Destination of the Week: New Orleans
'There's certain things in life that I love. One is architecture. And music, culture, food, people. New Orleans has all of that.' - Lenny Kravitz.
New Orleans is located in South Eastern Louisiana, straddling the Mississippi River. Established by French Colonists, the city is named after the Duke of Orleans, who reigned as Regent for Louis XV from 1715 to 1723. It is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana.
It is well known for its distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture, as well as its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage. New Orleans is also famous for its cuisine, music (particularly as the birthplace of jazz producing artists such as Louis Armstrong) and its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably Mardi Gras, dating to French colonial times.
The New Orleans area is home to numerous celebrations, the most popular of which is Carnival, often referred to as Mardi Gras. Carnival officially begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as the "Twelfth Night". Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday"), the final and grandest day of festivities, is the last Tuesday before the Catholic liturgical season of Lent, which commences on Ash Wednesday.
New Orleans has many major attractions, from the world-renowned French Quarter and Bourbon Street's notorious nightlife to St. Charles Avenue (home of Tulane and Loyola Universities, the historic Pontchartrain Hotel, and many 19th-century mansions), to Magazine Street, with its many boutique stores and antique shops.
New Orleans has always been a significant center for music, showcasing its intertwined European, Latin American, and African cultures. New Orleans' unique musical heritage was born in its pre-American and early American days from a unique blending of European instruments with African rhythms. As the only North American city to allow slaves to gather in public and play their native music (largely in Congo Square, now located within Louis Armstrong Park), New Orleans gave birth to an indigenous music: jazz. Soon, brass bands formed, gaining popular attraction that still holds today. The city's music was later significantly influenced by Acadiana, home of Cajun and Zydeco music, and Delta blues.
The largest of the city's many music festivals is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Commonly referred to simply as "Jazz Fest", it is one of the largest music festivals in the nation, featuring crowds of people from all over the world, coming to experience music, food, arts and crafts. Despite the name, it features not only jazz but a large variety of music, including both native Louisiana music and international artists. Along with Jazz Fest, New Orleans' Voodoo Experience ("Voodoo Fest") and the Essence Music Festival are both large music festivals featuring local and international artists. Other major festivals held in the city include Southern Decadence, the French Quarter Festival, and the Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival.
New Orleans is world-famous for its food. The indigenous cuisine is distinctive and influential. From centuries of amalgamation of the local Creole, haute Creole, and New Orleans French cuisines, New Orleans food has developed. Local ingredients, French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, Chinese, and hints of Cuban tradition combine to produce a truly unique and easily recognizable Louisiana flavour.
New Orleans is known for specialties like beignets (locally pronounced like "ben-yays") - square-shaped fried pastries usually served with café au lait made with a blend of coffee and chicory, Italian Muffuletta sandwiches, Gulf oysters on the half-shell, fried oysters, boiled crawfish, Creole dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and the 'Monday' favourite of red beans and rice. (Fun Fact: Louis Armstrong often signed his letters, "Red beans and ricely yours".)
So next time you're on Highway 61, why not pop in for some southern hospitality or throw all caution to the wind and make that spontaneous trip? Mardi Gras is next Tuesday after all ;)