20 Jun

Written by Kristin on June 20, 2012

So I’m back to blogging after a nice short break in New Orleans. My husband and I were supposed to attend a family wedding, but since it was cancelled and we had non-refundable plane tickets already in hand, we decided to make the best of a crap situation and go anyway. This was our first visit and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect outside of the typical scenes you see from Mardi Gras. What we found was a quite unique city with beautiful architecture, fantastic shopping and even better food … but honestly, five days perfectly sufficed and we’d run out of things to see by our last day of the holiday.

Food, N’awlins style

My favourite aspect of the city was the Cajun and Creole food! There were so many amazing restaurants and just not enough time to eat at all of the places I had in mind. We tried everything from shrimp jambalaya to chicken gumbo to a po-boy sandwich, but no trip to New Orleans is complete without stopping by the famous Café du Monde. The only thing on the menu (besides coffee, water and Cokes) is the beignet, a French doughnut covered in powdered sugar. It’s well worth the crowded atmosphere to try these out, trust me. Seating is self-serve, so if you see an empty table, run over and grab it straight away! You can even buy a can of coffee or beignet mix to bring New Orleans back home. Keep in mind it’s cash only here.

If you only choose one nice meal out, check out chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant, NOLA. It was by far the best dining experience of our holiday and the service was beyond wonderful. Days later we’re still talking about the banana cream pie! After our meal, we headed to the Ritz-Carlton to see Jeremy Davenport’s jazz show. A former trumpet player for New Orleans favourite Harry Connick Jr., Davenport has a quite similar sound and we really enjoyed the show. It’s the perfect classy night if you want to avoid the drunken mess of Bourbon Street.

Things to do:

Outside of eating til we felt sick, a definite highlight was hiring a car for the day to head out to plantation country, about an hour’s drive. We visited three historic sugarcane plantations: Houmas House, Oak Alley and Laura: A Creole Plantation. All three were well worth the visit for different reasons, although Houmas House, with its gorgeous gardens, definitely was tops for us. Laura’s excellent guided tour was the most informative and historically based, and they also allow you to go inside slave cabins to learn more about their way of life, which is something that was highly glossed over at the other two homes. Oak Alley is famous for its massive, 300-year-old oak trees that line the way from the Mississippi River to the mansion. It’s great for outdoor photo ops, not so much for the tour or the inside of the house, which we found to be disappointing.

Back in the city, we loved taking a carriage ride around the French Quarter and our driver was really entertaining. He even showed us where Brad and Angelina live! If you like art museums as much as I do, the New Orleans Museum of Art, located in beautiful City Park, was another high point of the holiday. The collection is small but lovely, and afterward you can stroll through the park and even take a gondola ride.

Even if you’re not of the partying sort, you’ve got to walk down Bourbon Street just for the experience. It’s mostly bars and some questionable “gentleman’s clubs” but the party atmosphere with bands playing on the street and people throwing beads from balconies is quite fun.

As for shopping, there are loads of antique shops on Royal Street, although you’ll probably just window shop since they tend to be pricey! There also are plenty of cool clothing boutiques and souvenir shops; make sure to bring home something with the city’s iconic fleur de lis on it.

Where to stay: 

No matter where you choose to stay, the French Quarter is the place to be. We stayed at Hotel Le Marais, a funky boutique hotel on Conti Street in the French Quarter. The location was excellent: just off Bourbon Street and Royal Street, so it was close to everything. Our rooms were a good size and had the cosiest beds ever! If you’re willing to splurge, the Ritz-Carlton was gorgeous when we stopped by to see Jeremy Davenport’s show; loaded with white marble everywhere and a charming courtyard.

Travel tips:

June in NOLA is extremely hot and humid, so if I had a choice, I would’ve visited at another time of year. If you’re there during summer, drink loads of water, pop into an air conditioned shop, restaurant or bar for frequent breaks and don’t over-do it!

Although we mostly had a great time, the trip definitely had its low points (like when a totally pissed homeless woman started screaming in our faces and then threw punches at an innocent bystander) but unfortunately, poverty is a massive problem in the city. As you can imagine, Hurricane Katrina is still impacting the area and recovery takes a long time. Just use common travel sense and keep your wits about you, don’t engage in conversation if someone dodgy approaches you and stick to the main tourist areas. Despite a few downsides, it’s well worth a visit to experience a culture you can’t find anywhere else in the United States.

You can follow Kristin on Twitter at @KrisShopScoop


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