Despite missing Mardi Gras and coming to New Orleans at Lent, I have had a wonderful time in the Big Easy. In the immediate aftermath of New Orleans, the trees were still full of beads and the restaurants full of open seats. Now to augment the travel blog with some hits and misses.
First, to start with the highlight of any trip to New Orleans, I spent much of a day at the World War II museum. At the risk of being repetitive, I must start by noting the simple fact that the World War II museum is now the finest military museum in the world. As a history buff, I have visited military museums in various countries. However, New Orleans has a museum that second to none and should be a source of pride for all Americans.
I started my visit by again watching the incredible film narrated by Tom Hanks. The award-winning 4-D film, Beyond All Boundaries, is in the Solomon Victory Theater and features military equipment and environmental elements bring a striking realism to the experience. It is an amazing experience as real weaponry rises from the stage and environmental changes connect you to the scenes unfolding before you. I always find the film incredibly moving. It is something that every citizen should experience.
The museum this weekend had historical buffs dressed as soldiers from the World War II. These are incredible volunteers with a wealth of knowledge about the period. It is a sad statement on our times that I do not have a picture of one volunteers who was dressed as a German soldier. He had a legitimate concern that he would be ostracized by a society that is increasingly intolerant and judgmental on such matters. Had I shown his picture, he was afraid of the backlash over wearing a German uniform. Many would simply distress the fact that he was participating in a recreative and educational exercise.
One of my favorite displays is the B-17 “My Gal Sal.” The Flying Fortress developed mechanical failure on a mission and the crew was able to put her down on an icecap in Greenland. Unfortunately, the propellers were dug into the ice and the generator operating the radio would not work without the engines. So the crew used a handsaw to cut the propellors to get them to turn. They were able to run the radio and another crew made an incredible landing in a nearby lake. After the rescue of the crew, the crashed plane was left in Greenland for decades until, thirty-one years later, the wreck aircraft was found and carefully broken down into parts on the icecap. It was then painstakingly restores and eventually added to the museum displays.
The museum is a delight because every corner seems to have an artifact and a story to tell like the helmet with a hole in it from a Corporal Kenneth Kassel. Kassel lost his helmet after landing on Omaha beach. Another soldier tossed him a helmet and said “You might need this.” Kassel was shortly thereafter hit in the head and the helmet saved his life.
There were also the fake paratroopers used in D-Day to confuse the Germans. Some were equipped with explosive mortar rounds to make the Germans believe that they were a landing force. There is an Enigma machine, one of the most classified items of World War II. The capture of the machines allow the allies to crack the German code.
Here are a few more pictures:
I also stopped by the nearby Civil War Museum (previously known as the Museum of the Confederacy). It is the oldest museum in Louisiana and, while small, contains some amazing weapons, uniforms, and tree trunks from Civil War battlefields.
Now for the food.
Let’s start with the biggest disappointment. Whenever I return to New Orleans, I am eager to include a blog entry on my visit to the Napoleon’s House. I love the building and its history. For decades, I have returned to have Pimm’s cups and enjoy the atmosphere of the bar and restaurant. However, my visit this weekend was shattering. For years, locals have told me that I was ignoring the slipping standards at the bar. This weekend, I ordered a Pimm’s cup and it was perfectly undrinkable. I have enjoyed the drink for over 30 years, but it tasted like syrup on ice with no little or no alcohol. It was so dreadful that I left it on the table and asked the manager if they had changed their recipe. He insisted that they had not but this was not the drink that has brought many of us to this institution. In addition, the restaurant has lost its sense of identity. It is poorly managed and, while its food was never its selling point, there seems little attention to quality. It has become a tourist trap and it is a real shame to see its decline. It is like watching an old friend slowly succumb to an illness. I still believe that it is worth visiting but Napoleon’s House seems in self-exile.
I have more luck at other restaurants. I returned to Felix’s for my favorite Charbroiled oysters and gumbo. It was fantastic.
I also visited for the first time Cochon. It is a celebrated restaurant and I had their signature oysters dish, ribs, and Cochon dishes. Frankly, I liked the ribs the most (with delicious pickled watermelon chunks on top) but everything was good. I was not overwhelmed by either the oysters or the Cochon (which was a bit dry) but they were still quite good.
My best meal this trip was at Pascal’s Manale Restaurant on Napoleon Avenue. I went there for dinner and it was exquisite from start to finish. I had the Fish Pascal, which is a drum with their signature shrimp on top. It is usually fried, but (in a rare moment of restraint) I had it broiled. It was incredible. The gumbo was also divine. Even the Old Fashion cocktail was especially good. This is a wonderful choice for dinner. It remains popular with locals and offers some of the best local dishes in New Orleans.
Here are a few other pictures from this wonderful city from an Irish parade to a French Quarter marching wedding to a cat grave dressed up for Marti Gras: