The origins of this nickname for New Orleans are many and varied. We settled for it as being descriptive of the laid-back lifestyle in contrast to New York, “The Big Apple”. Founded by the French in 1718, handed to the Spanish in 1763, back to the French briefly in 1803 before becoming part of the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It became well known for the many music venues playing Jazz,, Blues, etc., and as a ‘party town’. During the period leading up to ‘Mardi Gras’ (Fat Tuesday), anything goes in the city, particularly in the famous French Quarter where the consumption of alcohol is allowed on the street. We arrived at the end of January, a week or two before the Mardi Gras celebrations were at their height and found an RV park a short walk from the edge of the French Quarter which was our base for 5 days exploring.

French Quarter Architecture

The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans and was mainly constructed during the Spanish period during the late 18th century under the city’s Spanish rule. The extent of this style of architecture is unique, characterized by narrow streets, multistory buildings with liberal use of wrought ironwork, for the omnipresent balconies as well as fences, gates, door insets and downspouts. Much of the ironwork was added after the original construction, hence some of the French motifs in keeping with its heritage and name. We had fun exploring the Quarter, particularly the street musicians, Jackson Square and the Café Du Monde where we sampled the famous beignets (square fried donut – no hole – covered in powdered sugar).

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Music and Night Life

Front door of Preservation Hall, Original N.O. Jazz

The French Quarter and Frenchman Street had more than an abundance of music choices. It seemed every third building was a bar with live music. If you wanted to hear blues, early jazz, and contemporary bands, it was all here. The night life was just hopping! Even during the day, the music was pouring out of the buildings. Cheryl played jazz flute in her late teen years, and a visit to the famous Preservation Hall to listen to an accomplished ‘Traditional’ jazz band was a must. We couldn’t believe how small it was! The hall has acoustic concerts featuring some of the finest jazz performers which showcase the musical legacy dating back to the origins of jazz. We toured Frenchman Street just outside the French Quarter after dark, where some of the best music is to be found and enjoyed a more modern type of ‘Trad’ by the excellent ‘Smoking Time Jazz Club’ (sample below).

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Characters

The French Quarter is filled with strange and wonderful people, in all shapes and sizes, and dressed amazingly unique. From a unicorn horn hat, pirates, and statue actors, they’re all great. Have to keep your sense of humor in this town.

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Getting Around

In addition to taxis and horse-drawn tours carriages, New Orleans has several electric streetcar routes which we used to visit areas outside the French Quarter. The St. Charles line still runs the (refurbished) original green streetcars. We loved the beautifully finished wooden seats and how they flipped to allow the streetcars to reverse their direction (unlike the famous San Francisco cable cars which use a turntable). We enjoyed looking around the “Creole Queen” paddle steamer and took a ferry ride across the Mississippi to the Algiers district. However, after dark, when it came to returning to our RV park after a hard day’s sightseeing, we took the advice of locals to go door to door and became avid ‘Uber’ users.

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Around the City

We took a city bus tour to visit some of the areas outside the French Quarter. We visited one of the many cemeteries in the city. Graves are universally built above ground level to keep them out of the swamp, above the water table. This gives the cemeteries a characteristic Louisiana look and we spent a while comparing some of the old and modern designs, many of which are quite exotic and built to house multiple generations. We toured the devastated Hurricane Katrina area, where some of the houses are still marked with the numbers and codes left over from Katrina inspections. This was to make sure every house was inspected for missing people or animals left behind during the hurricane. The plaque at the site of the 14th Street Canal breach, which was responsible for most of the flooding in the city, correctly laid the blame for the breach on a design mistake now acknowledged by the Army Corps of Engineers. We were able to drive by ‘Villa Lobos’, the Pit Bull Rescue organization, which is also one of Cheryl’s favorite TV programs on HGTV. We passed the Marsalis Center for Musicians, created by Winton but organized in honor of his father. So many of the musicians here were left homeless after Katrina and this was a concerted effort to create new housing and center where the musicians could be supported. It is now used to encourage and support young musicians. City Park had some unusual outdoor sculptures and mostly fun. Colin thought of the of the upside-down man tied by his feet as an escape artist whereas Cheryl found it evocative of lynching in the South which provoked and saddened her.

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Smoking Time Jazz Club Clip

Street Musicians in the French Quarter

  • New Orleans

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    French Quarter, New Orleans

  • 2 Comments on “The Big Easy

    1. Le nom de La new Orleans fut donnée en l honneur du régent Philippe duc d’Orléans. Ville fondée par les français. Que de jolies maisons!
      From Cheryl: We loved the French city and agree that the houses are fantastic, whether from the Spanish or French, the iron work was gorgeous. No wonder the city is named after Philippe! Is there an OLD Orleans?

    2. What a place to be for music lovers, you must be in heaven. Enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer. I’m sorry I missed your call, try again when your able. We love you, Mar
      From Cheryl: I’m so glad you got to see our pictures from New Orleans, it was an amazing place for music lovers.

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