Story & photos by: Zoie Clift
During my travels I have found that New Orleans definitely has the ability to get under your skin. Make a trip and see for yourself. But be prepared for the consequences. Once you visit, itís a safe bet it wonít be your last. Here are some highlights of what is waiting for you.
First things first though. Looking for two great times to check out the city? Here they are:
Late Jan- Early Feb: Mardi Gras- Self explanatory.
Late April-Early May: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival- Self explanatory.
Jackson Square: A visit to New Orleans isnít complete without a stop here to people watch as the day unfolds. St. Louis Cathedral watches over one of the most beautiful public squares in the nation. In the middle of the square stands Jackson monument, which honors Andrew Jackson who, before becoming U.S. President, led the American forces in the Battle of New Orleans.
Cafť Du Monde: This popular refueling stop is a must if you are in the Quarter. Whether youíre a coffee or sugar addict (beignets) they have you covered as they stay open 24 hours. My kind of place.
Historic Voodoo Museum: Tours are self guided through this foray into the voodoo artifacts and history. It is a good intro but the practice of voodoo is far from a thing of the past. There are still many practicing voodoo spiritual temples around town. 724 Dumaine St
Music Prevails: This is a town for music aficionados. If this is you, pick up a copy of the Gambit Weekly to find out what is playing in the area. Popular spots include the Maple Leaf Bar and the Howling Wolf. If canít get in a show, no worries as the music will most likely come to you. Around any street corner, during any part of the day, there is a chance to catch musicians practicing their craft in the streets.
There are ample opportunities to get away from the hub and action of the French Quarter and catch your breath on quieter streets and neighborhoods. The side streets and distinct neighborhoods are actually my favorite part of the city. In the Garden district you can chance upon Lafayette Cemetery No 1, where author Anne Rice staged her own funeral in 1995 or stroll down Magazine Street for shopping. Check out the colorful Creole cottages and bohemian feel of Faubourg Maringy. Shift gear Uptown and take in the sights on beautiful St. Charles Street Ave, check out Tulane and Loyola University or take a walk in Audubon Park. Experience the community feel of Bayou St. John or visit the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park.
Hurricane Katrina invariable comes up in conversation. Without even asking, most locals will tell you where they were or where they got relocated to when the storm hit. If you venture in the neighborhoods, you will see different stages of rebuilding. Some are further along than others but every street serves as a reminder of the enormity of the natural disaster. In neighborhoods that flooded, many homes still have the spray painted search and rescue markings on them. Many have chosen to leave them up as reminders. One that stood out for me was a home ownerís choice of painting over the markings with a heart. For those interested in seeing the effects of Katrina up-close, a drive through the Ninth Ward is a must. Itís eye-opening to say the least to see how much rebuilding still needs to be done.
A quick bit about safety: Contrary to what some might believe, New Orleans is actually safer today than pre-Katrina. However, the city didnít get its reputation out of nowhere. The scene quickly changes neighborhood to neighborhood as does oneís feeling of safety, especially at night. The safest bet is for visitors to keep a vigilant watch, even in the French Quarter. As a rule, exercise the caution you would in any US city.
I am normally not one for guidebooks (I am more the wandering sans map type of traveler) but I came across a Lonely Planet guidebook to the city by Tom Downs that is indispensable. If you check it out you will see what I mean. I highly recommend a read through his book to get a feel for the city and its intriguing history before you go. If you are a photographer, you will be in something close to nirvana. You can easily fill up a memory card on one street of town. The only downfall is that itís hard to edit down shots afterwards because you want to keep every one. I havenít even touched on the number of superb restaurants, culinary delights and art and architecture to be found here. Did I mention the locals are amazing? I could write on and on about what to see, experience and do but I will leave that up to you to discover. To put it simply, the city has a culture all its own and is a must stop destination if one is looking to experience la joie de vivre.