If you join us for a plantation or swamp tour you’ll get a chance to cross the Bonnet Carré Spillway, one of the most important engineering structures that helps control the normal flooding of the Mississippi River that occurs in the spring. The Spillway, which runs along Interstate 10 to the West of the city, can be opened to restrict the flow of the river toward its main channel which has the effect of causing the water level to rise just enough to spill into the diversion channel. When the waters are especially high the Spillway can also divert water into Lake Ponchartrain, which in turn dissipates excess volume into the Gulf of Mexico. The Spillway helps to protect New Orleans from springtime floods by diminishing the flow of the river before it runs into the city’s levee system, thereby reducing the stress on the levees. The Spillway was originally built in response to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that caused devastating damage throughout the Mississippi River basin. Since the first opening of the Spillway during the flood of 1937 the Spillway has been opened ten times, most recently in May of 2011 when heavy spring rains and snow melts to the North caused river levels to rise to the flood stage of 17 feet.
There are so many delightful architectural finds in New Orleans, but especially in the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre, the oldest part of the city. Here you’ll find old world-style cobble stone streets, complete with the traditional banquette, an old Creole French word used here for pavement. The word really means little bench but has long been used to refer to these special, raised, sections of pavement that protected ladies’ feet and skirts from spring flood waters that would run through the streets. Because the pavements had to be nearly as high as benches to keep out of reach of the waters they came to be called little benches, or banquettes, and we still refer to them as such today.
If you're a fan of the popular cooking competition shows that can be found virtually any time of night these days, you have likely seen Top Chef, and may even be watching the current season which takes place right here in New Orleans. This city is such a great town for food, it is amazing that it has taken this long to have a featured show like Top Chef spend time in the city. Restaurant icons like Emeril, Susan Spicer, and John Besh are all making appearances on the show this season, along with numerous other New Orleans celebrities, both chef and otherwise. Two local chefs are even contestants on the show this year, including Gallatoire's executive chef, Michael Sichel, and La Petite Grocery's owner and chef, Justin Devillier. If you're looking for something to get you in the culinary mood, check out this interview with contestant Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery.
Cast Iron Door on Chartres St:
A quick glance at almost any old building in New Orleans and you're sure to spot some decorative cast iron, whether in a fence, on a window, or covering a door. These beautiful artistic touches are a long standing staple of architecture in the Crescent City, and may be most prominent today in the historic French Quarter. Using cast iron for doors and balconies in the French Quarter was a tradition started by the Spanish Creoles in the second half of the 18th century. Cast iron was a convenient ballast weight for tall ships coming across the Atlantic from Spain in the 1800's so it made perfect sense to transport it to the new world. The merchants were sure to sell the iron work easily upon arrival in the port of New Orleans as the Creoles loved using cast iron to adorn their Vieux Carre (French Quarter) homes. The cast iron became so iconic in the city, that it remains a popular architectural add-on today as new homes and remodels seek to capture the classic look of New Orleans.
In a city known for voodoo, hauntings, and Anne Rice’s vampires, it’s no wonder we get excited about Halloween! From the scary to the silly, there are tons of fun, festive activities in October all over the city. Be sure to visit Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo for some old-school spooks, take a trip up to St Charles Avenue and State Street to find the house of silly skeletons, and join us on a city tour to visit St Louis Cemetery no. 3 and learn all about our above ground crypts! And if you really want a scare, check out this list of the top ten most haunted sites around New Orleans.
One of the most wonderful things about New Orleans is the character of our architecture–and the variety, too! A lot of houses in New Orleans, including this newly renovated one in Lakewood (pictured to the right) have a beautiful cypress facade called gingerbread brackets. This detail is usually made with red cypress, one of our native trees here in the swamps of Southeastern Louisiana. The red cypress, which the Choctaw Indians called eternal wood, grow in most of our swamps and are also called bold cypress. The trees yield a very durable wood because they contain red tannic acid, a natural wood preservative and fire retardant. Despite its durability, red cypress is extremely soft and easy to sculpt, and makes it the perfect vehicle for decorative details. In fact, it is so easy to work with that local duck hunters love to use it when carving their decoys!