The journey from Jacksonville, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana was the one segment of our trip that we could not do by train. The track between the two cities was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and has never re-opened so we took to the road in a hired car.
It was a simple route – we got onto Interstate 10 just around the corner from where we were staying and stayed on it until we reached New Orleans. It would have been difficult to get lost! We did have to deal with a sudden deluge which became so severe we had to have an unplanned coffee break, but apart from that the journey was uneventful.
But who knew that the panhandle of Florida was so wide? It turns out that it’s over 360 miles from Jacksonville to the Alabama border, 360 miles of mostly flat, forested scenery. It seemed to go on forever. Alabama and Mississippi offered slightly more interesting scenery in the form of farmland and swamp, and the huge oil refineries of Mobile, but it was a relief to finally arrive in New Orleans.
Our drive into the city took us past places I had only heard about on the news following Hurricane Katrina, namely Lake Pontchartrain and the Superdome (now the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.) I knew the lake was big, but had no idea how big (630 square miles!), but even the little we saw of it offered a sobering realization of what it must have been like when the hurricane hit and the walls were breached.
As it was my first visit to the city, I couldn’t help wondering how different the New Orleans we were about to see would be from the New Orleans before the hurricane. As we drove through the Garden District to our hotel it was hard to believe that much of the city had been underwater. However, we would later learn that both that area and the French Quarter, where we would spend most of our short visit, had been spared the worst of the flooding.