Welcome to New Orleans
New Orleans is the jewel of the southern US state of Louisiana, sparkling just above the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico.
The heart of the city lies between the river and Lake Pontchartrain and, from this approximately 13km (8-mile) core, the suburbs of Greater New Orleans spread out into the surrounding expanse of drained swampland. The river’s shape, as it curves around the central district, gave rise to the city’s nickname, ‘Crescent City’, although, New Orleans is more likely to be known as the ‘Big Easy’, a clue to the city’s laid-back and genial atmosphere.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina came roaring through the Crescent City, with devastating flooding the result. Though tourist areas like the French Quarter remain intact, some mimes, musicians, jugglers and other street performers (those that lent so much charm to the area) have not returned. The lovely Garden District has recovered nicely, but signs of destruction remain visible in many other areas and the healing process is very, very slow. In conversations heard around town, terms like ‘pre-K’ and ‘post-K’ have become part of the vernacular.
New Orleans, with its unique atmosphere, is one of the most popular US destinations, particularly during its magnificent Mardi Gras celebration in late February or early March. The mixing of French, Spanish, African and American cultures over the centuries has created a unique environment, blending the genteel elegance of the colonial Creoles, the music and cuisine of the peasant Cajuns, the exuberance of Mardi Gras, a touch of voodoo and a big dollop of Dixieland jazz.
The timelessness of New Orleans can be heard in the clattering of the streetcars, the distant whistles of the riverboats, a busker playing a saxophone or the soft sounds of jazz through an open window.
Its oldest district, the French Quarter (Vieux Carré), has a wealth of architecture that portrays its colourful history. Most of the original buildings were destroyed in the fire of 1788 and the graceful houses with ornate wrought-iron balconies are actually Spanish in style. In fact, New Orleans has 17 National Historic Districts, with more than 35,000 listed buildings.
Music and the city’s famous gastronomy attract visitors from all over the world. Many venues have reopened and most have returned to regular operating hours. As they say in New Orleans, ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ or let the good times roll.