The Crescent, which actually starts in New York City, picked us up in DC in the late afternoon and whisked us over the Potomac into the South. The sun set while we were having dinner on the train and by next morning we were making a station stop in Atlanta, Georgia. After that we swept through a series of small Southern towns, including Anniston, Alabama (home of the Anniston Army Depot, the only depot capable of performing maintenance on heavy-tracked combat vehicles) and Birmingham, Alabama (home of the Sloss Furnaces, a National Historic site). As the sun set, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain on what seemed like a very narrow railroad tressle, went past the aboveground Greenwood Cemetery, and arrived at Union station in the Big Easy in the early evening – ontime after 1,152 miles on the rails. There are several Marriott-related hotels in downtown New Orleans, so we tried our taxi driver’s patience as we caromed around looking for the right one. After that, we opted for a late dinner at the hotel, and called it a day.
The next morning, we broke out our shorts and walked – in delightfully steamy, warm weather – down to the banks of the Mississippi and into the clutches of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. It wasn’t clear why this rail trip was developing an aquatic theme but we signed-up for the three-part aquarium, insectarium, and zoo package anyway. The aquarium portion was interesting – but not on par with the Shedd in Chicago – and also very, very busy. We held out against the small child screams as long as we could, then continued on to the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, located in the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street. This was mercifully less busy so we could enjoy the live insect exhibits – What would we do without hissing cockroaches? – and spend time standing in the butterfly room. After shrimp po’boys at the Commerce Restaurant, we cruised some bookstores and a quiet bar in the French Quarter before returning to the hotel in anticipation of dinner. The Spring Break / Friday night crowds defeated our attempts at a reservationless dinner so we ended up at Fogo de Chão, a Brazlian-themed place featuring waiters waving meat covered spears – surprisingly good food despite the theatrics.
The next morning found us just ahead of the crowds at the National World War II Museum, which has grown over the years but is still remarkably well done. It had a temporary exhibit on the rise of fascism in Germany that was clear and well balanced but still seemed disturbingly prescient. We spent all morning at the museum and then had lunch at Cochon, before going back in to the French Quarter for more bookstore visits. There are a surprising number of bookstores in the Quarter; some are well executed but two looked like the domain of horders, with books stacked in no discernible order to dizzying heights that threatened death by celluose avalanche! Having made a reservation the night before, we were able to have dinner at Lüke, seemingly an homage to the grand old Franco-German brasseries that once reigned in New Orleans.
Our last full day in New Orleans found us taking advantage of the zoo portion of the three-part Audubon experience. We took a taxi out to Audubon Park and then walked along the mist-shrouded Mississippi at Greenville Bend until the zoo opened. The zoo is small, reasonably well maintained, and very popular. We spent a couple of hours there, one step ahead of the crowds, then went up to St. Charles Avenue and caught one of the iconic trollys back into town – of the several times I’ve been in New Orleans, this was my first chance to ride one of these. Our first lunch choice was packed, so we opted for great sandwiches at Part & Parcel. Then some more wandering in the Quarter before having dinner at Saint Lawrence, featuring locally sourced, southern regional cuisine. Red beans and rice for me. After that, it was back to the hotel to pack for our morning departure homeward on the Sunset Limited.