Written Wednesday, December 30 – On the Amtrak Crescent (northbound)
Heading out of New Orleans, Louisiana
The Crescent leaves New Orleans in the morning at 7 am, so I made my way to the train station under cover of darkness. I hailed a cab at the hotel and kissed my mom goodbye. I emerged into the train station to find a long line. I found a comfy place on the train, moving several times to ensure there was a wide window view for the trip north. Altogether, the trip to Greenville, South Carolina takes about 15 hours if you take into account the time change between Central and Eastern standard times. We pass through half a dozen states on the way. Continue reading Northward on the Crescent.
Written Tuesday, December 29 – New Orleans, LA
I was at a loss for where to go and what to go today in the morning, but recourse to the old standbys of TripAdvisor and such yielded the National World War II Museum. I was impressed by the immense ratings that people gave, and thankfully, it was only a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel in the Central Business District. So my mom and I made the trek, and as recommended, ended up spending the whole day there.
As a museum, it is absolutely immense. There are five separate buildings – several we didn’t need to go into because they hosted the theatre and restaurant, but the others we all ended up seeing. We saw several large exhibits and some really innovative components, all in exquisite detail and with many descriptions, uniforms, artifacts, illustrations, and audio-visual clips or short movies. The Home Front exhibit showed the war effort at home, from ration coupons to recruiting posters for the Women’s Army Corps (“Before she married, Mommy served in the WACs in the Philippines.”) They detailed collection of even household fat and how it was rendered into glycerine to make bombs. The scale of the war effort was truly astounding. We also saw the D-Day Exhibit, which went into exactly how it was conceived, structured, and how the decision was made. We learned that the British and Canadians were assigned to Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and the Americans to Utah and Omaha. What I found fascinating was the amount of preparation that went into it beforehand – how bombers tried to knock out German weaponry first and then paratroopers were dropped into Normandy ahead of time to secure roads and towns. By the time that June 5th dawned, many Allied forces had already come into Normandy. Continue reading The National World War II Museum.
Written Monday, December 28 – New Orleans, LA
On our second day around the city, we woke up bright and early, and took off to one of the large attractions of New Orleans to the north of the city: City Park. We only ended up exploring a fraction of it, but it was beautiful from what we could tell. We took the Canal Street streetcar north, which wound through Mid-City and some other neighborhoods that are more residential. While they did look a bit rundown, they seemed more real and authentic than much of the French Quarter we were walking through. We disembarked at the end of the line and walked down a wide street set with trees on either side to the New Orleans Museum of Art. It wasn’t open since it was Monday, but the white columns and classical architecture were quite pretty. We moved on to explore its Sculpture Garden which was outside and indeed available to enter. There were some very modernist and even surreal sculptures, some plaster statues and giant safety pins and disturbing sculptures of morphed, long-limbed monkeys that had human hands but also limber tails.
Afterwards, we moved on to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, which is a small gem of a garden set within City Park. It wasn’t the best day to go, since it had rained the night before, and water still permeated much of the earthen walkways within the garden. But the conservatory was small and gorgeous, with a Christmas tree of poinsettias in the center. Outside, it was painted butter yellow, and contrasted gorgeously with the stone statue of a mermaid outside in the fountain. We roamed about a bit before coming out to see more of the City Park. It had been well-restored since the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Many of the city’s oaks still stand, gorgeous and gnarly with curtains of silver Spanish moss hanging from the branches. We saw a bit more before going back to the streetcar and taking it back down. Continue reading City Park and the Mississippi River.
Written Sunday, December 27 – New Orleans, LA
We woke up this morning bright and early, and headed out for one last breakfast. The first thing I noticed was that everyone was dressed quite differently – instead of flowery beach wear or white sheer shirts and dresses, people had much more workaday clothing and sweaters on as they ate eggs and oatmeal. When you disembark, you can either opt to put out your luggage early in the morning or before you sleep with colored tags, or you can disembark any time in the morning as long as you can carry all your bags. (This option is called “Easy Walk-off Disembarkation,” I kid you not.) I used to be one of those people who packed gigantic bags that I could fit in. Now that I’m a seasoned traveler, I have a lot more scorn if you couldn’t fit everything you need into a carry-on bag. After all, Steve and I have gone for week-long, month-long, and even year-long vacations using just a carry on! All right, I’m getting down from the soapbox.
We emerged into the humidity and heat that is New Orleans after a short disembarkation, and walked off to our hotel near the French Quarter. Our room wasn’t anywhere near ready, of course, at 9 am, so instead, we simply put our luggage away and set off to explore the French Quarter. Our first real stop was the St. Louis Cathedral, which is a prime landmark. It’s a beautiful cathedral, initially built by the Spanish and carried on by the French, and the seat of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It’s the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the US, and we didn’t end up walking around very much because there was a mass and then a christening in progress. I took a few pictures, and we milled about Jackson Square checking out the flowers and the crowds. We had only been drifting around for about half an hour before we ran into two of the same couples we had enjoyed dinner with last night. We knew one pair was going to hang out in New Orleans for a few days, but the other pair had a flight around 9 pm, so we ended up hanging out for the rest of the day. Continue reading Return to New Orleans.
Written Sunday, December 20 – Travel Day + New Orleans, LA
The beginning of our trip was a bit rocky. My plane out of GSP was delayed twice, to the point that I was worrying about missing my connection. Fortunately, I was able to switch over to another plane to CLT and catch my connection to New Orleans (MSY). It was a tumultuous morning! I met my mom at her gate, since I arrived slightly before her, and we caught a taxi to the Port of New Orleans, which is downtown.
Our first time in New Orleans, and I have a headful of preconceptions built around Katrina, the Superdome, stories from friends who have been, and the French Quarter. We drive downtown past some epic graveyards and into downtown New Orleans, which is very orderly and straight, streets radiating north from the Mississippi River. I saw a line already forming outside Mother’s Restaurant, which I understand is one of New Orleans’s mainstays, and also glimpse some of the lovely historic buildings along the way. I’m looking forward to exploring it when we come back!
It took us a lot of queuing and scraping around to get to the cruise, but finally, we manage it! We’re sailing on the Norwegian Dawn for seven days. When we took our first cruise four or five years ago, we also took Norwegian, and I have the vague impression it’s a little bit better than Carnival, which we did last year. It’s a seven-day cruise to Mexico and the Central Americas. My mom has been to Cozumel before, but neither of us have really done Costa Maya, Belize City, and Roatan, Honduras, which are the other destinations. Generally, we’re probably just going to do a lot of snorkeling! Continue reading Setting sail from New Orleans.