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New Orleans, Louisiana: Laissez les bons temps rouler!

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana
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St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana

Laissez les bons temps rouler!
(Let the good times roll!)

approach to New Orleans, Louisiana
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approach to New Orleans, Louisiana

Dropping lower than cloud level and looking out the jet windows we saw long fingers of water sprawling into web-like patterns about a curious topography. It was Bayou Country, and we were nearing the city affectionately called N’Awlins, Queen of the Mississippi, the Big Easy.

After our delightful cruise along the Mississippi on the American Queen, we were eager to explore the eclectic city known by so many names–Crescent City, the Big Easy, Birthplace of Jazz–a city attracting 7+ million visitors annually for its bon vivant atmosphere.

Truman Capote Suite, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans
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Truman Capote Suite, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans

Our hotel was the legendary, classically elegant Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, in the heart of the French Quarter, amidst some of the South’s finest restaurants and antique shops. Impeccable décor, amenities, and service earn the Monteleone many commendations for quality and its romantic ambiance. It is one of the few grand hotels retaining family name and ownership and exudes Old World elegance.

The four diamond AAA-rated property is one of only three hotels designated a Literary Landmark by the National Library Association. Many writers have frequented the hotel; some have featured it in their work. The Monteleone was once home for Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Magnificent suites are named for them.

Truman Capote Suite, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans
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Truman Capote Suite, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans

The elegant lobby, with its famous grandfather clock and award-winning Carousel Bar, leads to plush guest rooms with marble and granite bathrooms. The Monteleone offers promotional rates, along with grand suites fit for such former guests as Liberace and Elvis. There is a new spa, a fitness center, and pool with a skyline view.

We dined nearby one day at The Court of Two Sisters, known for the Jazz Brunch in its garden courtyard, and named for the two aristocratic Creole sisters who owned a Parisian-import boutique here during the 1800s. Brunch is an opportunity to savor a full range of over 80 regional specialties — Turtle Soup, Oysters Bienville, Creole Jambalaya, to name a few, while dining in one of the area’s largest courtyards, enjoying signature New Orleans jazz.

Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans, Louisiana

Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans, Louisiana

Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans, Louisiana

We walked to the historic streetcar that runs along St. Charles, the famous residential boulevard. We headed for the Garden District, which, along with the French Quarter, is a National Historic Landmark. The route took us past the finest mansions of the city, memorialized in novels by former resident Anne Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire.

streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana
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streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana

streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana
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streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana

We stopped near Tulane and walked through Audubon Park en route to the Audubon Zoo, a Top Five in America, with such habitats as African Savannah, Australian Outback, and World of Primates.

gorilla, Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, Louisiana
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gorilla, Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, Louisiana

There is an award-winning Louisiana Swamp Exhibit including rare white alligators.

white alligator, Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, Louisiana
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white alligator, Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, Louisiana

 

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana
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French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana
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French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana
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French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana

We couldn’t resist another riverboat ride and took the John James Audubon back to the Aquarium area, then walked to the French Market.  The walkways along the Mississippi are a sensory feast—museums, parks, innovative sculptures, freelance jazz players, artists, horse-drawn carriages, and paddlewheeler tours.

jester along the Riverwalk, New Orleans, Louisiana
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jester along the Riverwalk, New Orleans, Louisiana

horse-drawn carriage, New Orleans, Louisiana
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horse-drawn carriage, New Orleans, Louisiana

Stroll through the city and you can’t miss New Orleans’ renowned wrought iron.

New Orleans, Louisiana
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French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

cornstalk fence, New Orleans, Louisiana
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cornstalk fence, New Orleans, Louisiana

You can smell the beignets, a Creole pastry– fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar, and the chicory blended café au lait. You’ll find the celebrated Cafe du Monde (since 1862) on Decatur. People watch, listen to street musicians, and come away refreshed– and powdery white from these tempting treats!

Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, Louisiana

While on Decatur, stop by Evans Creole Candy Factory to see the Creole confection, pralines (pronounced “praw-leens”) being made.

Evans Creole Candy Factory, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Evans Creole Candy Factory, New Orleans, Louisiana

On our walk back to the Monteleone we passed the Ursuline Convent where New Orleans citizens prayed before the Battle of New Orleans.

This area has narrow shotgun houses, Creole cottages, and galleried town houses — part of New Orleans’ colorful history.

shotgun house, New Orleans, Louisiana
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shotgun house, New Orleans, Louisiana

We were looking forward to dinner at the Besh Steak House of Harrah’s Casino. Here, we were surrounded by original Blue Dog paintings by Cajun artist George Rodrigue in a sleek, sophisticated atmosphere more than matched by Chef John Besh’s creatively presented cuisine.

We dined on ambrosial appetizers, divine steaks, and topped off our meal with decadent chocolate cake, exquisitely paired with walnut liqueur. Besh Steak House  certainly makes Harrah’s a dining destination! Condé Nast listed Besh as a top 50 new restaurant worldwide. Next? —another treat before heading back to the Monteleone– showtime at Harrah’s Earl Turner Theater.

Blue Dog paintings_Besh Steakhouse, Harrah's Casino, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Blue Dog paintings_Besh Steakhouse, Harrah’s Casino, New Orleans, Louisiana

Breakfast at Brennan’s  is known worldwide. What a way to start the day! Its haute French-accented Creole cuisine isreplete with rich sauces, generous servings, and superb service. We were “letting the good times roll!”

Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana

 

Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana

Order à la carte — five courses are offered– or simplify decisions by opting for one of the three course prix fixe breakfasts. Enjoy one of two dozen choices of poached eggs–their signature Eggs Hussard, a dish that put “Breakfast at Brennan’s” on the culinary map, or our favorite, Eggs Nouvelle Orléans, poached eggs on a bed of lump crabmeat with brandy-cream sauce. Follow with dessert of filled crepes, or Chef Blangé’s 1951 creation, Banana’s Foster. Don’t leave New Orleans without experiencing Breakfast at Brennan’s.

Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Brennan’s, New Orleans, Louisiana

The Audubon Aquarium, on Canal St., along the Mississippi River, has sharks, a Caribbean Reef, an Amazon rainforest, a Mississippi River habitat, and more. The Aquarium boasts one of the largest jellyfish collections in the world.

Aquarium, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Audubon Aquarium, New Orleans, Louisiana

Another unique experience is a visit to one of the unique “cities of the dead”. These famous above-ground cemeteries are a practical solution for a city below sea level. See celebrated Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau’s burial site at the St. Louis Cemetery on Rampart Street.

cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana
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A “City of the Dead”, New Orleans, Louisiana

We visited some of the 1500 acre City Park, at the north end of Esplanade Avenue, accessible by streetcar, and where preparations were being made for “Celebration in the Oaks”, a holiday drive and walk with ornaments, displays and more than two million lights.

City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana
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City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

There are outstanding botanical gardens, sculpture gardens, a wooden carousel, theme park, golf, tennis, canoes and paddleboats—even fishing. Walk the arched bridges, and savor the almost eerie Spanish moss hanging about the gnarly Live Oaks — scenically typical of the Deep South.

City park is also the site of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Its world-class works include an extensive Faberge collection.

Spanish moss at City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Spanish moss at City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

Dinner was at Arnaud’s  — recommended by friends. Arnaud’s is on Bienville, off Bourbon Street. Maitr’d Charles Abbyad has been with Arnaud’s for 22 years and made us feel that we were welcome guests in his home. Arnaud’s, founded in 1918 by “Count” Arnaud Cazanav, is renowned for the finest in classic Creole cuisine and for its legendary wine cellar.

 Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana

Arnaud’s offers its traditional menu or the Jazzy Table d’Hôte, four delectable courses with such entrees as Filet Lafitte and Shrimp Creole, set in the atmosphere of a live jazz ensemble. We ordered Oysters Arnaud, Roast Louisiana Quail Elzey, “filled with Foie Gras Mousse on a bed of Truffle-infused Bordelaise Sauce” and Veal Wohl, a sampler of Veal Chantal, Creole Crab Cake and Crawfish O’Connor. Superb!

Don’t miss the flaming Café Brulot, prepared at the table, just as it was for former President Bush.

Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Café Brulot, Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana

After dinner be sure to tour this extensive dining establishment, including the Mardi Gras Museum.

Mardi Gras Museum at Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Mardi Gras Museum at Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is known as the Birthplace of Jazz. Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick, Jr., “Fats” Domino, and Al Hirt are among the better known native sons. Stop by Preservation Hall, where the South’s fine Dixieland Jazz traditions are kept alive.

Louis Armstrong, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Louis Armstrong, New Orleans, Louisiana

From boisterous good times to classic southern refinement and charm…it’s all there for you to savor …in N’Awlins!

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
?

And miss it each night and day


I know I’m not wrong…

this feeling’s gettin’ stronger


The longer
I stay away …

Lyrics, Louis Armstrong

Note: This story was originally published pre-Hurricane Katrina.

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