The French Quarter in New Orleans is unlike anywhere I have ever been. Its rich with history, with culture, with people, with experiences. Its deeply alive. Everywhere you look, every street you turn down, every jazz band, every bite of gumbo, every breath of air is thick, not just with humidity, but with life.
We flew in on St. Patrick’s Day and were met by a wave of humidity and the sweet perfume of growing things. We pulled into our hotel in the French Quarter amidst a sudden downpour. Luckily it let up as quickly as it started and we ventured out into the damp chaos.
New Orleans is unique in many ways, but one of the most aparent is the party atmosphere. Alcohol is legal on the streets so you can walk into any bar and get a cocktail to go, making the streets thick with revelers, espeically on a drinking holiday like St. Patrick’s Day! According to a local we met in a coffee shop, it is fairly affordable to buy yourself permission to have a parade, so they are quite popular. Apparently, its even possible to have a legal parade at four o’clock in the morning. Staying right in the French Quarter can be a bit loud!
We walked out into a parade and caught green and gold mardis gras beads and got hurricanes to-go from a place with slushie machines filled with alcohol. The streets were full of people, discarded beads crunching under foot, live music pouring out of every doorway.
Most of the French and Spanish styled, brightly colored buildings have second story balconies. These were teaming with people, looking as if they might collapse at any moment, mardis gras beads being thrown for hollers or people willing to expose themselves. One big party, the night pulsing with revelry. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
The next morning we waited in line at Cafe Beignet for the sought after donut-like, deep fried, powdered sugar covered pastries that are beignets. The lines may seem silly, but they taste like clouds and are absolutely worth it.
We wandered the streets and took a cable car to the cemetery in the Garden District (the cemetery was worth it, the cable car was less tourist-attraction and more public transit. Skip it if you have a rental car). We ended up on Frenchman Street for the evening, high quality live-music in every bar and on every street corner. The close proximity to so much music is pretty incredible!
On the 2nd full day of our trip we drove out into the swamps in hopes of seeing an alligator. The state parks were closed due to flooding and we encountered some interesting country. The water under the highways, vast expanses of swamps and mangrove trees, were all so incredibly and beautifully different than the landscape we’re used to, it was very interesting to see. We ended up only seeing a turtle, but it was still very neat!
Muffalettos were consumed from an Italian restaurant and a fancy dinner at Arnaud’s was planned. I was shocked by how fancy dining out is in the South. In Denver, even high priced restaurants welcome you dressed like you just got back from a hike. In New Orleans we had issues finding a nice restaurant without a jacket requirement and the number of forks at dinner was daunting! Arnaud’s was beautiful, the service impeccable and the food very good. A definite experience.
After three days of on and off rain and chill, the sun finally came out on Palm Sunday, the last day of our trip. With the sun, the city was transformed. The damp, dirty streets and buildings glowed. The church in Jackson Square stood imposingly against the blue sky, the flowers bloomed.
We stumbled across the most beautiful sweets shop, Sucre, and ate coconut basil gelato and almond macarons. Topher ate his millonth bowl of gumbo and Sally and I bought vintage inspired dresses from a great little boutique, Trashy Divas. My dad smoked a cigar under palm trees.
One of the coolest experiences, was a mule-pulled carriage ride through the French Quarter. Our driver was extremely knowledgeable of the city’s history and it was very sweet to ride through the streets behind a mule. We wandered into the country’s oldest active Catholic church and listened to an electric violin duo outside the building where the Louisiana Purchase was signed.
Its always good to come home from a trip, but bittersweet as well. I am so glad I got to experience the intense culture and life that is New Orleans. If you have the opportunity, its definitely one cool place to visit.