One can learn a lot about a place in a short period of time. I’d even venture to say that exploring a city on hyperdrive can actually be quite fulfilling. It forces you to examine what aspects of a place are really important to you—for me, it’s the local food, people, culture, art and music, and the general vibe that comprise the true heart of any city.
I had only two days to get a feel for culturally enormous New Orleans (NOLA)—it took only about 20 seconds to realize that The Big Easy is one of the most unique and interesting places in the United States. No, in the world.
At first, I was overwhelmed by the prospect that I would miss nearly everything that NOLA has to offer. Then it occurred to me that my first visit there was to sample what I was truly drawn to, and return later to explore with more focus. In that spirit, I’m going to break down my experience into six parts, the aspects that you couldn’t miss in New Orleans even if you tried…
You can tell that those who live in NOLA want to be there more than in any other place. There is a palpable feeling of civic pride—love of music, art, food, friends and family are obvious reflections that stream throughout. Still rebuilding after the hurricane, locals continue to face struggles and hardship, and yet everywhere you turn you are met with an unshakable spirit. The blend of Creole and American South ancestral roots make this a very hometown and worldly place alike. If there is one word I would use to personify the culture of New Orleans, it’s soul.
Big Brass Jazz & Street Music
NOLA is known for big brass jazz. And for walking. And as you walk, you are carried by the music, it physically moves you from one block to the next. You don’t need to search for the music, it WILL find you. I found myself drawn to a guitar/violin duo named Tanya and Dorise that mesmerized every passerby. I stood on the street corner for two hours with at least 100 other people listening intently to them play, and I wound up putting all of my money in their baskets.
My mind’s eye is forever fixed on whatever photo opportunity is nearby. In the French Quarter—known as the Vieux Carré, the oldest neighborhood in the city—is made up of countless corridors of lace-like balconies dressed in greenery and flowers, art lined streets, horse-drawn carriages, unique architectural styles (mansions, Creole cottages) providing a perfect backdrop to shot after Instagram-worthy shot. Note to travelers: Camera theft of tourists is a known problem so snap smart and be discreet with your hardware.
Authentic, Outstanding Creole Food
I am a cultural foodie, and I have my foodie needs. In NOLA, I was determined to taste the heart of the city, so I went to the Acme Oyster House where I could try the triple-threat all on one plate: gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya. Awesome. But of course, the food scene offers so much more than creole classics. Such as pralines: sweet caramel nut clusters that the deep south is famous for. Or beignets, a powdered sugar covered pastry made famous by New Orleans; hearty chicory coffee; Sazerac cocktails (born in NOLA and famous worldwide); gulf shrimp po’ boys, Muffalata (the world’s best 17$ sandwich), Gulf oysters and shrimp, gator sausage—good god!
And what is a spicy city without miles of hot sauce?! New Orleans is known as the home of the world’s most famous hot sauce of all: Tabasco (Avery Island where it is produced is just 140 miles outside of NOLA). But if you visit the Pepper Palace, you’ll get to explore much more—thousands of other varieties of Louisiana hot sauces, with accoutrements paired and laid out for tasting. I had some pretty perfect Neapolitan style pizza at the popular Domenica Restaurant; and perfect service and food at Emeril’s world famous (but not too touristy) NOLA.
There is so much to eat, two days or a even a month isn’t going to cut it. Guess I’ll have to go back. 🙂
I’m not much of a shopper—I would rather spend my dough on food!—but the boutiques are so varied and eclectic that you’ll have an easy time picking up a memento of the French Quarter. I’m not talking about tee shirts and magnets (though I picked up a really cool craftsman magnet made from a steel shack). No, for that stuff you head to The French Market. The items there are mostly made in China and targeted at tourists, but there are exceptional local artists embedded throughout.
“Nightlife” (otherwise known as drinking all day long…)
I had two nights and two very different experiences: drunken debauchery on Bourbon street; and a more authentic NOLA night where the locals hang and music croons on nearby Frenchman street.
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