After the Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, or NOLA as it likes to be known, is definitely back on its feet. There’s a surge of new building and on my visit, they’re even resurfacing the historic Bourbon Street.
What I like about the city is that it’s easy to get around, either by walking, tram or even bus. Indeed you wouldn’t want a car here as parking charges in the French Quarter are exorbitant, even if you’re staying in a hotel. And you should definitely stay in the Quarter, in spite of the noise, as it’s definitely at the heart of things.
French Walking Tour
Although it’s perfectly easy to get around on your own, a guided walking tour is useful to get your bearings.
I meet my guide after a New Orleans breakfast of coffee and the famous beignets at Café du Monde. I’m right on the banks of the mighty Mississippi and get a brief introduction to the history of the first French settlement.
It’s then a short walk to the French Market, which is an open-air area featuring shopping, dining and live music. There are five blocks of speciality retail shops featuring locally-made jewellery, clothing, cuisine and art. We then leave the banks of the Mississippi and pass the old Ursuline Convent, then turn into Royal Street. This has the archetypal French Quarter architecture, all cast iron balconies and baskets of flowers gracing the fronts of the houses.
Further along, to the left, is the Avart Peretti House on St Peter Street where Tennessee Williams wrote Streetcar Named Desire. I emerge into Jackson Square in front of the iconic Andrew Jackson statue and the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral still in use in North America.
This is a noisy place with brass bands often competing against each other but it’s also the location of an open-air artist colony, where artists display their work on the outside of the iron fence. If you have the money you can have your portrait painted.
Over the course of a few days, I get to know my way around the quarter and find it at its most delightful in the morning before the crowds arrive. Later in the day, it’s still anarchic enough to avoid tourism chic – I love the bands who set up in the streets and just play. In the evening it gets too much and I prefer the Faubourg Marigny, the adjacent neighbourhood, where Frenchman Street is liked the old days of Bourbon Street – a strip of bars and restaurants with classy live jazz.
Back in the quarter, you’re more likely to hear bands doing covers of rock and soul, but I do visit Preservation Hall one night. The place is pleasantly ramshackle with only a few chairs, but there’s standing room at the back, and four or more sets a night. The old guys have shuffled on to the great gig in the sky but the next generation are able players and know how to charm the crowd.