With the new year, Lent will be coming and that means one thing in the South–Mardi Gras. And the biggest one happens in New Orleans.
Recently my company developed a new tour that goes to New Orleans. I have been to that city many times and it’s a fun place to visit, especially if you like to eat and drink. You will find bowls filled to the rim with gumbo, late nights in dark jazz clubs, and strolls through historic neighborhoods. There are many festivals throughout the year, including the most famous one, Mardi Gras.
New Orleans is one of the world’s most fascinating cities and home to a truly unique melting pot of culture, food and music. The people who came to the city arrived from Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa.
There are Cajuns and Creoles. The difference? Mainly it has to do with how they migrated since both groups are strongly influenced by French culture. The Cajuns came from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick regions of Canada. The British were worried they would rise up and fight on the side with the French during the French and Indian War so they expelled them from the region.
The Creoles are made up of people from Spain, Africa, the Caribbean and many other regions. Their cuisine is different as to spiciness and they tend to include elements of African, Native American or Caribbean culture into their music and faith. Cajuns usually use a jazz or blues style and lean toward Catholicism.
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city in Louisiana. The population in the city is approximately 344,000 with over a million in the greater metro area. Since the city is on the Mississippi River and the river bends, the town is also called Crescent City.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 New Orleans grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles, and Africans. Later immigrants were the Irish, Germans, and Italians. Sugar and cotton produced on large plantations outside the city helped the economy grow.
The city’s expansion was due to a drainage plan designed to drain huge tracts of swamp and marshland and expand into low-lying areas. However over the years these newly populated areas declined to several feet below sea level, leaving the city like a bowl. Even today when we are on tour there, buses are no longer allowed into the French Quarter. They fear the streets could crack under the weight of these heavy vehicles. Instead we have to stay on the perimeter and then walk in to the Quarter.
During Hurricane Katrina the levees tipped over and Lake Ponchatrain spilled in decimating much of the city. However the French Quarter and St. Charles Historic district remained intact with little flooding since they are on much higher ground.
There is very distinct old architectural style found in the French Quarter. When you see balcony buildings with lots of wrought iron you are probably in the city. Remember the town is several hundred years old and is also in the humid South. I had one traveler who was very disappointed when he saw the French Quarter for the first time. He thought it was dirty and run down. But that is New Orleans.
People drink and eat on Bourbon Street every day and at night they close the street to vehicle traffic. The partygoers throw their garbage and cups in the street. Every morning the trucks come in and sweep up the garbage and then they hose the street down. I know that sounds yucky but it works.
There is a lot to do around the city. On our tour we go to the National World War II Museum which is an excellent attraction. We also have a step-on guide who takes us all over the city. But if you are not on an escorted tour you can ride the trolleys and see the famous St. Charles Avenue with all the famous mansions. This street is also part of the Mardi Gras parade route and months later you will still see Mardi Gras beads hanging from trees and electric wires.
We also go to a cemetery to better understand the unique burial system in the city. You’ll never see any movie or Television show with New Orleans as the setting without seeing one of the famous cemeteries.
It is best to take some type of tour or trolley to become familiar with the city.
They don’t call it “The Crescent City” for nothing. Streets can bend in all kinds of weird directions. On top of that the Americans and French did not get along very well back in the 1800’s. So they built many boulevards where they could meet since this was considered neutral ground.
The main thoroughfare leading to the French Quarter is called Canal Street. It is one of the widest streets in America due to the fact it separated the two cultures. Here all the streets have different names when they cross Canal. One side is the American named street and the other, the French named street. So when St. Charles Ave gets to Canal Street, the name is changed to Royal. And, Bourbon changes to Carondelet.
If that gets too confusing for you, don’t worry. Get to historic Jackson Square and find a restaurant that serves Gumbo, PoBoys or Muffalettas. For dessert you’re off to Café du Monde for beignets and coffee as you watch the street people and artists selling their wares.
After that if walking the Quarter doesn’t do much for you take a horse and buggy ride or have a bicyclist ride you around. After all you need to save yourself for serious partying that evening.
That is why the city is called “The Big Easy.”
Editor’s note: To read in depth about the Seattle, WA area, check out Kileen’s book, “Journey Beckons.” You can order it through her website (as well as preview the first few chapters) at www.kileenprather.com or you can order it through Amazon either in book form or the kindle edition.
Happy to say that Kileen has been very busy. Her latest book, “Journey To Port” is now also available through Amazon/kindle, and it’s also in book form through Amazon. Also, on her website (www.kileenprather.com), you can both preview a few chapters as well as order the book.
Ohhhhh my. Kileen is hitting a “home-run” again! Just released: “Journey To The Tropics” in which she explores love the second time around – all set within lush environment of the Bahamas! Enjoy – and visit Amazon to get your copy!