New Orleans has a psyche all to its own. There is no pretense here. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a vivacious city that’s fought and scrapped its way back from total devastation. It’s loud, it’s beautiful and it’s ancient. The history here is palpable, it rests upon the city like a heavy shawl. From the narrow streets to the stalwart graveyards to the vibrant night life and the massive oak trees dripping in moss, NOLA speaks to me like an old friend.
I had 5 days to explore her and if I had 500 more, I still wouldn’t be able to experience all she has to offer.
The food in New Orleans is unlike any other place I’ve visited. Taking from African, French and American cultures, this melting pot of a city boasts a cuisine as unique as it is. My days were filled with seafood of every kind, etouffee, grits, jambalaya, biscuits that could make you cry, and drinks galore. I travel first to experience new places and cultures, and (barely) second to try new foods. New Orleans offers a wonderland of tasty dishes that I found myself blown away by again and again.
I spent half a day wandering around City Park, where I stumbled upon the New Orleans Botanical Gardens and knew I had to check it out. Admission was only $8 and I spent the good part of several hours indulging my inner #crazyplantlady in all the vibrant greenery.
City Park is an amazing 2 1/2 square miles of greenery, trees and water in the middle of New Orleans. It was there that I found Morning Call, a 140 year old business that originated in the French Quarter and moved to an expanded dining room and patio in City Park nearly 50 years ago. They are considered New Orleans’ “most famous coffee drinking place.” They’re known for their cafe au laits and their beignets, and I’ll admit I was so intrigued by the friendly staff and the patio park views that I went back the next day for more. Oh, and those fried pieces of delicious dough sprinkled with powder sugar…. oh… oh my.
Little did I know that beignets were just the tip of the foodie iceberg. As the week went on, we adventured through all the cajun, seafood and drinks we could find. Check out my complete foodie post over here (because I’m not going to subject you to a barrage of food pictures if you’re really not interested. I’m a pal like that). I limited myself to two indulgent meals per day and tried to fit in one full healthy meal to offset them. Traveling and new cuisines are two of my favorite things to experience and so I make a point to enjoy myself and not worry too much about my diet when I’m on the go.
We checked out Bourbon Street a few times during the week and for a social introvert like myself, the week nights were the perfect time to go. It was lively and fun without being too crowded and claustrophobic. There’s so much to see. We found an upstairs balcony and people-watched for much of the night. Parades happen just about every night! With a simple permit, you are allowed to stomp through the street, towing a live band and letting your freak flag fly. How much fun is that?? I’m putting that on my list for the next time I visit the magical city. I’m talking ribbons, flags, a full band and plenty of dancing.
On Friday night we braved the crowds and headed to Frenchmen Street. A local information concierge told me “the children go to Bourbon Street, the adults go to Frenchmen Street” and it’s definitely a different atmosphere! Frenchmen reminded me of 6th Street in Austin, TX (home for me): every few feet is a different bar with the sounds of live music spilling out the doors.
The music ranged from jazz to country to a horn, drum and guitar group playing old school rap! We even came upon a 12 piece band rocking out on a street corner. The atmosphere on Frenchmen Street was positively electric. We had gone to dinner at Cafe Sbisa prior and didn’t bother going back to the hotel to change so I was prancing around in heels all night–bad idea. I survived but I would not recommend it. Wear comfortable shoes as the streets and sidewalks are pretty uneven and you will be walking a whole lot.
Frequently recommended to us was a visit to the Garden District and it did not disappoint! It’s full of greenery and history and the gorgeous old houses that line the streets are masterpieces in themselves. I was so tempted to knock on random doors to learn more about the people that restored them and call them home. I imagine the interiors are just gorgeous and full of southern charm. Creeper, much, Jenna? There is a street car that runs up and down the District and for a $3 day pass you can ride back and forth till your hearts content.
Along our Garden District adventure we stumbled upon Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. The sky had been cloudy and threatening to sprinkle on us all day. It made our walk very solemn as we passed by each tomb, imagining entire generations in there. This particular cemetery has been active since 1833 and is still being used today! Because Louisiana is right at sea level, graves cannot be dug very deep so instead tombs are built to hold the bodies of the departed. It makes for an eerie, but beautiful sight. If you ever get a chance, you should check out a cemetery in New Orleans.
After so much exploring and eating all the new things, a night cap in a gorgeous place was the perfect end to the day. We had heard from multiple people about the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, part of the Waldorf-Astoria family and I was excited to try a drink of their famous namesake. I worked as a bartender most of my adult life, during college and even after as extra income and because it’s fun, so I am a stickler for a well-made drink. A Sazerac is a New Orleans staple, made with rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters and Herbsaint, an anise or liquorice-flavored liquor (absinthe can also be used).
Interested in making your own Sazerac? Here’s the recipe according to The Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar!
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 1/2 oz. Sazerac Rye Whiskey
1 sugar cube
1/4 oz Herbsaint
- Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice.
- In a second Old-Fashioned glass place a sugar cube and add 3 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube.
- Add 1 1/2 ounces of Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar.
- Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with 1/4 ounce of Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint.
- Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with lemon peel.
I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the experiences we had in New Orleans. I fell in love with the city immediately and didn’t have nearly enough time to take it all in. From the etoufee to the jambalaya, the mossy oaks to the ancient streets, I found a piece of true southern charm and I cannot wait to go back.
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