When you think of New Orleans you might think of Mardi Gras, but there is so much more to this historic city along the Gulf Coast.
When you think of New Orleans you might think of Mardi Gras, but there is so much more to this historic city along the Gulf Coast. When we visited New Orleans it was for a short trip. We stayed at a Holiday Inn, nicknamed the French Quarter-Chateau LeMoyne. The hotel displayed historical charm, not that of a typical Holiday Inn. You are within walking distance to just about everything so you won’t need a car. If you want to see all of the sites, don’t plan on sleeping, unless you expect to return one day.
Start your day off with a cup of chicory coffee and beignets at Café du Monde. The powdered sugar is like an enveloping smoke of sweetness and is very delicious. You will have stuffed yourself, trust me. Across the street you will see a row of mule-drawn carriages just waiting to show you the sights. It kind of helps if you get your bearings and know what to go back and see again. Let the Café du Monde experience settle. You will be back the next day. Notice the wet streets. Each morning when we started out the shops were all hosing down the streets. We were amazed how clean it was.
New Orleans was founded by the French in the spring of 1718, close to the trading route within the flow and flood area of the Mississippi River Valley. There were many battles fought until Napoleon sold Louisiana in 1803 to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. The history of the population of the slave and free was prevalent through heavy battle in the 1800s. The French Quarter known as “The Quarter” is the oldest neighborhood in the city. The area has been burned, flooded, and in 2005 Hurricane Katrina took a toll on the city.
Jackson Square named for Andrew Jackson, is a small park in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. It’s free so take the time to visit. During your walk you will find energetic street performers, jazz musicians, jugglers, and vendors selling a variety of merchandise. Stand in the middle of the park and look around. Don’t miss Decatur Street where restaurants, coffee, souvenirs and carriage rides are in abundance. The French Market runs parallel, and is not to be missed.
Find a park bench, people watch and listen to the bands — you never know what you might spot — such as a funeral parade coming down the street. It’s quite a celebration of life.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” written by Tennessee Williams is set in the French Quarter. You can sit outside and observe actors playing out their roles on the street. You will recall the heaven-splitting yell of Stanley (Marlon Brando) calling for Stell-lahhhh!!! who had left him. It is a must-see.
Ride the St. Charles Street Streetcar. The Desire line will give you a chance to relax and view the beautiful architecture of historic homes along the way. The ride comes to a stop at the end of the line, the wooden seats are flipped, and the streetcar returns from the beginning. You can hop off at a point of interest by pulling the cord that runs above the windows.
As you find your way around you will see uniquely-designed homes, called shotgun houses. The kitchen is located in the back of the house, which keeps the heat from the stove spreading to the rest of the house. Our tour guide told us frontage was how homes were taxed. Culturally, it is thought the Haitian and Creole people brought the style to New Orleans. Builders felt the architecture conserved space, reduced construction and material costs.
The cemeteries became overcrowded. The 20th century brought about yellow fever. Mosquitoes were the cause of spreading the disease which resulted in many deaths. Burying the dead in New Orleans is interesting to say the least. The dead are buried in a marble chamber or crypt above ground because in the 1700s the city went through plagues and disease. In the 1800s those buried in unmarked graves below ground began to rise. The level of rain water caused the soil to wash away and sink in around the grave sites. A family would have a crypt for either cremating or placing the body inside their crypt. If a family needs to bury more than one body in a year’s time, they would have to rent a temporary crypt. There are various rules for your cemetery of choice. The Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is buried in the St. Louis Cemetery, however no one is quite sure which of the three crypts are hers. Touring the cemeteries is a common, yet macabre thing to do. But they do warn you, not at night. If you are a movie buff, the Lafayette Cemetery built in 1833 was a setting for “Double Jeopardy,” “Dracula 2000” and many others.
The plantations of New Orleans are not to be missed. Oak Alley, a large sugar plantation was probably our favorite. The entry was beautiful with the canopy of 28 Oak trees leading to the entrance. The history of the slave community is reconstructed in cabins on the property. This has been a film location for several movies. Our tour led us to the kitchen where we enjoyed pecan pie. After a serving of “Oak Alley Plantation Pecan Pie,” there is no other.
You will have to choose wisely for your dinner restaurant if you are only there for a short time. If you don’t have a reservation to Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen the lines are long but so worth it. You’ll want to make a reservation online. Chef Paul believed in community seating, a unique seating bringing you together with folks from all over the world wanting to taste the recipes of Chef Paul. For an elegant dinner, Antoine’s is the oldest French-Creole restaurant in New Orleans, owned and staffed by generations for 176 years. They even run a little vacuum if you get crumbs in your area.
Spend an afternoon in the bayou, home to cypress swamps and interesting wildlife, including alligators. There are a number of tours offered, from canoes to airboats. Be sure and ask your tour guide if you can visit the Alligator Rescue. We felt like if we hadn’t been with a guide we wouldn’t know how to get back.
New Orleans is famous for its nightlife. Bourbon Street has music coming from every doorway. Frenchmen Street has live jazz clubs inviting you to join the party every night of the week.
Keep your camera handy, there are opportunities everywhere.