New Orleans surprises with cultural flair, delicious food, wonderful sightseeing

Posted December 18, 2013


NEW ORLEANS — It’s old. It’s dusty. It kind of reminds me of Paris.

Those were my impressions, in order, of the iconic New Orleans. Much of the French Quarter reminded me of Paris, which surprised me. The streets are cobbled, the architecture is gorgeous and the flavors are so repetitive, with the same spices used over and over, that I was tired of it after two meals. And yet, in the same way as my semester in France, no matter how tired of it I grew, I could not bring myself to stop trying new things.

We arrived in New Orleans on a Wednesday evening for a journalism convention, and were scheduled to fly out Saturday afternoon. With just 72 hours in the new city, we decided to take advantage of every free minute, hitting all of the tourist spots, a rare occurrence for me.

Rarely do I visit a city looking for all of the tourist spots — history and big restaurants are just not my cup of tea. But in New Orleans, something came over me, and we made sure to visit as many tourist haunts as possible.

We ate at the Gumbo Shop our first day there, an iconic New Orleans restaurant that had been recommended to us. We started off the meal with daiquiris, which would hardly be worth mentioning if it weren’t for the honeydew version ordered on a whim. Never in my wildest dreams would I expect the melon to mix well with liquor, but I was deliciously mistaken. The food itself was spicy and delicious.

“The jambalaya was incredible,” said Carlos Mella, visiting from Miami.

Mella said he fell so in love with the dish, he went home and learned to make it for himself.

In the spirit of adventure and a completely new place, I risked trying a raw oyster one night. Maybe I should have skipped it, because now I’m unfortunately hooked on something a little too expensive for my taste.

We walked up and down Canal Street, taking in as much of the touristy area as possible. The entire area was decorated for Halloween. Even residential houses were decorated for visitors, with signs marking “private residences” so no one wandered in. Down to the decorations, it was clear that New Orleans was a city with spirit and life.

“The decorations really put me in the sprit,” said Danny Castillo, who was visiting from Fort Lauderdale. “It felt fitting that a town with so much history would go all out for Halloween.”

Of course, the tourist haunts were not without their downsides. Our late night trip to Café du Monde for the famed beignets was a bust. Beignets are more or less extra fried donuts. While they can be amazing, these tasted like nothing more than glorified, amusement park elephant ears. After so much build up to these treats, it was a letdown.

Still, with every day that passed, I loved New Orleans a little more. Our last morning, I woke up early and took a friend shopping for a birthday present for my mom. We stopped for brunch at 801 Royal, where we had the most delicious shrimp and grits. The grits themselves were creamy, delicious and perfectly cooked. The shrimp, which is often flavorless in the dish, tasted as though it had been poached in the cream sauce that was poured over it.

There was another very important tie to France: Much like Paris did on my first visit, my trip to NOLA left me yearning for more.

If You Go

If you only have a short trip to New Orleans, maximize your time by picking one area to explore, rather than spreading yourself too thin. The French Quarter is a good area for first time visitors, and it offers a variety of restaurants, shops and a central square with street performers and carriage rides. See below for some restaurant recommendations in the French Quarter.

Gumbo Shop

  • 532 S Clark St., New Orleans, La.
  • 504-899-2460

801 Royal Street

  • 801 Royal St., New Orleans, La.
  • 504-581-0801

Café Du Monde

  • 800 Decatur St., New Orleans, La. 70116
  • 504-525-4544

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