I never wanted to go to New Orleans—I thought it would be hot and muggy and very crowded. But, life takes you on unexpected journeys and one day I found myself at a conference in New Orleans, and I was charmed.
Even though New Orleans had been devastated by Katrina, the people that remained or had returned by November of 2006, when I was there, were wonderful—friendly, in good spirits, and full of hope of rebuilding their beloved city. It was heartbreaking to see the devastation wrought by the huricane. The flood had receded but much of the city was in ruins and many of the shops and restaurants were closed, but people were coming back and major rebuilding had begun. The areas of the city not affected by Katrina were beautiful, with tree-lined streets and neat green yards with flowers and lovely houses. And, it wasn’t hot and muggy!
While there, I did what I imagine is on the to-do list for many tourist, eg, riding the streetcars, taking a cemetary tour, drinking chicory coffee and eating beignets. And then I ventured out on my own and made some wonderful discoveries.
Cookin’ Cajun (#116, 1 Poydras Street; 504-523-6425)
Not far from the convention center is a wonderful little shop, cooking school, eatery. I had lunch here several times while in New Orleans. I first went because of the convenience of being able to get lunch between conference sessions and returned time and again because of the delicious food at a very good price. Unfortunately the cooking school is no longer there, and thus, no lunches. But you can pick up wondeful seasonings and other ingredients at the store to make a cajun meal when you get home; or just pick up some pralines to munch on during afternoon sessions.
Central Grocery (923 Decatur Street; 504-523-1620)
If you find yourself on Decatur Street (and you will) stop by the Central Grocery and pick up the famous Muffuletta sandwich—a loaf of Italian bread stuffed with meats and cheeses and topped with an olive salad. It’s huge and can see you through a week’s worth of lunches but so delicious, you’ll find yourself devouring it in 1 or 2 sittings. The ordering process is fun in itself, first you stand on line to order a sandwich—this gives you a chance to chat with locals and tourists—and then you stand on another line to pay and pick up your sandwich. If you hate lines, give it a chance anyway, the lines move pretty fast.
The New Orleans School of GlassWorks & Printmaking Studio (727 Magazine Street; 504-529-7279)
One day I decided to walk to the convention center rather than taking the shuttle. I took a circuitous route and on a street of mostly shuttered buildings, I came across this gem of a gallery. Housed in an old brick building, it turned out to be one the largest facilities in the south for artists working in glass, metal, and printmaking. Glass working demonstrations by a master artisans are offered daily. If you see something you’d like to buy but are reluctant to lug it home with you, don’t worry, they will package and ship it to you.
Woldenberg Rivefront Park
Stroll the red-brick pathway from the Aquarium of the Americas to Jackson Square through the Woldenberg Riverfront Park when you want a break from the hustle and bustle of Decatur Street. Huge container ships, paddleboats, and ferries ply the Mississippi River. Along the way you can see works of art by favorite local artists or stop by the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas to see penguins, stingrays, sharks, and sea otters. At the Toulouse Street wharf you can hop on a steamboat for an excursion.
Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street; 504-523-3341)
After a long day of meeting sessions or sightseeing, relax at the revolving Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone—the more you drink the faster it seems to go. Wind down with one of their famous cocktails with intriguing names such as Champagne Royale, Vieux Carre, or The Goody. If you’re in time for happy hour, enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres, including fried alligator.