My daughter and I just returned from New Orleans, Louisiana, also known as NOLA or N’Orleans (pronounced Nor’-lins or Naw’-lins). Although we were in the city for four days, we only had two full days to be tourists. We decided to focus our touring on two parts of the city – the French Quarter and the Garden District.
The New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon
Our main reason for visiting New Orleans was so my daughter could participate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon. This was her fifth half marathon – four of which (including this one) were run as fundraisers through Team Challenge, a program that supports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation focuses on research to find a cure for these two diseases that affect over 1.5 million people in America. Our family has a personal connection as my husband suffered with ulcerative colitis for over 14 years until his death in 2017.
Over the years my daughter has raised over $10,000 for the Foundation. When the race was in Chicago, all of my daughters participated, raising even more for this worthy cause. If you would like to read more about my daughter’s efforts or donate through her, visit her personal page.
We arrived late Thursday evening, so we stayed at a hotel near the airport. Friday morning we took the bus ($2 per ride), and then the streetcar ($3 for 24 hours) to our hotel downtown. We were able to check in right away, so we dropped our bags and set out to explore.
Since our hotel was near the French Quarter, we explored that area first. I love the buildings here, with their fancy filigree balconies. We walked up and down several streets just admiring the architecture.
We visited the famous Bourbon Street -it was interesting. I wouldn’t want to walk this area alone at night, but during the afternoon, we felt completely safe. There were several bars on the street selling the typical large neon-colored drinks. Music from the each bar competed with the next.
I can imagine the area would be even more interesting during Mardi Gras. I’ve heard stories about characters I’m not sure I’d want to meet. I think the masks, costumes, and parades would be great to see though, so, maybe someday…
We walked around Jackson Square, lined with artists selling their works. Not all of them were my taste, but there were some I really liked. Every artist was different.
As usual, I looked for yarn shops in New Orleans. There are a couple, but we only made it to one of them. Quarter Stitch is located on Chartres Street in the French Quarter.
The shop merchandise is split between yarn for knitting or crocheting and supplies for needlepoint embroidery. It’s not a large shop, but carries some beautiful yarn. Check it out the next time you are in New Orleans.
Cafe du Monde
We walked toward the river to find the French Market. This market has been in the same location since the city was young, with farmers selling their produce to their neighbors and friends. Now, most of the booths sell clothes, gifts or souvenirs, with a few small restaurants mixed in.
In the same area as the market, we found Cafe du Monde – it was time for a break. The cafe is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. We managed to find a table right away, while the line for take out moved slowly. (Hint: always look for a table). The menu includes several choices of drinks, but the only food served is beignets – that’s all you need. Beignets (ben-yays) are fried square puffs of dough smothered in powdered sugar. Expect to get sugar all over your clothes – there’s no way to avoid it. The beignets are sold three to a plate – all for $3. Most of the drinks are also $3 each. Do not miss Cafe du Monde!
Saturday and Sunday were spent with pre- and post-race and Team Challenge activities; the race itself was Sunday morning. Monday morning we slept in, then packed our bags and brought them to the bell stand. The hotel was able to store them while we spent our second day touring.
We had an 11:30 lunch reservation for Commander’s Palace – a well-known and much acclaimed restaurant in the Garden District.
We walked to the closest street car stop and waited. After waiting longer than we expected, someone came by to let us know there was a problem with the line and we would not be able to take a street car for some time. Lyft to the rescue. Our Lyft driver delivered us to the restaurant about 11:25, so we were able to keep our reservation. We found the public transportation in New Orleans rarely ran according to schedule.
Our dinner at Commander’s Palace was amazing! We had been told to order the turtle soup for an appetizer (my daughter and I split the soup trio) and the bread pudding for dessert (we didn’t split this). We both chose the barbecued shrimp for our main dish. The turtle soup was good, but I preferred the seafood gumbo. My daughter’s favorite was the shrimp bisque. Our main dish had shrimp served over melt-in-your-mouth grits. The bread pudding was topped with meringue and then served with a cream sauce.
The service throughout the meal was impeccable. A couple things stood out to us. When we were seated, the host gave us each a black napkin, then removed the white napkin from the table. We were both wearing black skirts and the host did not want us to get white lint on our clothes. Just before our main dishes came out, the server replaced our water glasses with fresh ones – he did not want us to run out of ice during the meal. In addition, each time we were served a portion of our meal, we were served by two servers at once. That way, we both received our food at the same time. We noticed that larger tables had several servers – not always equal to the number of people at the table, but everyone was served within seconds of each other. These unusual touches made us feel special.
After our dinner, we walked across the street to the Lafayette Cemetery. Similar to other cemeteries in New Orleans, most of the graves were above the ground. This particular cemetery is not as large as some of the others, so it is not serviced by the usual tour operators. When we were there, however, three or four guides took turns leading groups through the cemetery, charging no fee, but asking for tips. We felt our guide was informative and interesting, so we tipped her accordingly.
After the cemetery, we did a self-guided tour of the homes in the garden district. I had found the walking tour online, but we learned that Commander’s Palace also gave paper ones to their guests (ask in the lobby). We enjoyed learning the history and nuances of some of the beautiful mansions lining the streets of the district.
We also stopped at the Garden District Book Shop where we saw several shelves of books by Anne Rice – a Garden District, New Orleans, native. The book store is located in an 1884 ice skating rink that houses several businesses including a nice little coffee shop. Buy a book; start reading it over a cup of coffee.
A Final Dinner
We took the streetcar along St. Charles Street back to the French Quarter. We had not had a chance to eat Po’ Boys yet, so we stopped at a restaurant to eat sandwiches for supper. As I looked over the menu, I noticed how similar it was to the ones we had seen over the past few days. Nearly every restaurant serves Po’ Boys, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Beans and Rice, and an assortment of seafood dishes. And everywhere we ate, the food was delicious. If you plan to eat in the French quarter on a weekend, though, be prepared to wait. Eat early or late for the best options.
After dinner we went back to the hotel to pick up our bags before catching the bus to the airport hotel. We had an early flight (this morning) so we thought the airport hotel was our best choice.
New Orleans was fun! I had been in the city before, but only for an extended (two or three hour) stop on my way through. This was my first time staying there. The city’s culture and character is unique – I would recommend visiting if you haven’t yet.