The news stories about New Orleans, at least the ones that filter through to where we live, are hyperventilatingly negative. Highest crime rate in the nation! Second highest poverty rate! Brain eating amoeba in the water supply!
Here to tell you, we visited recently and loved it. Music everywhere. Amazing food. Even had mild and cool temperatures — a rarity it, but it does happen.
Six tips for NOLA visitors, particularly neophytes (like us):
1. If you like to bicycle, several bike rental companies cater to tourists. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had 11 miles of bike paths. Now there are 84 miles of bike lanes in the Parish, and 104 miles in the greater New Orleans area, with more planned. You’ll find the cyclists, like everybody in New Orleans, hospitable and friendly.
2. By all means take the famous trolley, admire the brass and mahogany fixtures, and squeeze in with all the other tourists. To really see the city though, take the bus. The same $3 day pass for the trolley also gets you on the bus. You’ll ride with locals, see more sights, and get where you want to go, faster.
3. Museums. Save time for museums. Try these:
National World War II museum. For anyone who likes history, planes, guns, technology, and gadgetry, this place is heaven. It was a tough sell for me because war museums seem like an excuse to glorify genocide, but the curators make an effort to include the sobering side of war along with the glory. There are oral histories from veterans, nods to the Women’s Air Corps, the holocaust, and the Tuskegee Airmen. There is a sizable exhibit on Japan. There’s an entertaining, patriotic film for an extra $5, which is “four dimensional,” meaning vibrating chairs, steam-smoke and stage sets. For another $5 you can participate in a Submarine Reenactment, in which an heroic crew goes down, victim of one of it’s own torpedoes. I pooped out after 3 hours, but my husband the history buff could have spent the whole week at this museum.
The Insectatorium. Don’t be cowed by all the kids in line for tickets, and bring your knee pads because the signs are at kid height — but I guarantee, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for bugs. Couldn’t talk the Mister into sticking around for the cooking demonstration, so if you get to see it and sample the menu, let me know how the fried cockroaches are.
The Civil War Museum. Be forewarned, the sign outside says “Civil War.” The sign inside says “Confederate War,” which is closer to the truth. This is a commemoration from the perspective of the South, and is full of uniforms, photos, testimonials, flags, equipment, stories and swords — lots of swords — of Confederate soldiers and officers. It’s a moving display, complete with letters from sweethearts and cannon balls lodged in ossified tree trunks.
4. Food. Glorious food. We did not have a bad meal. Favorites? For a fancy meal, August.
For less formal food, the lunch counter at Cochon Butcher. Decidedly not for vegetarians. Dead pigs right there in the back room. The food was terrific.
On the other end of the gustatory scale, with vegetarian & vegan options, organic, raw, gluten free — catering to whatever special needs you can think of, Meals from the Heart Cafe:
5. Music. Mardis Gras is the just tip of the iceberg. There are jazz cafes, and music on the streets, festivals, concerts, you name it. We were lucky enough to hit Wednesday Music at the Square, on Lafayette Square,
And the French Quarter Festival,
But pretty much any time you visit, be ready to be soaked in music. Check the event calendars to make sure you don’t miss the musical events happening near wherever you stay.
6. The guidebooks warn tourists not to stray from main thoroughfares because crime is high. That’s no doubt good advice, but be a little adventurous. Visit cemeteries that aren’t so famous. Walk a block or two off the avenues of antebellum mansions, to the quiet streets with modest homes. Visit the areas where whole blocks have been bulldozed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is sensory overload. You’ll be glad for the break.
We hope to return. Do you have suggestions for things to do on future visits?