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New Orleans Travel: Where's the Party
To say New Orleans is a party town is perhaps an understatement. It is probably THE party town of the United States. You can speculate on how it got that way, but the likely culprit were the French Creoles, the descendants of the first French residents of the city and their cousins, the Spanish, who infiltrated the town after France lost the French and Indian War. These Creoles had a zest for life, good food, good music, and girl with a pretty ankle. They imbued this spirit into the slaves they bought, many of whom bore them children to create the city's large black Creole population.
Thank goodness for the French and Spanish Creoles. And thank goodness for their Acadian cousins, the rural descendants of French Canadians who were uprooted from their homes in Acadie and dispersed after that same French and Indian War, some of whom found their way to the swamps and prairies of south Louisiana. Some moved to the city and added to the rich gumbo that was and is New Orleans.
So much for the history of les bon temps roulez. Where do you want to go now to see and do in easiest of cities? Let the adventure begin. Here are a few neighborhoods to visit.
The French Quarter
The French Quarter is neither French nor a square as in Vieux Carre'. It was square at one time but the river took care of that, and it was French at one time but fire took care of that. After one great fire, the French Quarter was largely rebuilt during the Spanish colonial period.
Most visitors could spend their entire trip to New Orleans in the French Quarter and not run out of things to do and places to see. The Quarter (or Quarters as some old Orleanians say) does not run out of great restaurants, great architecture and great music. And there is sleaze too if that is your preference. Of course, the Quarter is most festive during festive days, Mardi Gras, Jazzfest, now even Holloween, Decadence, and recently a spoof on the Running of the Bulls.
It pays to be cautious in the Quarter. Do not walk alone if you do not know where you are going. Do not walk the Quarter very late a night without a lot of people around you. Take a taxi. Ask for advice from the personnel at the hotel or motel where you might be staying.
The French Quarter is not the whole city, not even for tourists. Marigny and Bywater are the two districts directly downriver from the Quarter. Like many gentrifying New Orleans neighborhoods both are old working class enclaves. The natives have largely moved out but you can still find a handful stoop sitting every once in a while. Marigny is a transitional neighborhood from entertainment venues to housing. Bywater is mostly housing. You can be entertained well on Frenchmen Street but just a few blocks away across Elysian Fields, it is residential with a few neighborhood stores and some very nice restaurants and bars. Both neighborhoods are gay friendly, and Bywater is claiming to be the next arts district in the city with galleries along St. Claude Ave.
Neither of these areas flooded during Katrina. Another word of caution: don't be tempted to retrace the old Desire Streetcar route north of St. Claude. Certainly don't go at night unless you want to bring home some hair raising stories.
The Lower Garden District
This is another transitional neighborhood. There are great old houses to see around Colesium Square, but if you venture too close to the river, you may find yourself a bit uncomfortable at times. The LGD has been described as one of the hippest neighborhoods in America. It is, however, residential. There are few bars and restaurants of note. The neighborhood does provide a nice route to the Garden District.
The Garden District
This is a must-see neighborhood for visitors. This was where the rich built their mansions in the ante-bellum period and soon thereafter. It is a place to gawk at wonderful old houses including the home of Anne Rice before she moved to the West Coast. If your budget and time allows, make reservations and eat at Commander's Palace. It is one of the handful of five star restaurants in a city with great restaurants.
Both the Lower Garden District and the Garden District are upriver from the French Quarter and the Central Business District. There are other great neighborhoods in this wonderful old city with cozy neighborhood po-boy shops to ones for those interested in disaster sightseeing, the heavily flooded Katrina areas. There is not enough room here to tell you about all of them.
A couple of words of advice: be careful in the city, ask where and when you can go places from someone who should know – at the hotel or even a policeman. Get out of the French Quarter if your time and budget allows. And most of all find the party!