What can I say about New Orleans that hasn’t already been said? To borrow the words of Chris Rose, “I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.”
That pretty much sums it up. Unless you experience the city for yourself, a simple description isn’t going cut it. Before my trip, all I knew of New Orleans was what I’ve heard about Mardi Gras, that episode of The Simpsons, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Three days gave me a small glimpse into the spirit of the city, but even if I had more time, I still don’t think I’d be able to pinpoint what makes it so captivating.
Let me spare you my ramblings and make this post somewhat cohesive. I must warn you that I’m still a zombie from lack of sleep, so please forgive me if I’m weirder than usual. Instead of a play-by-play of my trip, let’s touch on some of the highlights.
Take a moment to people watch on this ridiculous and action-packed street. There’s always something going on regardless of the time. Seriously, we were on our way to the airport at 5 a.m., and the revelers were still going strong. If you are a drinker, there are no open-container laws in New Orleans, so feel free to grab a hand grenade and join the shit show.
I’m not sure what they put into this magical concoction. It’s like a sweet, melon juice that slips down a bit too easily–it’s no wonder why the people drinking them become so raucous.
There are so many bars on Bourbon, but I recommend Old Absinthe House, Cat’s Meow (for hilarious karaoke), and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (the oldest structure to be used as a bar in the U.S.). Lafitte’s house poison is something called the Purple Voodoo Daiquiri, but if you’re not a fan of the taste of Dimetapp, you may want to steer clear of ordering it.
Most of the locals we spoke to had an unfavorable view of Bourbon Street (I honestly can’t blame them), and we were told that we’d be better off on Frenchman Street. Frenchman is where the locals go to grab a drink and listen to jazz, so steer clear of Bourbon and go straight to Frenchman if you’re looking for a less seedy experience.
Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo
One of the most interesting personalities I learned about was the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. There are legends that swirl around her name ranging from divination to curing mysterious ailments. On top of that, she was an influential woman–which was uncommon in that day and age. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos of the altars or items in the shop, but it was a fascinating place, especially if you’re looking for unique souvenirs.
The Carousel Bar at Hotel Montleone
I know, spinning around a bar while drinking alcohol sounds like a recipe for disaster, but you must do it. Don’t worry, this doesn’t move fast enough to make you queasy. Per the friendly bartender, it takes about 15 minutes to do one revolution.
We went early (around 11:30 a.m.) and snagged a seat at the bar in no time. If you want one of the coveted bar stools, make sure to go during off-peak hours. We walked by later in the day, and it was crazy packed.
This was easily my favorite bar in New Orleans. Yes, it is gimmicky and on the pricy side, but my inner kid/outer adult was thrilled. The added bonus of the literary greats (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Capote, etc.) who made Hotel Montleone their stomping grounds was an added bonus.
The vibe in Jackson Square is frenetic in a delightful way. This is where artists, musicians, tarot card readers, and performers gather as a one-stop shop of entertainment. It’s also surrounded by stores and restaurants (including the famed Cafe Du Monde).
We saw a wedding take place in the shadow of the Saint Louis Cathedral (the oldest in the U.S.) and later saw the same wedding party lead a marching band down the street. Yet another thing that made me fall in love with this place.
The Garden District
After spending so much time in the French Quarter, we wanted a change of scenery. The RTA is easy to use and inexpensive (only $3 for a day pass), so we hopped on the St. Charles line to explore the Garden District.
There are walking tours you can arrange in advance, but if all else fails, follow the crowd. They led us into a cemetery, which isn’t normally my cup of tea, but the Lafayette Cemetery was too historic and (strangely) lovely to deny.
We noticed the walking tours were also going through the cemetery, so that’s an option, or you can wing it like we did. I believe the most famous tomb is Judge Ferguson from Plessy v. Ferguson, but the one that caught my eye and moved me the most was the tomb for orphan boys.
Some of the deceased were only infants when they died, and many visitors (myself included) felt compelled to leave an offering in the form of candy, little trinkets, and pocket change. I hate when people say “it really makes you think,” but it did.
After the cemetery, we randomly walked around the neighborhood and gaped at the elaborate mansions. At this point, I pulled up a Frommer’s walking tour of the Garden District to figure out what’s what. Thanks to the wonders of technology, we found the homes of Jefferson Davis, Anne Rice, John Goodman, Archie Manning, and where they filmed American Horror Story: Coven.
I was all about this place. Can I win the Mega Millions already?
We overheard a tour guide say this is the best preserved neighborhood of antebellum mansions in the United States, and the air quite literally smelled of perfume. I could have spent all day wandering and lusting over the architecture. LOTTERY, I am coming for you!
The Sculpture Park at NOMA
Thanks to our handy one-day pass, it was easy to connect on the red line to go uptown. Take note there are two red streetcars on Canal. One says Cemeteries and the other is for City Park. Take the trolley that says City Park and get off at the end of the line. Cross the street (follow the crowd, remember) and head towards the New Orleans Museum of Art.
You have the choice of hanging out at the park (rent a paddle boat), going into NOMA ($8 general admission), or following the signs to the free Sculpture Garden. We went with the latter.
Make an afternoon of it and meander at your own pace. If we had time, I would have loved to rent a paddle boat and see the sculptures from another vantage point.
I have only scraped the surface, but if I were to continue, this would be a novel of post if it isn’t already. New Orleans is rich with character and experiences, and I wish I could do the city justice. Bottom line: amazing place, gracious people, and so much history, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Put it on your list of places to visit if you haven’t already.