Driving down interstate 59 from Mississippi into Louisiana was uneventful. The scenery slowly changes from thick woods to rivers and swamps, and after joining interstate 10 east of New Orleans, you’re greeted with many bridges and the long span crossing Lake Pontchartrain. When interstate 10 reached land again it was a complete shock to us: our view was mile after mile of devastation. Large commercial parcels and shopping centers sat vacant, the tall signs still fallen at angles into the buildings. Beyond the empty big box stores we saw street after street of middle income residential homes. The streets and houses were void of any activity.
We exited the freeway near downtown and made our way back through the French Quarter and around Esplanade and Elysian Fields Avenue, honing in on The Burgundy Bed and Breakfast. About 10 blocks east of the French Quarter the streets angle southeast to maintain their alignment with the Mississippi River. This area east of the French Quarter is the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, one of the oldest settlements in New Orleans. The Faubourg Marigny neighborhood was in far better shape the other parts of town. Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flood had not flooded the more historic neighborhoods of the Garden District and French Quarter, and their adjoining neighborhoods.
The Burgundy Bed and Breakfast is located in a beautiful long old home. Known as “shotgun” houses, often you can see, (or shoot), from the front door all the way through the rear. The residence was immaculate on the outside and inside. High ceilings, bright colors, modern and tasteful, we immediately felt at home. Our host Carl gave us a primer navigating the winding grid of streets.
I found the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood to be a wonderful quiet area full of beautiful homes and small businesses. When traveling to a large city, especially if I only have a few days to spend, I prefer to base myself in one residential area in order to better absorb the local scene and pace of life.
After studying my street map, we walked around the French Quarter while ducking in and out of shops. We had dinner at the Praline Connection, a small restaurant on Frenchman Street. Fried okra and alligator was my pick, and it was a great meal on this rainy evening.
For a visitor New Orleans still offers plenty of opportunity for food, music, and history. The standard places such as Café DuMonde, Burboun Street, the jazz clubs and funky independent stores are alive and welcoming.
We hit up some other bars a few blocks north of the touristy area of the French Quarter, and were able to talk with local residents and workers. We met more than a few people who had just relocated to the area for construction work. While drinking late into the night at a small dive bar no one acted surprised when a guy sauntered in with an industrial size weedwacker at 1am. He asked if anyone wanted to rent it, cursed something or other, then took off. Like Vegas, odd characters come with the territory. This being my first time in New Orleans it was a neat experience to grab a barstool up on the slanting balconies overlooking Bourbon Street, and spend a few hours people watching and taking in the scene below and the architecture.
We walked back to our guest house late that night. Passing the long narrow houses in the vampirical fog was an eerie feeling, but away from the quarter there were small local pubs open late into the night. Some cafes and bars are so small and tucked into the fabric of the street it seems as if they’re being run out of someone’s living room.
Each morning we shared breakfast with our host Carl. Also staying with Carl were Willem and Johan, two visitors from the Netherlands who were also doing a road trip, (Texas to Florida). It made me very happy we chose to stay at a place where we could meet and connect with others, and especially hear Carl’s observations at the city.
We spent the morning walking around Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. The Garden District is more grandiose than the other side of downtown where the French Quarter is located. This Wednesday morning plenty was going on as residents packed the streets doing errands. We saw many houses under construction as well. The coffee shop I selected to spend my morning in? Cafe Luna, at Magazine and Nashville.