Exploring The Big Easy



New Orleans

Shereen Shabnam

New Orleans is a fascinating port city and I was over the moon when I heard that I was heading there to attend a conference by one of my favourite brands, VEEAM. The city is a melting pot of different cultures with a strong French influence with touches of Caribbean and African culture all around. Below are some of the best areas I visited and experiences I had during my few days in the city.

The French Quarter

My first day in New Orleans was free so I spent it in the French Quarter and witnessed many different French, Spanish and African American influences all around me. The quarter has narrow streets lined with quaint old buildings with a fabulous vibe with people in costumes, buskers and cafes perfect for people watching. That night I saw the most colourful cycle tour complete with wheels lit up and reggae music to go with the entourage.

The Treme

Next to the French Quater, I came across The Treme, the oldest African American neighbourhood in New Orleans. The highlight here was the Backstreet Cultural Museum where I learned more about Mardi Gras Indians and other African-American customs and traditions in New Orleans.

The Music

There is music, and particularly jazz emanating from street corners and clubs putting visitors in a holiday state of mind. The only other city I have seen so much music in was when I visited Nashville afterwards. Even the cyclists had old-fashioned recorders to keep them entertained as they went about attending their chores.

The Literature

As a graduate of Masters in World Literature, I was thrilled to find that New Orleans collects literary ghosts with Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Eudora Welty among them. The best way to channel the city’s literary life is by touring the numerous used and new book stores around the city and have a guide take you through the journey of authors who have graced the shores of New Orleans.

The Museums

After a great experience at The Backstreet Cultural Museum where guides enchanted me with tales of jazz funerals, baby dolls and Social Aid, I headed to the Louisiana State Museum located in a grand old building right on Jackson Square. The ground floor is devoted to information about Hurricane Katrina.

The Food

When I mentioned to friends I was in New Orleans, the request for buying dry goods like Camilla red beans, Cajun Country rice, Creole-style coffee and boxed jambalaya mix came pouring in. I enjoyed stocking up of different kinds of chilli sauce, bay leaves and cayenne pepper. It was a lot practical than buying souvenirs like coffin boxes and spooky dolls, which my friends were loading up on.

Plus the city has some of the best restaurants you can look for. There are too many to mention but I can vouch for Peche’s Seafood Grill, Restaurant August, Coquette and Shaya.

The Parks

New Orleans has stunning parks and because of my conference, I only had a few hours to explore them and enjoy the sights of ponds, oak trees and colorful flowers. TheAudubon Park and the Woldenberg Park offer delightful experiences but if you have time, visit the Louis Armstrong Park, which has Congo Square, where slaves were once allowed to play music which helped to preserve the musical heritage of African Americans.

The Garden District

The love for architecture drove me spent the only few hours I had on my last day to drive through the Garden District which has large and ornate historic mansions and some of the city’s best and trendiest restaurants and bars. I was not disappointed.

The Warehouse District

New Orleans has a Warehouse District, immersed in art and hosts the Contemporary Arts Centre, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the National World War II Museum, the Louisiana Children’s Museum and interesting galleries and art spaces.

The Canal Street Ferry

From my hotel room, I could see the sea in a distance and soon learnt that the city is surrounded by water even though you get so busy in the bustling city that you hardly come across it. If you venture out, you can come across the Great River, Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. The Canal Street Ferry takes you across the Mississippi and has great views of New Orleans.

Why New Orleans?

After only a few days, I realised how much of a vibrant life the city offers and the fact that it lets you experience the best of music, art, food, nature, culture and sights one can ask for. I would in a heartbeat go back for more of these experiences.