Click on highlighted text to view photos.Weather: New Orleans
Related sitesJanuary 25, 1997
(CNN) -- It's a challenge describing New Orleans, Louisiana, to someone who's never been there. You could say it has the charm of Charleston, the rhythm of Memphis and the "anything goes" attitude of Key West. On second thought, the best characterization may be to say New Orleans is like, well, New Orleans, and no place else on earth.
Few American cities have a history as colorful, what some would call "chaotic," as the Crescent City's. The French settled here first in 1718, choosing a site on the north bank of the Mississippi River. Throughout the next century, the French, Spanish, and Americans all laid claim to New Orleans. However, the Louisiana Purchase officially made it part of the U.S. in 1803.
The city's oldest neighborhood is the Vieux Carre, commonly known as the French Quarter. The Quarter lies in the heart of "N'awlins," as the natives call it, and most would agree it's the heart and soul of the city. The historic area has its own signature characteristics, such as quaint courtyards, cast-iron balconies, and signs that read "rue," which is French for "street."
The French Quarter
The St. Louis Cathedral is the Quarter's centerpiece. It dates from 1794 and is the nation's oldest active cathedral. The church is part of a lush green space called Jackson Square, named in honor of Andrew Jackson. Jackson was an American hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Across Decatur Street from the square is Cafe Du Monde, another New Orleans institution. The cafe opened in 1864 during the American Civil War and is where many visitors first come to know the "taste" that is uniquely New Orleans.
Distinct flavors fill the cafe's famous beignets, a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar, which is often accompanied by Cafe Au Lait, a strong chicory-laced coffee mixed with hot milk. Both provide a true taste of the city for a little more than $2, including tax and tip.
Mmm, mmm food
New Orleans dining is truly an art form in itself, a testimony to the many cultures that have touched this lovely place. The local cuisine is a divine compilation of French, Spanish, American, African and Caribbean flavors.
Many of the country's top restaurants are located here offering Cajun staples, like etouffee made with shrimp or crawfish, and Creole entrees, like red beans and rice. There's also jambalaya and gumbo and other masterpieces, which you can learn to create yourself at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Fresh seafood is another delicious local commodity, brought into the city from nearby waters.
Down by the river
The city is proud not only of its delectable fresh catches, but also of the marine life on display at the Aquarium of the Americas, which opened in 1990. The aquarium is a much-needed family attraction in a place known for its "adult" entertainment. This window on the water world features exhibits illustrating sea life from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Reef, the Amazon River Basin and the Mississippi River Delta.
If the French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans, its lifeblood is the Mississippi River. Each year, more than 6,000 ships pass through the port of New Orleans. To get a feel for life on the river, many travelers cruise aboard the Natchez, one of only six steam-powered paddle wheelers in America.
As the sounds of a calliope fill the air, tourists pass by many of the city's star attractions such as the floating gambling hall, the Flamingo Casino. Nearby, the site of the much-publicized Riverwalk disaster is also apparent. In December 1996, an ocean-going freighter crashed into the shopping and dining complex, causing extensive damage, but fortunately no fatalities. The Riverwalk officially reopened just in time for the tourists flocking in for Super Bowl XXXI.
One monstrosity you won't be able to see from the Mississippi is the Louisiana Superdome, where Super Bowl XXXI will be played on January 26. At game's end, the giant structure will have played host to five Super Bowls and New Orleans will have hosted a record eight, more than any other U.S. city. If tickets for the big game proved elusive, guided Superdome tours are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily to see the amazing structure.
"Laissez les bonnes temps roulez" is a favored New Orleans saying, which means "let the good times roll." And, while visitors concentrate on having a good time, the city is busy working to protect them.
Staying it safe
Like most major cities, New Orleans is struggling to control crime. It's particularly a problem in the French Quarter where tourists are easy prey. New Orleans officials are quick to point out that the citywide crime rate has actually fallen in the past two years.
"We want the clear facts to be reported that we, according to the FBI, have a lower violent crime rate than Atlanta, or Houston, or Dallas, or Miami or San Antonio," said Mayor Mark Morial. "To some extent, the perception that's been created is much greater than the reality."
"Unfortunately in tourism, perception is reality. Because if a tourist or visitor perceives it unsafe they are not going to come," said Sandra Miller. "So we've got to deal with both. I think the reality is we have a crime problem and we have to deal with it."
One solution is to get more officers on the streets, especially in the French Quarter. However, it's a task easier said than done considering the average salary for a New Orleans police recruit is just over $21,000 a year, among the lowest of major U.S. cities.
In mid-January 1997, the city approved an average wage increase of 19 percent for all of its officers. The raise should be an incentive to help New Orleans recruit new officers, increase the size of the force and get more police presence on the streets.
It will also help protect the 10 million visitors who come every year with fun in mind and money to spend.Weather: New Orleans
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