That is the unofficial moniker of New Orleans. I just returned from a week there and it is a fascinating place—I wish I had another week. While the French Quarter is a fun place to go with its plethora of restaurants, I found other parts of the city to be equally entertaining. One of the best kept secrets is “City Park.” This is a 1300 acre (twice the size of Central Park) oasis a short streetcar ride from downtown, (the streetcar is one of the best travel deals around—especially if you’re a senior—40cents!). The park is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, part of which is a sculpture garden where I spent half a day. An incredible 4 acre outdoor exhibit of about 65 works of art, including some from renowned artist like Henry Moore and Rodin. A beautiful lagoon runs through it and paddle boats are available for rental that lend ambience to the experience.
Elsewhere there are also numerous tours available at a modest price. I decided to take the Huriccane Katrina tour. This is an eye-opening experience that with the help of our driver/guide (thank you Gerald Douglass) was outstanding! And highly informative. It includes trips through the lower and upper ninth ward where you can still see the eighteen foot high watermark of the flood memorialized in a sculpture that replicates the gradual rising waters. The tour takes you away from the city proper into the outskirts where the strip malls and big box stores remind you that, away from the buzz of the tourist town, these are just plain suburbs like any you would see across the country, but with the difference being that much of the pre-Katrina commerce has not returned.
There are so many restaurants, and I sampled many of them, that it is difficult to single any one out for mention. I ate plenty of shrimp and, don’t worry, it is harvested with tags that show its location, so the quality has not been damaged by last year’s oil spill. The people of New Orleans are most friendly and I think the Katrina experience has brought them closer together and determined to be optimistic.
The streetcars are one of only two transportation systems in the country that have been awarded historical status (the other being San Francisco’s cable cars). One of the most economical ways to spend a day is to ride the St. Charles Ave. streetcar from one end of the city to the other. It will take you through picturesque parts including the Garden District, with many stops where you can alight to have a delicious meal. Oak Ave. in particular is home to some off the beaten track restaurants, like Jaques-Imo's Cafe, as well as the Maple Leaf Bar—a jazz venue. And then there’s the Mighty Mississippi where freighters of every size and type enter the Port of New Orleans-the second largest in the country after New York. I had a constant view of this from the 48th floor of my hotel room. You can also ride the Natchez paddle boat on the river for a lunch or dinner jazz cruise. So much to do in this city and so little time!