NEW ORLEANS: STILL MY FAVORITE CITY IN THE WORLD
Even the truss-like diagonals and curvature of the letters that make up the words ‘NEW ORLEANS’ exude a feminine, wrought-iron elegance. There is architecture even in the name here.
A pianist/singer I heard at LaFitte’s on Bourbon Street once informed us, “I’ve played in two countries: the USA and New Orleans.” It seems New Orleans doesn’t really belong anywhere. While New York and Los Angeles remain a patchwork of influences, there has never been a definitive style that comes from either city. As the common notice goes, San Francisco has been “yuppiefied” and sterilized for years. Boston and Philadelphia, though physically stately, were never the most emotive of places. Chicago is an athlete with a strong chin, indifferent to its style. New Orleans, however, is of its’ own.
Everywhere I go in the world, I still see New Orleans. It’s there in the crooked Spanish colonial beams of Manila. I found it in the cartoonishly ornate shotgun houses of Ponce, Puerto Rico. I see it in the sweaty faces of a funk band in Saigon, or a dog sleeping in the gutter on a hot day in Beijing. I can taste it in the buttery escargot of Brussels. It is easy to find New Orleans because New Orleans is not just a collection of buildings and people; it is a melody, an allergy; a terrible idea that almost works out in the end. New Orleans, like Tokyo, sits below sea level. The two cities may be polar opposites, yet their charms can be found in the small details. Both cities are not to be explored with an itinerary and a checklist. Like great cities that reveal themselves in the nooks and crannies, you have to explore for yourself.
Though it is a bit isolated geographically, New Orleans makes an essential stop in any first visit to the US.
New Orleans is served by Louis Armstrong International Airport in the suburb of Kenner. A taxi runs about $33 to the French Quarter. For $2 you can take the Jefferson Transit Airport Express route to the CBD. Greyhound and Amtrak both serve New Orleans. The station is located on the Loyola Street car line. Driving in is an option on Interstate 10 and you can opt to take the interestingly long Pontchartrain Floating Bridge. View Larger Map
If you’ve got the money, be sure to stay at an old Bed & Breakfast. The Garden District is home to the most well-established and formal. The hip Faubourg Marigny neighborhood is home to the more friendly and artsy places. New Orleans hostels tend to come and go quickly, but the India House Hostel has stuck around longer than the others.
Though New Orleans is famous for its cuisine, it has often been bastardized and ruined, especially in the French Quarter. For established cuisine, try Le Petit Grocery. For a hip, up-and-coming place, splurge for Cochon in the warehouse district. Be sure to have Cafe au Lait and Beignets somewhere. Be sure to have a cool Abita Beer at LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street. One of America’s oldest (and best) bars.
Take the ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers. Nap in Audubon Park. Ride every crickety old streetcar line. Explore the residential neighborhoods by fixed-speed bicycle.