Enter the world of beignets
We waited, no preconceived notions, in a mile long queue outside the doors of the 1800s coffee house, Café du Monde, on a warm midwinter day. An hour later, as we wandered into the cozy semi-outdoor setting, towards our table, we inhaled an onrush of aromas – creamy café du lait and sugar-dusted yeasty breads, undoubtedly. Simply put, the iconic, deep fried beignets made of choux pastry, and the hot chocolates were bold in flavour and phenomenal, a melt-in-the-mouth ordeal.
Also worth the effort is Royal Street’s Café Beignet, we vouch for their Sunday brunch laden with sweet treat delicatessens.
Amble among the festivities and food in the French Quarter
This grandiosely festooned area was right up our alley. From chugging hurricanes in the reputed Pat O’Briens to appeasing our stomachs with overfilled Po’Boys to crooning classics at jazz & blues bars, the experience was indeed a high-spirited one!
Colourful beady necklaces flying off rooftops, a musical interlude or two on Bourbon St, bubble-blowers and street performers taking center stage; Mardi Gras or not, the Louisianans showed us a ball of a time.
Be it the insanely hot sauces or deliciously sweet pralines at the Magnolia Sugar & Spice Kitchen & Hot Sauce Bar or little shacks like Willie’s selling frozen daiquiris, Gumbo Shop with their chili gumbos or even just the street hawkers serving up Cajun fares, the epiphany that was NOLA took us to food heaven that night.
Some of the residences were already preparing for the carnival, an annual celebration before the beginning of Lent.
The next day, as we entered the premises of Jackson Square, where music met the soul, and pieces of local art outshined each other, there was an energetic thrum in the air that entranced us. Come dusk, the vibrancy transformed into a tranquility.
Our gallivanting wasn’t complete without laying eyes on the oldest cathedral in the country, the Basilica of St. Louis dedicated to the King of France.
Indulge in the architecture of the city
Vieux Carré, the soul and the oldest part of the city is a fascinating union of the culture and unconventional.
The French Quarter, founded by colonizer Jean-Baptiste de Bienville is dominated by Creole (Caribbean + French)-style buildings: brick exteriors, one and a half storeys tall and wood/cast iron patios. While walking down the avenues, we noticed that, interspersed among them were also constructions of French- (vibrant double galleries) and colonial Spanish architecture (Presbytère).
The state museum, the Cabildo, erected in Jackson Square rose to a graceful parabola of Spanish architecture in the pallid light that day. In the establishment, there are artifacts of historic importance, one of them being Napoleon’s death mask. The building stands as a picture of elegance among the splendorous colors of its surroundings.
The 1850 House, an antebellum rowhouse, built Parisian-style for the Baroness of Pontalba, was both simple and regal. We were told deeply enmeshing stories about the family with the wind blowing magic into the setting, every now and then. Incidentally, this is one of the most ancient apartments in the country.
Visit the community-style cemeteries
Situated in the midst of the well-preserved Garden District, we stumbled upon the Lafayette Cemetery, the oldest of the seven municipal cemeteries in New Orleans, with burials of over 7000 people in a block originating from more than 25 different countries.
A melodramatic lull filled the air. We trudged past the ornately decked individual tombs of judges, musicians, brigadiers, and stopped to read the engraved plaques on the unique family stones that were blanched in the sunlight. Lafayette is also noted for its society tombs (for firemen, destitute boys, orphans), tales of their diseases and deaths overwhelming us a bit. It almost seemed like, there, “Life is so beautiful that death had fallen in love with it…”
The cemetery itself was intricately planned out, a web of paths giving the impression of a garden, with mulberry trees lining the avenues and shading the neatly arranged graves.
Get spooked with a haunted tour
The stories from the Haunted History tour (we picked the Ghost & Legends) were indeed eerie! Googly eyes and nervous peals of laughter ensued after we discovered the ghastly acts that were allegedly performed in the heart of the French Quarter. With Finnigan Easy’s traditional hurricanes in hand, trotting from rumoured hauntings in mansions to street corners to hotels to police stations, the trail ended on a fun note – more drinks at the famous Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
Learn about Louisiana’s involvement in World War II
In what is known as the “war that changed the world”, it was this American state that spearheaded one of the largest military operations. It put into perspective, for us, the colossal scale of it all. We walked down memory lane, recalling lessons from history and viewed a diverse set of exhibits: Road to Tokyo, Road to Berlin, Invasion of Normandy.
As this great city fell asleep that night, we watched it shrink in the distance from our seats in the clouds, and thought, ‘NOLA, you were indescribably charming’.