New Orleans on Wheels, with turkey
“I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner by myself,” my wife said. “Let’s go to New Orleans.”
So we did. We went to New Orleans for Thanksgiving because 1) no relatives were visiting us, 2) our relatives live too far away for us to visit them by car for such a short time, 3) we used to live in New Orleans, and 4) our German exchange student had never visited the city. We knew he would like it a lot.
We stayed at the Country Inns and Suites on Magazine St in the 300 block. Considering that it’s only three blocks from the French Quarter the price was quite reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with the hotel. The wheelchair accessible room was completely accessible to me. They have a continental breakfast that is ordinary but quite sufficient. I mean they have the ordinary stuff, but the quality is reasonable and the variety is good. The valet parking is pretty expensive, but the hassle of dealing with a car in the vicinity of the French Quarter is considerable. This hotel was chosen for me by able to travel, the low-cost travel agency for the disabled that is associated with the United Spinal Association. I have never yet gone wrong with Able to Travel. Our only unfulfilled wish in this regard was that my wife really wanted to stay one time at the Royal Sonesta in the Quarter. If she had remembered the name of it ahead of time and told me I could have gotten Able to Travel to find out how accessible it is. Also, I’m pretty sure it would have been a lot more expensive. But next time we will ask.
If you go to the right places you can see tremendous amounts of Hurricane Katrina damage that has not yet been repaired. Much of it never will be. However, the French Quarter was only lightly affected anyway, because it is above sea level. All of the city core is perfectly ready for tourists and has been for quite some time
I had picked out four restaurants ahead of time that were recommended by reviewers. The first place we ate was one of them: Serio’s Mike, a sandwich shop on St. Charles Avenue just a little bit up river from Canal Street. It turned out to be literally drenched in football decorations. They seem to be LSU fans. Anyway, this time I remembered how big New Orleans sandwiches are and my wife and I split one. I forgot to warn our friend and she got a whole sandwich. Luckily my wife wanted a quarter of it, so it worked out reasonably well. The kids all managed to finish what they ordered, or close to it. We spent about $7 a person here.
We went to the zoo. The zoo was significantly damaged by the storm, but most of this damage has been repaired. I recognized many things in the zoo from when we lived in New Orleans in the 1980s, even though there have been some changes. A huge tree has a branch that undulates along just above the ground. When I saw it I remembered my oldest daughter wanting to sit on it when she was one and two years old. As I went by two or three kids were riding the limb. I also remembered a giant snapping turtle with a head almost as large as a small child; it lived in the Louisiana swamp exhibit. I did not see that this time. Those critters live almost forever, but perhaps this one succumbed to disease. The otters and alligators were the same as they used to be. As before, the tigers don’t have enough room, but most of the other large animals do. The elephants have a decent amount of space, although they really should have more. The lions don’t care. They are a lot more like house cats than tigers are. I think lions are perfectly happy lazing around and being given food every now and then. Tigers like to walk. Rhinoceroses, zebras, and antelopes have large outdoor areas that are very nice as far as I can see. The zoo had a couple of disabled volunteers asking other disabled visitors if they had had any problems getting around. When I spoke to one of those volunteers I had not had any problems. He warned me about the viewing area for the giraffes. One end of the semicircle of pavement had a 2 inch lip. I had a little trouble getting up there and I needed help. The other end was fine. If I had known that I could have avoided going over the lip. I really applaud the zoo for sending volunteers out to survey problems with accessibility by asking disabled visitors.
We spent a fair amount of time in the Quarter. More than half of the tourist attractions in the Quarter (restaurants, souvenir shops, art galleries, bars) are not wheelchair accessible because they have steps ranging from three to 5 inches at their entrances. However, a significant number of these places do not have any steps and are fully accessible as far as I could tell. Some of the souvenir shops are a little crowded! We brought my small portable ramp with us to the city, but there is really no good way to carry it. That’s too bad, because I could’ve gotten into every single one of those step-fronted places if I had had that ramp. It’s made of aluminum and is 5 feet long, so it is too heavy to carry as you stroll around. Somebody should invent an extremely tough plastic ramp that can easily be attached to the back of a wheelchair. If one already exists, please tell me!
We went on the Riverwalk. It’s just a cleaned up piece of levee you can walk on. I thought I was going to get stuck crossing the trolley tracks where we entered the Riverwalk, but it was more frightening than dangerous. We went to the Cafe du Monde, the French market, several souvenir shops, a couple of art galleries, and about five restaurants. Wednesday, we didn’t eat lunch, so we ate a midafternoon snack at one of those places that has an indoor section and outdoor section. The band was outdoors and it wasn’t too cold so that’s where we ate. The food was good. The musicians told us they only were paid tips. That’s a big strike against the restaurant as far as I’m concerned. So then we had a late dinner at Angeli, a Mediterranean restaurant that my youngest daughter had found on her youth group trip. It is on Decatur St., on the downstream end* of the 1100 block, across from the French Market. There is a little step up going in, but people were able to lift me up over it. It seemed like a family place (as in, it is probably owned and operated by a family) and the food was good. Our total cost was less than $20 per person. We didn’t eat dessert there, because my wife and her friend both wanted bread pudding and they didn’t serve bread pudding. So after the teenagers met up with a local friend we headed towards Mr. B’s. It’s supposed to have good bread pudding, but when we got there it was closed (it seems to have closed at 9 p.m.). We ended up at the Star Steak and Lobster House, because they were open and they did have bread pudding. Of course I had some kind of chocolate coffee cheesecake type of thing, because I don’t like bread pudding. That restaurant was fully wheelchair accessible. Live music was provided by a temporally challenged one-man band. I mean that the performer played many instruments, but only one at a time.
We ate Thanksgiving dinner at Café Giovanni, a very nice French Quarter restaurant, and also fully wheelchair accessible. The address is 113 Decatur St. They have live performances by professional opera singers (of course they sing in Italian). They sang three times while we were there. Thanksgiving dinner was a magnificent buffet. It was quite expensive (We spent about $65 per person), but it was actually significantly cheaper than the buffets offered by other well-known French Quarter restaurants. As we strolled by them on the previous day, my wife looked at several menus. Most had buffet prices of $60 per person or more. That would not have included drinks, tax, or tip, so add at least 35% to that. Anyway, two different kinds of rolls, three different salads, roast turkey, roast pork, roast beef, roast duck, chicken Marsala, oyster dressing, shrimp dressing, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, wild rice, some other vegetable I don’t remember, a substantial variety of desserts. Oh! and some really good fish. That was the only meat I had seconds of. We ate dinner between one and two and nobody was even hungry for a snack until after 9 p.m.. Probably no one would have had a snack even then, except we bought fudge at an award-winning candy shop (I think it’s called “Southern Candy”).
At the French Market (crowded, but fully wheelchair accessible) we bought some little wooden figures made in Oaxaca Mexico. Nothing French or from New Orleans. But my youngest daughter got a really great deal on a ring. It’s made of three kinds of metal that are curved side by side in a sort of stylized floral design, but very simple. She really wanted a ring and she really wanted that ring but she only had $13. The guy selling it told her that it was $26 but that for her it would be 18. Then he overheard her telling me how much money she had. He told her that it would only be $13 and she didn’t have to worry about the tax. I don’t think he charged anybody tax separately, and of course $26 was the price he was bargaining from. Still, I bet he doesn’t usually go down to 50% of his starting price. This is the same kid who used to be offered free candy when I went to the local candy store to buy handmade truffles once or twice a year.
The trip was fun and nearly hassle free, despite all the shops with door steps. I recommend New Orleans for the traveler on wheels.”
— David C. Kopaska-Merkel