Taking it easy in the Big Easy – New Orleans
The city of New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras, Creole cuisine, Super Bowl XLVII, Jazz music, beignets and Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is also known by other names such as the “Big Easy” because of its gentle, slow and easy-going way of life. Or the “Crescent City” because among the many bends and turns in the Mississippi River bordering the city, a small but sharp curve in the river between Esplanade Avenue and Canal Street forms a crescent. New Orleans is also simply known as “NOLA.”
The idea of driving to and parking in the city did not appeal to us, so we searched for alternatives. We decided to catch the free ferry from Algiers Point (about 14 miles from the State Park). After paying $5.00 to park the car at a good lot (you can apparently park on the neighborhood streets for free, but we didn’t like the looks of them), we crossed the Mississippi River to town in about 15 minutes, ending up at Canal Street. It was a non-event, but the ferry and waiting areas on both sides of the river (Algiers Point and Canal Street) could use some cleaning up.
We dedicated this day to walk, eat, drink and be merry on the streets of the Big Easy. Let’s go!
First things first, a sugar rush is what I needed before our walking tour. Off we went to get one of those square deep fried doughnuts known as beignets (pronounced “ben-yays”) or “French doughnuts.” No, Steve doesn’t want anything to do with sweets. His loss – more for me! Next to Cafe du Monde was a store where pralines are deliberately made behind glass so you can see and smell – and oh, maybe buy some? – of the super-sweet stuff. It’s a candy made with brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, butter, and pecans, another specialty in NOLA. I HAD to get some of that, too! Steve’s eyes rolled once again.
A few feet from where I was munching on my dougnuts is Jackson Square, a historic park in the French Quarter declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. This is where aspiring artists, musicians, entertainers, horse drawn carriages, arts, mimes and just people mingle. We think the entertainment was fairly tame because it was still early in the day.
That beautiful white building in the background above is the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. New Orleans is instantly recognizable by the cathedral and its position overlooking Jackson Square.
To begin processing the sugar coursing through my veins, we strolled along the Moon Walk. Mayor Moon Landrieu installed this scenic boardwalk on top of the levee to reconnect the city to the river; it is known as the “Moon Walk” in his honor. It was a breezy but beautiful day to stroll.
We ended up at a floodgate and entered the French Market.
The French Market stretches six blocks, containing lots of retail shops, outdoor cafes, a farmers market and a flea market.
In the heart of New Orleans is its oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter . This district as a whole is a National Historic Landmark, and contains numerous individual historic buildings. Strolling along the quaint streets, we noticed the stunning architecture as the dominant feature. Some colorful homes with balconies are adorned with intricate ironwork and courtyards are filled with lush greenery. These are the balconied homes that we saw on tv (was it Cops?) where people tossed out beads during the Mardi Gras festival 😦
Bourbon Street was slightly impacted by hurricane Katrina and is in the heart of French Quarter. We walked its 13 blocks from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street.
While it is now primarily known for its bars and strip clubs, or “party central” in NOLA, Bourbon Street’s history provides a rich insight into New Orleans’ past. At night this is where things get crazy and the “unique” people come out to play.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is now a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street. Built sometime before 1772, is one of the older surviving structures in New Orleans and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States. We stopped and got our first “Go-Cup” of Voodoo Daquiri. It’s legal here to drink on the streets, provided the drink is in a plastic container they call a Go-Cup – no bottles or cans allowed on the streets. It felt a little strange walking down the street with an alcoholic drink, but hey, we like to try something new each day! So, with our Go-Cup in hand we continued our excursion.
Some of the famous names in Jazz music have their own niche on Bourbon Street, called Musical Legends Park.
At this point in our walk at the French Quarter we got hungry for some NOLA specialties. Never had a Po’ Boy before, so it was a Po’ Boy sandwich and Gumbo for us, followed by another round of drinks – a Voodoo Rum and a Spicy Bloody Mary. Whoa!
We carried the drinks and continued our exploration. Leaving the French Quarter, we headed toward Canal Street where the business section and hi-rise buildings are situated. One of our to-do’s here was to look for a Notary Public. Why? Let me digress for a moment. This is a friendly reminder to all my dear readers to always check your credit card charges every couple of days. Steve diligently checks our credit charges and caught several transactions charged in Pennsylvania. He cancelled the card immediately, but to get the charges removed from our account he had to have the paperwork notarized, since we are on the road. In this area the notaries are usually lawyers, so of course it costs much more. Well, down a back alley we went to have the friendly lawyer do his thing. OK, back to having fun now!
With our business done we headed to the River Walk Marketplace. This is a tourist trap located next to the Convention Center and the cruise ship terminal. Since this is not shopping day for us, we instead went there to learn more about the Mississippi River. That will be our next story.