New Orleans - Let the Good Times Roll
The first rule of Cajun cooking is that no matter what ingredients you throw into the pot, all you have to do is add the right spices and let it simmer long enough and the result will be a dish that leaves its mark on your tongue and in your heart.
New Orleans is that dish, a cultural gumbo that has simmered for hundreds of years in relative isolation, combining African heritage, Caribbean flare, Spanish style, Cajun fire, Creole vitality, French tradition and Haitian magic to create a taste so unique it makes you want to kiss the cook in jubilant celebration.
New Orleanians love to celebrate, and they will celebrate every chance they get. Through the streets where the cool night breezes sing backup to the soft jazz drifting from bar windows, around the countless restaurants and outdoor cafes where corks leap out of wine bottles with gusto and the flame of a café brÃ»lot illuminates the night, it's easy to enjoy the Big Easy, and easier still to, as the locals say, laissez les bons temps rouler, let the good times roll!
Whether you plan to stroll around the Garden District or get swept away at the Jazz & Heritage Festival, start your parade route from the office of a trusted travel agent. Travel agents know the best times to visit and the best sections of the city to set up base, leaving you with only enjoyable decisions to make.
Your first choice as you clang, rumble and roll down picturesque St. Charles Ave. in a streetcar will be which vibrant and diverse neighborhood to explore first. Usually when someone pictures New Orleans, the images that spring to mind are of the French Quarter, a magnificent area filled with narrow streets and three-story buildings with wrought-iron balconies smiling down at the revelers below. The spirit of New Orleans began on these very streets in 1718, surviving wars, fires, plagues, hurricanes and hurricane-force parties to become an internationally recognized icon of N'Awlins' style.
Start your day in the French Quarter with a café au lait and beignet at Café du Monde on Jackson Square, where lovers stroll arm-in-arm on their way to the waterfront to peek into courtyards, galleries and antiques shops. Listen to the tall tales of a puckish tour guide during a mule-drawn carriage ride before filling your belly with a bucket of spicy shrimp on Bourbon Street. Just remember that the world-famous Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's are called Hurricanes and not Light Summer Breezes for a reason.
Outside the Quarter you will find legendary districts, each with its own book of stories that read like extraordinary fiction. These locales include Uptown, a heavily populated neighborhood where even the schools are architectural wonders; the Warehouse Arts District, where Emeril Lagasse's restaurant has been feeding the masses for years; and the historic Garden District, where you might bump into author Anne Rice on these mansion-lined streets framed by lush gardens.
Each district takes great pride in the many festivals that invade the city each year. While the big blowouts like the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day and the Jazz & Heritage Festival are bashes to boast about, the smaller festivals, like the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the Spring Fiesta, flush out the true nature of the city.
The festival of all festivals is Mardi Gras, when half the city's residents celebrate like lottery winners and the other half leave town. What many people don't know is that Mardi Gras is a highly contagious event, where, after a few moments of open-mouth gaping, the stodgiest observers will find themselves yelling at the festive float-riders to toss beads or trinkets their way and prancing along the street with thousands of their newest, closest friends.
Mardi Gras may be just a tourism ploy to bring hordes of adventure-seekers into town to try New Orleans' true treat, its tasty cuisine. A concoction of Creole and Cajun, New Orleans cooking captures fresh seafood from the Gulf and the spicy combination of its cultures for a taste to become passionate about. In fact, when giving directions, a native New Orleanian uses well-known restaurants and cafes as landmarks instead of streets.
Visitors are not allowed to leave the city without tasting such culinary classics as a po'boy sandwich from Mother's on Poydras Street, oysters on the half shell with a cold bottle of Dixie beer while standing up at The Acme Oyster Bar, jambalaya and gumbo with plenty of pepper, spicy crawfish you eat with your hands (with a good scrubbing with hot water and lemon afterward), and finally Bananas Foster at Brennan's where it originated.
Wherever you eat, the thing to remember in New Orleans is the pace. No one rushes, especially during dinner, where the topics of conversation usually range from what you ate last night to what you'll be eating tomorrow. The pace and ease of the Big Easy leave an indelible mark on all visitors, surprising considering its raucous reputation.
Big and Easy it is, and the one thing travel agents recommend is to be flexible with your schedule. Simply walk in the general direction of some place you want to visit and then stop and enjoy every distraction along the way. Unpredictable and beautiful, New Orleans is a delicious destination that will be savored in your memories for years to come.
Let the good times roll. Click here to find a travel agent to begin planning the perfect New Orleans vacation for you.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic — January
Battle of New Orleans Celebration — January
O'Houligan's Ball — February
Mardi Gras — February
Louisiana Crawfish Festival — March
Children's World Fair — February
Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival — February
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival — April
Satchmo Summerfest — August
Swamp Festival — October
Bridge City Gumbo Festival — October