For many tourists New Orleans is only the French Quarter. But there is more to this city than just the jazz, food, and night clubs. The Cajun Encounters City Tour takes you around the city in a 33 passenger climate controlled mini bus with the driver as your tour guide. The three hour tour takes visitors to major neighborhoods in the city and discusses local history and present challenges. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is an ongoing theme.
Our tour began in the French Quarter. Debbie, our driver and guide, is a fourth generation New Orleans resident who had a lot of information to share and answers to our questions. She told us that the French founded the city in 1718 and it was to be used as a fort along the Mississippi River. Canal Street was initially the boundary between the French and the British or American populations which lived on the other side.
We drove by or through many of the major attractions in the quarter including Jackson Square and Café Du Monde. Jackson Square, is a historic park in the French Quarter. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. We also learned about the New Orleans Aquarium and Insectarium where you can get insect dishes such as cricket crepes.
Many of the New Orleans residents are of African or Caribbean origins. We drove by many of their brightly colored homes. These provided great contrast to the muted colors of homes in the American sector.
We visited the Ninth Ward where we saw first hand the damage from Hurricane Katrina and the progress made since that devastating disaster. Many homes are still in the process of being torn down and vacant lots remain. But progress is being made as people return and rebuild their homes with aid from government agencies.
Musicians' Village was conceived by Harry Connick Jr to house musicians and help keep them in the city. Residents help pay for their new homes by pledging 350 hours of community work.
Brad Pitt in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity founded Make It Right which helps to provide new homes equipped with solar panels. He has finished 83 homes so far. The government's Rode Home Program has helped in the construction.
Burial in New Orleans is a problem. If you dig down six feet in most areas, you hit water. Therefore the concept of above ground burial is desirable. We visited the St Louis Cemetery where we saw a wide variety of above ground burial tombs. Most consisted of family tombs. Debbie told us that space problems in the tomb are solved by compressing the corpse after it has been in the tomb for one year and one day.
We drove into City Park and saw the great Live Oak trees and general beauty. Also had a quick stop with time for some Morning Call coffee.
The Garden District is often referred to as the American Sector. It consists of many ante bellum mansions and is where many of the rich and famous of New Orleans live. St Charles Street runs through the quarter and is the route of America's oldest street car line which started in 1835.
Our tour ended with a drive through the Warehouse District. This area is now home to several museums including the World War II Museum and Contemporary Arts Center. It might best be called the museum district now.
This Cajun Encounters Tour is a great way to learn a lot about New Orleans in just three hours. Debbie was knowledgeable and added to the experience. The small bus was a plus. Cajun Encounters also runs a tour of the Honey Island Swamp and a plantation tour. For more information contact Cajun Encounters.