When you start a bucket list in your twenties, you don’t really think about it much. At least I never did. Now in my mid-fifties, there’s a different sense of urgency as I get older to explore and enjoy the places and experiences I planned to live in my youth.
One of the places on that bucket list started long ago is visiting New Orleans. Today, via the Florida Turnpike, we hit the road to The Big Easy with great expectations, a detailed itinerary, and ready for a new adventure.
We arrived in New Orleans and immediately headed for the historic French Quarter. Our excitement was only trumped by the overload to the senses of the smells, sounds, and sights of this vibrant city. We couldn’t wait to explore; we couldn’t wait to savor some of Nola’s Cajun cuisine!
We arrived at lunchtime and found a charming restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter named Pere Antoine. This restaurant was not on my list of must see and visit, but we were hungry. We ordered Seafood Gumbo and Gumbalaya, a combination of Gumbo and Jambalaya. The food was tasty and spicy, exactly what we expected, and the service and ambiance were lovely.
The restaurant is named for a Spanish friar, Antonio de Sedella, lovingly known as Pere Antoine. He was the people’s priest, and his death in 1829 at the age of 81 was mourned by the entire city. If you’re into ghost stories like me, you should visit the street named for Pere Antoine, where his ghost has been known to visit. The main entrance of St. Louis Cathedral is on Pere Antoine Alley, right by Jackson Square.
We were off to explore the city before checking into our Airbnb.
Walking through the French Quarter we found by chance a must-see on my list, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.
As voodoo shops go, Marie Laveau’s is pretty touristy. With an array of religious and spiritual paraphernalia, tribal masks, charms, herbs used for sacred rituals, and more, this shop will immerse the curious visitor into the misunderstood world of voodoo. Spiritual private readings, as well as an alter with offerings to the high priestess of voodoo, Marie Laveau, are part of the experience.
Exhausted from the road trip we headed to our Air B&B to relax and get ready for dinner.
We have been staying at private homes through the many rental companies available like Air B&B, VRBO or HomeAway for years. It gives us the opportunity to experience all kinds of homes, with space and privacy that truly help us relax and unwind. This home is a remodeled shotgun. Gorgeous high ceilings, crown moldings, hardwood floors, and open living space, made this home the perfect home away from home to enjoy our short stay in New Orleans.
Since our house was Uptown in the Carrolton neighborhood, we chose a restaurant for dinner only a few miles away. Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar, located on St. Charles and Napoleon, is easily accessible by the St. Charles Streetcar. The restaurant’s old world charm with rich wood, brick walls, a bar imported from Paris, Parisian chairs and antique accents is only second to the cuisine. Oysters, a New Orleans staple, are offered in a variety of ways in the full-service oyster bar. The seafood was fresh, perfectly prepared, and a delicious ending to our first day in the city.
Day two promised to be a day of discovery, with a few planned activities starting with breakfast at the world famous Cafe Du Monde, where visitors line up all day to savor their Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. Even on a rainy day, you can see the line forming early morning. But here’s a secret, you really don’t need to stand in line. You can simply walk in and find an empty table and just sit down and wait to be served. Don’t tell, it’s our secret.
Cafe Du Monde opened in 1862 and was part of the French Market. If you’re looking for eggs and bacon you’ve come to the wrong place. This coffee shop only serves the famous savory fried square doughnuts smothered in powdered sugar, coffee, and hot chocolate twenty-four hours a day.
The French Market, with six blocks of shops, a flea market, restaurants, a farmers market and more, is a favorite gathering place to shop, eat, drink, and enjoy music and entertainment. You can find pretty much everything here–from art to pralines that come in all kinds of flavors–you can check off most of your souvenir gifts at the French Market.
With satisfied appetites and some shopping done, we head off to explore the city.
To stroll the streets of the French Quarter is to go back in time. The rich Spanish and French history is visible in the city’s architecture, the names of the streets and businesses, and in the eclectic and diverse backgrounds of its residents. Street performers abound, and music fills the air. And although Mardi Gras had long passed, hints of the traditional celebration was still everywhere with beaded necklaces hanging from balconies and trees.
With the latter half of day two rained out, we headed back to our Nola home to relax and dry out.
The streetcar is a great way to get around in New Orleans, and for $1.25 you can purchase a one-way ticket.
On this rainy day, we headed back uptown on the St. Charles streetcar, which began transporting locals and visitors back in 1835. Immerse yourself in a time long gone, as you ride the St. Charles line past stately mansions in the Garden District. A walking tour is the best way to explore the beautiful homes of this historic neighborhood.
It was time for lunch, so we stopped at the Blind Pelican, right on the St. Charles line. Offering a casual ambiance and moderately priced menu, this restaurant was one of our favorites.
Famous for the oysters, you can order a dozen raw for $3.00, and $7.50 for a dozen chargrilled. Other southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, and shrimp, roast beef, or oyster Poboys are must haves.
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a tour of one of its unique and iconic cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea level, burying the dead below ground is not an option. Instead, above ground tombs and family vaults are spread across the city, with the oldest cemetery dating back to 1789.
Saint Louis Cemetery Number One is the resting place of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. It is also the home of a nine-foot tomb in the shape of a pyramid, the future final resting place of the tomb’s owner, actor Nicholas Cage. Some say that the unusual tomb is in honor of Cage’s National Treasure movie franchise; others believe that the pyramid is linked to the actor’s possible involvement with the secret Illuminati society.
The best way to visit one of New Orleans cemeteries is to hire a tour guide. You don’t want to miss out on the interesting stories and history that lie within these cities of the dead.
The National WWII Museum was next on our list of attractions. This museum is worth the visit. You can purchase tickets to the museum at $27 for adults to free for veterans. For an additional $6 you may purchase tickets to see the movie “Beyond All Boundaries,” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. This 4D movie is spectacular! It was my favorite part of the visit.
We continue exploring The Quarter, peaking into gardens, and enjoying the sounds and people of the city.
Here are some of the local colorful characters of The Quarter.
We ended our visit to New Orleans with a fun Segway tour. This was a first for us, and I was a little bit nervous. However, just ten minutes of practice on the Segway was all we needed to feel completely comfortable. This is an activity we should have done at the very beginning of our visit, because the tour takes you through the entire French quarter and beyond; a great way to become acquainted with the city.
Every city has a bookstore you can lose yourself in. Right next door to City Segway is Beckham’s bookshop. I could have stayed in this bookshop for hours. Specializing in rare books, Beckham’s opened its doors to book lovers in 1967. Dogs are welcome, but have to play nice with Juniper, the resident cat. Check out Juniper’s blog at http://www.beckhamsbookshop.com.
Our Segway tour guide recommended the Gumbo Shop for our last meal in Nola.
A favorite with the locals, the Gumbo Shop was the perfect ending to our unforgettable visit to New Orleans.
Nola is now checked off my bucket list, but I’m not done with this fascinating city. We are already planning a trip back to the Big Easy.