New Orleans – Home to Sinners and Saints

The writer standing in front of a giant 300 with NOLA on top of it.
New Orleans celebrated its 300th birthday in 2018!

New Orleans isn’t a city that quietly welcomes the visitor. They call it NOLA (short for New Orleans Louisiana) or N’Awwlins, but whatever you call it, this city assaults the senses – and I happily surrender to the sights, smells and sounds of this amazing city.

The Sights

Corner view of a typical Spanish Colonial building on Bourbon St. with wrought iron balconies and ferns hanging along their length. Below are shops.
Bourbon Street’s ornate wrought iron balconies

Bourbon Street, in the historic French Quarter, is a feast of colour. The ornate, wrought-iron balconies of Spanish colonial buildings are spilling over with huge baskets of ferns or colourful flowers.  Below, the tiny shops offer everything from the mundane to the bizarre – unique art, Mardi Gras masks, tacky t-shirts and of course, Voodoo souvenirs.

Carnival masks anyone?

The Flavours and Aromas

It isn’t long before my nostrils are quivering at the delicious aromas of fragrant gumbo, zesty jambalaya, and grilled oysters offering whiffs of the nearby Gulf. The scents pour from every restaurant and café I pass.

Round sausages of meat and rice, one cut open to show the contents.
Boudin, a rich sausage of rice and meat, is a Cajun classic. This one is at Cochon, one of the city’s best Cajun restaurants.

Over the foundation of garlic and onion, whiffs of cayenne and paprika tickle the nostrils; these ingredients are the building blocks of Creole and Cajun cuisine. One of the best Cajun restaurants in the city is Cochon.

Sign hanging outside Laura's says Laura's Candies est. 1913, New Orleans Oldest Candy Store

A sugary aroma draws me into Laura’s, the city’s oldest candy store. It’s irresistible – I leave with a small box of the delicious pralines for which this city is renowned.

rows of pralines lining two shelves
New Orleans’ famous pralines line the shelves at Laura’s.

The Sounds

Music provides the most insistent assault. My ears prick up as I pass bars and clubs.

Behind open doors, music like this classic zydeco spills out into the street. He even has the washboard vest!

The sounds spilling out have my feet tapping to the cadences of Zydeco or swaying to this city’s legendary jazz.  Indeed, this is a jazz lovers’ Mecca for whom a must is a visit to Preservation Hall, just off Bourbon St.

If you love New Orleans jazz, just take a walk along Bourbon Street.

Established in 1961 to honor and preserve one of America’s most authentic art forms – traditional New Orleans jazz – Preservation Hall presents concerts throughout the year. I happily sit on a plain wooden bench – others are squatting on the floor – and for 45 minutes we relish the joyful, spectacular jazz syncopations of some of the greats of the genre. Photos aren’t allowed. Every show might have different performers but each inevitably ends with the listeners on their feet, cheering.

Just Wander

Busy scene with art hanging on the fences, people relaxing on benches and a bicycle in the middle
Art hung along the wrought iron fences of Jackson Square

Music and art are ubiquitous in this city. On my quest for the perfect beignet, I head to the legendary Café du Monde by Jackson Square. But before I can get there, I’m drawn by the energy of the artists and musicians enlivening every available space around the square.

Jackson Square’s fences form an art gallery but the real fun is the music and maybe a chance to find your soul mate with Tarot?

The wrought iron railings of the park are hung with art in every imaginable medium. And every few metres, there’s a performer – singing, dancing, doing a magic show.

A church in the centre of Jackson Square with horse drawn carriages lined up in front of the gates
Andrew Jackson rears up on his horse in the centre of the square.

Now a National Historic Landmark, it was in Jackson Square in 1803, that the Louisiana Purchase was completed, making Louisiana part of the United States and no longer a French territory. But patently the memo didn’t reach the Baroness de Pontalba, who designed the ornate iron fences, elaborate walkways, and landscaping in Jackson Square in the style of the 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris. At its centre is the statue of its namesake, Andrew Jackson, seventh US president and hero of the Battle of New Orleans.


Indeed, during its 300 years of existence, New Orleans has seen many conflicts and battles. Some of that history can be found in the Historic New Orleans Collection, a rather unique museum dedicated to the history of this city.

US airplane painted like a shark hanging in the WW II Museum

But there’s a museum that offers a sobering perspective on a much larger conflict. The National WWII Museum “tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.” This museum alone makes the trip to New Orleans worthwhile.

World War II posters - an Allied one represents Japanese as evil character and the Japanese poster depicts Roosevelt as almost a Frankenstein figure
Fascinating contrast of the propaganda from both sides

A collection of several buildings offers the background and artifacts on every aspect of World War II in fascinating and even frightening displays. Among the most significant to me are side-by-side displays of propaganda – one Japanese and one American – describing ‘the enemy’. In the Japanese one, Roosevelt looks like a monster – a model for Frankenstein. In the American version, an evil Japanese figure is carrying away a white woman. It’s a poignant reminder how easily hatred can be created.

Me eatingMe eating a sugar-covered  beignet from Cafe du Monde

By the way, I got a beignet and spent the day dusted in powdered sugar icing.

The trolley moves along St. Charles St. Passing magnificent Antebellum mansions

It’s easy to explore New Orleans. Charming trolleys move between key parts of the city for the unbelievable price of $3 for a full day, hop-on-hop-off ticket. It’s the best travel bargain in America.

The Garden District

The French Quarter is very busy and noisy. A good way to get away from the bustle is to book a hotel in an area like the Garden District. I stayed at the historic Pontchartrain Hotel, a 12-minute trolley ride down Charles St.

Pressed tin roof, old stuffed chairs, a wicker chair and swagged curtains give Tin Roof bar a very retro feel
The retro design of the Tin Roof Lounge at the top of the Pontchartrain Hotel makes it an appealing place to grab a drink

Now a boutique hotel, this was once an apartment building where Tennessee Williams supposedly lived while he wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Indeed, the rooftop bar is called – what else? – Tin Roof.

The charming Claiborne Cottage stands in stark contrast to the modern building beyond.

The Garden District is easily missed in favour of the French Quarter. Don’t! Our stroll on the Historic New Orleans Walking Tour of the Garden District led us past a hodgepodge of architecture – from antebellum splendor to Queen Anne, Greek Revival, and more.

The Garden District tour points out homes of the famous. This one belongs to Sandra Bullock.

I gawped at mansions belonging to Nicholas Cage, Sandra Bullock, Peyton Manning and other celebrities. But these magnificent mansions are only half the story here.

But New Orleans has tiny homes too. Rows of tiny ‘shot-gun’ houses along some streets intrigued me. Built in the 19th century, these usually have a porch and three rooms in a row with no hallway. The guide tells me they were so named because one could fire a shot and the bullet could pass through every room in the house from front to back.

Shotgun houses once belonged to the poor but these days they have become desirable residences and are being gentrified.

But Encyclopedia Britannica has an alternative explanation for the name: … the term may also be derived from togun, the Yoruba word meaning “house” or “gathering place.” Although shotgun houses are small, were inexpensively built, and generally lack amenities, they have been praised for their architectural virtues, which include the ingenious use of limited space and decoration such as gingerbread trim and brightly painted exteriors. They represent a unique African American contribution to architecture in the United States.

New Orleans has had its share of sinners – the infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte, apparently still haunts the city. But when their Saints hit the football field, New Orleans comes to life. One resident told me.”New Orleans is perfectly safe but if someone approaches you and makes you nervous, just shout ‘Who Dat?’ and you’ll be his best friend.”

A row of t-shirt shaped cookies with Who Dat written on them,
Everyone in New Orleans understands this message. Who Dat is the cry of the New Orleans Saints football team.

“Who Dat” is, of course, the rousing cry of the New Orleans Saints! They even put it on cookies!

More to Explore

Magazine St. This charming revitalized shopping area in the Garden District, offers excellent coffee shops, restaurants, and unique little boutiques. Check out Saba, Alon Shaya’s fabulous Israeli restaurant.

Grilled octopus with shwarma spices roasted tomatoes at Saba Restaurant.

The Southern Food & Beverage Museum: This nonprofit living history organization is dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. It has a nifty assortment of old utensils. Some (like an ancient meat grinder) made me nostalgic, others had me stumped – what the heck is that? Definitely worth a visit! For more info, click here

dozens of antique kitchen gadgets on a yellow table - juicer, meaL GRINDER, STRAINER, ETC.
The sign on this table says ‘Kitchen Gadgets – Please Touch’. That says it all!

Take the Unlike the usual tours, this one offers the ghost story and follows up with the REAL story whenever possible.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel exterior with ferns hanging from the canopy,
The Andrew Jackson Hotel was once a boys’ school and is now considered one of the most haunted hotels in New Orleans. Most of the ghosts appear to be children. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jackson, who also apparently appears, but being woken by a ghostly gamin’s giggle might be a bit creepy.

Our guide debunked a couple of ghosts, but frankly admitted she couldn’t debunk a couple of others. No, we didn’t see a ghost but we heard some fascinating stories.

A spooky churchyard though the shadow is somewhat irreverently referred to as the giraffe. Look carefully and you’ll see why!

Dining: When Emeril Lagasse led a foodie tour of New Orleans, one his key stops was Pho Tao Bay, a much lauded Vietnamese eatery. After all, bánh mì, a traditional breakfast sandwich usually made with barbecued pork, is often described as the Vietnamese Po’boy. One of my favourite spots is Maypop.

Chef Gulotta’s traditional oyster fritters take on a new flavour served on a Jack Daniels and soya reduction with spicy cucumbers and manchego cheese.

Chef Michael Gulotta grew up in New Orleans and fell in love with Vietnamese cuisine. His first restaurant venture is the highly successful MoPho, his own blend of Cajun and Vietnamese. His second restaurant, MayPop has taken the fusion to another level with flavours that really sing.

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