New Orleans provides two opportunities each year on our tour: first, the chance to spend time with my family, and second, the annual foodfest that the Crescent City offers. This trip allowed us to combine these opportunities to sample favorites like gumbo, fried oysters, charbroiled oysters, shrimp and grits, and beignets... if you're drooling, then book a flight to NOLA. We enjoyed a delicious brunch at the renovated Old New Orleans Lakefront Airport on Lake Pontchartrain. The airport (then called Shushan") and terminal were built in the 30s in art deco style, and while Hurricane Katrina damaged the building as well as the rest of the city, it has been restored to its former glory.
Murals by Xavier Gonzalez ring the second floor and recall the early days of commercial aviation. Of note, Amelia Earhart stopped at this airport on the way to California to begin her tragic around-the-world flight.
City Park was a jewel when I was growing up, and remains a favorite for locals to spend weekends with family. The "lagoon" you see here from a gondola is ringed by live oaks and cypress trees, and provided a great place for a young kid to learn to canoe, fish and catch turtles...
My sister Karen was also anxious to ride the Carousel - Debbie rode with her on the flying horses. Carousel (merry-go-round) aficionados might appreciate that this ride built in 1906 contains 56 animals - 53 horses plus a lion, a giraffe and a camel, many of which were created in 1885. 30 of the horses are flyers, but there is no brass ring on this carousel.
Our last night in Sin City found us at a movie, The Zookeeper's Wife, with my sister Lynn. Movie fans will notice one unique feature found in this picture of the movie lobby - a full bar, complete with beer, cocktails and daiquiris... only in New Orleans!
From New Orleans, we headed west to Houston - normally a five hour drive, but one that took us ten and one half hours due to I-10 being closed for a semi-trailer fire. One five mile stretch took us four hours to navigate. Once in Houston, we spent an afternoon visiting two historical sites. The first was the San Jacinto Monument. To get there, we took a free ferry across the San Jacinto River. The monument is 567 feet high, 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument.
History buffs will recall that the 1836 battle of San Jacinto followed the defeat and massacres of Texans at the Alamo and Goliad. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Texians met the Mexican army under General Santa Anna (self-described as "The Napoleon of the West") and in 18 minutes had routed the enemy. Santa Anna surrendered and agreed to evacuate all Mexican troops from what would become the new Republic of Texas.
The WWI/WWII battleship USS TEXAS (BB-35) was our second stop - she is moored just a half-mile from the monument. Having served aboard USS IOWA (BB-61), it was a thrill to visit TEXAS. What was amazing was that as soon as we stepped aboard, we caught the unmistakable scent of a Navy warship - a mix of hydraulic fluid, paint, electrical insulation, and maybe a whiff of gunpowder.
We had a personal tour of Turret 1 with Jim Moon, a volunteer docent, who gave us a lot of inside information about the ship and its weapons. Here Jim is at the breech of the right gun, describing the ramming sequence of the powder which propelled a 1,500 lb projectile 35,000 yards from the ship to its target.
Suzanne and I enjoyed walking around the lower decks and seeing how much ships have changed since Texas was built to the present day. This was a berthing area where sailors (all men) slept. Each man had a small locker nearby of about 4 cubic feet to hold everything he owned. Not much privacy here!
Finally, a word about our wonderful Rudy... normally he is a very well-behaved dog. He is never fed from the table, and hasn't eaten any people food, even a bite of cheese, since he developed a food allergy over a year ago. We never leave food out, but as the saying goes, "Hope springs eternal." Suzanne and I were going out to the grocery, so we told the pups that we would be back soon, and they both assumed their normal places in their beds for a nap. We closed the door of the coach and got into the car. I then realized that I had forgotten my sunglasses inside. I went back in to find our beloved Rudy on the top of the couch, about to step on the counter where we had just fixed lunch; he had a look of, "Oh, shucks... I've been caught!" I could almost hear Gretchen snickering from her bed... Anyone who thinks dogs' faces aren't expressive has never seen a guilty look like this one on our Rudy.