New Orleans: What an Exhilarating Ride!
New Orleans Travel Guide
“Let the good times roll” is the unofficial motto of New Orleans, for some a place of utmost debauchery, for others a charming city reminiscent of the golden age of colonialism that over time has acquired a naughty streak. New Orleans is a Disneyland for adults, and exploring this place is a truly exhilarating ride. It is a little rough round the edges, but isn’t that part of its charm?
I found New Orleans, and especially its oldest neighbourhood the French Quarter, to be an intoxicating, unforgettable place. New Orleans was founded in 1718, and the city developed around the central square. The French Quarter, or the Vieux Carré, is simultaneously the cultural and the party hub of the city.
Meandering the streets is a wonderful step back in time: picturesque architecture, an eclectic mixture of mostly Spanish but also elements of French, Creole and American styles, has remained practically unchanged over the last few decades. The genteel streets – well, apart from Bourbon Street! -full of old-world charm lined with low, colourful houses, are a joy to stroll around, get a little lost and finally find your way again. I found the fact that the names of the streets are mostly in French added a somewhat endearing element!
Popping into one of many discreet walled courtyards, a gift of the Spanish influence where you can sit down and relax wither with a coffee or a glass of wine, provides a perfect hideaway from the overwhelming hustle and bustle of the city.
It often seems that New Orleans’ solo mission is to entertain its residents and visitors with great panache. The city is brimming with unassuming joyfulness, the energy seems unrelenting both day and night, and the sonorous sounds of jazz seem to come from every corner.
“The Big Easy” certainly knows how to entertain its visitors.
Walking down Bourbon street, the French Quarter’s busiest, sleeziest and smelliest street, is somewhat of a surreal experience. For me, it was reminiscent of my wanders throughout Amsterdam’s Red Light district, minus the overly obvious presence of prostitution. Loud music emanates from countless establishments. Drunks stagger about, exponentially increasing in number as day turns into a night of debauchery. Outrageously dressed but exceptionally entertaining street artists are abound. People, in general, are out and about letting their eccentric side overcome their rational one.
Bourbon street is certainly not for every one and perhaps not the place that you would want to hang out at night, but it is, after all, one of New Orleans’ key elements. However, no matter how much you dislike drunkenness and other general misbehaviour, you must immerse yourself in this complete madness, even it if it only for a few minutes!
Royal Street is the grown up, more classy alternative to Bourbon Street, perfect for an afternoon stroll and window shopping. The street is lined with countless antique and jewellery shops, and art galleries full of exciting contemporary art.
Royal street is just one block away from Bourbon street, and yet it feels miles away since the atmosphere is much more civilised and quieter.
Jazz on Frenchmen street
Every night the streets of The Big Easy are flooded with music. New Orleans is widely known as the birthplace of jazz sometime over a century ago. New Orleans jazz does not have an exact birth date as such, since this it is a type of music that developed over time with much input from countless people of different backgrounds and ages.
There seems to be a consensus amongst the locals that Frenchmen street is the place to go to experience the real, vibrant sound of New Orleans. Frenchmen street is what supposedly Bourbon street used to be in its earlier days. It is home to an exciting cluster of small bars and clubs, where you can get up close and personal with local musicians. Most places have several gigs starting early in the afternoon and finishing late into the night. The best time to go is after supper when the whole street is lit up and the atmosphere is contagious with creativity, beautiful sound and fun.
A Streetcar Named Desire.
“They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!”
One of the opening lines by Blanche DuBois, the protagonist of A Streetcar Named Desire, where Tennessee Williams is playing on the colourful names of the streets of New Orleans. I unintentinally got to see a brilliant staging of play, starring Gillian Anderson, in London a couple of weeks before my trip to New Orleans!
Regardless of the fact that the route that Tennessee Williams took inspiration from in his most famous play does not exist any longer, riding a streetcar is one of the most authentic and cheapest ways to get to know the city: not more than three dollars a day! At times, a streetcar might seem a little noisy and slow (, but it is surely a fun alternative way to experience the city.
Voodoo culture is one of the most fascinating aspects of New Orleans. Since the city generally had more liberal attitudes towards slavery, the African Americans were allowed to carry on with their spiritual traditions and rituals. Voodoo was brought to Louisiana from Africa, and later by Haitian exiles following the Haitian revolution.
The best place in the city for a crash course is the Voodoo Museum, where you can learn about everything from zombies to voodoo dolls to voodoo queens and doctors. The museum itself is tiny – just two rooms – yet filled to the brim with an assortment of artefacts and altars.
I mentioned the following information about zombies in my previos quick post about New Orleans, but just in case you missed it..
“The practice of turning people into zombies was documented in Haiti, although it is not a frequent occurrence. After the person was chosen by the Mamaloi or Hougan, a special portion was prepared using specific plants and poisons, including that extracted from the blowfish. These potions caused the person to be totally paralysed yet remain alive, alert and awake. The person was then buried alive during a ritual. After several hours, the person was unburied and revived with an antidote and was considered to have communicated with the dead during their ordeal. The individual’s spirit was certainly shattered by the experience and the result was to render them docile and easily dominated.
The zombie ritual is sometimes referred to as Life After Death Ritual. It is sometimes recreated in Louisiana in a milder form in which the participants dance with small coffins until exhaustion, in order to channel the spirits of their ancestors.”
You cannot leave New Orleans without visiting at least one cemetery. The most famous, and perhaps most touristy, is St Louis Cemetery No. 1. Due to very low sea level, the tombs are located above ground, and many are crumbling and neglected, adding that necessary element of creepiness to a cemetery.
I was most excited about searching for the tomb of Marie Laveau, a 19th century mulatto priestess and the most famous and widely worshipped voodoo queen of New Orleans. When I came across it, I saw that there were numerous gifts left by the tomb from people, who still worship Marie Laveau, making requests.
Would you believe it, but Nicolas Cage’s future pyramid-shaped resting place is also located here?
For a different taste of New Orleans, head to the Garden District to see street after of grand homes reminiscent of the colonial golden age, beautiful residences now owned by the elite of the city. Wandering these spacious streets lined with giant trees is a welcome quiet break from all the madness of New Orleans’ downtown.
Everybody seems to be obsessed with beignets. And as I mentioned in my previous post, if I am going to get fat, I am going to do it in style by eating beignets. They are one of the most simple and sinful desserts: deep fried square pieces of dough covered in a mountain of powdered sugar when served, but that simplicity is the key to their deliciousness. Traditionally, they are the cheapest of epicurean pleasures: you get three very generous pieces for about three dollars.
Café Beignet serves my favourite version of beignets. I did try a few different places, and regardless of the simplicity of the recipe, each interpretation was distinctly different. Many believe that Café du Monde, The Big Easy’s most famous beignet establishment, serves the best ones, but I prefer Café Beignet, since they had the satisfying perfect crunch and do leave the unwelcome oil residue in your mouth.
Where I stayed
If you are visiting New Orleans, you simply must stay in one of the small, independent hotels in the French Quarter, in order to properly immerse yourself in this city’s beauty and madness. Quaint little hotels furnished with period furniture full old charm and flavour of what made New Orleans so unique are abound, so you will surely be spoilt for choice!
Hotel Maison de Ville is the epitome of “shabby chic”; a little battered around the edges and full of antique furniture, it feels like a time capsule that transports you back a hundred years or more. The hotel is located a stone throw’s from Bourbon Street, yet somehow it is quiet and feels miles away from the madness of New Orleans’ main street. I absolutely loved the hotel’s large and tranquil courtyard with cast iron tables and chairs dotted about and a delightful fountain in the centre!
Perhpas New Orleans’ most famous small luxury hotel renowned for its often photographed ‘cornstalk’ fence, which was erected in 1840. Staying at this gorgeous historic hotel, located on Royal Street, full of rich fabrics, plush upholstery and opulent chandeliers, felt like sojourning at someone’s Victprian mansion! The big beautiful front porch was perfect for relaxing with a cup of coffee.
Where I Ate
Best for Breakfast: Petite Amelie
A “deli” extension of New Orleans’ famous Cafe Amelie serving delicious breakfast fare, fresh salads and sandwiches, coffee, desserts, and a daily marketplace menu featuring olives, cheeses, pastries and freshly prepared gourmet sides and entrees to take away.
Best for Coffee: Spitfire Coffee
One of the best coffee shops that I have tried throughout my last twelve months of travelling. Deliciously fragrant and smooth coffee mixed with velvety milk, and the barristas were incredibly friendly and welcoming!
Best for Lunch: Cafe Amelie
For the most romantic lunch, spend a couple of leisurely hours at Cafe Amelie, nestled in the historic 150-year-old Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House on Royal Street in the French Quarter. The restaurant serves delicious and relatively light Louisiana food; this is the place where I tried my best muffuletta…
Muffuletta (don’t you just love the name?!) is sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf, a large, round, and somewhat flattened loaf with a sturdy texture split horizontally, and covered with layers of marinated olive salad,mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone.
Best for “cochon” dinner: Cochon Restaurant
If you like pork, this superb brasserie serving the most succulent Southern comfort cooking, is the place to go! This place serves a variety of pork-containing dishes, but their pulled pork was one of the best things I have ever eaten!
Best for seafood: GW Fins
GW Fins is New Orleans’ most popular seafood restaurant in the beating heart of the French Quarter serves a delicious variety fresh seafood, and is a welcome change from the proliferation of otherwise very rich, and unhealthy, food. They serve the most delicious gumbo!
Best for a drink: Napoleon House
The Napoleon House is a famous building in the French Quarter that derives its name from the popular local story that its building was intended to be a residence for Napoleon Bonaparte after his exile; a local plot to bring Napoleon to Louisiana was halted with news of Napoleon’s death.
Best for a wine bar: Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro
Located in a historic building, this wine bar has a wonderfully characteristc New Orleans French Quarter ambiance. Here you will find a great assortment of wines that can be consumed either inside whilst humming to the player piano, or alternately in a romantic courtyard in the back, accompanied by deliciously rich Louisiana fare. I still salivate at the thought of my perfectly succulent lamb…