We love our trips to New Orleans, and are able to go often, even just on the spur of the moment. Such was our trip last weekend, we needed to pick up some things from our friends at Zito’s, and decided to make it an overnight.
We have never visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, so we looked for restaurants nearby and found Cafe Degas, a French restaurant.
We miss France. Going to France was one of the best parts of living in Germany, not far from the French border. We were in France all the time, and oh, how we miss France.
We found Cafe Degas with no trouble, and were able to find a parking spot within a short walk.
Each table filled almost as soon as it emptied. There were families, people coming in after church, friends meeting up to share their weeks. It had a great vibe.
The bread was wonderful, crispy on the outside, light as a cloud on the inside
We LOVE mussels. These were perfect, and the broth was exquisite.
The mussels come with fries. Normally I will avoid fries, but oh, these were so good. I ate about half, more than I had intended! I had thought “oh one bite won’t hurt!” and twenty fries later, I still had trouble stopping.
3127 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
Hours of operation
Lunch: Wednesday through Friday 11:00am – 3:00pm.
We are open for drinks, salads and appetizers between lunch and dinner service Wed – Sat.
Dinner: Wednesday through Saturday 5:30pm – 10:00pm.
Sunday: 5:30pm – 9:30pm
Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 10:30am – 3:00pm
HAPPY HOUR Wednesday and Thursday 3:00pm – 6:00pm
All Major Credit Cards Accepted
“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”
Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:
Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.
This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.
We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.
We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.
AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)
This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.
A restaurant nearby the Talisman:
Breakfast at the Talisman:
The historical nearby Bab, or gate:
A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:
A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!
A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:
Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:
Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.
A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya
A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:
I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?
I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.
AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.
Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.
“We see it all the time.”
As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.
Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.
This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.
The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.
I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”
Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.
But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.
It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?
Somehow, we go to bed around 8:30 pm and actually sleep. At 0215 we get our wake-up call as requested, and, as ordered, a beautiful breakfast shows up with a cheerful room service waiter, and we have coffee, tea and croissants as we hurriedly dress. We are to be in the terminal by 0300.
We are there by 0245, us and just about everyone else in our timing – Viking seems to attract those sorts, people who show up where they are supposed to be at the time they are supposed to be there. We are astonished to learn that there was a group ahead of us, they are just finishing up, and yes, there are a few pieces of luggage not claimed, so I guess not quite everyone made it on time.
We identified our luggage, which had been picked up outside our rooms the night before, watched as it was loaded into our assigned bus, and drove for about an hour to the airport. At the airport, there were baggage carts waiting, and we were able to check in very quickly for our flight. We are amazed and delighted; Viking truly has this down to a science. That’s not easy with 900 people disembarking on the same day. Kudos to Viking, even the smallest details are thought through.
As we signed in to the lounge, I said “Kalimeri,” which means Good morning, and the lady said to me “You’re Greek!” and I said no, I am not, but I got that a lot in Greece, I must have a Greek look to me. In truth, there is no Southern Mediterranean blood in me; mostly Scandinavian, French and Irish, or so Ancestry.com tells me.
We depart as the sun rises:
Everything is smooth until we get to Paris. We have to get to 2E, hall M. We know this drill; it’s the same as last year. “Oh no problem,” the “helper” tells us and hands us this paper with a map and directions:
You know what? I’m a map reader. I am really good at it. I navigate. We look closely; this map is useless. We start looking for signs and asking as we go, and we go quickly until we find the inner circle of hell, which is the passport line. We have priority passes, so we head to the priority line, but there isn’t even a line, and the real priority line is only for French citizens.
There is one huge shoving, desperate mass of people, all nationalities (except French) and then we find a secondary priority line, and every wheelchair goes to the front, and desperate passengers afraid they are missing their flight go ahead, and those who think they have the right push through, pushing their way in front of others. We are feeling desperate, too, our flight is in a very short time, but we don’t think the scramble to get in front of others is worth the price you pay in karma points.
I will tell you honestly, I have seen similar lines. Laborers in Kuwait lined up to get processed for residence visas. Refugees, desperate to escape violence and poverty, and afraid the gates will close before they get through. It is truly humbling to be a part of this line. Bread lines in which food is running out.
There is no one keeping order. The line inches slowly forward. It is like the end of times, everyone looking after his or her own needs regardless of others. There is little kindness to be seen in this line.
This is shameful. It’s not like this is unexpected. CDG needs to man their passport stations with enough personnel to allow these lines to flow quickly. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a bureaucracy which takes pride in their work.
This is not new; the planes wait, they take off a little later. We make our flight. As much as we love flying Air France, this experience is enough to make us re-think traveling through Paris.
Atlanta is straightforward. Our luggage, by the grace of God, is with us. We fly into Pensacola, and our son is there to meet us and take us home. All is well that ends well.
We wake up docked in Pireus, the harbor area of Athens. We are relaxed, our bags are packed, with just clothes out for dinner and for travel tomorrow. Very early tomorrow. Our wake-up call is for 0230, that is two thirty in the morning for your non-military folk.
AdventureMan and I have a funny relationship with Greece. Back in the day, when he asked me to marry him, my brash young lieutenant said “Marry me, and I will take you to Greece.” A year later, on our way to Kenya, we were sitting on the tarmac in Athens, in the middle of a coup attempt. I turned to him and said “this does not count as taking me to Greece.”
Years later, when he was working to hard, I called him and told him we were leaving the dark and cold of winter in Germany and spending a week in Crete. We had a wonderful time – it would have counted for me, but AdventureMan said Crete did not really count as Greece.
So, finally, we are truly in Greece. His promise has been fulfilled 🙂
We are taking the panoramic tour of Athens, and the first stop is a photo op for the Acropolis, which is undergoing restorations, and is covered with scaffolding and nets.
In front of a gigantic, soulless stadium where Olympics were held in the distant and not-so-distant past, an enterprising young man was doing lunges and thrusts; you could have your photo taken with him for a fee.
Only seconds after I snapped this shot, however, he did some kind of maneuver that brought his cape up over his helmet, and it got stuck. He couldn’t see, the cape covered his whole head and he had a sword in one hand and a big shield on the other arm and he was blind as a bat. It was so unexpectedly hilarious. A fellow costumed entrepreneur rescued him before I could snap off another photo.
Across the street, a statue of an Olympian.
I’m pretty sure the building below is the university
The details are all getting jumbled in my head and we are on a bus with 34 people. When we get off at the Archaeology Museum, all 34 have to use the restroom, and I tell AdventureMan to have fun, I am making my escape. I find a wonderful cappuccino and a table in the outdoor cafe where I am happy listening to the birds and enjoying ancient art all by myself. Actually, very shortly a Scottish couple we have encountered a few times invites me to join them and we have a great chat. Some of us are just wired that way.
Each group has it’s own red ‘lollypop” (in the tour guide’s hand, just slightly to upper right of center)
We all get back on the bus and are dropped off at the Plaka area, very cool. We wander around and then see one of the guides at the restaurant which I think translates as Plakiotessa, and it has a menu we like, so we go there, too. It is another great day for eating outside, woo hoo, and AdventureMan and I decide to split an appetizer plate. We don’t need to eat the way we ate in Santorini more than once in a blue moon, but we enjoy every bite.
This was truly delicious! Relatively light and plenty for two. We saw equally beautiful dishes going to other tables, too.
We’re not quite ready to end our Athens leg, so we explore the area a little, then hop on a Hop On, Hop Off bus. We explain to the lady that we only want one loop, and she gives us a special deal. You get on, you get earplugs, and rush upstairs to get a seat. You plug your ear plugs in and choose your language. My earplugs lasted about 7 minutes.
The bus took almost exactly the same route as the bus tour of the morning. We were bummed, until just after a big outdoor flower market the bus took a different turn and we ended up in a part of town that reminded us of Doha and Kuwait, an area full of souks, braziers, spice shops, antiquities. We were so enchanted, I didn’t even take any pictures. If we ever go back to Athens, that area will be our first stop.
We got to see the soldiers marching to the changing of the guard:
I’m pretty sure these are on top of the National Library:
The market near which is the souk kind of area we loved.
Back at the Plaka, we get off the Hop On Hop Off and right on to a shuttle to take us back to the ship. AdventureMan hits the spa and I take a nap. Perfect.
It’s not that Athens isn’t a lot of fun. I think it could be. Being in a new city, often a new country, every day is not very relaxing, and I think by the time I hit Athens, my enthusiasm for the struggle had waned. It’s not you, Athens, it’s me.
I’ve always wanted to see Santorini. We once lived near ancient Carthage, and a nearby village, Sidi Bou Said, all white and deep turquoise blue, with tiny winding streets.
Coming into Santorini is beautiful. We had watched an excellent presentation the night before on how the volcanic activity and tectonic plates shape Santorini, and we loved seeing it and understanding it a little better.
This is one of those places where the ship anchors out in the bay and you tender in. I had imagined little rubber rafts bobbing by the side of the big ship, so I was happily surprised when I saw what a “tender” looked like.
There was one woman on board I noticed, and steered far away from, a woman who had no respect for others. She moved a man’s bag out of a chair she wanted to sit in, and just grinned at him when he noticed. She was waiting to board our tender, and had pushed her way to the front, but when she showed her ticket, she was not in the group called to board, and the Viking representative diplomatically told her she would have to wait until her group was called. I love it that Viking trains their staff to handle bullies with quiet firmness.
As we board the bus, AdventureMan said “Are you happy?” and I tell him “Yes, but it’s complicated.” Last year, on our voyage The Passage of the Moors, through Spain and Morocco, I waited until the last night to pack my bag, and on the last night, we joined two other couples we had thoroughly enjoyed, for dinner. I had a little sore throat at dinner, but we had duck, which I love, and so I couldn’t have been too sick.
But by the time we were back in our cabin, late, after too much wine and good conversation, I still had my packing to do, and packing is something I am generally very good at, very efficient, this time it didn’t go well. I was feverish, and not thinking clearly. I made mistakes. I ended up being really sick with a respiratory infection that took me a couple weeks to shake.
“I know I need to pack when we get back,” I told AdventureMan. “I don’t want to leave it to the last night. It’s hanging over me.”
Actually, once I said it, the anxiety went away, and I enjoyed Santorini.
Santorini is a caldera, the remains of ancient volcano(s) and multiple eruptions. The soil is rich. We start off, I believe, driving to Oia, in the north. I say “I believe” because the signs are in Greek, and it is Greek to me. We arrive in a beautiful little town where you can see it is set up for tourists. As we walk toward the first photo op, walking into a church courtyard, we hear the sound of the Zorba theme, being played by a man sitting there. The guide gathers everyone into a circle and has them dancing.
I could imagine my Mother, who is a lot of fun, joining the group and loving it.
Below is one of my favorite photos from the trip:
Mostly what I remember about the ride back into Fira/Thira is that because of the climate, the grape vines do not climb high, they are kept low so that they may make best use of the humidity and moisture.
We are dropped off at a viewpoint with another shopping lane to the right, and at the end of the lane will be the cable car to take us to the tender to take us to the boat. We aren’t ready to go back yet. We come to the Church of the Candlemas, which is beautiful, and we sit inside, soaking in a little sanctity.
There is one more thing I want to find, and along this path, I find it, just the thing, perfect. My little granddaughter wants a “twirly” dress, a dress that will fan out around her as she twirls. I find the perfect twirly dress.
Never mind that after lunch, I find the same dress at a lower price.
Lunch. Yes, by this time we are hungry, and I am looking to the left, at restaurants overlooking the big caldera. We are looking at menus; we know what we want.
We climb multiple sets of stairs to get to the terrace, and it is worth it. There is a table waiting for us, in the shade, with a spectacular view, views on both sides of the island.
We order a mixed appetizer plate and a mixed grill platter for two. We know we have ordered too much food, but we have no idea how much too much. It is enough for six or eight! We sample each treat, and content ourselves with hoping the untouched portions will feed others, or at least the hungry cats.
We take our time. After lunch, we dawdle our way toward the cable car,
and head down the hill, taking only seconds to get to the dock where the tender picks us up.
I wish you could experience L’heure bleu in Santorini. The colors are exquisite, and I can’t capture the magic of this twilight.
We know from all our previous travels that this is a good day to have a down day. When you tour every day, details begin to blur, and enthusiasm wanes. We’ve lived amidst ancient ruins in Tunis, and Jordan, and while we love them, we don’t want to be trapped in groups of 40, unable to set our own pace.
We opt not to take a tour, and have a leisurely breakfast in Mamsen’s discussing what, if anything, to do.
For many hours, we are the only ship in port, and then the Aida Bella also berths. They have their sound system on continuously, October-Fest sort of lively German song fill the air. It is hilarious, and we are really glad not to be on that ship.
We think the design on her bow is hilarious.
There is a little town where we are docked, and we are eager for a walk.
There are a lot of shops, most of which we are immune to because we shopped in Corfu. Then we find the Katakolon Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. This museum is small, but packed with very cool things. It has just opened, we are the only visitors, and the young woman at the desk shows us how a lot of the beautifully hand-build models demonstrate the old discoveries and how they were applied. I took this one blurry photo before AdventureMan pointed out the sign that said “No photos.”
The creator of this museum in a man we would love to meet. We are nerds. We recognize and love talking with other nerds. This man happens to be an engineering nerd who wants the world to understand natural principles and how they have been discovered and applied to make our lives easier. He built the models, he created all the visual explanations.
The high point is a poster showing how each discovery and application is still used in the creation of modern cars.
That poster was outside, and it was allowed to photograph it.
We walked back toward the ship, found a coffee shop alongside the port and settled in over Greek coffees to watch passers-by.
Nearby was a woman with some earrings I loved, in the “long life” pattern. She gave me a good price. I told her they were for my daughter-in-law, and she drew back, astounded, and told me she didn’t speak English well, so she must have mis-understood me, they must be for my daughter. I explained “no, I really love my daughter-in-law as if she were my own daughter and she gave me another pair of earrings for my mother, and lowered the price. (!) She told me it is the end of the season, these are the last cruise ships, and people are selling off their wares. It was such an unexpected blessing to meet her and talk with her.
Late in the day, we leave Katakolon. The ship got under way so quietly, I didn’t even realize we were moving.
We are awake as we come into Corfu, the sun is rising and although the forecast was for rain, we have another beautiful day. All along, the forecasts have been iffy, but the beautiful weather has held. How long can this last?
We take the panoramic tour, and although our guide is very good and very knowledgeable, we are uncomfortable in a group of 40, and drop off once we get to the city. Corfu is our kind of place, the old city has beautiful family-friendly parks, and wonderful narrow little streets, full of interesting shops. This is perfect, because although we are not big shoppers, we like to bring something special back for those we love.
The truth is, we know little about Corfu. We wandered, bought a souvenir or gift here and there, but didn’t really get beneath the surface. We can tell Corfu is tourist geared; in each shop the prices are lowered and the proprietors quietly tell us, “It’s the end of the season, the last boats are here. Soon we will shut down for the winter.”
We’ve wandered to a place we don’t know, and looking at the map doesn’t seem to help. We sit down for drinks at a restaurant, looking at the map and signage, and figure out that it is really hard to get lost; there is the old fortress and the new fortress, and we are between the two. To get back where we need to be – the Old Fortress – we need to wind back the way we came. Meanwhile, we had drinks; too early for lunch.
When we found this square, I heard a voice in my head say “I could be happy living on this square.” I don’t know that is true, but I liked the feel of this out-of-the way, neighborhood-like little plaza, and I have lived in places with the same feeling. In the center, in the shadows, is an old well.
By the time we get back to familiar surroundings, we are getting hungry, and find a lovely restaurant on the square where we can sit, watch people. The service is cordial and helpful, but not rushing us. When we order, he tells us the bread is still baking, and he won’t bring our salads until the bread is ready. That’s OK. When the bread arrives, hot and crusty, it is really OK, it is some of the best bread we have ever tasted.
Melanzane salad, which is tantalizingly close to Baba ghannoush and yet not:
Taramosalata, which is a paste made of fish eggs and maybe cream cheese, and sounds awful, but we ate this a lot in Greek restaurants in Germany, and I got to like it.
Oh! The crusty fresh hot bread! I only wish you could taste this for yourself, it truly brings to mind “the bread of life.”
AdventureMan’s Pasta Marinara, which had lots of seafood in it.
My Moussaka was heavy and rich, tasty, but not a good photo.
We take our time, have a cup of coffee, and wander over to where we catch the shuttle back to the ship. We enjoyed Corfu.