New Orleans Trip Report

Amcan Travel visits New Orleans, June 2011.

We arrived in New Orleans airport on Sunday in mid-afternoon. All tour books and websites recommend against renting car and driving in the city. We took the airport shuttle to our hotel, the Avenue Plaza (photo, hotel) situated between the Central Business District and Garden District. It is conveniently located between two St Charles Ave streetcar stops. All units have full kitchen facilities with a dishwasher, and laundry is complimentary. The outdoor temperature is over 90 F with humidity over 97%, quite a striking contrast from Seattle. We stayed in for the night.

Monday morning saw us getting up leisurely. After a simple oatmeal breakfast, we took a tour of the nearby Garden District on foot. One of the most upscale neighborhoods in New Orleans, the district offers many historical buildings (photo, Garden District home), built mostly in mid-19th century for rich sugar planters. The architectures are truly amazing with ornate porches, windows, ironworks (photo, interesting fence) and enormous space between houses. We walked through Lafayette Cemetery on the way back. New Orleans lies in a lowland, so not only are there no basements to the mansions we went by, all graves are built above the ground. A "typical" afternoon storm sent us back to our hotel with fried catfish sandwich in hand. In the evening, with alto sax on Richard’s shoulder, we took the streetcar to French Quarter, walked through the neighborhood to BMC (Balcony Music Club) to join in the Monday Blues Jam.

We started Tuesday by getting a three-day Trolley Pass, hopping on the St. Charles Streetcar (photo, streetcar), which took us directly to Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter. We strolled past some fancy old buildings (photo, facade) and ornate streets (photo, street scene) before reaching the St. Louis Cathedral (photo, cathedral), which is very nicely maintained with beautiful ceiling paintings and stained glass windows. We then spent a couple of hours next door at The Cabildo Museum which gave a great detailed history of New Orleans, its melting pot culture and diverse people. We then met up with our friend Jim, who just moved to New Orleans from Seattle. When we got into his truck, a very unusual hail storm started. Thurderstorms are the norm in New Orleans during this time of the year, but having a hailstorm, pellets the size of marbles, on a 95 degree day, is pretty spectacular (photo, hailstones). We pulled the truck under a tree to wait it out. Then we walked through the French Market, tested some of the best hot sauce the city offers (photo, sampling) and bought some pralines to take home. Then on the recommendation of our concierge, we checked out crawfish night at Harrah's Casino. A buffet of crawfish is truly a treat. Stuffed and happy, we went to walk among the cemeteries north of the Quarter and saw some bizarre graves (photo, Safe Burial Site?). We ended up walking along Bourbon Street in the French Quarter after dark, taking in all the music and atmosphere. Jim treated us to some nice local drinks: a Hand Grenade for Barbara and a local microbrew for Richard. The Hand Grenade (photo, drinks) knocked off Barbara pretty quick. We are thankful that Jim took us back to the hotel.

We spent the entire Wednesday riding street cars, which apparently is the tourist's “must do”. We rode all three street car lines out and back. St. Charles streetcar, the world's oldest continuously operated public line, and still in full operation 24 hours a day, is our favorite. The Canal Street line has air conditioning and extends via ferry over the Mississippi River (photo, the River) to Algiers. The Riverfront Streetcar is the shortest line, and least scenic, but since it runs along the French Quarter, is convenient for folks staying in large business district hotels.

Thursday we started slow, did some housekeeping til late morning. We went to Audubon Park via St Charles Streetcar, changed to Bus 11, enjoyed the 60 block Magazine Street from the comfort of the air-conditioned, sparsely patronized clean bus. We stopped for lunch at the legendary Camilla Grill with the famous muffuletta and spicy sausage. We came home happy and content. In the evening, we went back to the French Quarter and Richard joined in another jam session, this time at Mojito Rum Bar, where Barbara enjoyed a Mary Pickford and Richard again enjoyed the local microbrew.

Friday is recovery day, since we did not get back to our hotel til almost 2 am, thanks for the 24 hour running St Charles Streetcar. We got up very late, booked a rivercruise with our friend for Friday afternoon, and confirmed our shuttle service back to airport for Sunday and return flight with the airline. Barbara went up to the rooftop terrace above the 12th floor and enjoyed some panorama view of the city, and read her book there for a while. It is hard to imagine that we stayed in on a Friday night when visiting New Orleans, but it is exactly what we did and watched movie in the room and blogged.

Saturday was focused on a Mississippi river cruise. Our friend Jim joined us for the original muffuletta at Frank’s. The size of this sandwich is enormous, bigger than Barbara's head (photo, good eats). Then we took our ride on the Natchez Steamboat on the Mississippi River. The boat is a big one with 1600 passenger capacity, restaurant, bars and a live jazz band on board. We cruised upriver for about eight miles. The live narrator has a lovely soft accent; reminding Barbara of Garrison Keillor from A Prairie Home Companion. There is a jazz band in the dinner hall. We went down to the engine room to observe the operation and went up to the top deck looking down the giant wheels turning (photo, Big Wheel). It is a perfect Saturday afternoon. We came back and had to try the famous beignets and Café Au Lait at the Café Du Monde. The icy milk coffee was a great treat but Barbara and Jim both found the beignets a bit doughy. We were determined to walk off all the calories we packed in, so we took a long walk to the lower French Quarter with less business but more residential houses, condos and apartments. They are quite different than the magnificent mansions in Garden District but equally impressive with their artistic and graceful design and the long narrow corridor between the houses giving a feeling of a hidden oasis (photo, nice facades).

New Orleans is truly an amazing city. We feel like our friend Jim is a lucky guy to be living there. We hope we can return to this wonderful city some time very soon!