Skip to content

New Orleans - More than Gumbo and Jazz

San Francisco has Fisherman's Wharf while Edmonton has Hawrelak Park. New Orleans may have gumbo and jazz. But it also has the Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the Garden District, cemeteries above ground, beignets, and pralines.

San Francisco has Fisherman's Wharf while Edmonton has Hawrelak Park. New Orleans may have gumbo and jazz. But it also has the Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the Garden District, cemeteries above ground, beignets, and pralines. There is so much to see and experience. Some of us may pass on New Orleans as a fall or winter holiday for some legitimate reasons - distance, safety, or not meeting the expectations of other vacation spots. But " The Big Easy" has much to offer. Winter weather is a draw with its teen temperatures. It is also a jumping off point for several cruises. Hurricane Katrina is well behind us with little evidence that it ever occurred unless one searches for it.

Let's focus on the city's appeal to senior travel. We will try to touch on those points which in our experience are comfortable and interesting for seniors. The city is safe in the downtown core, friendly, a culinary mecca, and a fascinating attraction for history buffs who like to discover the big picture of a vacation on their own. It is also the largest concentration of French culture outside of Quebec in North America. So be prepared to make comparisons. Be also prepared to accept the fusion of cultures including American, French, Spanish, and Caribbean. That's the eclectic mix and excitement you will find here.

New Orleans is a city surrounded by water, largely under sea level with the highest point a mere 35 feet above sea level. Water seems to correspond with the city's history and present. Although the city is recovering well from Katrina, the visitor should be aware of certain facts about the city's terrain. There are 350 miles of levee systems designed to keep the city dry. It is not surprising that flooding is synonymous with New Orleans' make-up but this does not appear to deter it's populace, its vibrancy or its attraction.

After checking into your hotel and orienting yourself, it will be time to make some serious planning. Bourbon Street has a number of medium to expensive priced hotels. The advantage to the location will depend on your interests, cost and safety and proximity to the French Quarter.

You will likely begin your exploration of the city here. This is the geographical area which gives the city its charm and European flavour. It dates back to the 1700's as a walled military outpost which then comprised the whole city.

Enclosed by Canal Street, the Mississippi River and Esplanade Avenue, here is where the action is concentrated with clubs, bars, and museums. If you head for Jackson Square ( named after the U.S. president associated with its history), you will find the best preserved area in the city. As visitors, you must take in the Square with its musicians, artists, and jugglers. Yes, and pickpockets. So be cautious. Of course, you will want to take in Bourbon Street even though you are not a fan of jazz. If you are, save it for the evening when the "joint is jumping." During your stay you will probably be exposed to music styles unique to the city including Brass Band, Dixieland, Ragtime and Cajun.

The Quarter takes the lead in the city as the point where cultures collide as mentioned earlier. Some outstanding culinary stops are interspersed in the 90 square block area. The most outstanding among them, in my opinion, is Galatoire's for their fish luncheon prix fixe, Paul K's Kitchen with a superb shrimp avocado salad and stuffed soft shell crab and Nola for shrimp and grits and a creme brulée trio for dessert. The ambience for the latter is impressive and includes an elevator which takes you to a second floor balcony. Be careful that you are in the original Nola's on St. Louis Street as the name is to be found in several establishments. Incidentally, Nola stands for New Orleans, Louisiana. While the cost is somewhat steep in these restaurants and others such as Antoine's, the quality of food is well worth it. Somewhat lower in price but still satisfactory is Landry's for seafood.

The famous Gumbo Shop located on St. Peter's Street but hidden in a shopping mall is adjacent to the wharf. The gumbo here is authentic usually requiring okra simmered for hours in a rich stock with onions,celery and bell peppers. Don't leave the Quarter without savouring some other local dishes including crawfish étouffée and a po-boy, a piled-high sandwich with deli meat, shrimp, catfish or crawfish. Beignets, a deep fried piece of dough covered with icing sugar is often referred to as the French doughnut - the most authentic will be found at the Café Du Monde. It can stand in place of your breakfast or afternoon break. The cafe is always loud and busy but worth a visit.

But enough about food. You can combine history with literature by either visiting the William Faulkner House or heading for the Garden District by taking the street car on St. Charles Avenue which will give you an excellent grasp of the stately antebellum mansions stemming from the Greek Revival which swept the south. Take your camera along on the ride. A stop at the above ground burial system will nicely substitute for a tour. You can't avoid hearing here about some of the literary giants represented by Tennessee Williams and Ann Rice's mansion.

If you choose tours, opt for the Oak Alley Plantation, probably the most photographed of plantations as within the grounds it includes a Civil War encampment and the slave quarters. A short walk from the French Quarter or Bourbon Street to Toulouse Street and the Canal Street Dock will also take you past Harrah's Casino. Better pass up on a stop here unless you are looking forward to spending some large sums. The Canal Street Shopping Center with some major outlets such as Nieman-Marcus is a few steps from the dock.This will bring you to the starting point for steamboat cruises including jazz cruises which should satisfy those of us who are jazz fans.

A city as large as New Orleans always boasts a number of museums. Because of our interest in past world wars we made a stop at the National W.W.II Museum, one of the finest war museums you will find. The Exhibit Galleries feature America Goes To War, D-Day- the Landing Beaches, and the Stage Door Canteen which acts as a tribute to entertainers who gave the troops their time and talent. You should devote at least an afternoon to this visit as there are five buildings to explore.

Did we confuse you? There is so much to see and experience that a plan beforehand is essential to take full advantage of your visit. The Edmonton Public Library should be able to help you. In the meantime, bone up on your knowledge of the Civil War, the Battle for New Orleans, the Louisiana Purchase and any works by Faulkner, Williams, and Ann Rice. On your local classics film channels and on DVD you can catch such film classics as "A Streetcar Named Desire, "Interview With A Vampire", "Suddenly Last Summer" set in the Garden District, and "Saratoga Trunk" with Gary Cooper. All this should put you in the mood for your trip.