What? you say, snow in New Orleans? Yup, we spent a week there last January, and it was definitely one of those trips that teach you it expect the unexpected. We all remember last winter. The US got hit with one cold front after another, and many places in the South got unusual cold and snow as well. We had booked our trip well in advance and as our travel date approached we kept hoping that the weather would improve, it didn’t. Still, we are from Canada, so we thought, how bad can it be, right?
The day we arrived, we went for a long walk through the Garden District, which I love. It has such elegant buildings and luch gardens full of tropical plants. There was an icy wind whistling down the streets though, and the plants didn’t look super happy. Next morning as we crossed the courtyard of our hotel in search of breakfast, we discovered that it had actually snowed about a centimeter in the night. Now the plants looked really out of place.
We had planned to ride the street cars for a bit that day and do a bit of shopping. The Maison St Charles Hotel where we stayed is located right on St Charles Avenue, a great central location, and there is a street car stop right outside the door. So we put on our warmest clothes and were ready to start our day. After we waited at the stop for quite a while another woman joined us and asked if knew when the tram was coming, which of course we didn’t. So we waited some more but finally realized that the street cars weren’t running. You all know by now how much I love trams so that was pretty disappointing.
By now we got pretty cold just standing out in the wind so we decided to find a coffee shop and warm up a bit. As we walked along St Charles Avenue we noticed that most of businesses were closed and there really weren’t very many people around so we wondered if it was some sort of holiday. Eventually we reached the Riverwalk Shopping Center happy to finally get out of the wind. By now it was almost 11 am but the mall too was very quiet and most of the stores were not open. Fortunately we finally found a coffee shop and enjoyed a well deserved cappuccino and some fresh beignets, those amazing New Orleans doughnuts, delicious!
Riverwalk is an awesome outlet mall with over 75 stores. After our coffee break we decided to have a look around and noticed that some of the businesses were opening up. Had a great time stocking up on some sweaters and jackets. Canadians do love shopping in the States! Of course we asked the people if it was normal to open up their businesses so late in the morning. No, they said, they just couldn’t get to work that morning because of the snow. One woman laughed and told us that she had phoned her dad that morning to ask how to get the ice off her windshield. Also the buses and street cars didn’t run of course. They all had such an awesome sense of humor as they told us about their winter adventures that morning.
Eventually we had enough and after an early dinner decided to stay in for the evening. About 9 pm the housekeeping manager knocked on our door to apologize that our room hadn’t been done, but none of her staff had come in that day. So we told her, no problem at all, and she offered us some clean towels.
The next morning it was time to head to the French Quarter. It was still cold and the only people on the streets were fellow tourists, because we paid to come here so we are certainly going to see all the sights. We admired the unique architecture in this neighborhood and browsed through the antique and music stores and had a wonderful time. When it was time for coffee we discovered that the city had issued a water advisory due to a problem with the water mains. Restaurants were not able to serve anything that involved tap water like soda fountains for example. We were surprised to learn this also included the milk frother on the espresso machine, so unfortunately no more of my favorite cappuccinos.
It was such a beautiful sunny day so we kept on exploring. Across Rampart Street from the French Quarter we came to Louis Armstrong Park, a beautifully landscaped 32-acre park that includes a 12 foot bronze statue of the legendary trumpeter as well as other art.
A major attraction of New Orleans is of course the amazing food here. We had great po’boys in a tiny place in the French Quarter. They are a traditional sandwich that almost always contains meat or fried seafood, though vegetarian options are also available, and all of them are delicious. Another must try is the wonderful spicy shrimp you can get everywhere in this city.
By the next morning it was warming up and, yay!!!, the trams were finally running again, so we did get our ride at last. The New Orleans street car system is a charming and convenient way to explore the city. There are 5 lines. Number one, the St Charles Line has been operating for more than 150 years, and is the oldest continuously operating street car line in the world. Vintage street cars still run along a 6-mile crescent from Carondelet at Canal Street in the Central Business District through the oldest section of Uptown, around the Riverbend to Carrollton at Claiborne Avenue. Number two, the Canal Street Line does a 5.5-mile route from the foot of Canal Street to the Midcity area. There is also a branch of this line that takes you to the New Orleans Museum of Art, just look for the cars that say city park/museum on the front. Three is the Riverfront Line which takes to all the points of interest along the riverfront. Then there is the Loyola/UPT Line, it runs from Union Station Passenger Terminal to the Medical District. Lastly there is the Rampart/St Claude Line. A single ticket purchased as you board the tram costs $1.25. There are also various types of passes available. Check out the Regional Transit Authority website here. So have fun riding these awesome street cars, they are all about atmosphere and some of the drivers like to tell entertaining stories as well.
We eventually got out at the city park and had coffee and beignets at the pavilion there. The weather had improved so much that we sat outside in the sun. Then we strolled through the sculpture garden and the botanical garden. Unfortunately all the camellias had really suffered from the cold weather so no blossoms. But in the glasshouses they have a great collection of orchids which were really beautiful. Later we wandered out of the park and along Bayou St John’s.
Finally on our last day the temperature was back to what you would expect for New Orleans that time of year and went to Jackson Square were the street musicians were out playing that famous New Orleans jazz. There had been great music in the clubs all along of course but I’m so glad we got to experience that great street party atmosphere as well.
We absolutely loved New Orleans and its friendly, good humored people. I hope we can go back there sometime when all the shuttered doors in the French Quarter will be open and life spills out into the street. Until then, au revoir New Orleans.