn’t work for us, I did a lot of research before the trip so we’d have suitable choices.

• Meals from the Heart (in the French Market) -- A gorgeous fruit salad and a Caesar salad took 20 minutes to be served but they’d given us a complimentary orange sliced into small pieces, and iced water.

• House of Blues (Decatur St.) – Great atmosphere, including live country and blues music. Grilled chicken sandwich and chicken Caesar salad, plus key lime pie and an ice cream sandwich, the only desserts of the trip.

• BB Kings (Decatur St.) – Hickory chicken sandwiches and live music for lunch!

• Café Giovanni (Decatur St.) – Worst restaurant of the trip. Pasta bolognese and spaghetti and meatballs were on the menu but we didn't want beef, as we restrict the amount we eat and had had some recently. We mentioned that to the waitress and inquired about the simple "mama's red gravy" option. She didn’t mention that it had big chunks of meat. It was $22. No salad. She hadn’t given us bread, which we expect in an Italian restaurant, and when we asked, she brought three small rolls, which were dry, but no oil and herbs or even butter.

• Joey K's (Magnolia St.) – I had tasty salmon but my husband’s turkey special included a mound of canned peas!

• The American Sector at the WWII museum – Meatloaf. The hostess looked like she came out of the 1940s, even wearing seamed stockings!

• Drury Hotel – We had their complimentary Kickback supper twice.

• Stacks - Embassy Suites – Chosen because it was lunchtime and along our route. Sandwiches (turkey and fig and “big blue” chicken)

Weather all week was mostly sunny, with temperatures in the high 70s, to 80, and not humid.

Coupons that we used came from the New Orleans Visitors Guide that I ordered. The guide also has useful maps and general information.

NEXT: Cajun Country During Holy Week!
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 07:17 AM
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sluggo--

Thanks so much for reporting back on one of my favorite US cities! Sorry to hear about your husband's experience in the French Quarter and glad to hear that the rest went mostly well (minus one difficult streetcar driver). I walk a lot when I'm in New Orleans along trajectories that surprise some people such as from the train/bus depot to where I usually stay in the Lower Garden District and even on a few occasions from the Lower Garden District through downtown to the French Quarter and the Faubourg Marigny. So far without incident but your tale is a good reminder to be aware.

Looking forward to more! Daniel
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 09:22 AM
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Thanks, Daniel_Williams. We love to walk too and watch our surroundings, but when someone stands on your feet, you are sunk! My husband could have done what he does in NYC -- ditch the wallet and carry a little cash, a credit card and ID in his front pockets.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 10:30 AM
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Enjoying your trip report. Sorry to hear about your being pickpocketed, though that's something to watch out for in most any city. Agreed, the WW2 Museum is wonderful, and am glad you got to the Pharmacy Museum (it was tough to find an open time for it when I was there, though I eventually found it open -- it was in my experience one of those attractions that is open "10-5 or if we feel like it").

It might not have made a difference in this case, but it's usually considered harder to be pickpocketed when your wallet is in a front pants pocket. Back pockets are reportedly much more vulnerable.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 11:05 AM
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My old boss was from there and he always said no wallet, purse or jewelry. Put a credit card in your sock.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 11:57 AM
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Agreed that minimal to no jewelry is always a good idea when traveling.

Another way to minimize problems is to have just money in your wallet and keep your drivers license and transit pass and credit cards in a separate small holder for that purpose. That way if you're pickpocketed or robbed, you only lose the wallet and cash.
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 05:15 PM
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I'm loving the safety suggestions! Thanks, everyone!

Good Friday morning, Enterprise picked us up at the hotel at 9:30 a.m. and after paperwork at their office we easily found I-10 and headed west to Laura Plantation in Vacherie, LA.

We followed mostly back roads along the river so we could see what life there was like, as opposed to taking an interstate all the way. Lots of tiny houses, big refineries, not much else.

By now the plantation was more than an hour away so we decided to have lunch first. Before the trip, I’d found several that would suit us so we drove to Nobile's in Lutcher because it had the most variety. We finally found it after driving right by because the building looked abandoned! As we got closer, a sign said they were closed for Good Friday.

Cajun country is heavily Catholic so I called two more places and both were closed for the holy day. The line was busy at B&C Seafood Market and Cajun Restaurant, so thinking it might be open because it’s also a market, we headed there.

It was indeed open, and perfect. They had long tables that soon filled with family groups. Everyone seemed to know each other. Our salads were great and the prices much less than in New Orleans. Even the bathrooms were charming, with nice murals. We later learned that on Good Friday, families gather to share crawfish!

That reminds me of a sign I saw outside a church… “Where Cajun parents pray their little crawfish will be okay!”

The Laura Plantation tour, which lasted almost 90 minutes, was excellent. It was the story of several generations of one family that ran the place. There was a very good exhibition about slaves.

By the time we left, it was after 3 p.m. and the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette was more than an hour away. We wouldn't have time to do it justice so we decided on an early dinner, giving me time for laundry at the Courtyard Lafayette Airport. (We pack carry-ons with five days’ worth of clothes using the “Ranger Roll” technique, our pillows, GPS and laptop.)

Penne and salad at Buck & Johnny’s was quite satisfying and inexpensive. It’s a funky place in a former auto dealer showroom in downtown Breaux Bridge.

The towns in the area are mainly French, as are street and store names. It’s reminiscent of Quebec.

The next morning, we skipped Buck & Johnny’s zydeco breakfast that we’d planned to go to in favor of the Acadian Cultural Center, just six minutes from the hotel.

They have an excellent 35-minute film about the history of the Acadians, including their expulsion by the British in 1755. I was especially interested because of my ancestors, although they ended up in northern Maine, not Louisiana. In the film they looked like New England Pilgrims, but wore wooden shoes.

The displays gave us insight into Acadian music, food, everyday life and traditions. The Ranger mentioned that the Prairie Acadian Center in Eunice, LA has music and demonstrations on Saturdays so we decided to go there.

But first, we had a delicious lunch at Romacelli's in the beautiful, upscale River Ranch development in Lafayette.

The 45-minute drive to Eunice took us through a different type of land, flat, with farms, horses and cattle. The roads were straight and level. Some farms had large squares full of water, used to raise crawfish.

The Prairie Acadian Center was much like the other one, but focused on Acadians who were more like cowboys. A quilter who was to demonstrate her craft was ill, but a local band performed (singer in French, plus guitar, fiddle, accordion -- and triangle). Most of the audience was from France and Quebec.

We listened for 20 minutes then left, as we had a 2.5-hour drive to Natchez. That drive was much like the earlier one, but as we got closer to Mississippi, there were many more churches.

Around 6 p.m., we checked into our room at the Super 8 Motel and had a great view of the Mississippi and the bridge to Louisiana. We had a delicious dinner at Pearl Street in downtown Natchez.

Earlier in the day, we'd made dinner reservations for Easter Sunday in Natchez.

NEXT: Natchez Trace Parkway and Vicksburg
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Old Apr 30th, 2017, 11:50 PM
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Why didn`t your husband wear a money belt?
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Old May 1st, 2017, 06:34 AM
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Hi, Pat. That is an option to consider for our future travels.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 06:46 AM
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We were on our way to the Vicksburg Battlefield at 9:30 a.m., following the Natchez Trace Parkway, a lovely road with graceful curves and big trees, sometimes forming a canopy over the road. Before the trip, I’d printed a map of the route so we’d know which historic sites would be worth a stop.

Emerald Mound was the site of the native Mississippians' place of worship and daily life and was built from the 1300s to 1600s! It looks like a huge hill was chopped off to form a flat area.

Even better was Windsor Ruins, where a successful cotton baron built a lovely 24-room Greek Revival home for his family in the mid-1800s, but died just after it was completed. All that's left are rows of huge columns and it’s quite a sight to come upon in the middle of the woods.

We also stopped by Port Gibson and would have visited the abandoned town of Rocky Springs if it wasn’t raining.

The weather was mostly great but now and then we'd run into a patch of rain, sometimes heavy.

We were famished when we got to Vicksburg but it was Easter Sunday and the two restaurants I'd identified before the trip did not work out. One was closed for the holiday, the other had a long line. So with few choices that were not fast food, we went to Waffle House, which was surprisingly good, and cheap. I had a garden salad with chicken, probably the first salad they’d made in months!

Our first stop at the Civil War battlefield was the visitors center, which has a very good film that gives an overview of the 47-day battle. We learned that local citizens hid out in caves, many of them furnished. I liked that at the end of the film, they said nearly 20,000 Americans had died rather than breaking down how many Union and Confederate soldiers had died.

Afterwards, we drove around the park, stopping periodically to look at interesting monuments. The massive marble Illinois monument dominated the hilly fields.

Our last stop was to see the remains of the USS Cairo (KAY-ro), the Union's iron-clad ship that was sunk on the Yazoo River and recovered a hundred years later.

There was much more to see in the enormous park but we were tired and returned to Natchez following Route 61.

We had 7 p.m. reservations at Magnolia Grill. The setting, along the river shoreline, with roses lining the street and a good view of the bridge, was pretty and dinner was very good.

NEXT: On Our Last Travel Day, We Visit A Prison!
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Old May 1st, 2017, 04:29 PM
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sluggo - enjoying your report of my hometown of New Orealns and surrounding areas.

Glad you stopped by Port Gibson. It is really an unknown treasure!!!!

My mother spent a few of her early years living in a house just outside the Vicksburg Battlefield. She and her siblings had the whole place to explore and play in. Her junior high and high school years were spent in Natchez.

I haven't seen the remains of the USS Cairo - but last year we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation by the man who was responsible for finding and "raising" the Cairo. He was a fascinating fellow and a great story-teller.
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Old May 2nd, 2017, 09:57 AM
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Grcxx3 - I'm happy you are enjoying the report. I was impressed at the patience it took to raise the ship and that Mississippi would spend the money to do so.
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Old May 2nd, 2017, 09:59 AM
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Before leaving town, I wanted to take a picture of a roadside attraction, a restaurant called
Mama's Cupboard. Our GPS let us astray, but we saw it later, south of town.

Our next destination was 66 miles away, a stop I’ve never seen described on Fodor’s Travel Talk: The Angola Prison Museum!

When you get to the end of a 20-mile long road off Route 61, you are at Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum security prison in the country with 6,300 prisoners and 18,000 acres. There’s a gate, but you have no sense that it’s a massive prison farm. There are flowers out front! The museum itself is just outside the gate.

The free museum is excellent. There are displays of prison contraband, information about their awful history (which isn’t sugar-coated), escapes, the annual rodeo, an electric chair, their hospice program, a coffin made by prisoners and prisoner art. The gift shop sells t-shirts and coffee mugs stating, “Angola: A Gated Community.”

We followed that with an excellent late lunch at Magnolia Café in St. Francisville.

We then headed south through Baton Rouge and over Lake Pontchartrain, then checked into the Crowne Plaza near the NO airport before returning our rental car. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant. Our flight home was at 8:35 a.m. but we scheduled a 5:30 wake-up call to allow time to deal with the TSA, given the loss of my husband’s driver’s license.

The mechanized wake-up didn’t happen, but my nervous husband was awake so we made the 6:30 a.m. shuttle.

At the gate, we told the TSA agent what had happened, and another agent was called over. He looked at the photocopies of my husband’s driver’s license, birth certificate, Baptismal certificate, Probate form and police report, and boarding pass, and asked if we had something else with his name on it, like hotel reservations, a library card or insurance card! I had made the reservations and anything else that might have helped was in his wallet.

The TSA agent then checked my husband’s luggage as another agent gave him a close physical check, and we were good to go! Whew!

The plane left on time, but the connecting flight was slightly delayed. Soon we were back in Hartford, where it was sunny and in the low 60s.

What We Learned

• The obvious. If you’re travelling, take precautions like these: Leave most of your credit cards at home. Stash a credit card in your sox or underwear. Leave your wallet in a hotel safe and carry some cash and an ID in your front pockets. Wear a cross-body purse (or no purse). Put your purse on your lap when eating out, or on the floor with your foot through a strap. Wear a money belt. Have a photocopy of your driver’s license in your luggage, as well as your credit card customer service number. And watch your surroundings, which isn’t easy when distracted by the sights, taking photos, etc.

• If visiting during a religious or local holiday, call ahead to ensure restaurants and attractions will be open.

• Louisiana and Mississippi drivers obey speed limits. When you’re going 45 mph and a sign says it’s 35 mph ahead, people tap their brakes. In the Northeast, where I live, people drive 55 mph in a 45 mph zone.

• In the 1800s, wealthy people wanted their pills coated in gold or silver, which not only rendered them ineffective but led to a hazardous buildup of gold and silver in their bodies!

• Angola prison has 1,800 employees, many of whom live at the prison with their families.

• In the Battle of New Orleans, the American side included trained soldiers, native Americans, farmers, freed slaves – and pirates! In 25 minutes, 700 British soldiers were killed, while the Americans lost seven.
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Old May 2nd, 2017, 01:06 PM
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Props to you both for not letting the pickpocket ruin your trip. When you get to that point, you can consider yourselves real travelers, in my opinion.

Some of us tend to think of pickpockets are more of a European problem, so it's good to be reminded that it certainly does happen in the U.S., and apparently quite often.

Sounds like you had a great trip that just got off to a rough start.
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Old May 2nd, 2017, 03:47 PM
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>

The Battle of New Orleans really was something!
I had an ancestor with the Louisiana Militia and another ancestor working with the Legion of Francs Voluntary Corps.
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Old May 2nd, 2017, 07:57 PM
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Interesting report. Love the detail; will be useful for future trip. Thanks for taking the time to write!
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