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julia dimon for metro toronto
With scary headlines about New Orleans’ escalating violent crime, many tourists may be asking themselves — is the city safe for visitors?
Kelly Schulz, V.P. of communications for the Convention & Visitors Bureau, says yes. “Our crime problem is not random acts of violence against visitors,” she says. “Stats show that recent events are drug, gang or domestic-violence related.”
Kelly says tourist areas like the French Quarter are very safe and have a strong police presence.
And I agree. When I was walking around the French Quarter recently, I felt at ease but, just like in any other major city, I used caution and common sense.
My exploration led me down charming cobblestone alleys, past cute boutiques to a bustling after-dark street party.
A trip to Bourbon Street felt like being a freshman all over again: frat boy bars, cheap booze, drunken silliness and a guaranteed 15 pounds of fat that goes straight to your thighs. From the rich Southern cuisine to the nudie clubs that line the strip, New Orleans is sure to feed all your hedonistic desires.
I was armed with a “hand-grenade,” a neon plastic beaker filled with a lethal potion of mystery liquor. It felt naughty drinking in public, but here — where cars sport bumper stickers with the words “Third World and Proud of It” — it’s totally legal.
With dollar beers to go and no last call, New Orleans must be an alcoholic’s dream, but it’s more than just a party. New Orleans is characterized by a rich cultural history, incredible food, legendary music and bayou wetlands.
It’s set apart by friendly locals, who love Saints football and are fiercely proud to call this wounded city home.
Jon Guidroz, a 25-year-old local, has backpacked around the world but says that Mardi Gras is one of the best parties he’s seen. “It’s free, it’s city wide and you don’t have to find the party, the party finds you.”
For those planning a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (peak dates are February 17-20), Jon shares a little uncensored local advice:
- Don’t just stay in the French Quarter. Explore the parade route along St. Charles Ave.; leave the congested downtown core to enter the Garden district.
- For alternative nightlife, try Uptown. Bars like Maple Leaf, Le Bon Temps or Tipitinas always have great live music. Just outside the French Quarter, you can also check out Frenchman Street, a strip of bars where the locals go.
- If a local invites you to a crawfish boil after a parade, don’t be freaked out. It’s just Southern hospitality. The more the merrier.
- Try hole-in-the-wall restaurants for cheap eats: muffaletta, po-boy sandwiches, gumbo and jambalaya are classics.
- Wear comfortable shoes and expect to walk a lot. It’s hard to get a taxi, so it’s best to navigate the city by foot.
- Men beware: in the French Quarter, it’s socially acceptable for ladies to flash their parts for beads, but not so for men. Cops don’t like it and may nab you for indecent exposure.
Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie, an on-line magazine for the young and restless traveller. She can be reached at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.