Driving & Walking America's Most Interesting City!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
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Trip End May 16, 2008


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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Friday, February 8, 2008

Mardi Gras is over and done for another year. I'm still in New Orleans. The partiers have gone home.   What to do?
 
Time to see the city!
 
Two days of touring New Orleans. One day by car...one day of walking.
 
Day One!
 
I had scoped out the places I wanted to see and mapped it out. I figured I would try and do it in a logical fashion. Nah...screw that. Get in the car and go. I put my GPS in "Airplane" mode. That way I have a general idea what direction I'm heading and can see the major thoroughfares but not the details. I was tired from my night at Mardi Gras so it was a late start.
 
My first, and only, stop was   the Longue Vue House & Gardens. This 22,000 square foot home on 8 acres of prime New Orleans real estate was built in the late 1930's, early 1940's by Mr & Mrs Edgar B. Stern. Mr Stern was a cotton broker with numerous business interests and Mrs Stern was a heir to the Sears, Roebuck fortune. They were already living in a large home on the property when they wanted a home where they could better enjoy the gardens on the property. The existing house was moved a few blocks down the street, where they resided while the new house was built. A whole blog could be written on this house. It was incredible. Each room constructed from materials gathered from around the world.  The gardens surrounding the house must be glorious   when everything is in bloom. The Stern's were well known philanthropists. Mr. Stern passed away first and Mrs Stern had made arrangements in her will that when she passed away that the house would become a museum and left an endowment to ensure that would happen. She had already removed all the kitchen appliances prior to her death in preparation for the changeover to a museum. She had accumulated an extensive art collection through her lifetime. Check out the website for all the details on the property.
 
  I had a private tour of the house and was told that during Katrina there was extensive property damage. This is one of the few houses in New Orleans with a full basement due to it being located on some of the highest ground. The basement was filled with water but the remaining damage was due to the wind. Numerous volunteers have come and helped restore the property to its original splendour.
 
Back in the truck I headed to Lakeshore Drive. The northernmost boundary of New Orleans. The Lakeview neighbourhood borders Lake Pontchartrain. This neighbourhood is/was considered moderately affluent. Most of this area was built on swamp that was drained in 1909. After leaving Longue Vue I had to find a major thoroughfare to head north. I pass through Metairie Cemetery during this search. The crypts are all above ground. I would have loved to have stopped and walked amid them. There was something beautiful about this place. Some people find cemeteries morbid. I find there's something inspirational walking amid those who have lived and died. Each crypt or tomb has a story to tell of the individual buried there.
 
On my drive along West End Boulevard heading north I could see the damage that Katrina had left behind. I hadn't really noticed much damage the other days I had been in town. I associated a lot of what I saw to this being an old city, built along a body of water, and mostly, due to being built on swampland. Each city I've visited during my travels has certain characteristics. I have no before picture to be able to have an after view of this city. What I saw during this drive was numerous empty houses...still boarded up after Katrina 2 ½ years ago. Other houses were in the midst of being renovated. You could tell that others had been renovated. This area was one of the hardest hit, and it still shows.
 
I get to Lakeshore Drive. Houses do not border the lake. It's all recreational...parkland. On the right is a levy, protecting the houses to the south. Gates are built at the roadways to cut off the flow of any high water. I turn down one street and come into a private enclave. A few dozen high end houses. One way in...one way out. These houses have, almost, all been renovated. A few are still in the process. It seems that it's easier to start over when you started with more. I continue my drive along the lakeshore and then turn south on Elysian Field Avenue. I pass the University of New Orleans.
 
Then I notice how a lot of people are living. I follow Elysian Field Avenue all the way down to the Mississippi. This street borders Gentilly and the Ninth Ward...areas that were the hardest hit by Katrina. Homes have been destroyed and the people who do not have the means to rebuild are living in trailers on their property. It seems like every house has a trailer, not much larger than the one I'm traveling in, somewhere in their yard. They have modified the trailer plumbing and have it attached to the city sewer system. Sewer stacks that are normally hidden within the walls of your house is exposed on the outside of the trailers. The houses still stand. You can see into some of them...walls falling apart...or the homeowners, slowly trying to rebuild.
 
I arrive at the southernmost point of this street and crawl west through the French Quarter streets. I've decided to drive along St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District. It's rush hour. One of the tram lines runs down the center of St. Charles. Many grand homes built in the late 19th century still adorn this thoroughfare. The going is slow, but it allows me the time to admire the splendiferous abodes. The sun is setting and I am blinded by its brilliance. I arrive at the end of St. Charles and turn north to follow the levy protecting the neighbourhoods of Carrollton, Southport and Jefferson.
 
I have arrived back at the trailer having circled part of the city. My general impressions? I will never complain about the streets I drive down ever again. We hear how bad the streets are in the cities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They don't compare to those here. New Orleans is sinking...literally. So imagine trying to build a road on top of land that is in constant flux and keeping it in satisfactory condition. They believe that about 2/3 of the population of New Orleans has returned. I can imagine the difficulties the city administrators have in trying to decide where to spend the taxes it collects. The need is so great but the means are lean. It will be a long road back to a semblance of what the city must have been like.
 
Signs of construction are everywhere. Not the signs of a city of growth, like Calgary, but a city trying to return to its former glory. Not unlike a city trying to rebuild after a war.
 
Day 2!
 
A day of walking the streets. Sounds like what a prostitute does.
 
Wow! I actually felt pretty good getting up this morning and was able to get an early start on my touring...that is, if you call 10 am early. So this was the plan. Get downtown...uptown...the center of town...whatever they want to call it, park the truck, then get on the tram, head up St. Charles, and get off every so often and walk around the various neighbourhoods. What actually happened...drive down St. Charles Avenue...stop & park, walk around Tulane University (Mardi Gras Tree Decorations), walk around Audubon Park (no pictures posted), see the Tulane President's House (the big white Mansion), walk a few blocks on St. Charles, get back in the truck and drive....stop & park, check out the houses in the 5000 block...the "Wedding Cake" house, the Library, the Rosenberg House, the Coe House, get back in the truck and drive...stop & park, check out the houses in the 3000 block...etc.
 
These houses were all amazing. I could have spent the day here and walk up and down the side streets in all directions. The only problem? The sidewalks are dangerous. They're all extremely cracked, lopsided, missing chunks...whatever other adjective that screams...NEEDS FIXING! It's especially dangerous for me. I'm no klutz. I just spend my time looking everywhere but where I'm going. This is particularly so when the architecture of the housing is so remarkable. Fortunately, no scraped knees.
 
I finally make it downtown, park in a riverside parking lot (next to a truck with Quebec plates), and start walking. I head north down the nearest street until I get to Royal Street. Royal Street is the French Quarter's more refined and elegant epicentre of local artistic culture. It's an eye-pleasing mix of classy antique shops and boutiques, fine jewellery stores, colourful art galleries and world-class hotels and restaurants. I meander east on Royal in the direction  of Faubourg Marigny. I zigzag in and out of various shops along the way. I come across various street musicians. I couldn't have asked for better weather. The sun is shining bright and the temperature is in the high teens. Perfect!
 
I arrive at the end of Royal in the French Quarter and cross rue Esplanade into Faubourg Marigny. Faubourg Marigny developed as New Orleans' second suburb in 1806 and was the first historic zoning since the Vieux Carré. Beautiful Creole and Classic Revival cottages that stood abandoned after residents left for the suburbs in the 1950s have been restored and painted in rich golds, brick reds and moss greens. You immediately notice that the architecture has changed considerably from the French Quarter. Bright colours   explode in the early afternoon sun. Either this area was affected less by Katrina and/or the neighbourhood was quickly restored to its previous splendour. The majority of the houses look like they have a fresh coat of paint. The sidewalks are a different story. They could use a new coat of concrete.
 
Now that Mardi Gras is over you notice that there are less people around. Throughout le Vieux Carré there are still some tourists and conventioneers, but not the masses from a few days ago. There are even less people evident in the outlying areas.
 
I head back towards the French Quarter and La Place du Marché Français...the French Market. Beneath a newly constructed roof, numerous merchants have set up their wares in the Flea Market section. There I wander through the various stalls of Mardi Gras masks, beads, t-shirts, leather goods, music and crocodile teeth. I'm looking for a souvenir...a t-shirt, but nothing strikes my fancy. I do find a tie to add to my collection. I collect, and wear, ties with unconventional designs. I started off with a Mickey Mouse tie, then added my Mustang, Flight related, and Space ties, and now I have my New Orleans one with musical notes and a saxophone.
 
I walk down various cross streets, then towards the river and the tram tracks, and onward to Cathédrale St. Louis. Back at the French Market, but further to the west where the Mall is partially enclosed, I stop for something to drink at the Gazebo. There's a band playing some Jazz on an outside patio. I take my drink, some kind of chocolate/mocha/liquor frozen drink and search for an empty bench by the fountain, in the sun, and where I can view the musicians. As I'm drinking my frozen drink I'm approached by a few people who want to know what it is. I've never had a drink attract so much attention. Chocolate syrup lines the rim and sides of the cup. I'm assuming that's what's grabbing peoples attention. Sitting across from me on another bench are Wanda & Maria. Wanda was one of the people who had asked what my drink was.
 
I sip my drink for a while, enjoying the heat of the sun, and listening to the music. Then I grab my camera to check out the pictures I had taken. Walking down Royal Street I had noticed that a lot of the shops were selling black and white photos.
I've decided that maybe I'll take some pictures in black & white. I'm about to change the settings on the camera when Wanda asks if I'm taking her picture. I say no, but grab my drink and go sit next to her as the music is quite loud and I'm having some difficulty hearing her. She doesn't want her picture taken because she's been warned to behave herself at Mardi Gras. She has a reputation to uphold.
 
Wanda is visiting from New Jersey. Maria lives in New Orleans. They met online on some internet friends search site. They emailed back and forth then Wanda came down to visit Maria. They've been friends since. This is Wanda's second visit to New Orleans. She's a manager in a bank in New Jersey. Maria works for a local newspaper in the advertising department. She has the week off. We chat for a while about New York, jobs, and Mardi Gras. Then I ask Maria about Katrina. She was lucky. Her house is on the south shore and only suffered wind damage. Her mother lived in the 9th ward. The hardest hit area. There was 20 feet of water in her neighbourhood. The only part of the house that stayed outside of the water was the roof. She lost everything. Maria is philosophical about the loss. People lose everything all the time in fires.
 
I ask Maria how things are different now. There are numerous things, but the one thing she notices the most is the smell. That was something I had also noticed, but assumed it was because of all the swamps and water nearby. Most other coastal towns I've been through seem to have a similar smell. I had really noticed it in the French Quarter. As I had been through it mostly during Mardi Gras, I thought it was because of all the alcohol flowing down the streets. She also mentions that a lot of her friends didn't come back. They lost everything they had and cannot afford to return from wherever they were relocated. So she misses her social network. We chat a while longer about New Orleans. Maria loves the city because of its laid back attitude. There are no stresses to her job. The music is awesome. It doesn't matter whether you are black, white, or yellow, everybody gets along well.
 
Maria and Wanda are black (if that's the correct way of saying it). I have no difficulty talking to them, but driving around with so many African-Americans around, I'm a little self-conscious. It's a comfort thing. I grew up in an all white, mostly French speaking, mostly Catholic, community. I think the first time I really encountered individuals who were not Caucasian was in High School when we had a few French speaking Haitians. For some reason I'm not self-conscious around Asians, Native Americans, or other nationalities. So why African-Americans? The mind works in mysterious ways.
 
We say our goodbyes and I continue my walking around the French Quarter, taking pictures in black and white for a while. Walking around in circles as I pass the same places I passed earlier in the day..towards Canal Street and back to where I started. It's now 5 O'clock or so. Rush hour. Not the time to leave. I'm walking up/down Bourbon Street when I hear some blues. The Funky Pirate Blues Bar has a guy playing. The place is empty. I go in anyway, grab a beer (I get only 1 this time) and listen to some music for a while. Leave, walk around a bit more, then head back to the trailer.
 
There you have it. My two days of driving and walking around New Orleans. There is no way I could take pictures of every outstanding location that I saw. What's posted is just a small sampling of what I've taken. There are many more unusual and remarkable sites that I saw in passing and could not take pictures.
 
I wouldn't know what to say about how the city is doing in its rebuilding efforts. Personally I believe it will be a long time before it returns to how it was, if ever. If you think about the infrastructure replacement needs of a city from normal wear and tear, imagine the needs when 80% of the structures in the area sustain heavy damage in a very short period. Add in that the terrain that the city is built on is already questionable as a solid base to start on and this all adds up to billions of dollars, manpower to do the work, the willingness of the political powers, and do people want to come back if it might happen again. In a generation they'll forget. But those who were here won't so quickly.
 
I would be concerned with the smell. Is it an indication of mould? That can have long term health effects. Would you take that chance with your kids? Come Party at Mardi Gras. Then go back to wherever you've settled.
 
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Comments

frankie on

Very very nice article, just what I was looking for! Thanks!

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