New Orleans, Louisiana (aka NOLA, aka “The Big Easy”) is a city I love a lot more than I ever thought I would. However, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Uniqueness and mystery cover the city like a cloak, waiting for visitors to discover the surprises within.
My First Trip
The first time I went to New Orleans, it was just a stopover for a cruise that was leaving from the Julia Street Cruise Terminal. I didn’t really get to see much of the city itself. I was there for the evening before the cruise was to leave port. Not only was I there for a short time, I was extremely stressed because my car decided to act up and I didn’t know what was going to happen when I returned from my cruise. Would I be stuck in the city with car trouble? Would I be able to make it home? I had no clue what to expect, and I didn’t even give a second thought to my surroundings.
Normally, this experience would have turned me off of the city itself. Not because it was the city’s fault, but rather because I would associate the bad experience in my mind. Luckily for me, I had a great time on my cruise, and when I returned, I received some excellent help from the friendly workers at the nearest Auto Zone I found. My bad experience turned into a good one after all.
Although I didn’t get to explore the city on that trip, I was ready to explore what I could the next time I planned a cruise out of New Orleans. I was not disappointed. Even though I was only there for a short time, I enjoyed just walking around and seeing an assortment of people and places.
The artwork displayed proudly beside the sidewalk for passersby to enjoy, and hopefully purchase. The musicians playing live music as visitors watched, or danced along. Psychics sitting at a table offering to read your future from a deck of tarot cards. The clack of hooves on the street as horse-drawn carriages slowly make their way along their route carrying happy tourists. Excitement sizzled through the air and sent a tingle through my veins as I watched.
Everyone knows New Orleans for it’s annual Mardi Gras celebration. More than a single celebration, it’s a whole holiday season which actually lasts a month or more. It begins on the twelfth night, or January 6th, which is twelve days after Christmas. This is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when the three wise men arrived to meet the baby Jesus. However, this is not a Christian holiday. It is a celebration of the roots of the city. The origins of Mardi Gras date back to 1699.
If you want to take part in the celebrations, you can go anytime between the twelfth night and Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins, on Ash Wednesday. Again, this seems to line up with Christian traditions.
Mardi Gras itself is a continuous party with parades, food, costumes, thrown beads and other prizes, and king cakes. The parties and parades escalate until Fat Tuesday arrives. If you want to experience the thrill and excitement of Mardi Gras, you have plenty of time to choose from during this holiday season.
There is more to this city than Mardi Gras, though. You can arrive any time of the year and find plenty to do and see, including over 130 festivals each year.
What is unique about cemeteries in New Orleans is that they are above-ground crypts. Due to New Orleans being below sea level, burials had to be above ground. These cemeteries are ornately decorated tributes to lost loved ones.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Listed in the National Register of Historic places, it is the most visited cemetery in New Orleans. It is the final resting place of the mysterious Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen. While he is probably the most famous resident of the cemetery, there is another notable resident who should be remembered, Homer Plessy.
Plessy was a civil rights activist who defied the Louisiana law requiring separation on trains based on race. His case went before the Supreme Court which at the time upheld the “separate but equal” idea. Thankfully, it was later overturned. Nicolas Cage had a burial plot built for himself in the shape of a pyramid in this cemetery. Due to frequent vandalism in this cemetery, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has declared that no one may enter the cemetery without the benefit of a tour guide, unless you have loved ones buried in the cemetery or if you are a genealogist or a tomb owner. There is a cost of entering this cemetery.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
One of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans, this cemetery is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to John Ferguson, who was the defendant in the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court Case as described in the paragraph above. Several movies have been filmed in this location, including Interview with the Vampire and Double Jeopardy, to name a couple. This cemetery is located in the Garden District of New Orleans.
These are just a couple of the beautiful cemeteries in New Orleans that deserve a visit. Other cemeteries in New Orleans are St. Louis Cemeteries No 2 & 3, Lafayette Cemetery No. 2, St. Patrick’s Cemeteries No 1, 2, & 3, St. Roch Cemetery, Greenwood Cemetery, Masonic Cemetery, and the Hebrew Rest Cemetery.
The French Quarter
The most famous area of New Orleans and one of the most historic is the French Quarter. The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is home to Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, Bourbon Street, and Cafe du Monde. This is where all the action is. Parades and parties. Shopping and eating. There is plenty to do in this area of the city.
If you want to be in the center of it all, book a hotel on Bourbon Street with a balcony overlooking the festivities below. You can spend your time walking among the crowds, and when you’re tired of walking, sit on the balcony and people watch. Or, if you want to enjoy yourself and retreat to a quieter area, there are plenty of hotels within walking distance that are not in the middle of the action.
Be sure to check out all the shops lining the streets. Everything from fine jewelry to voodoo dolls and carnival masks can be found in the quaint shops. Looking for antiques? You can find them here, too. Art is definitely high on the list in New Orleans. You can expect to find local artists peddling their wares on street corners to high priced fine art galleries. No matter what your tastes, you will find something you like, guaranteed.
Don’t forget the Mighty Mississippi River runs through New Orleans. With that, it brings more fun and entertainment opportunities. How about a good old fashioned ride on a riverboat? The Steamboat Natchez can provide that, complete with bright red paddlewheel. It claims to be the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River, how can you turn that down? Especially when it offers a full bar. Just don’t fall overboard!
What would a discussion about New Orleans be if it didn’t include food? Of course, everyone knows beignets are on the menu at some point during your stay. You have to stop at Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee. But don’t stop there, try out others to compare and see which cafe is your favorite.
Now that dessert is out of the way, how about the meal itself? Well, if you like sandwiches, then the Po-Boy is for you. It’s so important in New Orleans, there is an entire festival for it, the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival is held every year in Mid-November. No matter how you like your sandwich, they’ve got you covered, literally.
Did someone say Cajun? Don’t forget the gumbo! A wide variety of ingredients make up this stew. You’ll probably never find two alike. You might find two people arguing over it, though. It is practically its own food group. You will have to decide for yourself, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities in New Orleans to do just that. Other famous dishes you can find here include jambalaya, red beans and rice, and boiled crawfish.
Music lovers everywhere flock to New Orleans for its musical flair. Jazz, R&B, and Soul drifts around the street corner from one of the local clubs. You can’t walk down the street without hearing a melody floating in the air from one direction or another. The number of live music performances are too numerous to count. If you want to enjoy the best music New Orleans has to offer, make sure to walk down Frenchmen Street. It is the most musical street in the city.
Opera music and symphony orchestras are also home in New Orleans to provide a more traditional artistic musical experience. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is located in New Orleans, although they do perform throughout the southern United States.
There is so much to see and do in New Orleans, that it requires multiple trips, in my opinion, and then of course extras to revisit. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have certainly enjoyed the time I have spent here and can’t wait to spend more.
Have you been to New Orleans? What was your favorite part? Or, have you never been and hope to go soon? What are you looking forward to the most? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!