I’m back at it again! I kicked off 2016 with a weekend visiting my cousin in New Orleans, which has long been one of my top destinations to visit in the States. For me, New Orleans was most striking for its contrasts and how it avoids categorization. Visiting cities in New England, it’s fairly easy to see similarities and compare one place to another: Portland is like Boston, but neither is unlike Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Yet, New Orleans exists as its own entity with a rich and complex history drawing from many cultures. I know I’m being vague, but I can’t quite do it justice in writing about it. At any rate, I’ll share some more detailed blog posts or a day-by-day of what I did, but here are some of the highlights of my trip.
1.) Getting lost in the Quarter–The French Quarter is famous for a reason, and you would be remiss if you were to glaze over this beautiful neighborhood. Yes, it’s touristy and you’ll be among many other visitors to the city when exploring, but whenever I had downtime, I jumped on the opportunity to walk down different streets, look up, and enjoy the views. On Thursday when I arrived, the city was particularly foggy, making Royal Street enjoyable to walk down as I passed typical French Quarter buildings but skyscrapers from the Central Business District disappeared into the fog down the road.
Walking down Bourbon Street by daylight (or on a cloudy day when I did) is fascinating: people harass you and vie for you to step inside their bars for alcohol or strippers, but the street is most striking for how desolate and dirty it feels. On another note, Chartres Street becomes particularly beautiful the closer you get to the Marigny, and popping into Royal Street’s numerous art galleries is a fun way to spend the evening before dinner.
2.) Biking the Marigny and Bywater–On Saturday, my cousin Michelle, her boyfriend Eric, and I took bikes around the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. These more residential areas remind me in part of Portland, Oregon (particularly Ladd’s Addition), but iconic shotgun houses line the streets and distinguish the neighborhoods as southern. Shotgun houses are named for their length–it was said that one could fire a shotgun through the front of the house and the bullet could go straight through and out the back. While it’s a refreshing break from the Quarter to bike around and observe, spend some time diving into these areas. For a pretty and quiet stop, head to Crescent Park, a nice bike path stretching along the Mississippi, or grab an ice cream mochi from the Orange Couch. Rent a bike at A Bicycle Named Desire
3.) Cafe du Monde–One of the States’ coffee icons, Cafe du Monde is open 24/7 all year. This French Market coffee stand sits across Decatur from Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral and serves chicory cafe au lait and beignets (French doughnuts) drowned in powdered sugar. Join the tourist rite of passage and get a puff of powdered sugar on your clothes when you take the first bite of beignet. I went both in the mid-afternoon and early morning and avoided crowds, and was able to get a table, but I noticed walking by that the line can get long. It’s also fun to go to the take-out window and take your treats to Jackson Square to have a snack while people-watching, although birds will swarm and wait to eat sugar that falls to the ground.
On another note, should you want to take home any souvenirs, ground coffee, or beignet mix, buy it at the stand itself and not at one of the “factory stores” as these shops all sell the same wares for a higher price. 800 Decatur Street, $ (cash only)
4.) Atchafalaya–I’m embarrassed to admit that I first heard of this restaurant from American Horror Story, but I leave embarrassment at that because Atchafalaya delivers in flavor, atmosphere, and service. Crowds line up to get a table at this brunch spot in the Garden District, but I bypassed the line by sitting outside on a cold day (although, you can make a reservation or wait in line to avoid this). At any rate, the team at Atchafalaya cooks delicious dishes with local flavors: think alligator sausage, chicken-n-bisucuits, and shrimp & grits. I was adventurous enough to try alligator sausage, which was spicy and warm, and had it alongside a wonderful French Toast special (strawberries, pecans, and other great things) and a Bloody Mary. Patrons are invited to select from different Bloody Mary mixes and garnishes to custom make their own cocktail. Service is friendly, personable, and some of the best I had in the city. Finally, the jazz band in the background sets the mood for a relaxed morning meal in the Big Easy. Though it’s out of the way from the Quarter where many people stay, I highly recommend this brunch spot for locals and tourists alike. 901 Louisiana Avenue, $$
5.) The Garden District–New Orleans is certainly a city of neighborhoods, and the Garden District is another pleasant one in which to while away the afternoon. I headed to this area mid-morning Friday and first grabbed lunch at District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew. Though they serve a weird combination of items, I entrusted my order to the cashier and got blackened chicken and cheeseburger sliders, cold brew, and a Boston cream doughnut. The sliders were tender and paired with good toppings and condiments, the doughnut fluffy and with a good cream, and the coffee strong and bold. With coffee in hand, I then walked down Jackson to pass by the Buckner Mansion, the house from AHS: Coven. The house is a private residence, so you can only stop to look for a minute or two before continuing on, but it’s a great example of some of the architecture Americans built in this neighborhood after the Louisiana Purchase (Americans developed this area while Creoles and a large population of free blacks, as well as enslaved blacks, lived in other areas, like the Quarter).
I then continued down Prytania Street towards Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. New Orleans has a few historic and hauntingly beautiful cemeteries, and Lafayette is a great example that’s open to the public (I visited St. Louis No. 1 with Michelle and Eric, but as of recently, admission is only open to tourists visiting with a guide). I spent a while looking at the graves and enjoying the quiet before heading back out and exploring more of the neighborhood.