If you are heading to the “Big Easy” get ready for an experience like no other. The city of New Orleans, not far from historical Plantation homes of Louisiana, has an energy that reflects a melting pot of cultures and spiritual beliefs.
I drove into the New Orleans area by way of the Atchafalya Basin Bridge; a duel bridge running 29 kilometres long and the second longest bridge in the USA. I was surrounded by swamps on either side of the bridge and the mangroves were thick. It started to set the scene for this very interesting part of the world.
Once in plantation country the hardest decision I faced was which plantations to visit. I chose Nottoway Plantation, a Greek Revival home and the largest antebellum house in Southern USA as my first visit. This was an amazing place to explore both inside and outside the home. I could not help but think of the harsh reality of life for the plantation workers back in 1859 when this home became a working sugarcane plantation.
From Nottoway Plantation, I drove to Oak Alley Plantation where I stayed for the evening in one of the cabins on site. This plantation was my favourite of the ones I visited and had beautiful Oak trees framing the front of the grounds. The joys of staying for the night, meant that the tour groups had left for the day and I was able to soak in the quiet and somewhat eerie ambience that surrounded me. This is the land of gumbo and mint juleps and as I peered through the windows of the plantation home, with spacious and grand rooms, you could imagine the southern hospitality that was part of everyday life for the plantation owners.
I was up early for a brisk walk around the grounds in the quiet of the morning where you could wander through the worker’s quarters and admire the many squirrels bobbing around the nobbly tree roots of the property. Breakfast was located with a view of the plantation home and came with all the Southern trimmings; quite a surreal way of starting the day.
On the road again, I stopped at Houmas Plantation and walked through the beautiful gardens there. The owners loved animals and had some dogs and cats on the property. Even the gardener sat with his dog while he worked. Just recently, this home was used in the film “The Green Book” as it is beautiful.
Next stop, New Orleans. I was anticipating what this city would be like, but nothing could prepare me for the energy and noise that was Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Founded by the French in 1718, New Orleans continues to reflect the influences of its history.
Arriving at my hotel; there was a somewhat organised chaos at the front with a brass ensemble playing “When the Saints go marching in”. My room overlooked Bourbon Street and was surprisingly quiet considering the commotion going on downstairs below. Bourbon Street delivered all the weird and wonderful sites that you could imagine; and some that you would never imagine in a million years. There was a guy painted gold from head to toe sitting in a chair on the side of the street making gestures to passers-by, and a woman in a white wedding dress twirling. The bars pumped live music into the street, and it looked like the city was up for a big night.
Once away from Bourbon street and as I walked toward Jackson Square, it got quieter. The stores were interesting and offered everything from original art to House Blessing Spray and Mardi Gras beads. Along Royal Street, there were antiques and the beautiful Hotel Monteleone, used in the movie “Double Jeopardy”. Inside I found the carousel bar where you sit on chairs underneath the cover of the carousel, as you drink and enjoy the music.
Arnaud’s was my choice for dinner. There was a three-piece jazz band playing inside the restaurant with a very cool and quirkily hatted double bass player. I enjoyed shrimp soup; chicken Clemenceau, and a crème brulee for dessert; it was all incredible and reflected a combination of the southern way of life intertwined with French heritage.
As I walked back to my hotel after dinner, I was amazed at a group of guys tap dancing with nothing, but soda cans attached to their shoes. They were great and their rhythms were amazing.
Mornings in New Orleans bring with it the aftermath of the night before; then the street washers come through and everything starts again.
This morning I took the local trolley to Mardi Gras World, just near the cruise terminal. The local paddle steamers were also in this area. Signing up for the tour was a great idea; as I was introduced to Mardi Gras and the exhibits created here. We saw them being carved from Styrofoam and then painted; very impressive. I loved that you could touch the exhibits and take photos on them.
Next stop was Canal Street and then the St Louis Cemetery. The trolleys are a great way to get around here and run up the middle of the street. I took a tour of the St Louis Cemetery as you can’t just wander in on your own. It was hotter than I care to remember in the sun, but I did manage to see the tomb that Nicholas Cage has purchased for himself there; weird right! In the cemetery, the graves must be built above ground due to the water table being very high and the burial plots becoming water logged. There were many stories told and it was worth the visit.
Time for a visit to Café Du Monde for some beignets. This iconic café was overflowing with patrons. I ordered my beignets; a minimum of 3 on a plate and then waited for these powdery fluffy donuts to arrive. This visit is a must do when visiting New Orleans but beware, the icing sugar will fall over you and the floor.
I covered a lot in this city but one of the things I enjoyed most was tapping into the music vibe. You didn’t have to look far to listen to great music. Home to Louis Armstrong, there is a museum that you can visit that tells his story and numerous places to sit and listen to good jazz. I spent time enjoying the Gypsy Jazz Band at one of the many establishments in town and as if that wasn’t enough, they had their own swing dancer that performed. Nearby was the French Market where you could purchase Creole food like Poboys and fried shrimp.
New Orleans was a weird and wonderful city and a definite bucket list tick. If you are a food or music lover, this city is an incredibly unique destination. Bring a hat and bring your energy and find your pocket as there are so many levels to this city.
For any further information, contact Tammi Sirett, Clean Cruising on 1800 121 187.