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Your Complete Fox Valley Internet Guide.

by Richard C. Ross
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New Orleans-Part 1

New Orleans-Part 2

New Orleans-Part 3




Tasting bourbon straight from the barrel
On the Kentucky

Bourbon Trail

Maker's Mark Lounge on 4th St in downtown Louisville
An Urban Bourbon Weekend


Read about some of our other train trips

Inside the Grand Hall
An Anniversary in St Louis by Rail


Boston's Freedom Trail


Getting ready to toast our trip!
Chicago to Seattle aboard the Empire Builder

When it comes to train trips, they are always something to which I always look forward.  Our most recent one was no exception, although I ended up looking forward almost eighteen months from the time of our original booking.  The reason?  You may recall the severe flooding in the spring of 2011 due to the an abundance of rain coupled with quickly-melting ice from the upper mid-west, all heading down the Mississippi at roughly the same time in mid-May...

The phone rang at about 10:00 am with a recorded message from Amtrak: "Your trip to ... New Orleans... has... been cancelled due to... track flooding... near... Memphis."  It took two full days of frenetic scrambling, making phone calls to various vendors in order to reverse all of the reservations and plans that had been made for that trip, only to have to re-book everything for a trip that would take place ten months later! (View photos of the flooding in Memphis)

Olgilvie Transportation Center on St. Patrick's DayThank heaven this spring was different -- way different as a matter of fact -- and this time the trip was on.  March started off on an incredibly warm note; the flowers were already blooming and the temperature was 75 degrees and still rising as we waited for the Metra train that would take us to Chicago on March 17th.  No, we were not headed to the City for St. Patrick's Day -- as were many thousands of others that day (our train was jammed with revelers before we even got to the stop at College Avenue station in Wheaton).  Our destination was a bit farther away.  We were headed for Union Station and the awaiting City of New Orleans train that would take us to... the city of New Orleans!

This trips marks our sixth adventure aboard a long-distance train and I was pretty excited, as we had heard some good things about the train and the trip itself.  Yvonne's parents were to accompany us on what was to be their first long-distance train trip, so we had prepped them on the great food , high level of service and fun to be had while making the trip in a sleeper car that we had experienced on our previous trips.  Unfortunately -- and I will not go into details -- this train ride seemed to be jinxed from the start: an uncaring and rude agent in Chicago, a terribly and inexcusably late departure and sloppy -- almost non-existent -- service were nothing like that to which we had grown accustomed.

Lake PonchartrainThe ride itself was one of the bumpiest yet provided... but the following afternoon (around 3 pm) we glided across the border into Louisiana, passing through some some incredibly low-lying and swampy areas, slipping slickly between Lake Maurepas on the west and Lake Ponchartrain on the east and  arriving at the New Orleans station, no worse for the wear.  We detrained to what I had imagined New Orleans must have been like: warm and humid.  The station is just a few short blocks from the Superdome, and I tried to imagine what things there must have looked like in late August of 2005, with winds in the downtown area reaching the  category 3 range (111-129 mph).  Although the worst part of the hurricane actually missed the city itself, the storm surge from it extended over six miles inland; at one point -- on August 31st -- over 80% of the city was flooded, with some parts under fifteen feet of water.

Hilton New Orleans RiversideIn the city, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees, leading some to refer to the result as the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States.  Interestingly, many parts of the city sustained little or no flooding at all, The French Quarter dodged a bullet, as did our destination in New Orleans: Hilton Riverside.  (The hotel, by the way, is a short distance from the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, another shelter area for Katrina's hurricane survivors.)

Unfortunately, our time in New Orleans was going to be short and our itinerary was not; we had planned a lot of things with a minimal amount of time in which to do them.  This I would definitely not recommend if you plan a trip to the Big Easy; there is way too much to do and see, without even considering the number of dining venues at which one can sample Cajun and other interesting fare. 

But we would do our best!

Our stay at the Hilton was nothing short of marvelous -- from check-in to check-out.  As a result of some of the difficulties in 2011, I had made contact with a Mr. Roger Lawson, the Assistant Director of Property Operations there (although I did not know that at the time; he came across as just one of the employees there).  He was truly representative of the level of  care and service we experienced at the hotel; perhaps he is the one responsible for it.  Whichever the case may be, this hotel and its staff rank right up there with some of the best the Hilton chain has to offer and I would highly recommend you consider it if your travel plans include New Orleans!

The hotel includes a restaurant on the ground floor called Drago's Seafood.   Specializing in seafood (obviously), they have something  called charbroiled oysters.  To me a blend of Rockefeller and a fillet mignon slathered in garlic Maitre d' butter, these treats are alone worth the trip.  But don't overlook the other great selections from the menu either!  And make sure to also check out the River Blends Cafe and Spirits Lounge; both have great ambience and excellent fare.

Hilton's Executive Lounge on the 29th floorHad we been in town  for a convention, we may not have left the hotel.  However, we were there to take in the sights, sounds, smells and food of New Orleans.  So, bright and early on Monday morning (after exercising in the gigantic fitness center of the hotel, we sipped coffee and checked the view from the 29th floor executive lounge.  WOW!  Views to the east and the sprawling, meandering Mississippi from one side and views to the left from the other side (we would also catch a couple of sunsets from there).  Sunday evening had included a walk along the river to get our bearings and this morning we headed out to find Cafe du Monde and a chance to sip some cafe au lait and munch on a famous beignet.

More about Cafe du Monde, some cajun food and a trip aboard the Steamboat Natchez in New Orleans - Part 2!




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