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New Orleans: Howdy to the Big Easy

Abhishek Kar

Want to visit a big American city down south, within hand-shaking distance of the mighty Mississippi? Well, just pack your bags and head for New Orleans, the biggest city of the state of Louisiana and one of the major US ports. Known as La Nouvelle-Orleans in French or Neuva Orleans in Spanish, this city is a treat for any visitor.

It was quite an exciting one-and-a-half-hour drive from Baton Rouge along the Interstate 10. At one point, the road runs even over parts of the Lake Ponchartrain. It’s always a pleasure to travel on wide US highways and more so if the destination is the Big Easy- one of the nicknames of New Orleans.

This city has a historic past for being under the control of several colonial powers like the French and the Spanish as well as for being a part of Confederate America. Quite naturally, New Orleans has witnessed a flow of people of several nationalities and is, in the true sense, multi-cultural.

From a tourist’s point of view, one of the chief attractions of this city is the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, famous not only for different types of fish but also for sharks and the ‘Ghost of Mississippi’ or the Louisiana’s White Alligator. Here, even children can pat a baby shark in the shark pool but with care for they are quite capable of severing fingers, once agitated. Another thrilling experience, apart from looking at an electric eel, is getting the feel of the amount of current this fish gives off. All you have to do is to place two fingers at a specially designed terminal!

For visitors wanting to be out in the open, it’s a real pleasure to take a walk along the roads and boulevards of New Orleans. One can go around gazing at modern man-made structures like the Superdome, One Shell Square building, the Joan of Arc Monument or simply sit on the bank of the meandering Mississippi and marvel at Nature’s creation as the river twists and turns. In New Orleans, every structure, ranging from old mansions to Creole cottages of the French Quarters and Double Gallery houses, seems to have a story to tell.

In order to be transported to the past, tourists can step into steam-emitting, slow- chugging steamboats which are legends themselves. They can enjoy a river cruise in one of these for a price but the experience, I can assure, will be priceless. A faint link to my good, old Kolkata are streetcars plying on the city roads, much like the Kolkata trams!

Once in New Orleans, famous for the Mardi Gras celebrations, a visit to the French Quarters is a must. The colorful houses of the bygone era have been maintained quite well. Apart from this, what one should never miss is a walk down the Rue Bourbon just to watch local artists giving final touches to their creations or to stand quietly and listen to live Jazz bands. Foodies or not, tourists must go for the local cuisines and dig their teeth into shrimps, oysters, crabs, crawfish or even plain chicken and mutton, cooked in various styles. I, a strange Bengali with no love for fish or crustaceans, filled myself up with the Cajun specialty of Blackened Chicken and finished the course with a cool flow of Iced Tea.

New Orleans with its old world charm, casts a spell on you. It does, and I must confess that I felt quite sad leaving it behind even when I knew that my next destination would be the Disney World in Orlando! For, that’s New Orleans!!