Heading to New Orleans but can’t make it for Mardi Gras? Every night is a party down in the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré. Bourbon Street is the most lively and it seems like there is always a reason to celebrate. If you are looking to let go and leave your cares behind, New Orleans is the place for you. Many of the streets in the French Quarter are packed with bars and restaurants, and to keep the party moving, you can take your drinks with you. If you love to people watch, you will find hours of entertainment here.
I enjoy New Orleans because it is so unique compared to other cities in the United States. I feel more free here and able to let my hair down without judgement. There are so many different types of personalities and walks of life that join in the spirit of this city. The people of New Orleans are so friendly, even though they have been through so much. Hurricane Katrina was a very hard hit, but their resilience has allowed them to bounce back from extreme devastation. Even though Katrina happened in 2005, there is still a lot of rebuilding that stills needs to happen.
The city was founded in 1718 and named for Phillipe d’Orléans, Duke of Orléans, the French city Orléans on the Loire River. This has had a huge influence in their architecture and creole cuisine. During the American Revolution, New Orleans was ceded to the Spanish Empire in 1783. Ironically, most of the architecture in the French Quarter actually has a strong Spanish influence from this time period. In 1801 it reverted back to French control and in 1803, Napoleon sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Since then, there have been Americans, French, Creoles (descendents from Louisiana settlers), Irish, Germans and Africans settlers.
While you are wandering around through the French Quarter, you can walk through Jackson Square. There is a statue in the center of Andrew Jackson on his horse in the center. This statue in front of St. Louis Cathedral is a very well photographed part of the city. Street vendors line the square to sell you their crafts or draw caricatures of you. Walking around the square is one of the best, most relaxing experiences of the city. I feel better buying from the people here and supporting the locals instead of some of the main stores with a lot of imported items.
While in the French Quarter, it wouldn’t be right to miss a voodoo shop or two. Some people with their own strong religious beliefs won’t go into these stores, since it is like supporting another religion. That’s their choice. Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo has anything you could possibly need for practicing spirituality is sold here, even some souvenirs.
To get even closer to Marie Laveau, you can head over to St. Louis Cemetery Number One and visit her grave. This is also included on haunted tours. We went with Haunted History Tours and our guide was fantastic. We visited Marie’s grave and learned a lot about the cemeteries, or Cities of the Dead, and haunted places in New Orleans (more to come). No visit to New Orleans would be complete without a cemetery visit. The water tables are very high here, so all of the cemeteries are above ground, which makes visiting them all the more interesting. I love photographing gravestones and thinking of what a person’s live must’ve been like before they passed. So it’s a little sad to go to modern cemeteries where the grave sites are all mower friendly. No care is taken to trimming and mowing around the graves, they can just drive right over them. In New Orleans, there isn’t much mowing around the graves anyways, they are so crowded and then there is gravel in between the graves.
Other highlights which are the Warehouse District, or the Art District which is full of fine restaurants and art galleries. Enjoy a drive through the Garden District to see many of the luxurious mansions in the area. If you are traveling with kids, any of the Audubon attractions would be a bonus: The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas or The Audubon Zoo. Taking a streetcar to get around or go on a ride on the Natchez Steam Riverboat. Explore many different vendors in the French Market. Order a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s. An absolute must not miss on your visit to New Orleans is to Café du Monde for an order of beignets, which is a square fried piece of dough covered with powdered sugar. They are fabulous.
If you are looking for a drive, you can cross the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway over Lake Pontchartrain. Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary which covers 630 square miles, but it is only about 12 -14 feet deep. The Causeway has been in the Guinness Book of World Records since 1969 as the longest bridge in the world at a length of 23.83 miles. Then in 2011, Guinness created two categories for bridges because of the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in China. So the Causeway holds the record for the longest continuous bridge over water and the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge has the record for the longest aggregate bridge (25.84 miles). Once you get to the north side of the lake, there is a nice park there with a dock so you can watch the sunset. I think bridges are an architectural feat and how they can be built still amazes me. I’ve been across the Golden Gate Bridge, Seven Mile Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. You could even explore the deep swamp areas with a Bayou Tour. Whatever your pleasure, I’m sure New Orleans has what you’re looking for.