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10 October 2012

I walked for a few hours in the morning to get my bearings on the city of New Orleans. About 1 pm, I booked myself into a bus tour suggested by staff at my hotel. I stayed at Best Western and was upgraded into a bigger bedrooms with windows at no extra charged. I was really lucky to be offered such services. However you need to put in a request at the time of booking. Yes, there are rooms with fake windows! I did managed to inspect one of those rooms. Very clean, just as nice but slightly smaller rooms.

This VIP City Tour cost me US$45 per adult, Children (4-12years)US$30. In my opinion, kids will not enjoy such tours. My tour guide is wonderful and knowledgable. This tour combines history, personal experiences and all there is to offer to visitors in terms of tips on what they can do during the few days they may be at New Orleans.

The tour also includes:-
- view of the areas and houses affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In fact the hurricane did not do much damage to the houses in New Orleans but it was the floodwater from Lake Pontchartrain when the levy broke as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

- drove through the lower 9th ward, witnessing the transformation as resident rebuild their homes.

- explanation of the cross sign written on the external walls of unstable/inhabitable houses.

- showed us the houses that were in the richer neighborhood, that was covered by insurance as compared to those that were not covered by insurance.

- view the houses behind the levy and notice how low these houses are as compared to the levy.

- view the reclaimed land that was once a canal, hand dug by French convicts/immigrants.

- saw the overpass that was built, by sacrificing many trees, (hundreds). Now the pillars of the beams are painted to resemble trees and serves as a reminder to us that these trees were chopped down to enable the construction of the overpass.

- saw the different style of houses built e.g front door open straight to the back to allow airflow (sometimes called shotgun houses as you can shoot a shotgun from front door to the back). There are also houses that have 2 stairs in the front to allow owners to split the house into 2 for dual occupancy. This means the house have rooms on either side of a long hallway. Saw the houses at Bywater, French Quarters and Treme, the one and a half story home with their unique pitch roof and front stoops set along the sidewalk. These designs of homes are apparently similar to cottages built in France around the same time in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also saw the Creole town houses, with shops below and homes above with the full third story, distinguishing them from the American townhouses. After the great fires of 1788 and 1794 destroyed most of the houses in the French Quarters, these brick and stuccoes brick structures were built with a strong Spanish influence. Double gallery houses are houses with verandah and are double story and has door to the side and are set back from the sidewalks. These are seen mostly in the Garden district areas well known for being the neighbourhood for the richer Americans whose homes were built on generous plots of land with magnificent gardens

- discover the birthplace of Jazz, in the French quarters

- see the infamous Bourbon Street ( mainly for tourist) and Frenchman street (mainly for locals)

- saw one of the oldest cathedrals in the USA, the St. Louis Cathedral

- hop off the bus to visit a cemetery, sometimes know as the Cities of the Dead and appreciate how they bury the dead (above ground due to most of the city areas are 6 feet under water) with many coffins in one burial spot!. I wandered among the cities unique above ground tombs, stone sarcophagi and massive headstones. Lafayette cemetery had been featured in movies such as "Interview with a Vampire" and " Double Jeopardy"

- droved pass the Garden District and checked out how the rich lived

- saw the home of the author Anne Rice

- checked out the carriage tours with their beloved mule (not horses) in front of Jackson Square.

- Checkout the soulful jazz performance in front of St Louis Cathedral next to Jackson Square.

Other Tours:-
There is another tour group that I was considering. It goes to similar places as with the VIP tour that I choose. The only difference I feel is that this other tour uses a trolley bus instead of an air-condition bus ( it was hot that day) and it cost US $49, where as VIP tour cost US$45 per adult. The other difference I noticed from comparing the brochures is that the VIP visited the sites of the Hurricane Katrina but the trolley tour did not mention these sites, Thus I was unsure if they will go there. The cost and visiting the sites of Hurricane Katrina made me decide on the VIP tour.

There is a hop on and off bus in New Orleans that covers the downtown area for US$40 per adult. In fact, I didn't feel the need to use the hop on off bus in New Orleans. I walked from one attraction to the next. I personally feel that the attraction that were to far away were not important to me eg Mardi Gras World. In fact this place wants you to pay entrance fees and visit them so much that they are willing to provide free shuttle to/from outside the convention centre.

In my opinion, there is not much to see in New Orleans so I personally didn't feel there is a need for even a 2 or 3 day ticket. For an extra US$5, I prefer a more indebted commentary with any tour company even if it is 2 hours only.

Combined with 2 free walking tours, I probably know more about New Orleans than what some of the locals know ! The walking distance from one corner to the next is a very short block. For example from one end of Bourbon Street to the other end only takes 15 minutes. I am not a fast walker. Just average walking steps.

 

Tip:

It is a good idea to go on any bus tour that gives you an overview of the damaged done to the city as a result of Hurricane Katrina, a good commentary on the French Quarters, the Garden District and the cemeteries of New Orleans. Combine this with a a free walking tour.

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