New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans is known for its European-style architecture, mouth-watering Creole cuisine and all-around mysticism. And as its backbone is music: Jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Zydeco tunes ooze from every city crevice. But for many, the main reason to visit is Mardi Gras, an over-the-top party with Carnaval traits, such as masks, music and an all-around wild time. Even if you don’t make it to Mardi Gras, you’ll still find a party year-round, with revelers pouring out of Bourbon Street clubs until the wee hours of the morning.

The two most famous historical attractions in New Orleans are the French Quarter and Jackson Square. The French Quarter dates back at least three centuries, when pirates prowled the shipping lanes to plunder cargo schooners or retrieve lost riches from shipwrecks off the coast. The Old Absinthe House- named for the potent liquor made from wormwood- is the oldest tavern in the area. Legend has it that Andrew Jackson formed his strategy here to defeat the British in the famous Battle of New Orleans which won him fame and an eventual ascendance to the Presidency.

Bourbon Street is aptly named- the street and its neighboring intersections are host to thousands of revelers before, during and after Mardi Gras, the ancient ritual celebration which occurs in February of every year. Every night, beginning around 5:00 P.M., the streets begin to fill with young partiers (mostly under 35, but some well into their 50’s and 60’s) to carouse, enjoy the live music blaring from the many bars and partake in a ritual dating back many decades. Note that Bourbon street might not be appropriate for children due to the strip bars with plenty of adult themed pictures outside and the general routiness of the street crowd. Jackson Square- and the St. Louis Cathedral which stands nearby- has a beautiful bronze statue of Andrew Jackson on his horse, celebrating his victory over the British. The Square is one of the most widely photographed of the city’s landmarks and home to dozens of artists who display their wares on the streets nearby.

The French Market next to downtown also has roots dating back centuries and it celebrates the strong French influence in the region. The term “Cajun” is actually an Americanized version of “Acadian”; Acadia is the region in Eastern Canada where many French settlers lived, who later emigrated to the southern U.S. and found a home in this port city. The market offers a wide variety of vendors with arts and crafts, and wonderful foods and spices from the area. Cafe du Monde- the best place in the city for fresh roasted coffee with chicory and beignets- those delicious, fluffy pastries which are the signature snack- offers a great place to relax, people watch and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. The River Walk, Harrah’s Casino and the many riverboats along the waterfront offer alternative activities for both young and old. The Eisenhower Library and D-Day Museum bring history buffs in touch with the nation’s 32nd President and the cataclysmic events between 1939 and 1945 which changed the world. The Garden District is home to dozens of beautiful historic homes and gardens. Walking the French Quarter, you can enjoy the wrought iron balconies and balustrades with the famous hanging baskets of flowers and parade beads which make this section of the city so picturesque.

Long renowned as the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans actually shares this distinction with Chicago, where many of the early performers originated. Jelly Roll Morton- the stride pianist who claims to have invented jazz- played in the area in the 1920’s. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band- which plays at the club of the same name- has toured throughout the country and the world playing its distinctive Dixieland-style jazz, which many say was the root of later spin-offs which included boogie-woogie, blues, swing, bebop and post-bop variations. Jazz is what many music buffs call “America’s music”- because it is so different from other musical styles. Yet it is in jazz that we find links to classical (George Gershwin’s masterpieces “An American in Paris”, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Porgy and Bess” all have distinct jazz overtones), pop, blues and other genres.

One thing you can count on in New Orleans is good food- and there are dozens of restaurants to choose from. Made famous by the world-renowned chef Paul Prudhomme, K-Paul’s gets rave reviews and thousands of visitors every year. The city has so many great spots to enjoy not only Cajun cuisine (with its spicy touches)- but also a rich blend of French, Caribbean and exotic dishes. Dominique’s, Arnaud’s, Broussard’s,Antoine’s, Louis XVI, the Court of Two Sisters and the world famous Brennan’s are all great places to enjoy fine food in a relaxing, elegant atmosphere. More casual, upbeat places include Tony Moran’s, the Redfish Grill, the Pelican Club, Ralph’s On the Park and Jean Lafitte’s Bistro. Pat O’Brien’s- home of the world-famous “Hurricane” offers good food and a lively patio with several fountains and outdoor fireplaces. For a great breakfast of ham and grits, visit Mother’s where college students and Generals are known to mingle.

Despite past environmental disasters — namely the BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac — New Orleans continues to thrive. Over the past several years, major efforts have been made to restore the distinct districts. Today, the Crescent City looks almost as good as new. So start your visit in the French Quarter, where colonial heritage still survives. From here, you can explore the major architectural sites before enjoying a hearty plate of jambalaya and a rowdy evening out.

New Orleans History
Once a swampy delta, New Orleans is now a busy seaport whose very name evokes visions of romance spiced with a little Cajun voodoo. Tropical, lush, sensual, saucy and hedonistic are all words used to describe what has become known as “the Big Easy.”
Pierce Lewis, a notable scholar, described New Orleans as the “inevitable city on an impossible site.” Strategically situated, New Orleans was envisioned as a city that could control the trade between the vast interior of North America and the rest of the world, potentially determining the political future. Hurricanes, mosquitoes, excessive heat, swampy landscape, pirates and a sailor’s barroom atmosphere limited the regions potential strength.
The area where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico is nothing but marshland and watery muck. While the great river demanded a wonderful port city, it provided no place for one. The French, first to settle the area in the late 1600’s, chose to locate to the North in Baton Rouge and built forts down the river in hopes of controlling the Gulf entrance. This strategy eventually failed and with the help of the Choctaw Indians, Bienville and Iberville identified a quicker route into the Mississippi located near a relatively well-drained land where a natural levee was created by the river’s crescent curve. This area gave the town it’s nickname, the “Crescent City.” In 1718, Jean Baptiste La Moyne established New Orleans as the capital of Louisiana (named by Cavalier in 1682 to honor King Louis XIV and his bride Queen Anne).
From 1718 until 1810, New Orleans was essentially European. Its design was classic 18th century with a central square, church, walls and towers. During the 18th century growth was slow and difficult, basically due to the French government policy of strict economic regulation. New Orleans was ceded to the Spanish as a result of the Treaty of Paris, but Spain remained ambivalent to development of the area due to problems at home amidst a crumbling Spanish empire. British and American colonization of the Ohio River Valley and nearby regions which drained into the Mississippi led to extensive colonial settlements. Inevitably, neither the Spanish nor the French (who took back control in 1802) could hold the area and it was sold to the new American nation as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Perhaps one of the greatest real estate deals in history thanks to President Thomas Jefferson (who people thought was crazy for making such a foolish purchase), it doubled the size of America.
New Orleans has grown to be a great American city, maintaining its French/Spanish Creole culture while blending with the English conservatism. Unfortunately, the city is located below sea level while the Mississippi flows past at a height ten to fifteen feet above much of the city. Despite the presence of the Army Corps of Engineers’ vast canals and pumping stations, the city is prone to flooding, as evidenced by the devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. However, New Orleans and its citizens have overcome enormous obstacles in the past and will continue to party into the future.

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