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Geographer Pierce Lewis once described New Orleans as an “inevitable city on an impossible site.” Its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River made Nouvelle-Orléans one of the most vital ports in North America—and one of the most vulnerable. Built on a dry patch of swamp between the river and Lake Pontchartrain, the Crescent City survived floods and disasters from its earliest days. The first recorded hurricane struck in 1772...
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Boat ToursPerhaps the best and easiest way to experience the sounds, scents and strange beauty of Louisiana is by boat. Tours take passengers through swamps and bayous and past city skylines and historical areas; many tours provide information and insight into the history and ecosystem of this region. In addition to your camera, take along insect repellent. Reservations, always a good idea, can be arranged at most hotel transportation desks or at the boats; phone to confirm departure times. Boarding for all tours listed begins 30 minutes before departure.

Bus and Carriage ToursThe best way to become acquainted with New Orleans is to take an organized bus tour. These range from a 2-hour trip through the city to a 6.5-hour tour of the entire metropolitan area and a local plantation.

Some companies also conduct visits to hot spots on New Orleans' nightclub circuit. Passengers are picked up from and returned to motels and hotels throughout the metropolitan area. Reservations are advised. Many downtown hotels have sightseeing booths, and motel managers can often provide information and reservations.

One of the major sightseeing companies is Gray Line of New Orleans Inc.; phone (504) 569-1401. Consult the telephone directory for other companies.

Horse-drawn carriages leave continuously from Jackson Square for narrated tours of the French Quarter. The waiting time varies; most tours require a minimum of six passengers and depart when the carriage is full.

Guided Walking ToursPark rangers from the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve conduct 90-minute walking tours of the French Quarter daily at 9:30. Tours depart from the French Quarter Visitor Center; free tickets become available at 9 and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Tours are limited to 25 people. Phone (504) 589-2636.

The Friends of the Cabildo, (504) 523-3939, conduct guided 2-hour tours of the French Quarter Tues.-Sun. at 10 and 1:30, and Mon. at 1:30. Tours begin at the 1850 House (The Lower Pontalba). Fee $12; $10 (ages 61+ and ages 13-20); free (ages 0-12 when accompanied by a family member). Fee includes admission to the 1850 House (The Lower Pontalba) and Madame John's Legacy.

Self-guiding ToursThe compactness of New Orleans makes it a natural city to explore on foot. Of special interest, visitors can take self-guiding walking tours of the Civic Center, a complex of five buildings surrounded by a plaza along Loyola Avenue between Poydras Street and Tulane Avenue. The 11-story City Hall faces the Garden of the Americas and has statues of Simón Bolívar, Benito Juárez and Francisco Morazán. Other structures are the Civil Courts Building, State Supreme Court Building, State Office Building and the New Orleans Public Library.

The U.S. Customs House, Decatur and Canal streets, was once the site of old Fort St. Louis. Built in 1848 under the guidance of Gen. Pierre G. Beauregard, it combines two revival styles-Egyptian outside and Greek inside. The building is open to the public Mon.-Fri. 8-4:30.

In addition to the tours described above, self-guiding driving and walking tour brochures are available at the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau at 2020 St. Charles Ave.; phone (504) 566-5011.

Remember that New Orleans is a port city with many types of people and all of the problems inherent in such urban areas. Wandering should be tempered with the same awareness and common sense appropriate in any large city: Limit it to daylight hours and well-traveled routes,