Summer in New Orleans – part 2

New Orleans is known as a cultural melting pot – a gumbo.

That’s what part 2 of our New Orleans adventure will resemble as we talk about our last couple of days in Louisiana.

From day 2 we embarked on another walking tour – voodoo this time, ate our weight in food, went air-boating, toured plantations and listened to authentic old-school jazz.

If you’re heading to New Orleans any time soon, you’ll want to continue reading.

Day 2

Voodoo walking tour

Before our Voodoo walking tour, we ate breakfast at a French cafe – Mister Gregory’s – for the life of me I can’t remember what my roll was but whatever you get, you won’t be disappointed.

Once our tour guide Robi arrived, we were greeted as his ‘fam’ and headed to Congo Square to learn about the history of Vodou (the correct spelling) and the enslavement of Africans in New Orleans.

Robi – a full-fledged priest of Plantation Vodou – walked us through his religion and ancestry while we explored Congo Square and the French Quarter.

During the tour he discussed – and busted – myths about his religion, herbal health and demonstrated a vodou possession ritual (not as scary as you may think).

Even if you don’t have any interest in learning about Vodou – Robi is the most fascinating and energetic person I’ve met in a long time, and had us laughing and interacting the whole tour.

Hands down, this was the best walking tour I’ve done and was an absolute highlight of the trip.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

You can’t visit New Orleans without one of it’s cemeteries catching your eye.

These above-ground burials were constructed by early settlers as they struggled to keep their dead underground due to Louisiana’s transient swampy terrain.

After many attempts to keep caskets down, they followed Spanish custom and raised the burial structures above-ground.

We headed to the Garden District to check out the oldest of the seven cemeteries –  Lafayette Cemetery No.1.

After exploring the Garden District, we caught the St. Charles Streetcar from the Garden District for $1.25 which took us on a scenic route back to the hustle of the French Quarter.

Preservation Hall

If you want authentic, untouched, soul-stirring jazz – Preservation Hall is where it’s at.

There’s no question whether you should go or not, the question is, do I buy an advanced ‘Big Shot’ ticket.

The answer is yes.

General admission means standing in line about 30 minutes before a show, paying cash only for a $20 ticket and having access to standing room only.

‘Big Shot’ allows you to skip the line, guarantees you a killer seat in the hall and a cardboard hand-fan – all for about $45.

Before heading into the hall, don’t forget to buy a famous hurricane drink from Pat O’Brians to keep you cool during the show.

Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar & Bistro

Bacon happy hour – need I say more?

Between 4-6pm and 10pm-midnight you receive a complimentary basket of crispy bacon with your wine – who knew it would be such a perfect pairing?

We frequented Orleans Grapevine during our trip for bacon, wine and some delicious key lime pie, lamb cutlets and cheese boards.

Orleans Grapevine also had an array of seating options – inside, courtyard or French style at the front of the restaurant allowing you to people watch. I’d recommend courtyard and French style.

Day 3

Swamp and plantation tour

On our last day in New Orleans we jumped on a tour bus headed for the famous Louisianian swamps and a look at some historic plantations.

We chose Tours by Isabelle’s Grand Tour to squeeze as much as possible into one day.

Airboat

First stop, airboat tour.

The water was so calm when we arrived, it looked like we were gliding on glass. The vibrant green colours of the lush swamp vegetation would have been a highlight of the ride in itself. However, we needed to see at least one alligator before leaving Louisiana!

Our tour guide was very laid back and knowledgeable on the region and its ecosystem.

The first alligator we saw was Pee Wee – a juvenile ‘gator with a big teethy smile and an equally big appetite.

We then headed further down the channel were we saw turtles, egrets, an owl and two larger alligators – one named Goliath.

As someone who grew up in Northern Australia with crocodiles, I was shocked how tame the alligators were and how close they swam to the boat. It was a great experience that I won’t forget.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley was our first plantation visit for the day. The plantation is not only famous for its rich history, but for its quarter mile alley of 300 year old Virginia Live Oaks.

As a sugarcane plantation, Oak Alley was built, and relied on the work of, enslaved men, women and children.

This history in Louisiana of slavery was never shunned or skipped over – the people of the area want visitors to know the history of everyone who lived and worked on these plantations.

Once we arrived at Oak Alley we had a traditional and mouthwatering lunch of gumbo, red beans & rice with crawfish étouffée and bread pudding.

After lunch – and just before we took a tour of the plantation mansion – we ordered some mint juleps which consists of bourbon, sugar syrup and mint leaves.

Our tour guide was dressed in traditional 1830s wear and gave us a tour of the dining room, living room and bedrooms with running commentary of the historic family that once resided in the mansion.

For the grand finale, our guide led us out double french doors to a balcony with a stunning view of the famous valley of oaks.

Laura Plantation

Our last stop for the day was Laura Plantation – an 1805 sugarcane plantation owned by a Creole family.

Creole’s were descendants of French settlers in Louisiana. The term was used to distinguish people born in Louisiana from those born in the motherland – France.

We were treated to a 90 minute tour with a French guide who walked us through each portion of the house and grounds.

She told the story of the plantation through the lives of the Dupac family and the slaves who served the plantation and household.

I have to say, if there’s one plantation you must visit, this is it. The story was captivating and didn’t hold back on discussing family feuds and the life and treatment of slaves before and after the civil war.

Cafe Amelie

Our last treat of the trip was Cafe Amelie.

This restaurant has one of the best courtyard dining experiences, with lush tropic plants, fairy lights strewn from treetops and a trickling water fountain.

The food equally matched the setting – we shared a bottle of red wine, a citrus roasted chicken, lamb meatloaf and spicy shrimp pasta.

Final thoughts

New Orleans exceeded all my expectations. I’m a picky eater, yet the food in New Orleans is alive with spices, herbs, fresh ingredients and a whole lot of soul.

I’m also not hugely into jazz but the jazz scene in New Orleans is full of life and character and you can’t help but smile.

This city is unlike anything I’ve experienced in America and recommend Americans and international travelers alike to visit this culturally diverse city.

A few quick tips from blog post 1 & 2:

  • Stay at a traditional New Orleans hotel in the French Quarter.
  • Take cash everywhere you go, some places are cash only and you’ll need tip money.
  • Eat in a traditional courtyard.
  • Visit Frenchman Street instead of Bourbon Street for music and bars.
  • Visit Preservation Hall for old school jazz.
  • Try Cajun and Creole food – especially gumbo, jambalaya and beignets.
  • Do a walking tour, you see more and see New Orleans through the eyes of a local.
  • Do an airboat tour to see alligators and swamp critters.
  • Check out a few plantations to get a deeper understanding of the history of New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

Heading to New Orleans or already been? Get in touch with us at hwalkerquay@gmail.com – we’d love to hear from you!

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