New Orleans – a city rich in history and intoxicating culture, no wonder we didn’t want to leave you! It’s beautifully obvious that the French founded and settled New Orleans – the French attitude stays true in the heart of the city’s culture, which was the framework NOLA built it’s own traditions.
While in Louisiana, we stayed at Fontainebleau State Park. We had no idea the history that surrounded us as we rolled our RV through the moss-adorned trees. NOTE: You know those tress have Spanish moss on them because the settlers brought that moss with them and well, just like moss – and other things brought by the explorers, it stayed and multiplied.
The Fontainebleau grounds housed an old [crumbled] sugar mill, built in 1829 by Bernard De Marigny de Mandeville. Bernard was also founder of the nearby town, Mandeville. He developed this now park area across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to be a sugar plantation until 1852. The plantation helped support his expensive lifestyle. He named the land Fontainebleau after a forest near Paris, a favorite area for French kings.
The Fontainebleau State Park is some 2,800 acres and includes an expansive sandy beach overlooking Lake Pontchartrain. An old railroad track running through the park was converted into the Tammany Trace – the ‘rails to trails’ program. You can bike ride, hike, in-line skate, run, stroll – it’s wonderful! The nature trails are phenomenal; little wooden signs help you all wildlife. Over 400 different species live in Fontainebleau. Funny Note: While driving home one night we saw wild pigs roaming the forest, the next evening we saw piglets roaming – very unusual for us, but not for the locals.
We think the jewel of New Orleans is City Park. With 1,300-acres City Park has been around since 1854, making it one of the nation’s oldest urban parks.
It’s a delight just walking through the park, beautiful old oaks with moss canopies curve above your head, making you feel like you are in an enchanted garden. Apparently the park’s claim-to-fame are the oak trees. One of it’s trees, ‘the grand oak’, dates back to 800 years, and some of the oldest trees have limbs that are twice as long as the oak is tall.
Some hot spots in this park: The Botanical Garden, The Besthoff Sculpture Garden, The Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, oh, and Morning Call – a 24 hour coffee shop.
The reason City Park stands strong today is that during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration put in $12 million as part of the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), which employed 20,000 men and women to build roadways, fountains. Much of the art found throughout the park originated in the W.P.A. era.
The French Quarter
The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré, is the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. After New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the city developed around the Vieux Carré, a central square. Our kids really enjoyed the street entertainers, live musicians, and colorful architecture. They couldn’t get enough of the beignets and cafe au lait. Honestly, they quickly ‘got over’ Bourbon street – can’t blame them – so we headed to a more ‘kid friendly’ area where New Orleans history lesson took over. Some other facts we learned along the way:
Voodoo introduction: Apparently New Orleans came to the US in the 1800’s and Marie Laveau – Voodoo Queen - was one of the first to perform the acts of exorcism and voodoo rituals. SpOoKy!
Napoleon Bonaparte bought New Orleans at the beginning of the 19th century. This was what was known as the Louisiana Purchase, 1803 was a good year!
New Orleans has the most Historic Districts – 20!
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest continuous bridge in the world, crossing Lake Pontchartrain. It takes some 40 minutes to cross and is 24 miles long. We certainly knew that bridge well, since our campsite was on the other side of the lake – phew!
The New Orleans Superdome is the largest enclosed arena is the world. The dome was instrumental in housing all displaced residents during hurricane Katrina.
Yum Yum, home of Creole food: Jambalaya and King Cake!
Jazz was born in New Orleans along with rock and roll and the blues.
Mardi Gras Parade is held in New Orleans, but it originated in the city of Mobile, Alabama, so there’s that nugget. Mardi Gras is a French Catholic celebration as it pertains to Lent.
The first opera was performed in New Orleans in 1790.
Beignets – New Orleans is famous for them, deep fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. We had our share, at a few establishments: Morning Call in City Park and Café Du Monde in the French Quarter – the original French Market coffee stand, since the 1860’s. Both serving café au lait and hot beignets 24 hours a day, year round.
New Orleans is known as the most haunted city in America! It is believed to be the place with the highest spiritual activity in the US, especially around the French Quarter where Marie Laveau used to live.
We notice the cemeteries have their tombs above ground. We thought the cemeteries were beautiful with their sculptured stones. We understand the tombs are due to the high water in the area.
Founded at the beginning of the 18th century, New Orleans was believed to be safe from hurricanes and it was initially built in a rectangle block (now known as the French Quarter) to protect it’s residents.
Squeezing a lot into a few days – there was so much more we wanted to experience in NOLA, but alas the rest of the nation waits. We are quickly realizing, you never have enough time; so instead, we are making the most of our explorations and relishing every discovery.