Finally…Mardi Gras!

I’ve been teasing you long enough. We were actually still in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and yes we loved it. Had a superb day which started off with my taking the photo mentioned in my previous post. Please check it out if you have’t read it yet.

Pre-dawn photo walk

After I took that pic I walked around some of the same streets I had walked through the day before and a few others. First I hit St. Charles Street where the parades were scheduled for later in the day. At the corner of Julia Street and St. Charles, there were hundreds of people who had camped out overnight to save their places. Many had tents, sleeping bags and a few had charcoal grilles fired up and cooking breakfast. I watched an awesome sunrise and captured a lot of it. I will let the photos speak for the actual photo walk and be back with more narrative after the photos (with captions).

Later that day…

After my photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, eat and convince Kathleen to come to a parade with me. Eventually she and I along with Bob, Judy & Mike walked up Julia Street to St. Charles Avenue to watch what we thought was the start of the Krewe of Rex parade. King Rex’s Krewe hosts the final parade before the end of Mardi Gras. Turns out the Krewe of Zulu’s parade (that preceded Rex) was a little late getting started and that put Rex a whole bunch late getting going. We stayed and watched a bunch of Zulu floats go by. The crowds were about 20 people deep going back from St. Charles Street and in that mess were some truly unusual and fun people watching the parade and celebrating Mardi Gras in a real New Orleans fashion.

After we watched the Zulu Krewe parade for a while, we headed back to the ship, got some lunch and around 4:00 pm Mike and I walked back out to get some authentic cajun gumbo for me and jambalaya for Mike. We both just had a small bowl because we still had dinner with our friends later that evening back onboard.

_8101812After we got back aboard but before we went to dinner I did a quick panorama of downtown New Orleans from the ship (it is below). Pay special attention to the skyscraper that is just to the right of center in the distance. (It is also the tallest building to the right.) When we did the HoHo bus tour it was another very sad building failure in the history of modern New Orleans. When we drove by the tower, all the bottom floor windows that were easy to see, were covered in plywood. It (The Plaza Tower) was built (according to our guide and the previously linked Wikipedia page) in 1964 and totally abandoned in 2002 due to a HUGE infestation of black mold. And even worse, it can’t be demolished because it is full of asbestos and imploding it would put a mile wide cloud of asbestos all over downtown New Orleans. So it sits there and probably will for a very long time. So sad. 

New Orleans Pano

This finished up our time in New Orleans which brought us a ton of fun, lots of walking, parades, Krewes, beignets and so much more. We are very glad we visited during Mardi Gras and we truly loved the city and the people we met there.

Mardi Gras, the drinking, the partying—that scared me. —Archie Manning

 

One photo I love

It’s 4:30 am on Leap Day and I am wide awake and sitting in the library on board Celebrity’s Reflection staring at an enormous tree hanging from the walls and watching eight glass elevators go up and down. Those of you who have sailed on S-class Celebrity ships know right where I am. (It’s a really cool tree.)

Since I can’t sleep I decided why not write about another, smaller part of our New Orleans story—so here we go. When last we chronicled our NOLA adventures, it was the evening of Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras. The next morning was the big day itself so as usual (for me) I was up before dawn to get out and take photos. Now to be honest, photographically, this was one of the best and most productive photo walks I have ever had. As much as I loved the photos I had taken the previous morning, these were better. At least one of them was.

I am going to do something I have never done before. I am going to write a post about a single photograph. In the last few days since we left New Orleans, I keep coming back to this photo again and again. Over my years of taking photographs I have taken what I consider to be some pretty good pictures but this one, I think, is my best…so far. Of course now that I am building it up so much, you will see it and say, “What’s so special about this pic.😀” I hope that doesn’t happen. So here’s the photo (please look at it as large as possible and let it come all the way to full clarity—this is not a photo to be seen on a phone).

BestPhoto

 

This was one of the first photos I took that morning. It had recently rained but even better, workers from the city were out pressure washing the streets and had just moved on from this one. For those of you who know New Orleans, when I took the shot, I was standing at the corner of St. Peter and Decatur streets next to Jackson Square. I had stopped to shoot the reflections of the lights on the pavement when a taxi pulled up on Decatur and the cab driver got out and went to knock on the door of his early morning pick up. Looking through my viewfinder, I saw what I knew was going to be my favorite photo of this trip or maybe that I had ever taken. And I was right.

There is an artist I love named Edward Hopper. My favorites of his paintings are haunting, noir pieces that show something that just reaches out to me. I have always loved them. I love his colors, his use of light and dark, and how people in his paintings are often alone and isolated.

One of my biggest disappointments when traveling was visiting Chicago a few years ago and finding that his seminal painting, Nighthawks had been loaned out to a museum out of town and was not hanging in its home, the Art Institute of Chicago. I really wanted to see it. It’s one of my favorite works of art. I humbly submit that this photo is my tribute to Hopper. I loved the photo when I took it but when I got back to my laptop and opened it full screen, I realized how well it came together and how much it reminded me of his work.

Another thing I love about this photo is that it says something I truly believe about photography. It seems that everyone these days is a photographer and their number one camera is a phone. And even those who still shoot single lens reflex cameras like my Nikon, often shoot using nothing but the automatic settings on their cameras. When I go out to shoot early in the morning, when I am looking for that perfect light, when I look for this kind of photo, there is only one way to shoot—manual.

If I had put my camera in Program mode (Nikon D850s don’t even have an auto mode), then this photo would have been as bright as daylight. That’s what automatic modes strive for. Giving you light to make it look like it’s noon. Phones do that sometimes as well. When I teach photography at workshops, I try to convey this to students who struggle to understand light and using their cameras to capture what they are seeing, not what the camera thinks they want to see. This shot, taken in manual mode, was exactly what I was seeing and what I wanted to capture.

Don’t get me wrong, so much of this photo is not about my skill as a photographer but the total luck of everything coming together at one time. This is my photographic equivalent of a hole-in-one. You have to have some skill but you also have to have some luck. I will say that this is the shot I envisioned when we first decided to take this trip. In my mind I saw this shot of the lights reflecting off the pavement in the French Quarter. I just never new I would get lucky and find the focal point (the cab driver) to take this from a good photo to one I truly love.

There is so much more I want to say about this photo and why I love it but just let me sum up by saying that this photo is the reason I love taking pictures, the reason I get up out of bed at 5:00 am to roam the streets of the places we visit, the reason I will continue to take more…in hopes of getting another one like this.

Maybe I am not very human – what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house. —Edward Hopper

Crazy Lundi* Gras

If you read yesterday’s post you know that we sailed into New Orleans after coming up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. We arrived on Sunday night but Kathleen and I decided to stay on board, mostly because I wanted to be up very early to do my usual early morning photo walk. Kathleen (and others in our party) were a little concerned with my safety walking around what is supposed to be one of the craziest cities in the world during their craziest festival. To be honest, I was a little worried as well.

My first early morning photo walk

While I have photo walked before dawn in many, many cities around the world (from Amsterdam to Victoria) without any problem at all, as I left our stateroom on Monday, Kathleen said, “That camera isn’t worth dying for.” YIKES! I hadn’t even thought that way until then. But I am happy to say that not one single time did I even feel the slightest bit threatened and that was all probably because Mardi Gras was going on. Even at 5:30 am, there was a heavy police presence just about everywhere in the city. I felt totally safe and since we were in New Orleans for three nights, I was able to get in two wonderful early morning photo walks. Here’s my pics from my early morning walk (with captions of course).

One quick thing about my photography. If you are looking at this page in an e-mail, please click the link and go to the web on a computer or a tablet before you look at the photos. They just aren’t anywhere nearly as good when you see them tiny or in an e-mail where they have been condensed to fit. If you are on a tablet or computer and you see the grouping below, you can click on the first photo and it will open in a larger window that you can then click or type on the right or left arrows (onscreen or on your keyboard) to scroll through. That’s the best way to view them. Make an old photographer happy and check them out that way…please.

Midday touring with our group

After I finished taking my early morning photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, change, grab some breakfast and then we (myself, Kathleen and our friends Bob, Judy, David and Mickie) headed out to tour New Orleans for a few hours. Originally we were just going to walk around and look at the sites but I had sat down for breakfast in the buffet with a very nice couple who were going to take the Hop On/Hop Off (HoHo) bus and had a brochure they let me look at. That sounded even better to me than just walking around willy-nilly.

We found the bus outside Harrah’s Casino (where we were told, they don’t do gambling—which is illegal in Louisiana—they do gaming 🤔) and after a short wait we…hopped on. The bus had 19 stops all over the city and we had a great guide to start with. In fact all three guides we had that day were excellent. They knew their stuff and you could hear them clearly—those are the qualities of a great guide. The busses were comfortable but at the end of the day I had two huge quibbles with the bus company. First, they told us when we boarded that because of the Mardi Gras parades that evening that it would be a shortened day for them. Usually they would run the busses until 5:30 pm but because of the parades, they would be stopping at 3:30 pm. Now I totally get that but what I don’t get is them still charging full price for a reduced day. The trip is a little spendy already ($39 per person) but to have it cut by 2 hours should have triggered some kind of discount, don’t you think?

The other thing I wish they had done better was put more busses on the street for what is probably their busiest day of the year (they don’t operate on Mardi Gras itself). We found ourselves waiting way too long for busses after 1:00 pm when we only had a short time to get on and finish the entire loop. Both those things taken into account, I would recommend the tour because as we have found in many other cities where we have done these kind of tours, these HoHo busses are a great way to get a quick overview of the city and find out a little about the history and current events.

We rode the bus through uptown, the Garden District, past Storyville (the birthplace of jazz) and back around to the French Quarter, where we hopped off so we could get our first bite of famous New Orleans tourist food—the beignets at Cafe Du Monde, a city landmark. The line to get in and sit down for beignets was about a mile long but the takeout line was much shorter so we opted for that and within about 10 minutes we were scarfing down our beignets. If you have never had a beignet, it’s a square donut without a hole, that is COVERED with powdered sugar. For the takeout window, they just pour about a cup of powdered sugar in a bag, toss in three very hot beignets and you shake them like crazy to spread the sugar around. This is NOT food for those that don’t like or can’t eat sugar. And it’s not something I would eat anyplace else in the world. My doctor (and dentist) would shoot me. But WOW! They were so delicious.

I should note that by this time we had picked up two fellow travelers who were part of our Cruise Critic Roll Call group, Melody and Les from Colorado Springs. Bob and Judy had decided to continue on with the HoHo bus tour and skip the beignets (they have a lot more will power than I do) so Melody and Les were a welcome addition to the group. After our beignet snack I led the group down past St. Louis Cathedral to Bourbon Street so they could see some of what I had seen before dawn. There were two huge differences between my pre-dawn walk and this one (around noon). One, the streets were CLEAN! Amazingly so. Nothing like the incredible amounts of trash I had seen that morning. Secondly, the streets and the balconies above them were now full of people. Those on the street were hollering up to those on the balconies to throw them beads.

In case you are unaware, beads are the currency of Mardi Gras. Beads and other things you can wear around your neck are thrown from the balconies of Bourbon Street, from the floats in the parades and from just about everywhere else. When I had walked these streets in the early morning, it was hard not to step on thousands of discarded strings of colorful, plastic beads. Beads aren’t the only things they throw. There are tiny frisbees, lighted necklaces, light-up wands, beer cups and when they are done throwing everything in them, they throw the bags that used to be full of all that stuff. Coming back from Bourbon Street or any of the parades it is not surprising to see people with hundreds of strings of beads around their necks.

On our few blocks walk down Bourbon Street, Kathleen and the rest of the folks in our party caught their first beads thrown from a very fun group of yodelers on a balcony (see  them in my pics below). Between that and doing some shopping we spent about an hour walking in the French Quarter before standing in line for far too long to get on another HoHo bus. This bus took us out of the Quarter through Treme and downtown and finally back to Harrah’s where we disembarked and headed back to the ship for (I was hoping) a nap 😜. Below are the pics from this foray into the craziness that is Lundi Gras and the rest of our HoHo bus ride.

If you want more info about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse (above), click here.

Evening walk with Mike to see King Rex and some parades

After heading back to the ship, we grabbed a quick burger, fries and a beer (the only thing open for lunch by then) at the Mast Grille before going back to our stateroom for me to download pics and Kathleen to collapse. Later on (around 5:30) I went to meet our friend Mike to head out to do some evening exploring and picture taking.

*One of the things I did not know about Mardi Gras before doing pre-trip research was that the day before Mardi Gras (which literally means Shrove Tuesday) there is an entirely different festival going on down by the river called Lundi Gras. And the big highlight of Lundi Gras is the arrival (by train) of the king of Mardi Gras, King Rex. At 6:00 pm, they back a train into the area near Lundi Gras, the King (with trumpeters and a Grand Vizier) comes out onto the train platform and greets his adoring fans. Then he is escorted to the Lundi Gras stage where he is met by the actual mayor of New Orleans who reads a proclamation that states that the mayor relinquishes control of the city until midnight on Mardi Gras to King Rex and until then, it’s party, party, PARTY (like it hasn’t been before)!

Just a side note: I was always under the impression that Mardi Gras was just the day before Ash Wednesday when in actuality is starts with the first parade on January 6th (the feast of the Epiphany) and lasts until Mardi Gras day itself. During that time there are more than 75 parades all over Louisiana. I was shocked. You can already see next year’s schedule by clicking here.

So after Mike and I took pics and movies at the welcoming of King Rex, we met up with a friend of Mike’s (a native of New Orleans) also named Mike and his wife Cindy and two of their friends who told us a whole lot about Mardi Gras and their city on the way to the Krewe of Orpheus parade. They were awesome and gracious hosts of their city which they are clearly very proud of. Mike is part of the Krewe (the groups who put on the parades) of Bacchus and their parade had been the night before. After about an hour of shooting pics of the parade, I was just about done so I thanked them for their hospitality and left them (and our Mike) to watch the balance of the parade while I headed back to the ship to be ready for the actual day of Mardi Gras the next morning. Below are the pics from our evening foray into the crazy Lundi Gras streets of New Orleans.

One last thing I learned from Mike’s friends Mike and Cindy: All of Mardi Gras is totally self-funded by the Krewes who put on the parades. They raise money all year long to do the parades and to contribute to charity. They even pay the city back for the cost of security and policing. Really impressive and a real boost for the city.

I had one of the best nights of my life at Mardi Gras. —Cenk Uygur

Up the Mississippi…to Mardi Gras

Mississippi MapFrom this point on in reporting our Mardi Gras journey, I am going to be a little behind. Today is Ash Wednesday and we have left the Mississippi behind. On Sunday we sailed up the river to New Orleans, arriving at around 6:30 in the evening. We have been there since then (until 10:30 last night) and that has been 2.5 days of non-stop craziness. Suffice it to say that I have a ton of stuff to share but because of internet and computer charging glitches, you get the post today about our trip up the river last Sunday.

_8100856Just after 10:00 am on Sunday, we started seeing the sea dotted with oil rigs. According to Wikipedia (the source for everything you need to know, right? 😁) there are more than 4,000 of them. We only saw about 400 or so, but it seemed like they were everywhere. As we approached the mouth of the Mississippi, it was getting close to noon.

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The first land at the mouth of the Mississippi River

About that time we saw a very unassuming little stick of land jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico. That was it. The start of (or the end depending on where you are starting from) the river.

For the next six hours or so we would slalom our way up the muddy Mississippi to New Orleans (see the map above) with lots to see on the river as well as on both sides. I think the best thing for me to do is to add the rest of my good river photos (I took about 500) and let you read the captions which will kind of detail our trip.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Mississippi River and the way of life in these small river towns. —Daniel Woodrell

Lamenting learning loss

LearningYou have to love a headline that is also an alliteration. But there’s an explanation below. (Warning, this isn’t really a travel post—big announcement on that below—but more of a quick personal thing.)

When the year started I did what I always do—set some goals. It’s a yearly ritual. Some are always the same, like exercising every day, others change. For instance, I always have the goal of losing weight (don’t we all have that one 😀) but this year I decided to change that one and just do “eat healthier” which meant cutting out red meat and switching to a predominately plant-based diet. And doing my usual Dryuary (not drinking in January). It worked. We are eating a lot healthier. Tonight when our older kids come for dinner will be the first red meat I have since December 30 (except for one of Mason’s mini-corndogs). I had other goals as well that had to do with work, travel, etc. Still working on all of them.

But the one that I totally missed was learning. One my goals for the last five years that I have failed miserably at is setting up a day each week that I can schedule (and stick to) for learning. I am supposed to be semi-retired after all—I should be able to do this. Usually that learning has to do with one of three things that I dearly love: travel, photography and cooking. This year I am also taking up videography so that I can better document our travels, especially in the Galapagos this summer.

Kathleen got me a GoPro Hero8 for my birthday and I am ashamed to say that it took me until yesterday to even look at it with videos running and books open. And I still have a ways to go before I will feel comfortable shooting and editing videos. Sadly, I have scheduled at least five full days to watch videos and read books to learn how to use this new camera but had to put each and every one of them aside because of work or personal things getting in the way.

I also feel bad that I haven’t been shooting pictures this year. Haven’t take a single shot with my Nikon since sometime in October that wasn’t pictures of family (mostly grandkids) and that’s just not me. I even did this after I took a photo class with the incredible Scott Kelby in late November. One of Scott’s tenets is practice, practice, practice shooting pictures. I just haven’t been doing that. Part of this I blame on the weather. We have had measurable rainfall every single day since November 30th until today. We are WATERLOGGED and that just doesn’t lend itself to taking a camera out shooting. Plus, I have taken photos of just about everything there is in Redmond.

Banner five dogs celebrating carnival, halloween, new year wearing pirate hat, blue wig, red mask, cape and doctor costume. Isolated on white background..But good news (here’s the travel stuff)! We are leaving a week from tomorrow for a two week vacation in Florida, New Orleans and the Caribbean. This is our first big trip of what will be a year of memorable travel. We fly on Monday the 17th to Tampa (with two of our best buddies, Bob and Judy) and then spend three nights in Sarasota, a city I have been to but Kathleen hasn’t. After Sarasota we head south to Boynton Beach to meet up with another close friend, Mike. Regular readers may remember him as we stayed at his place for three days in October when we cruised on Allure of the Seas.

Then comes the highlight of the trip when we (along with Mike, Bob, Judy and other friends) board the Celebrity Cruiseline ship Reflection (the same ship we sailed to Iceland last June) to sail to New Orleans where we will be moored at the Julia Street Cruise Terminal for three full days during…Mardi Gras. Yes, we know it will be a zoo, but we can’t wait! After Mardi Gras we sail down to Grand Cayman (where we will tour some really cool caves) and then to Cozumel, Mexico where we will practice our snorkeling. We want to kind of know what we are doing when we go to the Galapagos in August so I can snorkel with the penguins and sea lions. By the time we get there, I need to really know that GoPro so I can take it and shoot underwater. Hopefully all of this will take place in beautiful (AND WARM) weather.

For me this trip means non-stop photography. I have been planning my New Orleans photo walks for weeks. And the same in Sarasota as well. So watch this page for daily reports on our travel. I will try to not be verbose (since I will be traveling with my #1 reader who says I can be verbose that shouldn’t be too much of a problem) and stick to some great photos and an overview of the trip.

Hopefully when I get back, I will be able to schedule that one day each week when I can just learn. Can’t wait.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. —Mahatma Gandhi