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The Sights and Sounds of New Orleans

Welcome to New Orleans! It’s a city rich in history and culture with its own distinct flare for music, food and a good time. I just love it!

This will be a somewhat different Alycat’s Walkabout blog post as I reflect back on my time in New Orleans as a disaster responder. I invite you to see how the city has changed since 2005 through my eyes and lens.

New Orleans and its people hold a special place in my heart. Almost 12 years ago, I was deployed on my first disaster mission for the American Red Cross to the area in response to Hurricane Katrina.  I spent several weeks working in and around New Orleans and even rode out Hurricane Rita with people I had been helping. It was a tense few days as Rita came roaring ashore, but I remember them fondly.

This was my first trip back to New Orleans since my deployment. In between work events, I stopped by a few of the places I had worked to see how things had changed.

A few of the photos I took during my time in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

A before and after of a local school.

Above: the deserted French Quarter a week after Katrina came ashore in 2005.

Below: a lively French Quarter eleven years later. The bubbles (and people) have returned!

One of the few places that stayed opened following the hurricane was the Famous Door. The owners welcomed in the military personnel, first responders, and disaster staff with open arms. When you had a day off, it was nice to visit the local places that were still open. The thought was that by visiting these places, we were also helping the community recover economically.

Below: a photo of me with a group of fellow volunteers back in 2005 enjoying a day off at the Famous Door. Above: a photo of the Famous Door on my recent visit. It was great to see it open and busy.

As I mentioned before, New Orleans has some incredible culture, and music is at the heart of it. Spend an evening walking around, you are guaranteed to stumble across some amazing local band jamming out.

You never know what you will find in New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter. A variety of street performers can be found on each corner. You may even be invited to crash a wedding parade!

I mentioned the rich history that New Orleans has. If you enjoy history, a great first place to stop is at Jackson Square.

Oh, the food! New Orleans certainly knows how to do food. Cafe Du Monde is famous for it’s coffee and desserts. The original location in the French Quarter is open 24 hours a day. Just be prepared to wait as the line is usually very long. I promise though, it is worth it!

If waiting isn’t your style, there are other Cafe Du Monde locations around the city and suburbs. While they are not open 24 hours a day, the lines are usually a lot shorter.

Antoine’s Restaurant is the oldest family owned restaurant in New Orleans. If you are looking for a nice meal, this is the place to go! While I am not a steak eater, I was told by several folks that this was the best steak they had ever had.

Looking for some good Bar B Que? Moe’s is the place for you! It was recommended to us by a local, and it certainly lived up to the expectations.

Our final meal was at Camellia Grill, which opened in 1946. This beloved local restaurant was closed after Hurricane Katrina and did not reopen again until 2007. It’s famous for its counter service and incredible food. The milkshakes… oh man. So delicious!

Of course, you can’t leave New Orleans without having a few of their famous pralines!

As someone who considers them self a huge World War II buff, I was greatly surprised to learn that the official United States WWII museum was in New Orleans. That seemed like an odd location to me until I learned about the huge role the city played in the war.

Higgins Industries, which was based in New Orleans, built many boats for the military during WWII including the Higgins land crafts that were used on D-Day. These ships played such a significant role in the war that Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as say that Andrew Higgins’s ship designs won the war for the Allies.

If you are a history buff or a fan of the history of WWII, I highly highly recommend building in at least half a day into your schedule to visit this museum. It is one of the best museums I have even visited. If you would like to do the movies, I recommend getting there earlier in the day as they fill up fast.

Thank you New Orleans for a wonderful visit. I cannot wait to get back!

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

This past fall, Nathan and I spent some time exploring gems of our national park system: Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP. Breathtaking, beautiful, mind blowing. The list of adjectives I could use to describe these two parks would fill a page. Whether you are a hiker, a wildlife fan or just looking to take in some incredible views, each park offers everyone the chance to explore their passion.

I honestly did not know what to expect when we first started planning our trip. I had heard great things about both parks, but it seemed everyone enjoyed them for different reasons. Anyone who knows me well knows I am the ultimate travel planner, especially when it comes to visiting national parks. So I spent some time researching the pros and cons we had been given to plan an adventure we would really enjoy. What we came away with was pretty awesome.

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Las Vegas to Phoenix… Exploring Arizona’s National Parks

One hundred years ago today, the National Park Service was founded. One hundred years ago today, our government began the process to preserve the best wilderness and historically significant locations across the country. It was a step that ensured that every American from that moment forward would have the opportunity to experience the best America has to offer.

I am truly passionate about our national park system. It is America’s best idea. To celebrate, I have been spending the year visiting as many “new” national parks as possible. I took full advantage of a business trip to Las Vegas in June to explore several of Arizona’s national parks. The road trip centered on the Grand Canyon, a crowning jewel of the park system and a world heritage site. While I had visited the Grand Canyon before, I had never explored the national park portion. It seemed only fitting to visit during the centennial celebration!

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From WWI to the Civil Rights Movement: The History of Kansas City

Welcome to Kansas City! It’s a city divided by the Missouri River. Most of what you would consider downtown (the shops, restaurants and attractions) is on the Missouri side of the river. If you are a history buff, there are incredible sites to seek out on both sides of the river. You will be amazed by the number of sites of historical significance the city and surrounding areas has to offer.

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2016 – The Year of the National Park Service

As most of you know by now, I am a total national park nerd! Having grown up in Philadelphia, I got to experience first hand the important role national parks play in the life and culture of a city. Frequent stops at Independence Hall, The Ben Franklin House and Valley Forge were part of my childhood, and I loved every minute of it. Each visit was a new learning experience, and I ate it up. That love has turned into a life long goal of visiting every nationally recognized unit in the park service system. I am about a third of the way done. However, considering how quickly parks are being added to the system, I may be back down to a quarter of them visited. What a wonderful problem!

As you can imagine, 2016 is a special year in my world. It is the centennial celebration of out national park system. All year long, parks around the country will be hosting special events in honor of this incredible milestone. REI has partnered with the Park Service on a fabulous campaign called #FindYourPark, which encouraged people to get out to the parks and discover their favorite. Since I have many parks to visit, I decided to set out in search of my favorite. How many parks can I experience during this incredible year? The checklist is set and plans have been made. If nothing else, it will be quite the adventure!

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