Sunday, August 5, 2012

NOLA-A Grand Old Dame Starting Her Second Rebirth

New Orleans-The Sinfully, Older, But Wiser, Sister to Las Vegas

My husband and I first visited New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina.  We wanted to spend our Bush tax dollars on the place that seemed to need it most and New Orleans needed it more than we did.  Then, it was a surreal drive--acres of wasting homes and stores and hotels.  It truly seemed almost an abandoned city or one that has survived, barely, an explosive bomb.

Today, on our last trip, the change is miraculous.  While some sites still remain vacant and lost in the past, most of the city has seen a remarkable regrowth.  Every street is full of new stores or shops about to open.  The entire city vibrates with excitement, almost as if Christmas is around the corner and NOLA is a child ready to burst loose with excitement!

For those of you who only think of New Orleans in conjunction with Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, shame on you!  This town is a mecca for those who love history, the paranormal and anything related to fun and relaxation.  While I hear that experience NOLA during those chaotic times is a bucket list item, don't wait to visit.  Right now is the time to go--new hotels, restaurants and museums are open all over the city and are just waiting for that first explosion of tourists.  Young or old, party girl or history buff-NOLA has something for everyone.

Some places that are not to be missed:

To Do:

  • The New Orleans Streetcars  I cannot think of a finer way to shed the heat than sitting by an open trolley window, gazing upon Loyola University, stunning parks and antebellum mansions.  All this for $1.25 for a one-way ticket.  It is truly taking a step back in time.  There are three different lines that can take you all over the city and it's an easy hop on and off all day long.  You can buy a $5 ticket per day if you're a true explorer like me!  Three different routes will take you to Canal Street,  Loyola and Tulane Universities, Audubon Zoological Gardens, to the French Market and Aquarium of the Americas.  In between are miles and miles of local owned shops, stores and restaurants that must be seen and tasted and heard to be believed.  A price for the ticket will be the best $5 you will have ever spent in your life!  For more information, check out New Orleans Streetcars
  • Museums New Orleans has over 45 museums dedicated to everything from surgical instruments and Napoleon to children and art.  My favorite, by far, was the National WWII Museum.  While I admit to being a bit of a history buff, even my non-history loving husband was blown away by this museum.  We had put aside 4 hours to tour this, and found we had only gone half-through by closing time!  They had to chase us out and lock the doors.  What made this museum so fascinating was the attention to detail and narrative focus.  From the very first, I felt as if I were living during that time and experiencing it all.  It is truly the finest museum we have ever been to and I admit to losing myself for a big chunk of time in the gift shop.  In addition to the museum (which is practically brand-new but already undergoing an expansion), there is also a vintage ice-cream parlor and theatre attached that focuses on the music and dress of that era.  Incredible fun for everyone in the family.  For more information, check out The National WWII Museum
  • Ghost, Goblins and Vampires!  Oh My!  What trip to NOLA would be complete without dipping your toes into something forbidden.  And, forbidden abounds in this city, especially at night!  The tours are numerous in this city so name your poison.  You can dabble in the culinary with a chef tour, travel back in time with a walking history and garden tour and even try your hand at ghost busting with a ghost tour.  Me, I decided vampire was the way to go!  Is any city more steeped in vampire lore (besides Transylvania!) than New Orleans?  Anne Rice would certainly agree with me.  Our vampire tour guide led us through dark streets and alleys and spilled the secrets of New Orleans that an average tourist would never know.  From the oldest pirate bar in the US to serial killer houses, our vampire tour focused on the weird and absurd.  Our guide, with requisite filed teeth (at least, I THINK they were filed) took us on a two-hour tour that proved to me that New Orleans can keep the title of 'most haunted city in the US.  To schedule your own brand of sin, visit Haunted History Tours
To Eat (or Drink):

  • When In Rome,  Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar makes up in ambiance what in lacks in food.  This is purported to be the oldest continually operating bar in the United States and is a mecca for history buffs.  Any given night will find hordes of tourists and a dark corner has some amazing local music.  While the drink is nothing to rave about, one should visit just to say you've been there.  For more information, visit Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar
  • Southern Donuts All Day and Night  You simply cannot visit New Orleans and NOT try the beignets and chicory coffee.  At all hours of the day, all year long (except for Christmas and the occasional hurricane), Cafe Du Monde is doing it right since 1862--serving up mounds of fresh beignets with pounds of powdered sugar.  We went when the temperature was approaching 100 degrees at night!  But to bite into the first, incredible taste defies description.  No matter how far away, we found our way back each night.  If you do nothing else, do this.  For more information, visit Cafe Du Monde
  • Beering It Up  The Crescent city Brewhouse is the only brewery in the French Quarter.  In addition to four unique brews, the brewery also hosts a restaurant in the French Quarter that serves incredible food and drink with walls full of local art and live jazz.  The food tastes so much better than pub fare.  The Cajun meat pies have to tried and then washed down with the hottest Bloody Mary this side of Hades.  If your tongue isn't numb by then, keep right on going to the Crawfish Etouffe.  For more information, visit Crescent City Brewhouse