A Whole Lotta Spice: New Orleans, Louisiana

If you don’t like bold colors and flavors, New Orleans is not for you. But if you love life, art, and music, NOLA is the perfect spot: a wildly creative playground of sounds and tastes.

There’s nothing bland about this city and I loved it from the first time I visited. It’s Southern with extra Cajun spice and Creole flair. It’s unapologetic and creative, it’s diverse in its mix of architecture and cultures, it’s unconventional and resilient—all of which make it irresistible.

For our 2016 trip, we chose an AirBnB across the Mississippi river from the popular French Quarter, in the Algiers Point neighborhood, the second oldest neighborhood in town. But before we reached town, we stopped for a quick taste of the bayou: shrimp and oyster po’boys with sweet mashed potatoes and fried okra at the Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi, Mississippi. I liked the architecture of the bar and the food was delicious, if not healthy.

When we first drove through the dilapidated section of town, I thought to myself “Oh, no, what have we done? Do we need to ditch the promised quaint house and look for a hotel?” But things started to look up as we got closer to the water. Beautifully renovated single or double shotgun homes (in more architectural styles than I’ve ever seen in one place: bungalow, Creole cottage, Greek revival, Victorian, French colonial homes) displayed their bright colors and individual charm, neighborhood bars were hopping with jazz music, while people (and their dogs) walked along the Mississippi river.

We arrived at Casa Pelican B&B and Cooking School, where Karen, owner and chef, welcomed us. We walked through the bright teal front door into the sitting area, then up the stairs to our balcony room. We settled in quickly and got to know our hosts while we savored lip-smacking-good dishes prepared by Karen (under the watchful eye of Pork, the resident dog).

Besides their little dog Pork, Casa Pelican’s owners had another interesting pet: a blue jay named Azul. We had the pleasure of meeting him briefly, as he came to visit in the back yard.

To me, NOLA seemed to carry about an air of magic and we experienced its serendipitous ways first hand. Our visit coincided with my husband’s cousin being in town. He was helping a friend move to the area and we had a good time catching up with him at the Dry Dock Cafe.

The other unexpected encounter involved a celebrity. One evening, we visited the neighborhood bar overlooking the river promenade, The Old Point Bar. A lively band was playing inside, so we sat at one of the two or three tables outside. My attention quickly perked up when I saw a little black dog at the other table. I had to go pet the dog and I heard my husband, David making conversation with the dog’s owner. “You look just like Linda Hamilton,” he told the lady standing next to me. “That’s because I am Linda Hamilton,” she replied.

Of course, when in NOLA one must go to the French Quarter. We hopped on the ferry and crossed the river. We headed to Frenchmen Street, famed for its music clubs. Walking through the area in daylight seemed a safer way to scope out things before nightfall. As I was taking photos of old buildings, a lovely young man offered me a joint, which I politely declined. We did say “Yes” to beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde. We stopped by the New Orleans Museum of Art, where we admired a life-size wooden cabin, dipped in gold (well, golden resin, that is) created by artist Will Ryman. In the French Market, we checked out the local art co-op and made our contribution to its economic well being before heading over to The Market Cafe to get our fill of gumbo.

We set out to explore a different part of town and took the streetcar to the Garden District, a charming oak-shaded neighborhood. Unfortunately, the skies decided to open up and rain came down with a vengeance. Luckily, we made it to the safety of the Columns Hotel just in time, settled in with a glass of bubbly, and watched the menacing yet soothing downpour. The hotel came recommended not only for its charm but also for its live music.

When the bubbly was gone and the rain subsided, we met up with a couple whom we befriended at one of Karen’s garden parties. We had to have a bit more gumbo, then walked around town, taking in all its colorful glory.

Hours later, after having walked in the hot sun (totally worth it), we hopped into an Uber and got off at a lovely wine garden in mid-town. The Bayou Wine Garden welcomed us with live music, a delicious charcuterie board and wine. We had to wait our turn while sipping on wine for a table to open up. Our friend (who has never met a stranger) took the lead and we joined a couple of ladies who had room to spare. When we were done, we invited others to sit with us and transferred our table to them.

We strolled through the art market and might have made some unplanned purchases prompted by the bon temps that had rolled at the wine garden. With energy to spare, we went to Balcony Music Club for some live music. But in New Orleans, one doesn’t even need to be inside a venue to experience a good show. We joined the crowds in listening to a couple of musicians playing on the sidewalk.

By the time we reached the street near our AirBnB, the night was all around us and we shushed a mocking bird who decided to disturb the neighborhood peace. Being true to its name, the bird shushed us right back!! We burst out laughing, which completely defeated our efforts to keep things quiet.

I can’t really put into words the complex fun-filled city that NOLA is, so you’ll have to go experience it for yourself. I leave you with a few more visual morsels to fuel your appetite.

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