From Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar to an on-site filming of NCIS New Orleans, you never know what you’re going to encounter on the streets of the Big Easy. When I visited recently with my wife Sharon we stayed in the Quarter, which we’ve done regularly for each of our trips. In particular, we enjoy getting a room at the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, which, in addition to its convenient location, well-appointed rooms, and superb staff, also lays claim to a place in literary history, having been featured in works by Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Ernest Hemingway. From there, it’s an easy stroll to Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Canal Street, and the Mississippi River. Before mentioning anything else, I want to acknowledge the jazz quartet that entertained us in the baggage claim area of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. They were a pleasant surprise, to say the least:
On our first night, my wife and I stopped for dinner at the Bourbon House restaurant, after which we took a walk down Bourbon Street. Since it was a Monday night, most places were open, however, the street was comparatively uncrowded, making it easy to get around. While the site-seeing and the music were a kick, getting hit up by panhandlers who were very honest, shall we say, about wanting money to get a fix wasn’t as enjoyable. In fact, they scared my wife a bit. Consequently, after dropping in Madame Laveau’s House of Voodoo for some unique souvenirs, we avoided Bourbon Street for the remainder of our stay.
Tuesday, on the other hand, was a completely different vibe. After a satisfying breakfast at the Criollo, which is the Hotel Monteleone’s excellent restaurant, my wife and I were unexpectedly greeted by a children’s choir performing in the hotel lobby. Talk about something wonderful! Needless to say, we felt blessed:
We then headed out and browsed in the shops along Royal Street, where my wife found a gorgeous vintage necklace and I admired the autographed guitar that Jimi Hendrix played at the Isle of Wight, which was on sale for $42,000 at an antiques and collectibles shop. Wow!
From there we had an appointment with Royal Carriages, an historic tour that began at Jackson Square and moseyed throughout the Quarter. Highlights of the tour included seeing the Café Maspero, where Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page met his second wife, the house where Tennessee Williams lived, and the last bank that Bonnie and Clyde robbed before their legendary death in a police ambush. After our mule-drawn tour ended, we walked down Decatur to the Louisiana Music Factory, then caught some of the live acts on Frenchman Street, among whom was Andy Forest, who was performing for a sparse afternoon crowd at The Spotted Cat:
Our Tuesday evening also included a free concert at the St Louis Cathedral, where we had a nice time listening to Irma Thomas sing Christmas standards. I say listen rather than see since there was a large pillar blocking our view. Obviously, we should have gotten in line much earlier than we did. There must have been close to a thousand people in line ahead of us! Still, it was a very nice time, which we capped off with a Tempura Udon dinner at the Sekisui Japanese Restaurant on Decatur.
On Wednesday, after some delicious omelets at The Café Beignet, we headed down Canal Street to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is next to the Mississippi River. On our way we ran into what we thought was the dreadful aftermath of an accident or even a murder, as there were emergency vehicles and police everywhere! Fortunately, we found out to our joy and relief that a crew was filming a scene for an episode of NCIS New Orleans. In fact, we had the pleasure of seeing Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder in action! As for the aquarium, it’s a place that my wife always insists on visiting, which I don’t mind accommodating. The exhibits are well-maintained and the creatures are delight to see, complete with a shark tank and a pool in which you can pet stingrays:
We never tire of this city with its Old World charms and the pleasant and always gracious people we meet. We certainly never get bored with the people watching, the street performers, or the delicious food. Indeed, New Orleans is a pleasure to explore virtually anytime of year, even in the middle of December, which is when my wife and I paid our last visit. Speaking of which, please follow the link below to a photo album I created on flickr, in which you can see much more than my words can describe:
Video and photo credit: David Martínez