You’ve heard the song, “I left my heart in San Francisco?” Well, many have sung they left theirs in New Orleans. Me, included. This is a city that has more culture than any other in the United States. A mix of French influence combined with Haitian culture makes for dishes you can’t even describe. Not only is the food incredible, there are all the street musicians, the architecture, and the sheer joy of a culture that couldn’t even be taken away by major hurricanes. This is New Orleans, Louisiana. Better known by locals as “N’awlins.” For visitors, it’s the “Big Easy.”
Why is the culture so inbred yet so hard to describe? Early in New Orleans history, an order of Ursuline nuns arrived to give the colony spiritual guidance and instruction. They recruited people of all races, enslaved and free, into Catholicism and solidified New Orleans’ Catholic character. (In addition, they started a Catholic girl’s school in 1727, Ursuline Academy, the oldest one in the United States still operating.) The Catholic nature of New Orleans helped attract like-minded populations of immigrants that shaped the city, from Sicilians who transformed much of the lower French Quarter into “Little Palermo” to the Irish who built the New Basin canal important for New Orleans’ growth, to the Haitians who introduced Voodoo in the early 19th century, to the Vietnamese who arrived after the Vietnam War. Two French engineers laid out the first 66 squares of a walled village, what later would be known as the French Quarter or the Vieux Carré (Old City). Streets were named after lesser royalty in the Duke’s court. Indian hunters, German farmers, and trappers traded their goods in a clearing where the French Market stands today.
If you want to truly experience this jewel of a city, you must do these things:
- Eat until you bust. You have to try these foods…Beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde that is open 24 hrs. 7 days a week. Eat a muffuletta (Italian sandwich) but don’t expect to eat a whole one by yourself. Have a Po’boy (fried oyster or shrimp sandwich) and indulge in some of the Creole dishes made the same way for centuries.
- Do a ghost tour of the old graveyards. Not for the faint-in-heart.
- Do gallivant in the Garden District filled with beautiful mansions (many owned by celebrities) and manicured yards.
- Find a spot and just sit and view the beauty of the Mississippi River and take a Riverboat Cruise.
- Have a “Hurricane” drink in Pat O’Brien’s courtyard.
- Schedule a trip during the Jazz Festival season to hear top-selling artists perform.
Don’t do these things:
- Don’t spend an entire night on Bourbon Street. A mix of lots of alcohol combined with dark alleys is not a safe environment. Bourbon Street can get very rowdy late at night. Know where you are and always be with a group if possible.
- Watch the heat. New Orleans has steaming temps during the summer months so combine your time inside with outside to avoid getting overheated.
- Don’t go to Cafe du Monde in the morning. It is extremely busy. Go during the late afternoon or at night so you can sit and take in the scenes.
- Don’t take the risk of loading up on hot spicy dishes if you don’t normally eat them. You might be down for the count the rest of the day.
The smells, the street musicians and dancers, the food, the parades, the talent from the music coming from every bar, the culture, the art……on and on. Just go to New Orleans if you have never been!
(Personal likes by author) Visit the handmade hat shop (down below Cafe du Monde) for a cool Panama hat. Shop right outside the city at open-air resale stores for old pieces out of homes; stained glass, iron gates, etc. Hit up a yard sale in the Garden District for unique pieces of antique furniture. You can have it shipped back home. You have to go to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in the United States that sits at the corner of St. Philip Street and Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Get your muffuletta from Central Grocery & Deli. Going inside is an experience into Sicilian foods. Stay at Marriotts Bourbon Street French Quarter Hotel (very good location) or at a local Bed & Breakfast in the French Quarter. The courtyards are breathtaking. Take some good walking shoes!
Ref. neworleanstoday.com, MSN/lifestyle/travel&leisure/usatoday.com
Photo courtesy of Bing via tripsavvy.com