Without question one of the country’s best known party towns is New Orleans. This riotous town is full to the brim with intriguing places, cultural interests, and fantastic food. It really feels like you’ve stepped into a different world there.
My day started out at the cemetery. (What, you mean you don’t start any city tour at the cemetery?) But this isn’t just any cemetery, it is the St. Louis Cemetery No.1 and is one of the most popular places to see in New Orleans. The only way to see this cemetery is by joining a guided tour so I booked my ticket for first thing in the morning.
There are three of these cemeteries in New Orleans and all of them were established in the 18th century. Cemetery 1 and 2 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. No. 1 is the oldest and most famous of the cemeteries and is home to the final resting place of some of the city’s most notable. These above ground vaults are beautifully decorated.
One of the most famous residents of this cemetery is Marie Laveau, a renowned voodoo priestess. People will often leave beads or other tokens at the door of her vault. The other popular vault is the future resting place of actor Nicholas Cage who loved the city of New Orleans so much that he has prearranged to be buried here in a pyramid shaped vault.
The cemetery makes up roughly one block of area and exploring the the mini streets through the vaults gives such an interesting perspective on the area. It was definitely a highlight of the city for me.
After the cemetery I made my way to the French Quarter where the sounds of jazz music rang through the air and the sweet smells of beignets made my mouth water. New Orleans is famous for it’s beautiful architecture. Colorful buildings lined with decorative wrought iron fill the streets.
I popped by Cafe Du Monde where a line of people were waiting for their chance to have some hot, sugar dusted beignets. Beignets are a sort of small square shaped doughnut coated in powered sugar and Cafe Du Monde has been serving them up since 1862. This open air coffee shop is a landmark of the city and is constantly full of tourists and locals alike.
With hot beignets in hand, I took a stroll down the river where I was overwhelmed by the sight of the mighty Mississippi River. This river was the dividing line between the established East and the unknown of the West for explorers, pioneers, and gold miners. Anything that was past the Mississippi was considered wild territories.
Near the waterfront was a towering statue of Joan of Arc carrying her banner. This statue was a gift of the people of France to the citizens of New Orleans in 1972. She is fondly known as the ‘Maid of Orleans.
I walked by Jackson Square where the Louis Cathedral stands overlooking the Mississippi River. The full name of this church is the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France. This is the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the U.S. This cathedral is said to be haunted by the spirit of a priest whose body is buried here. People have seen him walking along the alley named after him in the early mornings and has also been seen during Christmas midnight mass near the alter holding a candle.
I walked down Bourbon Street which is known as the epicenter of the New Orleans party. Bars and restaurants line the street with music blaring from each one.
Though it still has the beautiful buildings like the rest of the French Quarter, the general feel of the street is far more gritty and dirty and the smells wafting in the air are not those of hot beignets but that of stale beer, excrement, and sadness. Maybe this was because I was there during the day and there in-between when the party ended and the party started, but I was disappointed in this iconic part of the city.
To make up for the depressing walk down Bourbon Street, I went in to a little shop with all the usual flare and fittings of New Orleans. Their Mardi Gras parties are legendary and with that comes an incredible array of Carnival masks. Walls lined with masks of all colors and styles were lovely. There were little voodoo trinkets on the tables playing to this lesser understood part of the city. But the best part was that they were making pralines and rows of rows of these nutty caramelly treats were lined up ready to delight in.
New Orleans is such an interesting city that will always surprise you with something to discover. It has such a mixture of different cultures that have come together to create something completely unique. While Bourbon Street and Voodoo aren’t really my thing, I will go for beignets and wrought iron buildings any day!