Visited New Orleans in November 2002 before Hurricane Katrina took her toll on this beautiful city. These are some of the experiences we had.
Wanted to take a reconnaissance tour of NOLA and the route to the ferry. The ferry runs from Algiers Point, established in 1718, to the bottom of Canal Street. Passengers and bicyclists ride for free, while cars pay only $ 1.00. The ferry runs every 1/2 hour from each side of the Mississippi River.
Stepping off the ferry I was confronted by the garish Harrah's Casino. To the right is the Aquarium of the Americas and Imax Theater. To the left is the Riverwalk Shopping mall. Now that the essential orientation was completed, we embarked on being enraptured by the spirit of The Crescent City.
All the guide books say that the best orientation to New Orleans is by riding the 13.5 mile long. Charles Street car line, established in 1835. Right outside the door of the hotel was the blamed rails. Voila !! For $ 1.25 per person (exact amount ONLY) we climbed aboard the well-preserved cars, circa 1923. Clang, clang, clang up St. Louis. Charles Street under meticulously oak trees, past the Garden district, Emeril's restaurant, Loyola and Tulane Universities, Audubon Park to Carrolton Street we moved. We were fortunate to have a motorman who truly loved the city and his job. His running commentary about the environment and the crazy drivers playing chicken with the streetcar made the ride more enjoyable.
The ride back was less eventful. Being oriented to the streets radiating from the river (Jackson, Louisiana, Napoleon, Jefferson, and Carrolton) made the visiting of the area easier in the future.
The streetcar dropped us off at Carondelet and Canal Streets (Canal street was originally supposedly to be a canal.) Now the center of the street is being turned into another streetcar line, which will go from the River to City Park, near Lake Pontchartrain. across Canal Street was the beginning of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
The French Quarter, approximately 70 square blocks, is the heart and soul of NOLA. Historical, architecturally stimulating, and vibrant, the French Quarter should have viewed either by walking or horse drawn carriage. There is a motorized trolley, which also makes the rounds of the area. I had visited the place forty years ago with my sister and was eager to see if the old haunts were still there. The answer is Yes (mostly). Al Hirt is denied and a statue marks the place where his horn belted out the Dixieland melodies.
The best way to see the Quarter is on foot with a guidebook. Most of the beauty is in the courtyards and on the second and third floors of the buildings. Definitely playing the tourists, we did exactly that. Bourbon Street is the entertainment center. Nightclubs luring you inside with Jazz, Zydeco, Blues streaming from live bands implode upon your senses. Adult toy shops, striptease clubs, and three for one happy hours entice even the most prudish traveler to enjoy the "pleasures of life". As the street runs further away from Canal, the more quiet it becomes. One block down river is Royal Street, the home of fashionable boutiques, art galleries, and upscale residences. The hub of activity culminates at Jackson Square and St Louis Cathedral. Along either side of the square are local artists, fortunetellers, and street musicians. Overlooking this melting pot of humanity is St. Louis Cathedral, where many are buried in its walls and many dignitaries have walked down the aisle. Flanking the Cathedral are some of the oldest buildings in the city: the first apartment building in the country, government offices from the French and Spanish Colonial eras, and other historical edifices. Words can not describe the spirit, vibrancy, and cosmopolitan feeling of the French Quarter.
Leaving the French Quarter, we strolled along the river front, past the Aquarium and through the Riverwalk. Exhausted we boarded the ferry back home.
The cemeteries are unique in New Orleans, because the bodies are buried above ground. When they tried to bury them in the ground, either they would reach water having dug only one foot, or the hole would fill quickly with water after it had been dug. The tour was to begin at 1:30 PM We arrived at the pick up place about 10 minutes early. The tour had already gone. Luck was with us however. On our walk from the ferry I saw a sign on the Canal street bus, "to Cemeteries". We hopped on the bus and after 1/2 hour we were at Greenwood Cemetery at the North end of town. There were other cemeteries there too. After visiting the graves and getting a feel of the place, we returned via the same bus. We got off at Basin Street, as in The Basin Street Blues. I went to explore St. Louis Cemetery # 1. Alas, the time was 3:00 PM and the cemetery had just closed their gates. Most historical places of interest close at 3:00 PM in and around the French Quarter because of the fear of vandalism. Key West, Florida is another place where you will see the bodies buried above ground. This is because the island is a rock.
Just North of the French Quarter is the Treme District. This is the oldest African-American neighborhood on the continent: established in the early 1700s. Right down Basin Street is the Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Center and the Louis Armstrong Park and Arch.
I explored more of the French Quarter. I discovered a few voodoo shops and a voodoo museum. Voodoo is a combination of Catholicism with Haitian and African religious rituals. Most people know of Voodoo as placing spells on people with dolls and other items. The religion is much deeper than that. Most of what we heard about voodooism is a figment of Hollywood's imagination.
Saw the Ursuline Convent, which dates from 1745. Adjacent to the convent is St. Louis. Mary's Church, the home of the monstrance used for the 1938 Eucharistic Congress, held in NOLA. The monstrance is encrusted with many jewels donated by the people of Louisiana. For many years it moved from vault to vault, until the pastor of St.. Mary's Church promised to give it a permanent home. Now it is on display daily over the high altar encasing one of the hosts from the Holy Eucharist. A group of faithful keep watch in prayer while the Eucharist is on display.
The next day I took my faithful bicycle across the ferry from Gretna, another historic river town, about 1/2 mile down the road from where we are staying. This ferry crosses the river at Jackson Street, a few short blocks from the Garden District. The Garden District is a neighborhood of fairly mansions in the Greek revival period of architecture. Many of the homes have columns in the Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian styles. This was originally an American suburb to NOLA. Now, like many of the other neighborhoods, it is part of the city itself, like Algiers Point on the West Bank and Carrolton. The Garden District has its own cemetery: Lafayette. The most famous resident of the area is Ann Rice, the noted author of the popular vampire novels. Down the street from her home is the house where Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy died.
While I was riding my cycle through the neighborhood, I espied a group of ladies, stylishly attested congregating around one of the homes. The plaque on the fence said it was Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The group reminded me of the gentility of the Southern women, who attend events formally dressed with hats and gloves.
My next destination was the Audubon Zoo. As I rode through the neighborhoods to the zoo, about three miles away, I noticed how each area had its own unique personality.
The zoo is quite a place. The zoological society has gone to great lengths to provide the animals with an environment in which they would feel comfortable. Their use of thematic sections also gives the visitors an education about the lives of the animals. For instance, the swamp area not only has alligators, turtles, fish, and other aquatic life, but also a floating bayou homestead, different types of swamp boats and an indoor exhibit of life under the water. There is the Asian section with Hindu temples, white Siberian Tigers, Asian lions and other animals native to the area. The Jaguar part has Mayan temples and artifacts along with the type of animals one would find in the rain forest. The zoo is a must see spot in the city.