Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Big Easy

We spent about 24 hours in the city of New Orleans. Knowing that there is enough to do and see for a week in this city, we knew we could only see a few of the highlights. We did learn a few things for the next time we visit.
First of all - January is winter; downtime, quiet time. Mardis Gras parades begin the first weekend in February so shops were preparing, but the streets seemed to be fairly quiet. In fact, many tours are on a winter schedule - 1 tour or trip per day. New Orleans is a great walking city. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express on Carondolet Street - about 2 blocks from Bourbon Street and 7 blocks from the Riverfront area.
When we arrived on Monday afternoon, we walked to the riverfront area, past Harrods (cha-ching), and back up to Bourbon Street. We sauntered up and down the street, but it was really quiet - just hot dog vendors and a few other tourists. Dinner was at a place called "Desire" - I had BBQ shrimp, Lowell had a dish of jambalaya - and of course mine was much spicier! Lowell's Cajun Mary, however, had a little kick, so he was happy.
After dinner, the street was a little more active - still not crowded or in a big party mood. We listened to lots of music - good jazz, some blues, even some rock and county. Every bar seems to try to play it's music louder than the one across the street. We did not hear any Zydeco though - and that's what I was hoping for - it's such a different sound. There were plenty of policemen on the street too, so it felt pretty safe. They have a big camera called Skywatch, at one end of the street as well. It's raised up about 1 story on a lift kind on contraption. So, it was a pretty quiet evening, but we did get to see and hear the famous street.
Tuesday morning brought bright sunshine and the promise of 70 degrees - We took the streetcar from our hotel west through the Garden District and past Tulane University, Loyola and Sacre Couer. Sacred Heart Academy opened in 1727 and is the oldest girl's school in the United States. I've included some of the homes is that area in the slide show - it was a beautiful area, and the homes are pretty spectacular. Since we went early in the day, we shared the street car with folks on their way to work or school.
Next on the agenda was a stroll through the French District to Jefferson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. The square is a monument to Jefferson Davis. The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. Of course the cathedral is beautiful, so I wanted to take some pictures. Naturally, today was the day that they were changing light bulbs on the altar - so there's a big orange ladder on the altar, just my luck. The streets around the square are for pedestrians only, lots of artists and palm readers were set up in the area. After sampling the pralines and buying a cookbook, we walked over to the Mississippi riverfront area. It has a great walkway along the river that leads into (ta-da) a shopping center! We stopped for gumbo and po-boy sandwiches, yummy lunch.
After lunch we hustled back to the hotel, checked out and headed to St. Louis Cemetery #1. There are a number of cemeteries right in downtown New Orleans. Next time we'd like to do a cemetery tour. St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the oldest and most famous of the 3 catholic cemeteries operated by the Archdiocese. It was opened in 1789, replacing the city's older St. Peter Cemetery (no longer in existence) as the main burial ground when the city was redesigned after a fire in 1788. The cemetery spans just one square block, but is the resting place of over 100,000 dead. It contains a variety of tombs in various states of repair and disrepair. It is still being used - we saw tombs marked in 2004 and 2005. In the early days of the city, the immigrants could not afford private burial plots, so they joined a "mutual benefit society" (i.e. a group of French or Italian immigrants). They had a large crypt designed and built, often in Europe, and they could all be buried there. The 3 St. Louis cemeteries have lots of these crypts. One that we saw was for the Italian Mutual Benefit Society. It is a large round structure with 24 vaults. There are currently 2300 people entombed in that single structure!
Usually you hear that the tombs are above ground because of the low water table, but we read that it's more likely because they were designed after European cemeteries. All of these were flooded in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina went through New Orleans, but reportedly there wasn't much damage.
The balconies and ironwork in the city were fascinating - right now lots of folks are decorating their balconies for Mardi Gras. That would really be a great time to visit the city.
So - that was our extremely quick tour of The Big Easy. We'd like to return again, when it's warmer and a little more exciting. We'd do a cemetery tour and probably a riverboat tour in the area as well. We are now in Texas and on the road to Houston. I'm doing this blog from the car!! This technology never ceases to amaze me! Larry and Sue are flying in there tonight, we are looking forward to seeing them and to heading down to Harlingen to stay with Mom and Dad.

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