I absolutely love the Big Easy. It is without question one of my favorite American cities. I can't say enough about the energetic and amazing spirit, atmosphere, and vibrancy that the city resonates from every corner. I also couldn't get enough of the music, the food, and most importantly the vivacious and friendly locals.
This trip was actually the third time that I'd been to New Orleans. However, the first time I was there was for a work conference, and the second time was to embark/disembark on a cruise ship. This third visit was the first time that I feel like I really got to experience what New Orleans has to offer.
I barely even scratched the surface while I was there, of course. New Orleans certainly can't be fully experienced in just one weekend. It definitely requires repeat visits!
|The symbolic Fleur de Lis|
With that, here is a summary of the weekend's sights/sounds/eats:
SIGHTS AND EXPERIENCES
Free Tours by Foot - This company offers guided walking tours where you determine how much to pay at the end based on how much you enjoyed the tour. Adam and I had a very nice French Quarter walking tour with a guide named Kathy Harrell. She was extremely knowledgeable and clearly enjoyed showing us around.
The company offers a good variety of tours to pick from. If time had permitted, I would have also liked to take their tour of the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetary. Next time!
The French Quarter definitely needs no introduction. Instead of the famed Bourbon Street, I want to mention nearby Royal Street, which is loaded with cute shops, galleries, and restaurants. It also has some absolutely fantastic street performers. Many of the jazz artists are street performers by day, and music club performers by night. (I've got more to share about the street performers in my "Sounds" section below!)
New Orleans School of Cooking - One of my very favorite things to do while traveling to famed culinary destinations is to take a local cooking class. Adam and I learned how to make gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines. Then we stuffed ourselves with the finished products. (Time for me to loosen my belt a notch or two...)
Our instructor was as local to New Orleans as could be. This enhanced the experience even more! She took great pride in sharing with us the correct Southern pronunciations of the words 'praline' [prah-lean] and 'pecan' [puh-con]. =)
|Chocolate "prah-leans" = yummy, yummy in any American accent!|
French Market - Enormous open-air flea market with lots of local vendors selling anything from touristy souvenirs to hand-made jewelry, arts and crafts, and clothing. There are some great food stands to pick from, too. I love local markets like these. I bought a bunch of fun take-me-homes, including loads of gumbo mix!
Streetcars - Adam and I had some time to kill before dinner one night, and we were tired from walking around all day. Therefore, we decided to hop onto one of the streetcars just for the experience. We ended up riding the Canal Streetcar all the way to the Greenwood Cemetery, which was the end of the line.
In general, I think one of the best ways to experience a city's dynamics is to ride the public transportation - especially outside of the tourist areas. Indeed, this did not disappoint! It was also cool to see one of the famed above-ground cemeteries (built as such because New Orleans is below sea-level).
Historic New Orleans Collection Museum - Admittedly, Adam and I happened to walk by when it was raining, and ended up going in because they have free admission. It is a quaint restored house where you can learn about the history of New Orleans and Louisiana.
Mississippi Riverfront - Another sight that needs no further introduction!
|The Natchez Riverboat cruising down the Mississippi|
Frenchman Street - Home to an amazing array of music venues. The night that Adam and I spent exploring Frenchman Street was my favorite experience from our entire visit. I always want to go where the locals go - and I've heard it said that Frenchman Street is "local" New Orleans (whereas Bourbon Street is "tourist" New Orleans).
We spent most of our Frenchman Street time hanging out at two venues - Maison and The Spotted Cat.
We saw a variety of bands of which I can't remember the names. However, I do remember one jazz singer that we saw at Maison named Sasha Masakowski. She is very, very talented.
In terms of other music venues, Adam and I also heard a lot about Preservation Hall, Fritzel's, and Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse, but did not get a chance to check any of those out. Next time.
Looks pretty unassuming from the outside, eh?
Speaking of local performers, New Orleans has by far the most amazing selection and quality of street performers that I've ever seen. Anytime I heard the strain of jazz notes or the sound of a gathered crowd, it was always completely worth the effort to find the source.
I saw one performer on Royal Street who really stood out to me. Her name is Doreen Ketchens and her clarinet-playing skills completely blew me away. Check out this video of her from YouTube:
So much good food, so many good restaurants! New Orleans is definitely not a place to visit if you're trying to diet. =D
Court of Two Sisters - Historic restaurant with a gorgeous French courtyard. We had the Jazz Brunch, which was phenomenal. As the name implies, there were local live jazz performers and an unending array of local Creole cuisine. (This was another instance during which I had to loosen my belt a couple of notches afterwards. ;-) )
|The courtyard at the Court of Two Sisters|
Johnny's Po Boys - The oldest family-owned po-boy joint in New Orleans. It's packed with locals, and the line goes all the way out the door and down the street. It's a cash-only, no-frills place with really good food. In short, this is exactly the type of place I love to seek out while traveling.
Cafe du Monde - Famous beignet and coffee shop. Apparently there is some debate amongst the locals regarding what place has the best beignets in New Orleans, with Cafe Beignet winning a lot of votes! But, I humbly consider Cafe du Monde to be the classic haunt.
|At the Cafe du Monde Riverwalk location.|
There was enough powdered sugar in the bag to kill three people.
Emeril's - Who could pass up the opportunity to go to Emeril's hometown restaurant? We went there for Adam's official birthday dinner and it was fantastic. Great service, great food, great atmosphere. To this day, I still dream of their banana cream pie...
Tomas Bistro - We were lucky enough to find this place on Groupon. You would never guess when you step inside that this place is a converted former factory! It's a very warm, cozy ambience, and the service and food were both terrific.
Cochon Butcher - This place drew rave reviews for their muffaletta, which was reputed to be the best in New Orleans. I am not a muffaletta aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but indeed, their muffaletta was mouthwateringly delicious. I will also paraphrase a review I saw online about their peanut butter pie, which is that it is the best justification known to human kind for getting a gym membership.
Manning's - Classic man-cave-style sportsbar. For all you NFL fans, this is the namesake of Archie Manning (father of Peyton and Eli). Disclaimer: Adam and I stopped by to check it out, but did not actually dine there. We had full intentions of going there to watch a Steelers game. However, this place is popular, and on game day we didn't feel like staking out seats three hours in advance of kickoff.
|Stadium seating at Manning's for the diehards|
As much as we did see and experience in the Big Easy, there was so much that time did not permit.
In the future, I want to check out the Garden District, Mardi Gras World, Magazine Street, Audobon Park, and a voodoo tour, among dozens of other things. There are also countless other museums, restaurants, music clubs, etc. to explore. Someday I hope to experience Mardi Gras in the Big Easy, too.
I will be back, New Orleans.