A Travellerspoint blog

New Orleans

March 3 - March 10

The Big Easy, the Crescent City, or La Nouvelle Orleans - whatever you call it, New Orleans is uniquely different to other cities of the US. Something about the pace of living, something about the values of the people, something about the Joie de vivre that's an everyday part of life here. New Orleans is a mix of the European experience and the Caribean character. And yes, the natives do speak English, or at least some form of it. How yall are? being a common greeting of the locals. We didn't mind, cause we probably sound a bit different too.

Our goal was to experience the French quarter, eat at a famous restaurant, ride the Streetcar, have hot chocolate and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, hear some great music, ride the riverboat and get a glimpse of Bourbon Street, and that is exactly what we did. That, and to fall into the rhythm of the place, the easygoing, relaxed atmosphere and just get a sense of the city, a feel for the city and its way of life.

On our second day in New Orleans we hopped on the infamous, oldest, continuously operating wooden streetcar in the US. This gave us our first glimpse of the georgeous homes and sprawling oaks along our way to Bourbon Street. If you have the time, the Streetcar provides a nostalgic, easy and fun way to get from one place to the other, albeit noisy from the cluttering and crackling of the car on the tracks. It is possibly the best way to see the rich variety of homes, gardens and sights along St. Charles. Lucky for us, we were only a block from the start of the Streetcar ride that took us directly to Bourbon Street.

What is a visit to New Orleans without going to Bourbon Street? Bourbon Street is worth at least one visit, two if like us you are curious about whether it is the same during the day as it is during the night. During the day (our first visit), its sleazy and seedy but still had a certain vibe. It's neither clean nor does it smell all that good and there are nudie bars all along. But it is famous for being seedy and that is why you have to go. At night it comes to life. The people, the bars and the music of every description - jazz, blues, rock, pop just to name a few were a delight and are what gives it its party atmosphere. The street is closed to traffic at night so you can stroll down the middle of the street without being subjected to bar establishment and titty bars trying to pull you in.

For a more laid back, languid style we would recommend Magazine Street. Magazine Street is full of boutiques, antiques and galleries and worth pulling up stumps for the day and simply strolling from one end to the other. The other Street we were told to visit was Frenchmen Street. Frenchmen Street is more likely to satisfy the need for jazz and blues music and is without the sleaziness of Bourbon Street.

Unlike most cities of the US, New Orleans is eclectic appearing to have evolved , for the most part, gracefully and organically. It is made up of old neighbourhoods all interconnected by rambling streets suited for walking. We say well-suited to walking because if you are going to drive, expect narrow one-way streets and make sure you have really good suspension on your car. The houses have character and are inviting, dynamic and interesting. In one direction you'll see shotgun houses with brightly coloured doors and shutters (sometimes mismatched), and in the other direction a stately, but very historic rambling plantation style home with wrought iron gates, elaborate windows and doors made of either cut glass or stained glass and concrete pillars on the front porch. Most with flickering gas lamps above the door. And if the diversity of the housing doesn't get you, the spattering of multi coloured beads left over from Mardi Gras that hang vicariously from the tree lined streets or knotted over fences and 2nd floor railings will certainly catch your eye.

We were also very fortunate to actually see inside these homes. Ranging from the little shotgum style home to the 3 level mansion on a oak lined street. On Wednesday, Larry (Real Estate Broker) our host took us on a personal tour of some open display homes that were for sale. Where else would we get this kind of opportunity. Each of us had our favourites: Ronnie the recently refurbished shotgun, Alyssa the 2 level house with the pool and Nick the really big expensive mansion (old Southern money!!!)

We decided to go to Jacques-Imos on Wednesday night, just to experience some local cuisine. We had been told that the line up is usually out the door, so we decided to head down early. We were very fortunate to be seated with no waiting. This place is very interesting...the walk through the kitchen to be seated is a bit of a treat and the toilet is located in the kitchen. It is a tiny refurbished shotgun and has loads of ambience? Lys and I shared the shrimp and Nick had the chicken. We had the garlic cornbread and enjoyed a complimentary dessert at the end (we decided to avoid the Alligator cheesecake). Great food, funky environment....a great place to eat. Our next culinary experience was better though.

Cafe Du Monde is the original French Market Coffee Stand and has been around since the early 1860's. Who are we to argue with the many locals who were bursting out the canvas sides who we got there. Why wouldn't we step inside to experience the ambience in such an historic place. So we found a seat amongst the throngs of other patrons and ordered a hot chocolate and savoured a plate of traditional beignets covered in powdered sugar. Hint: dark clothes and powdered beignets don't mix.

On Friday night we do the Natchez steamboat cruise. Once again, you can't come to New Orleans without doing a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River. So we had an evening with nothing planned and decided to give it a try. For all its history and romance, riding a steamboat is as exciting and genuine as a century ago. From the calliope pipes and live jazz, to the paddlewheel's 26 tons of white oak, our time on the mighty Mississippi won't be forgotten.

What do you do when you plan on doing a Plantation tour and a bike race/ running race (Frisco Fest) breaks out? Join in, visit the 100 odd artisan stalls and eat jambalaya and gumbo. That's what you do. On Saturday we decided to do a Plantation tour and visit San Francisco & Oak Alley Plantations. When we arrive at San Fransico plantation we see cars everywhere and parking attendants guiding us to vacant parking spots. What? We stop by a police officer and ask him what we have managed to stumble across and he tells us it is the Annual Frisco Fest; a fete style festival designed to raise money for the redevelopment/upkeep of the plantation. Score! We walk around the 100+ stalls! buy some popcorn, visit the plantation grounds and gift shop and then head straight to the food tents for some good ol' locally produced jambalaya and gumbo. After filling our bellies, we proceed to the car and make our way to Oak Alley plantation. No other visual experience exemplifies the 'Old South' than this spectacular mansion. The most memorable feature being the 1/4 mile of 300 yr old oak trees framing the antebellum mansion. We toured the house and also the drastic yet historical site of the slave cabins. Well worth the visit. And before anyone asks...no we didn't partake in either the ride or the run....bummer! (If only we had known).

On Monday, our last day in New Orleans, we thought we might take a drive down St. Charles to both the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery. We believe you can't say you have been to New Orleans unless you have taken a drive down St. Charles. The Garden District is absolutely beautiful and the cemetery (otherwise known as 'little cities of the dead') is chock full of Mausoleums and tombstones that could easily be mistaken for a neighbourhood of small homes.

In most cultures, Monday is known as the dreaded day when the weekend has ended and the work week has commenced. In New Orleans, locals know they can always look forward to their Monday night tradition - red beans and rice. Larry (our fabulous host), Patty and Michael invited us to dinner on Monday night and Larry serenaded us with his trumpet playing. We enjoyed some great conversation about New Orleans and the many cultural differences and a fabulous, yummy meal of red beans, rice, French bread, drinks and Larry's special dessert of strawberries with yogurt and cool whip.

My final thoughts on the Big Easy...New Orleans, the most unique city in the US so far.

Posted by V3USA 09:24

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