Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Trip to the Big Easy

Jackson Square

I thought I'd share some snapshots from our trip to New Orleans. If you are planning your own trip, you might find some information that could be helpful. Fair warning to those who aren't planning a trip: you'll want to after this post!

For most people, New Orleans conjures thoughts of loose moral standards, booze and Bourbon Street. However, I don't think we give enough credit to the other goodies New Orleans has to offer. Founded in 1718 by the French, New Orleans has a rich history. It is also a city filled with many vibrant cultures as a result of its past. As one of our tour guides said, New Orleans is like a big pot of gumbo - you can put just about anything (or anyone in this case) in it and it's still amazing. The city reflects influences from the French, Spanish and the Caribbean. Heck, the city even gave birth to its own groups of people: Cajuns and Creoles. (And yes, they are two different groups as we were reminded several times on our trip!)

Jackson Square

St. Louis Cathedral

Jackson Square was my absolute favorite place in New Orleans. It is the original town square and is still the center of the French Quarter today. It's also home to the famous St. Louis Cathedral. (Fun Fact: St. Louis Cathedral is actually a basilica! Seeing as it has been known for most of its existence as a cathedral, the name has stuck with it.) Like with any cathedral, the inside is absolutely beautiful and worth going inside.

Next to St. Louis Cathedral, sits the Louisiana State Museum. It hosts an exhibit on Hurricane Katrina which you can see for $6. Beware though, the museum closes at 4:30 p.m. We learned this the hard way and didn't get to see it!

Street artists line the wrought iron fence that encompasses the park in Jackson Square. The artwork ranges anywhere from $20 to $500. We snagged a drawing of the St. Louis Cathedral from a street artist as our souvenir.

Street artists at Jackson Square

Among the street artists, are street performers who paint themselves completely and pose like a statue - until they jump out and scare you that is. Lastly, musicians sit on the benches in front of the cathedral and play the jazz music that New Orleans made famous.

To me, Jackson Square is the quintessential New Orleans experience. Throw in a bowl of gumbo or jambalaya and there you have it! Speaking of food...

The Food

You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about the food. The cultures that made their home in New Orleans have all left an impression on the city's cuisine landscape. 

Besides the obvious famous entrees like jambalaya and gumbo, New Orleans is known for its coffee. I've never seen so many coffee shops in one city. Seriously! There is one on every corner. 

What sets New Orleans coffee apart? Chicory - the root of the endive plant which is mixed into the coffee. You can't go to New Orleans without stopping in at Cafe Du Monde for one of their famous Coffee Au Lait which is half coffee, half hot milk. Oh! Don't forget to order some beignets to accompany your coffee.

Coffee Au Lait and beignets
Looking for the best po-boy in New Orleans? Go straight to Verti Marte on Royal Street. It's a hole-in-the-wall mini-mart with a deli in the back. When we asked the locals where to get a po-boy, Verti Marte was the answer every single time. I'm not a po-boy eater, but my husband says it was the best thing he ever put in his mouth. He is a pretty tough food critic so I'd trust his word!

Also, if you are looking for a muffaletta which were made famous by the Italian immigrants, go to Cafe Maspero on Decatur Street. It is HUGE and equally delicious!

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

Lastly, if you are looking for some 21 and over fun, be sure to grab a famous New Orleans Hurricane. If you are on Bourbon Street, don't stop in at any ole bar you see. Keep walking down until you hit Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. Named after the pirate turned war hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte, the bar serves up the best Hurricane in the city as far as we were concerned. 

The Sights

During our time in New Orleans, we went on two tours. The first was a historical tour of the French Quarter from La Vie Orleans Tours. I would highly recommend this tour. It was my personal favorite out of the two. We learned so much about the history, culture and architecture of the Crescent City that it was worth every penny. It also was a great introduction to the city in terms of learning our way around. 

The Lalaurie House is said to be the most haunted home in the French Quarter 
Also, a tip for anytime you take a trip anywhere, always check for Groupons in that city. The only reason we went on the two tours is because we got some excellent deals on the tickets. For both tours for the two of us, I paid $35. I've already been hawking Groupon for our upcoming trip in September.

The courtyard of the Beauregard-Keyes House
Another interesting sight in New Orleans is the cemeteries simply because they are very unique to the region. Because the city is below sea level and has a three foot water table, the dead are put to rest above ground in mausoleums. The most famous and oldest of these cemeteries is St. Louis Cemetery #1 where the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is believed to be entombed. 

St. Louis Cemetery #1
 A word to the wise: The temperature inside the cemetery is approximately 10 degrees hotter. Take a bottle of water in with you and some sunscreen so you don't get burnt like I did!

Mausoleum where Marie Laveau is believed to be entombed
Lastly, after walking your feet to death, save your change and pay the $1.50 to ride the historic streetcar. It's a staple to the New Orlean's landscape and one of those things you just got to do. 

New Orleans is a vibrant city worth visiting. Its culture is irreplaceable and its architecture is beautiful. I absolutely fell in love with the colors in this city. It is so different on so many levels from the other cities we have in the United States. At times, it did feel like we were in a totally different country. However, it does foster that Southern hospitality which will always make it feel like home. 

The end!

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