Travel Destinations: 24 Hours in the French Quarter
The French Quarter of New Orleans
Arriving in New Orleans on a Tuesday evening didn't leave me with enough light to see this city, but I was treated to a verbal introduction by my shuttle driver who took it upon himself to treat me and eleven other travelers with some wonderful information as to what are the best places to eat. We were ready with pen and paper. In the last five years, mention New Orleans and the first thing that pops up into people's minds is Katrina as in Hurricane, not jazz, not good food, and certainly not joie de vivre. And it's a shame, because the people of New Orleans have moved on and continue to "Par-tay!" and would like to continue to share their great city with you, the avid traveler.
I checked in at the Inn on Bourbon, right in the middle of French Quarter action. I could hear music coming in from the bar across the street and there were some people out and about even on a very late Tuesday evening. All I wanted after a day of traveling was to tuck into my very inviting bed in a quiet room, eager to enjoy what I can of this party city in the next 24 hours.
Beignets for Breakfast
My first thought for breakfast was to look for Cafe Du Monde. This cafe is famous not only in the French Quarter but in all of New Orleans for making the best beignets (ben-nyays) in the city, now how can I pass up something that famous? Even if I didn't completely know what it was. Well I found out when I got a seat in this bustling city landmark and enjoyed a plateful of them. To call them square doughnuts would be sacrilegious. To call them dough fritters would be like describing the Empire State Building as very tall. They are squares of dough, fried then dusted with powdered sugar. Your teeth bites into a thin crisp outer layer then sinks into a pillowy soft but firm center. It gives you an incredible mouth feel. It's not at all greasy and I've never thought eating fried dough could be this good. You get three on a small plate. This is the only food that the cafe sells and the cafe is always busy. Paired with the establishment's delicious cafe au lait (their own blend of coffee and chicory!) and I am thinking that I can spend the entire morning there. But I can't because I want to see more of the New Orleans; to do that I bought a city tour from Gray Line, and there was a ticket stand conveniently placed outside of the cafe. Before leaving New Orleans, I made sure to get a can of their delicious coffee which they conveniently sell along with their beignet mix.
I had quite a few hours before the start of the tour so I walked up and down Decatur (De-kay-ter) Street and found myself outside Southern Candymakers. Southern Candymakers has prizewinning pralines and they offer other deluctible candy concoctions as well. Pralines are a southern favorite and they had me try their rum-flavored pralines. I popped the sample into my mouth and an explosion of rum tickled my taste buds to be swiftly followed by the nutty flavor of chunk pecans. Oh-my-God! It was good. I bought a pound with a variety of pralines which they packed and shrinkwrapped.
The City Tour
The tour took us first to the 9th Ward, one of the poorest communities of New Orleans and it was the most devastated area. And you can still see the devastating effects of Katrina, there are still houses that are literally just a shell and you can see it through the open doors and windows. It is coming back more slowly than the rest of the city because the residents lack money and had no insurance and help from government sources have been very slow, according to our tour leader. The more middle class residential areas of New Orleans have survived and 90% of it rebuilt. The upscale residential areas are all on higher ground and were minimally affected. The overall population has not come back to its normal pre-hurricane numbers, stores which have been there for many years either have not re-opened or opened on a much smaller scale, the number of schools available is reduced by two thirds. And this is five years later.
Most cities are on the whole, stratified according to class and this seems to be more evident with New Orleans. Its long history as a port city where America meets the Carribbean and Mexico means that there are several enclaves that co-exist but don't seem to really mix, you can tell them apart by their architecture. It is the only city in the US that was once part of France, but ruled by Spain, then sold to the Americans as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It was also active in the slave trade. French Canadians who were forced to leave their homes in Canada by the British also established themselves in New Orleans and became known as Cajuns. This whole international mix has resulted in the unique cuisine of New Orleans.
- Hotel Review: The Inn on Bourbon
The Inn on Bourbon is part of the Ramada Hotels chain and offers a superb location in the French Quarter of New Orleans and free internet and in-room safe. The hotel also has a small gym, pool, and business center.
The Story of the Po-Boy
To a New Orleanian, joie di vivre cannot be had without good food. And good food is in abundance at all price ranges. After the tour, I stopped by another French Quarter landmark that was known for its sandwiches, or as they call them po-boys. Sandwiches are called po-boys because a restaurant decided to help streetcar operators who went on strike by offering them free sandwiches of ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayo. Every time a striking street car operator came into the restaurant they would say, "Here comes another 'poor boy' man". Johnny's Po-Boys has been a St. Louis Street establishment since 1950 and was one of the first to re-open after Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to try a sandwich that New Orleans made famous, the muffaleta. It's huge. Made from half a circular bread (from a local bakery), it is filled with ham, imported salami, mozarella cheese, and topped with an olive relish. I could only eat half of that half.
After lunch, it was the late afternoon and I continued to walk the streets of the French Quarter, admiring the architecture and the mardi-gras decorations that were already starting to appear on the balconies. I expect half of New Orleans to party in the French Quarter on that grand day. If you like to look at antiques and other high end merchandise, Royal Street has block after block of art galleries, antique stores, fine jewelry stores, and upscale restaurants.
French Quarter Night Life
To enjoy the night life in the French Quarter, you really don't have to do much of anything, just walk up and down the streets of Bourbon Street to experience it. So many people in New Orleans, if not Louisiana know about Bourbon Street's lascivious and raucous nightlife that they call it the adult Disneyland. In the evening, Bourbon Street is closed to traffic, pedestrians in a pleasantly inebriated state don't have to worry about hitting a car. Sure, you'll see several seedy sex clubs nestled along the various bars but that's part of the atmosphere. There are many street musicians that are eager to play to the public and they are good. Live music, whether it be rock, country, zydeco, jazz, or any other New Orleanian favorite will be heard on the street blaring from the clubs. You are free to walk up and down the street with an alcoholic drink in your hand going from one club portal to the next, hearing a sample of the music, and if you like the band, finish off your drink and go in and enjoy the music while ordering another drink. It is not against the law to drink on the streets as long as it is in a plastic cup.
Prior to enjoying the night life I had dinner at another reasonable, well-known restaurant (there's so many!) on Iberville Street, Acme Oyster House, famous for its raw oysters on a half shell. I however tried their char-grilled oysters as an appetizer. If you've never had it before, this is the best place to have it. It's oysters topped with cheese and grilled in butter and so tasty, I wished I could have had more and made a whole meal of it but then I wouldn't have had a chance to eat their New Orleans Medley, which was a sampler of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and smoked sausage. Again, so yummy. The restaurant also has a full bar so I ordered a hurricane as a thirst quencher, and it came in a plastic cup. The restaurant normally has a long line so if you don't want to suffer, try to come early before the dinner crowd which is after 7:30PM. It is food like this that makes me want to come to New Orleans, park myself on a seat and just eat for the entire day and not worry about the calories. Hey, it's a goal.
Afterwards, Bourbon Street was filled with people walking and enjoying the sights and sounds with a drink in their hand. The street has a strong police presence to make sure that nobody gets out of hand and that everyone can enjoy a night of partaying.
On my final morning in New Orleans, I again made my way to Cafe Du Monde to enjoy my final breakfast of beignets and cafe au lait. I was regretful that it was such a quick visit but I knew that it wouldn't be my last, I had such a brief but inviting taste and New Orleans, especially the French Quarter has you wanting to come back for more.
All photographs taken and copyrighted by Flightkeeper.
The French Quarter
Coffee and Beignets
Muffalettas and Seafood Sandwiches
Enjoy raw oysters on a half shell or my preference, Chargrilled Oysters
Pralines and King Cakes
A reasonable, charming, comfortable hotel in a landmark building in a historical part of town. A wonderful location in the heart of everything.
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