Disclosure: Club Carlson compensated me and provided for my travel and accommodations in exchange for writing about my travels with them. Regardless, everything I have said in the post reflects my honest observations and opinions.
Actually, I need to call this post How to Do Everything Wrong in 48 Hours in New Orleans – but it was just too long. It’s true – I did do everything wrong in New Orleans starting with the fact that I showed up a day before Hurricane Karen which was headed for NOLA.
I didn’t go to the Garden District, I didn’t ride a street car, I didn’t eat a praline, and I even did the unthinkable – I ate Turkish food one night. Yes – I was causing trouble in New Orleans bucking the normal tourist spots and trying to find something different – yet still experience that New Orleans flare and culture. I was successful on some counts, but I will admit I did make a stop at Pat Obrien’s for a hurricane. Not at all because I like drinks that taste like Hawaiian Punch – but more because I felt like if I was going to arrive during a hurricane, I might as well drink one.
I’m half way through my Club Carlson Global Travelers itinerary now and in all honestly – I feel like a hurricane myself. I’m moving at incredible speeds, whirling around without a real predicable plan when I arrive in a destination – but somehow it always works out. And New Orleans was no exception. In fact – Hurricane Karen was so unpredictable that she didn’t even show up as planned. In fact she didn’t really show up at all.
My plan was non-existent when I arrived but it somehow all came together with some help from locals, help from social media followers, and a little help from my hotel Concierge.
I stayed at the Country Inns & Suites By CarlsonSM French Quarter while in New Orleans. I must admit though – I spent very little time in my room – after all, it is New Orleans. However the hotel had an interesting New Orleans history of it’s own. The hotel was actually developed inside of 7 historic merchant buildings dating back to the 1860’s. It primarily used to be home to the publishing company the Clarion Herald. They did a great job of keep the interior feel with exposed beams and pipes giving it a bit of a warehouse feel yet providing comfortable country shared spaces. There were old images of the printing presses and the historic buildings lining the walls – a fascinating history to see.
One of my favorite things to do was simply wander the streets. I am always pleasantly surprised at people’s hospitality in the Southern US, always greeting you when you walk by, smiling, and calling you Mam. It’s such a different speed in the South, and I have to remind myself to operate differently as if I were in another country.
And according to my cemetery guide Ernie – I was in another country. While on the cemetery tour I asked him what I thought to be a simple question about why the slaves were treated differently in New Orleans as compared to the rest of the Southern US. He quickly and forcefully answered, “New Orleans is not the South. It’s a Caribbean country surrounded by the Southern US.”
Ok – I stand corrected. My grade school geography teacher wasn’t going to like Ernie’s answer – but as I spent the next two days talking to people about history of and present day New Orleans – I have to admit, I think Ernie wasn’t too far off with that statement. New Orleans is definitely different from other cities I’ve been to in the South – it has a reckless abandon wrapped up and delivered in southern hospitality.
Calling New Orleans the Southern US wasn’t the only thing I did wrong while I was there.
Biking Instead of a Street Car
Instead of riding a one of the famous streetcars, I decided to bike around New Orleans and get out of the French Quarter to places that are less touristed with the help of Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours. We rode around places that I never would have gotten to on my own and learned about the history of the areas and how all of the neighborhoods intermixed. Our guide was full of information he dispersed while on the bike yelling back at us, however I was most enthralled with simply riding slowly on our cruisers and checking out the amazing architecture and ornate houses that are so distinctly New Orleans.
We rode out of the French Quarter, and into Marigny and the Bywater areas where we stopped and walked down Rosalie Alley – the home to a voodoo temple and some interesting artwork.
Esplanade and City Park instead of the Garden District
I never even made it to the famed Garden District – instead I explored the original Garden District on Esplanade Ave. via bike. The Avenue was an important 19th century portage route of trade between the Bayou which linked to Lake Pontchartrain and the River. Esplanade Ave was the Creole model for the Americans when they started to develop the St. Charles Ave. in the Garden District. Today Esplanade Ave. is lined with old mansions, big arching trees, a few restaurants, and a diversity of cultures. Esplanade Ave dumps right into the large and lovely New Orleans City Park. The park was a huge surprise to me – it was home to a sculpture garden, 400 year old oak trees, the New Orleans Museum of Art and countless running/biking/walking trails. The park is said to be twice the size of Central Park.
Frenchman Street Instead of Bourbon Street
When I ducked into a vintage dress shop during a rain storm I struck up a conversation with the saleswoman and she had a wealth of local tips for me – but the main one was to go to Frenchman Street if I wanted to hear good, live music. I quickly walked through the rowdy Bourbon Street where I was propositioned to show ‘skin’ for beads (ummm…sorry – but 3 plastic bead necklaces is not nearly enough for that – 3 martinis maybe.), and I headed to Frenchman Street. As I arrived I heard a horn commotion and saw a large crowd gathering on a corner. I pushed my way through to see about 8 guys with horns jamming away while others danced in the streets. Now this was New Orleans.
I went on to all of the bars on Frenchmen Street over the course of 2 nights and was in love with the vibe. The music was great, dancing was allowed (which many places on Bourbon St. don’t allow), and the drinks were about $2 cheaper than Bourbon St. There was a big swing dancing festival in town recently so I was able to watch some great dancing too! This is where (more) locals go to hang out and listen to music – yet I’m sure as the popularity grows, the locals will find other spots to do their thing. But until then – this is a must if you love music and dancing. See for yourself in this short 1 minute video I took:
The Traditional Look at Cemeteries
I did do one ‘right’ thing – I took a cemetery tour when I first arrived. It was a great primer as it was much more than just the St. Louis cemetery and the strange burial tactics used in New Orleans. It also provided historical background of the French Quarter, Congo Square, and various other bits of trivia. And of course we visited St. Louis 1 cemetery near the French Quarter and saw some of the infamous graves and learned how 100,000 people had been buried there in this small space thanks to their unique burial process.
Felix instead of ACME
I hate lines. Somewhere in my 40’s I have become my dad – the person who refuses to wait in lines. So when I walked up to ‘famous’ ACME Oyster House and there was a huge line out the door, I looked across the street and saw a sign for Oysters at Felix’s Restaurant – I headed across the street to eat my oysters. I prefer them raw – so this is normally something a restaurant can’t really screw up. I sat at the bar and watched the waitress mix me up a spicy horseradish ketchup sauce concoction. I love oysters (especially when you can get a dozen for $13) – and this wasn’t the only stop I made for them – I’m a bit of an Oyster nut. I also enjoyed them at Royal House Oyster Bar which was equally delicious!
Beignets at Night Instead of the Morning
I couldn’t come to New Orleans without have beignets. Most people head to Café Du Mond for their beignet fix and chicory coffee, but once again – I didn’t want to wait in a line. So instead as I was walking back from Frenchman Street at 1:30 in the morning – I was surprised and delighted to find Café Du Mond open! There was no wait – and I was sitting eating my beignets within 3 minutes from walking in the café!
Coops Instead of NOLA
Most people head to the high end restaurants like Emerald’s NOLA, but I did it all wrong and went to Coop’s Place, a little dive bar recommended by a local for their smoked duck quesadillas and rabbit sausage jambalaya. I made friends at the bar and had extra money left over for beignets!
I also really did go to a Turkish restaurant one night – what can I say – shawarma sounded good to me! But don’t fear – I did eat the Creole classics too – like red beans and rice, bread pudding in rum butter sauce, and grilled oysters.
I was able to capture some of the New Orleans nightlife and architecture in two quick days – here’s what I saw:
Next up – I’m leaving on the heals of now Tropical Storm Karen and heading into the more polite, proper South – Savannah Georgia!
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