New Orleans, Part 2: The National World War II Museum

On our single full day in New Orleans, we opted for history instead of entertainment and headed to the National World War II Museum. It was, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular, illuminating museums I have ever experienced in my life. This museum, which started out as the D-Day Museum in 2001, and is located in New Orleans because most of the landing craft used on that turning-point day in history was manufactured here. The D-Day Museum was so well received that it was expanded a few years later to become the National WWII Museum.

Lisa’s dog tag

You start by getting a dog tag to represent a soldier you will be tracking all day at check-in stations, and board the same kind of train many soldiers took when they embarked on their journeys. It was a truly immersive experience as, with seats rocking, the train whistle blowing and the grainy black-and-white landscape flying by, the conductor welcomed you aboard.

Beyond Boundaries Film

After getting off the train, we started our explorations by watching the 48-minute film Beyond Boundaries, a 4D experience narrated by Tom Hanks that used film and other sensory effects, including a 1930s wooden-cabinet radio, falling snowflakes, a plane cockpit that lowered from the ceiling to punch out an air battle scene, and more to introduce us to the sheer magnitude of World War II. The mini-documentary stunningly put into perspective the global threat presented by German Furer Adolph Hitler, Italian Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the Axis leaders who wanted nothing less than global domination. It ended at the climax, the bombing of Pearl Harbor that dragged the United States in the war and engaged every person in the country in the fight for the very survival of democracy.

We learned how the ill-equipped United States, previously hesitant to join in the war as Nazi forces took over country after country, stepped up when it came under attack. Men young and old rushed to join the war effort and defend their country against the invaders. Women, who were home raising children, took factory jobs and churned out an incredible volume of planes, jeeps, weapons, artillery and more.

The European Theater

The WWII Museum is comprised of five buildings, and we only had one day, so we chose to enter the Road to Berlin: European Theater gallery. I don’t even know how to describe the experience after this. We spent five awe-struck hours being assaulted from all sides by grainy black-and-white film, sound and lighting effects, real-life voices telling their stories, radio broadcasts, flashes and explosions, and much more.

This breathtaking exhibit took us through the major steps in the European campaign, starting with North Africa and moving across Italy, southern France, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, England, and  Germany, that culminated in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. We experienced the shock that troops felt when they discovered the atrocity of the concentration camps and the slaughter of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of others deemed inferior to Hitler’s Aryan race. We met military leaders and foot soldiers, journalists (including Ernie Pyle’s life and death) and pilots. We saw airplanes and jeeps, nurses’ uniforms and bomber jackets. We shivered in the snowy woods in Germany and leaned away from incoming anti-aircraft fire from a small plane. I thought of my three Troisi uncles who flew many missions in Europe and for the first time had a concept of what their experience was like.

A plane goes down during an air battle

My dog tag soldier, John, was a 17-year-old who went to Canada to pursue becoming a pilot when the United States rejected him because of a previous broken neck. He ended up doing bomb runs for Canada, and then England, before the United States decided to let him join. He won a medal of honor and was a prisoner of war in Germany for more than a year.

Planes, Jeeps and Submarines

We also visited the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where we saw a number of WWII planes and jeeps, as well as the Medal of Honor Exhibit.

Wartime aircraft
Medal of Honor recipients

We still need to go back to see the other Campaign of Courage: The Pacific Theater, especially since that’s where Bob’s dad was stationed on a Destroyer Escort in 1943-45. There’s a whole hall, the Arsenal of Democracy, that we didn’t have time for, and a doomed submarine experience I’m interested in. The outdoor area is under construction to create a Freedom Garden.

New Orleans is about a lot more than Jazz and Jambalaya. If you visit this city, definitely devote a day or two to the National WWII Museum. To get the full experience of the museum, watch Bob’s video on the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel.

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

New Orleans, Part 1: Jazz and Jambalaya

We just spent a couple of nights in New Orleans to break up the road trip from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. We rented a lovely, pet-friendly cottage through AirBnB that had a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms, just a short Uber ride from the action.  It was pristine, affordable and super comfortable.

After working out and showering, we spent our first NOLA night on Bourbon Street, a place we barely got to explore last year when we came through because it was just too loud for Gavin. But this time, with Gavin off at college, we headed down there again. Mardi Gras is still a month away, so it wasn’t high season yet, and we headed out early to avoid crushing crowds and deafening noise.

Bourbon Street is the heart of the touristy French Quarter, and we were planning to go to historic Preservation Hall to see classic New Orleans jazz. For $20 seats on the floor, we would need to stand in line outside to get day-of-show tickets. After a day spent driving, we weren’t in the mood.

Bourbon Street

So we instead opted to get a more local experience recommended by our Uber driver, Joe. First we shared a mouthwatering dinner of blackened redfish and jambalaya at an oyster bar on Bourbon called Le Bayou. Jambalaya is a kind of dirty rice with spicy tomato sauce and andouille sausage. We also enjoyed hurricanes, a classic New Orleans drink with rum and fruity juices. Our waiter kept calling us “y’all,” so we couldn’t forget we were truly in the south. After filling our stomachs, we strolled along Bourbon, taking in the crowd scene, and even saw a school band marching up the road, followed by a small parade of what I assume was a krewe, a social organization that helps put on a parade or ball during the carnival season, which runs January and February.  

Bourbon Street is amazingly loud, even in the off-season, and the road is closed to traffic so people can just wander at their leisure. Musicians with saxophones, guitars or even just spoons and plastic buckets, entertain for tips on street corners. The shops are filled with colorful art, with candy skulls, masks, voodoo paraphernalia, and jazz accouterments.

We walked about a mile to Frenchmen’s Street, a locals’ favorite area. Frenchmen’s is lined on both sides with lively bars and restaurants. As you wander along the sidewalk, you can listen to the music blasting out the open doors and choose your poison. Most have no cover and a local clientele. We chose Marigny Brasserie, and enjoyed an hour of music by a sweet jazz duo. A drunken regular celebrating her 71st birthday alone plopped down next to me at the bar and I was friendly to her. That turned out to be a mistake as she subsequently kept hitting me to get my attention, then ranting in a slurred voice about the injustices of her life and why it was horrible that the bar was showing The Waterboy and Captain Phillips on the big screen when people should be getting to know each other instead. Since she sitting on a stool between me and the band, it was impossible for me to watch the band. I guess if you want to be where the locals are, sometimes you have to put up with a local!

But we ducked out and wandered, encountering an Art Market where local artisans sold jewelry, paintings, even hand-made three-string guitars.

The band at Bamboulia’s

On the second evening, we ate at Bamboulina’s, a cozy bar with exposed brick walls, and enjoyed incredible pulled pork and a wonderful blues band. If I lived in NOLA, I think I would go to Frenchmen’s every weekend and try a different bar each time! Our last Uber driver encouraged us to try Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans next time, so watch for that blog in the spring when we pass through again on our way back north!

Up next … The National World War II Museum

On the Road Again!

After 7 ½ months back in the States, we are back on the road again – this time, bound for Mexico City!

We left Bob’s mother Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg around 8 this morning, with a considerably lighter load than the last trip to Mexico: no Gavin, no Gavin’s luggage, no Ellie the adventure cat, and no bari sax. They have all migrated to Burlington, VT, where Gavin is in their freshman year studying filmmaking. We were also able to leave a few things at Bob’s mother’s house. She passed away three weeks ago, and we will be returning in the summer to fix up the condo and sell it.

Bob in the truck with the cats, ready to go

But till then, we are getting on with our life! And that means driving south.  First stop, Athens, Tennessee, tonight! We are staying at a clean, cheap Motel 8 that accepts cats with no fee and has a number of dining options within walking distance, plus about eight cheap gas stations.

Tomorrow we will hit the road again by 7:30 or 8 AM and drive to New Orleans, where we’ll spend two nights. Then, after another day driving, we’ll spend two nights in San Antonio to break up the 40-hour trip.

The newest addition to our dashboard menagerie, an African wild dog that Aryk gave Bob for Christmas. (He needs a name)

If all goes according to plan, we’ll cross the Mexican border at Laredo, TX, spend a night at the Midway Inn in Matehuala, México, and arrive in Mexico City on Feb. 2, hopefully in plenty of time to find a bar with the Super Bowl on TV. Hasta luego!

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s hard to believe it has been seven months since we left Mexico. A brief summer interlude in Vermont getting one of our vacation homes ready to sell and settling our youngest child, Gavin, into Champlain College in Burlington turned into a much longer stretch in the USA when Bob’s mother, Jane, called us in August to say she had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Enjoying a boat ride in Montreal during a weekend off working on the Vermont houses

So after spending the summer painting a house, tiling a kitchen, planting two gardens, refinishing a floor, staining two decks, replacing windows, and doing more tasks than I care to remember on both houses – punctuated, thank God, by a couple of long weekends in Montreal and Burlington and many visits to local craft breweries – we moved into Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg, PA, in October to care for her in her last months.

While living here, we kept busy. Lisa signed up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in November and wrote a long-postponed book. Bob threw himself into the editing of his many videos from our time in Mexico for the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. We both spent countless hours studying Spanish and practicing our instruments (Bob saxophone, Lisa guitar). We spent 9 days in Cancun in November, during a period when Jane was doing better and we needed a break.

The official winner’s certificate for Nanowrimo. Lisa wrote a YA fantasy novel called Elephant Rock.

We also spent time with some of Lisa’s family members around the winter holidays, and got to know Jane’s neighbors in her over-55 community. As her health deteriorated, we became quite attached to her regular visitors from Homeland Hospice, who became our family’s lifeline: her CNA (certified nursing assistant) Sherry, who came every day to bathe and dress her; her hospice nurse Hannah, who visited weekly; and our social worker Pam, who supported us all in too many ways to count.

Jane was able to lift a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. She passed away a week later.

Meanwhile, we cared for Jane and tried to keep her comfortable. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with her. The kids came home for Christmas break and got to spend time with their grandmother. Bob’s sister Beth came to visit regularly.

And on Jan. 7, 2020, at the age of 89, Jane Greenawalt left us.

Now the funeral is over, the spawn are back at college, and we are officially empty nesters. Although Jane’s stuff still needs to be sorted and dispersed, and her condo needs to be fixed up to sell, we are deferring that till the summer.

It’s time for us to get back to our lives, at least for a while. So we are planning to return to Mexico later this month and spend the rest of winter and half of spring there. We’ll come back in late April, before Gavin’s school lets out for the summer, and spend some time in Vermont before returning to PA for the next round of heavy lifting.

This time we are headed for Mexico City! We are excited at the prospect of living in a big city, after spending the summer in rural Vermont and the fall in this Harrisburg suburb.  We are currently deciding between several condos in a safe neighborhood – Condesa, Roma Norte or Polanco – near a huge park (a requirement for us as runners). We are also looking at language schools, because we plan to study Spanish every day, at least for the first month, the way we did in Tlaquepaque last year. It will only be for two hours a day this time, because Lisa is editing her book and we want time to enjoy the city.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop! Right now the plan is to leave Jan. 28 and drive our trusty Toyota Tacoma (with two cats on board; the third now lives with Gavin at school) slowly south, stopping in Cincinnati, Memphis and Austin on the way so we can see some friends and take some breaks from the road. We should arrive in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, Spanish for Mexico City) on Super Bowl Sunday.

Wish us luck! Hasta luego!

Mexico City, here we come!

Messy Suitcase Video: Why Guadalajara?

Beto (Bob) is developing his video editing skills, and working on putting the many videos he has made over the past year of traveling in Europe and then Mexico up onto the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel! 

After toting his GoPro all over Mexico, and now Vermont, plus the drives back and forth, he’s just learning how to edit the footage, so please be patient, and feel to comment with words of encouragement.  Each video will get better, and they will be packed with fascinating info and our illuminating comments and observations.

We’ll hope you’ll follow our the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel,  and ring the bell to be notified as we put more videos up. We are also open to new ideas!

Enjoy the video Why Guadalajara? 

Why Guadalajara? video

 

Hike up Mount Philo

Bob and I just did our first almost 1-er in Burlington! (As opposed to the multiple 14ers Bob did back in Colorado.)

We hiked up Mt. Philo on a recent Sunday while visiting Burlington for Champlain College Family Weekend. Mt. Philo State Park, which sits atop 968-foot Mt. Philo about 13 miles south of Burlington, was created as Vermont’s first Vermont State Park in 1924. With 237 acres offering breathtaking views of the Lake Champlain Valley and New York’s Adirondack Mountains, the park is a favorite of local hikers, picnickers, and even college students.

The hike was short but steep and challenging. The view of the Vermont countryside and Lake Champlain from the top was spectacular. We also found inspirational poetry at the top …

… and we loved the message in the field below.

 

There are several camping sites at the top, as well as a group cabin, and we were surprised to see they were not in use. The best part was the Adirondack chairs that beckoned us to sit and enjoy the beautiful day and the view.

We met a couple of artists on our way down painting the view with watercolors.

Selfie of the day!

 
 

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

All Aboard the Green Mountain Flyer

Beto and I recently had the lucky opportunity to take a lovely, relaxing fall foliage ride on the Green Mountain Flyer, a scenic ride on a vintage train from Chester to Rockingham in southern Vermont. The train whistle blasted our eardrums to oblivion as the ancient train noisily announced its arrival at Chester Depot. The bright red engine was pulling about five dark green cars, each labeled Green Mountain Railroad.  

Inside the Train

The fall foliage expedition on the Green Mountain Railroad was a free event sponsored by the OkemoValley Regional Chamber of Commerce, based in Ludlow, of which I am a
new member. We checked in with Diane, the organizer, and got into line while waiting for the refreshments to be loaded on the train. Finally, a young woman from the Chamber climbed up on the stairs and called out, “All Aboard!” and we boarded the train. 
 

 
Bob and I grabbed a forward-facing seat in the first car, in an open booth with an enormous wood table and another double seat across from us. The windows were huge and the view was great, but after 20 minutes or so I got a hankering for some refreshment and set out to explore the train.

Discovering the Bar Car

I wobbled back on the jerkily moving train, holding on to seats for dear life to keep my feet under me, through three cars that featured plush leatherette high-backed bench seats facing each other. Just when I thought I was at the end, I found a car with a table covered with white paper bags, and a narrow hallway ahead on the right. I inched through, and discovered a sweet little bar car with about 20 seats (some occupied by Chamber staff) and a musician, Bill Brink, singing and playing guitar and kazoo. I hustled back get Beto, ordered us up a couple of surprisingly good glasses of Chardonnay, and we settled in to enjoy the rest of the ride in the Bar Car.
 
 
Directly in front of us was the bright red engine chugging away. The engineer would occasionally walk jauntily along the jerking engine and enter our car from the front. ()
 
I tried to digitally capture the roaming engineer and
musician Bill Brink, but you can see the jerking motion
of the train did not allow for quality pictures.
We relaxed with our wine, bag dinners provided by the Chamber (courtesy of Mr.
Darcy’s Restaurant) and enjoyed the ride.

What We Saw

We rode alongside a scenic, winding river, passing a stunning river gorge that was almost past before we could get the cameras out, and crossing a heavy red iron bridge.
 
River gorge photo taken from a moving train
Vermont is famous for its spectacular autumn foliage, but we are still about three weeks before peak colors, so the ride featured mostly green foliage, with occasional bursts of bright yellow, fiery orange or deep red in sections of trees that acted as a precursor of things to come. The shrubs along riverbeds seem to have gotten the memo early, though, and preened with deep burgundy and crusty golden leaves.
 
We passed a couple of covered bridges, a signature sight in Vermont that never loses its appeal. One’s identifying sign read, “Built in 2012,” a melancholy reminder of the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Irene that September that washed away or severely damaged many of these classic structures throughout the Green Mountain State.
 
 
We saw (and smelled) cows grazing in fields, and admired field after field of corn stalks.  Lisa, a fellow CHamber member with a cow farm, told us those fields would be turned into mash for its farms to eat, but hers are grass-fed. (Beto plans to visit her farm this fall to serenade her cows on saxophone.)

Take a Ride Yourself!

If you‘re interested in taking a ride on the Green Mountain Flyer, you can learn more here. To learn more about the Okemo Valley, which offers so much more than its world-class ski mountain Okemo Mountain Resort, visit the Chamber’s website, yourplaceinvermont.com.
 
 
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Car Setbacks (a.k.a. Shit Happens)

All was not completely smooth in our trip across the country
and into Mexico,as we ran into several car-related setbacks.

First, the Car Accident

The first came in late August when Lexie was working on
getting her driver’s license. One Saturday we decided to get some interstate
driving experience in and drive north on I-76, away from the crowded metro Denver
area. We were concentrating on watching cars that were merging onto the highway,
as Denver drivers have a bad habit of expecting cars already on the highway to
yield to them. Driving in the right-hand lane, we came to an entrance ramp
where a car and medium sized U-Haul truck had just gotten on the merge ramp. We
were opposite the truck so we couldn’t speed up, but before we could even slow
down the U-Haul moved right into our lane. Lexie’s immediate reaction was to
shift left to avoid the truck, but unfortunately, another car was there. We hit
that car, bounced off, and Lexie lost control. Suddenly we were heading for the
concrete median at 65 mph. Crash! Airbags deployed. Things didn’t end well for
the truck, or for Lexie’s hand, which was broken and in a cast for 6 weeks. 
The U-Haul
driver just drove on up the road. I assume he never even saw
us.

Chain Reaction

This set off a chain reaction. First, we had to find a new
truck. Unfortunately, we had already ordered a custom topper which only fit
Toyota Tacomas through 2015, and it was black. So we started looking, all over
the country for a low-mileage 2015 Tacoma in a color compatible with black.
This consumed valuable time that we needed for packing and finishing up on the
house, but we eventually found a charcoal one in the Denver area that had about
50,000 miles less than our older 2012 truck.

 License & Registration

The accident also meant that Lexie wouldn’t be able to get
her driver’s license in Colorado, because she could not drive again till she
got her cast off, which would be only a few days before our scheduled
departure. We would have to figure out that later.
And it created some difficulties in getting license plates
and registration for the new car in Colorado since CO had recently switched to
a new computer system which had created a backlog.

Next, the Battery

Our troubles in CO weren’t over yet. On the day before we
were scheduled to leave, the new truck wouldn’t start. We had it jumped and I
took it to NAPA to get the battery tested. The battery was bad, and I changed
it out in the NAPA parking lot.

Then, Rear-Ended

For our last meal in the Denver area, we decided to go to
Woody’s Pizza in Golden, our favorite pizza place. They make a wide variety of delicious
pizzas, and you go to the counter and grab a slice of whatever pizza just came
out of the oven. On the way, we were stopped at a red light on a fairly major
road, 2nd in line. Traffic was stopped behind us. The light turned
green, but the person in front of decided he wanted to change lanes so he
didn’t move until traffic on our left had cleared. As we sat waiting, the woman
in a large truck behind us suddenly rammed into the back of our truck. Our
truck was half packed, but fortunately it was drivable, with only damage to our
tailgate and bumper. Because of our tight travel schedule to make it across the
country and catch a plane to Europe, it would be three months before we could
get the damage repaired.
The new truck with topper, right before the accident
So we had to drive across the country with a badly damaged
bumper held on by a bungee cord.

Our Car Registration Expires

We parked our truck at Lisa’s brother’s house in northern
Virginia and he graciously took us to the airport for our European trip. During
the time away, our temporary Colorado registration expired, so we had to call
the car dealership from Greece to get an extension sent to Lisa’s brother so we
wouldn’t be driving illegally when we got back.

Back to Lexie’s Driver’s License

Back from Europe, our plan was to spend some time in our
Vermont house and get Lexie the driving practice necessary to pass the test. Then
we would both fly back to CO, get the new car registration and take the test.
However, since we own property in Vermont we investigated whether Lexie could
get her license and whether we could register the car there. We found out we
could do both, and now Lexie is a resident of Vermont. We also registered the
car there. Vermont DMV took our CO title and told us it would be a few weeks
before our registration and title would arrive in the mail (to our Colorado
address).
Unfortunately, the weather was abnormally snowy so we didn’t
get as much driving practice in as we expected, still Lexie was ready to take
the test a few days before our scheduled departure. Unfortunately, she didn’t
pass, mostly because the examiner didn’t like the way she parallel-parked the
truck. (Personally, I completely avoid parallel parking the truck because I
can’t do it.) She actually parallel-parked perfectly, but before she had time
to straighten the wheels out, the instructor told her she was finished and to
move on – and then deducted points for not straightening out the truck!
It was frustrating, but we rescheduled the test for the day
before we were scheduled to leave VT. Then, just as we were getting into the
truck to go to the test, the examiner called us and told us that a mistake had
been made and that they rescheduled the new test too early, as Vermont has a three-day
waiting period between tests. That meant that Lexie still doesn’t have her
license, which we will have to take care of this summer.

Cracked Windshield

We embarked on our trip to Mexico in early January, and on
the second day on the road, we took a stone to the windshield which caused a
crack. We didn’t want to go into Mexico with that so, as we were driving, we
scheduled a glass repair while we were staying at our AirBnB in New Orleans the
next day.

Troubles at the Border

We’ve previously documented our problems in getting into
Mexico because we still hadn’t received our permanent registration from Vermont
read that blog. 

Sidetracked by the Gas Crisis

And, follow our problems in getting the whole way to
Guadalajara due to the gas crisis in Mexico here! 

Rising Above

However, even with all of the minor setbacks, we made it to
Mexico and have started our new life — and we certainly have learned how to
handle adversity! And sometimes the setbacks provided unforeseen advantages. Because
of the accident, we have a newer car that is better able to handle rough
Mexican roads. Because of the gas crisis, we discovered a city we never would
have thought to visit, Leon.