New Orleans is a funny old place. On the face of it, The French Quarter dominates, with continental-styled streets and facades, an array of Creole restaurants, tourist shops and jazz bands on almost every street corner. But even this isn’t what it seems. Destroyed by fire in 1794 , the French Quarter’s buildings are now predominately Spanish. Oysters and Bourbon are in abundance, and surprisingly cheap.
It would seem that most tourists don’t venture further than the French Quarter. But the St Charles street car soon takes you away from the tourists carrying their ‘go-cups’ (unlike the rest of the US, it’s legal to drink on the streets so everyone seems to walk around from one venue to the next with a plastic cup of booze), the po-boys (huge, overstuffed sandwiches), Mardi Gras and Voodoo memorabilia, to the Garden District.
Here you can find beautiful, plantation-styled buildings with all the cliché’s: painted white with verandas running around them, swing seats on the porch, rocking chairs by the door, colourful plants and shrubs bursting with colour, even in November. A short stroll away takes you to Lafayette cemetery, with it’s raised tombs, it feels very familiar to Europeans, but owing to the fact New Orleans is below sea level, the dead have to be buried where they can’t resurface, and this is unusual in the US. For those of you who are familiar with the film Easy Rider, you might remember the graveyard scene- yep, that’s in New Orleans.
Opposite the graveyard is The Captain’s Palace – an old school, predominately white restaurant serving 25 cent martinis with lunch. One too many might led you astray in upmarket Magazine Street, think clapboard houses meets designer shops.
Although readily available, personally, a plantation tour didn’t sit quite right with me. Instead we headed to the swamps on an alligator search. However, a quick visit to the City Museum reveals the history of New Orleans. A stark reminder of the Colonial past and slavery, there are graphic hints of how people lived, from slave collars to fine china and eveningwear. But there are also reminders that New Orleans from the beginning was a very multi-cultural society, to create ‘Creole’ and a culturally unique place.
Of course, most people will associate New Orleans with Jazz, Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina, but it’s easy to probe a little further than the go-cups, po-boys, oysters and alligators.