Back in 2011, I spent a good two weeks or so traipsing about New Orleans. It was the last stop on a 4 month trip, sleeping in (mostly) stranger’s homes. My time in NOLA was magical, to say the least. It quickly became my favorite city in the U.S., tied with New York City. But New Orleans is a completely different flavor–more like comparing pizza to chocolate (one must have both). The sounds on Frenchman Street, the smells coming from Cafe du Monde at dawn, the (sometimes confusing) way of giving directions based on your proximity to lake and river rather than east and west, the bustling energy of the Bywater, the jaw-droppingly beautiful houses of Uptown…there’s just too much to appreciate in this town. These are the things I miss the most.
The Colorful, Charming Architecture
When you think of NOLA, you probably picture Bourbon Street and while your first thoughts may be of drunk revelers during Mardi Gras, it’s difficult not to take notice of the intricate 18th and 19th centruy buildings of the French Quarter. But the Quarter isn’t the only area with eye-pleasing architecture.
The Marigny, Bywater, and Treme are some of the most colorful neighborhoods in town, featuring an array of colonial French and Spanish-style homes and Creole cottages. Many of these are built shotgun style, meaning that each room is stacked one next to the other, so that one has to walk through each to get from one end of the house to the other. I spent a few days at a shotgun-style hostel and I’ll admit it took a bit of getting use to, creeping through people’s bedrooms to get a glass of water in the kitchen at the back of the house.
You won’t find a more stunning example of NOLA’s most opulent architecture than in Uptown, and more specifically, in the Southern mansions of the Garden District. Mostly Colonial, Victorian, and Greek Revival in style, these mansions are simply breathtaking.
Hopping The Streetcars
One of the best ways to take in the Big Easy’s sights is by jumping aboard one (or all) of its streetcars. It’s the best way to get around (though perhaps not so much during a thunderstorm), allowing passengers to enjoy uninterrupted views of the various neighborhoods. I spent many hours riding along Canal and through Uptown on the St. Charles, hauling my backpack from Couchsurfing host to host. Unlike the stuffiness of crowded buses, the streetcars were always a breath of fresh air.
Repeat after me: No Open Container Laws. That’s right. You can open up a can of beer or pour yourself a drink and walk right out of your house throughout your neighborhood without anyone giving you a second glance. More importantly, when you’re at a bar and want to take a walk but just ordered your third Abita Amber, you can ask for a to-go cup and take it with you. You’ll never visit a more drink-friendly town than the Crescent City.
Bars are everywhere and drinks (for the most part) are damn cheap. More importantly, the bars are good and the drinks are great. Check out Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for bragging rights on drinking in Louisianna’s oldest bar, established in 1772. It’s at the end of Bourbon, right before it gets extra dark and sketchy, just before Frenchman. Other places I loved include Mimi’s in the Marigny (and yes, I made it on a Saturday and danced like crazy to DJ Soul Sister), Apple Barrel Bar (which I believe has since closed, but was my favorite stop when I was hanging out with the old fishing captain), and Snake and Jake’s–probably my favorite dive, covered in Christmas lights and located right in a neighborhood as though it were any other house. And while I’d personally recommend against hanging in the Quarter too long (at least on Bourbon), if you did find yourself there, you shouldn’t leave without stopping in at the Erin Rose.
Best drinks, best people, best jukebox, best bar tenders all around.
New Orleans wouldn’t be New Orleans without its people. I’m not sure if the city brings out the best in folks or if the best folks just happen to live there, but I haven’t found a friendlier town yet. Maybe it’s because I’m from Miami, where neighbors avoid eye contact and customer service means someone will try not to spit in your face while you ask them a question. Or maybe this all happened after Katrina–the sense of community, especially among those who lived to tell their tale of survival after the hurricane, is unbelievably strong even now, nearly a decade later. I found people in NOLA to be extremely helpful and open to conversation, from greeting me as I walked down the street to offering me a place to stay when I was stuck without a roof for a night.
And Of Course…All That Jazz!
While New Orleans has excellent cuisine and great bars and beautiful sights and excellent museums and schools, the lifeblood of the city lies in its music. You will never hear better jazz, bluegrass, funk, brass than you will in the Big Easy. Its relationship with music began sometime around the 19th century and blossomed over the years, branching out from jazz to other genres, and giving way to unique traditions like the Second Line (brass bands marching during funerals). Not convinced? This is just a sample of the random richness of NOLA’s music scene:
Have you been to New Orleans? What enchanted you the most? Leave your comments below and remember to laissez les bon temps rouler!