New Orleans is a tale of two cities – one devastated by Hurricane Katrina and another seemingly untouched by the disaster. Both are worth a visit.

After our private tour of the Lower Ninth Ward , St. Bernard’s Parish and Lakeview, my husband and I set off to be New Orleans tourists. We visited the National World War II Museum, rode a streetcar, strolled through the famed French Quarter and browsed in stores along Magazine Street.

Much of the weekend revolved around eating and drinking. We sampled spectacular Cajun fare at restaurants such as Cochon and Herbsaint and tried local joints such as Mother’s for po’ boys and jambalaya. We drank hurricanes at Muriel’s on Jackson Square and I had the best drink of my life, a Blueberry Hill, at the Library Bar at the Ritz Carlton. We stayed up late listening to jazz at the Rock ’n’ Bowl. We even attended a tribute at a place called the Howlin’ Wolf to a young black man killed by a gunshot meant for someone else.

Even now, New Orleans is a perfect getaway for parents starved of each other’s company. It’s a late-night town that caters to adults. And it is an easy plane ride away, which makes it ideal for a long weekend weekend vacation–which is just about as long as I can stand to be away from my kids and just about as long as I can get anyone else to put up with them.

Despite news reports of rampant crime, we found that if we were careful not to stray into neighborhoods locals warned were off-limits, it was a safe place to travel, even with children.

See It All
But traveling moms who choose New Orleans for their family vacation would be missing out if they don’t go see the other New Orleans, too. I think it’s important to witness first-hand that such a tragedy, mostly man-made and preventable, can happen here in America. Sure, people in the tourist areas are happy to tell their Katrina story—everyone has one—but some things you have to see for yourself. We had planned to take the popular Gray Line Katrina Tour, but we deemed it unnecessary after our personal tour.

“And why haven’t they fixed it yet?”

 

We chose not to take our kids to see New Orleans first-hand, but we still wanted them to understand the devastation. Before we returned home, we brought a copy of a photo book by the staff of the Times Picayune, called Katrina: Ruin and Recovery. Our kids couldn’t put it down and it turned out to be a wonderful teaching tool. “Are there still lots of people living there?” they asked. “Is New Orleans still wrecked?” “And why haven’t they fixed it yet?”

Three years later, it’s hard for adults to comprehend the disaster. What’s worse is that Americans have largely forgotten about Katrina and her victims. And people in other areas of the Gulf Coast who were hard hit by the storm feel really neglected because most of the news has focused on New Orleans.

The possibility that Hurricane Gustav could have battered the city again turned America’s focus back to the region. But history has shown that our attention span in short. All eyes are now on Hanna and Ike, now churning above the Atlantic. In fact, the strange fascination in the days leading up to a hurricane’s landfall has always befuddled me. I find it sad and even disturbing that people can be so fixated on an impending tragedy, but uncaring about the lives that are destroyed in its wake.

Have you visited post-Katrina New Orleans? Go to our message board and tell us what you saw and how you felt about it. Did you take your kids? Why or why not?

Read: A Traveling Mom Tours New Orleans
New Orleans: Making It Personal

Michelle Turk is a mother of 2, freelance journalist, editor and author. She recently published her first book, Blood, Sweat and Tears: An Oral History of the American Red Cross (2006).