The roots of Jazz
Continuing south in the country, after our second base Baltimore, from where we reach the cities of Washington DC and Philadelphia the days before, it’s now time for something completely different. A place I’ve never been before in the States. One of the oldest cities in North America, founded in 1718 by the French, the back then known as Nouvelle-Orleans as the capital of the French colony of Louisiana, although not for long French as it turned hands to the Spanish rule in 1760. Welcome to the masterpiece city of New Orleans, our home for the next 4 days.
One of the most mixed-races cities ever since its foundation, it is still the most authentic Acadian (Cajun) and Creole in the whole of the USA. The blend of French, Spanish, and African, the primary ethnic and cultural groups in old Creole culture, and the additional input from Native Americans and early German immigrants before the 19th century. And after the United States purchase of Louisiana in 1803, the mix kept growing with Italians from Sicily, Irish, new generation of Germans, Caribbean and Central Americans.
All of this left a clear mark in the city and its traditions, therefore being one of the most unique cities in the country. But for something it is world renown, aside of the birthplace of Jazz music; is its architecture. A truly masterpiece to be honest, with such grand mansions in Georgian, Federal and Spanish style. While the old town is known as the French Quarter, little is left from the French, as it was during the Spanish rule this area had to be rebuilt after a fire destroyed most of the city. The Spanish influence is the prime style here, with the addition of the characteristic metallic balconies. In the districts surrounding the historic French Quarter, the most influential style is Georgian and Federal, and of course, a Business District with art-deco and international style towers and shiny skyscrapers.
Visiting the city is easy, especially that it’s perfectly pedestrian friendly and best enjoyed on foot almost everywhere. Calculating you time here is also easy, 3 days will be enough for seeing it all with plenty of time, no rush. Split your tour in a day for the French Quarter, another day for the Business District plus a boat tour, and a third for the City Park and Saint Charles Avenue taking the trams anywhere along.
While day and night is a thriving city, you should be aware that at night it can turn a bit naughty, notably along Bourbon Street due to the many discos, strip bars and because this is one of the prime cities in the United States for celebrating stag parties and whatsoever the party celebration it is. Drugs and alcohol is a serious problem, although as a tourist without intentions to go out partying or just for a bit and normal, it will not impact you much. In the other hand, walking day or night around the streets you will see plenty of performers playing jazz and soul music, really nice and enjoyable, same at the many historic cafes and bars.
Talking some notes about food, these are your good news. It’s fantastic almost everywhere you go, and it’s of course, based on the creole (which main ingredients include green peppers, called here “trinity”, onion and celery). Meats of any kind are a must. Seafood and fish is plentiful, being famous oysters, soft shell crab, crawfish (mountain lobsters, usually boiled in spicy water and served with corn and potatoes). Gumbo soup is based on vegetables, and the most traditional topping would be seafood, although you can find it with chicken, duck, sausages and similar. Then there is the red beans with rice, a dish you cannot miss to be honest in the city. While it sounds simple, it’s very tasty with the mix of the slowly cooked beans with onions, bell pepper, celery, and spices.
For some traditional fast food, you have the Po-boys, which is a sandwich, however on a “French baguette” which they call po-boy loaf. Another kind of sandwich would be the muffaletta, which is served on a big round airy Italian loaf similar to focaccia and contains meat cuts, cheese and salad.
And to mention some famous desserts and sweets, try the Bananas Foster. As the name says, it’s a banana, served warm with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, rum and vanilla ice-cream; and generally made flambe style in the front of the customer. Another option served with a cafe are the Beignets (pronounced “ben-yays”). These are deep fried square donuts covered with powdered sugar; and while it is traditional French, it was brought here, and then made official as the United States of America favourite donuts.
For more information about New Orleans check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United States of America currency is the Dollar (USD, $). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in New Orleans
- French Quarter The historic original settlement of the French colonial city where most of the sights are. Located northwest of the Mississippi River, following a perfect orthogonal street grid pattern, legacy of the French and Spanish. The major thoroughfare Canal Street acts as the divisory line between this and the Central Business District at the southern edge, while Esplanade Avenue limits the quarter by the north.
-Esplanade Avenue The eastern edge of the French Quarter dividing it from the Faubourg Marigny district across. Many mansions align this thoroughfare, and home to the Old Mint, located right by the riverside end of the avenue.
-Jackson Square The oldest of any squares in the city, and the centrepoint of the French Quarter. Modelled after the famous 17th-century Place des Vosges of Paris
-Andrew Jackson Statue Placed in the middle of the square. He was a hero of the Battle of New Orleans and seventh U.S. President.
-Saint Louis Cathedral The oldest cathedral in what would become the United States. It mostly dates from the 1850 expansion and restoration.
-Old City Hall Known as the Cabildo during the Spanish colonial times, located at the west side of the Cathedral was where the final version of the Louisiana Purchase was signed.
-Presbytère At the right side of the Cathedral, was built to match the Cabildo.
-Pontalba Buildings Flanking both east and west sides of the square were built in 1840 in red brick with shops in the floors below and in the upper levels, the reputedly oldest continuously-rented apartments in the United States.
-Jax Brewery Nowadays an entertainment centre with restaurants and bars. Located at the southern edge of the square facing the riverside.
-French Market At the northeast edge of the square facing the river. Where you can find one of the most celebrated cafes in the city, the Café du Monde famous for its café au lait and beignets.
-Chartres Street This is the second main avenue through the French Quarter counting from the riverside. It passes right by the Jackson Square at the Cathedral.
-Royal Street Or Calle Mayor as it’s the name in Spanish. The next street after Chartres, and one of the most celebrated in the city.
-Bourbon Street Name that comes from Calle De Borbon is the principal street through the historic French Quarter, and the most famous. It’s the next parallel to Royal. Plenty of beautiful buildings align both sides, and main centre of entertainment and nightlife.
-Dauphine Street The next one in importance for the amount of historical buildings, however any farther beyond (2 more avenues left in the Quarter) is not needed to visit form a tourist point of view.
-Canal Street The southern edge of the French Quarter, division of the former French and American districts. Commonly known ever since the Neutral Zone. Many of the largest city’s hotels are along this avenue.
-Spanish Plaza The terminus of the street by the Mississippi river. Here you can find the Ferry Landing where to take the boats.
-River ferry The budget alternative to riverboats (such as the Natchez) is taking the pedestrian ferry for just $2 each way from the foot of Canal Street across the Mississippi to Algiers Point and back for a great view of the river, downtown, and the French Quarter.
-Natchez Steamboat Docked at the Toulouse Street Wharf, it is the only authentic steamboat remaining in the city. A must do for a first timer in the city would be a tour, and listening to the Calliope concert that happens twice daily before it cruises. Here is the official website for all the information you need to know.
-US Custom House Built in 1848 with its granite facade added in 1920.
- Central Business District Historically known as the American Quarter, is located along the west of the Mississippi River, immediately south of the French Quarter across Canal Street.
-Poydras Street Along with Canal at the north side, the major thoroughfare in the district, containing major hotels and some of the finest towers in the city.
-Lafayette Square The main square in this quarter, and second oldest in the city itself.
-Federal Reserve Bank Nowadays the Museum of Trade and Finance.
-Gallier Hall Once home to the Mayor’s Office, City Hall and other city’s offices, it is nowadays one of the main venues of the Mardi Gras celebrations.
-Court of Appeals Along the southeastern side of the square.
-Saint Charles Avenue Radiating off from the Central Business District at the Lee Circle Roundabout, is one of the longest in the city. It is entirely accessible via the historic trams, hence a great way to get along and enjoy its many beautiful buildings and sights.
-Streetcar Ride The oldest continuously operating streetcar in the U.S (dating from 1835) runs along the entire length of St Charles Avenue.
-Pontchartrain Hotel Few stops after the Lee Circle you will see this historic hotel, and farther beyond the avenue great beautiful buildings.
- City Park One of the country’s most expansive and visited urban parks, home to one of the largest stands of oak trees in the world. You can reach it by taking a Canal Street tram that branches off and has a stop right there.
-NOMA New Orleans Museum of Art, located by the intersection of Carrillton Avenue and Esplanade Avenue, near the terminus station of the Canal Street – City Park tram line.
Louis Armstrong International Airport is the main port of arrival/departure in the city. It is also one of only 4 airports in the USA that can fly to Cuba.
Coming overland by railway can be a good option. This is the terminus of the “Crescent Journey” from New York City to New Orleans once daily (2200 km). Another great cross-continental journeys is the “City of New Orleans” linking New Orleans, Memphis and Chicago (1500 km). As last, the “Sunset Limited” connects to Los Angeles, 3200 km west.
Within the city, there is nothing more authentic than taking a streetcar (tram). The network currently covers 4 lines, and are quite helpful tourist-wise talking. The St. Charles Streetcar Line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in America, operating since 1835. It links Canal Street all the way towards the west, passing the entire St Charles Avenue with its many mansions. Another of the great lines for tourists is the Riverfront Line which runs parallel to the river from Esplanade Street through the French Quarter and onto Canal Street above Julia Street in the Arts District. The Canal Street Line uses the Riverfront for the beginning, then branches towards the City Park, very convenient to reach it, together with the NOMA.
Buses cover the rest of the city, however their frequencies are still quite poor 13 years after Hurricane Katrina. In any case, you would rarely need to take one.
As last, ferries are a great option to get vantage points of view of the city and its skyline. The main dock is by Canal Street, serving three different routes, being the most touristy that to Algiers point across the Mississippi.
Being such an important city and one of the most visited in the country either by national and international travellers, the amount of hotels is quite large with a wide variety of any kind from the top luxurious boutique to the more modest, and countless B&B and/or airb&b style. Finding a good deal was not difficult for us considering we went in the high season. Fortunately, the cost per night in this city is not as high as was in the previous cities we came from in this trip. The usual note in here, a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Best Western Plus St. Christopher Hotel, in 114 Magazine Street. This is just around the corner of Canal Street, right in between both the Central Business District and the French Quarter, walking distance to almost every sight in the city, and next door to the tram stop. location could not be any better, furthermore knowing most of the large hotels are located along Canal and the side streets here.
The property was great in every sense, really nice decor inside and out, very clean and well cared for, however no windows in the room. This was not a problem, and also in the booking they did specify this remark. not every room has window, yet you do not feel claustrophobic or anything. The staff was very kind and friendly, and super helpful, and so was a nice breakfast included in the rate. Definitely we can recommend to anyone.