From Destinations, Sight-Seeing, South, Special Occasions, Trips

Visiting New Orleans, Part II — What to See, What to Do

The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France in New Orleans is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.

If you are planning a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (or for any time at all,) here’s Part II of our terrific piece on the current state of the town — plus tips on what to do and see — written by one of our most experienced food and travel contributors.

Apart from dining, drinking, gaming and shopping there is a wealth of things to do and see in the area.  You don’t have to be a history buff to be seduced by the unique architecture and centuries of colorful stories and characters that inhabit the streets.  The past lives cozily right alongside the present.

Sure, you can spend a bunch, but the budget conscious will appreciate that New Orleans prices are a relative bargain and there are plenty of free and low cost things to do.

Drinking café au’lait and eating beignets at Morning Call Café across from St. Louis Cathedral is people-watching par excellence. Take the free ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers, a tiny colorful neighborhood that calls to mind a separate small town with its Victorian homes and cottages. Strolling through the Garden District admiring the mansions (including author Ann Rice’s former home, a brooding purple pile) is a lovely way to spend a half day — stop for Gulf oysters at little Cassamento’s on Magazine or have a happy hour cocktail on the veranda of the The Columns (the hotel doubled for the bordello in the movie Pretty Baby).

The cemeteries, known as “Cities of the Dead“, are legendary and it is easy to get lost wandering their narrow “streets”. Because of the wet soil, bodies are laid to rest in above ground tombs rather below ground in graves. They range from the staggeringly ornate in the Metairie cemetery to simple “ovens” where bodies are stacked in vaults in a wall. Perhaps one of the most evocative is Lafayette Cemetery # 1, directly across the street from Commander’s Palace. The ages and dates chiseled in the tombs trace the epidemics that swept through the city in centuries past. A tiny tomb is inscribed simply “Our Five Babies”.

New Orleans and the River Road are rich in historic home/museums and plantations, an evocative glimpse of life in other times. If you’re lucky, as we were, a visit might coincide with a charity-driven home tour and an opportunity to see how present day inhabitants live in these old buildings.

Has New Orleans changed? Yes, without question. Driving around outside the District, Quarter and Faubourg Marigny reveals how many crumbling homes and businesses are boarded over, still bearing FEMA’s red identifying marks. And, unfortunately, many of the things that could have been done that would have strengthened the infrastructure and bolstered the indomitable spirit of the inhabitants were not. It is a smaller, less populous place and that in itself is a boon to travelers who would like to experience fun, food and frivolity without the too often obnoxious crowds and long lines of the past.

Would I go back?  In a heartbeat. It is still the city that care forgot offering a million ways to forget your own cares. And, increased tourism can only help bring back the glory days of pre-Katrina. We all owe New Orleans that.
Book now & save up to 50% on Hotels in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Book by 2/23 for travel from 2/13 to 2/28/09.

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