The City that Care Forgot
Trip Start Aug 24, 2011
37Trip End Sep 30, 2011
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Our plan today was to have a lazy morning, take a guided walking tour in the afternoon, then have a lazy afternoon and long evening just enjoying this great city.
We started off by heading to Cafe du Monde on Decatur St. This is located at the upper end of the French Market and was established in 1862. At the time it was one of two cafes famous for their cafe au lait and French-style beignets (fried pastry dough absolutely smothered in icing sugar) but the other cafe moved out to the suburbs while this remained.
New Orleans style coffee is served with chicory which I’m told gives the coffee a bit of a bitter taste
I know we’ll have to come back and try these fabulous little pastries, it’s just not going to be today. We found our way down to another cafe on Deactur St called EnVie Espresso Bar and Cafe and they had exactly what I craved this morning. Great place too.
From the cafe we walked the streets admiring the buildings, walked through the marketplace and walked to the river’s edge. Unfortunately we didn’t get to appreciate that stunning view for too long because there are a whole heap of hustlers down there that will not leave you alone, even if you ignore them and keep walking. They’re tag is trying to get you to stay still while they guess where your shoes are from. Country, city, maker etc and if they guess all that you’re meant to hand over cash. We’re well travelled and know this scam so we’re quite happy to be firm in talking to them and if they wouldn’t move aside we just made like they weren’t there
After our waterfront trek we went to Aunt Sally’s creole pralines shop back on Deactur St and tried a delicious pecan praline and some Cajun spiced pecans. They were both so good we bought some take-aways but I don’t think they’re going to last long.
Tour time was 1:30pm and that was now upon us so we made our way to the 1850s house on St Ann Street right in front of Jacksons Square and bought our tour tickets. Our guide today was Leah Levkowicz, a local lady who would be taking us on a two hour stroll around the streets giving us her spin on the history of this great city. Exciting!! We love this stuff!
Our small group met at the house then we started off walking into Jackson’s Square, a small park right in the heart of the French Quarter. We stopped in here to get a little bit of cultural background on New Orleans and were told there are five major parts to the culture here. These are music, food, architecture, history and the mix of cultures. I’m not sure in which order they come but I would suggest music, food, and then the other three
We spoke about some of the nicknames New Orleans has received over the years, some of them being Nola (short for New Orleans Louisiana), The Big Easy (this one has numerous reasons behind it but one of them being that at one time the city was one of the cheapest places to live in America), The Crescent City (due to the shape of the Mississippi River), The City that Care Forgot (ferreting to the care free nature of a lot of the residents and Nawlins (that one should be simple enough to get!)
Leah then brought our attention to the buildings around Jackson Square. The park is surrounded by historic buildings with the St Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere and the Cabildo behind it, Pontalba apartments on either side and the Mississippi River in front of it. Cafe du Monde also sits diagonally opposite the park.
Artists line all edges of the Square and it was great to see some of their work as we entered the park. We heard that the St Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in North America. It is also the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.
The Presbytere sits beside the cathedral and it’s intended use once built was to house the clergy but was never used in this way. The priests at the time felt it was still too grande and moved into a much smaller residence behind it. Today it houses a permanent exhibition about Hurricane Katrina and has a Mardi Gras exhibit on the second floor. To the other side of the Cathedral is the Cabildo which now houses a museum but was the site of the Louisiana purchase transfer ceremonies in 1803.
From Jackson Square we moved on to stand at the waters edge where Leah explained that New Orleanians get there bearings from referring to up river, down river, river side or lake side instead of North, East, South or West
While we were looking out over the River Leah was explaining a bit about where New Orleans sits in terms of ‘sea level’ and that it’s actually not far from being below sea level. The Mid City area, closer to the lake and away from the Downtown area, is 10 feet below sea level. Some portions of the city are as high as 20 feet above sea level while others are as low as 7 feet below. Flood stage in New Orleans is called when water gets to 17 feet.
I know we got coverage of Hurricane Katrina in Australia when it happened six years ago, but it was so far removed from us. Being here in the city, having walked around for a day, getting the feel of the place and now getting a lot of the history on board, thoughts of those news reports were coming back and I wondered how the city could be as amazing as it appears to be today after such devastation.
The last thing Leah told us while we were looking out over the water was the populated area over the River that we could see was Algiers Point, the next oldest area that forms part of New Orleans. African slaves were imported to Algiers and it was used as a holding area until the slaves had recovered from their journey and could be sent across the River to be sold
From our water view we walked over to Cafe du Monde where we were given a little of the cafes history and were taken around to the back of the cafe to be shown staff making the beignets through glass doors. Apparently they make so many of them they do what they need to do with the pastry on one table then literally chuck them over their shoulders into the deep fryer to keep the process moving swiftly. This was a bit of an ‘in-joke’ I’d say because there is a description of how the cafe makes them somewhere saying they are ‘delicately handled’. Well if they do chuck them we didn’t witness that today and the chef was taking great care with them. I imagine he doesn’t always though. Leah did suggest we all try these, and that they were a must while in New Orleans however, she advised us not to inhale or exhale while taking a bite or icing sugar would be flying everywhere, and not to wear black when we’re eating them! I’ll keep that in the memory banks because looking at how the plate of three beignet’s are served...it seems to be three puffs of pastry covered in half a kilo of icing sugar
We walked a little further up behind Cafe du Monde to a beautiful little fountain with a girl statue perched on the edge of it and a mural behind her. The girl is called ‘Michelle’ and was created by Paul Perret. She sits in front of a mural titled ‘Window into the Past, French Market Yesteryear’ by Shakor. The mural depicts many famous New Orlenians from the 19th Century such as Jacques the Butcher (on the right), Edgar Degas (being served coffee), Rose Nicaud (the first business woman in New Orleans and the one serving the coffee), Micaela di Pontalba (lady in the carriage) and Marie Levaeu (Voodoo Priestess and the lady in black to the back right of the carriage). It was a joy to see given my love of murals. It’s a bit hidden so we may never have come across it without this tour.
Doing a 180 spin she showed us a little laneway that Walt Disney was so enamored with (Madison St) he based the New Orleans area at Disneyland on it. I was assuming this was referring to the one in California because neither of us remembered seeing it in Orlando. Will have to check on that one.
From the fountain we walked out towards the water a little where Leah told us all about Hurricane Katrina
We found out most of the devastation in homes came from the fact that they were actually just sitting in flood waters for close to two weeks, and was actually nothing to do with the hurricane winds. The biggest single item impacted in every home was the fridge. Imagine a fridge full of food that had been switched off for two weeks
Residents were known to have ‘Katrina brain’ post hurricane mostly due to post traumatic stress. Events in New Orleans have for some time been referred to as ‘pre K’ or ‘post K’ by the locals but Leah said this was slowly changing and things were getting back to ‘normal’ whatever that is for this community now.
We moved into the city streets from here finding out loads of interesting little bits of info about the architecture, the people, the mix of cultures and the town. One very noticeable piece of the architecture here is the balconies. Leah explained that there are galleries, balconies and cabinet balconies. A gallery is supported by posts, has more shelter underneath and more space above it. A balcony is attached however balconies are attached but there are no poles supporting it down to ground level. A cabinet balcony is a small step out kind of balcony but a bit bigger than a Juliette type. An extra dimension to this was that if a gallery is covered it’s called a terrace. Hmmmm, I’m going to need to do more research on all of these because I’m sure I couldn’t identify them by myself again!
She went on to explain a bit about the storage issue in New Orleans too. Because they’re already at or below sea level for the most part, basements for storage are not an option
We kept walking the streets and stopped again to admire the artwork in the iron of barricades on balconies and galleries. They had either wrought iron or cast iron work. We learned that cast iron is very decorative and shaped from moulds whereas wrought iron is less elaborate and easier to maintain (doesn’t rust as much as cast iron).
We stopped again a few hundred metres down the road to hear stories of two big fires that damaged the town. The first one was in 1788 which destroyed about 80% of the town and the second one was in 1794 that also did quite a bit of damage. At the time the fire department would only save the home and belongings if a plaque was displayed out the front of the house to prove you had fire insurance. I’m glad they don’t operate that way any more!
At this stop Leah also explained a little about the bricks the buildings are made from, River Brick or Lake Brick and showed us an example of just how brittle the River Brick is
One other cute little bit of info we got before we moved on was regarding ‘Romeo thorns’. I didn’t quite catch the timeframe in which they were used but they were used to stop naughty boys climbing up galleries to find the girls. Some things never change!
More walking and admiring and then Leah tells us she has a surprise for us. She snuck off to make a quick call and came back all smiles. She lead us down a few streets to stand in front of a doorway and made another call. Within minutes a lovely chap appeared at that door and welcomed us in. Ron, is another Friends of the Cabildo guide and the days he’s home and not working or out socializing he welcomes tour groups into his courtyard to give them a taste of what the real homes in the French Quarter are like. What a treat indeed, and certainly more of the Southern Hospitality we have come to enjoy. It was lovely to see the courtyard, meet Ron and hear his personal story
After our visit with Ron we walked and talked more about the art, music, architecture and we also did get a few little tips on the local foods to try and where to try them. Leah said what Chris and I had tried the night before was a great sampler into the tastes of the cuisine but suggested we also try a Po’ Boy so called because they were served to ‘poor boys’ and were traditionally filled with chips and gravy. They were poor due to striking at the time but this story is disputed and as with all great creations everyone wants it to be their own
A Po’ boy is a sub style sandwich filled with all sorts of things but the most popular being fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried catfish or roast beef. The sub is served on traditional French bread and is dressed (meaning it has lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on it). She said a great place to try one of these was Mother’s on Poydras St just out of the French Quarter so I committed that one to memory. Another suggestion was the Muffuletta, a spicy Italian sandwich made on Sicilian bread and covered in marinated olive salad, salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone, capicola and emmentaler. It was created in the early 1900's for Sicilian farmers who had come to New Orleans and wanted both a taste of home and something that would keep throughout the day. This thing is monstrous and would feed about four to six people for lunch. The most famous place to get this sandwich and it’s original creator is the Central Grocery. Another one to commit to memory!
Before parting company we got to hear a funny story about how the streets here were named. They were put in order of Royals, Saints, Sinners and then Saints because various sectors of French royalty were suspicious of each other and their struggle for power. When the streets were named for royals they were separated by a street named for a Saint. I’m assuming that’s because they didn’t want to have streets close by each other and the Saints were a buffer between each of the royals and of course the sinners
That was it! That was all the history I could take on board today but it was also the end of the tour. It was meant to be a two hour tour but Leah graciously gave us much more of her time and we ran about 45 minutes over. Honestly I could have done a four hour tour with her, because she’s bright, bubbly and a fountain of knowledge. She is also a blogger and writes about her escapades as a tour guide in New Orleans. The blog is called 'A Nola tour guide license is my key to the city' and I highly recommend you check it out because it’s fab. Have a look at the Friends of the Cabildo website too and do one of their walking tours!
Chris and I were both keen for some lunch after all that so thought we’d take on one of the suggestions from Leah and we walked on over to Mother’s, which we found out from reading some of the info on the back of the menu, was a New Orleans institution. We searched through the menu and decided on two Po’ Boys. One was the ‘Famous Ferdi’s Special’ which was baked ham, roast beef ‘debris’ and gravy, the other was just a plain baked ham. I picked that one because while we were perusing the menu the chef rolled out about 12 baked hams on a trolley and they looked mighty fine
I went up to the counter, ordered the Po’ boys, a couple of beers and came back to the table. I then asked Chris “What the hell is debris and why is it on a sandwich”? We looked on the back of the menu that has a glossary and found that debris is the roast beef that falls into the gravy while the beef is roasting in the oven. “Ohhhhhh”. “Yum”!
Our Po’ boys arrived in no time and they were spectacular. This restaurant is not far at all from the French Quarter so if you’re visiting New Orleans I’d definitely put this on your list of places to try.
We had a post lunch walk and spied an Australia pub, Vic’s Kangaroo Cafe. Chris desperately wanted to go in for some reason but I wouldn’t have a bar of it. We kept walking a few blocks but he was so adamant we turned back and had a drink there. He has this thing about checking out Aussie bars wherever we are and rating them. I could have told him before entering that this would rank quite lowly so it was no surprise to me that he gave it a 3 out of 10 when we were leaving. There was nothing Australian about this place other than a couple of posters and a barman who had travelled to Australia but couldn’t even pick our Aussie accents
I wanted to go home and have a little rest before heading out again that night so we made our way back towards the French Quarter but heard music I wanted to follow. We eventually caught up with all the racket to find ourselves in the middle of a street parade. Hurrah!!!! I was not expecting to be treated to this so happening across one was amazing. I posted something about it on Facebook and Leah came back to tell me that this would have been a second line parade. Wikipedia tells me that a second line is a tradition in brass band parades. The main line is the main section of the parade or the members of the actual club with the parading permit. Who knew you needed a permit?! Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the ‘second line’. Chris and I were assuming this was actually part of a conference because they all had something with a B.D.O emblem on it. They were tossing beads to the crowd which we caught lots of, following the music and generally having a good time as were we watching it. We followed them right back to our hotel on Bourbon St and had a bit of a breather before we head out again.
I don’t think we had more than an hour in the hotel before we were out in search of a band to watch.
We found Frenchman’s Street easily and we’re glad we’d made the effort to come. It’s a much funkier scene that what you find on Bourbon St and the music is fab. We walked the full length of the street before deciding to pay the entry fee at one place and go and listen to the band. We’d selected D.B.A. I’m not sure who the band was but it was absolutely fab and we stayed a couple of hours listening to a mix of jazz and Dixieland music before deciding to call it a night.
I grabbed ANOTHER cocktail on the way back to the hotel to make sure I had a little take-away for both my nephews. GOD I hope they appreciate the struggle I went through to empty those for them so I could then bring the glasses home. They’re both VERY cool cups. One is a Jester and one is a very large grenade so I’m sure the boys are going to enjoy them. I am not going to enjoy how my head feels tomorrow morning
Chris announced he was starving at this point and since it was 2am and we'd had lunch at about 4:30pm I could understand why. We just looked for anything we could find on the way back and came across Vieux Carre Wings, whited looked like the dodgy take-away store you'd go to in Aus for a 2am kebab. I was wary but that was pretty much all that we could find that was open. I refused to order anything saying I'd just pick at Chris' so he got a fried shrimp Po' Boy. You know, I don't know what that absolute best one in the city tastes like but that one was pretty damn fine!
Leah made reference to a song by Louis Armstrong today ‘Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans’ which I thought would be a great accompaniment to the photos after all the stories we’d heard.
A big P.S to Leah....please feel free to correct me if I've misquoted you anywhere here. I was taking good notes though!