Tag Archives: New Orleans

The Big Easy – Ninth Ward and Garden District

26 Feb

I have already hyped up the food and the shopping of New Orleans, but I saved the best for last. By far my favorite part of our trip was our tours through the Garden District and the Ninth Ward.

Ninth Ward

View of downtown from Ninth Ward

This was my first time in the city and one of the biggest standouts from our stay was that everyone has a Katrina story (and a Rita story, and a Gustav story, etc…). The cab driver, the restaurateur, the microbiologist…everyone was affected in different ways by the hurricane. To ignore this aspect of the city’s recent history would be a disservice to your trip, and I believe disrespectful to the people still working on rebuilding their lives 5+ years later.

Before I booked our trip, I wanted to find a way to visit the hardest hit area of the city, the Ninth Ward, without participating in “disaster tourism.”  I came across the Ninth Ward Rebirth bike tours through Confederacy Cruisers and arranged a tour with Lycia, the delightful tour operator.

Our tour started in the Marginy district, meeting our fellow riders and getting adjusted to our bikes (no brakes, just back pedals…wild!)

We met our tour guide Reecy, who was beyond fabulous and developed the tour herself after she realized there was nothing like it. Any other tour of the Ninth Ward is run by companies unaffiliated with the neighborhood who take tourists through the area in air-conditioned coach buses, with their digital cameras pressed up against the tinted glass windows as if they were on Safari.

Reecy developed local connections throughout the community and 10% of tour proceeds go to redevelopment and charities in the Ninth Ward. We started by biking over the canal bridge that separates the upper Ninth Ward from the more fashionable neighborhoods bordering the French Quarter.

Canal from atop the bridge

As we entered the lower Ninth Ward, we stopped to look at the houses constructed by Global Green. These homes, as well as those built by Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation, are modern odes to classic shotgun style houses found throughout New Orleans. The houses are designed to be eco-friendly and affordable, although the $150,000 price tag is beyond reach for many living in this neighborhood. Reactions were mixed among people I spoke with about these homes – some appreciated the modern design while others felt that they were an eyesore that ignored the needs of families trying to move back home.

Global Green homes

Make it Right home

We stopped at the Village Community Center and met the Executive Director, Mack. Mack originally purchased the community center building to store his antique car collection, but when Katrina hit and destroyed his fleet he decided to use the building for a higher purpose. For the past 5 years he has worked to bring the community together and the diaspora back home.

Outside Village community center

We also stopped at the House of Dance and Feathers, a museum devoted to Mardi Gras and all its traditions, where we met Ronald Lewis. Many of the original items were washed away in the storm, but Krewes (Mardi Gras groups) from across the city rallied behind Ronald and helped him restock his museum on a makeshift structure designed by architecture students.

Ronald Lewis, holding his book "The House of Dance and Feathers."

Beadwork from the museum

Although the Ninth Ward is working to rebuild, much of the community has been destroyed. Ronald described the neighborhood before the storm as so tight you could spread your arms and touch a house on both hands. Approximately 9,000 people lived in the Ninth Ward before Katrina, and only 25% have returned to the area 5 years later.

Outskirts of the Ninth Ward

I strongly recommend anyone visiting New Orleans to book this tour and see for yourself how this community is doing 5 years later.

Garden District

New Orleans is a city of distinct neighborhoods, and although in recent years the Ninth Ward has become one of the more famous areas, prior to Katrina few people had heard of it. The Garden District on the other hand, has always been a popular attraction for visitors and locals alike.

I downloaded the Frommer’s Garden District tour and chose to walk the streets at my own pace without a guide. This proved to be a popular choice – on the second stop I realized that I was part of an unofficial tour group of people wandering the neighborhood on their IPhones all reciting the same information. The houses were quite beautiful and many of them had been originally built as plantations and turned into single family homes later on.

Garden District

Sigh, so lovely

I regretfully remember almost nothing from the self-guided tour, although there was one highlight. We walked by Archie Manning’s home as he was taking out the trash, and my boyfriend said a polite hello. Archie was very nice although he did not invite us inside to look at Peyton and Eli’s childhood photos. We”ll get there next visit.

Roses in the Garden District

Overall both neighborhoods were distinct pockets of life in New Orleans. I love walking along the streets, meeting people and generally soaking the city in. I can’t wait to go back!

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The Big Easy – Goods and Wares

25 Feb

It’s no secret that I am a shopaholic in my regular life, but on vacation I really kick it into overdrive. I like to view browsing, perusing or shopping as an anthropological study of what’s going on in the place I am visiting, it’s cultural really.

If only my credit card company understood (just kidding AmEx I love you and I didn’t forget that we have a date March 20th).

I have begun to rely on the eat shop guides, as they fulfill my main goals in life. There is only one problem with these cute little books – they are filled with outdated yet crucial information. A great example is that many stores are closed on Mondays and even Tuesdays to deal with the weekend hangover so common in the Crescent City.

I will attempt to give you my own version of a New Orleans shopping guide and point you in the direction of blissful finds from the Big Easy.

Magazine Street

Magazine Street is ground zero for shopping in New Orleans. It is a great strip about a mile long right off the Garden District, that has boutiques, bars, coffee shops and restaurants. We spent an afternoon there walking around, popping into Rendezvous Tavern for a delicious Bloody Mary, enjoying gelato at Sucre, and wandering in and out of local shops.

Sucre, a sweets shop and gelateria on Magazine street

New Orleans has amazing home wares, antique finds and what I like to call junking – lots of crap that might unearth a diamond in the rough. Because I love a good dig, I headed to Magazine Antique Mall looking for a find.

Champagne glasses from the 1960s

How amazing would these lanterns look lining the pathway in my fictitious Southern garden?

Mason jars for all your pantry needs

Alas I took none of these items home with me because I live in a closet, but I did manage to make up for it at a few other shops.

One thing I noticed about New Orleans clothing stores is just how inexpensive they are. Many items are to be had for a bargain, even in the chicest shops in the city. A few of my favorites are Hemline and Naaz, both of which carry cute clothes by companies I have never heard of, as well as more popular brands like DVF, Vince, Trina Turk, blah blah blah the usual suspects.  I purchased a dress at each shop and can’t wait to wear them in the warmer months.

You might be wondering, where was my boyfriend during this spree? A lacrosse game occupied most of his time but we did manage to find some dude duds at StyleLab, farther down Magazine Street.

French Quarter

Although Magazine Street is the shopping spot in the city, the French Quarter does have some great stores, you just have to toss a few sloshed tourists out of the way to find them.

I could have spent hours in Bourbon Perfume, where they make custom made scents that were utterly intoxicating.

Bourbon Perfume's signature scent

The antiques shops on Royal Street were incredible, tons of salvaged pieces for both the interior and exterior of your home. Folks from New Orleans take their ironwork very seriously and it is a trademark of homes in the region. In my mind I have purchased a second home in New Orleans, which I will outfit with ironwork from bygone eras.

This would make a great installation on a bare wall

Variations in decorative iron for exteriors

Recovered from homes damaged by Katrina and Rita

I had such an awesome time going into the shops along Royal Street, the items inside really do tell a story. I highly recommend getting lost along this three block stretch and daydreaming about your imaginary home along the Bayou.

Stay tuned for my final installment of my trip, tours along the Garden District and the Ninth Ward.

***One note about my photos. I used my iphone exclusively but they regular camera stopped working during part of our trip so I had to rely on the Hipstamatic app. Apologies for inconsistencies.

The Big Easy – Eat, Drink, Sleep

24 Feb

I just got back from an amazing trip to New Orleans with my boyfriend filled with food, food, food and some other stuff.

Just kidding, the other stuff was equally as good as the food, and included tours of the Garden District and Ninth Ward, drinks with friends and music on Frenchmen street. All in all a fantastic trip, and I urge anyone who has not been to Nola to head on down to the crescent city ASAP.

Gorgeous home in the French Quarter

Part of the reason our trip was so spectacular is because we tapped the local knowledge of a few of our friends, who pointed us in the direction of off the beaten path places and activities not found in any guidebook.

Thanks Vann and Lillian!

On Dauphine Street with my girl Lillian

Dancing at the Blue Nile

Impromptu show on Frenchmen street

The Lowdown:

Slept

We stayed at the W French Quarter on Chartres street, two blocks away from Bourbon street. It had a lovely courtyard, attentive staff, and was in an ideal location. We didn’t spend a ton of time in the hotel since this is New Orleans, not  Detroit, but I would definitely recommend staying there.

Devoured/Imbibed

I love southern food and so for me this trip was absolute heaven. In addition to mind blowing meals, the mixologists in New Orleans made so many delicious drinks, I plied myself with cocktails far better than the typical handgrenades found on Bourbon street.

Everything was phenomenal but here are a few standouts:

Cafe Du Monde – Right by the French Market, beloved by tourists and locals alike, the beignets are out of this world. We stopped there late one night and I could barely snap a photo before they were gone.

Dough pillows sprinkled with sugar at Cafe Du Monde

Three Muses – Southern tapas on Frenchmen Street, live music, great bar and no reservations. Get the duck cannelloni and the pork belly, then send me a photo so I can salivate over it.

Green Goddess – Southern/continental fare, very small restaurant tucked on a side street in the quarter. Favorite of locals, sit at the bar if you can and listen to the bartender’s stories.

The Joint – Barbecue place that is quite literally a joint across the street from a power plant in the Bywater neighborhood. Best bbq I ever had, and although my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and a side of ribs, I did manage to save room for some outstanding key lime pie.

Bar Tonique – Bar serving handcrafted cocktails, wine and beer on the edge of the French Quarter. We grabbed a drink there before heading to dinner at Bayona, a popular spot run by chef Susan Spicer. Bar Tonique was dark, intimate and had delicious drinks expertly imagined by the bartenders. I particularly enjoyed their take on the Pimms Cup, which the bartender generously shared with me.

Interior at Bar Tonique

Bar Tonique Pimms Cup
2 orange slices, 3 lemon slices, 3 lime slices, muddled
Add 1 oz simple syrup, 2 oz Pimms
Shake, stir over ice and finish with soda

Stay tuned for upcoming posts later this week on shopping in the Big Easy and sightseeing in some of the most famous neighborhoods

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