Ok, so maybe it might not have been the wisest idea booking our trip to New Orleans during one of their hottest months. But we knew what we were getting ourselves into and told ourselves it would be fine. We figured we can opt to suffer the oppressive heat if we choose to. And besides, there were deals to be had during this low season because apparently not that many people are as willing (or crazy?) as us to put up with the weather.
And anyway we were getting 95-degree days in Denver, too. And even though Denver’s is a dry heat – not the kind that drenches you the moment you step outside – it was still hot, hot, hot.
We landed in NOLA in the afternoon and pretty much immediately could tell a difference. As we taxied to our gate the overhead blowers began spewing air we could actually see there was so much moisture in the air. And as we stepped off of the plane the wall of humidity hit us. We were definitely in the Deep South.
Honestly, sometimes I long for hot, humid days. The air is incredibly dry in Denver and it doesn’t hurt to mix it up a bit. Going from 10% humidity to around 90% counts as a change, I’d say.
We chatted with our cabbie as he shlepped us to our hotel in the French Quarter. “Sure this time of year it’s hot,” he says, “But it’s not so bad. And the crowds are manageable unlike when the festivals start rolling through…”
Being that it can be 100 degrees with 100% humidity, it’s not unusual for there to be thinner crowds in August, and thinner crowds we were definitely keen on. I’m way past my prime years for celebrating Mardi Gras in the French Quarter and I’ll happily experience a more subdued version of the partying.
New Orleans was still pretty hopping, but not so crazy it was annoying or not so dead that it felt deserted. There were the perfect amount of people, I’d say.
We scored a rocking deal on our hotel, too. We stayed at Hotel Monteleone, a place we never would’ve opted for had the rates been even close to standard (anywhere from $100-450 and we got it for about $100/night). Many movies have featured the hotel, famous people have slept on their beds and their revolving Carousel Bar is an attraction that lures people inside.
It’s the largest and probably most well-known hotel in the French Quarter, so it was ultra convenient for seeing the sights. And we even got a free continental breakfast every morning. It was a full fruit spread with various pastries and cereals, coffee, juice and tea. Not a bad way to start off the day.
We’d heard such mixed things about the people of New Orleans we didn’t know what to expect. Some friends couldn’t say enough good things about the people, while others warned that they had a bit of an edge. Hurricane Katrina devastated the region and tropical storms don’t tend to go easy on the Big Easy, either. So maybe because the city and its people have been through so much that it just wears on them. It’s hard to say.
Quite honestly, I can’t remember a time when we’ve chatted with and were made feel more welcome by people in a new city than we did in New Orleans. In a previous post, I mentioned the nice people we came across in Portland, but it was nothing like New Orleans.
The streetcar drivers were helpful and patient, explaining again and again to new tourists hopping aboard how the fares worked – $1.25 for a single ride and $3 for a day pass. The cabbies were friendly and talkative (though not too talkative that you didn’t have a moment’s peace). The people in the stores greeted you and asked if you needed any help and said to holler if they could be of assistance.
But really the best experiences we had were in the galleries. We first stopped at Kurt Schon Gallery. Mr. Schon was there and engaged us in conversation for quite some time. He was interested in us, wanting to know how our first visit to New Orleans was going and was actually quite funny, too. Even though we weren’t serious buyers – we’d just hoped to check out his wonderful collection of 18th and 19th century paintings – he treated us with great courtesy.
We also visited A Gallery For Fine Photography and Martin Lawrence Gallery. The people were great there, too, answering any questions we had but letting us view the artwork without hassle. And the collections in the galleries down there is, simply put, amazing. They have museum-quality pieces and to be able to peruse it freely was an unusual treat.
Safety (or lack thereof).
Reading up on new cities is essential. You’ve got to have a good base to work off of to plan an itinerary that will suit you. You also need to be aware of any potential problems, too.
During our research we came upon a lot of warnings and advice regarding safety, which was a bit unsettling. It had been a long time since we visited a place where you couldn’t venture out freely without regard to certain safe boundaries.
Since Hurricane Katrina, we read that the city was still in a recovery phase of sorts. Many people were still destitute and struggling to get by. Muggings, assaults and murders were all up in numbers (in 2010 New Orleans had the highest murder rate in the US) and tourists were recommended to take a cab anywhere outside highly-trafficked areas. They said to avoid altogether streets without any people and guard belongings closely.
Being cognizant of your surroundings is always a good idea, of course, but somehow it felt different this time. We geared up for the worst and felt paranoid all the time. We did tend to relax a little as the days wore on, but we were still sure to keep an eye on what was happening around us. Since we like to explore outside the main tourist areas, the French Quarter being the place apparently many tourists rarely venture outside of, we needed to be extra cautious.
In the end nothing happened. While initially I thought it was a little too hyped and guide books were being overly cautious, it is a dangerous city. The best bet is to stay in the touristy areas and use common sense.
I won’t lie – the weather was dreadfully hot and definitely wore us down. You find yourself dragging, you lose your appetite and by midday you just want to sit somewhere and be cool. We were able to find reprieve throughout the day, luckily, popping into museums, restaurants and galleries now and then, but the sun still takes its toll.
Even with the heat, it was still a pretty relaxing trip and we saved a bundle on our hotel. Food, unfortunately, didn’t impress us and safety was an issue, but the people more than made up for any shortcomings.
This being my first trip to New Orleans, I can’t exactly compare it to other past visits. But it’s a lovely city. The architecture, people and history are fascinating and not to be missed. You can’t find these combinations in many places in the US.