10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept.

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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Our Top Things To Do in the Florida Keys

Our family kicked off the new year in a way we never have before; leaving all of our traditions behind from black-eyed peas to college football and made so many memories together traveling to the Florida Keys!

It’s actually the busy season in the Keys as many people are wanting to leave behind the cold, wet days of winter and find a little sunshine and fun!  That is exactly what we did and I do believe we have discovered a new tradition for our New Year; every year!

After the lovely few days away I thought it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip with a list of Our Top Things to do in the Florida Keys.  These are completely teenager friendly as we are not partiers at all, but out more to enjoy sights and culture when we travel.

Top Things to do While Visiting the Florida Keys

1. You can’t drive to Key West without travel the highway that runs parallel with the Historic Seven-Mile Bridge.  Seven-Mile Bridge, when it was finished in 1912, was the longest bridge of its kind.  It connected the middle Keys to the lower Keys as a railroad line until the 1930s when it was refurbished for auto traffic.  Now it is closed, but portions are open for pedestrians and bicyclists.  If you like history it’s a neat little stop as you travel through.

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Not all of the bridge is accessible at this time, but there is a massive project getting ready to begin to restore the entire length of the bridge.  I find that very exciting!

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I apologize for the blurry pics…. we were driving while I was trying to shoot.

The broken railings?  They were made from the railway trackage when the bridge was converted from a railroad bridge to an auto bridge in the 1930s.

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2.  The Ernest Hemingway Home.  If you ever took a high school or college lit class, you read Ernest Hemingway at some point.  Visiting his main residence in the 1930s was a really awesome way to visualize his life.  From the studio where he wrote his best-selling novels to stories that brought the man to life, the Hemingway Home was a fabulous treat.

Ernest Hemingway Home

Built in 1851, Ernest Hemingway acquired this well-built island home in 1931 while he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, A French Vogue editor, for $8000.

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Hemingway Chandelier

Pauline hated this chandelier and had it removed & stored in the attic while living in the house.  I can’t even imagine…

The tour guide we had was absolutly fantastic and truly brought the colorful life of Hemingway to us in an entirely new way!

Hemingway Porch

James Bond turned in his “License to Kill” at the Hemingway house in the 1988 movie of the same name.

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The room above the garage where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works including “To Have & To Have Not”.

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This fountain and “flower bed” was built by the original builder/owner, Asa Tift, to resemble an old confederate ironclad boat.

3. Key Lime Pie from Blue Heaven restaurant.  If Blue Heaven is packed (or closed getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash), just head across the street to Andy’s Cabana which is owned by the same family.

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And they have THE Key Lime Pie.

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4. Take a sunset cruise from the Port of Key West.  We chose the Jolly II Rover and are so glad that we did!  With a fun crew and beautiful views, it was the perfect evening to a fabulously fun day!

Jolly II Rover

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Madeline helping raise the sails!  Such a neat experience!

You’ll discover on this cruise that you are closer to Cuba than you are the nearest Walmart.  I thought that was just a really cool fact.

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On the Jolly II Rover you may also have the adventure of firing a cannon at other passing ships!

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And the sunset?

Breathtaking, amazing, and unforgettable.

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5. Visit the Southernmost point.  If you want to get technical it is really not the southernmost point, but unless you wan to be arrested for trespassing on a military installation this will have to suffice.

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Lines form early to have your picture made here, so plan to arrive super early, or do like we did and go after sunset; no waiting necessary.

6. Take in the island real estate.  I love the houses and historic buildings found in both Key West and Key Largo.

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Enjoy the sightseeing and don’t catch island fever…. It can be costly!

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7.  “Sail away to Key Largo” with a ride the African Queen.

The African Queen is not a replica; this is the real deal built in 1912 and used in the 1951 movie The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn.

The African Queen

With the history behind the boat, as well as the legend, this evening cruise was a true highlight of our stay.

African Queen Steam Engine

Enjoy your own Boggey & Bacall … Or is it Bogart and Hepburn moment?

Take your pick, but a cruise on the African Queen is a step back in time allowing you to have your own romantic moment.

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African Queen Sunset

8. Hit the water in Key Largo at John Pennecamp State Park in a canoe.  Canoeing is a lot of fun and the perfect activity for everyone in the family.  The park also offers camping, snorkeling, swimming, and various other water-sports.

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9. Don’t forget to hit the beach.  Seriously.  The whole purpose of a vacation is to get away from your environment and relax.  Take time for this.

On the beach

If not for you, do it for your family.

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 I loved the naturally preserved beaches at John Pennecamp State park, but I also loved the man-made sandy beaches of the resorts.

And as you can see, my teenagers had a blast!

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In no way is this a list of all the things to do in the Florida Keys.  With this being our first trip and only having a few days to kick back, these highlights were what we enjoyed most!  When we return this year after Christmas we will have a whole new list of activities planned.

Just a few tips to getting around Key West.  First, if you are wanting to hit up historic Key West, find you a good parking space (legally) on the street and leave your car for the day.  You might want to brush up on your parallel parking skills before you go.  Walking about town is honestly the most logical way to go.  Key West is extremely pedestrian friendly. Make reservations if you have a specific, but popular hot spot you want to visit.  Lines for dinner can be quite long, especially when mile high Key Lime pie is involved.  Also, book your cruises early.  We purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance and the tickets were texted to me on my phone.  Quite convenient indeed, and we didn’t have to  risk being turned away at the dock.  Key Largo does involve more driving as the area is not so compact.  The drive all the way to Key West can be a long one. The speed limit is 45-55 and there is a lot of traffic.  Drive safely and go with the flow.

It’ll make the trip much more enjoyable!

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Historic Downtown Denver

When you have a very short window to see an area in which you are traveling hitting the highlights is a must, even if only for a quick tour.  When Audley and I were in Colorado a couple of weeks back we really only had 24 hours to see the area.  On Friday of our trip we visited the Garden of the God’s and Pikes Peak and then we spent our Saturday morning before our flight out in downtown Denver.

I am a total history nut.  Not a glossed over version of history that the media and history books like for us to see, but a dig deep and study all the angles of an event or life.   I am fascinated by the people who came before me and how things have changed and grown over the years, bringing us to where we are today.

That’s why when deciding what to see in Denver we chose to start with the Margaret Brown house.

The lions at the entrance of the Molly Brown property

The lions at the entrance of the Molly Brown property

Who is Margaret Brown you ask?  You probably know her better as the Unsinkable Molly Brown after her heroics on the night of the Titanic sinking.

The Molly Brown House

The Molly Brown House

Margaret grew up the daughter of a poor Irish immigrant and married JJ for “love” after throwing out the notion she would marry rich.  Little did she know that “rich” was on the horizon as JJ discovered a band of gold in a silver mine he was working in Leadville, Colorado.  After they became Millionaires, they moved to Denver.

The simple Victorian that was the home of JJ and Molly Brown

The simple Victorian that was the home of JJ and Molly Brown

Knowing she was a first class passenger on the Titanic and her reputation for being a bit boisterous and gaudy, I expected a monster of a house, similar to the homes of the Astor’s or Vanderbilt’s,  but the Brown home was not much bigger than a traditional Victorian home of the era.  Mrs Brown and her husband, JJ, purchase the house that had been built in the 1880’s for about $30,000 which was a bargain as the previous owners were forced to sell due to financial issues.

The Carriage House gift shop

The Carriage House gift shop

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We were only allowed to take pictures outside the house.  There were no fancy gardens only a carriage house (that now houses a gift shop and video presentation of the Molly Brown’s life) and then the house itself.

Front of the home

Front of the home

The simple back view of the Molly Brown House

The simple back view of the Molly Brown House

The house was actually simply decorated without much grandeur at all. As a matter of fact it often stayed rented out as the Brown’s (or at least Margaret and her children) traveled extensively.  Margaret was a huge proponent of education and learned four foreign languages.

The original tile that covers much of the front porch.

The original tile that covers much of the front porch.

Window looking into the foyer of the home

Window looking into the foyer of the home

Despite marrying for love, JJ and Margaret quietly separated in 1909 due to the different paths their lives were taking.  They never divorced as they were both Catholic and didn’t believe in divorce, but she did receive a monthly allowance of nearly $19,000 in order to travel and stay involved in social projects she was undertaking.  She was very involved in social projects that benefitted children as Denver was swamped in poverty at the turn of the 20th century.

With Margaret’s travels she and her daughter found themselves guests of John Jacob Astor and his new bride, Madeleine in 1912. They toured France, Italy and Egypt before Margaret got word about an ill grandchild and decided to head home.  That is how she found herself on the Titanic.

Margaret earned her “unsinkable” reputation for encouraging women to leave their husbands and board the lifeboats before being forced into one herself.  Then, after the ship sank she was quite determined that their lifeboat must go back to the wreck site and search for survivors.  It is also said that she used her knowledge of many different foreign languages to console passengers and see that even the few third class survivors had their needs met.

Molly was known for throwing lavish parties where she would share he adventures from her travels.  The sinking of the Titanic didn’t crush that desire for adventure at all.

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The home was sold shortly after the Great Depression for $6,000.  Molly had used the home for a boarding house to help pay for the upkeep.

The Brown home is on the National Register of Historic Places, The group Historic Denver has been the caretakers since the late 1960’s when the house was slated for demolition.

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Margaret was instrumental in raising money for the building of Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She could see construction from her house.  I can only imagine the awe at watching this go up in an era without high-tech building processes.

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Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

We walked over to the building ourselves, but were unable to enter due to a wedding. It was a beautiful building with gorgeous architectural elements.

Front of the Cathedral

Front of the Cathedral

Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral and they have this statue to commemorate that visit.

Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral and they have this statute to commemorate that visit.

Love the architecture of the cathedral!

Love the architecture of the cathedral!

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We also stopped by the Colorado state Capital. At one time the Brown’s rented out their home to the governor and his family while their own home was being renovated.  You could also see the capital from her home during the years she resided here.

Colorado State Capital

Colorado State Capital

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I also loved the archetectural lines of the capital as well.

I also loved the architectural lines of the capital as well.

It was so neat to see how so many little things connected like a puzzle once we were downtown.  It was a beautiful day and perfect for strolling the streets of historic downtown Denver.

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Tell me, have you ever traveled out west?  What do we need to see next?

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation: The USS Alabama

Traveling with my hubby is always an adventure, and when you add Naval history to the mix he becomes like a little boy just waiting for the next adventure.
So was the case with as we made a stop-over in Mobile, Alabama and visited the magnificent battleship USS Alabama and submarine, USS Drum as we made our way to Palm Beach for yet another meeting.

The keel of the USS Alabama was laid in 1940 as hostilities across the Atlantic were heating up in Europe between the British, French and Nazi’s, but America was not yet at war.  This particular ship was the 8th to bare the name Alabama and completed her sea trials in 1942.  Weighing 44,500 tons and 680 feet from bow to stern,  She was immediately put into service in the Atlantic Ocean sailing from Norfolk, Virginia with a job of protecting Russian and British convoys.  After a brief period in this role, The Alabama was sent to the Pacific clearing the Panama Canal in August 1943.

In the Pacific the USS Alabama and her crew of sailors and marines served valiantly in the Pacific war against Japan, accomplishing all of her assigned tasks.  She saw 37 months of action, participating in nine major battles of the Pacific.  During this time she never saw any causalities or suffered damage from enemy fire;  a huge accomplishment!
After the end of the war, the Alabama dropped anchor in Tokyo briefly and then took on 3700 servicemen to travel back to the US arriving in at the Port of San Francisco on Navy Day, 27 October 1945, bringing our boys home form war.

Her service was complete.  Unlike many ships of the time, the USS Alabama only saw action in WWII and was decommissioned quickly; 1947.

Due to the cost of trying to maintain the “Peacetime Navy”, in 1962 it was decided that the Alabama (along with several other great ships) would be scrapped.  Shortly thereafter a campaign was launched to bring the mighty ship to Alabama as a memorial to the many sailors and soldiers from Alabama who had served.

Alabama school children raised almost $100,000 in mostly nickels, dimes, and quarters to help bring her home to her final resting place.

Having parents born and raised in Alabama as kids of the Baby Boom, the USS Alabama means a lot to both of them.  They were two of the school children who donated their hard-earned changed to help with this effort.  They were given a gift for their contributions; each received a lifetime pass to visit the great battleship in Mobile Bay.

In 1972, seven years after the ship opened to the public, they finally got a chance to use those passes for the first time.  It was also my first visit to the beautiful and historic ship.

Dad & Momma were just 22 years old here!
A lot has changed since that 1972 visit which Audley and I were able to enjoy on our own trip.
No longer is the Ship the memorial, but the state has constructed an entire Memorial Park dedicated to all the soldiers and sailors from Alabama who has served and even lost their lives for our country throughout many wars.  There is no way to post pictures of everything, but here are a few highlights of the Memorial Park and the USS Alabama.

 

 

The Vietnam Memorial

 

 

Replica of the Vietnam Wall containing the names of Alabama’s men and women who were killed in this conflict.  My father has several classmates whose names are etched here.  It’s a very moving and sobering spot to visit.
Seeing the open guns reminded me of how vulnerable of our servicemen really are when they are out fighting for us.

 

The travels and battles of the USS Alabama

 

 

 

Bunks for the sailors and marines onboard…. close quarters for sure!

 

Shipboard amenities for servicemen away from home.
Telegraph/Mail room
The command center of the ship
The Alabama’s service record is permanently recorded on the side of the ship.

While touring the ship I learned so much about the lives of the men on board, how they lived everyday and how they fought to protect our freedoms.

One thing I found so fascinating was the Presentation silver displayed.  While it was removed for it’s own protection during the war, generally it is left on board.

Here’s  little history on the presentation silver:  During the 18th century it became traditional for cities and states to present silver serviced to the warships bearing their names upon commissioning.  This silver service was designed for use on formal occasions such as port visits attended by local dignitaries. The US Navy withdrew silver services from all warships in WWII, leaving Alabama’s service stored in the State’s archives during the ship’s active service.  The silver was placed on board the USS Alabama for display in 1967 but has never been formally transferred from the state archives.

The USS ALABAMA’s presentation silver.
Besides home to the USS Alabama, Battleship Memorial Park is also the final destination of the USS Drum a WWII era submarine that was launched in 1941 and was donated to the USS Alabama battleship commission in 1969.
Since I married a Submariner, visiting the USS Drum was very important to Audley.  As he descended the steps into her hull he inhaled deeply, taking in the smell of submarine living still in the air after all these years.
I found it all quite emotional actually.
Audley in the control rooms of the sub looking at navigation charts.
Yes, those are beds, both over and under the torpedo.  Yes, that is how our sailors sleep.
The tiny kitchen where meals were cooked for the men serving on board
The officers were spoiled, just a little, although they still didn’t have much space.
Some of the USS Drum’s presentation silver
The USS Drum’s service record in WWII.

 

Audley & I on deck of the USS DRUM.
I hope you enjoyed a little of our visit to Mobile and the Battleship Memorial Park.  I know military history can seem rather boring, especially for a female, but I can assure you, a stop at one of our nation’s many military memorials will sure give you an whole new perspective and appreciation on our men and women who have and who continue to serve.
Next on our adventure we enjoyed a little R&R in Palm Beach, Florida complete with dinner by the ocean, shopping millionaires row and some high-end antiquing!