I traveled to New Orleans in Feburary 2010 to participate in the inaugural Mardi Gras Half Marathon (which took place a few weeks after the actual Mardi Gras), and am SO glad I did. What a city! New Orleans is truly a feast for the senses. There’s plenty to see and do, and good God – the food is incredible! I can’t wait to return, and hope to make it back to the Big Easy soon – very soon!
See & Do
Though New Orleans at large still shows some residual effects of the havoc wreaked by Katrina, it’s business as usual where tourism is concerned and I saw very little evidence of the hurricane in the areas I visited. I was happy to support the city and its inhabitants with my tourism dollars.
I read someplace that New Orleans is the “most foreign” city on U.S. soil, and I agree – it’s certainly unique. I was utterly charmed by the architecture – from large, stately homes in the Garden District, to the ornate railings lining the balconies in the French Quarter. A sense of history saturates New Orleans – and visual reminders of days past are plentiful. The streetcars rumbling through the city were particularly pleasing, as were the plastic Mardi Gras beads dripping off many of the city’s trees – a reminder of their famous yearly party.
Historic Final Resting Places
Somber but beautiful, New Orleans cemeteries are worth a visit – particularly the older ones. Instead of being buried underground, the deceased in New Orleans are interred in above ground crypts. Why? The water level in the area is so high that coffins often float if buried. These stone resting places are an interesting glimpse into the past and are yet another reminder of how New Orleans is undeniably unique.
If you want to get out of the city, try the swamps – there are a number of tours you can take. I took a swamp tour, and really enjoyed the scenery – including beautiful moss-laden trees. We even saw an alligator or two, though it was a bit cold/early in the season. Folks that go on swamp tours during the warmer months are sure to see many more gators!
Sightseeing By Foot
If you’re a distance walker or runner, please consider doing the marathon or half marathon – it’s a great time! With bands dotting the course, and incredible sights to see all along the 13.1 or 26.2 miles, this race is a winner!
OMG – the food!
My mouth is watering just remembering some of the scrumptious things I ate in New Orleans. I was lucky enough to eat at a wide range of eateries during my stay – from Emeril’s restaurant (great food and service!) to a place with a decidedly more “dive bar & grill ” kind of feel (had a shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich), and I enjoyed them all. I’ll share five of my eating experiences in pictures below. I hope to eat at all these places again next time – yum!
If you want a light breakfast to start off your day, don’t go to the Fleur de Lis Café in the French Quarter. My breakfast was beyond hearty and massive, but it was perfect for my last meal in New Orleans, since I’d be eating little and sporadically while flying home. The ladies working at the Fleur de Lis charmed me with their southern accents – and I fondly remember being called “baby” in a way that wasn’t demeaning or condescending – just friendly and kind.
New Orleans is known for their muffalettas – Italian sandwiches with marinated olive salad, salami, ham, and cheese on a round sesame loaf – so I visited Central Grocery, where the sandwiches originated. I bought half of a muffaletta and some iced tea, and had a picnic outside. Though the olive salad mixture was a bit strong for my palate, I enjoyed the sandwich once I’d taken most of it off. (I know that’s probably sacrilege – sorry!) I was happy to have tried a true New Orleans original. Oh, and I love the bag I bought at Central Grocery!
The Acme Oyster House was recommended to me, and my meal there was what I ate right after walking the half marathon. I had grilled oysters, hush puppies, jumbalaya, and pecan cobbler. Ravenous and eager to eat just about anything, I was thrilled when the food turned out to be truly delicious. Acme tends to have a line, so be prepared.
Another edible treat that New Orleans is known for is the beignets. A pastry made from deep-fried dough, and liberally coated in Confectioner’s sugar, beignets are both messy and delicious. Perhaps the best-known place to get these goodies is Café Du Monde, and their French Quarter location is open 24 hours a day!
Willie Mae’s Scotch House has been an institution in New Orleans for decades and with good reason. The fried chicken is amazing! It’s so good that when the restaurant was damaged by hurricane Katrina, and was in danger of not re-opening, volunteers banded together to help rebuild and restore the restaurant. Having seen the restaurant on one of the food channels, I planned much of my trip’s sightseeing schedule around when I could go to Willie Mae’s.
Suggestion: Do some research on Willie Mae’s before arriving in New Orleans. Long lines and a long food wait can be avoided by getting there right when the restaurant opens, and I seem to recall them only accepting cash and having somewhat limited business hours.
That said, all my Willie Mae’s Scotch House planning and preparation was worth it. I usually only eat chicken breast (without bone or skin) and I ate everything they brought me, including the skin. It was fantastically good fried chicken!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my trip to New Orleans. I wholeheartedly recommend that you visit and explore this incredible city if you have the means. A trip to New Orleans will feed both your body and soul…