VISIT: KATRINA EXHIBITION

Five years after the most devastating Hurricane ever to hit the United States and the massive destruction that followed, an exhibit has opened at the Louisiana State Museum documenting that destruction.

"Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond," a $7.5 million, 6,700 square-foot exhibit on the ground floor of the historic Presbytere in the French Quarter's Jackson Square tells the stories of real people caught in the hurricane's wrath. It documents their rescue, recovery, rebuilding and renewal of New Orleans in a way certain to move both those who survived the storms of 2005 and those who watched the events unfold on TV.

Combining eyewitness accounts, historical context, immersive environments and in-depth scientific exploration, "Katrina and Beyond" enables visitors to understand the 2005 storms, Katrina and Rita, and their impact on Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the nation. It is a story of how a culture – the rich, varied world of New Orleans and coastal Louisiana – has learned to live with the fragility of its environment and how the storms of 2005 gave rise to a new vision for the region.

When it hit southeastern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the morning of August 29, 2005, the storm caused fearsome destruction. But the disaster wasn't entirely the result of natural causes. Levees and floodwalls – the man-made barriers built to protect New Orleans from the water surrounding it – failed. Their collapse in a dozen or more locations, plus tidal surges from the the low-lying eastern edge of New Orleans, flooded 80 percent of the city. By the time the waters receded and the survivors regrouped, Katrina, and then Hurricane Rita, had claimed more than 1,400 lives and caused billions of dollars worth of property destruction.

Designed by the Boston-based firm ExperienceDesign that worked with the Museum's historians, curators and exhibit designers, "Living with Hurricanes" stretches across four galleries, each telling one aspect of the story using artifacts and rich media – sound, video and computer graphics.

Gallery One illustrates Louisiana's history with water, from the Mississippi River's benefits to the threats of coastal storm surges and floods. Visitors will move through the "Evacuation Corridor," overhearing residents' voices weighing their options as Katrina approaches. A state of the art "Storm Theater" shows Katrina's full fury with moving and dramatic footage of the hurricane's onslaught.

Gallery Two takes visitors past a leaking floodwall and into an attic and onto a roof of a house surrounded by rising floodwaters where they can view the inundated city surrounding them. They'll hear a firsthand account of a St. Bernard Parish family's rescue and view artifacts, histories and photographs.

CITY PARK VOTED COOLEST IN USA

It's an urban oasis that New Orleanians have known about and enjoyed for well over a century and a half. And now, thanks to Travel + Leisure magazine's release of its "coolest city parks" list, the rest of the world knows about it as well.

City Park is one of the "coolest," urban parks in the aesthetic sense, and also in the literal sense. Shaded by centuries-old live oak trees and palms, it is a great place to cool off during the hot summer days New Orleans is noted for.

Here is the description from the Travel + Leisure website:

"One of the first things park visitors notice is that these are no ordinary trees. This is the world's largest collection of mature live oaks – majestic, sculptural-looking marvels, the oldest of which have branches that spread out twice as wide as their height (up to 75 feet). Live bands that gather at the finish line of the annual Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Marathon course lend an only-in-New-Orleans vibe.

Coolest Time to Visit: Thursday evenings (March-October), when the Botanical Garden throws genteel parties with mint juleps and performances by ensembles like the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra."

At 1,300 acres, City Park is the sixth largest public urban park in the United States and the seventh most visited. It was started in 1853 and gradually expanded to its present size, annexing adjacent properties and encompassing winding lagoons teeming with fish, waterfowl and other forms of aquatic animal and plant life.

Flooded and heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina, many of the park's famous oak trees were lost. However, many more survived and are still there, offering shade and an ethereal beauty that evokes visions of moss-draped evenings in the Antebellum Deep South. One of the major improvements to the park since Katrina is the mile-long trail around Big Lake, adjacent to the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Ideal for walking, jogging, bike riding or just strolling casually with the family, the trail offers glimpses of aquatic life, a 50-foot-high fountain, outdoor sculptures and even a tree with large wind chimes that sway and ring out random notes in even the slightest breeze. A Venetian gondola replica adorns one end of the boat dock and large, colorful wooden pelican (the state bird) graces the other end.

During the holiday season, for about one month, the park plays host to "Celebration in the Oaks," a colorful, festive, imaginative outdoor display of lights, most of which hang from the oak trees. A walk through the spectacular panoply of color during this time is a "must" for any visitor coming to New Orleans in the month of December.