For the past five years the name New Orleans has become synonymous with tragedy, violence and destruction. When I had the opportunity to visit the city during the Jazz festival a few months ago I vowed not to visit 9th Ward or other areas where Katrina did her worst.
I thought it was time to show the positive side of this wonderful city. I had heard of violence and looting and am pleased to say that I experienced nothing but hospitality, kindness and fun, in a way that only the locals can provide.
The area now known as New Orleans, was first settled in the mid seventeen hundreds by four families who left the Acadian Peninsula (now lower Nova Scotia). Soon joined by more than a thousand refugees, the word Acadian became Cajun and the French influence in New Orleans began.
I stayed at the Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter and recalling a previous visit to this energetic city in 1982, remembered to ask for a room facing the inside courtyard instead of Bourbon Street.
As much as I enjoyed the excitement of the liveliest street in the city I did appreciate a few hours of quiet rest at the end of a busy day. It is non-stop, twenty-four hours a day of music, dancing in the streets and drinking. I have never been in a city where people walk the streets with a burger and a beer at eight in the morning.
Fortunately the French quarter was not affected by Katrina, but the people I spoke with said that tourism had not bounced back. The hundreds of art shops, clothing boutiques and restaurants are struggling to stay solvent.
I enjoyed the finest crab cakes I had ever tasted at the famous Red Fish Grill, and feasted on traditional Creole cuisine at Arnaud’s. Of all the restaurants I came across, Brennan’s was still my favourite. I recall having had breakfast there twenty-five years ago and made a point of returning. I was once again delighted by the excellent food and superior service in this fifty-six year old establishment.
The French Quarter is a haven for antique hunters and art collectors alike. Jewellery stores are everywhere and fashion shops line the streets. Although I was only there for a few days one could easily make a week seem like a few hours.
I strolled along Canal Street, which has been repaired and appears modern and affluent. With three Marriott hotels within walking distance, the city is ready for the return of both tourism and business conventions.
I explored the Garden and Lower Garden districts and was astounded by the hundreds of stately homes with ornate, two story balconies and meticulously-cared-for gardens. Oak trees dating back to the nineteenth century, line streets and laneways and take your mind back to the splendour of the ‘Old South’.
A visit to N’awlins is not complete without an entertaining lunch at one of the many Lucky Dogs hot dog stands found throughout the city. Sitting among the hundreds of artists in Jackson square munching on my six dollar ‘Lucky Dog’ gave me an opportunity to stop and take in the bustle of one of the most exciting cities in the world.