Monday, October 22, 2007

Our Memphis Trip, Day 2, Monday

Union Passenger Terminal, New OrleansWe spent Sunday evening at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kenner, right near New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport. Shortly after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel we headed into New Orleans to park the car. Although the train didn't leave until 1:45 P.M. it was raining off and on with heavy rains predicted. So we thought it would be a good idea to get to the train station a little early.

By the time we got to the parking garage, at Machu Picchu Travel Services on lower Jackson Avenue, the rain was belting down. Angel who runs the place (and yes, he's from Peru) drove us to the Union Passenger Terminal.

Detail, Union Passenger Terminal MuralThe terminal dates from the 1950s and has been kept in good shape. It is well maintained and surprisingly clean. The wonderful murals are high enough up so there's been no vandalism that we could see. Above is a detail of the mural over the doorway to Track 2.

The City of New Orleans departed right on time and as we splashed along the rails we saw how much rain had fallen. There were detours on the main streets because of the flooding and underpasses were filled with water.

After the airport we headed north alongside Interstate 55. Much of the time the rain was so heavy that we couldn't see out of the observation car.

Lucky for us the observation car was even there. Two weeks later the observation car, with its curved floor-to-ceiling windows would be gone, along with the dedicated dining car. The two cars will be replaced with a dining/cafe car combination. This follows last year's switch from china dishes and real linens in the dining car -- replaced of course with plastic plates and paper table cloths.

Near Pass Manchac, LouisianaAbout 45 miles north of New Orleans I snapped this photo of Pass Manchac in the rain. Nowadays Manchac's claim to fame is Middendorf's Restaurant. Perched on the shores of Pass Manchac, on a thin piece of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas, Middendorf's has made thin-cut fried catfish its specialty since opening in 1934. In our opinion they may be famed for their thin-cut fried catfish, but they are surely remembered for their gumbo. It's worth a trip. But sadly the Amtrak doesn't stop there.

Later on... dinner in the diner wasn't bad. We made our reservations earlier in the afternoon and they called us to our table when it was time. A few minutes late but it was close to when they said we could eat. The choices were pretty limited -- chicken fried steak, pasta, salad -- and there were no items that related to New Orleans cooking, perhaps America's most famous cuisine. In fact nothing during the whole trip made any reference to the train's New Orleans connection. Despite the famous song.

The roadbed is rough. Whenever we had to sit on a siding and wait for a freight train to pass us, the engineer later tried to make up the lost time and we sped along tilting wildly from side to side. And there are no seat belts!

After lots of stops for freights and long periods of inching ahead (safely I'm sure) at one mile per hour, we arrived nearly an hour late in Memphis in a light rain.

Memphis and the Hernando DeSoto Bridge at NightOur hotel, the Comfort Inn Downtown, was a ten minute cab ride from the station and what a surprise. The reception staff was warm and friendly and the room was huge and very comfortable -- with a great view of the Mississippi River and the big, red "Memphis" sign just south of the DeSoto Bridge. What a relief after our bumpy ten hour ride.

On the TV news we heard that the floods in New Orleans were very serious, the worst since Hurricane Katrina.

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