It’s been a while!

but since I am currently in Peterborough with Simon an update is apt!

We have had a fine time together, going to Ottawa last weekend for the long weekend. We did not see the best of Ottawa as it was so very cold, -29! We spent an interesting day at the Museum of Canadian History, previously known as the Museum of Civilisation. We arrived early and made our way slowly through the Viking exhibition which was fascinating, onto Canadian history and the First Peoples, then into the Children’s Museum to see the Thomas the Tank exhibition. I have to say that Simon’s train set rivals that which was in the exhibition! The following day we braved the cold to go to Parliament Hill, booked a tour for later in the day, and headed for the Byford Markets. There was no market that we could find, a hot chocolate to warm us up as we walked back for our tour, which was really interesting, the Parliament building is a small version, inside, of the Houses of Parliament. Our favourite part was the library, a beautiful circular building with a double layer of wooden balconies running around the outside, smelling of wood and old books. We admired the 360 degree views of Ottawa from the Peace Tower, and paid our respects to the fallen in the Memorial Chapel. Onto the park with the ice sculptures, unfortunately mostly melted away by the warm temperatures of the previous weekends! a quick peek at the Rideau Canal, the longest skating rink in the world, some 5 miles long, along which people skate to school and work throughout the winter!  By now we were seriously cold, back tour hotel for a swim and room service! We couldn’t face the cold again!

We went to the Canadian War Museum the following morning before heading back to Peterborough in the afternoon. This was another fascinating museum, with a special exhibition about the role of women in the First and Second World Wars. The story of war in Canadian history was shocking, I had had no idea how violent and bloody a history Canada has. Then onto Canada’s role in the First World War, in which 60,000 men were lost and on into the Second World War, I saw Hitler’s car but I had had enough of war by then. The waste of lives and sad stories of returning soldiers was too terrible and, for me, unlike the Museum of Human Rights, there didn’t seem to be much that was positive that came out of all the horror.

Back to Peterborough, back to Arrowsmith. We had a meeting with Matt and Mrs Gunning, Simon’s academic teacher, about what the future holds for Simon and how they will work to get him ready for it. He is keen to do a course in Child Care and they both have exciting ways to work with Simon so he will be prepared for life after Arrowsmith.

On Saturday Simon meets with his tutor, Nell, and they cover a lot of ground in the two hours they have together! Simon is reading the Hatchet series and has to do regular book reports. They have also studied all sorts of things that Simon never had the opportunity to study whilst at school, so now he knows how fireworks work, what is found in the deep sea and quite a bit about space amongst other things!

He showed me his folder of all the work he has done with Nell – it was massive and very impressive! One of the questions that Nell had asked him, after reading Hatchet and talking about how the main character, Brian, had changed after his experience, was this:

If you could give advice to a new student moving to Peterborough and coming to Arrowsmith, what would you tell them?

Simon’s reply was:

Keep in contact with your family and friends, especially when you miss them.

School is murder, but it works. Your brain will hurt a lot – you should let it hurt and rest. Let it do its own thing.

Put a lot of pictures up to make you feel more at home. Explore Peterborough.

If you need help at first, get someone from home to come with you.


Not bad advice, eh?image






Simon is on his way!




As I write Simon is heading home from Peterborough via Toronto and Dallas! A short sleep and it will be time to pick him up! We are so looking forward to having him at home for Christmas! And not only him but all the family! Such fun! Chaos and mayhem is what Simon is expecting! But what’s new? A little squeezy and a lot of laughter!

The first of the Christmas visitors arrived on Wednesday. The mending which has been accumulating for months on the chair in my bedroom is done, the sewing box cleaned out and sorted, the fridge cleaned out and sorted and the medicine box also cleaned out and sorted! Marvellous! By the time Jean leaves perhaps the entire house will be clean! But with Simon arriving, closely followed by Vicky and Richard and then Lara closely followed by Victor, we might be distracted, not to mention the festivities of Christmas and the New Years Eve party, which will not allow time and energy for much else!

As this year is drawing to an end with Christmas looming large, I wish you happy times with family and friends. I won’t say Merry Christmas yet as I may manage a post before, though may be not on my current haphazard blogging schedule! Hurray says Richard! image

Casa Loma, the 35th anniversary party for Arrowsmith and it is good to be home!

It is just over a week since I have been home. Whilst we have been having sweltering days, my first day home was a record breaking 41C, there have been snow flurries in Peterborough, though Simon says it is not too cold yet as most days are over zero degrees Centrigrade. How quickly we adapt! We would have thought that was freezing (literally, ha ha!) in our first winter in Canada.

Lucky me, I have enjoyed long lunches with friends, dinner with friends, sailing on the harbour, meeting up with my writing group, lunch with Emma and her friends, they have all grown into such lovely young women, a 50th birthday dancing the night away, long walks with Rusty through Balmain and going on the People’s Climate Change March. What a mix! It has been fun and this week holds more of the same for me, and into the mix is finding time to write as I plough on with Simon’s story which is slowly taking shape.

Simon is looking forward to coming home, his brain needs a break he says! He is working hard to try to master 6 handed clocks before he comes home, but he seems not to be too desperate, which is a good thing, as with desperation can come disappointment, should he not master. His time is decreasing and he is doing extra homework to help as he asked Matt what he could do to improve his time, showing great initiative. More of that and his academics in another post another day.

As I wrote the other day, we had the opportunity to meet Barbara Arrowsmith Young at the party to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Arrowsmith school. A bus was arranged from Peterborough which was a very relaxed way to travel down the 401 expressway rather than the somewhat fraught drive – I don’t think I will ever get used to driving in 12 lanes of traffic! We dressed in our finery and the students who were over 18, the parents who were able to go and all the Arrowsmith teachers piled onto the bus, the bus was full of chatter until the driver announced he didn’t know where he was going as we sped along the 401!  Jill took charge, as ever, and steered him right to the door where upon Simon announced “I’m home!”. And he was right at home, the castle reminding him of Hogwarts, comfortable in his colourful shirt and red trousers, he is his father’s son in that regard, mingling  and chatting! The party was held at Casa Loma, the only castle in North America, all decked out for Christmas so looking more beautiful than grand.

The atmosphere was one of great celebration, so much love in that room, for Barbara and for all the Arrowsmith staff. We parents have much to be thankful for, our children’s lives transforming before our eyes. There were speeches and we all got teary as a father spoke movingly of his daughter’s life before and after Arrowsmith, she who wasn’t expected to finish high school and who couldn’t cross the road safely is now planning a round the world trip having finished a university course.  Simon raising his eyebrows at me as I got out my hanky. The teachers and staff from the Toronto Arrowsmith school talked of their favourite Arrowsmith moments – too hard to pick as there were so many. I particularly loved the talk by the cognitive teacher who said that while there were many moments in the classroom it was the emails, letter and phone calls sometimes long after the students had left the programme that were her favourite moments – the call or email to say I have just met the man who I am going to marry, I have got into Med School, I have passed my driving test, I have moved into my own apartment, I am going on a backpacking trip by myself, I have cleaned out my closet and tomorrow I am going to clean out another one – all these attesting to things these students could not have done before they undertook the Arrowsmith programme, all manner of things which most people take for granted and which they expect. How thrilling it was to hear how much these students have achieved, and how their participation has allowed them to dare to dream, just as Barbara hoped it would.

Howard Eaton was there from Vancouver, now with 5 Eaton Arrowsmith schools and the Director of Research, research which is proving that there are permanent brain changes, increased lighting up within specific areas of the brain related to specific cognitive improvement exercises. The rats, who inspired Barbara, whose brains grew in a stimulating environment aren’t the only ones! Arrowsmith students brains grow too!

Barbara talked about the prospects for Arrowsmith, strategic directions that are being forged that will allow more students to access the programme. There is so much hope and excitement for the future where increasing numbers of students will be able to realise their potential.

After the talks it was time to head back up the 401 but not before we had a chance to be introduced to Barbara and I thanked her for her life’s work which was changing Simon’s life, and a quick photo.  It was too quick because there were so many other parents waiting for their chance to say their thankyous too. A quick thank you does not seem enough.

I was re-reading the article where I first read in some depth of Barbara’s work. At the end of the article, having described Barbara’s struggle in early life and how she devised the exercises which allowed her to overcome her learning difficulties, Janet Hawley writes

“I put it to Arrowsmith Young that her life sounds a bit like Sleeping Beauty waking up after being kissed by the Prince.

“Yes” she replies with a soft laugh, “but I was my own prince”.

Barbara’s work has allowed all the Arrowsmith students to be their own prince too.



Our Big Apple Adventure continues.

imageHere I am in my Parisian garrett, living the writers life, hardly a garret but being in Paris on a writers course and I still haven’t finished writing about the last few days of the amazing trip with my wonderful friends! Now I am going to try to finish being in America, despite the sun shining outside on a late autumn day and the thought of cycling alongside the Seine to the Eiffel tour being rather appealing.
Back to New York, Judy went to the FedEX office on business which all extremely frustrating and very stressful. In the meantime Cheryl and I cycled the length and breadth of Central Park, the wind whistling through our hair as we sped down the hills, finding the Stuart Little pond, the Alice in Wonderland statue which was commissioned by Georges Delacorte, a philanthropist, so that children could visit and experience the wonder of Lewis Carroll’s story. It is not only children who experience the wonder as we both did too, as did all those we saw, including the skateboarders who zoomed in to sit on the mushrooms and have their photos taken. SO cool, they said! Helen walked through Central Park, getting lost, but we met up after a while and walked to the Frick Collection. The house itself is a treat, being one of the few remaining Gilded Ages mansions in New York, and gave us an insight into the lives of the super wealthy at that time. Henry Clay Frick amassed a great dal of art during his lifetime, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya and Gainsborough, as well as the occasional Turner and Constable, and a rather lovely Renoir almost hidden under the grand staircase! It didn’t seem right that one man should have so much for himself, particularly given that his involvement in the Homestead strike in Pittsburgh where 9 steel workers were killed by the detectives he had employed to break the strike , many injured, thousands were sacked and those who returned to work were paid half their previous wage. Fortunately for us Adelaide Frick, his wife, left the house and paintings to the nation on her death so we can enjoy them today! A much more modest exhibition was housed in the basement, that of the drawings of Andrea da Sarno (1486-1530) drawn in preparation for his larger paintings. They were simply exquisite.
On Friday evenings from 4 until closing at 8pm MOMA does not charge admission, so along with most of New York we dashed there, via the Apple and Armani stores both of which feature glorious staircases! We saw Monet’s water lilies, Miro, Magritte, Van Gogh, and a huge, and sometimes weird, collection of Picasso’s sculptures. Walking home along 5th avenue, stopping briefly at the Rockerfeller Centre to watch the ice skaters!
Saturday saw me and Cheryl walking back to Central Park for some art shopping whilst Judy and Helen sought religion in St Patrick’s Cathedral. Judy was happy when she finally had a good coffee! Libraries are places I love to visit but unfortunately the famous reading room at the New York Public Libray was closed. St Patrick’s Cathedral was closed to those not going to mass, the Rockerfeller Centre (for cocktails) was closed. We decided this was a sign to go for retail therapy instead! Our first time in the US, we had been pretty restrained up until then but the 40% off sale at Banana Republic and the beautiful colourful clothes at Desiquals proved irresistible! Eataly, one of my favourite places in Chicago, has a branch in NY but it was so, so busy! This was the first time we were met with a New York attitude, we thought we were waiting for a table but apparently this unmovable New Yorker had been there long before us and there was absolutely no way she was going to allow us to have that table, her death stares defeated us and we went to the Alongquin for cocktails, to the Blue Bar, instead, as recommended by one of Helen’s patients who is 94! It has been refurbished since Lady Pat’s day but I think some of the charming waiters are still there! After cocktails and shopping we decided dinner in our beautiful apartment was a good option, looking over the sparkling skyline of New York. Cheryl and I did sneak in a prosecco at the gorgeous, miniature bar, The Pocket Bar, on our way home from grocery shopping!
On Sunday, we headed for Newport after picking up our car, which we had to fill up with petrol, an adventure in itself! We saw Shelagh and Max, who had been so generous in lending us their apartment, only briefly for a coffee to tell them about our New York adventures and hear about their cruise, down the East Coast, from Montreal to New York, one for the bucket list! We met at the Gotham West Market, wish we had had time to eat there too. Continue reading

New York, New York!

imageThis post may look quite long but it is worth reading! We did so much and had such fun we want to write about it all! And there is still more of our girls trip to come, not sure when I will get to write about Paris but since I have a little more time here my posts may be more frequent and I can catch up with myself!
Back to the girls trip! We took the train from Washington to New York, it was such an easy way to travel. No check in, no security to contend with and so good to stretch our legs and buy breakfast from the cafe carriage. The scenery was beautiful, big blue lakes or long rivers reflecting the fall colours, whitewashed weatherboard houses and masts. A cold welcome to Penn station as we struggled with the minuscule and difficult to operate lift but we finally reached the street to be shouted at by the officious man in charge of the taxi rank.
The first of many scary rides in a yellow New York taxi and we arrived at our apartment on w45th, between 10 and 11th, in Hells Kitchen. We walked through the front door to fabulous views, 22 floors up. The New York skyline right there! Hells Kitchen is so called because a local gang took the name of Hell’s Kitchen, which was more or less a slum, in 1835. Davy Crockett called this area the lowest and filthiest area in the city. No longer so with glamorous apartment blocks and small, trendy wine bars and restaurants galore.
Judy set off to catch up with her nephew, Duncan, whilst we walked the High Line, a disused section of railroad which was repurposed (such an American word!) to become a park, with great views of the Hudson River and the New York skyline. At one end is Chelsea Market, which we explored and then headed back to our apartment to cook ourselves a glorious meal, sometimes it is just too hard to go eat out, even in New York City! First World problem! We had made our plans for the following day which changed completely when Judy came home with some great ideas!
We started at Duncan’s office as he wanted to show us the view from his office on the 32nd floor, adjacent to the The Freedom Tower. We saw his apartment and by chance his wife who had come out onto their roof terrace, he pointed out Robert de Niro’s apartment, amazing, and the view of the Ground Zero Memorial which we then visited. One of my friends wrote so eloquently of her feelings when she was here recently “here the flow of water washes away the destruction of a moment of madness. The magic of remembering moves me to the space of openness, where lives were lost and hearts are healed. What a magical space has been created to support that process. I am moved” and so were we, to tears. The mood was sombre and sad, even more so when we walked past the Fireman’s memorial, where the sense of loss was palpable.
We walked on to Battery Point, seeing the Statue of Liberty In the distance. From our vantage point she looked quite small but in fact from the bottom of the pedestal on which she stands to the tip of the torch the statue, designed by Gustave Eiffel and a gift from the French people, stands a massive 305 feet and 6 inches, she herself being 111 feet and 6 inches tall, with a 35 foot waistline. The seven rays on her crown represent the seven oceans and continents indicating the universal concept of Liberty, the broken chains that lie at her feet the broken shackles of oppression and tyranny. How much hope has passed her by as the million of immigrants came to make new lives for themselves? There was an interesting exhibition on Battery Point featuring enormous world globes decorated to show us how we could make our lifestyles more sustainable, an exhibition especially for me, as Judy said! We had to stop for coffee (finally something that tasted like coffee, according to Judy and Helen!) and snacks at The World Famous Gourmet Market, so famous that Helen was shouted at “no photos, lady!” as she tried to take a photo of the magnificent, massive pizzas that were being made!
Next stop uptown to the Whitney Museum, more of Mrs Whitney when we get to Newport! We loved the Archibald Motley exhibition, he was a Jazz Age Modernist (1891 – 1981), who with bold colours and movement visually chronicled twentieth century life. He was one of the first black artists to attend the School of Art Institute in Chicago. He says of his portraits, which were not commissioned, that he wanted to bring about a better understanding between the races by educating both black and white audiences. One the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their racial identities, on the other hand, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism. We then explored the rest of the museum, along with a party of perfectly made up and beautifully dressed New York ladies, one of whom was wearing the biggest diamond we had ever seen. I have to admit that they were almost as interesting as the rest of the artworks! We repaired for reviving drinks at Gansevoort St, wandered through the Meat packers market, went to Shelagh’s local recommendation of a farm to table restaurant, The Marshal for our pre-theatre dinner, where the Brussels sprout salad was to die for! Brussel sprouts are definitely having their moment, as we read in a gourmet food shop brochure! St Malarchys chapel, the actors chapel, was open and opposite the theatre so popped in, lit our candles whilst Judy wrote a prayer for us all. The irony was not lost on us as we made our way across the road to see the Book of Mormon, one of the funniest, clever and most irreverent shows we have ever seen, we could not think of a single group of people that they didn’t offend at some point! I think I might have to see it again as I was laughing so much that I missed a lot, the pace was cracking and acting, singing and dancing superb. Gotta love a Broadway show! We were just by Time Square so had to see the lights and go into my favourite store, the M and M store, three storeys of M and M products, from M and Ms themselves to pjs, leather coats, handbags, anything you want M and M themed!
I think I should stop there and go out and wander through my new neighbourhood, the 1er arrondisement in Paris! There is still one more day in New York to go and then Newport before I even reach Paris!
In the meantime Simon is working hard at Arrowsmith, much more chipper as his time on the 6 handed clocks is improving, though it goes up and down day by day, generally it continues to improve. The term is going by too quickly, the six week yoga course has finished already! Where did that six weeks go? As well as the cognitive improvement exercises there has been time spent on mindfulness and EQ sessions which are all about confidence building and self esteem boosting, much needed for students who, because of their learning difficulties, have been told they are failures for a long time and who see themselves as such. One of most exciting results of the Arrowsmith programme is to see the blossoming of confidence as the cognitive exercises work their magic, not magic really as we see how much hard work goes into those exercises, but it feels like magic!

Greetings from Nashville, y’all!

imageOur last day in New Orleans started with breakfast at Pere Antojnette, which unfortunately we wouldn’t recommend as it was expensive and our rubbery omelettes were too long in the making!
We dashed over to catch the bus to the Swamp tour. Whilst waiting we talked to a tour guide, rough and ready, we were taken aback as he told us how he had been banned from going to Commanders Palace as he had broken the security guards arm after the guard touched his hat! “Don’t touch my hat, I’lll break your arm!”. The swamp tour was great, the swamp itself was quite different to my expectations, not dark and damp and smelly, it was beautiful and peaceful. Our Captain Nolan was informative, telling us about the ecology of swamps, the animals, about growing up in a Cajun community in the bayou. Cajuns came from Arcadia when they were expelled by the English, what a coincidence that Simon and I were in Arcadia in Nova Scotia earlier this summer. I had no idea that many of the Arcadians had ended up in New Orleans! The native people couldn’t pronounce Arcadians so they became known as Cajuns. The term Creole came from the Spanish word for the first born, so Creoles can be of any nationality born in New Orleans. The main difference in the cuisine is that Cajuns use a roux as their sauce base whilst Creoles use a tomato base, the end result being very different flavours! The highlight of the tour was holding a baby alligator, her tummy was so incredibly soft!
After that Cheryl went shopping, we all met for dinner at the Two Sisters courtyard, which was pretty average and expensive. Since Cheryl and I hadn’t been to Preservation Hall we joined the queue and were thrilled to get in and find spots right near the front, the band was great, we love the fun they had playing fabulous jazz! Whilst we were there Helen and Judy went for washing machine margaritas and astronauts! No astronauts tonight! They went to a bar where old rock n rollers were on stage, and the only drinks served were exploding hand grenade drinks, every glass from cocktail to shot glass was hand grenade shaped! Helen and Judy were home in bed when we got back!
Up early, too early to mention, Helen was up at 2.30, 3,30, 4.30 in anticipation of our early start! We were picked up by Marie from the “Christ is the only hope” cab service, and had a perfect journey apart from Helen who was stopped at every turn. Flew via Charlotte which was the most civilised of airports with white rocking chairs for waiting passengers!
Arrived to the best decorated Halloweeen house. It was a shame that Simon was away for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, staying with one of his fellow students, with no internet connection on the farm, The T, , he would have loved to see Jeff’s house on FaceTime. Then again perhaps it would have given him ideas for Halloween house decorating and I don’t think I’d want to live in a Halloween grotto for the month of October! Inside the house was spacious, luxurious and beautiful. We loved it! Such a contrast to our last accomodation where we were squeezed in on top of each other. We talked with Jeff our host who suggested that we should have dinner at Urban Grub and then go onto The Ryman, great suggestion! We had a delicious meal, beautiful crab for Cheryl, ribs for Judy, pork for Helen and smoked chicken for me and then rushed to The Ryman where we discovered that the time was an hour earlier than we thought it was! We lucked out with our tickets, in the front row of the balcony, the first act was Judah and the Lion, a fantastic band with so much energy, great songs and voices, we loved them. They were followed by Ben Rector who was obviously very well known as a boy done good from Nashville. Ben Rector was fabulous! great songs, romantic and sensitive, danceable and fun! we made friends with some beautiful young women who came and chatted to us at the start of the concert and were so excited that we were from Australia, were in Nashville. They came back to see us at the end to check that we had had a good time! As we went out from the concert and were making our way down Broadway a breathless beautiful young woman caught up with us asking us how we enjoyed the concert and telling us Y’all were such fun!  We were very touched that these all these lovely young women were so thrilled to meet us!

We got turned away from the Wild Horse Saloon where we planned to go boot scooting after the concert, Cheryl didn’t have any photographic ID with her! We couldn’t believe that we weren’t allowed in! Anyway, we went back to our beautiful house and the bottle of wine that Jeff left for us! Not a bad alternative after our early start!

Who would have thought that The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum would keep us engrossed for hours? It was fascinating and very well curated and we were all amazed at how many country and western songs we knew!  We saw Elvis Presley’s shiny Cadillac which was exactly as the guide book had put it, tacky as all get out! It is so very shiny because the paint contains ground-up pearls, diamonds and fish scales! The door handles and anything that would otherwise be silver coloured is gold plated! There was a great section featuring the session musicians who usually go unrecognised, each had a booth where you could play snatches of songs they had played on, together with quotes from the stars with whom they played. There is clearly so much respect for these musicians within the music industry which was great to see. We finished in the Country Muisc Hall of Fame itself, a rotunda which, says the brochure, inspires reverence for the deepest rots of the music and the highest aspirations of the membership. Well, we had a hard time not giggling as the bronze plaques honouring the members were so incredibly ugly and the artists unrecognisable, not quite the reverence that was expected!

Next stop, Belmont Mansion which Is set in the midst of Belmont Univeristy which has grown up around it. The house was built in 1853 and was unique in its design at the time. It was the first house in Nashville to have gas lighting and Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatam had a gas plant built in the grounds to provide the gas, as you do! Her first husband died unexpectedly after only seven years of marriage, leaving her a huge estate, each of her subsequent husbands had to sign an pre-nuptial agreement ensuring her money remained hers! She was a woman ahead of her time! The house houses an eclectic collection of her momentous from her Grand Tours of Europe from statues to dinner services. During the American Civil War ,Adelicia travelled to New Orleans, a much longer journey for her than the quick plane flight that we took, to retrieve her cotton harvest, getting both Confederate and Union generals to help her, she then sold it, illegally, to England, making herself an enormous amount of money, $500,000, at that time, It was a fascinating insight into the life and times of this remarkable and formidable woman, well worth doing.

Another thing that was well worth doing was going to the Wildhorse Saloon, if only for our new motto – let go of the reins! Also, for the boot scootin’! Cheryl wanted to be line dancing as her birthday rolled in, so at midnight she was up on the dance floor, joining in as if she had been born in Nashville! Not one of us was as adept at Cheryl but we all enjoyed the lesson that we had at 1am! It was fun, and mad, and made up for our disastrous meal at Husk earlier in the evening.

Cheryl’s birthday Brunch on Sunday at Kitchen Notes was fabulous, light fluffy omelettes, platters of fruit, endless cups of tea. We walked it off as we walked along the Walk of Fame where musicians from all genres of music are recognised for their contribution to music, it was a strange collection and the plaques were once again somewhat disappointing as we thought it would be hand or prints a la Hollywood, but no, only a plaque with a name. The walk to the river and the new pedestrian bridge was very pleasant in the blazing autumn sunshine, listening to the cheers roaring out of the football stadium on the other side of the river as we walked across, looking back across to the Nashville skyline. Time to move on, after saying goodbye to Jeff, the best Airbnb host ever!

Onto culture in Washington DC!

New Orleans was a blast!

imageOur best laid plans were thwarted by a delay in Sydney but eventually we four girls on tour met up to enjoy the start of our holiday together! Cheryl and I arriving first at our Airbnb which was smaller than expected and so quirky but perfectly positioned just behind Bourbon Street, with a courtyard that was perfect for an end of the day wine and a quick snack before our evening exploits. As it turned out we were rarely there as we were out to explore as much as we could!

Cheryl and I explored once we had settled ourselves in. Whilst Bourbon Street is open all hours for drinking most restaurants close their kitchens at 10pm, much to our surprise, but then again it is all about the drinking in Bourbon Street! Bourbon Street was buzzing, music, of every genre, blasting out of the many bars which line the street, people wandering from bar to bar with drinks in hand, neon lights from one end to the other, getting tackier towards the business district where there are more strip joints than music bars. When our fellow travellers finally arrived we headed out to the only place with a kitchen still open and enjoyed a typically American burger at Yo Mama’s. Fortunately we had taken Michael and Emma’s advice and only ordered 2 entrees (mains). It remains a mystery to me why main courses are called entrees in the US and entrees, as we know them, are called appetisers! Too tired after all our travelling to enjoy Bourbon Street, the music and the cocktails we retired.
The sun was already blazing down by the time we got going on Tuesday. We wandered down to Jackson Square, booking ourselves onto the Natchez Steam Boat afternoon jazz cruise. We went on a guided walk of the French Quarter to get ourselves oriented and to hear some of the history of this fascinating city. The French Quarter is the “nose bleed” area of New Orleans, being a giddy 12 feet above sea level! Architecturally the buildings are so interesting, with shotgun and double shotguns houses and bigger houses with secret garden courtyards. A shotgun home is a modest single storey house with the hall going from the front door right through to the back and the rooms running into each other, so when all the doors are open you can fire a shotgun straight through the house! Yours, for a million dollars in the French quarter! The wrought iron work and the balconies are simply beautiful.
Onto the Natchez and a lazy afternoon cruise down the Mississippi, such a wide brown river, the third longest river in the world. The running commentary ceased only when the jazz band started to play! They were great and I know we would have been on the dance floor had Michael been with us! The Natchez was one of six steam powered stern wheelers plying the Mississippi, launched in 1975, of which there are only two remaining. Going into the steam room seeing the engine in action gave us a sense of times gone by, so hot, steamy and smelly though nothing like it must have been when engines were powered by coal.
Onto Frenchman Street in the evening, the true home of jazz now according to most people in New Orleans. The bands that had played up and down the street in the summer when Michael and Emma were there were nowhere to be seen, perhaps a combination of being Tuesday and no longer the summer. We had cocktails and went to Alfonsos for Italian with a hint of creole. Downstairs there was a one man jazz band we enjoyed and then danced to the next band, tried our luck at a few different bars on the way home, leaving as quickly as we could from the bar where we were the only people in the audience the performer didn’t know!
We went on the hip hop bus tour, as it became known because that’s what Cheryl called it after a glass or two! First bus of the day, more history and onto the Garden District on the American side of New Orleans, which was originally part of the Livaudals Plantation. Here the houses are much more grand, double storeyed, with high ceilings, Doric and Corinthian columned and set back from the road with their gardens on display, such a different feel to the French Quarter where the front doors open directly onto the street and the gardens are hidden from view. The modest houses in which the slaves lived are set back from the main houses and have the kitchens on the ground floor to save the big house should the kitchen set alight. Our guide said the slaves who lived in the city had a much better life than the slaves in the plantations. The fact that there were slaves is unimaginable to me and as for how they lived, simply terrible. We saw John Goodman’s house and that of Sandra Bullock, who adopted a little boy from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the house where Benjamin Button was filmed. We wandered through the Lafayette cemetery where numerous horror movies have been filmed, it is quite maudlin and sadly neglected. None of us was keen to do the ghost tour, too spooky in the city where voodoo still flourishes!
Lunch at the Commanders Palace had been recommended to us! Thank you Shelagh, though I think the 25c martinis were my undoing! We had a fabulous lunch, tastes of the south with a Creole Crab Cobb Salad and Pecan Coated Crispy Catfish, followed by a very unusual take on bread and butter pudding, a soufflé version, light and fluffy and delicious, with Whisky sauce!
We wove our way to the hip hop bus heading to Bourbon Street, Cheryl and I finished for the day. Judy and Helen, however, were in fighting form and went out to party further, arriving back in the wee small hours with tales of great jazz at Preservation Hall, great cocktails at Pat O’Briens, amongst other places, and meeting an astronaut who is hoping to be on the first flight to Mars in 2017! Rather alarming to think that it may be a one way journey if the technology to bring them home isn’t developed in the next ten years whilst they set up a colony on Mars in that time. He was rather dashing and Judy and Helen hope he won’t be stranded there!
Another day, another adventure but that’s enough for now! We are on our way to Nashville, boot scooting an’all! Looking forward to line dancing!