Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of going to New Orleans twice. While, of course, the time to go would really should be Mardi Gras, after experiencing the chaos of Pamplona last summer, I think I’m going to postpone a Mardi Gras adventure until I’ve fully recovered!
In lieu of the typical heavy drinking, my adventures in New Orleans involved a lot of touring, walking, eating, shopping, tasting of traditional NOLA beverages, and enjoyment of street jazz. The second visit, just last weekend coincided with the annual French Quarter Festival. This is considered the locals’ festival, as most of the crowds come from around the New Orleans area, as opposed to the more popular Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
1. Voodoo Tour
A trip to New Orleans would not be complete without embracing its strange history, including the continuing practice of voodoo by the locals. For our trip, we chose to go on Bloody Mary’s Voodoo Tour that covered the French Quarter, Treme, and St. Louis Cemeteries #1 and #2, where can leave an offering at the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, stop by Nicolas Cage’s ridiculous Masonic pyramid-shaped tomb he built for his future resting place, and make an actual voodoo doll to take home while visiting cemetery #2.
2. New Orleans Cocktail Tour
The Original Cocktail Walking Tour not only provides you with a chance to sample some of the city’s popular drinks while learning about their histories, but it serves as a good way to get and understanding of the layout of the French Quarter. During the tour, you stop at the famous absynthe house in Pirate’s Alley, the Court of Two Sisters for a traditional Bayou Bash, and several other historic bars to sample Sazeracs, Pimm’s Cup, Bourbon Street favorites: Hurricanes and Grenades, and several others.
3. Ghost and Vampire Tour
Several people suggested that I take one of the many ghost tours offered every night. I opted to go on the tour offered by French Quarter Phantoms because it was rated #1 on Trip Advisor. On this tour, you learn about the haunting of several French Quarter homes, a history of murder on Ursuline Street, and stop at the historic building where Interview with a Vampire was filmed. Honestly, I was a little disappointed and underwhelmed. There were not a lot of ghost stories, and the guide was there more for entertaining the crowd with her witty jokes than with the stories. It is also a bit offputting that the tour starts in a bar, and takes a break at the same bar at the halfway point, which made me think they were more interested in you patronizing that bar. Maybe that was my problem, I wasn’t drunk enough to enjoy the tour.
4. Bourbon Street
What can be said about Bourbon Street. Drink deals everywhere. That familiar smell of layers and layers of stale beer on the floor of a college fraternity house. Favorable open container alcohol consumption laws. People with cauldrons of mixed drinks hanging from a chain around their neck. An opportunity to finally wear that t-shirt that has some sexual reference on the front – keeping it classy!
5. Cafe du Monde
A trip to New Orleans is not complete without a yummy beignet in your belly. Suffer the line and wait for this powdered sugar-topped deliciousness! Trust me, the line looks long, but the staff is super efficient in getting people in and out. Add a cafe du lait to complete your order, and you’re set!
6. Garden District
This neighborhood, just a short streetcar ride away from the French Quarter, is a dream for any photographer who loves charming southern homes. Also a great place for some good shopping at small businesses!
7. French Quarter Festival
I stumbled upon this annual event this year when I made plans to visit an artist who was doing a live painting expo the same weekend. From what I was told and what I’ve read, this is a celebration of local music by the locals. Three streets – Bourbon, Royal, and Chartres – have multiple stages with hourly performances starting at 11am, along with the mainstage at Jackson Square and several more stages along the waterfront. People head into the Big Easy every day of the festival with their portable chairs and set up early for a day of good jazz music. Did I mention the festival is completely free? In Jackson Square, popular restaurants and food vendors set up tents to feed the masses with New Orleans speacialties – po’ boys, crawfish, shrimp, etc. And, of course, there were drink specials everywhere. I would expect nothing less from NOLA. The festival kicks off on a Thursday and runs for four days. I never thought I was a person who liked jazz, but I can give nothing but praise for the variety of performances I saw on the streets. My favorite performance was actually not one of the scheduled groups, but rather a brass band comprised of local young men that succeeded in creating a fantastically fun big band sound with just a few instruments, and man could that trumpet player play!!! What a great atmosphere – a must experience event!