Whether your time in New Orleans' French Quarter is during the daytime or after nightfall, there is plenty to see and do. During our weekend getaway, we enjoyed spending time out and about taking in the vibe of the city.
Our timeshare resort was on the western edge of the Quarter, a block from Canal St. on Chartres. This was a nice starting point, day or night, to go exploring the area. Chartres is a nice mix of shops and restaurants, along with a few living quarters and some closed or for sale buildings.
During our weekend, we enjoyed dining at Daisy Dukes (100 block); Cafe Fleur-de-Lis (200 block) and The Original Pierre Maspero's (400 block). Further up the street in the 600 block is Alpine, another restaurant that we enjoyed back in the summer of 2009.
I'm really not a shopper, but there were a couple of places that caught my eye. First was a little jewelry boutique in the 300 block of Chartres. They had a case full of heirloom pieces as well as some interesting lesser priced costume jewelry (broaches and the like).
Having passed by Laura's Candies twice, we finally stopped in on Sunday morning for some sweet treats. One thing that impressed us the most was the variety of items they featured, including New Orleans' best known confection - pralines. Pretty much straight sugar in a butter base, melted and then poured over pecan halves; this is a candy that will make your teeth hurt.
We also bought some turtles and Mississippi Mud, a chocolate base candy with pecans and caramel that is made into a layered brick like shape similar to fudge.
The buildings throughout this area represent significant history of the city, under both French and Spanish rule. Streets have signage representing their original names under each. As you continue to walk towards the St. Louis Cathedral, you'll note the change in architecture to include the best known feature, the wrought iron balconies overlooking the streets.
The Cathedral is the oldest in operation in the United States, dating back to 1720 and the parish established along the Mississippi River. In front of the Cathedral is Jackson Square. The entire area is full of artists and musicians as well as visitors from around the world. The other side of the park is Decatur Street which runs about a block from the river and serves as the starting point for the French Quarter Carriage Tour.
David and I did take the 30-45 minute circular tour of the Quarter which was very informative and entertaining. Our guide was also named David . . . a fifth generation Creole who clearly loved Na'Orleans. The price for the tour was just $15pp which we rounded to $20 to include a tip.
After our tour, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the river to the point where the streetcar station intersects the walkway. There we headed back out to Decatur where we literally stumbled upon the US National Park Service visitor's center for the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Here visitors can learn more about the settlement of New Orleans and the people of this region. During our visit there was an interactive area for kids to make Mardi Gras masks.
Throughout this area of the French Quarter are more shops and restaurants. It is down here that the dock is located for those wishing to take a real riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. Grayline Tours offers daytime cruises as well as those featuring lunch or dinner.
After dark, the French Quarter transforms right before you eyes as you walk up towards the world famous Bourbon Street. At night, it resembles a street festival with the roadway closed to auto traffic. Foot traffic flows off the sidewalks and into the street with street vendors, mimes and other character type impersonators. With the city's open carry laws making it OK to walk around in public with booze, as the night goes on the inhibitions of people seem to disappear. Given we were down there on a Saturday night, it was especially bawdy.
We did have a cool experience upon an encounter with local food bank volunteers. We were "ticketed" for being party poopers, because we weren't drinking. To get out of the ticket, we paid a fine (which I negotiated). For our $10 fine, we each received a cool souvenir cap.
I have to say, however, perhaps the best chance encounter we had in the Quarter was a wedding party marching down Royal St. As we were leaving the restaurant after dinner I heard the jazz band somewhat off in the distance. When I zeroed in on where it was coming from, we headed off in that direction, intercepting the "second line" parade with the bride and groom leading the band and approximately 25 or 30 friends and family members.
We walked with them until they reached the location for their reception. Upon arrival, the band broke out into "When the Saints Go Marching In" to which everyone sang along. Outstanding!
As fifty-somethings, David and I both felt old and whipped, as we headed back to our timeshare. I think we were "home" by 8:30pm.