New Orleans USA Vacations
New Orleans, or N'awlins, as the locals call it, is a tasty gumbo stew of African, French, Spanish, Italian and German cultures. It's a place of lush tropical courtyards hidden behind unassuming building fronts. It's where you eat sugary beignets at 3am at Café du Monde while watching the passing human parade. It's also where America comes to party. Think Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and street musicians in Jackson Square. It's the birthplace of Louis Armstrong and jazz, and where, above the water line left by Hurricane Katrina, the good times still roll.
The French Quarter
There's a great deal to the French Quarter -- history, architecture, cultural oddities -- and to overlook all that in favor of T-shirt shops and the ubiquitous bars is a darn shame, which is not to say we don't understand, and rather enjoy, the lure of the more playful angle of the area.
Aside from Bourbon Street, you will find the most bustling activity at Jackson Square, where musicians, artists, fortunetellers, jugglers, and those peculiar "living statue" performance artists gather to sell their wares or entertain for change. Pay attention to that seeming ad-hoc jazz band that plays right in front of the Cabildo -- it's about as good jazz music as you will hear, and notable locals occasionally sit in.
Though much of New Orleans is made for walking, the Quarter is particularly pedestrian-friendly. The streets are laid out in an almost perfect rectangle, so it's nearly impossible to get lost.
If you can see just one thing outside the French Quarter, make it the Garden District. These two neighborhoods are the first places that come to mind when one hears the words "New Orleans," and like the Quarter, it is part of the "sliver by the river" that did not flood after Katrina. It has no significant historic buildings or important museums -- it's simply beautiful. In some ways, even more so than the Quarter, this is New Orleans. Authors as diverse as Truman Capote and Anne Rice have been enchanted by its spell.
St. John’s Bayou and Lake Pontchartrain
St. John's Bayou is a body of water that originally extended from the outskirts of New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain, and it's one of the most important reasons New Orleans is where it is today. Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, was commissioned to establish a settlement in Louisiana that would both make money and protect French holdings in the New World from British expansion. Bienville chose the spot where New Orleans now sits because he recognized the strategic importance of "back-door" access to the Gulf of Mexico provided by the bayou's linkage to the lake.
The canal is gone, filled in long ago, and the bayou is a meek re-creation of itself. It is no longer navigable (even if it were, bridges were built too low to permit the passage of boats of any size), but residents still prize their waterfront sites, and rowboats and sailboats sometimes make use of the bayou's surface. This is one of the prettiest areas of New Orleans -- full of the old houses tourists love to marvel at without the hustle, bustle, and confusion of more high-profile locations.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.