The motto of the city is “Laissez les bon temps rouler” which means “let the good time roll” and NOLA lives up to it.It hosts biggest free party on Earth – Mardi Gras, is the birth place of Jazz, has a very singular Creole and Cajun culture of its own and is supposed to be one of the most haunted city in America due to its dark past.During my visit, I realized that the heart of the city lies in below four elements which differentiates it from other major cities in the world.
1) The Spirit Of Mardi Gras
If you are like me who doesn’t like all the crowd and madness and still want to feel the Mardi Gras vibe, I would highly recommend to visit NOLA a week before Fat Tuesday.While city still prepares for its biggest parades, there is always parade going on.This is the best time to explore the city and feel the carnival vibe before it gets even more crazier and busier during Mardi Gras week.Mardi Gras parades are for families.The good parades to watch out – Krewe of Chewbacchus(intergalactic parade with amazing props) and Krewe of Barkus (cute dog parade).Each parade has its own unique set of throws which is thrown to parade goers by a Krewe member on floats.
2) NOLA Neighborhoods – French Quarter/Marigny/Garden District
The heart and soul of the city French Quarters is the oldest neighborhood with historical homes influenced by French and Spanish architecture.
Bourbon Street, a party street full of pubs,strip clubs and adultery.People show their private parts in exchange for Mardi Gras beads.
Take a walking tour of Garden District where city’s most beautiful gardens and haunted mansions reside.
Frenchmen Street is place for live Jazz,bars,restaurants,night clubs and art galleries.To be honest Jazz is pretty much everywhere on street.Everybody is equally good and I didn’t feel like booking a Jazz show.
3) New Orleans Voodoo Culture
Unlike other religions, Voodoo is a religion connected to nature,spirits and ancestors.The religion is a fusion of African.Haitian and Catholic beliefs and practices.The religion became popular in NOLA during 18th century when slaves were brought from West Africa.The slaves were converted to catholics but they didn’t forget their own beliefs and traditions and continued practicing voodoo.The infamous voodoo queen Marie Laveau, a woman of free color,organized practices locally and gave the religion beautiful but mysterious public face.She was a hairdresser by profession which gave her access to New Orleans elite society and inner circle gossips which she used in favor of her people.People from all walk of life reached her to bring them luck,to cure ailments,to acquire their desired lovers and to seek revenge from their enemies.
There are a lot of ways to experience the Voodoo culture in NOLA.Start with Historic Voodoo Museum which is a very tiny and dark museum.It is full of weird voodoo structures and artifacts from West Africa,Haiti and New Orleans.The intense drumming music in the background adds to the ambience as you explore the museum reading about Voodoo altars, voodoo dolls,zombies,snakes, Rougarou (alligator man) and Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. It is a very weird and dark museum but I can assure you its one of its kind which will be a very different experience.Visit Congo Square where spiritual ceremonies are held even today.Visit Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to buy gris gris or to explore the variety of dolls used in Voodoo culture.If this is not enough, party hard in one of the voodoo themed bar and restaurant:-)
4) NOLA Cemeteries – City Of Dead
Can you ever imagine Cemetery to be a major tourist attraction in a city? Well, it is in NOLA.The city had hard time keeping its dead buried underground.Reason being city is slightly below sea level and water table is quite high.In early days,caskets floated away from the cemetery during flooding and banged into each other causing both a gruesome site and health hazard.After every flood, city’s major task was to collect the human remains from streets,clean up and bury them again.So, they decided above ground burials which was a common practice in France and Spain.There are many disgusting stories which you will get to know if you take a tour of a cemetery.St Louis Cemetery No 1 is most historic and is supposed to be most haunted cemetery in New Orleans.The cemetery is resting place of the most famous ghost of NOLA,Marie Laveau, is said to haunt this famous cemetery.Her tomb is third most visited tomb in USA after JFK and Elvis Presley.