8.30 – Breakfast at Ruby Slipper
With a busy day planned ahead, and a schedule tightly packed with all sorts of activities, an early start at Ruby Slipper (200 Magazine Str.) seems like the perfect option: smiling staff, hearty food, and free coffee refill. Now, do not expect a culinary fiasco, but some good old-fashioned eggs a-la Benedict and pancakes would do the trick. What is more, everything is prepared entirely of local produce so in case you want to support New Orleans purveyors, here’s one easy way to do so.
10.00 – The French Quarter
After indulging on eggs and bacon, we simply crossed Canal str. to find ourselves at the beginning of the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. It houses low buildings with incredible ironwork on most balconies. Sophisticated jazz, authentic voodoo and modern art co-exist in a mix to satisfy every taste.
We walked to the very end of the French Quarter, following Royal Street, or the Art street as I frivolously named it. Here you can find anything from oil paintings to modern pop art to antique shops. And if you get tired of the art inside, the art outside is just as beautiful.
At the end of Royal Street is located the Old Mint, a small museum featuring a short yet descriptive history of New Orleans from financial point of view, as well as a beautiful gallery of photos of famous jazz performers from the city. And all this accompanied with light jazz in the background. Priceless.
12.00 – Masks and Quick Bites at the French Market
Right behind the mint begins the French Market – an open market featuring all sorts of souvenirs and all sorts of food. Anyone care for a gator on a stick? I myself didn’t dare to try it, but I already had my fair share of alligator meat at Antoine’s.
13.30 – The Audubon Aquarium of Americas
Exiting the French Market, filled with colorful imagery and dense tastes, we did what every tired tourist should do – take a calming walk by the riverfront.
Destination: Audubon Aquarium of Americas.
The Aquarium is probably one of the best places to spend (at least) half a day in New Orleans. The space is both interactive and entertaining regardless of your age. My personal favorites were by far the gigantic aquarium with sharks and an enormous yet gracious sea turtle (visible from the second floor, but go down one level to find a nice seating observation area), the feeding of the penguins (twice a day, for exact hours check the calender), and the parakeets house (yes, I know, parakeets are no sea animals!). Just be careful, the parakeets are prone to stealing.
17.00 – Streetcar Ride to Garden District
The Aquarium closes at 17.00 but the sun is still high in the sky. Best thing to do is dive into another part of the city: the Garden district. To get there it takes a quick (read 20 minutes) drive on the green streetcar (we took it from the corner of Canal str. and Carondelet str.). Now, the Garden district is visually the opposite of the French Quarter – silent streets, few tourists, big 19th century mansions, and even a cemetery.
Cemeteries are just as much of a tourist attraction in New Orleans as any other museum. To our disappointment this one was already closed by the time we arrived so we only managed to sneak peek through the gate. However if you are interested in checking it out I suggest you follow some of the free guided tours organized by volunteers – check when is the next one here.
20.00 – Drinks at Bourbon Street
As the sun sets, we head back to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter to see the other face of the neighborhood. Lights are bright, music is loud and the air smells heavily of beer. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the USA where drinking alcohol is allowed in public. (A tradition which probably stems from the Mardi Gras festival.) We find ourselves a table on the balcony of Embers and observe the party madness below us while sipping on a glass of wine.
This is the best thing about New Orleans, you can go big or you can simply sit back and take it easy. That’s why they call it the Big Easy, right?