Happy Mardi Gras!
‘Laissez les bon temps rouler!,’ as the Cajun French would say. Let the good times roll.
During the biggest annual celebration of the year, Mardi Gras is a glittering purple, green, and gold festival with floats, elaborate show-stopping costumes, king cakes and French pastries. In its 161st year, there’s no sign of slowing down.
But luckily, in the Crescent City, the good times roll year round.
Jazz, beignets, voodoo history, New Orleans is one of the most intriguing cities in the world with a spirit like no other. It’s the festival capital of the world, holding 130 festivals annually, including the internationally renowned New Orleans Jazz Festival.
The French Quarter is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans and covers 78 square blocks. There’s a lot to explore here, from the French, Spanish and American architecture to the French Market by the Mississippi River, here are four reasons why I love New Orleans:
1. New Orleans’ distinctly elegant architecture
During the colonial era, New Orleans was claimed by the French in 1718. After about 50 years under French rule, the Spanish took over. In 1800, Spain and France signed a treaty that handed New Orleans back over to France.
In 1803, The United States came into the picture and with the Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana was now an American territory. You can imagine what the state of New Orleans underwent during all of these changes over a span of 100 years and you can eye it up in the bones of its city: the architecture.
Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba (1795-1874) was one of the wealthiest residents in New Orleans. She owned much of the prime real estate in the heart of the city surrounding Jackson Square, including Parisian-style row housing and the red brick Pontalba Buildings. Although she was born in New Orleans, she lived in Paris for most of her life, which eventually influenced the design and aesthetic of her properties. The intricate iron lace balconies were designed by her son, Gaston, whose design inspired its integration into many other buildings in New Orleans which you can see all around the French Quarter and beyond. In Jackson Square, you can see Gaston’s mother’s initials woven into the design of the iron verandas.
2. New Orleans is where jazz came to life
In the late 1890s,when Buddy Bolden’s trumpet blared boldly out into the streets of New Orleans, music was forever changed. Bolden and his band introduced a beat called the big four which placed an accent on the second fourth beat of a march. He arranged rural blues and ragtime music for brass instruments and in his scamp upbeat improvisations, he created a whole new sound by ear. In this moment, jazz was brought into the world. Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong took the world by storm in the early 1900s and 1920s.
That energy, innovation and spirit is alive all around New Orleans, in the live music on street corners and dive bars, in the colourful, elegant facades of the buildings, and in the hearty Cajun Creole cuisine. Jazz transcends music in New Orleans.
Head down for the New Orleans Jazz Festival to hear the contemporaries of our jazz forefathers, or walk through the French Quarter and ask the locals to point you in the right direction of the best dive bar.
3. Voodoo, the mystical, and the supernatural
In any of the souvenir shops you walk into in New Orleans, you’ll find the usual – pens, magnets, mugs, hot sauce… Voodoo dolls wearing gris-gris talismans around their necks.
While the French Quarter is the most tourist friendly, with an upbeat energy, something to look at every turn, and with the majestic Mississippi River flowing through to the gulf and all, Louisiana is also one of the oldest states in the country which means it comes with a long history that dates back hundreds of years to colonization along with many tales.
Voodoo was brought to Louisiana in the 18th century by enslaved West Africans who brought the spiritual practice overseas. The freeborn Marie Laveau was one of the most prominent renowned priestesses of New Orleans Vooodoo. Legend has it that she was known to practice Voodoo, conjure, and mysticism openly on the streets. You can visit her tomb at the St Louis Cemetery No. 1.
4. French, Cajun and Creole cuisine, beignets, and Sazeracs
You’ll know you’re nearby Café du Monde when you run into a long line up of people standing in the French Quarter. What’s everyone lining up for? New Orleans’ world famous beignets and café au lait, a local tradition and specialty, of course.
Café du Monde is in the heart of the French Market, the perfect spot to wander through stalls for souvenirs, handmade goods, and to stop at for the Market Café where you can grab a New Orleans po’ boy to snack on.
The aromatics of Cajun and Creole cooking will have you follow your nose and into some of the best restaurants in the world, like Antoine’s, established in 1840, known for their oysters and French-Creole cuisine; and Galatoire’s, established in 1905, earning awards for best gumbo in New Orleans by Southern Living magazine, and one of the top 10 greatest restaurants in the world by the New York Times. Whether you’re a foodie or not, the southern hospitality will draw you in.
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