It's no secret that Wendy and I truly love where we live. Our historic town has so much to offer in the way of food, culture, activities, and experiences. Beyond our immediate town, our proximity to Washington DC allows us to enjoy its eclectic neighborhoods and amenities without much thought or effort. We're able to just jump on the metro or on a bus and we can be downtown in minutes. There are few places in the country where we feel this level of comfort and accessibility. One other location that immediately springs to mind is actually where Wendy and I spent this past weekend -- the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Yep, we've been gallivanting around the south the last couple of days and have been having a great time doing it. This trip is actually our second trip to the Big Easy in the last several years and we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit both the first time and this most recent trip as well.

We stayed at the edge of the French Quarter on the corner of Bourbon and Canal. If you're familiar with the area, you know this is a hopping part of town that has no shortage of night life and activities. But as much as everyone talks about the boozing and partying in New Orleans, that's not the primary reason we really enjoy the area. Late night boozing and partying simply isn't our preferred evening, no matter what our trip to Pat O'Brien's for a world famous Hurricane might begin to imply.

I’m not sure why, but when Wendy and I visit a city for the second time we tend to have a great time. I think it has something to do with being more comfortable in our surroundings and more familiar with the area. We tend to know where we’re going and what we don’t want to miss on the trip well before we arrive.

This trip we made sure to hit all of our favorite areas we really enjoyed from our first visit. From beignets from Cafe Du Monde... shopping at the nearby French Market.

The French Quarter is one of those areas where you can simply wander and enjoy the layers of history that have formed the city. It's stunning in so many ways.

In addition to all of our favorite locations we always do several new things. We typically learn what we may have missed the first time we hit the city and often have plans to see or experience these items our second time around.

On our first trip to New Orleans we visited the typically touristy areas, sticking to the historic French Quarter, the Garden District, and a little venture into the Warehouse District. From food to attractions this showed us quite a bit of what makes New Orleans a great tourist destination, but it largely ignored the aspects of New Orleans that are still recovering from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the levy breaches, and the struggle of the city’s residents to pull the whole area back onto its feet after being knocked down so viciously in 2005.

It’s easy to lose concept of how badly damaged the “newer” areas of New Orleans had been after hurricane Katrina. When you walk the picturesque streets of the 100 to 200 year old city you’re struck by the beauty of the architecture, history of the buildings, and bustling and vibrant cultural scene.

These older areas of town are built on higher ground and are far more protected from floods than the neighborhoods just a few miles from the city center. While the French Quarter experienced only moderate flooding, the nearby 9th ward, areas around the London Canal, and other low-lying communities nearby the compromised levy systems or failed pumping stations were simply devastated and still show the clear signs of the impact today. 

After experiencing the wonderful parts of the city, we also wanted to see the areas that are still in active recovery from the storm. We ended up going on a city tour that took us through many of the major areas of the town, from Treme to the Garden District, and it included some of the most heavily damaged neighborhoods that are still trying to learn their way. What we saw on the tour was rather eye opening.

Rather than give you all a blow by blow of the tour, I'll touch on a few of the items that are sure to stick with us over the years. I know there's far worse that we didn't even come near, and our visit was a full seven years removed from the storm, but there was still a significant amount of damage, especially given the amount of time since the event.

The hardest hit areas are actually neighborhoods that sit in lower lying areas of the city that sat near levies that failed during the aftermath of the storm. When these levies failed, they allowed water into the various neighborhoods raging from three to six feet deep, and sometimes more. The massive amount of water swept homes off their foundations and remained in the streets and homes of residents for three weeks or more, destroying homes from the inside even if they weren't destroyed from the initial surge.

Our tour guide pointed out the spray paint still left on the fronts of houses from the search and recovery effort. These telltale markings show the homes in each neighborhood that have yet to be fully fixed or razed, sitting in a state of post disaster limbo. Though the paint looks like sloppy graffiti, the markings were used by the search and recovery personnel to identify the homes where a search had been completed, and statistics related to the search, such as date and if any fatalities had been identified.

The number of homes that still possess these markings, now seven years later, was simply shocking. Though the tour was restricted from entering the most heavily affected Lower Ninth Ward, the devastation evident from the vacant lots, homes still awaiting destruction, and debris fields where homes once stood shed a little light on the lesser of the most significant damage.

As much damage and evidence of the storm still exists, there has also been a tremendous amount of rebuilding and success in bringing life back to the hard hit neighborhood. We drove through the Musicians' Village Habitat for Humanity project. Spearheaded by local celebrities in the area, this collection of flood fortified homes was built after Katrina to house local musicians who had been displaced by the storm. I recall seeing this project covered on the New Orleans season of This Old House.

Beyond the Ninth Ward, we also took a trip through the Treme neighborhood. While the streets are still lined with absolutely beautiful Victorian homes that are very indicative of the area, there were still many examples of the very hard times that have befallen some of the residents. This home, missing it’s entire side, has obviously seen better days.

It seemed that no matter where we turned you'd see evidence of the storm's aftermath, usually in a vacant home or two still waiting for attention, or evidence of a water level that rested at chest height or above for weeks after the storm.

We were both glad to have had a guide take us through these areas to get us out of the touristy cocoon of the French Quarter and Garden District. It definitely helps to understand where the people who support New Orleans and the way of life everyone expects from the Big Easy actually live. It's often too easy to put this out of your mind when you're coming to an area for a few days to enjoy some good food and beautiful sights. It's also good to see the many ways the city's residents and visitors have pulled together to rebuild after such devastation. 

It would have been far easier to abandon rather than restore. Maybe, in the end, that's one of the reasons why we really enjoy New Orleans. After all, that's sort of the mentality we have when it comes to our own efforts on our home.

It was a great and eye opening trip that we both enjoyed quite a bit. We ate some great meals, got together with and had a wonderful time with friends, and got to experience an area of the city that we hadn't ventured before. I'd also be remiss if I didn't share a photo from our trip out to the botanical gardens and art museum. The live oaks in the park, along with their Spanish moss, are simply stunning.

Have you been to New Orleans? If so, was it pre or post Katrina? If you've been both before and after, what are your thoughts on the area? If you haven't been, is it a place you'd like to visit? I'd love to hear your opinions.

Comments 11


1/14/2013 at 7:01 PM
We've been pre-and-post Katrina. The first time we were there during Carnival, and then most recently last Thanksgiving. Like you, we used the most recent trip to do the things we didn't get to do the first time around. There are still a handful of restaurants I want to visit, and events I want to attend, so I'm sure we'll be back. Next time though, we're staying somewhere different. I don't know who those folks on TripAdvisor are that loved our place, but it smelled so bad.
The food there is truly amazing, and we went during king cake season too!!! Oh man, do I love king cake.

We've stayed different places both times and have enjoyed both. I know what you mean on TripAdvisor, we took our tour recs from there, and it wasn't quite what we expected. I think it was rated 4.5 stars, I'd give it a 2.5-3. Oh well.
1/15/2013 at 2:01 PM
We did the free jazz walking tour from the historical society and it was amazing. I especially loved it because we were the only ones who showed up so it was a private tour.
1/15/2013 at 11:09 AM
It has been years (20 on my next birthday) since I have been to New Orleans, but still remember the wonderful food (my dad's favorite restaurant was Ralph & Kacoo's). Definitely need to go back soon!
It sounds like you're overdue for a trip!
Spring Altman
1/15/2013 at 2:06 PM
My husband and I was retired military, we were stationed in Gulfport, MS and lived north of New Orleans(Slidell) from 2001 to 2008. We saw the before and after first hand and believe me it is amazing. Our experience with the aftermath of Katrina taught us about the power of a community to pull together and hope. We are living back home outside of Cleveland, OH now, but we will always carry New Orleans with us in our hearts. We miss our friends and the whole region terribly.
Wow, I can't imagine what it was like to live through such a devastating disaster, but as you pointed out, so inspiring to see communities coming together.

I hope you're enjoying Cleveland. It's our hometown after all!
1/15/2013 at 9:11 PM
I didn't recognize Bourbon St in the daylight. MTS
Yes, I imagine seeing Bourbon Street sober/in the daylight/on foot is a much different experience! ;-)
2/9/2013 at 9:30 PM
Found your site because of the Homies. Love that you like New Orleans so much. I'm originally from the Alexandria, VA area and now I'm living in New Orleans. Both places are awesome, but N'Orleans is special. Enjoying the blog and if you ever need spots to check out outside of the Quarter next time your down, let me know.
Hi, Kelly, glad you found us. You're quite right about your city, it is very special, we can see that in the two times we've been there. I'll surely let you know if we head back down that way. We always have the best time in cities where we get advice from or meet up with locals.
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