New Orleans is a city dear to my heart, a party where everyone is invited. The people are warm, the food is world class, and the music will soothe your soul. I am privileged to visit regularly, because my husband’s family lives there. They live in the suburbs now, but it’s never hard to persuade them to go into the city.
Food is always a good place to start. Our favorite haunt is Mandina’s in an old pink house on Canal Street. My father-in-law ran an insurance business across the street for many years, and he ate there every day. I love the Trout Meuniere, a fish in a simple brown butter sauce, served over French fries. My husband always has the Turtle Soup with extra sherry poured on top. The restaurant is bustling at lunchtime, and the conversation flows between tables.
The soul of New Orleans is in the French Quarter, and it’s a great place to explore on foot. Mostly built in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the architecture is beautiful. Strolling through the narrow brick streets has other benefits, too. There are wonderful antique shops and art studios in between the hotels, bars, and restaurants. A trip to the Voodoo shop is also entertaining.
Jackson Square is a gathering spot for artists and musicians. The wrought iron fencing around the park is a great place for the artists to display their work. St. Louis Cathedral is next to the Square. It’s an active church, but if there aren’t any events, I like to walk through it for a moment of quiet beauty.
After some walking, I like to visit the Café du Monde to have some beignets and coffee. Beignets are heavenly little square doughnuts covered with powdered sugar. This is a great place to people watch, and it’s open 24 hours.
Music, especially jazz, is an essential part of New Orleans. My favorite music experience is the French Quarter Festival in early April. It’s magic when Jackson Square and the riverfront are set to music. There are over 20 stages and 1700 musicians, with everything from classical music to rock to jazz, and many unofficial musicians perform along the street.
I think everyone should experience some zydeco for the energy and dancing, but some smooth jazz along the riverfront is the best. The festival also offers magnificent food by showcasing some of the best restaurants in town with crayfish bread, oysters Rockefeller or gumbo.
The wide Mississippi River is a sight in and of itself, with an endless parade of ships and barges. We always allow time to sit by the river and be amazed at our country’s commerce in action.
I can’t talk about New Orleans without mentioning alcoholic refreshment. You can get your drink in a to-go cup at most bars and carry it along the street. And I was amazed to see draft beer in a convenience store. In the suburbs, there are drive-through daiquiri stores. They leave the paper on top of the straw to get around the open container laws. When my husband moved away from the area, he was surprised about all the rules and restrictions to buy alcohol in most other places.
Leaving New Orleans is just like leaving any party: it takes forever to say goodbye and to corral the group together, but we always promise we will be back again.
[OLLI-USF offers travel packages specifically for OLLI members. Their next one—starting December 2–is “New Orleans Holiday” and features four nights in the French Quarter. Plus, visits to virtually every site this article mentions. And several it doesn’t.
The deadline to be part of this trip has passed, but for a peek at upcoming OLLI Travel adventures, check page 41 of the Winter-Spring 2019 Course Catalog. If you haven’t received yours in the mail yet, you can see and download it here.–Editor]
Shirley Herring joined OLLI-USF in 2014. She has taken courses in Technology, Science and Nature, Sociology, Lifestyles. Shirley is a regular participant in the Great Books courses.