Saturday, October 24, 2015

New Orleans, Louisiana: World War II Museum

It's tough to know what picture to use when writing about the World War II Museum in New Orleans. I opted to go with this one from the US Freedom Pavilion, in which a few airplanes hang from the high ceiling to greet visitors in the lobby. There are four viewing levels, and I believe this was taken from the fourth. It's pretty impressive to be so close to a WW2 aircraft.

In fact, the entire museum is impressive. A D-Day Museum first came to the area, as an important boat that was very useful to Allied forces was built here. Then came the idea, apparently, to pay tribute to the entire war effort. Visitors enter the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, where they briefly board a Union Pacific Train Car for the start of the journey.

Then it is on to the Solomon Victory Theater Complex. A 40-minute film, hosted by Tom Hanks, reviews the history of the War. The screen is huge, objects come into view from the darkness, and seats vibrate. The movie is educational too, although some of the veterans we saw during our visit certainly could recite the story.

The Campaigns of Courage building has a nice recap of the European theater, with all sorts of artifacts, videos and replicas. You could spend quite a while there if you so choose. The day we were there, the Pacific theater floor was said to be "under construction." I can't say I know if this is a short-term or long term project as of October 2015, but it was disappointing to miss out on all that.

The Freedom Pavilion offers a look at the aviation side of the war; give Boeing credit for being the title sponsor. A movie on the submarine experience is also available. Visitors return to the Solomon Complex for food and the gift shop.

I'm not sure I'd rate this as one of the world's great museums without the Pacific portion being open. But it still is quite a complex and worth the price of admission. It will even keep the kids entertained while they learn some history along the way.

Here's a discussion from two guys that know something about the place:


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New Orleans, Louisiana: St. Louis Cathedral

No matter what your religious preferences, an old church - especially when it's big and especially old - is always worth a look. Such is the case of the St. Louis Cathedral, located right off of Jackson Square in New Orleans.

A church has been on this particular piece of land for almost 300 years, and the cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1789 - when Washington was sworn in as President. That makes it one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States.

Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II both paid a visit to the place. Katrina did do some damage, mostly by opening a hole in the roof. That caused some water damage to the magnificent organ. The musical instrument was shipped off to the factor for extensive repair, and now is back in service.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Jackson Square

I read somewhere on this trip that there was little doubt that Andrew Jackson was the most popular President in Louisiana. After all, they did name a square after him in the middle of downtown New Orleans.

The area used to be called "Place d'Armes," but was renamed after Jackson's victory over the British in the War of 1812. History majors might remember that the battle was fought after the peace treaty was signed; global communications have improved in speed since then.

The Square is surrounded by several historic buildings, and the French Quarter's most popular areas are nearby.

A walk through the area is always fun. During our visit, we were greeted by Dixieland music from a band that must have had 12 members. Many artists also were enjoying a warm autumn day, painting away in the sun.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Monument to the Immigrants

America has had some serious discussions lately about immigrants, and how to handle the situation of those who are here and those who want to come here.

Anyone who does make it on to American soil, though, will be happy to know that there's something of a welcome waiting in New Orleans. It comes in the form of a marble statue along the Mississippi River.

The Monument to the Immigrants features a muse soaring above a family who apparently just come to our shores, offering protection, etc. There's no ideal side for viewing this, as muse is overseeing the river and the family is looking the other way toward the French Quarter and a new home. But you get the idea.

The Italian American Marching Club put this up in 1995. It was created by Franco Alessandrini of New Orleans.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Natchez

It wouldn't be the Mississippi River if there wasn't a steamboat on it. Mark Twain would be proud to see that the Natchez is still steaming around the mighty river.

The boat offers a variety of cruises during the course of a week and of a year. There are two-hour journeys at day time exploring the river, night cruises and Sunday brunch cruises. There's even some jazz played on every ride. It's available for private parties and weddings.

This is the ninth boat to carry this name and has been around in about 40 years. This is only one of two steam-powered sternwheelers on the Mississippi. 

Entry point is near Jackson Square. If you take the brunch cruise, it will set you back $40.50, although you can skip the meal and save about $10 if you just want to watch the world go by on the boat.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Holocaust Memorial

The area along the riverfront near downtown in New Orleans has been turned into a nice public park. There are a variety of walking paths and public arts to take in.

One of the most interesting has to be Yaacov Agam’s Holocaust Memorial in Woldenberg Riverfront Park. It's not just one piece of art, it's nine.

That's because it was designed that way. Stand in front of it, and you'll see one image. Walk a short distance on the circular path around it, and find another. And another. And another. Interesting idea.

Agam is an Israeli artist whose works are on display all over the world. This one was dedicated in 2003. According to the New Orleans tourism website, "The sculpture is a tribute to the Jews’ resilience, a call to never repeat the tragedy of the Holocaust, and also an impressive and dynamic work of art."

Very nice.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

New Orleans, Louisiana: Mardi Gras World

What, you think those floats and other items that appear each year at Mardi Gras in New Orleans are made by elves at the North Pole who have little to do after Christmas? Think again.

Welcome to Mardi Gras World, where float-making is their business. Drive to the riverfront near downtown, and follow the green finger toward the parking lots.

Visitors can walk around the building as construction goes on, posing for pictures as they go. They'll even let you pose in a traditional Mardi Gras costume in order to get some easy laughs on Facebook.

Tours are available seven days a week except on some major holidays. They'll even come get you if you need a ride there. And the company has a Mardi Gras tour that includes a visit to the factory.

Obviously, this lends itself to a video:

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Superdome

The first time I saw the Superdome was in 1977. We arrived on Sunday night by car, and my fellow college students and I had to see it first in New Orleans. We got off the on-ramp in the dark, and suddenly it was in front of us: immense.

Fast forward almost 40 years, and it still fits that description. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as it is now called, has become a complex of past, present and future sports history. Several Super Bowls have held there, along with NCAA basketball finals, college football championships, bowl games, etc.

Yet it always will be associated somewhat with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When some residents couldn't leave the city for one reason or another, they were shipped to the Superdome to ride out the storm. Even this amazing structure couldn't take the pounding from the storm. Almost 20,000 people tried to ride out the storm in the Superdome, but the idea didn't work. There were too many people and not enough supplies, and the roof developed leaks that let water spill in. Eventually, the building was evacuated, and many of the refugees (if that's the right word) went to Houston.

There was talk of closing up the facility. Instead, a massive repair effort took place and the Superdome was open for business in 2006.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: St. Louis Cemetery #1

It does seem odd that part of New Orleans is built below sea level. Then again, when you visit you see signs of that fact everywhere.

For example, this cemetery.

St. Louis No. 1 cemetery is the most famous graveyard in St. Louis, probably because it is the oldest. It opened in 1789 after a big fire swept the city.

If you notice, all of the tombs are above ground. You don't want to dig too deeply in the Mississippi Delta. By the way, the air is exactly good for preservation, and the bodies decompose quickly in New Orleans. So families leave loved ones in there a while, and then take out the remains after more than a year and move them somewhere else. Many different people in a family can be taken to the same place over the years.

A couple of mayors are buried here, and so is Homer Plessy. You might remember him as part of one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in history, Plessy vs. Ferguson. Nicholas Cage is said to have paid a bunch of money to buy one of the tombs. I guess he likes to plan ahead.

They do have tours of the place for those interested. The church charges companies an annual rate to enter the grounds, which has created a little conversation. 

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Pearlington, Mississippi: Lunar Lander

This might be the best highway welcome center ever.

Mississippi throws out the red carpet, and a little moon dust, to visitors who get off of Exit 2 on Interstate 10. The welcome center is just south and east of the exit. This way, you can visit it if you are traveling in either direction.

Across from the center itself is a 30-foot model of the lunar lander, as in the machine that landed on the moon a few times during the Apollo days. Your first reaction probably will be like mine - How did they get that thing to fly?

Underneath the lander is an autograph of sorts. Astronaut Fred Haise wrote his name in cement, along with leaving bootprints.

Down the road from the visitors center is the Infinity Space Center, which makes this quite an area for a roadside stop. And tourists can load up on the usual books and pamphlets during their visit as well as use the facilities. You can't ask for more from a welcome center.

About the only question I have is the location, which is tough to track down. Roadside America, which does a great job on this, lists the host city as Westonia. But that seems to be north and west of the center. Besides, the Infinity Science Center calls Pearlington home. So I'm going with Pearlington. 

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