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When Jean Baptiste Le Moyne picked out the strategic spot on the Mississippi River for his French colony in 1718, little did he know that he had doomed a future city to tragedy nearly 290 years later. Situated on a swamp, and surrounded by the sea, Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, the subsiding city of New Orleans chose to swim rather than sink with the construction of a system of levees, pumps and canals to protect the city from flooding.
However, on the 30 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst hurricanes ever to hit the United States, slammed into the region, catapulting New Orleans into world headlines that followed the struggle of the community to cope with extensive damage, loss of life and the flooding of more than 75 percent of the city.
Despite the 'I told you so' attitude of much of the world, the proud residents of New Orleans were more determined than ever to rebuild their city, to bring back the jazz, the extravagant celebrations and the 'Big Easy' lifestyle that once made it the party capital of America. Local musicians have returned home, after-dark options are burgeoning and the strains of jazz and blues rhythms are once again echoing through the streets of the atmospheric French Quarter. Legendary Bourbon Street continues to host carnivals and parades, including the annual Mardi Gras, which has a reputation for being the most scandalous and sensational event on the world's festival calendar.
Besides all the partying, New Orleans has plenty of serious sightseeing to offer. The city is full of picturesque historic buildings, lush parks, interesting museums displaying everything from voodoo culture to modern technology, riverboats and historic streetcars, and of course jazz cafes. But for now evidence of the calamity, as well as the city's determination to survive, take first place in any visitor's 'to do' list.
New Orleans has a subtropical climate with very hot and humid summers and mild winters. Summers in New Orleans are relatively long with high temperatures hovering around 90°F (30°C) from May to September. In winter, from December To February, temperatures average between 44°F (7°C) and a comfortable 62°F (17°C). New Orleans experiences high annual rainfall, most of it falling in late summer, often as a spin-off from tropical storms. Heavy rain during the June to September Gulf Coast hurricane season has occasionally caused flooding in the city. Snow and ice are rarities in New Orleans, but there have been incidences of a 'white Christmas', with light snow.
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When in New Orleans, the vintage electric rail vehicles or 'streetcars' are the way to go. With various lines crossing the city, most destinations are accessible by this means of transport, which costs only $1.25 per ticket. The Jazzy Pass allows unlimited rides on buses and streetcars, for $3 for one day, or $9 for three days. The Canal Street Ferry takes passengers across to the suburb of Algiers and is costs $2, offering fine views of the city skyline. Walking, cycling, taxis and rental cars are some of the other options, with many tourist areas, like the French Quarter, being most enjoyable on foot.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
Shopping in New Orleans ensures a great selection of antiques, arts, vintage clothing and unique jewellery. There are various malls, markets, boutiques and specialist shops that satisfy most retail desires.
The French Quarter is unsurpassed as a sightseeing/boutique shopping experience. It's also home to legendary New Orleans voodoo shops and some fantastic costume and mask shops, great for Mardi Gras or Halloween, as well as popular New Orleans souvenirs. Magazine Street also has costume and mask shops, as well as stores offering elegant furnishings, hand-smocked garments and local arts. There are various jewellers in town offering unique, custom-made adornments.
New Orleans candymakers have a special touch, and sweets like pralines make popular gifts. Some of the best can be sampled at Southern Candymakers, Leah's Candy Kitchen and Aunt Sally's Praline Shop. Don't forget to sample the best in local music; you'll find great cds of Dixieland jazz at the Louisiana Music Factory and Beckham's Bookshop.
Items such as Louis XIV chairs and African masks are available from numerous antique stores, and the art galleries of Royal Street also hold infinite treasure. And then there's Crescent City Farmer's Market, which sells exotic vegetables, beautiful flowers and fresh seafood. There are various tax refund and tax free options available to visitors.
New Orleans is a city of music and rhythm, most famous for jazz, Cajun and zydeco music, and its nightlife portrays this with enthusiasm. Gambit, Offbeat and WhereY'at, as well as local radio stations, publicise upcoming New Orleans events and venues.
There are countless bars along Bourbon Street, and the party invariably pours out onto the sidewalks; while most places have a cover-charge, it is not always necessary to actually go inside! Some of the best clubs and bars can be found in the Quarter and the Frenchmen section of the Faubourg Marigny.
Preservation Hall is a must for jazz fans, and Maple Leaf Bar is another popular spot for live music. Molly's is said to be the best bar in the French Quarter and Napoleon House offers a fantastic Pimm's Cup cocktail. Ray's Boom Boom Room is fast becoming the trendiest club of the Frenchmen district, and the Blue Nile is the long-standing social hub of the area. The Polo Lounge at Windsor Court is very stylish, favouring Sazeracs cocktails and fancy cigars.
One of the grand old classic New Orleans restaurants, Arnaud's offers a taste of history along with its ambitious menu. Named after its founder, Count Arnaud Cazenave (immortalised in a portrait on the wall), Arnaud's glitters with chandeliers, leaded windows and a mosaic floor. The eatery consists of 13 buildings in the French Quarter, including a brasserie, bistro, grill bar and banqueting halls. The formal main restaurant requires a jacket, and offers raved-about fish dishes, as well as traditional favourites like filet mignon. Open daily for dinner and brunch on Sundays.
Food Type: American Style: Price: 4
Address: 813 Bienville Street, French Quarter
An institution on Bourbon Street, Galatoire's has been serving up French-Creole specialities since 1905 and still uses many of the original recipes. Starched white linen and shiny crystal set the tone in this establishment where tradition reigns and locals and visitors return again and again to enjoy the fresh local seafood. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Galatoire's requires business casual dress for lunch, and jackets for men starting at 5pm. No shorts or t-shirts.
Food Type: French Style: Price: 4
Address: 209 Bourbon Street, French Quarter
The sounds of jazz music and the beautiful skyline of downtown New Orleans provide a wonderful backdrop for a moonlight dinner cruise on the mighty Mississippi River, aboard the Steamboat Natchez. The cost of the two hour cruise for an adult is $102 and $49 for a child, and is inclusive of a traditional southern buffet dinner. (Children under 6 eat free). A Sunday brunch option at 11am is also available, with a mouthwatering buffet menu available for $28.50 for adults and $12.25 for children (6-12). Cruises depart from the Toulouse Street Wharf, opposite Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, at 7pm.
Food Type: American Style: Price: 4
Address: 600 Decatur Street, Suite 308
Along the historic Saint Charles Avenue, Herbsaint respects its location's culinary history. The name gives a clue to the seasoning of this French and Louisianian blend of fine dining. An esteemed award-winning chef and classic meals betray the restaurants' casual atmosphere, and an extensive French wine selection puts a classy spin on the delicious gumbo dishes. Reservations are advised.
Food Type: Cajun Style: Price: 4
Address: 701 St. Charles Avenue
The Camellia Grill in the Riverbend area off the St Charles Avenue streetcar is a favourite haunt for night owls who congregate in the early hours for breakfast, particularly the huge fluffy omelettes with adventurous fillings. The classy diner features white-jacketed waiters, delicious waffles, the best burgers in town and is famous for its chocolate pecan pie.
Food Type: American Style: Price: 2
Address: 626 South Carrollton Avenue
Parkway Bakery and Tavern
It's not fine dining, it's better. The po'boy is a New Orleans classic fried sandwhich packed with so many ingredients its better to try one than read about it. Parkway is the best and oldest place to grab a po'boy mouthful, and the shrimp and beef options have been voted the top po'boys in New Orleans. Parkway also doubles as a fun place to grab a beer. Note that Parkway is closed on Tuesdays.
Food Type: Style: Price: 2
Address: 538 Hagan Avenue
The rugged looking restaurant, much like its delicious oysters, betrays just how great this oyster bar is. One of the oldest oyster bars in town, Casamento's serves them every-which-way - although the best way is to line up a big serving of fresh ones on the counter. Cheap prices and reliably incredible oysters make it a favourite for locals.
Food Type: Seafood Style: Price: 2
Address: 4330 Magazine St.
Mulate's is the original Cajun restaurant, featuring authentic Cajun cuisine. Be sure to try the Zydeco Gumbo and don't miss the homemade bread pudding. Live Cajun music and dancing each night attracts many New Orleans visitors; even Bob Dylan stopped by when he was in town. This restaurant/bar is open for lunch and till late at night.
Food Type: Local Style: Price: 2
Address: 201 Julia Street
Ralphs on the Park
Ralph's on the Park offers food fresh from the farms and waters of Louisiana, with a side helping of splendid City Park views. Their shrimp rémoulade is a favourite, creamy and not a bit spicy, and the filet mignon brings mutterings of 'buttery, so buttery&' to mind. The chocolate Kahlúa mousse or Creole cream cheese ice cream on peach cobbler wraps things up nicely. Ralph's is open for dinners and Sunday brunch.
Food Type: Local Style: Price: 2
Address: 900 City Park Ave
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
St Patricks Day
Gay Easter Parade
French Quarter Festival
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