Hear about travel to New Orleans Louisiana as the Amateur Traveler talks to freelance journalist Jill Robinson. Jill agrees with Earl King “There ain’t no city like New Orleans”.
“It’s the least ‘American’ of cities in the United States. It was so clearly foreign to this country after the American purchase it was really easy for the residents to maintain a cultural continuity at a time when the rest of the country was getting more and more homogenized. For folks who haven’t been, they owe it to themselves to check it out.”
The last time that the Amateur Traveler did a show on New Orleans was before Katrina, which happened 10 years ago. “Remember when people didn’t understand why New Orleans should make the effort to rebuild, you will when you go.”
Jill says “everybody wants to hit the French Quarter, so take all of your first day and explore, as you know you want to do it. Even more downtown from the quarter are the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, so I would do that on day 2. Day 3 is for the Tremé which is behind the French Quarter, CBD (Central Business District) and Warehouse District. And then on day 4, I would haul my butt all the way uptown which includes the Garden District. But the area is so large that you may want a couple of days depending on your speed. There are mansions, there are really good music clubs. So I would definitely take time in the different neighborhoods. After that, I would take a day trip outside the city on the River Road.”
“Great places for families are Audubon Park, City Park, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Insectarium, Louisiana Children’s Museum and the French market. The best tip for music fans is to pick up a copy Offbeat magazine which is free and available in nearly every cafe. Shoppers love the French Quarter and Magazine Street. Food is available everywhere so forget every chain restaurant and just discover something really tasty from New Orleans.”
There is more to New Orleans than the French Quarter and there is more to the French Quarter than Mardi Gras and there is more to Mardi Gras than drinking, beads, and boobs.
Jill introduces us to Jackson Square, the old U.S. Mint, Mardi Gras Indians, and the National WWII Museum. But she also takes us into the smaller neighborhoods, cafes and music spots. Jill has been to New Orleans multiple times each year over the last decade and more. Come hear about this fascinating city from someone who fell in love with it.
Danger Jill Robinson
New Orleans Tourism
Old U.S. Mint
Historic New Orleans Collection
National WWII Museum
Cafe Du Monde
Backstreet Cultural Museum
Mardi Gras Indians
Royal Street Inn and R Bar
Bywater, New Orleans
La Maison Marigny
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
The River Road
Krewe Du Vieux
New Orleans’ Tremé Neighborhood
Pam wrote about
I just listened to your Greece podcast. Very good except I think when you have a guest telling about sights of various places, if they have
an accent, you should repeat the names of cities or attractions that they mention. The Italian guest was fantastic except when she
mentioned an attraction I couldn’t understand her and you never mentioned the place so it was lost.
Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 476. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about a destination we talked about 474 episodes ago. We talk about po’boys and Indians, but neither of those kind. We talk about jazz, beignets, and Bourbon Street, as we go to New Orleans, Louisiana.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. With no further ado, let’s talk about New Orleans. I’d like to welcome to the show Jill Robinson, a freelance journalist from dangerjillrobinson.com, who has come to talk to us about New Orleans. Jill, welcome to the show.
Jill: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Chris: I feel like saying, “Finally, welcome to the show,” because we’ve been friends for a little while by this point and just finally got around to talking about where we should talk about. We have done a show on New Orleans. I’m not saying that it has been a while, but Katrina hadn’t hit New Orleans yet, and this is the 10 year anniversary this year. So it’s possible that some things have changed.
Jill: Definitely, things have changed. I mean, things got, obviously, very bad during and after Katrina. And a lot of the city still has some issues in terms of the outer areas that just haven’t been focused on for rebuilding, but the city has bounced back in a fantastic way. And I think that if folks haven’t gone yet since Katrina, this is definitely the time to go.
Chris: Well, and I haven’t been, since Katrina. And the place I stayed, we had a friend who was actually working for the New Orleans Hornets at the time. And he was living in a brand new apartment building right near the cruise terminal, and it is gone.
Jill: Oh, yeah.
Chris: It was so severely damaged by the hurricane that it was torn down. Large portions of the city, I assume I would recognize. But why should someone go to New Orleans? Let’s start with the obvious.
Jill: Well, like the Earl King song says, “There ain’t no city like New Orleans.” It’s the least “American” of cities. And I use “American” in air quotes here.
Jill: Least “American” of cities in the United States. It was so clearly foreign to this country after the American Purchase, that it was really easy for residents to maintain a cultural continuity at a time when the rest of the country was becoming more and more homogenized. Which is not to say that other cities just don’t have their own personality, but New Orleans has a very distinctly different personality from the rest of the country. There are elements of American history that many Americans and even New Orleanians know nothing about. And so for folks who haven’t been, they owe it to themselves to check it out. Especially as we just mentioned, we’re at the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on August 28. Remember when people didn’t understand why New Orleans should make the effort to rebuild? You will when you go.
Chris: And the other question we should ask, getting started here, is how many syllables in the phrase New Orleans?
Jill: Everyone is gonna say it differently. In general, the residents say it New Orleans, but…
Chris: And sometimes we’ll get it down to two syllables, Norleans [SP].
Jill: It’s funny ‘cuz once upon a time, people who don’t live there seem to think that it’s like N’-A-W-L-I-N-S, like Nawlins. I don’t know anyone who lives there and was born there, or has lived there for a while, that actually does that.
Jill: So it was kind of a thing to do, but I’m not hearing people say that. I hear more people say New Orleans. I hear people say it like you said, Norleans. There’s some old-time creoles that say New Orleeans [SP]. And then in songs, in some cases, you have to say New Orleens [SP] ‘cuz it rhymes with “city of dreams” and other things. So you’re gonna hear it all over the place and it’s totally fine to call it what you want to call it. Just don’t call it the Big Easy. A lot of locals don’t like that.
Chris: And what kind of itinerary do you recommend for somebody traveling to New Orleans?
Jill: If they’re there for a week and I were new to the city and had that time to spend, I’d focus on a different neighborhood everyday. So everybody wants to hit the French Quarter. So take all of your first day and explore, because you know you wanna do it. On Day two, you move over. In New Orleans, you tend to orient yourself by the river, the lake, and uptown and downtown. So if you’re standing in the river, which of course you’re not going to, but if you’ve got the map in front of you, you got your feet in the river, you’re looking straight at the French Quarter.
Chris: So I’m facing west?
Jill: Yeah, so then left is uptown, right is downtown. Even more downtown from the Quarter, bordering that are the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods.
Jill: So I’d do that on Day Two. Day Three is for the Tremé, which is behind the French Quarter, CBD, which is Central Business District, and Warehouse District, and those are to the left, which is a little more uptown than the French Quarter. And so then on Day Four, I’d haul my butt all the way uptown, which includes the Garden District. But the area is so large that you may want a couple days, depending on your speed. There are mansions. There are really nice, good music clubs. I’ll get into that a little bit later. It’s all spread out, so I would definitely take time in the different neighborhoods. After that, we’re about in the last two days now, I’d take a day trip outside the city along the River road. And then at the end, go back to anything you really loved. Repeats are totally permitted.
And so it depends on what you like to do, but great places for families in the city are Audubon Park, City Park, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Insectarium – you’re getting a theme here of Audubon – Louisiana Children’s Museum, and the French Market. Music fans, best tip for music fans is to pick up a copy of OffBeat Magazine, which is free and available inside nearly any bar and café. Music listings are ordered by the date, the time, location and genre, so it’s really easy to figure out what you wanna hear. And then shoppers, which I’m not, but people are, shoppers love the French Quarter and Magazine Street. And food is amazing everywhere. So forget any chain restaurant and just discover something really tasty from New Orleans.
Chris: Excellent. Now, let’s go through that all again but slower. So we’re starting in the French Quarter, and I think a lot of people think the French Quarter is just two blocks long.
Jill: Yeah, it’s not. I don’t know exactly the block, but I would say the French Quarter, probably 5 by 10 blocks approximately.
Jill: I’m probably off by a couple numbers, one way or the other. But the French Quarter is kinda ground zero for tourism in New Orleans. And so it’s historic. It’s got drinks and food. It’s got a lot of entertainment, music, everything. So that’s why so many people filter there. But after having gone a number of years, it’s nice to get through the French Quarter but then I have focused on other areas of the city which allow me to see a little bit more of the depth of the local scene.
Chris: So if I tell people, if I ask a random person on the street about New Orleans and their impression of New Orleans, I get the feeling – I haven’t done this. Maybe we should try it – that a lot of people think New Orleans is where you go to drink and flash your boobs.
Jill: Yeah, exactly.
Chris: And that doesn’t even happen all over the French Quarter.
Jill: And actually, not everyday, either.
Jill: So that’s one thing that guide books…of course guide books recommend going to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. And there’s nothing wrong with it; I think everyone should see the crazy part of Bourbon Street there. But unless you’re visiting-
Chris: I think it depends on whether you’re with kids or not.
Jill: Yeah! And also, it gets old, too. I mean, unless you’re visiting New Orleans only to party, you really only need to see that segment of Bourbon Street once. There are other parts of the city that are more interesting, where you can get a view of the local way of life and get your frosty beverage. And so you shouldn’t waste your entire trip on Bourbon Street unless that is the reason you’re going. And if you’re looking for boobs and beads, go around Mardi Gras time ‘cuz that’s when it’s happening.
Chris: Okay. And then if that’s not what we’re looking for, what else should we do in the French Quarter?
Jill: The French Quarter, I think history buffs and anyone really, a few sights in and around the Quarter are the Cabildo, which is just right up front. And it’s got museum information and stuff that are specific to New Orleans and Louisiana. The old U.S. Mint-
Chris: And this is by the main square in the French Quarter?
Jill: Yeah, it’s by Jefferson Square, right.
Chris: I always forget the name. Thanks.
Jill: The old U.S. Mint is…okay, let’s re-orient ourselves and stand in the river. The old U.S. Mint is to the right side of the French Quarter.
Jill: So it’s the far right side. It has some regular mint information about why that was interesting, why that was helpful at the time, as well as rotating exhibits. The Historic New Orleans Collection, I believe their headquarters is on Royal Street. But the Collection is a number of houses and buildings within the Quarter, and I believe they also go outside the Quarter. So doing tours with The Historic New Orleans Collection is really interesting. And outside of the Quarter, but just a short distance outside in the CBD, is the National World War II Museum.
Jill: Now, you wouldn’t think that New Orleans had anything to do with World War II, but of course, they had people who went to war from New Orleans, just like everywhere else in the country. But there’s some really interesting local bits of information that lend to the overall display and exhibits that they have there. And it’s fantastic. I’m not necessarily a World War II buff. I was really impressed when I went.
Chris: And I am, and it was fascinating. You know why that’s in New Orleans?
Jill: I forget. I heard once, and I forget.
Chris: It used to be the D-Day Museum.
Chris: And New Orleans is the home of the Higgins Boat.
Jill: That’s one of the things I didn’t know until I went there.
Chris: Yeah, it’s the home of the landing craft, basically, and that’s why the D-Day Museum, which then grew out of just D-Day and turned into the World War II Museum in the last 10 years. So I’ve seen the D-Day Museum before it was the World War II Museum. But yeah, that’s the historic tie to New Orleans, is the landing craft.
Jill: And didn’t they test the Higgins Boats in Lake Pontchartrain?
Chris: Probably, because…
Jill: I think so.
Chris: Yeah. They’re a very shallow water craft. And shallow water craft come out of what you need in that area, so that’s why New Orleans.
Jill: Yeah, yeah.
I want to take a break here and hear from our sponsor. I’m sponsoring this episode myself. I’ve got a new course that is more travel related, a video course that is coming up. It’s still in development, and it’s about getting started hosting on Air B&B. My wife and I have started hosting on Air B&B just this year. And for the last three or four months, we have paid our mortgage or mostly paid our mortgage with two rooms of our house being rented out on Air B&B. We’ve had someone here nearly constantly, and we’ve had good experiences. And so we want to share what we have learned either through our direct experiences or through some friends who have stayed in Air B&Bs; up to 150 nights a year. Hopefully, this is something that you can find useful, either for just interacting with other travelers – a lot of our travelers have been world travelers – or to make some money to travel yourself. If you’re interested, go to amateurtraveler.com/airb&b and sign up in a list, and I will let you know when that course is released.
You already started to move us out of the French Quarter. I’ve got to get an opinion here, before we leave the French Quarter. Cafe Du Monde’s beignets, yes or no?
Jill: Oh, yeah! Absolutely! I think, however… So it’s been a while since I’ve had beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and what I used to think was silly…
Chris: And what is a beignet, first of all?
Jill: Oh, beignet is essentially…it’s a deep-fried doughnut but it’s square and it doesn’t have the hole. So it’s deep-fried dough, which is always good! And with powdered sugar like crazy. So my best tip if you’re gonna have them, I don’t care where you have them, is when you hold…try not to wear all black or all dark colors. Because as careful as you are, you’re gonna wear powdered sugar. It’s just gonna happen.
Chris: We have a picture of my family bent over trying to eat beignets without getting powdered sugar on ourselves.
Jill: That also is a tip. So when you pick the beignet up, make sure if you’re gonna inhale or exhale, do it before you put your mouth to the beignet, because you could either inhale the powdered sugar or exhale it all over your clothes. But Cafe Du Monde, they make great beignets. It’s incredibly popular. It used to be…
Chris: And cliché, right?
Jill: Yeah, but that’s okay.
Chris: Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it.
Jill: No, it’s fine.
Jill: I think my best tip, besides the eating stuff, is don’t go at the height of the day. Don’t go when there’s a line of tourists down the block to get a seat at Cafe Du Monde. Like, if I’m going to a club and I’m hearing maybe an 8:00 band or a 9:00 band, and then I’m wandering through the Quarter, go at 10, go at 11, go for your little snack at night. Or go early in the morning if you’re a runner and that’s your cool down kind of thing to do, to treat yourself for doing your early morning exercise. But going in the middle of the day and standing out with the line of tourists, I’d find better things to do.
Chris: Well, and the whole place, since I’ve been there, I believe has burned down in, oddly enough, a grease fire and been rebuilt. So it’s a brand new place. Looks like the old, as I understand.
Jill: You wouldn’t know that it is different than the last time you saw it.
Chris: And then the only other thing I can think of in the French Quarter, is do they still have the Market down there, closer to the river?
Jill: Yes. The French Market is fantastic. So French Market is a combination of food stalls where you can get snacks or lunch. Not a lot of counters, but a lot of good places where you can grab… Like, if you’re really into souvenirs that are edible, like, hot sauce from New Orleans or things like that, you can get it there. Also, it’s almost like a flea market. You get t-shirts and little jewelry trinkets and hats and music and things like that. So yeah, the French Market is really interesting to wander through.
Chris: Excellent. Where to next?
Jill: Oh, let’s see. Well, for me, I really like slowing down and blending in when I’m in the city. I’ve been about 40 times since Katrina.
Chris: Oh, my! Wow!
Jill: So in 10 years, I’ve been about 40 times. And prior to that, I’ve probably been about 10 to 15. So all of these things we’re talking about, like Cafe Du Monde and I say go at night, these are things that I used to do all the time. The first time I went to New Orleans, I stayed in the French Quarter. I hung out only in the French Quarter. I went to New Orleans Jazz Festival.
And all those things are fantastic, but I’ve kind of moved on from that and discovered new things. So now I stay with friends in the Marigny, which if you’re standing in the river, it’s the neighborhood to the right of the French Quarter. So my daily walking route covers that neighborhood, plus the Bywater, the Tremé, and the French Quarter. So I will still run through the French Quarter to see people or to hit a bar or something like that. But slowing down, for me, allows me to see the mix of things that I might miss if I had a planned itinerary. Things that the guidebooks and tourists who are focused only on the French Quarter tend to miss would be those neighborhoods, like, the Tremé, the Marigny, and the Bywater.
Jill: They’re much better than they used to be, about focusing outside of the French Quarter and Garden District. And that HBO TV show that ran for three years, Tremé, which, hey, amazingly enough, named after the neighborhood Tremé, although it didn’t focus only on the Tremé, but it just focused on that neighborhood and characters coming back after Katrina. But those areas are still just nice, not as heavily traveled places that are also important to New Orleans history. So doing a little tour through here. For a good take on the Tremé, I had an article in April in the San Francisco Chronicle. And I have another one coming up. I have another one in August for Afar. Tremé is a place that is largely residential, but it has a couple of really interesting museums. Backstreet Cultural Museum, or something like that – we just call it Backstreet – but that is a museum that focuses on Mardi Gras Indians and the walking clubs that were really, really important in African American New Orleans early on and to this day.
Chris: Let’s pause here a little bit.
Chris: Mardi Gras Indians.
Jill: Oh, yeah.
Chris: We’re not talking about Native Americans.
Jill: We are not. It’s a little disputed exactly how the Mardi Gras Indians started, but slaves, as they escaped, had a little bit of a brotherhood with Native Americans, because they’re getting outside of the cities, or outside of plantations. So you’re going to places where hopefully you’re not going to be found. And Native Americans were very hospitable to escaped slaves. And so over time, when African American culture continued on in the city…and it always did throughout this time. You had free people of color in New Orleans. You had a marriage system called Placage. So it was actually, I guess more, in some ways, easier to be African American in New Orleans than in other places in the south, but in other ways, of course, not, and equal in terms of poor treatment during slavery.
But when African Americans were finding their own identity, keeping their own identity, they looked to the Native Americans to essentially thank them, reward them for their relationship. They had these right around Mardi Gras time. They would not parade but really kind of walk around. It was almost like gangs but not so violent. So you had groups of people from different areas of the city who would dress up as Native Americans. They tended to get their costuming ideas from the Great Plains Indians, so it’s not exactly, perfectly that area. But they would dress up and then they would go out and show everyone how strong they were, how you shouldn’t mess with them. And it actually started out as a way to fight with other groups.
Over time, however, it’s now just a way to show off your work. After Mardi Gras every year, they take their suits apart, unless they’re gonna put it in a museum, and they start on the new suit for the next year. And so you have a big chief and you have a spy boy and you have a wild man. And you have a bunch of different positions within the Mardi Gras Indian Society, where they’re parading at Mardis Gras time. And they also parade on St. John’s Day, which is, I think, around the 15th of March. It’s somewhere mid March.
Chris: Well, I think one of the things that points out is when people think of Mardi Gras, they just think of going down and drinking. And there really is quite a depth to the Mardi Gras culture.
Jill: Very much. Oh, I misspoke. It’s not St. John’s Day, it’s St. Joseph’s Day.
Jill: I get my Saints mixed up sometimes. It’s out of practice. Yeah, and I think Mardi Gras, especially, people think…this is, again, going back to the Bourbon Street thing.
Jill: People think that because TV cameras are really excited about showing Bourbon Street and the crowds and people hanging off the balconies and throwing beads and maybe the boobs, that people seem to think that Mardi Gras is really only about that.
Jill: But that’s like about 1% of Mardi Gras. Carnival season starts in January. It runs through Mardi Gras, which of course because it’s a Lenten calendar, it changes every year.
Jill: And so it’s really more of a family event. And going to parades with friends and their children has made me, over the years, understand what it’s really about. So sure, you can go to that five block stretch of Bourbon Street that’s just nuts and have your fun time. It’s pretty hard to walk around there. I have gone and I’ve just gone to the edges of it where it starts to get incredibly crowded. And then I’ll just watch for a few minutes and go, “Okay, I’m gonna go somewhere else now.”
But it’s also good because you have the parades. But then once you know things, like, about the Mardi Gras Indians, there’s also Skull & Bones gangs, which is a somewhat of an offshoot of Mardi Gras Indians but they dress up as skeletons and they parade around and essentially wake you up on Mardi Gras day in some neighborhoods of course, because they’re area based. And so if someone’s knocking on your door really early in the morning on Mardi Gras, unless it’s your drunk friend who’s already been out all night, it might be a Skull & Bones gang. And their purpose is to wander around and remind people that but for caution and good fortune, we could end up like them.
Jill: So they’re just saying, “Hey, it’s really nice that you’re here on Mardi Gras, but remember, you could be like us next year.”
Jill: I mean, it’s a little bit like Day of the Dead in a way, but in a New Orleans kind of way.
Chris: You were in the middle of talking about Treme and the museum.
Jill: Oh, I was.
Chris: And then I got you distracted into Mardi Gras Indians.
Jill: Oh, that’s fine. I was just giving you a tour. So Treme, I kinda covered a little bit. The Marigny, getting back to that first neighborhood on the right from the Quarter, it’s home to Frenchmen Street, which is full of excellent music clubs. It’s also got, obviously, good bars, good food, just like pretty much every neighborhood in the city. The Bywater, which is…
Chris: But before you move on, you say excellent music clubs. Do you a favorite or two?
Jill: Yeah, Frenchmen Street d.b.a. is one of my favorites.
Jill: I just love this space. I think the folks who run that also have a d.b.a. in New York, and just the interior is so…
Chris: When you say DBA, and I’m doing “Doing Business As,” I feel I may have the wrong acronym.
Jill: Ah, right. It’s Don’t Bother Asking.
Jill: In fact, I’ve learned that by saying, “So is DBA Doing Business As?” They say, “No, it’s Don’t Bother Asking. And I’m like, “Oh, okay, great. Sorry.” I’m sure they answer that question a number of times every night. But the interior is beautiful. It’s just wood and they’ve got mirrors angled so that you can kind of see almost everything happening, because it’s a U-shaped bar.
Jill: And so if you’re on the other side of the bar, from the stage, it’s not always easy to see. But the way they have the mirrors angled, you feel like you are part of the performance even if you’re not right up front. And like many bars in New Orleans, dogs are invited in. And so if you’re traveling with your dog, then you don’t have to worry about leaving your dog in the hotel or “Oh, my gosh, we might have to stand outside and listen to the music.” You can bring your dog in.
Chris: Interesting. And favorite restaurant in the area?
Jill: One of them is gone now and it changed names, and now I can’t remember what it is because I just have this well worn path on the sidewalk and I just walk there.
Chris: What street should we go to check out restaurants?
Jill: Oh, Frenchmen.
Jill: And it’s Frenchmen plural, M-E-N not M-A-N, because it’s for the french men who lived there.
Jill: But yeah, depending on what I feel like… And there’s Middle Eastern food there. There’s old Creole food there. There’s the Praline Connection, which is soul food and really good. There’s probably about 7 to 10 restaurants just on a four block stretch of Frenchmen.
Jill: The R Bar, the Royal Street Bar & Inn, it also is a place to stay; they have a couple of places upstairs. That’s a great bar there. They have on, I believe it’s Monday nights, you can get your hair cut.
Jill: By someone who’s not drunk, which is a good thing.
Chris: That seems like that would be a good safety tip in terms of getting your hair cut.
Jill: Yeah, it’s like hair cut and a shot specials. And then when it’s crawfish season, they have crawfish boils about once a week.
Chris: Okay. I’ve just never thought, “Hey, let’s go out to a bar, I really need a hair cut.”
Jill: Hey, one thing in New Orleans is combination businesses and bars is pretty common.
Jill: So they have a bar that’s in a grocery store.
Jill: Oh, yeah, I have friends who belong to the YMCA. I don’t know if it’s the YMCA but it’s their local health club that they go to, to work out. There’s a bar in there.
Jill: New Orleans has a way of making sure that drinks are always available. You don’t have to partake, but it is also one of the reasons why people don’t get quite a lot of work done in a business day.
Chris: Well, I know we were surprised when we first went – well, I guess we’ve just been there once – to New Orleans and there was the drive-thru daiquiri place. But it’s legal if you don’t put in the straw, is our understanding.
Jill: Right. Or you have to tape the hole, the covering, to show that you haven’t used it, which is hilarious. I, of course, know people who get around that pretty easily, but you shouldn’t drink and drive. And one of the things about New Orleans, speaking of drinking and driving, is it’s a pretty flat city. So New Orleans is great for walkers and cyclists. But it’s also pretty spread out. So what I do is I keep the telephone number of a local cab company, specifically United. And that number is (504) 522-9771. And I just keep it programmed into my phone. So if I’ve gone for a really long walk and I’m too tired to walk back, or I’m at a club at night and I feel it’s too late for me to walk back, or it’s too hot – I mean, I go in the summer sometimes and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t really feel like sweating even three more little drops – I’ll just call United and have them come pick me up. Buses and streetcars are also great ways to get to and from neighborhoods, but in a pinch, a cab is your best bet.
Chris: Well, since we’re talking about calling a cab, there are some neighborhoods, I know that when you and I were talking, you would not walk in at night.
Jill: Yeah, there are parts of the… To be honest, it’s funny because people will ask me about crime in New Orleans.
Jill: And yeah, it’s a United States city that has some crime issues, as does New York, as well as a bunch of other large cities. So I don’t think that it’s necessarily unique to New Orleans that you have to worry about walking at night or walking in [inaudible 00:27:30].
Chris: Well, it’s one of the cities in the U.S. with the highest crime rate.
Jill: It does.
Chris: Let’s be more specific.
Jill: It’s true, it’s true.
Chris: It is higher than New York.
Jill: Yeah, so I’m not whitewashing that, but at the same time, some very simple tips like we all have when we travel to places that we don’t know well, is don’t wear your fanciest jewelry.
Jill: If you’re gonna get drunk, don’t walk by yourself, because someone who’s looking for a mark is gonna find you and see you stumbling all over the street. First of all, even if somebody doesn’t get you, you might trip on the sidewalk and so you could hurt yourself anyway.
Jill: That’s another reason. But it used to be the rule that back of Bourbon Street, in the Quarter, was not necessarily a place you wanted to be at night by yourself.
Jill: I don’t know how that is now. At night time, and unless it’s a really well-lit part of the Quarter, I just tend to walk with a friend. So I don’t need a group of people. But if it’s late at night, I’ve probably been out listening to music and drinking. And so if I’ve been drinking, I figure my odds of really recognizing a dangerous situation aren’t maybe as good as they would be if I hadn’t been drinking.
Jill: And so having another person to maybe deter someone who’s looking to rip me off, is a good idea. CBD in the Warehouse District, they have some dark corners. Every neighborhood has some areas where they might be more crime-ridden than others. There was a time in some of the bars in New Orleans…some of the bars in New Orleans have game machines, like slot machines.
Jill: And so there was a time in New Orleans when a lot of those bars would get held up because they had that extra money.
Chris: Got it.
Jill: I haven’t heard that happening lately. But it’s one of those things where be savvy, use your smarts. Don’t be drunk and stumbling late at night without having a friend with you, or just grab a cab if you have to walk a distance.
Chris: And you’ve been there, you say, 40 times since Katrina.
Jill: Since Katrina.
Chris: And been robbed?
Chris: Okay, let’s-
Jill: Not one time.
Chris: Let’s leave it on that note, too. Okay.
Jill: Yeah, I mean, maybe in some cases I’m a little more cautious than maybe I need to be. But my guy friends who live in New Orleans are very thoughtful about where I go at night by myself. And so often times, even if it’s just after dusk and I say, “Okay, I’m going home,” meaning from the bar to my friend’s house six blocks away, my friend Glen will say, “Are you going by yourself?” And I’ll say, “Yeah, it’s fine. It’s not dark yet,” and he says, “No, I’ll walk with you.”
Chris: Okay. Excellent. So we were in the Marigny.
Jill: We’re in the Marigny.
Chris: The Marigny, sorry.
Jill: So that was Frenchmen Street. Further left, which is down river, is the Bywater. It’s a little more relaxed than the Marigny. It’s getting a little more gentrified since Katrina. So there are plenty of great restaurants and music clubs. The music club I would go to in the Marigny is called Vaughan’s. And Kermit Ruffins, who some people may recognize from the TV Show, Treme, he has played at Vaughan’s on – I forget what night it is – Thursday night for years and years and years. But not just Kermit, Vaughan’s always has a good band there. There’s essentially an outdoor wine bar. It’s like a garden with plastic chairs and tables, and you go in and you buy a bottle of wine and share it with your friend. Sometimes they have somebody making food there. It’s called Bacchanal, and that’s also in the Bywater.
Chris: Okay. Now, are these neighborhoods similar… We didn’t talk about the look of the French Quarter. I mean, the very french look. It really doesn’t look like most American cities, in that it has that wrought iron grills and balconies and such. Is that carried on into the neighborhoods you’ve been talking about?
Jill: What you’ll see more as you exit the French Quarter, is you’ll still see the wrought iron used in terms of fences and some balcony work. But generally, the houses are what we call double shotgun, single shotgun, camel back.
Chris: So shotgun, meaning tall, thin, going back from the street.
Jill: Straight back, yeah. So if one were to fire a shotgun through the first open door and all the doors were open to the back, if you were a good shot, would go all the way through to the back yard, in theory.
Chris: Not that we encourage that behavior.
Jill: No, no. A shotgun double is a double-sized shotgun house.
Jill: And oftentimes, these houses are just much more colorful. I mean, you think French Quarter’s colorful, but you go into the Marigny and the Bywater, and you’ll get some really brightly colored homes. They’re not as fancy schmancy, humongous that you’ll see in uptown in the Garden District.
Jill: But you’ll also see these sprinkled in. So the shotgun doubles, you’ll see these homes also in the uptown. It’s not just mansions uptown. Uptown is a huge area, and so you’ll have some neighborhoods and some streets, especially St. Charles. So around St. Charles, you’ll see a lot of just really big, beautiful mansions. And then you’ll cut down a couple blocks and you’ll see more modest but still really beautiful, smaller New Orleans homes.
Chris: Yeah, I remember seeing the mansions off the streetcar.
Jill: Yeah. And that’s the street that the streetcar runs on.
Chris: Right. Where next?
Jill: Well, one thing that I think people wonder about, where they should stay when they’re in New Orleans.
Jill: And so like I mentioned, it’s a great walking and cycling city, but staying in a central location, like the Quarter or the CBD, will allow you to go out like your bicycle wheel spokes and see more things without having to resort to a cab. Some of the larger hotels that still have great character…I know we all know about great, large hotels that are chains and are fantastic because they have a very consistent level of service. But oftentimes, when I’m staying in a city, and especially in New Orleans, I wanna stay in a hotel that really feels like New Orleans.
And so some of the larger hotels that have good character: Hotel Monteleone and the Soniat House in the Quarter, as well as Windsor Court Hotel and International House in the CBD. And as I already established, while I stay with friends, but I like staying just out of the fray where the neighborhood’s quiet but you’re close enough to duck in and out of the action when you want. And so since the Marigny is my favorite spot…I’ve also noticed that there are a handful of great small Inns and B&Bs;, and before I made the friends that I have now, which I made right after Katrina, I used to stay at a B&B called La Maison Marigny. And that’s on Bourbon Street but just across the main avenue from the French Quarter.
Jill: So it allows you to get a feel of what it’s like to live there and then still be able to run out and do the fun things in the city.
Jill: Shall we get to food?
Chris: Yes, we need to get there before we run out of time.
Jill: Okay. So the cool thing about New Orleans is people seem to think that it’s only Creole and Cajun food, but the city’s food has roots in French cuisine, Creole and Cajun traditions, and the influence of African cooks, too, also Italian immigrants. And so to just do a quick breakdown of Creole and Cajun, both cuisines came by way of France. And each uses rue, which is a flour browned with butter and other local ingredients, but their paths to New Orleans cuisine really differ. So Creoles were born in South Louisiana. They blended with Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and African groups that settled in large numbers in the region. But Cajun’s settled in southwest Louisiana after they were expelled from Nova Scotia in the 1700s.
Jill: So Cajun food is largely country food, and not often presented as the refined city food that Creole cooking is considered. So when you think about gumbo, which is a New Orleans specialty, it’s used in both Creole and Cajun food. Creole cuisine uses okra as a thickener and Cajun cuisine uses filé or ground sassafras leaves.
Chris: Hmm, I didn’t know that.
Jill: Jambalaya’s another New Orleans kind of specific dish. It’s like a one pot paella with meat, vegetables, rice and stock. That’s strictly Creole.
Jill: Cajun dishes are more likely to feature ingredients from the country, like crawfish, and also tends to use more hot peppers and spices.
Chris: I was gonna say, now, when I think of Cajun, I think of the Cajun chicken or something blackened.
Jill: [inaudible 00:35:59].
Chris: Exactly. Blackened catfish or something like that.
Jill: That was a Paul thing.
Jill: Paul Prudhomme, he brought that out and made that famous for Cajun cooking.
Jill: So for folks who are visiting New Orleans, my best advice is to sample the local food in a variety of spots. So some small neighborhood haunts are The Joint, for barbecue.
Jill: The Joint is in the Bywater. Also in the Bywater, Elizabeth’s Restaurant. The amazing thing at Elizabeth’s Restaurant is praline bacon. I’m not kidding. It’s amazing.
Chris: So it’s a candied bacon?
Jill: Yeah, that is good.
Jill: And then in the Tremé, Dooky Chase has classic soul food.
Jill: And larger restaurants to note are…and of course, I’m just naming a few. Just because I don’t name something, doesn’t mean it’s not worth going.
Jill: It’s impossible to list them all. But larger restaurants like Bayona in the Quarter are a favorite of everybody who goes. That’s Chef Susan Spicer. A restaurant called Cochon, that is in kind of the Warehouse District. That highlights authentic Cajun cuisine.
Jill: Upperline is uptown, that’s contemporary Creole. And Luke, in the CBD, has old world French and German style food.
Jill: So I would just say don’t eat at a chain. Eat at a unique New Orleans restaurant, something you can’t get somewhere else. Go and investigate some local food, even if you’re just going and getting some shucked oysters.
Chris: Okay. Or a po’boy or something.
Jill: Oh, po’boy’s are awesome. If you get a po’boy and they ask you if you want it dressed, that means everything on it.
Chris: And a po’boy is a sandwich.
Jill: It is a sandwich. It’s like a hero sandwich.
Chris: Like a hero or a hoagie or whatever else you call it, depending on where you are in the U.S., Subway.
Chris: Excellent. Getting out of the city, you mentioned a couple different places to see.
Jill: Mm-hmm. So a favorite side trip to follow is the River Road.
Jill: And that runs along the banks of the Mississippi, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. You can see elaborate plantation homes there. If you don’t have a car, it’s still easy to get there. Tours leave nearly everyday from New Orleans and they include a number of plantations in their excursions. And sometimes it also includes lunch at a plantation.
Jill: Another place to go, that people go but I think people just think it’s the River Road is the only place to go, the Barataria Preserve is in the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and it has hiking and canoe trips into the swamp. And it’s a really good introduction to the wetlands environment. Even if you don’t do anything as exciting as hiking and canoe trips, you can just walk along the boardwalks that wind through the swamp there. And from there, you can see egrets and gators and all sorts of other swamp animals.
Chris: Probably one of the only national historic parks named after a part time pirate.
Chris: What else could you want, really?
Jill: Really, not a lot.
Chris: What’s gonna surprise me when I go to New Orleans?
Jill: Well, I think, going back to Mardi Gras, and I don’t wanna beat that horse to much, really, that Mardi Gras is such a bigger event and it goes over weeks as opposed to just that one day in those few blocks of Bourbon Street.
Chris: Do you have a favorite Mardi Gras parade or event? Let’s broaden that from parade.
Jill: Krewe du Vieux runs, I believe it might be two weekends prior to Mardi Gras. It depends.
Jill: I think it’s either one week…no, it’s two weekends prior to Mardi Gras ‘cuz I’m not always there. That winds through the French Quarter, and that is just irreverent and crazy. So they’ll make fun of the mayor. They’ll make fun of the governor. It’s pretty easy to make fun of them, but they do it in a really great way. And then, let’s see, Barkus is also, I think, two weekends prior to Mardi Gras. And Barkus is a dog parade.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Jill: You think you’ve seen great dog costumes, at Barkus, you’ll see better dog costumes.
Chris: I don’t even know if I thought I had seen great dog costumes.
Jill: And then, really, my absolute favorite at Mardi Gras day…I know a lot of tried and true coverages about Rex, which is the king of Mardi Gras, but I like seeing Zulu. And Zulu runs also kind of down the uptown area but the heart of Zulu is right around in the Tremé, the backside of the French Quarter, down into that neighborhood. You can hang out there, people are barbecuing. You can buy some barbecue off of them. You get to hangout and try to get a Zulu coconut, which is the throw that you wanna get. Beads- beads are fine. Beads are nothing compared to a Zulu coconut. And they decorate coconuts and you’ve got glitter and the year and it says Zulu on it. Looking back from my desk, I have five Zulu coconuts on my bookshelf.
Chris: Excellent. When you were talking about places to eat, the one place I was thinking of that we enjoyed, I don’t even know if it’s still there, it’s an institution, it’s the Camela Grill?
Jill: Oh, Camellia Grill.
Chris: Camellia Grill, sorry.
Chris: I was trying to remember what the name of it was. Yeah, way over on the other end of St. Charles Avenue.
Jill: Right, you’re way uptown there.
Jill: Yeah, absolutely, that’s worth going to.
Chris: A place where they have literally scrubbed the formica off the counter tops it’s been there for so long.
Jill: God, was it maybe five years ago, they opened a Camellia Grill in the Quarter.
Chris: Oh, really? Wow, interesting.
Jill: Yeah, so I mean, it’s the same look in general and you get the same menu, it’s not that same feel. But in a pinch, if you wake up and you’re downtown near the Quarter and you really wanna go to Camellia Grill but you just can’t haul yourself up to uptown, then you can just go to Camellia Grill in the Quarter.
Chris: Excellent. We’re gonna have to wind this down. I know we have left things out.
Jill: Of course.
Chris: As we always do, because we just have to for time. Anything else, though, before I get to my last, say, four questions, that we really should include?
Jill: I have to say that New Orleans isn’t about speed. Just like this show, you’re going to have a lot of stuff that you wanna cover and you’re not gonna be able to cover it all. And so what you need to do is slow down, see beyond the quick glimpse. It’s the best way that you can see the real heart and soul of New Orleans. Get your number of things that you absolutely have to see and do, but spend some time, sit outside, watch the city go by. Because oftentimes, the best parade you’re gonna get in New Orleans is walking right past you.
Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest part of New Orleans, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Jill: One of the prettiest places in New Orleans and where people just don’t know about but it is quiet, there’s a little playground with kids, but the oaks, the beautiful trees in this park… And they also have a local, little group of quaker parrots, which are kind of greyish, white parrots and they tend to hang around here. You can hang out in the park and be close to Frenchmen Street but still just get this very quiet city feel with the parrots, which is odd, but it’s called Washington Square Park and it’s in the Marigny.
Chris: Okay. And I should have asked, but I have it already, assuming we’re not going to Mardi Gras – we’ve already talked about Mardi Gras – when would you recommend people go to New Orleans?
Jill: I’d back up first and say, what do you want to do there?
Jill: If you are a festival kind of person, you really wanna go for food and music, I would go in spring, it’s usually April, French Quarter Festival. It used to be very calm and an easy thing to do, now it’s getting bigger. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is the last weekend of April and first weekend of May every year, is fantastic, and that’s at the fairgrounds. A smaller music festival which has some great food but it’s in summer and it’s early August, it’s Satchmo Fest.
Chris: And do you pause when you say because it’s in summer. There’s a hesitation as you recommend something in summer in New Orleans because…
Jill: It is hot and humid! And if you can’t handle that, then don’t go in the summer.
Jill: I go any time of the year; it’s fantastic. And it’s just in summer. I stay with friends who have a swimming pool. I know what establishments have air conditioning. I stand and walk in the shade and that’s how I survive. So it works for me. But if you just can’t deal with the heat and humidity, don’t go in the summer. One great time to go to New Orleans, that a lot of people don’t think about, is between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Jill: So right after Thanksgiving when everyone who’s traveled is off the planes and things quiet down for another couple weeks before you get that Christmas rush, that’s a great time to go to New Orleans. The Christmas decorations are starting to go up. You still get a great look at what New Orleans is outside of holiday season. And the weather is a little variable, so it can be in the 70s. It could also be in the 50s.
Jill: So you have to look and see what the track of the weather is before you pack your bag. But it is relatively quiet, you get to hear great music without tons of crowds of people. You get into the best restaurants without having to worry about too many reservations. And I go every year at that time.
Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in New Orleans”?
Jill: Okay, so last fall when I was in New Orleans, I was there a couple days before my husband, so every morning, I got out and went for a run before my friends were ready to have breakfast. We don’t really have breakfast there until like 10. And so I went for a run through the Marigny and the Bywater.
Jill: And I had to stop, when outside a cafe, on a little iron cafe chair. I saw a piglet that was sitting in the chair in front of the table that had a cup of coffee. I didn’t see a person around. And that’s one of those things where you go, “Yes, of course, this belongs here.”
Chris: It was probably chicory coffee, too.
Jill: Oh, yes.
Chris: Last two questions. “You really know you’re in New Orleans when,” what?
Jill: A couple things, you really know you’re in New Orleans when you can walk from music club to music club, or bar to music club, or restaurant to bar, to music club, and be able to not have to finish your drink before you leave the establishment but have them pour it into a plastic go-cup and be able to take your drink from one place to the next or just sit on the side walk.
Chris: Never heard of that.
Jill: Because as long as it’s in aluminum, like a can or in a plastic cup, just not in glass, you can walk around with your drink.
Chris: Huh! Okay, never heard of that in anywhere else before.
Chris: And if you had to summarize New Orleans in just three words, what three words would you give us?
Jill: Well, my personal way to summarize it in my three words is: my heart home. I live outside of San Francisco and I grew up in this area, and I love San Francisco, but whenever I land in New Orleans, I just feel so at home.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest, again, has been Jill Robinson from dangerjillrobinson.com. Is there other places that you would recommend to people who want to go read about your travels, Jill?
Jill: I write regularly for the San Francisco Chronicle travel section, Afar, National Geographic Traveler, as well as a lot of other travel print magazines, including inflight magazines like American Way.
Chris: And your favorite New Orleans story that you’ve written recently?
Jill: My favorite New Orleans story that I’ve written, that people can read before August, would be my Tremé story in the San Francisco Chronicle which ran in April.
Chris: Excellent. And you should be able to find that online as well.
Jill: Yes. Actually, if you can’t find it through a search, you can go to my website and I have a page that lists writing, and you can find it listed on my page.
Chris: Excellent. Jill, thank you for coming on Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love, or should we say, obsession with New Orleans.
Jill: Yeah! It’s a fair thing to say. Thank you so much for having me. I always love talking about New Orleans.
Chris: In news of the community, I heard recently from Pam, who had a critique about the show. “I just listened to your Grease podcast. Very good, except I think when you have a guest telling about sights or various places, if they have an accent, you should repeat the names of the cities or attractions that they mention. The Italian guest was fantastic, except when she mentioned an attraction, I couldn’t understand her. And you never mentioned the place, so it was lost. Thanks, Pam.”
And I apologize, Pam, first of all. And generally, I try and repeat that if I didn’t think it was clear. So I may have thought she was more clear than you did, so my apologies for that. But also, two resources I would recommend. One is the show notes. In the show notes, we try and get a lot of those places written down and then actually linked off to an article about them. So if the place sounds interesting, really do go to the show notes. Or even in the enhanced version, we have those same links. So that’s something to be aware of, and then now that we are transcribing every episode. Thanks to our friends at JayWay Travel who are experts in Eastern European travel, I should mention, because of that, about a month and a half to two months after the show comes out, we have a transcription of the show. And that usually has more information as well. So just wanted to mention those two resources.
I also heard from former guest on the show, Spencer Quan, who said, “Chris Christensen, thank you for taking us around the world for 10 years. Recently, I’ve been researching too, out of the mainstream trips to Micronesia and Croatia, and the first place I went was your website. What I have found amazing is that you have taken us far and wide on an average of 47 times in a year. I really appreciate all the time you spend putting together such great podcasts, ensuring the information on your websites, social media, etc., etc.”
Spencer, you are welcome. If I didn’t mention in the last comment, the reason why our show notes have correct information and link off to interesting places, is the other person who’s putting in a lot of work, is Jeffrey, our Editor.
With that, we’re gonna end this episode of The Amateur Traveler. If you have questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram at @Chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.