We rose early on Monday the 29th and headed east to The Big Easy. Before leaving Lafayette, though, Sam and I had breakfast at an amazing little place called Edie’s Express. It’s not hyperbole when I say they served the best biscuits I’ve ever had in my life. If you ever find yourself anywhere NEAR Lafayette, you gotta stop there. It’s the business.
We also stopped at the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, a beautiful house of worship that serves as the mother church of the local Catholic Diocese. It also has the oldest cemetery in the city, though we didn’t wander it. It’s a gorgeous building!
We made a brief detour in Baton Rouge so I could take a photo of a Coca-Cola sign downtown. It’s one of only three left from this specific marketing push after World War II. It was just renovated a few years ago and looks wonderful!
As I-10 carried us east, the landscape began to really change. The highway became a long bridge, elevated above the Atchafalaya swampland. Cyprus trees that lined the road looked like a forest on another planet. Lake Pontchartrain appeared on the left and on the horizon, I could see the skyline of the approaching city.
Since we arrived in town pretty early, we made our first stop the National World War II Museum. The exhibits there are really well-done; there are actual aircraft hanging from the ceilings and vintage vehicles scattered throughout, along with engaging interpretive panels, galleries, and other artifacts. At the start of the museum, you get a ‘Dog Tag’ card with an NFC chip in it. You ‘tag’ a specific person from a computer terminal which you scan at certain intervals to follow along with their individual journey in the Allied campaigns. I selected a young man from Texas that was a forward observer in the 30th Infantry; Sam’s person was a Jewish woman from Czechoslovakia that spent time in Auschwitz. It was an innovative way to filter the war down to an individual level.
After spending about three hours (!) at the museum, we headed to our hotel. The Marriott that served as our home base for four nights was right across the street from the MASSIVE convention center where Samantha would be spending her days. Her event planning convention was one of four happening concurrently; the venue is 11 blocks long and is over 3 million square feet! It’s also right next to the Port of New Orleans; I saw my first cruise ship as we ate lunch that first day. It departed for the high seas, dwarfing the Creole Queen paddlewheeler in its wake.
You’d think with my travel experience I would be itching to get out and explore. However, I had an unexpected difficulty leaving the hotel those first two days. It was a mixture of unfamiliarity with the city, the public transportation system, the multiple warnings I’d received from people about crime, and just general anxiety. That Monday night we stayed near the hotel; Tuesday I spent the day working on my book. After Samantha’s day at the conference ended, I knew she wanted to go to the French Quarter and show me places she’d been to experience them with me, but I was frozen.
It actually felt similar to the culture shock I’d had in some places while traveling internationally. New Orleans felt SO DIFFERENT than other cities I’d been to in the US. Even deciding on a dinner destination was almost paralyzing. Bless my amazing wife; she was supportive and encouraging, helping me talk through my difficulties and bringing me out on the other side. When I woke up on Wednesday, I felt much more at ease and ready to explore.