The Seven Wonders of New Orleans
New Orleans is coming up on her 300th birthday soon, which is a pretty remarkable thing for an American city (especially one that has survived everything from numerous floods, hurricanes, wars, fires, race riots, crime, and Nicolas Cage), and through all of it, she's been responsible for some pretty spectacular art, history, architecture, and engineering. From the iconic, to the unknown, here are the seven wonders of New Orleans.
The Crescent City Connection
This pair of elevated bridges over the Mississippi River, connecting the East Bank to the West Bank (which, oddly enough, you drive East to get to), is famed for a number of reasons. First, there was literally a contest to come up with a name for the things back in the day, which was much the subject of conversation and debate at the time. Second, when they were finally festooned with lights, it was basically seen by Big Easy residents as a miracle and a marvel. Thirdly, they’re very pretty (especially at night).
You absolutely could not paint a picture of the New Orleans skyline without that fantastic and iconic stadium in it. Sure, it’s seen some hard days (especially in 2005), but it wouldn’t be NOLA without da Dome. It’s technically known as the “Mercedes-Benz Superdome,” seeing as Saints owner Tom Benson made his fortune by selling German autos, but that’s all beside the point when it comes to local love for our favorite sports stadium. Even when the Saints are playing dismally (like they are now), Sunday in the Dome is one of the most joyous places in the Crescent City. WHO DAT!
Few people realize that this gorgeous space in Mid-City is actually one of the largest municipal parks in the nation, bigger than New York’s Central Park by an order of magnitude. Really, it’s just freaking huge, and filled with glorious natural splendor you’ll only find in NOLA, among them the centuries-old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and various verdant lagoons. And then you also have an amusement park, tennis courts, Botanical Gardens, a mini-golf course, excellent jogging and bike paths, and Morning Call, one of the best places in the city to get your beignet and cafe au lait fix.
New York has its subways, Boston the "T," the "L" in Chicago, and San Francisco its famed cable cars, but nothing absolutely screams NOLA like our streetcars. In fact, if it weren’t for a transit workers’ strike involving those famous green cars, the po-boy may well never have been invented, which would be a horrible thing indeed. The absence of their distinctive sound trundling down “The Avenue” was felt by all locals in NOLA following Katrina, and we all rejoiced when that “wooka-wooka-wooka” noise of their engines finally returned. Not to mention the fact that it is a cheap and easy way to get around the city, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful commute in America.
St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo
It’s difficult not to just call the French Quarter in all its totality a wonder of New Orleans (and it really is just wonderful), but da Quarters wouldn’t be da Quarters without this positively majestic and handsome cathedral. There are many houses of worship in NOLA, but few stack up to this one when it comes to sheer architectural grandeur, along with the Cabildo, a giant Spanish colonial mansion that’s now a Louisiana State Museum, which houses many fascinating antiquities and artifacts, among them the death mask of Napoléon Bonaparte, one of only four in existence. And if you’re into ghost-hunting, a neat fact for you: the cathedral is rumored to be haunted by the spirit of “Père Antoine,” a former priest there, who is said to wander the grounds to this day.
Love it or hate it (or mock it, as we might have done frequently herein), but there’s pride on Bourbon, and anyone who disagrees is just plain wrong. Sure, you’ll find seedy strip clubs and carnival-barking guys hawking HUGE ASS BEERS, but you’ll also find gems like The Old Absinthe House, Galatoire’s restaurant, and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is in fact the oldest structure in America continuously used as a bar. It’s often a hot mess, sure, but it’s OUR hot mess, and the city wouldn’t be the same without it. Even locals like to take a stroll down Rue Bourbon once in awhile (but not frequently, because of the whole hot mess issue, and never during Mardi Gras, because then it becomes a SERIOUS hot mess issue).
The Rusty Rainbow
Some classics are old, and others new, and this addition to the city, in Crescent Park, is surely destined for legend, especially in the eyes of those who reside in the Marigny or Bywater. There are some great spots in town to get a lovely view of the grand Mississippi River (Waldenberg Park, particularly), but this has fast become a popular one for locals, and a grateful addition to the town. Also, it’s really fun to say aloud, and vaguely filthy-sounding, which we love in New Orleans.
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Scott Gold is a writer in New Orleans who really loves City Park and the music of Steve Earle. Follow him on Twitter @scottgold.