Friday, March 29, 2013

Thirty Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 5

Rounding the French Quarter           

                The French Quarter , going clockwise, is bounded by the river, Canal Street, Rampart Street, and Esplanade. It’s a fantastic grid of historic buildings, shops, museums, hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and great places to eat. There are wonderful private homes, here, too, and apartments and all kinds of ways to stay for a visit—or forever!

                There’s no way in a 1000 something word blog to really relate the wonder of the French Quarter to you, but I’ll try to hit a few highlights, going around that clock!

               First, there’s the river. That’s where you can board the Steamboat Natchez. And it’s where you can look out and see the majesty of the Mississippi and understand the moniker 
“Crescent City.” The water is river water, dark, sometimes turbulent, and deep—it also makes you understand the term “Mighty Mississippi.”  Just to walk along the river is an experience. You can also catch the Riverfront Line streetcar here; it’s a fun thing to do if you just pick a destination, or hop on to ride out—and ride right back! The streetcars were operating sixty years before the electric lines that made a “trolley” come into being; in NOLA, they are still called streetcars! (There are three streetcar lines—the Riverfront, the Canal Street, and the St. Charles. They’re actually excellent for getting around!)

                You’ll come upon the Aquarium of the Americas as you head to Canal Street; a truly remarkable facility with all manner of creatures. (Aquarium on another day!) The Shops at Canal Street are here—yes, on Canal Street. There are some different stores here—and some chains. But if you need something you can only get at a chain, here’s a convenient place! If you were to cross the street from the Aquarium and the mall, you’d be at Harrah’s, but, ahha! Across the street you are no longer in the boundaries of the French Quarter. 

                Say you walk up Canal side toward Rampart Street. You will pass some souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants. Most of them, even the national—you can get an Arby’s fix here—are housed in quaint buildings; different! If you walk along you’ll come to Rampart, and if you turn and walk along Rampart, you’ll find some restaurants, etc., but you won’t really be in the heart of the quarter which some say stretches really only from the Jackson Square area to Esplanade and Canal and then on up to Bourbon. 

               But you’ll be across from Armstrong Park and the neighborhood on which a TV series has recently been based—Treme. Wonderful people live here; it’s still not a good idea to wander at night.

                When you reach Esplanade, you’ll know it! It’s a grand avenue with a tree laden divider and there are grand mansions on either side. Now, like all else, a lot of these mansions now constitute what I consider to be living history. A beautiful structure may still be privately owned—or it may be a restaurant and shops downstairs and some apartments upstairs. If you like walking, this gorgeous tree-laden street is for you. I’ll also mention here
that it’s where you’ll find Port of Call—a bar/restaurant which serves up some of the finest
hamburgers and baked potatoes you’ll ever have. I’m serious—best baked potatoes. I’m assuming they come from Idaho and I could be wrong. I just know that they’re huge and delicious! 

                Keep on walking down and you’ll reach the French Market. You won’t be doing anything new; the French Market has been an institution since 1791. It’s a great place to go for all kinds of delicious things. Now, you keep walking, and you’ll be amazed at what you can buy. The area houses stalls that sell almost everything in the world. 

                So, you’ve come back to the river. You’ll have passed some unbelievable places, good restaurants shops, all kinds of wonders. When you reach the end of the market and some of the cafes and shops that follow, you’ll be at Café du Monde. 

                This is truly an institution—many people say that if you just brush by NOLA, you must stop at Café du Monde. The menu is small and naturally, it’s famous for its delicious,
powdery beignets. (Word to the wise; I’ve done it—don’t wear black!) Of course, it’s not just the fabulous sugar treat that will draw you here, or the rich, dark coffee (hot or iced!) Sitting at Café du Monde is half the fun. You can find a table where you can watch the heart and throb of the city go on. The mule-drawn carriages that hike tourists around on all kinds of tours (history with or without vampires and ghosts and other-worldly creatures) line up in front of Jackson Square. Mules are here in NOLA because horses can’t stand the heat; the hearty mule does well! Artists set up there, and if you were walking on that side of the street, you could find yourself buying a colorful city scape as you head to catch a carriage. But at Café du Monde, you just watch it all. You have a view of the street performers—those who sing and play musical instruments, and those who pose as statues in different paint or appointments. Some are absolutely awesome in their ability to stand for hours on end without moving!

                You’ll see the fortune tellers there as well; if you have the mind to, you can run across and have you palm read, or find out what the tarot cards have to say about your

                And, resting from your walk at a table at Café du Monde, you can look into Jackson Square and see—Andrew Jackson. He’s astride his rearing horse, hat in hand, ever watchful over the city he saved at the Battle of New Orleans. In the early days, Jackson Square was called Place d’Armes. It was a little more than mush and a field back then, a place where troops could drill, and where criminals might be seen in stocks –and where executions might be carried out.

                Today . . . .

                Don’t think about the executions! Enjoy General Jackson as he waves his hat, and wave back if you’ve the mind to do so.

                It’s NOLA. People will think nothing of it!

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