Sunday, December 14, 2008

Road Trip from New Orleans to Chicago

Kristof and I are back in Belgium after a very pleasant road trip from New Orleans all the way up to Chicago. I don’t have much time for writing, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Here we are still in New Orleans, more specifically in a bar in Bourbon Street were a blues band was playing:

roadtrip (2 of 17)

On Thursday, Michaƫl, Kristof and I went to visit a sugar cane plantation close to New Orleans. Here we are next to the Mississippi River:

roadtrip (3 of 17)

while this is the nearby “Oak Alley Plantation”:

roadtrip (4 of 17)

The plantation’s site says that “The quarter-mile canopy of giant live oak trees, believed to be nearly 300 years old, forms an impressive avenue leading to the classic Greek-revival style antebellum home.” Impressive? For sure!

On Friday morning, we hit the road for Chicago. This shot was taken from the window between New Orleans and Birmingham:

roadtrip (5 of 17)

We stopped briefly in Birmingham, Alabama to visit the Civil Rights Centre. This is of course the ideal spot for a statue of Martin Luther King:

roadtrip (7 of 17)

After the visit we hopped back into the car and off we went. Another typical view—note the Greyhound bus—through the rear window:

roadtrip (8 of 17)

and one through the front window:

roadtrip (9 of 17)

We spent Friday night in Nashville, Tennessee. Because of lack of space: pictures only on request… On Saturday we continued from Nashville to St Louis, Missouri. There, I defied the bitter cold and the shrieking gale to bring you this picture of St Louis by night:

roadtrip (10 of 17)

And on we went to Chicago…

roadtrip (12 of 17)

The first snow started showing up and it was getting bitter cold:

roadtrip (13 of 17)

However, freezing cold or not, this picture was certainly worth while the stop:

roadtrip (14 of 17)

And then, finally, Chicago! This picture was taken on Sunday morning on top of the John Hancock building. In the far right you can see the Sears Tower, the highest building in the USA:

roadtrip (15 of 17)

Then we went on to Grant Park and Millennium Park, where the famous Cloud Gate—more commonly known as The Bean—is situated:

roadtrip (16 of 17)

We spent a very pleasant last evening in company of Filip—who happened to be in Chicago at the same moment as we were—and some of his very congenial American friends.

And then, back to Belgium on Tuesday morning! Another unique experience in the USA had come to an end…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Back in the US of A

Here we are again in the USA for the Globecom 2008 conference in New Orleans. A city still heavily marked by the devastating passage of Katrina 3 years and 3 months ago: only about half of the inhabitants have returned, complete neighborhoods are still in tatters and the rebuilding of infrastructure such as bridges and roads is not yet finished. All in all the city gives a sad impression. The blues, you know…

One area that has fully recovered however, is the French Quarter. This is the place where the colonial presence of the French remains very visible. It’s like walking through a small French town, with as only difference the rectangular street pattern. The oldest pub in town, which belonged to the pirate Lafitte if I got it right, is situated here:


We went for a drink here with Peter and Michael, two colleagues from IMEC:


Afterwards, we went for a local beer:


in the good company of Kristof:


Kristof is a PhD student from the KU Leuven and like Michael also a friend from at university. After the conference, Kristof and I will rent a car and make a road trip all the way to Chicago. More about that later…

At about noon, we left for a “swamp tour”: a boat visit of one of the many swamps in the surroundings of New Orleans. We were not sure whether we were going to see alligators, so I ate them instead:


Indeed, a combination of two “local” specialties: American beef jerky with Louisiana alligator meat! For dinner I also had an alligator appetizer. Tastes and looks somewhat like chicken…

In the swamps, we saw this house that was lifted from its foundations by Hurricane Katrina, was carried a couple of hundreds of meters by the water and smacked down in the middle of the swamp:


It’s a sturdy thing: it remained pretty much intact after the hurricane. However, it was impossible to move it back to its original place so the inhabitant had to find another residence…

We also saw a couple of cool birds:


and I even held a small alligator:


I’m not kidding here, it really was a live animal! It had been abandoned by its mom and the rangers picked it up. Now it is raised by them, and it will be set free once it is big enough to survive on its own. Unlike other animals, alligators don’t lose their instinct while held in custody, so they can be released afterwards without re-training them to catch their own food.

Now this picture allows me to end with a little joke:


Michael walked into a doctor’s office with an alligator on his head. The doctor asked “What’s the problem?” and the alligator answered “Well it all started with a wart on my left foot…”