I happened to be in New Orleans the night the Saints beat the Vikings to get into the Super Bowl. It wasn't planned that way. I scheduled the trip as a winter getaway a couple months back. I'd never been to New Orleans before. We watched the game in a little jazz bar on Bourbon Street. When the game ended the city erupted in a way that I can only describe as magical. I came home transformed not only into a Saints fan, but a fan of the city.
Before going on any trip, I like to read everything I can about my destination. Aside from all the travel guides, I also like to read some local fiction. I read the Ann Rice vampire novels years ago (and I am kind of done with the whole vampire thing). So prior to this trip I read The Neon Rain, the first of the Dave Robicheaux mysteries by James Lee Burke. It is a gritty and rather graphic cop novel set in and around New Orleans.
I also read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This was the funniest book I have read in a long time. It's the story of Ignatius J. Reilly, a geeky wannabe writer, who is forced to get a series of jobs in order to help out his mother.
Reading both or these books provided a snapshot of the city that I would not have gotten through the travel guides. It made me look at the policemen and hot dog vendors a little differently.
I also came away from the trip a huge fan of New Orleans food. From the turtle soup to the Mufaletta's to the pecan pie, everything I ate was delicious. You don't need to go quite so far for great Cajun food. The decision to take this trip was made when I ate an amazing dinner at Cajun Connection, a tiny restaurant in Utica (near Starved Rock State Park).