Let’s be honest, there are good and bad things that come with being travel bloggers. One of the best things is the opportunity to experience so many amazing cities throughout North America. While we will usually only stay for two or three days, we can pack a lot of fun in a little time. With so many great places to explore, it becomes difficult for us to find time to return to a city for more research. New Orleans is a prime example of this. Our last visit had been many years, and in fact was the year prior to Hurricane Katrina. When we finally were able to find time for a return visit, we wondered how much the city would have changed. We found that although the city would never be the same as before the storm, the spirit of New Orleans still flows in those that call The Big Easy home.
Starting the Day NOLA Style
New Orleans is certainly a place for foodies to get their fill of a multitude of cuisines. Many of the meals that we have enjoyed were certainly calorie heavy, but we knew that walking would be our mode of transportation. This certainly made a sugary breakfast treat a little easier to digest. It wouldn’t be a true Crescent City experience without at least one stop at Cafe Du Monde. Sharing an order of beignets and chicory coffee really makes us feel like locals. While there are a variety of restaurants that offer this southern treat, why not visit the original. (Read more about Cafe Du Monde here.) Some days of exploring require more of a protein based start. Our first day of walking uncovered a quaint little eatery in the heart of the French Quarter. Cafe Envie not only offered up a hearty breakfast, but later we dropped by for a true southern dessert. (Read more about Envie here.)
The Flavors of New Orleans
The spirit of New Orleans can be found in their passion for food. With a wide range of influences, a person can eat a new cuisine style each meal for days. We decided early on that we would not try to capture every meal during our visit. Sometimes we just want to savor the meal and the moment. A dinner at GW Fins fulfilled our seafood desires, while lunch at Johnny Po’Boys made us feel like locals. Spending an evening enjoying the live music and southern dishes at House of Blues was certainly a highlight of our trip. One stop that had to be recorded was a late lunch visit to Gumbo Shop. Here we shared a large platter of Creole staples that just screamed New Orleans. (Read more about Gumbo Shop here.)
Back to the Beginning
Our visit to NOLA happened to land on the city’s 300th birthday. This is an accomplishment that is uncommon in the Central U.S. To commemorate the experience, we decided to gain a better understanding of the history of The Big Easy. We started with a stop at The Cabildo, which tells the story of the earliest days of the city. One of the largest parts of the exhibits feature aspects of the War of 1812. It was interesting learning how such a diverse group of people came together to defend their home. (Read more about Cabildo here.) Since we were already at Jackson Square, it was only a little walk to the 1850’s House. I felt that it was only fair that all of the time I had spent learning about the war should be equaled with time for Crystal to study the personal stories of the early residents. While I wandered the house taking photos, she immersed herself into the details of life during the “Golden Age” of the Victorian Era. (Read more about 1850’s House here.)
It’s So Tiny!
There are people who have a bucket list to visit every national park in the United States. While many picture Yellowstone or one of the other 58, there are also a large number of other sites. Actually, we discovered there are 419 national park sites, when you include U.S. territories. That seems like a rather large number to tackle, so we have learned to just enjoy the ones we happen upon. In the spirit of New Orleans, even their national park site is a little on the unusual side. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is a great spot to make a quick visit. This pocket park sits inside the French Quarter and offers visitors a look at the culture and nature of the region. (Read more about Jean Lafitte Park here.)
The Spirit of New Orleans
Now that we had a firm grasp on the early days, it was time to move on to more current events. Our first visit to NOLA took place the year before Hurricane Katrina. The time had been spent just getting a feel for the city. With so much to see and do, it was hard to focus on any specific subject. Our return visit meant that we were already familiar with the distractions that sideline a plan, so we knew what to expect. Like many of you, we had watched with horror as the city was engulfed by the floodwaters brought on by the hurricane. A stop at The Presbytere gave us a closer look at this horrific event. (Read more about Hurricane Katrina here.) This New Orleans museum complex is actually divided into two different experiences. While the first floor had focused on Katrina, the second floor was associated with one of the most well known celebrations in America. The spirit of New Orleans shines brightly during Mardi Gras. Revelers descend upon the Crescent City for a chance to join the crowd in celebrating. At The Presbytere, visitors can learn about the history and pageantry of this unique annual event. (Read more about the Mardi Gras exhibit here.)
Flying into NOLA is fairly simple and there are plenty of options to get to your lodging selection. We took a taxi, which makes for about a 30 minute ride. Once we checked in, it was all about being a pedestrian. Our lodging was just a couple of blocks from the French Quarter, so everything there was within walking distance. There were a couple of times that we chose to ride the streetcars. One trip into the Quarter was made during a torrential downpour. The choice to ride the rails was more out of not wanting to be drenched. In the end, we still got soaked, as we had to walk a ways to our final destination from the platform. The second time involved a last minute decision to explore the Magazine Street District. Filled with shops and restaurants, this area holds the homes of some local and national celebrities. Once we stepped off the streetcar, we spent a couple of hours just taking in the sights.
Exploring the French Quarter
When you hear the name French Quarter what comes to mind? Many may picture wild crowds of bead seeking party goers. Others will have visions of the brick-lined streets that once held pirates and scalawags. No matter how you envision the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, this oldest section of the city is that and much more. Close to the river is the oldest part of the city and home to the French Market. A wide range of goods can be found inside this open air extravaganza. While shopping, visitors can grab a drink and bite to eat from a variety of vendors. (Read more about the Market here.) As you make your way throughout the Quarter, streets filled with shops, eateries, candy makers, and live music clubs will be found. This section of The Big Easy seems to be alive with a heartbeat that grows stronger as the sun sets. That doesn’t mean there is a lack of things to do during the day. With an assortment of activities available, you are sure to find something to fit your mood. (Read more about the French Quarter here.)
You can’t say you have truly experienced the French Quarter without visiting Jackson Square. This national historic landmark is home to the signing of the Louisiana Purchase. This square block is filled with sensory teasing temptations. With the St. Louis Cathedral as a backdrop, local artists assemble in droves to showcase their particular talents. The cathedral is flanked on both sides by the twin museums, Cabildo and Presbytere. This means a historical education of New Orleans is close at hand. As we meandered around the square, we saw paintings, sculptures and various mixed media artwork for sale by local artisans. An assortment of musicians serenaded the crowds with jazz, ragtime, and other sweet sounds. While Bourbon Street is the place to be after dark, the spirit of New Orleans shines brightest in Jackson Square during the day.
New Orleans is filled with so many attractions, that it would require weeks to see them all. With a limited amount of time, we had to be selective about our choices. Being from Kansas City, the home of the National World War I Museum, we knew that a visit to its sister site was a given. Located a few blocks outside of the French Quarter, the National World War II Museum is a massive undertaking. Attempting to cover a war that was fought on so many fronts requires multiple galleries. We set aside half a day for this visit, which ended up being barely enough time to see all of the displays. It would take a full day, at the least, to truly immerse yourself in all of the exhibits. We also noticed that they were in the process of adding additional space, so a return visit will certainly be needed. (Read more about the WWII Museum here.)
We Will Be Back
As we pointed out at the beginning of this article, there are good and bad things about travel blogging. All trips must eventually come to an end, and we find ourselves torn from our explorations to return home. Even though we have usually worn ourselves out by scurrying all around the city we are visiting, there is still a desire to see one more sight. With our bags packed, it’s time to begin our return trip. Whether we are traveling by car or air, we will spend some of our time reminiscing about the experiences we just had. This helps cement the memories and often each of us will hear something new. It still amazes us that each person has a different perspective of the same experience. How many of you have found the same to be true when discussing a site you have visited?