New Orleans is probably one of the most visited cities in the US. It is well known for its French Quarter which for young people is equal to drinking and partying. For us the French Quarter is just a beautiful old neighbourhood where you can still feel the old French / Spanish / Creole history of the city.
The French Quarter is full of restaurants and bars but it is much more than that. It is a lively place with street artists, nice antique shops and a lot of interesting people on the streets. We were lucky that we met a typical New Orleans “jazz style” wedding parade. Lots of happy people.
The St Louis Cathedral is located next to the Mississippi River just a few steps away from all the fun and souvenir shops of the French Quarter. Walt Disney got the inspiration for the castle at the Disney Park from this Cathedral and one can see why. Often a street band is playing right in front of the Cathedral, of course they play jazz.
On Sunday morning we joined mass at the Cathedral. Interesting experience. Next to the standard rituals, the Father also prayed for the Saints, not the canonized roman catholic holy people, but New Orleans’ football team. The crowd, many in Saints gear, highly appreciated the divine support.
One of the cool places to visit in New Orleans is a cementery. The best well known cementery is St Louis Cementery No. 1, close to the French Quater. This cementry hosts the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. This cementery is only accessible via guided tours. We however, visited St Mary’s Cementery where you can just roam around freely.
Due to the high ground water level, the occasional floodings and the French / Spanish heritage, bodies are buried in above-ground tombs.
We visited the cementery with our Mexican son-in-law who clearly warned us that visiting a cementery without a clear purpose might upset the dead which then might come to haunt you. He was right, the ghosts took their revenge. Two days later when it was time for us to travel back to Europe our flight was canceled and the alternative flight that was offered to us, was annuled as well. It resulted in a 24 hour delay. Apparently New Orleans’ spiritual world can do this to you.
An hour drive from New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River you find the Oak Alley plantation. This plantation was set up by a family with French roots to grow cane sugar with the help of slave labour. The “big house” is spectacular and can be visited with a guide. After exploring the big house we visited the slave quarters, the living conditions of these workers were truly horrible. Pure human misery. Oak Alley is named after an alley, that runs from the river to the house, created by a double row of southern live oak trees about 250 meters long, planted in the early 18th century.
Along the Mississippi River more plantations are worthwhile visiting such as Whitney and St Joseph. Especially Whitney does a good job explaining the painful history of slavery.
Music and food are what makes New Orleans special. Great that the main airport in the city is called after its local son “Hello, Dolly!” Louis Armstrong. The city honoured some of its music greats with statues, my favorite is the one of Antoine “Fats” Domino. We also saw Fats’ house which is located in the Lower Ninth Ward on Caffin Avenue. Not a house nor a neighbourhood you would expect a famous and wealthy man to live in but Fats enjoyed living in the area he grey up. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the Lower Ninth Ward got flooded, including the house of the rhythm and blues / rock ‘n roll hero. Fats was 77 years old at the time and had to spend several days in the attic until he was rescued by a Coast Guard helikopter. Such an icon and I will never listen to “Walking to New Orleans” the same way again.
Finally, the food in New Orleans, the so called Louisiana Creole cuisine. It is a mixture of Westafrican, French, Spanish and Southern United States influences. It is very special and includes exotics like gumbo, jambalayla and crawfish. The presentation of the food is not always very sophisticated but it tastes very good. The gumbo is a kind of stew which is usually eaten with (shell) fish but also available with meat. Jambalaya is a rice dish with seafood and meat. Crawfish is a bit messy to eat as you have to peel the fish which is a dirty job. As a starter we can recommand the oysters which are very large and tasty.
We are pastry eaters and New Orleans is home to the best beignets in the world which can and should be bought at Café du Monde. A real treat, especially for breakfast with a good cup of coffee.
New Orleans is very different from all other cities in the US. It’s history, the weather, the music and of course the food make it a must-go-to destination, just be aware of snakes and alligors