For those of you who do not know, NOLA is the nickname for New Orleans. Four years ago, one of my good friends, Jessie, had the genius idea to invite all her best friends to celebrate her 30th birthday with her in New Orleans. We agreed, and I had a great week there for so many reasons, a big one being that I was in extremely good company.
One of the most important things you can do in New Orleans if you are a French speaker is to forget everything you know about pronouncing words. It has no place in Creole or in Louisiana. Although, the namesake is Orleans, France, and this statue resides on Decatur Street, a gift from France. Created by Emmanuel Frémiet, and modeled after a girl from Orleans, the original resides in Paris just next to the Louvre, and we have one in Philadelphia next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I now only need to get to the one in Nancy, France, and the other in Melbourne and I can say I have seen them all!
We stayed in Treme, in a wonderful place called Hotel Storyville. Hotel Storyville has all the southern charm of balconies, big porches, rocking chairs, as well as a nice garden in the back, complete with blenders (yes, for frozen drinks!) in every room. It is also a great location, as you can easily walk into the French Quarter, but you don’t have to sleep next to the party every night that is Bourbon Street.
The first morning, I woke up excited, and decided to get some breakfast supplies. I was the first one awake, and couldn’t figure out the WiFi to Google a grocery store, so I tested out the famous Southern Charm. A man was watering his garden across the street and I inquired about the closest grocery store or market. He was going to send me to the French Quarter, and as I figured we would be going there a lot, I asked if there was somewhere else. He recalled a grocery store in the area had finally reopened and pointed me in the opposite direction. Along my walk to the store, I could not believe my eyes. There were so many beautiful houses, but also shells of beautiful houses, abandoned and boarded up along my walk. Everyone I passed on the way to the store said, “Good Morning, how are you today?” For a Philadelphia girl, this was strange. I finally got to the grocery store, which was tucked under an overpass, but it had a fresh coat of white paint on it and was very clean in comparison to the neglected neighborhood I just walked through. Circle Food Store.
I think a grocery store is a great way to get to know a new place. Just by looking at all of the different products I have never seen before, I am humbled by how I know nothing at all about other places in the world, even other Americans. When I first walked into Circle Food Store, there was a little box full of chicks. Their little cheeping and the warm lights were alluring, and I don’t know anyone who can resist going to stare at some baby chickens. I remember all the okra, I had never seen so much in my life, so many hot sauces, Cajun spice mixes, craw fish flavored everything and of course, craw fish. I stuck with just the basics of bacon, eggs, bread, fruit and some juice. The most incredible thing about this market I would learn is that it had finally just reopened after Hurricane Katrina. Many things like grocery stores, pharmacies and other places we take for granted on a daily basis, had closed after the hurricane, never to reopen again. It took years for this grocery store to recover from all the damage, and it was a huge relief to the neighborhood to see it open again. If that doesn’t give you gratitude for what you have on a daily basis, I don’t know what will.
There are a lot of amazing things to do in New Orleans. I will just highlight a couple of my favorite places we visited. I think a great way to start any day is to get a beignet (a donut) and a coffee at Cafe du Monde. The wait in line is never as bad as it seems, and it was worth the wait to have a fresh, warm beignet. I advise taking your breakfast to the Mississippi and sun bathing before it gets too hot out.
There are gorgeous parks, squares, and outdoor areas galore, but the Tree of Life in Audubon Park, is a must see. It was named after the first mayor of New Orleans, but no one calls it by the name, Étienne de Boré. No one is exactly sure how old the tree is, but if you are into the whole idea that this tree has hundreds of years of energy it is made up of, or even if you aren’t, you would enjoy picnicking here. Also, there are giraffes.
For lunch I would recommend a Po’Boy. Anyone from eastern Pennsylvania is crazy about hoagies, or as they are known elsewhere, subs. This is the NOLA version of a hoagie, soft bread, some kind of fresh and fried seafood, shredded lettuce, remoulade, tomatoes, and pickles. I also love and adore New Orlean’s signature chips – Zapp’s. My favorite is the VooDoo Heat variety, but of course there are crawfish and gator flavors, too.
I enjoyed the ferry ride we took across the Mississippi one afternoon, that takes you to Algiers Point. There are a few little bars in this boating and dockside neighborhood. We stopped into Crown & Anchor English Pub, which had glasses and mugs hanging from the ceiling, and old antique decor covering the walls. It is the type of place that it is easy to forget what time of day it is, for there is always someone telling a good story and enjoying themselves here. It is just the right type of atmosphere, that walking back into the bright afternoon heat, after remembering it is the middle of the day, will scorch you as though you were a vampire.
We had some lovely dinners, there is no shortage of good restaurants but our most memorable night was when we prepared dinner ourselves, and opted for group photo time. Everyone in a big group has a role in a big dinner, and someone had set a long white table up in the cabana for us to eat dinner at. It reminded me of a Last Supper Table, and conveniently we were exactly 14 people, 13 to pose for the recreation, and one person to take the photo.
There are a couple of things I always tell people about New Orleans. I think that it is incredible that you can get an adult beverage to-go anywhere in the city. Some places have walk up windows for that purpose, with the most touristic places competing with each other for most ridiculous plastic cup, since no glass is allowed in the streets. Every bar even has a “help yourself” plastic cup table next to the door, so before you leave the bar, you can transfer your drink to plastic. Additionally, Bourbon Street is a must see, and even going on an “off night”, there will be a party somewhere, karaoke blasting out of one bar by school teachers, police on horseback checking into another, and the drunk en masse.
We did the oldest bar in America, LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which is said to be haunted. I think it is just creepy because they only use candle light, and the whole place is dark and spooky. The best bar in my opinion was the Pirates’ Alley Cafe (certainly not the best website, someone over there, please get in touch with me), where a lovely bartender, dressed as a Pirate and maybe missing a tooth schooled me in all things absinthe. I splurged for the more expensive version of Absinthe, you know: the one with wormwood, and within an hour, was completely satisfied with my purchase. You get an education in absinthe, as well as a slow water drip, in a red light bar, with all the right feeling. Oh and it is next door to Faulkner’s House.
New Orleans wouldn’t be the city it is without music. We were there during Jazz Fest, which had all kinds of good music, and plenty of people piled up in lawn chairs to enjoy the day sipping beverages. I felt more at home during a street parade that happened one night in the Marigny neighborhood, just northeast of the French Quarter, on Frenchman Street. We had enjoyed a Soul Food dinner of a ton of fried shrimp at The Praline Connection, and the street was full of brass band music for what seemed like the whole night. The streets were filled with locals, not tourists, and everyone was dancing or playing music. The atmosphere was electric to say the least.
“There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music of New Orleans or Duke Ellington. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly. ”
― Boris Vian
Now, what do you do with your hangover? I advise a burger at Port of Call, and perhaps washing it down with a tropical cocktail. Hands down one of the best burgers I have ever had. The place is always packed, giving credit to the amazing food and decor.
New Orleans is the kind of place you never want to leave, and some people really never do. Some people will enjoy the spice of life that is the Cajun and Creole culture for the rest of their lives, and some of them, sadly, just end up in the street. Some people buy up their crypt space next to a Voodoo Queen, Mistress Marie Laveau, in St. Louis Cemetary No. 1, and truly, stay for eternity. There is certainly no where else in the world remotely like it, and if you are a bon vivant, music lover, or parade lover, it is a must see.