01 February, 2013
New Orleans Revisited: Part One
I have just returned from a visit to one of my favorite places…New Orleans! The trip was in celebration of a special occasion that I will reveal in a few moments. If you have never been, you owe it to yourself to head on down to the Big Easy to spend a few days! I’ll bet you can guess why I love it so much….yes, it’s so very French Creole! It really feels like you have traveled to another country…another place and time! This is my third trip there and I certainly am not an expert, but I would like to share with you some of my favorite things to do in case you ever have a chance to go!
First and foremost, I think it is a good idea to stay in the French Quarter. If you do, you can ditch your car for the duration of your visit. You don’t have to stay in an expensive hotel. This was our first time at the Place d’Armes Hotel and I will go back (and they aren’t paying me to say that! lol) It is literally steps from Jackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter or Vieux Carré as some still call it. That’s our room on the second floor with the balcony overlooking the courtyard! You can hear the bells of St. Louis Cathedral as they ring their morning greeting at 7:30 am and as they say good evening at 6:00 pm….ahhhhh!
Doesn’t this just look like a postcard? Here is Jackson Square with a view of the cathedral in the background…gorgeous! That’s Andrew Jackson on his horse…the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. (If you are old like me, a song starts up in your brain…♪♪ In 1814, we took a little trip...Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip ♪♪…) lol Be sure to head out early before all of the other tourists are out and about to really enjoy the atmosphere! And speaking of atmosphere…it is hot and humid there…very tropical, in fact…but in September, the rates have not gone up yet and I don’t honestly think waiting a week or two until October makes that much difference! I just told myself that the humidity was good for my skin! lol
Cross the street at Jackson Square and head over to the Café du Monde, a French Quarter icon, for some wonderful beignets…French donuts…and café au lait made with their world famous chicory coffee! The menu is limited and the place is usually packed all day long. I love to sit in the outdoor section and people watch. Don’t be surprised if a street musician provides some music to munch by! Our guitarist played a wonderful selection of Beatles songs! Just a hint…don’t wear black unless you want to wear a powdered sugar badge all day long! lol
We took the tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 (there are several)…the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. Of course, it came with its own resident black cat! Be sure to go with a guide because it’s not in the best part of town. Ours was very knowledgeable and interesting, so it was well worth the price. She told us that the French built the tombs above ground, not because of the high water table…although it’s a help in this city…but because the first tombs were based on the crypts at Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris! Interesting! Of course, many come here to see the tomb of the voodoo queen Marie Laveau…
…but here’s the one I came to see! Do you know whose it is? Hint…it’s still unoccupied! Have you guessed? It’s the tomb of Nicolas Cage! lol Yes, he had this tomb built and a small section of the cemetery restored for himself! I am sure this is as close as I will ever get, although our guide said she saw him twice last week, as did our waiter at Arnaud’s! Too bad we were late!
Be sure to ride the historic streetcars that run through the oldest parts of the city! You can get an all day pass for $5 and see the sights outside of the French Quarter. A must-do is a ride on the St. Charles streetcars that run through the beautiful Garden District, where the English-speaking newcomers settled.
We got off at the Washington Street stop and turned left, past gorgeous old Greek revival mansions and wonderful gingerbread shotgun houses (so named because you could shoot a gun straight through the whole house) and headed towards…
…Commander’s Palace! They offer a less expensive menu during lunch hours, but be forewarned…no shorts! I had their version of tomato soup and grilled cheese…a fabulous crab and pepper jack cheese sandwich served with smoked tomato bisque…the best I’ve ever had! My traveling buddy and good friend Nan had the Caribbean shrimp salad served in a coconut shell. You cannot leave without having their world famous bread pudding soufflé with whiskey sauce…yummy!
Want to connect with old New Orleans and see the interiors of some wonderful old homes? Start with the Beauregard-Keyes House! It was the temporary residence of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard in the 1860s and then, in the 1940s, the home of the novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes. Here is the stately 19th century mansion as it appears today and…
…here it is the way it looked in the early 1900s. In fact, most of the French Quarter had fallen into ruin and was a low-rent district housing many of the Italian immigrants who had come to New Orleans seeking work. Only in the 1960s was it declared a National Historic Landmark to ensure that the wonderful old buildings would be preserved. Quite a transformation, isn’t it?
A peek inside the home reveals rooms full of wonderful antiques, many of which were donated by both the Beauregard and Keyes families, including many personal items.
Be sure to take a walk around the grounds to see the lovely walled garden, visible from the street through a wrought iron gate, as well as a beautiful old courtyard with views from both the mansion and the servants’ quarters.
If you have managed to walk enough to build up an appetite, how about dinner at Galatoire’s? (Please note that I have compressed several days into one. There is no way to eat this much food in one day! lol) Here you may not make reservations for the downstairs dining room and must line up on Bourbon Street to get in….but it’s so worth the wait! I had their wonderful shrimp rémoulade, followed by eggplant stuffed with crab and shrimp…heavenly! And you may have guessed by now that I was celebrating a special occasion…my 60th birthday!…with a candle atop their yummy crème caramel!
Of course, in New Orleans, you must top off the evening at least once with a stop at a jazz/R&B club! We were fortunate enough to go to Snug Harbor to hear Charmaine Neville, niece of Aaron Neville and a real talent in her own right. What fun! The club is rightly named, since it is an intimate setting and several times during the evening, members of her family and her neighbors dropped in to join in the show!
I am making myself stop here and will continue next time with more about my trip to New Orleans! I hope you will join me as I continue to eat my way across the French Quarter in this city full of friendly people, fabulous music and wonderful sights!
See you next time! A la prochaine!