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A Local's Perspective.

Whenever I tell people that I'm from New Orleans, I can guess that the response will be something related to Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is indeed an important part of the New Orleans experience, but the city has a great deal more to offer.

New Orleans' location makes it an excellent stop for ships carrying cargo to and from other ports along the Mississippi River and the rest of the world from the Gulf of Mexico. Since the city's founding, it has been one of the most vital port cities in the United States.

During times of war, the city was viewed as an extremely vital asset since it served as the gateway to the Mississippi River. Even today, it is not uncommon to see cargo ships registered to several different nations anchored in the Mississippi alongside the city. In addition to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, the city lies in close proximity to Lake Pontchartrain, which offers small pleasure boating, fishing, water skiing, and sailing.

Besides the shipping industry, New Orleans enjoys a booming tourism industry. People from all over the United States and the rest of the world come to town for annual festivals such as the Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Festival. Among the annual sporting events held in the New Orleans are: the Compaq Classic PGA Golf Tournament, the Sugar Bowl, and the Bayou Classic football game between Grambling and Southern Universities. New Orleans is also occasional host to national events such as the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Many people also enjoy a tour of some of the mausoleums in the city's cemeteries. The practice of putting the dead in mausoleums developed out of necessity as the city is below sea level and is susceptible to hurricanes coming out the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was found that the mausoleums were a safer final resting place than a traditional grave.

If the attractions within the city aren't enough, you can rent a car and head North on River Road to one of several plantation homes along the Mississippi River. Visitors can tour the grounds of the homes and get an idea about what life was like in the days of the Antebellum South.

New Orleans used several different flags before the Louisiana territory became part of the United States. Originally a French settlement, New Orleans also saw the rule of the Spanish and British before being returned to French control just prior to the Louisiana Purchase. The influences of these different cultures are evident in the world famous Vieux Carre, or French Quarter, where much of the architecture is actually Spanish. The most well-known example of this is the Cabildo, which was the seat of the government in New Orleans when the Spanish ruled the city.

Architecture is not the only area where the history and cultural influences of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are evident. While every other state in the Union is divided into counties, Louisiana is split into parishes. This practice traces its history back to the strong Catholic influence in the state. Also, Louisiana is the only state whose laws are based on the Napoleonic Code which developed under French rule as opposed to Common Law as in every other state.

As you can see, New Orleans has a rich history and unique character to offer its guests. There is a lot more to the city than the celebration surrounding Mardi Gras. I've been to a lot of other cities around the United States, and although I love to travel and enjoy visiting new places, to me there's really no place like New Orleans.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tips for Traveling to New Orleans


* Pack an umbrella, comfortable shoes, and a camera. There are plenty of places to walk around, but remember New Orleans can often be rainy on summer afternoons.


* Buy a VisiTour pass. Available in one-day or three-day denominations, the pass allows unlimited access on streetcars and buses. It's great for exploring.


* Take a round-trip sightseeing tour on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar. It's a great way to get an overview of the Garden District, Uptown, and the University areas of town, and you'll be aboard the oldest continuously-operating street railway system in the world.


* For a delightful view of the Mississippi River, take the ferry at the foot of Canal Street across the water to Algiers on the West Bank.


* Acclimate yourself over cocktails at the Top of The Mart, a 33rd floor revolving cocktail lounge that affords a 360-degree panorama of the city.


* Brush up on your New Orleans lingo. For example, you catch the streetcar on the "neutral ground," or what is also called a median. And "dressed" when ordering a sandwich means your sandwich comes with "the works." In the Crescent City, another popular way to order food is "lagniappe" (pronounced lan-yap), which means "a little something extra."


* Go with the flow. Directions follow the river. Upriver is uptown. Downriver is downtown. Lakeside is toward Lake Pontchartrain. Riverside is toward the Mississippi River. The Central Business District and the French Quarter are downriver/downtown.


* Ride the turn-of-the-century carousel in City Park.


* Buy a muffuletta or a po-boy and have it for lunch on a bench in Woldenberg Park.


* Visit Audubon Park or City Park. New Orleans has been rated one of the greenest cities in the U.S., and these two parks are less than three miles apart.


* If you're driving to New Orleans, the French Quarter exit off I-10 is the "Vieux Carre," exit 235B.


* Explore the 24-hour, Farmers Market in the early morning hours. You'll see some of the city's most famous residents shopping for produce.

Aaron Hirsh has lived in the New Orleans area for 20 years and recently moved back to his hometown of Slidell, La. He graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.
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Author:Hirsh, Aaron
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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