Crescent city- New Orleans
New Orleans is one of the world’s most fascinating cities, home to a truly unique melting pot of culture, food and music. Bearing several nicknames like crescent city, Nawlins, The Big Easy, The City That Care Forgot, NOLA, La Nouvelle-Orléans and many others, this is American’s most culturally and historically rich destinations. The city is named after the Duke of Orleans and it was established by the French colonists and strongly influenced by their European culture. It is known for its distinct French and Spanish Creole Architecture as well as the cross-cultural and multilingual heritage. The birthplace of jazz, this city is known for its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably, but not the only one, Mardi Gras, dating to the French colonial times. The city has a massive history of slave labor on massive plantations outside the city and this shapes the city and its culture to the day.
Music and the birth of Jazz
New Orleans has always been a significant center for music, showcasing its intertwined European, Latin American, Creole and African cultures. The city’s unique musical heritage was born in the colonial and early American days from a blending of European instruments with African rhythms. As the only North American city to have allowed slaves to gather in public and play their native music in the Congo square, located within the Louis Armstrong park, a must visit for the jazz enthusiast, very soon, an indigenous music called jazz was born. The park, near the French quarter in the Tremé, contains the NOLA Jazz National Historical Park. A quiet drink or snack at the Spotted Cat music club or the preservation hall, both located in the French quarter, is just what the doctor ordered for the jazz enthusiast.
Food, creole and otherwise
Known world over for its food, NOLA has an indigenous cuisine, which is both distinctive and influential. Local creole, haute creole and New Orleans French cuisine amalgamate to produce what is now the modern New Orleans Food. French, Spanish, Italian, African, Cajun, Chinese, Cuban and local ingredients are all parts of this food tradition to produce a truly unique flavor, distinct and standout.
Anyone visiting NOLA and leaving without sampling the beignets has missed out. The square shaped fried, fluffy, puff pastry, which can be called the French doughnut, dusted with ample powdered sugar and served with Café au lait, or a blend of coffee and chicory is best sampled at the Café du monde, Café Beignet, or the La Petite grocery. They will have you licking the plate for the last speck of that puff.
New Orleans is a seafood heaven. The shrimp dripping out of the classic Po-boy at the Parkway bakery and tavern or the Dark and stormy, this once poor man’s food with the fluffy baguette like bread, crisp exterior, gravy soaked meat and dressed will have you reaching for more.
The central bloodline of the city, the river acts as subtly dividing the city in uptown and downtown. The central business district is located immediately north and west of the river and is called the ‘American’ quarter. Canal Street functions as the street which divides the traditional ‘downtown’ areas from the ‘uptown’ area. NOLA has a continuous ferry service, which connects the downtown at the foot of canal street with the national historic landmark district of Algiers point on the other side of the river, or the west bank. Be sure to take the ferry and enjoy the scenic views of the river Mississippi and the city of NOLA.
Sports and the Super bowl
New Orleans is home to the Mercedes Benz superdome where the super bowl is held. Located in the central business district near the Mississippi river, this dome served as home and refuge for the city’s residents during the devastating Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Be sure to catch a baseball game at the dome if you can.
Being back in France in the French Quarter
The Vieux Carré, the oldest neighborhood in the city was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le-Moyne de Bienville and the city developed around this central area. Most buildings date to the late 18th century. With a national historic landmark, this is a prime tourist destination. It suffered relatively less damage during Hurricane Katrina because of the distance from the levee and less amount of floodwater. Take in the elaborate ironwork galleries on the corner of Royall and St. Peter Street of the Art district. Walk down Bourbon Street and drink cocktails invented and made only for the French quarter. Take in the sights and sounds of Jackson square, and rest your tired feet. The famous equestrian statue of Jackson overshadows the square. On each side of the square are the Pont alba buildings, matching red brick, a block long, with the ground floors housing restaurants and shops and the upper floors with apartments. Start up a conversation with the local Creole population. You might even find an old lady, who still never speaks a word of anything other than Creole or French.
Directly across from the Jackson square is the Jax Brewery building, the original home of the local beer. Behind that is the Toulouse Street wharf, the regular pier for the excursion steamboat, Natchez. Tour the Saint Louis Cathedral, demolished and built, again and again by the different settlers.
This square has forever been attracting painters, young art students and caricaturists. These are now joined with tarot card readers, mimes, fortunetellers and other street performers. Get a portrait done for as little as $5 and you will not be disappointed. Stroll along the Royal and Chartres streets and window shop for arts, antiques and boutiques selling Mardi gras memorabilia. Take a swing-dancing lesson from the street performers with a saxophonist accompanying your trial. Listen to a free concert in Lafayette Square, or dance down Frenchmen street or Bourbon Street, and none of the clubs and bars will demand a cover charge. The old Absinthe house has kept its name even though Absinthe has been banned in the U.S. Pat O’Brien’s bar is famous for inventing the red cocktail, called Hurricane, and having the first piano duel in the history of piano duals. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest surviving structures in New Orleans is another great place to drink the Hurricane. Go to the city of the dead, a unique cemetery with a free entry. Nicolas Cage is saving a spot for himself here. Set up a picnic at the Fly, upriver, near the Ernst Morial convention center and then go for a tour of the Mardi Gras museum.
City Park and Garden district
The city park covers more than 1300 acres and has numerous attractions. There are many large, unique, elegant 19th century homes here with extensive gardens. Take a walking tour and see the history of slave trade that made these homes and the cotton plantations that once surrounded them. The area has lovely mansions, lots of trees and flowers, and if you are lucky, you might spot Sandra Bullock or Matthew Mc Conaughey hanging out of their balconies and drinking beer.
When to Visit: The best time to visit New Orleans is from February to May when the weather is comfortably cool and the celebrations are in full swing.
Getting there: All major airlines fly from major India cities to New Orleans via major cities in the United States, such as New York, Washington DC, Boston etc. with codeshare with the American domestic airlines such as American airlines and Delta, with fares starting at Rs. 74,000.
Getting around: Buses are a good means of transport within the city of New Orleans. Get a city map from your hotel or hostel desk to know where to get off, as the drivers usually don’t announce the next stop. The Big Easy’s iconic streetcar is a not to be missed experience. Clean, cute and convenient, the streetcar clatters along on four important lines that transverse the length and breadth of the crescent city for fares as low as $2. Passes are available at the nearest grocery stores. Pedi-cabs or bike taxis have also sprung up all over the city, which are a fun way to get around town and get an informal tour at the same time.
Currency: 1 USD= INR 67 .20
Accommodation: There are many beautiful hotels around the ‘American’ and ‘French’ quarter as well as hostels for one on a budget. Air BNBs offer stellar accommodations to anyone looking to stay for a longer duration.