Remembering Katrina, 9 years later

This weekend marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that changed the Crescent City forever. This week, nola.com published a remarkable series of photos that resulted from a project by staff photographer Ted Jackson. Jackson took iconic photos from the storm and its aftermath and combined them with present day photographs from exactly the same vantage point. The result is a sobering reminder of just how far we've come in the past nine years. Although our city still has work to do, New Orleans is once again a vibrant and thriving community situated in the heart of the gulf coast, and these photographs show how hard work and a deep love for our city have resulted in a remarkable rebuilding and rebirth. View his photos here and read about the photographer's efforts to capture just the right present day photos.

Post-Katrina NOLA

No one can deny that Hurricane Katrina changed New Orleans forever. The city is still recovering from the devastation following the storm and the levee breaches. We still have 73,000 fewer jobs than before the storm and while the number of blighted properties has significantly decreased in the past four years, down about 10,000 since 2010, there are still more than 33,000 blighted properties in the city, each of which costs about $16,000 to tear down!

But despite these challenges, New Orleans has many positive signs of recovery. The city has more start-ups per capita than any other city in the U.S., and we've added 85 miles of bike lanes throughout the city as streets are rebuilt. The population is growing, too; about 11,000 people have moved to the city each year since 2010. You can see evidence of the rebirth of the city anywhere you go, from the construction that comes hand in hand with rebuilding efforts to the vibrancy that continues to permeate our old and new neighborhoods. New and old businesses together are working to keep the spirit of the city alive, and visitors like you are a huge part of ensuring that New Orleans continues to be the beautiful, vibrant, jewel of the South that we love. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

The Oaks of Oak Alley Plantation

Last week Oak Alley Plantation celebrated a very special anniversary. On June 28, 1995, the 28 oak trees that create the eponymous alley leading from the River Road to the big house of the plantation were inducted into the Live Oak Society. The society was founded in 1934 by Dr Edwin Lewis Stephens, the first president of Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. Every oak in the alley is a registered member of the society, joining more than 7,000 registered trees in the U.S. Each member of the registry is given a name, such as the Josephine oak, a member of the alley named after Mrs. Josephine Stewart. Josephine is the largest oak in the alley measuring approximately 31 feet in circumference and standing over 70 feet tall with a crown spread of approximately 150 feet! You can see Josephine for yourself on the west side of the alley–just look for the biggest one when you're touring the grounds of looking out at that beautiful view from the upper porch of the big house.

Oak Alley Plantation is included on several of our plantation tours, including the Oak Alley and Laura Plantation Tour and the Grand Tour. Call 1-888-223-2093 for more information or request a reservation.

NOTE: You can now download a beautiful ebook collection of photos of both the grounds and oaks of the plantation here. These photos are the result of the plantations photo contest earlier this year, the theme of which was A Unique Perspective. Whether or not you have visited the plantation, these photos are a must see!

Degas in New Orleans

Portraits in a New Orleans Cotton Office

Over the years, New Orleans has been known for many notable residents. One of the more prestigious was Edgar Degas, the famed French painter. Even before moving to New Orleans in 1872 Degas had strong connections to the city as his mother, Célestine Musson De Gas, was a New Orleanian Creole. Degas found a great deal of inspiration and success in New Orleans, and the only painting ever purchased by a museum during his lifetime was one of the works produced during this period, the famed Portraits in a New Orleans Cotton Office. Although Degas spent less than a year in New Orleans, the visit marked a hugely important turning point in Degas' career, revitalizing and inspiring him after a period of disenfranchisement with the Parisian art scene. New Orleanians today continue to take pride in the brief residency of Edgar Degas. The house where he stayed on Esplanade Avenue is now a historic home and bed and breakfast, Degas House. Even if you don't stay at the house during your visit you can still take their Creole Impressionist Tour and get a chance to see the historic building from the inside. If you're booking a private or group tour, consider adding a visit to Degas House to your package–it's a delightful stop and one we love showing to our guests! For more information on how to include Degas House in your private tour experience, call 1-888-223-2093.

Keeping New Orleans Dry

1913 New Orleans Pump Station:

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, most people are well aware that New Orleans is located below sea level. Due to the low elevation and proximity to both the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, the city is surrounded by levees to keep it from sitting underwater. Up until the early 20th century, construction in the city was limited to the slightly higher ground along old natural river levees and bayous; this resulted in the city’s original crescent shape, hence the moniker Crescent City. The rest of the present day city was in those days merely wetlands and commonly referred to as the back swamp.

As the city grew, it became clear that more land was needed. Additionally, the lack of drainage in the city made it clear that a system needed to be put in place to get rainwater out and keep the city dry. Although the 19th century steam pumps helped to push water out during heavy rains, a stronger system was clearly needed and the Drainage Advisory Board was set up to help tackle the issue. What followed was the brainchild of engineer and inventor A Baldwin Wood, who enacted his ambitious plan in the early 20th century to install large pumps and a new drainage system that is still in use today to help push rainwater out of the city. Of course, since the storm, much of this system has been revamped, updated, and improved, but the original infrastructure is still in place! You can learn more about the city’s efforts to stay dry on our New Orleans City and Katrina Tour. Give us a call at 1-888-223-2093 for more information or to make reservations!

Mardi Gras Masks

Mardi Gras masks are a longstanding tradition, whether they cover only the wearer’s eyes or the entire face. The masks add an element of mystery and intrigue to the festivities surrounding Mardi Gras, and they are probably one of our favorite traditions! The masks have their origins in ritual celebrations, and the New Orleans celebration of Mardi Gras has been the largest masked party in North America for nearly 100 years. When Mardi Gras was first celebrated in New Orleans, masks were an excellent way to escape the society and class constraints that were so prevalent at the time. With a mask on, carnival goers were free to be whoever they wanted and to mingle with those who would normally shun them. Women, however, needed to be careful when wearing masks; if their identities were discovered their reputations were almost always brought into question. Today, almost everyone wears a mask during Mardi Gras and float riders are actually required by law to wear masks! The masks add an element of fun to the day, adding to the excitement and magic of the celebrations. If you’re looking to pick up a mask of your own you can find them all over the French Quarter, from the simple and silly to the beautiful and elaborate. If you’re looking for a fancier mask, or you just want to see the artistic side of Mardi Gras masks, swing by Maskarade–they even carry some handmade Italian masks created in the old traditional Venetian style!