Where we stayed: Q&C Hotel | rate it 4/5 | +v's: excellent location, recently renovated, stylish interiors, trendy lobby, great price | -v's room is small, shower not great
How long: 3 nights, 2.5 days
How we got there: 3 hour plane from Las Vegas
How we left: 2 hour plane to Washington DC
City highlight: Bike rides through the French Quarter and Garden District
New Orleans lived up to expectations. This low-lying, perfectly flat city on the edge of the Mississippi River is hip and cool.
The locals told us that since Katrina in 2005, many new restaurants opened, hotels were re-done and bars popped up around the French Quarter and CBD. The majority have taken on a trendy, industrialist style featuring matt black, grey marble, barn doors, oversized light bulbs, recycled timbers, bold prints and stressed leathers.
After checking into the lovely, and highly recommended, Q & C Hotel (formerly Quest & Crescent) we set off for the infamous Bourbon Street. It was 4pm on a Monday and the atmosphere already felt intoxicated. We stopped in at NOLA Poboys for a fried shrimp Poboy - so dam good, and a local classic to try. It's important to note if you don't like spicy, then you're in trouble - everything in NOLA is spicy and peppery.
The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street is a 'cool' place to hang out for original and live jazz music. The night we went, Dominick Grillo & the Frenchmen St All Stars played for us. It starts to get packed out past 6pm.
Mother's serves the World's best baked ham (apparently). It's a humble, local style diner, serving NOLA traditions. Baked ham, red beans and rice, greens bean and tomato and of course, sausage gumbo. The young guys serving the table are so sweet and the girls behind the counter chatter jovially in their loose, southern twang.
A bike a day is the best way to explore New Orleans and learn its Creol history. It is dead flat, so don't expect a strenuous ride when you see the 3-3.5 hour duration of your tour. In fact, you'll jump on a cruiser, with a huge comfy seat, and do just that, cruise. We rode with Buzz NOLA around the French Quarter and Free Wheelin (a family business, born and bred in New Orleans) in the Garden District.
The French Quarter's gorgeous French Colonial inspired cottages, painted in the most complementary of multi-pastel tones, overwhelm the visionary senses. The coloured aesthetics come from a collision of Caribbean, west African, Spanish and French influences from the early 1800's, when the French started importing slaves via New Orleans' trading port and the Spanish took over the city for a number of decades. In the most part, the houses are extremely well maintained throughout and the restrictions around renovations to facades are strict. The Esplanade showcases the first of the city's mansions, they sprawl 7-10k sq ft and some stretch the length of the block. Grandiose!
Day two's bike tour was through the Garden District. Spotted along its tree lined, quiet streets, are the cities biggest mansions. The likes of Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Coolidge, Dave Goodman and Nicholas Cage have houses in the district which we rode by. Novelist, Anne Rice, once owned 10 houses there. We stopped next to a few prominent homes, towering in their Greek Revival beauty, with expansive galleries and giant Corinthian columns. The grand wrought iron perimeter fences showcased the original owners' plantation, whether it be pineapples or corn.
The National World War II Museum is utterly incredible. We spent just shy of five hours exploring the three sectors, experiencing the USS Tang's final submarine mission and watching the 50 minute Tom Hanks narrated film depicting the war. This is a must see, it is such an amazing manifestation of war history.
The buttery, rich food is strongly influenced by the French. The Cajun fare was bought to the area in the 1800's by French Canadians and is heavily based around the 'holy trinity', a reduction of garlic, celery, onions and bell peppers, and sometimes parsley. They also use tones of pepper. This mirepoix is the base of the majority of Creol dishes, including gumbo. So to try all this, we ate at these places we thought were the best in New Orleans: Mothers (mentioned above); NOLA Poboys (above); Peche (divine seafood dishes and key lime pie); Adolfo's (Creol Italian cuisine which is amazing); Coop's (fried chicken and pork chops).
There is truly nothing dull about this vibrant and culturally, colourful city.