Every visitor with a soul develops a soft spot for New Orleans.
The charm, history, music, food and mischief that define The Big Easy make it impossible not to be captivated.
As we always do, we began the day at Cafe Du Monde.
Megadoses of sugar, grease and caffeine — what more could we need to fuel the day’s explorations?
Beignets devoured and coffee swilled, we proceeded to take on the town.
Admittedly, some of the French Quarter’s appeal isn’t as charming in the cold hard light of day as it is by the soft neon glow of night.
We figured a daylight tour might look better from the splendor of a mule-drawn carriage.
Nearby Jackson Square hosts more mules than you could shack a stick at — lined up and ready to haul ass around the Quarter.
A mule is only a half-ass, but we wanted to use our feet for carousing later that night.
Our teamster/guide, Jan, proved to be a veritable treasure trove of artful narratives about the history and architecture of The Quarter.
The accuracy of these yarns ran the gamut from factual to fanciful, but that’s part of the fun. Jan pointed out many of the best known landmarks, offered up historical information and threw in a sprinkling of ghost stories for good measure.
Whether they be legend or genuine is left to the beholder to ascertain.
New Orleans is well-known for its cemeteries, with crypts built above ground instead of the usual subterranean graves.
The reason for this was commonly thought to have been that the city sits below sea level, making grave digging impractical. The caskets might even float up to the surface.
But it is likely that there is a less disgusting explanation.
Traditions of the French and Spanish that settled this area, and the ability to show off wealth and station in life by building ornate tombs may have had more influence on the development of these glorious graveyards than the water table.
Families built fabulous mausoleums used for generations.
For those without the means to afford an elaborate entombment, benevolent societies were formed, usually exclusive to people in a certain occupation or ethnic group, to pool resources for building a respectable resting place.
Several of these burial grounds are just outside The French Quarter, the closest, oldest and perhaps best known being St. Louis Cemetery #1.
Jan and our mule dropped us off and we took a stroll through history. Dating back to 1789, the cemetery holds several of New Orleans’ earliest dignitaries, both famous and infamous.
The most storied resident, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, attracts hundreds of pilgrims to her tomb everyday.
The believers draw three Xs on the tomb or leave offerings, always in threes, of candles, flowers, dolls, coins, even cigarettes and cigars, in hopes of having the famous priestess grant their petitions.
On occasion, the sacrifices will include chickens. The more urban of the worshipers have been known to offer up a bucket of KFC, perhaps believing chicken comes like that in its natural form, to fulfill the ritual’s requirements.
Having had enough of the spooky side of The Crescent City, it was time to see some of the splendor of the old South in The Garden District.
The best way to do this, from our point of view, is to jump on the St. Charles street car on Canal Street at the edge of The French Quarter.
The clattering old trolleys run right down the middle of St. Charles Avenue through the heart of the district.
Stately manors line the boulevard on either side, and the gardens are, well, it is called The Garden District for a reason.
The trees along St. Charles were draped with thousands of Mardi Gras beads from the parades of Carnival.
No, we were not crazy enough to venture into New Orleans during Mardi Gras, these baubles were the remnants from several weeks prior to our visit.
A good place to get off the trolley and turn around to head back into The Quarter is the Audubon Zoo and Gardens, named in honor of the famed naturalist and painter John Audubon who lived in New Orleans in the early 1800s.
With a bit of time before the nightlife kicked in, we took a little stroll through the gardens, then thought what the hey, and gave the zoo a quick once over too.
It’s not huge, but is well appointed and gives an interesting nod to the local flora and fauna, including a couple of white alligators that should not be missed.
With darkness approaching, we headed back to The French Quarter.
Wandering about The Quarter is a study in street theater, one of our favorite diversions. The show consists of all types of performers practicing their acts for the audience of passersby with varying degrees of proficiency.
The performances ranged from unique and fantastic diversions to talentless, don’t-look-just-keep-walking tragedies. Most were the former variety, fortunately, and largely musicians drawn to the birthplace of jazz.
Though it’s been a long time since the labor pains, blue notes still fill the air of The Big Easy, both on the streets and the stages.
Drifting out of the dens and dives along Bourbon Street, jazz is just one of the many musical styles one might hear. Rock, rhythm & blues, soul and zydeco are just as likely to tickle the eardrums of The Quarter’s revelers.
The most famous of these music venues is Preservation Hall. Just off Bourbon Street, folks from all over the world line up and wait for hours just to have a chance to hear some of the old masters rip a riff or two.
Although the building dates all the way back to 1750, it wasn’t used for musical performances until 1961 when Allan and Sandra Jaffe opened it as a place for aging musicians to play and preserve the art form. Hence, the name.
The hall is a sanctuary to honor and protect New Orleans jazz.
You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting music fans and revelers in the French Quarter. They can be seen roaming the streets after dark, complete with giant goofy glasses of vile, brightly colored potent potables.
There’s something about New Orleans that makes otherwise reasonably sane people want to drink mass quantities of concoctions that they would never touch back home.
What follows degenerates into displays of flesh, or more often, requests for any passing female to display some. Once Veronica had been so propositioned, we decided it might be time to mosey on.
Besides, we thought we should make it to bed before the ghosts came out to play.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com