Archive for the ‘Sightseeing’ Category

Fun New Orleans Sightseeing with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

Posted on: July 6th, 2017 by FrenchQuarter

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With a city as robust and cultured as New Orleans, you can imagine the overwhelming number of attractions, restaurants, shops and much more. We found ourselves asking – What neighborhoods are must-sees? Which museums are worth the price of admission? How will we get there? What do the locals do for fun? I am certain even locals who’ve lived here for decades haven’t seen every concert, shopped at every boutique, enjoyed each delicious restaurant or even attended every festival. So, where to begin?

We decided to start with a broad overview of the city—which is just what the Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour offers! Chances are, you’ve noticed the BIG RED, double-decker buses rolling around New Orleans (they’re hard to miss). But, what you may not know is why they’re an excellent way to start exploring the magic of New Orleans.  Hop-On Hop-Off gave us a great big southern welcome to the Big Easy!

What is the Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour?

Simply put, the tour consists of an Open-Top fun bus navigated by a SAINTED driver and hosted by a TALENTED tour guide, who describes the sites and history you encounter along the way. You’ll learn more than you ever imagined, from the iron-laced historic buildings to the above-ground cemeteries. We discovered New Orleans’ Jazz, its unique cuisine, antique street cars, Mardi Gras traditions and the romance pulsating throughout the soul of the city. Few cities can boast so rich a heritage!

But here’s the real beauty of the Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour: you will see landmarks and local hangouts you would have otherwise overlooked. With a local tour guide showing you the ropes, you can’t miss a thing! We left the city with such a wealth of knowledge and a true overview of New Orleans!

The bus makes a total of 18 stops along its 2-hour loop, and you can start your tour wherever most convenient – Jackson Square, the Garden District, or even at the Basin St. Station Visitor Center. You’ll cruise down Canal Street and through the Central Business District; then head straight up Magazine Street into the Garden District. This is where we decided to Hop-Off. The streets were filled with locals, and spicy aromas – on every corner, there was another unique boutique or shop, not your run-of-the-mill selections. After our fill… Food, Shopping and Local Beer… we hopped back on the bus and continued down the historic St. Charles Avenue. This is where you discover a true sense of New Orleans Mardi Gras. We learned about the strong French and Catholic roots. But, even better, saw what they call “BEAD trees” first hand! Next stop: the heart of the French Quarter. You’ll travel around the Marigny then pass by Tremé and Louis Armstrong Park. All the while, your Top-Deck Tour Guide portrays the culture and describes the city’s unique characters with you!

How does ticketing work?

It’s very simple – you can Hop-On at any stop and buy a ticket!  A one-day ticket of unlimited rides is $39, but the best value is found in the three-day ticket. For $10 additional dollars, ride the bus for 2 more days and take advantage of the two free guided walking tours:  French Quarter and Garden District. Another great bonus, we were able to get our bearings, ride the two-hour loop, and then really plan where we wanted to get off the next day to discover the unique treasures of New Orleans.

With your Hop-On Hop-Off ticket, you also have tremendous savings on other attractions. All along the route there are city deal offers. Our absolute favorite was the St. Louis #1 Cemetery Tour! You save $5 dollars and get to walk through the tombs of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau and even get to see the future home of Nicolas Cage (a gleaming, nine-foot pyramid).

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Much more than just a bus

The Hop-On Hop-Off Tour is an unbelievable bargain – both City Tour and Transportation.  Every stop on the tour, from Jackson Square to Mardi Gras World, is a world-class destination. You aren’t just getting shuffled around from point A to point B: you’re getting a curated experience.

When we considered the cost of other tours, or added up the price of Ubers and taxis for three days, we felt like we saved a ton.

Plus, riding in the open-air bus is fun! There’s nothing like sitting on the breezy top deck, beneath a red-and-yellow awning, at the height of a Mardi Gras float, and passing under the oaks on St. Charles Avenue, inches away from the leftover beads glittering in their branches. If you need a break from New Orleans’ humid, subtropical climate, just go downstairs and soak up the air conditioning on the bus’s lower level.

WWII 2

What can I expect from the tour?

We wouldn’t want to give everything away (and there’s hardly enough room to share all the information here), but below are a few highlights from our favorite stops!

Stop 1: Jackson Square

Grab a beignet and café au lait from Café du Monde, which sits at the start of this large open-air market. Relax and take in the views of the river and the Iconic Cathedral. This is perfect photo opportunity!

Stop 2: French Market

Hop-Off here and join the French Quarter walking tour. Be sure to check out the French Market; it is the oldest of its kind in the U.S. and, originally was founded as an American trading post. Today, you can shop with local artists, jewelry makers, and grab a bite to eat along the way.

Stop 4: Treme

Willie Mae’s Scotch House, Dooky Chase and Ernie K-Doe’s lounge are just a few must-sees in this historic neighborhood, which is named for real estate developer Claude Treme. Be sure to double check business hours, as many are rather erratic.

Stop 5: Basin St. Station Visitor Center

At this former site of the historic Southern Railway/New Orleans Terminal Company, you’ll find restrooms, a gift shop, cold drinks and souvenirs for sale, an educational exhibit and 7-minute film. Also, an easy and affordable parking option sits right next door for those in need. This is also where you would hop-off to join the St. Louis #1 Cemetery walking tour.

Stop 7: Riverfront Harrah’s Casino

Enjoy a signature drink and take advantage of the $5 FREE slot play. Fulton Street is also packed with lots of great places to check out, from Fulton Alley to do a little bowling to having a beer at Manning’s.

Stop 10: The National World War II Museum

This museum opened in 2000 and honors Andrew Higgins, who owned Higgins boatyards here in New Orleans. President Eisenhower called these “the boats that won the war.” The Museum features immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences, and an expansive collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories to take visitors inside the story of the war.

Stop 11-12-13: Magazine Street

Welcome to miles of fantastic shopping, restaurants, bars, and boutiques! There are 3 stops along this mile-long stretch of Magazine Street (at Jackson, at Washington, and at Louisiana) – convenient for Hopping-Off, Strolling along, and Hopping-On down the block! Don’t miss the Garden District Walking Tour that leaves from Stop 12.

Stop 14 & 15: St. Charles Avenue

You’ll find a piece of the original Eiffel Tower on this street. It was disassembled into 11,000 pieces and rebuilt on St. Charles Avenue, where it now serves as a club and events venue.

Stop 16: Mardi Gras World

These warehouses contain floats and décor made by Blaine Kern for 48 prominent Mardi Gras krewes. It’s most definitely worth a tour and Hop-On Hop-Off ticket holders are afforded a discounted admission!

We made our way around the city, hopping-on and off at our leisure. This city tour was flexible, at our own pace, convenient and overall, a lot of FUN.  We left New Orleans feeling like a local! The Hop-On Hop-Off is an absolute must-do.

Exploring St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

Posted on: July 5th, 2017 by FrenchQuarter

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1_Overhead
Photo courtesy of Cemetery Tour New Orleans at Basin St. Station on Facebook

Former New Orleanian William Faulker famously wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. It’s not even past.” Nowhere is this truth more evident than in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. In this storied “city of the dead,” elaborate, crumbling above-ground graves hint at the stories of the larger-than-life personalities entombed within. As is true for many places in New Orleans, the veil between past and present feels very thin here.

It’s no wonder St. Louis Cemetery attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year. Some come to leave offerings for Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, while others come to tend the graves of loved ones interred within (St. Louis Cemetery remains an active gravesite). Still, others come to experience city’s living history via a stroll through its oldest cemetery (St. Louis Cemetery was built in 1789). Regardless of your motivation, a trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without visiting St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

One caveat: Unlike most other New Orleans cemeteries, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is accessible only via guided, licensed tours. That’s because the cemetery has been subject to much vandalism over the years. Tickets are only $20 at Basin St. Station, or $15 when you purchase a Hop-On Hop-Off three-day pass.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1_Tomb
Photo courtesy of Cemetery Tour New Orleans at Basin St. Station on Facebook

Here’s what to know (and a few things to look out for) before you go.

Dress for success

We’d be lying if we said New Orleans’ hot, humid subtropical climate never got the best of anyone. Any experienced tour guide will tell you they’ve had a tourist overheat. Why? It’s simple: the sun is intense, there’s very little shade in the cemetery, and the oven vaults block any semblance of a cool river breeze.

That’s why proper preparation is key, especially if you’re visiting during warmer summer months. Bring a bottle of water, dress lightly and don’t forget the sunblock. You may notice a few savvy tour guides sporting both wide-brim hats and parasols to block the sun. That may seem like overkill, but it’s just a reminder that heat stroke is no joke. Properly prepare for the heat, and you’ll be able to get the most out of your visit.

It should go without saying that you mustn’t touch or desecrate the tombs, drink alcohol or smoke in the cemetery. Photographs, on the other hand, are welcome—and your tour guide will be happy to snap a picture of your group.

With that in mind, here are a few things to know and prominent gravesites to watch out for.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1_Statue
Photo by Kathryn Valentino

The story behind the cities of the dead

Above-ground burials are just one of New Orleans’  idiosyncrasies, but they don’t exist solely for the sake of uniqueness. The city’s high water table makes in-ground burials impossible—a coffin buried underground simply floats back up to the top.

Once located at the marshy city limits, St. Louis Cemetery is now near the center of the city, thanks to the draining of the swamps, which permitted people to settle beyond the French Quarter.

One of the first things you’ll see when you enter St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is a bank of “oven vaults” or “wall vaults” to your left. These tombs stack gravesites, filing cabinet style, one above the other. Glance at the ground, and you’ll see some graves are only partially visible—the rest are below the earth, evidence that New Orleans is gradually sinking.

Many oven vaults house the remainders of countless family members. After a body is interred, it is left undisturbed in the grave for a period of one year and one day. At that point, the remains may be pushed to the back of the tomb, leaving room for a fresh body to be interred. Other families prefer to collect the remains, placing them in a muslin bag.

If you wish to be buried in this famous graveyard, you can make it happen to the tune of $40,000—the going price for a plot. It’s a high price, but it’s not unreasonable when you consider the people who will become your neighbors for eternity. They include…

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
‘The future tomb of Nicolas Cage’ – St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 by Nelo Hotsuma

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau

Born in 1801 in the French Quarter to a Haitian mother and white father, Marie Laveau gained prominence as a Voodoo practitioner. The beautiful young woman was also a hairdresser to the wealthy, learning many beauty tricks and herbal remedies from her mother. She was known for her caring and benevolent heart, as she nursed many people who suffered during the yellow fever epidemics of the 19th century. She saved countless lives, and to this day, people think of her with gratitude.

Many believe she continues to work her magic from beyond the grave. That’s why you’ll see faint triple XXXs etched into her grave—a practice that is actively discouraged—or trinkets such as bobby pins left in threes. (Bobby pins and hair clips are an homage to Laveau’s past work as a hairdresser.)

Homer Plessy

In June 1892, Homer Plessy challenged segregation laws when he refused to disembark from a “whites only” train car at nearby Press Street. (A train still runs on those tracks today.) He was convicted of breaking the law, and the case moved to the Supreme Court. In 1896, the “separate but equal” mandate was ruled constitutional, setting the stage for years of segregation and oppression. But the seeds of the civil rights movement also had been planted, thanks to Homer Plessy.

Nicolas Cage

Wait—he’s not dead yet, you might point out. Well, you’re right. Nicolas Cage is only  53 years old and seems to be in good health. However, he’s thinking about the future, which is one explanation for why he purchased a gleaming white, nine-foot pyramid inscribed with the Latin phrase “Omnia Ab Uno” (All from One).

The gravesite has baffled news outlets worldwide, whose reporters have come up with many different conspiracy theories. Among them: Cage is a closet Voodoo practitioner; Cage has Illuminati ties; Cage is an immortal who will entomb himself for a century before re-emerging; Cage has stored his wealth in the tomb. Nobody really knows why he chose a tomb that’s so incongruous with its surroundings, but we do know it’s a very eye-catching construction, and that Cage evidently likes New Orleans a lot.

French Quarter Tours du Jour

Posted on: June 13th, 2017 by French No Comments

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While the French Quarter is a fascinating place to simply sit and stare, it becomes ever more so when you make the effort to learn a bit about its history, quirks and secrets. A veritable panoply of guided tours are available to address all manner of subjects specific to the French Quarter and a knowledgeable, enthusiastic tour guide can peel back the wrappings and allow you to see what’s really inside. French Quarter tours are quick crash courses that take the form of everything from polite, informative walking tours to pub crawls, paddle wheeler sojourns, horse-drawn carriage rides and bizarre nocturnal romps in search of ghosts and vampires.

Some tour guides work independently and offer their services almost as a “friend in New Orleans” – for hire. Some of them are highly specialized and offer a microscopic look at one area of interest. Others touch on a little bit of everything, like City Sightseeing New Orleans – New Orleans’ Hop-On Hop-Off tour that traverses four distinct neighborhoods in classic red open-top double-decker buses. At the other end of the spectrum is Gray Line Tours, a comprehensive one-stop shopping Mecca on the tourism front with numerous tour options available from one brochure. The company offers investigative tours of the French Quarter and Garden District as well as a sweeping look at the entire city. Specialty tours include a cocktail tour, swamp and bayou tours, plantation tours and ghosts and spirits tours.

At the other end of the spectrum is Gray Line Tours, a comprehensive one-stop shopping Mecca on the tourism front with numerous tour options available from one brochure. The company offers investigative tours of the French Quarter and Garden District as well as a sweeping look at the entire city. Specialty tours include a cocktail tour, swamp and bayou tours, plantation tours and ghosts and spirits tours.

Due to its status as the epicenter of the New Orleans, many tour companies offer transportation from French Quarter hotels and landmarks for exploration of other parts of the area.

Highlighted below are a few of the many tours available. Some are noted for their outstanding reputations, others are noted for the unique nature of their offerings.

Hop-On Hop-Off Tours

For French Quarter tours and beyond, a tour that offers a few days of sightseeing is a great option for exploring. City Sightseeing New Orleans is New Orleans’ most flexible tour, with options for 1-Day and 3-Day unlimited Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing . Visitors can view New Orleans from a red open-top double-decker bus while enjoying live narration from a guide. These tours also include walking tours and “City Deals” throughout the city for those who want to Hop-Off and enjoy its many attractions.

Walking Tours

This is the very best way to familiarize yourself with the French Quarter. Get a comfortable pair of shoes, some sunscreen and a hat for the walk.

Friends of the Cabildo French Quarter Walking Tours two hours long and led by highly trained volunteers with the Louisiana State Museum System who educate on architecture and historical fact. The tour visits Madame John’s Legacy as well as the 1850 House.

Nola Tour Guy Offers a free “pay what you feel” tour experience of the Quarter and St Louis Cemetery. Well known and respected by both locals and repeat visitors to the city.

City Sightseeing New Orleans boasts several walking tours along with their 18-stop route, including one starting at the New Orleans French Market. Learn about the French Quarter’s history and see some of its most popular attractions, then hop back on the tour bus to explore beyond the French Quarter!

National Park Service These popular 90-minute walks are free and led by rangers from the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. These tours are hugely informative and focus on history and architecture.

Gray Line French Quarter Walking Tour – These tours make up at the River and Toulouse Street then range throughout the Quarter visiting all the key points including Jackson Square, the Old Ursuline Convent, the Pharmacy Museum, Washington Artillery Park, Royal and Bourbon Streets.

Carriage Tours

Every day from about 8 a.m. to midnight, mule-drawn carriages line up on Decatur Street in front of Jackson Square. These tours are a staple in New Orleans tourism. Some carriages hold four people, others hold six. They roll through the French Quarter, rain or shine, pointing out all of the expected sites. For something more substantial than the standard nickel tour, carriage drivers can be engaged for private tours of the city.

Riverboat Tours

See the city from the body of water that made it all possible.

Steamboat Natchez Cruise – Riding the last steamboat on the Mississippi River recalls an era when steamboats were the main source of transportation, communication, and commerce. It cruises downriver to Chalmette (7 ½ miles) and back twice daily, and once in the evening for a Dinner Jazz Cruise with the Grammy nominated Dukes of Dixieland. During the day there is live jazz and optional food and beverage in addition to the historic and port narration.

Cemetery, Voodoo, Vampire and Haunted Places Tours

These tours range from highly educational and informative, such as those offered by the reputable Save our Cemeteries, to absolutely ridiculous to the point of insult. Due to their popularity, there are so many vampire, voodoo and whatnot tours currently available that over-competitive guides have been known to engage in battle over customers in Jackson Square. Note that due to vandalism issues, only approved docents who are registered with the Archdiocese of New Orleans can lead tours into St Louis Cemetery No. 1.

Gray Line Ghost & Spirits Walking Tour – Includes several ghost tour operators, which means no two tours are exactly alike. While the sites you visit will vary, expect to take in destinations including haunted hotels.

Historic New Orleans Walking Tours: Cemetery & Voodoo Tour – The guides at this blue chip touring outfit have a talent for sprinkling just enough intrigue and mystery over the facts to keep them compelling.

Save Our Cemeteries – This outstanding non-profit group works to preserve the city’s fragile, crumbling burial places. The tours are led by Save Our Cemeteries-trained volunteers who unveil the mysteries of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District as well as St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is adjacent to the French Quarter. The wise folks at Save Our Cemeteries are wise to the reality that these places are compelling enough without the mythical embellishments some others place on the Cities of the Dead.

Bike Tours

Flat, warm New Orleans is a perfect city for casual cycling.

Confederacy of Cruisers The original godfathers of the local cycling tour scene, the folks at Confederacy offer several wryly funny tours of the city’s iconic neighborhoods (including the Quarter). Some rides take in the city’s distinctive architecture, and some focus on the great cocktails of Creole culture – any way you slice it, you’ll bike away happy.

Music Tours

Learn serious facts about the history of jazz or bang your head at a nightclub. The offerings are diverse.

Cradle of Jazz Tour – Visit the birthplaces of JellyRoll Morton and Buddy Bolden with jazz aficionado and historian John McCusker during his 2.5-hour Friday and Saturday tours into the heart and history of the city’s definitive musical style. The tour also visits cemeteries, old jazz clubs and other significant musical sites.

New Orleans Music Tours – Offers three different walking tours that range from a tour hour stroll past some of the Quarter’s seminal musical sites to a nighttime walking itinerary that takes in the live music scene on Frenchmen Street.

Pearl River Eco Tours
Photo courtesy of Pearl River Eco Tours on Facebook

Swamp Tours

Though there are days when the French Quarter may feel like a swamp, to really see one you have to leave the neighborhood. Several of the numerous swamp tour companies distinguish themselves for their quality while others merely ride along on ridiculous bits of pseudo-Cajun folklore and pantomimed accents, which people seem to eat up. The Louisiana bayous and swampland are stunning, majestic and mysterious. In summer, when the heat can be brutal, a morning tour is recommended. Insect repellent and sunscreen are a must. Reservations are required. These tours offer transport from many French Quarter hotels.

Pearl River Eco-Tours – While Swamp Tours may be numerous, this one, located 45-50 minutes from downtown New Orleans, distinguishes itself in a number of ways. The folkloric approach is avoided in favor of a learning adventure that is richly informative and exciting in its own right. The company’s president and founder is a lifelong resident of the area. The tour which heads deep into the Honey Island Swamp and White Kitchen Nature Preserve has become a favorite for its intelligent focus and quality experience. The site’s attention to detail – such as comfortable, well-appointed flat boats; a large, covered dock seating area; clean handicap accessible restrooms; complimentary insect repellant and sunscreen; and available refreshments – are unique bonuses not often encountered at this type of facility.

Gray Line Swamp & Bayou Tour – After a short motorcoach ride across the Mississippi River, take a fascinating boat trip into the Louisiana Swamps & Bayous. Experience the timeless beauty of South Louisiana in a custom built, all weather swamp boat. Native guides will reveal the mysteries of the swamps and bayous and the Cajun “joie de vivre”. Hear how the Cajuns turned soup into gumbo, the washboard into a musical instrument, and the swamps of Louisiana into a paradise. Alligators! Observe the nesting grounds of alligators, egrets, raccoons, nutria, and many species of snakes. Some wildlife are more numerous during the warmer months of the year. Swamp Boat You will be treated to a Bayou Nature Wildlife Show by a local naturalist. Snakes, alligator snapping turtles, raccoons and nutria will be among the animal guests.

Whitney Plantation Tour
Whitney Plantation by Michael McCarthy

Plantation Tours

Gray Line’s Whitney Plantation Tour
Motorcoach guided tours leave from the Gray Line ‘Lighthouse’ in the French Quarter at Toulouse Street and the River. The Whitney Plantation, besides being a fine example of Creole architecture, is the only plantation museum in the state that focuses on the history of slavery.

New Orleans Streetcar Sense

Posted on: April 24th, 2017 by French No Comments
By: Jyl Benson

new orleans streetcar

In 1947 Tennessee Williams penned “A Streetcar Named Desire,” effectively immortalizing the public transit line that, from the 1920s, served the rollicking French Quarter as well as the working class Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, located downriver. Sadly, the last car to serve the Desire line rattled through town in 1948, a victim of transportation “progress.” It was replaced by a choking diesel bus, which lacked the aesthetic value of the streetcars. Where 235 miles of streetcar tracks once formed a lace across the city’s streets most of the tracks were ultimately paved over, as noxious buses became the standard. Blessedly, even the Purveyors of Progress could not bear to dismantle the charming St. Charles Avenue streetcar line and its service has remained uninterrupted since its inception in 1893. Spacious olive green 900-class streetcars built by Perley A. Thomas Car Company in 1923-24 still serve the line today. These cultural icons were fully restored and refurbished between 1988 and 1994.

Historic St. Charles Avenue Line

The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar may very well be the nation’s most pleasant form of public conveyance existing today. The line was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. To maintain this stature, the Regional Transit Authority, which operates New Orleans’ streetcar system, has rejected adding air conditioning and making the streetcars wheelchair accessible. However, the 46 streetcars’ double-hung windows can easily be opened to emit the cooling breezes generated by the moving cars so it’s always a comfortable ride.

For a leisurely exploration of the Central Business District, the Garden District and Uptown, visitors staying in the French Quarter should board the St. Charles Avenue streetcar at the corner of Carondelet and Canal streets (Stop No. 0). Each car stop has a designated number and there are dozens of stops along the line. The line serves a 6 ½ mile run that stretches between Stop No. 0 at the edge of the French Quarter, down St. Charles Avenue to the Riverbend where it turns onto South Carrolton and continues to its terminus at South Carrollton and South Claiborne avenues. The cars turn around at the end of the line and head back in the opposite direction. A one-way trip along the line takes about 45 minutes.

Riverfront Line

In 1988 when city officials unveiled a new 1.9 mile Riverfront Streetcar Line they were amazed by the enthusiastic reception it received. What was originally planned as a novelty project to be rolled out in conjunction with that year’s National Republican Convention quickly became a favored means of transportation for both visitors and locals. It was the city’s first new streetcar line since 1926 and the Powers That Be quickly determined that with regard to public transit in New Orleans the old ways were, indeed, the best. Plans to re-invigorate streetcar service throughout key areas of New Orleans were soon underway. Seven bright red streetcars now service the Riverfront line, which includes 10 stops between Esplanade Avenue and the Morial Convention Center. The one car with its doors located at either end is a vintage Perley A. Thomas’ built in 1923-24, like the St. Charles cars. The remaining Riverfront cars were built by the RTA in partnership with local vendors and craftsmen. Though they are not air-conditioned, like the St. Charles cars the double-hung windows open to emit the river breeze. All of the cars are wheelchair accessible.

The Canal Street Line

In the spring of 2004, streetcar service was joyously welcomed back to Canal Street after a 40-year absence. The new Canal Streetcar Line tied into the existing Riverfront Streetcar Line from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street and along Canal Street from the Mississippi River to a streetcar terminal at City Park Avenue and the Cemeteries. A spur line along North Carrollton Avenue connects Canal Street to City Park at Beauregard Circle, making for easy access to the park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Streetcars run in the neutral ground on Canal Street for the entire 4.13 miles. Tracks for the one-mile spur on North Carrollton Avenue run in the left traffic lane and terminate at Beauregard Circle opposite the New Orleans Museum of Art. Like the St. Charles Avenue Line, the Canal Line provides French Quarter visitors with easy access to some of the city’s other unique neighborhoods – in this case Mid City and the cemeteries.

 

The Rampart/St. Claude Line

In 2016, the latest addition to the New Orleans streetcar network opened to the public: the Rampart/St Claude line. This fully air conditioned route skirts the edge of the French Quarter along Rampart St (once the literal walls of the city), running from Canal St past Armstrong Park and the Treme. At this stage, Rampart St splits off and the streetcar follows St Claude Avenue to its intersection with Elysian Fields Avenue. The line provides access to sites within the Treme like St Augustine Church, Armstrong Park, and the Backstreet Cultural Museum, and gives visitors a glimpse of the French Quarter that is often missed by many tourists.

Like the Riverfront cars, the 24 cherry red cars that service the Canal Line were locally built under the auspices of the RTA. All of them are air-conditioned and provide wheelchair access. Due to the space needed to accommodate wheelchairs, the Canal and Riverfront cars provide seating for 42 passengers, 18 fewer than the St. Charles Avenue cars.

All three of New Orleans’ streetcar lines provide service 24-hours a day with frequent service during the day and hourly appearances from midnight to 6 a.m. The fare for each is $1.25 per person. Transfers cost $.25. Exact change is required.

Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Meet the Mississippi: Exploring the New Orleans Riverfront

Posted on: April 24th, 2017 by French No Comments

New-Orleans-Riverfront

By: Ian McNulty


The Mississippi River looms large in the American identity, from the history and literature taught in schools to the nation’s modern economy.

In New Orleans, you can easily experience the river in all its bustling activity, natural splendor and historical significance via the riverfront area adjacent to the French Quarter. Sweeping vistas, public art, family activities and jumping-off points for riverboat tours are all clustered here along a linear park and walkways.

The Mississippi has always been a working river and for generations most New Orleanians were cut off from any access to it by floodwalls, warehouses and very busy wharves. That began to change in the 1970s through the 1980s, as underused industrial buildings near the French Quarter were razed and replaced by Woldenberg Park, a grassy open space named for local philanthropist Malcolm Woldenberg, and the Moonwalk, a walkway named for the former New Orleans mayor Maurice “Moon” Landrieu. Today the area attracts an estimated 7 million visitors annually, according to the Audubon Institute, the organization which runs it.

A great place for a picnic of po-boys or local seafood, a jog or just to catch a cooling breeze on a typically humid New Orleans day, this mile-long stretch of the riverfront is also the setting for many community celebrations and special events. For example, the largest stages for the annual French Quarter Festival (www.frenchquarterfestival.org) are set up here each spring and the park is prime real estate for viewing fireworks during the city’s Fourth of July activities, known collectively as Go Fourth on the River.

A bronze statue of Malcolm Woldenberg in the park that bears his name is one exhibit in what has grown into an informal sculpture garden along the riverfront. Near the philanthropist’s statue is a stainless steel sculpture called “Ocean Song.” Created by local artist John Scott, the piece depicts the motion of water in eight narrow pyramids, polished to a reflective gleam.



Further downriver is the elegant “Monument to the Immigrant,” crafted from white Carrara marble by sculptor Franco Allesandrini. The work faces the riverfront with a ship’s prow topped by a female figure reminiscent of Lady Liberty, while behind her stands a turn-of-the-century immigrant family looking toward the French Quarter. A few blocks downriver is Robert Schoen’s “Old Man River,” a stone human figure also made from Carrara marble. Weighing in at 17 tons and standing 18 feet high, the statue speaks to the river’s power and majesty in its rounded, circular body forms.

The most recent addition to this collection of public art is the city’s Holocaust Memorial, which was dedicated in 2003. Created by Israeli artist and sculptor Jacob Agam, the memorial is often described as a “living work” because its images and shapes change as a visitor walks around it.

Vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain, like the warehouses and wharves that begin behind the French Market and the freight trains that still rumble along a corridor between the river and the French Quarter. Much gentler rail traffic comes in the form of the city’s red Riverfront streetcars, built in 1988 with a vintage look and modern amenities to carry passengers from Canal Street to the lower end of the French Quarter.

Past the French Market, going along St Peters St, one can spy the latest pedestrian-friendly addition to the city’s riverfront real estate: the entrance to the Crescent Park, an unmissable pedestrian footbridge linked to the ground by an elevator and staircase. The Crescent Park plays with the city’s shipping heritage, drawing upon that legacy to create a severe, post-industrial aesthetic that includes open air pavilions, concrete buttresses, long walking and cycling paths, and rusted metal features like a pedestrian bridge, all laid out in a linear park that runs from Faubourg Marigny through the Bywater. Using the Crescent Park’s linear pathway, you can walk all the way from N Peters and Marigny St to Chartres and Bartholomew St.

Anywhere you go on the river, you’re likely to spot modern shipping traffic. The ports, refineries and terminals clustered between the mouth of the river and Baton Rouge to the north make the Mississippi one of the world’s busiest rivers, and from a bench along the riverfront visitors can watch as tugs, tankers, freighters, cruise ships and long strings of barges navigate its currents. Street musicians usually perform nearby for tips, adding to the ambiance with their saxophones or trumpets. Indeed, from the French Quarter, visitors can see with their own eyes how New Orleans earned the nickname the Crescent City as large vessels follow the dramatic turn in the river upon which the French Quarter is situated.



If all these maritime vistas give you the urge to use your sea legs, the Steamboat Natchez (504-569-1401) will take you out on the muddy Mississippi and offers tours of varying length and themes. Designed to resemble the old steamships that once brought cotton, gamblers and jazz up and down the river, this modern vessel gives today’s visitors a way to experience the Mississippi up close and view the city’s skyline and intricate French Quarter roof-scape from the river.

Back on dry land, the riverfront area is also home to two of the city’s most popular family attractions, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Entergy Imax Theater (both at 1 Canal St., 800-774-7394). The active area outside these facilities is filled with whimsical sculptures of marine life, well-shaded park benches and outdoor vendors serving light refreshments.

Just upriver from the aquarium area is the Spanish Plaza. Dedicated in 1976 during the U.S. bicentennial, the plaza was a gift from Spain in a gesture of friendship to its one-time colony. It features a large fountain ringed by tile mosaics of Spanish coats of arms representing that country’s provinces. Vendors in the plaza serve smoothies and snacks, while the Riverwalk Marketplace Mall is just next door for air-conditioned shopping.

Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer and columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”

Exploring the French Quarter with Kids

Posted on: April 21st, 2017 by FrenchQuarter

French Quarter with Kids Photo courtesy of French QuarTour Kids on Facebook

While “child-friendly” or “family-friendly” may not automatically come to mind when, say, Bourbon Street is mentioned, New Orleans is packed with things you can do as a family, for kids of all ages. Here are our favorite family-friendly destinations and things to do in the French Quarter. You can cover these in a day, on foot (or in a carriage!), and with kids in tow.

Food

Start off with a relaxing breakfast of crawfish frittata or boudin benedict at Vacherie Restaurant located inside Hotel St. Marie. Chef Jarred Zeringue concocts inventive Cajun and regional Louisiana dishes using local ingredients like Andouille sausage and Creole tomatoes. There are kid-friendly items on the menu too, such as omelets, oatmeal pancakes and house-made granola.

For an old-world French breakfast or lunch, head to Croissant D’Or. This intimate, Parisian-style patisserie tucked between Royal and Chartres on Ursulines Street will satisfy the whole family with its array of cakes, quiches, fruit tartes, and sweet and savory croissants. Everything is made daily and served fresh from the bakery. The cafe au lait and cappuccino are perfect, and there’s a magical little tiled courtyard.

Of course there is the classic local breakfast/snack option, the 24-hour Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street. Since 1862, this iconic cafe has been serving a simple menu of coffee and beignets. The cafe is open-air, so there’s a lot of room in which to navigate, no reservations necessary. Your visit will probably be accompanied by live music coming from any number of the street entertainers performing nearby. For a sneak-peak at how beignets are made to order, walk all the way back inside the cafe.

Another French Quarter gem, the gleaming and spacious Salon by Sucre at 622 Conti Street, serves a dizzying array of confections complemented by a state-of-the-art coffee bar. Try a macaron or artisanal chocolate. Upstairs, Salon Restaurant by Sucre serves full lunch and brunch menus with freshly baked pastries, desserts and sandwiches.

After a day of sightseeing, cool off with one of La Divina Gelateria‘s inventive gelatos or sorbets, made daily from scratch. La Divina also offers freshly baked pies, cakes, cookies, and cannoli, as well as a full lunch menu of panini, salads and soup.

Entertainment

While some tours are decidedly not for little ears because they focus on vampires and ghosts, French Quartour Kids caters to kids ages 4 to 18 with four 1-1.5 hour-long walking tours, all within a six-block radius ($20, chaperones required). There’s the Spooky Tour, a child-friendly version of the ghost tour. The teen tour (13-18) explores the history of French Creoles and the military and trade past of New Orleans. The Creole Kids tour (7-12) focuses on 19th-century life in New Orleans. The tour for the very little ones (4-7) keeps it simple and fun with a treasure hunt and dress-up.

Don’t feel like committing to a guided tour? The Cabildo and the Presbytere, two historic buildings flanking St. Louis cathedral on Jackson Square, are part of the Louisiana State Museum. Each offer excellent exhibits (admission to either is $6). The Cabildo houses such precious artifacts as a painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider and a rare death mask of Napoleon.

On the other side of the cathedral, the Presbytere houses two permanent exhibits. The all-encompassing “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana” tells the story of the Carnival traditions in Louisiana; the dazzling costumes alone are worth the visit. The “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” exhibit offers interactive displays and artifacts related to that disaster.

To give your feet a break, grab a mule-drawn carriage tour on Decatur Street right outside the Jackson Square gate. It’s first-come first-served, 8 a.m. through midnight daily ($40). The Dixie Bohemia tour is a good alternative to a daytime walking tour and covers the French Quarter and, depending on the time of day, either St. Louis Cemetery #1 or the Marigny. It’s perfect for families with small kids because it’s one hour long and can seat up to eight passengers.

If you want a quick respite from the crowds, Louis Armstrong Park just across Rampart Street in Treme is a 32-acre expanse of green and is excellent for a quiet walk and turtle-spotting. Or head to the Mississippi River boardwalk and watch the boats go by. New Orleans is still a busy port, and you can spot freighters, cruise ships, barges, tugboats, and the uniquely Twainesque Steamboat Natchez. Bring a po-boy or a muffuletta for a bench picnic, and walk the stretch of the riverfront dotted with public art and street performers.

If you have a few hours to spare, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, located on the riverfront, will keep your kids enthralled with its walk-through tunnel, otters, penguins, sea turtles, a stingray touch-pool, and an expansive replica of an offshore oil rig submerged in 400,000 gallons of water.

On the other side of the French Quarter, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, located in the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street, is packed with bug-centric interactive exhibits and features a dreamy butterfly garden.

Shopping

Your kids will probably get a kick out of the Maskarade, 630 St. Ann Street, which features a selection of fabulous creations by local artists as well as high-end handmade Italian masks done in the Venetian style. Or visit Mask Factory, 515 Decatur Street, to get a souvenir to take home.

Also on Decatur, Shops at Jax Brewery is a four-story mall full of gift shops, boutiques, kiosks, and restaurants. Further down is the French Market, perfect for browsing, with its six-block-long stretch of the farmer’s market, flea market and food stalls. Vendors come from all over the world, and whether you are looking for a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce to bring home or spices or a Zydeco CD — you’ll find it there — along with raw oysters, po-boys, gourmet cheese, and pralines. Happy browsing and exploring, family-style!

Edible Homework: Cooking Schools Share the New Orleans Culinary Experience

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by French No Comments
By: Ian McNulty

Visitors who think a clutch of plastic beads, a hurricane glass and an obscene T-shirt are the best they can bring back home from a trip to New Orleans clearly haven’t experienced one of the city’s distinctive cooking schools.

Anne Gormly has, and after a lunchtime class at the New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis St., 504-525-2665), the Georgia College and State University vice president was able to whip up a menu of Cajun dishes for a charity event when she returned home.

“We couldn’t find crawfish back home, but everything came out great anyway,” she says. “Everyone is still talking about that meal here.”

The Crescent City’s rich culinary culture is an essential part of the travel experience for many New Orleans visitors, and cooking schools in the French Quarter and elsewhere offer a unique way to tap in to that culture. If going to school isn’t quite your idea of a vacation activity, don’t be put off. These programs offer “students” a fun, interactive curriculum covering a few recipes in about the time it takes to watch a movie. The best part: participants get to dine on the multi-course meal they have just learned how to prepare.

Frank Leo, general manager of the New Orleans School of Cooking, says guests appreciate the value of a cooking class, which at his operation includes instruction, take-home recipes and a three- or four-course meal for $20 to $25. The school has been around for 25 years and holds three-hour or two-hour classes daily in a renovated 1830’s -era molasses warehouse, as well as hosting private classes for groups of 25 or more.

Returning visitors sometimes book a reservation months in advance, Leo says, while a rain squall or an especially hot day in the French Quarter will generate more spur- of-the-moment visitors looking for an interesting indoor activity.

Cooking Around Town

The continuing culinary culture of New Orleans relies as much on the skill and creativity of its chefs and food entrepreneurs as it does on the canon of Creole cookery, and those chefs and promoters are hardly hemmed in by tradition. In fact, a growing cadre of cooking schools and gourmet experiences are flourishing in the city post-Katrina and offering visitors and local foodies many delicious opportunities to expand their culinary horizons. Here are a few notable players operating not far from the French Quarter:

In the House on Bayou Road just outside the French Quarter, The New Orleans Cooking Experience (2285 Bayou Road, 504-945-9104)offers half-day classes, series classes and luxury cooking school vacations featuring traditional Creole recipes and menus taught by noted New Orleans chefs like Frank Brigsten and Gerard Maras.

Cookin’ Cajun Cooking School began as a praline stand in Jackson Square before evolving into a large theater-style cooking school and restaurant in the Riverwalk Mall (1 Poydras St., 504-586-8832) offering classes on weekends and by appointment. A view of the Mississippi River as well as the chef instructors is an added bonus here.

Savvy Gourmet hosts its classes, restaurant, catering kitchens and retail store in a trendy space on the Magazine Street corridor uptown (4519 Magazine, 504-895-2665) Local foodies have flocked to the classes and events promoted in Savvy Gourmet’s breezy irreverent style.

Culinaria (1519 Carondelet St., 504-561-8284) offers classes, demonstrations and culinary explorations in food, wine and spirits in a handsome restored mansion one block off St. Charles Avenue.

Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer and columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”

Experience New Orleans Mardi Gras Like a Local

Posted on: January 18th, 2017 by French
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New Orleans Mardi Gras

If you’re a true Mardi Gras fan like us, you started counting down the days until Carnival as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. While Mardi Gras is on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, known as Carnival season, make Mardi Gras one of the best times to experience the Big Easy. Packed with parties, parades, king cakes galore and fun for the entire family, Carnival season lasts more than a month and ramps up on the Thursday before Mardi Gras. Start planning your New Orleans Mardi Gras trip now to make sure you don’t miss a thing this Mardi Gras season.

Book a New Orleans Mardi Gras Hotel

New Orleans Mardi Gras

When it comes to experiencing New Orleans Mardi Gras like a local, it’s all about location. Since the majority of the action is just steps from the parade routes, the ideal New Orleans hotels are located in the French Quarter and Downtown. If you’re looking for historic French Quarter hotels that capture the timeless beauty of New Orleans and are located in the heart of Mardi Gras activities, Place d’Armes HotelPrince Conti Hotel, Hotel St. Marie, and French Market Inn are perfect places to stay. But you’ve got to plan ahead because the best Mardi Gras hotels book up quickly. So, make your New Orleans room reservations today to secure your spot in the middle of it all at a Mardi Gras parade route hotel like the Lafayette Hotel on St. Charles Avenue.

Create a Mardi Gras Parade Plan

New Orleans Mardi Gras

With more than 50 parades on the 2017 Mardi Gras parade schedule, you’ll want to plan ahead. There are many different types of parades, so find out about each krewe and their theme before you make your list.

Must-See New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades

While the “official” Mardi Gras parade season begins on February 11th, there are unofficial Mardi Gras parades that start as early as January 6. So, you won’t have any trouble finding excitement at various locations across New Orleans during Carnival time.

French Quarter Mardi Gras Parades

Download a 2017 Mardi Gras Parade Schedule.

How to Experience Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras
Most people will likely be standing to see the parades, but there is an option for reserved seating. Companies offer grandstand seating on the parade route, some with amenities such as easy access to restrooms, nearby parking, food packages, and more. If you’ve never experienced Mardi Gras before, this could be a great option for you.

Many Mardi Gras goers with children and people who don’t want to or can’t stand for extended periods of time enjoy the comfort and convenience of Mardi Gras grandstand seating. You will have an excellent view of all of the Mardi Gras parades without having to lug around ladders and chairs. All you have to do is bring a “bead bag” for all of your beads and catches.

Grandstand seating is limited, so we recommend booking as soon as you’ve made your travel plans. On NewOrleansParadeTickets.com, choose between their Place St. Charles grandstand (located directly on St. Charles Avenue near Canal Street), and their Lafayette Hotel grandstand (located on the opposite side of St. Charles Avenue between Lee Circle and Poydras Street and adjacent to Lafayette Square). Either location will be great, and if you will be enjoying multiple parades, you might try switching up your location to experience different views.

More Activities to Enjoy During Mardi Gras Season

New Orleans Mardi Gras Food and Drink
Mardi Gras parades and parties are undoubtedly the main event, but remember to check out other fascinating attractions while you’re in the French Quarter. Take a break from catching beads and take the family to see the sights around historic Jackson Square, such as the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. If you want a behind the scenes look at the city’s culture, stop by Basin St. Station and learn more about the different walking tours you can take, including the St. Louis Cemetery #1 Tour—one of the most popular New Orleans cemetery tours. Then, head over to Bourbon Street to visit some of the top New Orleans live music venues.

Tour the city in an open-top, double-decker bus when you hop-on a CitySightseeing Tour Buses. With 18 stops along the route and a new bus arriving every 30 minutes, this is the best way to explore New Orleans. Tickets are $39 for one day of sightseeing. And, for $49, you’ll get three days of unlimited sightseeing and two free guided walking tours of the French Quarter and Garden District. Children between the ages of 3-12, can enjoy any tour for $10.

What to Eat and Drink During Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras Food and Drink
Beignets and Brunch 

Of course, you’ll want to indulge in the world-famous beignets at Cafe Du Monde and enjoy the one-of-a-kind Louisiana cuisine at renowned French Quarter restaurants. These sweet treats are perfect for breakfast, late night cravings, and basically any time of the day.

You’re on vacation, it’s Mardi Gras, and chances are you will be sleeping in. You might miss breakfast, but don’t fret, there are many brunch options to choose from when you’re in New Orleans. Try the Bacon, Brie, and Apricot Crepes or Shrimp and Grits from Cafe Conti (830 Conti Street).

Coffee and Cocktails

If you need coffee to start your day, delight your senses with a searing hot Macchiato or Americano from PJ’s Coffee (501 Decatur Street).

With a selection that features several types of whiskey, cognac, tequila, mezcal, rum, gin, and more, even the most discriminating drinker is bound to find something they will love at The Bombay Club (830 Conti Street).

Po-Boys

You’ll love the Barbeque Fried Oyster PoBoy topped with Bleu Cheese Crumbles and Pickled Onions served with Roasted Potatoes from Vacherie Restaurant (827 Toulouse Street).

Killer Poboys (219 Dauphine Street) pushes the envelope with some of its unique po-boys, and if you love shrimp and breaking from the traditional, you have to try their Seared Gulf Shrimp po-boy that features coriander lime spice, Sriracha aioli, herbs, daikon radish, carrot, and cucumber.

For more ideas on where to find the best po-boys in The Quarter, read New Orleans’ Po-Boy Is A Rich Food Tradition.

King Cake

Widely considered the official dessert of Mardi Gras, this is an absolute must-try if you’re in town for Carnival.

Choose from eight different types of king cake at ByWater Bakery (3624 Dauphine Street), including pecan praline, cream cheese, strawberry, custard, and cinnamon apple stuffed cakes.

Available in plain, traditional, filled with apple, raspberry, cream cheese, strawberry, or swirl, Wink’s Bakery & Bistro (1218 Decatur Street) serves its king cakes year-round.

Well-known for its Italian ice cream, gelato, and espresso, La Divina Gelateria (621 St. Peter Street) offers mini Nutella-filled king cakes.

Finished with a shimmering glaze and sweetened with raw cane sugar, king cakes from Sucré (622 Conti Street) are a bit of a visual departure from the traditional, but tasty nonetheless.

If you ask New Orleans natives and long-time transplants, a large percentage of them will count Manny Randazzo King Cakes (3515 N. Hullen Street, Metairie) on the top of their list, but you’ll have to trek outside of the French Quarter to get your hands on these cakes and there might be a bit of a wait.

The Dark Side of the Quarter

Posted on: October 20th, 2016 by French No Comments
By: Jyl Benson

Throughout the course of its history the French Quarter has all but sounded a siren’s call to extreme personalities. Depending upon what drives them they may lob off the heads of chickens and invoke mysterious spirits while chanting and dancing around a burning fire, as did Marie Laveau, or brutally mutilate and torture those in their non-paid “employ,” as did Delphine LaLaurie.

Are the reports of the French Quarter’s “hauntings” merely attempts to re-invigorate these fascinating characters and make life more interesting, or were these personalities and their acts so morbidly compelling as to have somehow infused the present with vestiges of themselves?

Add physical drama in the form of elaborate above ground tombs, secret passageways and courtyards, and imposing aged mansions and you have the French Quarter’s Dark Side.

Haunted French Quarter
Photo provided by Reading Tom

Haunted French Quarter: LaLaurie Mansion

The story of Delphine LaLaurie and the heinous manner in which she tortured her slaves is probably the most widely known of the French Quarter’s macabre tales.

Madame LaLaurie, a respected socialite, hosted many a grand event at her opulent home 1140 Royal Street. Her lavish lifestyle was made possible by a troupe of slaves. Mistreatment of slaves was illegal and society began to shun LaLaurie after a neighbor witnessed the elegant woman chasing a young servant girl with a whip. The neighbor saw the girl leap to her death from the roof in her efforts to avoid LaLaurie. The neighbor summoned the authorities and that was the end of LaLaurie’s social career. She was shunned as a pariah.

Upon her arrest authorities removed the slaves from LaLaurie’s home. A short time later a fire broke out in the kitchen. In their efforts to thwart the fire neighbors and firefighters stumbled upon a grisly attic torture chamber. Nude slaves, most of them dead, were discovered. Some were chained to the walls, some were strapped to makeshift operating tables, and others were confined in cages made for animals. They had undergone various elaborate forms of torture and mutilation.

When news of the findings was published in the local newspaper an angry mob drove LaLaurie and her family from the city.

Reports that the house is haunted have been rampant ever since. Many have claimed to hear screams of agony coming from the empty house. Others have seen apparitions of slaves walking about the property. There are reports of having been attacked by an angry slave in chains.

Though the house has changed hands numerous times and has served as not only a private home but also a musical conservatory, a school for young women and a saloon, among other things, many of the building’s owners have experienced some form of misery or another associated with the house.

Clearly, New Orleans women aren’t necessarily ladies. The activities of Marie Laveau, another of the French Quarter’s well-known dark characters, underscores this.

French Quarter Cemeteries

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Marie Laveau

Both her life and her burial place have long evoked interest in Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ undisputed Queen of Voodoo, who is buried in St. Louis No. 1 cemetery, the city’s oldest burial ground.

The water-logged, swampy soil upon which New Orleans is built makes digging more than a couple of feet impractical, especially if the reason for digging is burial of anything more substantial than a hamster. This gruesome revelation was made soon after the city’s first cemetery was established on St. Peter Street just inside the current French Quarter. Graves started popping to the surface with a grim “Hello” and bodies floated down the street when it flooded – which was often.

The solution was to avoid burial altogether and house the dead in aboveground tombs. In the mid-1800s the site of hundreds of little marble, granite or stone “houses” led to the coining of the term “cities of the dead.”

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was established by the Spanish in 1789. In addition to Laveaux, many of the city’s first occupants and more notorious personalities are entombed here including Etienne de Bore, father of the sugar industry and Homer Plessy, of the Plessy v. Ferguson 1892 Supreme Court decision establishing separate but equal Jim Crow laws for African-Americans and whites in the South.

The tombs here are of whitewashed stucco-covered red brick and shine with their own eerie brilliance in the gloom of evening as well as the midday sun.

Marie Laveau Tomb French Quarter

It’s easy to find Laveau’s tomb. Many small red Xs cover its surface, signs that visitors have made a wish in hope of obtaining Laveau’s assistance. The faithful also leave behind offerings of coins, pieces of herb, beans, bones, bags, flowers and other tokens in hopes of invoking her good will.

Some believe Laveau materializes annually to lead the faithful in worship on St. John’s Eve. The ghost is always recognizable, they say, thanks to the knotted handkerchief she wears around her neck. A man once claimed to have been slapped by her while walking past her tomb. It is also said that Laveau’s former home at 1020 St. Ann Street is also among the French Quarter’s many haunted locales. Believers claim to have seen her spirit, accompanied by those of her followers, engaged in Voodoo ceremonies there.

Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Gardens of the French Quarter – St. Anthony’s Garden

Posted on: December 9th, 2015 by French
By: Sally Reeves
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Detail, Ignace Broutin, Plan de la Nouvelle Orléans telle qu’elle estoit le premier janvier mil sept cent trente-deux. French Centre des archives d’outre-mer 04DFC 90A. Broutin’s plan of the garden and the Capuchin complex in 1732. Several drainage features seem to be included. The potager was planted in rows. A decorative feature was at the center. The larger building in the courtyard was the kitchen and refectory. It had a door leading to the garden. One of the other structures was a poultry house. The small brick-between-posts building nearest to the church in the garden was the residence of the Capuchin superior. In later years, Pere Antoine would reside in a small house close to this location.

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Bourgerol’s 1838 plan of cathedral properties is the first known official plan showing Place St. Antoine in the center. Joseph Cuvillier, N. P., 10/9/1838, New Orleans Notarial Archives.

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St. Anthony’s Garden, August 30, 2005. Photograph by Judy Andry. Courtesy Judy Andry.

Secluded behind the stately towers of St. Louis Cathedral and enclosed by its sturdy old fence, St. Anthony’s Garden is a welcome oasis of calm amid the noisy surroundings of the French Quarter. It is named for St. Anthony but dedicated to the memory of his namesake, longtime Spanish curate Antonio de Sedella, also known as “Pere Antoine.” The melodic notes of the drab grey mockingbird and the clarion whistle of the red crested cardinal offer few interruptions to the garden’s monastic spirit. High above, the tower of the old cathedral shields the garden from the rays of the rising sun, the delicate clangs of its half-hour bells marking time faithfully. Alongside, a pair of strangely-allied alleys hems in the sidelines, one quite agreeably named for the saintly curate, and the other more curiously named for a band of pirates.

Early each morning, artists of the community arrive at the garden’s western exposure, easels and paints in hand. For nearly a century, they have had the privilege of the sturdy bars of the cast iron fence to display their portraits and landscapes in oils and watercolors for passers-by and shoppers. The scene is timeless, reminiscent of Old New Orleans.

Since the founding of the city, there has been a garden here in various forms. The open space is as old as Jackson Square, laid out by the French engineer de Pauger in 1721 as a permanent public plaza for the city. Like the square, the Cathedral garden, used for nearly a century as a potager or formal space for growing vegetables divided by walkways, has evolved over the years. It was initially situated directly behind an earlier version of the Presbytere adjacent to the Church of St. Louis. Formal but practical in purpose, it served the monks both as a place to supply the dinner table and for meditation and the recitation of prayers. After the city’s two disastrous fires of the later Eighteenth Century, the wardens of the cathedral partly filled the garden with rental property to cover the expenses of the parish.

After the death of the revered Pere Antoine in 1829, New Orleans officials moved to convert the old Capuchin space into a public garden for the city. At that time, the bed of Orleans Street entered the square from Royal, extending in to the rear of the old colonial cathedral.

During the 1830s the city closed the Orleans street bed in the square, purchased some land from the wardens, and shifted the garden to the center. The city then built a pavilion and green house, added a fountain, planted flower beds, and leased the space to a vendor. For thirty years in the ante bellum period, Place Antoine was a resort for lovers, the elderly, and families with children. From spring to fall, they repaired to the garden to promenade along its walkways while enjoying an ice cream or a lemonade under a canopy of flowering magnolias.

In 1849, the Wardens of St. Louis Cathedral commenced the building project that replaced the old Spanish cathedral with the present building and fence. Finished in the early 1850s, the cathedral now had a deeper footprint. This made the garden smaller but did not put it out of business. By 1860, it was operating as “Bellanger’s Garden,” open in the spring and summer.

The Civil War put an end to the economic viability of a public garden in the French Quarter. Abandoned, the space grew up into a jungle. Owned partly by the church and partly by the city, its legal status became cloudy. During the 1880s, the first known photographic evidence of St. Anthony’s Garden appeared as a print in a local guidebook. The garden was intact! A fountain splashed in the center. Banana trees and shrubbery flourished. A vine-covered arbor led somewhere, disappearing into the distance. Sinuous walkways led from the gate at Royal to the cathedral. They went perfectly with architect de Pouilly’s signature, scroll-shaped consoles and sightless arches on the rear of the cathedral. Fashionable ladies and gentlemen strolled on the Royal St. sidewalks. Alas, not a soul was inside the fencing. Was the garden public or private?

The first known positive evidence that the church owned the garden dates to the 1890s, when the cathedral budget provided for a gardener. For over a century after that, it has continued in use as a private green space, a visual oasis locked behind its fence. Even so, French Quarter residents and visitors have taken ownership of its presence, feeling entitled to the view. Just looking at the garden brings peace in a hurried atmosphere.

Hurricane Katrina did her best to destroy the tranquil space that had brought so much solace to residents and visitors. But the removal of trees by hurricane forces opened the space to redevelopment. With a newly-opened, sunny exposure, the garden could spring to life in a brand new fashion. Armed with a planning grant from the J. Paul Getty Foundation, the Archdiocesan Catholic Cultural Heritage Center brought in historians, archaeologists, landscape architects and administrators to map out a future for the garden. Funds must still be raised to implement a masterful plan by Parisian landscape architect Louis Benech and associates. Success will bring a certain future as the garden springs to life again in the 21st century.

Sally Reeves is a noted writer and historian who co-authored the award winning series New Orleans Architecture. She also has written Jacques-Felix Lelièvre’s New Louisiana Gardener and Grand Isle of the Gulf – An Early History. She is currently working on a social and architectural history of New Orleans public markets and on a book on the contributions of free persons of color to vernacular architecture in antebellum New Orleans.Image credits: Donald T. Wright/Joseph Merrick Jones Steamboat Collection, Manuscripts Department, Tulane University Libraries Courtesy Tulane University Special Collections.

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