Day 3 (cont’d)
After an awesome time visiting Erin and Ben in Laurel, Mississippi we got back on the road and headed farther south to New Orleans. This is the city that started the whole “Southern US Honeymoon Road Trip” idea to begin with. When we talked about places we’d like to drive to someday, this was one of the top contenders and the rest of the trip snowballed from that.
My handsome Captain was back at the wheel. I’m happy to be his first mate in the car – it means offering him up snacks and drinks from the cooler as needed and keeping the tunes going.
It wasn’t long before we were crossing water and heading into New Orleans!!
We chose a hotel on Bourbon Street, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea (it can be loud and it’s pretty dirty) – but our logic was that we may as well immerse ourselves in the mayhem and enjoy it.
When we got to our hotel, the front desk guy was super friendly and asked us what we were doing so far away from Canada, so we told him about our honeymoon road trip. He nodded and excused himself for a minute, then came back with a grin. He handed us our room key and said “I hope that someone does this for me someday when I’m on my honeymoon”.
It turns out he set us up with the king size suite, with our own balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. It had a big sitting area, desk and then a huge king size bed that I had to climb up to get into every night. We couldn’t believe it. Thank you John!
We unloaded all our luggage, scoped out the area around our hotel and then made our way to the Gumbo Shop. We had a really hard time finding places that were safe with my peanut and tree nut allergy (all that peanut oil), but thankfully I’d seen this place on an allergy forum. They had all their recipes laid out in their cookbook, so that you could see exactly what they used. Garrett tried the jambalaya and I went with blackened chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.
We made our way back along Bourbon St, through all the party revelers and finally spotted our hotel. Our balcony was on the third floor up there on the far left side.
My favourite thing about having the balcony was that we could watch the party below, but not have to deal with the pick pockets and scam artists (there were quite a few).
It made for some really interesting people watching. I was worried about all the noise when we went to bed, but thankfully the hotel had really thick curtains for over the balcony doors, so it muffled out most of the noise. All you could hear was the muted sound of live bands up and down the whole street – and I don’t think I slept as good anywhere as I did in that hotel. Must have been all the ambient noise.
The next day, we woke up and headed an hour out of New Orleans to Vacherie, Louisiana – a small town on the Mississippi River that is home to several plantations that you can visit.
The main house was raised high above ground, resting on brick columns and walls, supported underground by an 8-foot deep pyramidal brick foundation. The exterior was painted with bright colours – red, ochre, green and pearl.
The Creole style is very different from what you think of plantations looking like. The colourful decor is like that of the Creole lifestyle – a blending of several cultures.
The floor plan was designed to keep air flowing through the home to cool it off during the hot Louisiana summers. It had two rows of five rooms that all open directly into each other without any hallways. Each room contains several interior openings and at least one pair of exterior double French doors This helped to maximize the cross-ventilation.
In August 2004, the plantation house was significantly damaged by an electrical fire that destroyed 80% of the house, including the kitchen wing behind the house. Thankfully, some local firemen were able to save some of it and restoration work began shortly after. It was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and then completed in 2006. The back wing was not rebuilt and was instead covered with old gray boards to indicate where 2 back wings of the house had existed when Laura Gore sold the plantation.
This clock has a cool story – it was one of the pieces that survived the fire in 2004. It was taken to the current owner’s home in New Orleans for restoration, where it then survived the flooding of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This clock has survived both “hell and high water” – and I love that they’ve left it this way to show the water line.
In the back of the plantation, there is a large garden, including this banana grove. I’d never seen real banana plants before. Apparently this place is just full of them when they’re in season.
Our tour guide Julia was fantastic. She was funny when it was appropriate, but didn’t shy away from talking about the horrors that slaves endured. I appreciated her historical stance and I think it’s important that when you’re touring these old estates to remember the dark parts of our history that led to them being built in the first place.
On our way back to the big house, I spotted some of these little stacks and it turns out they’re crawfish holes. They dig into people’s lawns to get near the water level and then build these little chimneys with the dirt they displace.
Of course, Garrett found a cat. He is like a magnet for any kind of domestic animal we find along the way. This little guy was happy for some belly rubs.
Laura Plantation was a really interesting place to visit and I’m so glad that we went there to learn more about the Creole culture, how the women in the family ran the operations and what plantation life was like (the good and the bad). If you’re in the New Orleans area, it’s worth a visit.
We didn’t go to St. Joseph Plantation, but we did get the chance to drive by.
We didn’t originally plan to visit Oak Alley Plantation, but we drove by to take a peek and couldn’t help ourselves. Just look at it! It’s like something out of a movie – which it is.
You may recognize it as the home of Louis (Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire, when it is “burned” to the ground. It’s also been used for many TV movies, such as Nora Robert’s Midnight Bayou where it was a haunted plantation. Beyonce even filmed her Deja Vu music video here in 2006.
The estate gets its name from the 28 evenly spaced live oak trees, believed to be 100 years older than the big house.
The trees are absolutely massive.
We of course had to get a photo op there and a lovely older couple was happy to oblige (and gave us some great marital advice and a restaurant to try out in Savannah while they were at it).
We took a tour of the inside with some of the tour guides.
We headed upstairs to see some of the ornate bedrooms down this hallway. When the doors are opened in the center, the cool air from the Mississippi River would be channeled down the rows of trees out front and cool down the house.
The upper balcony that wrapped around was gorgeous…
…until you realize you’re looking the wrong way. Check out this view! The pictures don’t even do it justice. It’s breathtaking.
We went on a walking tour ourselves of the gardens surrounding the estate. There were little surprises at every corner.
We even found a garage with some vintage cars inside.
During the tour portion, they don’t talk about the history of slavery during the tour but there are reconstructed slave homes in the back that you can explore.
This little cat was happy to relax in the shade.
We drove back into New Orleans and cleaned ourselves up for a dinner out on the town. We headed to Mona Lisa, a cute little Italian restaurant on Royal Street that Erin and Ben had told us about. The whole place was covered in portraits inspired by its namesake.
We loved the vibe of the place – very intimate and fun. Our waitress was a New Orleans local and was so friendly and helpful with the allergy questions.
They give crayons to draw on the paper tablecloth, so Garrett got busy drawing, as he usually does when there is scrap paper around.
Based on my suggestion, he drew Mona Lisa as Batgirl, which got our waitress laughing. She said she sees drawings all the time but this one really cracked her up, so she was going to cut it out and slip it into one of the menu covers.
Our dinner arrived and it was phenomenal. The crust was perfectly crisp and the toppings were so fresh. It was one of the best meals we had on the whole trip.
With full bellies, we headed out for a late night walk around town. Jackson Square looked beautiful at night.
We stumbled upon Napoleon House, which I’d read about online before the trip. In 1821, the owner of the house (and mayor of New Orleans) offered his residence to Napoleon as a refuge during his exile. Napoleon never made it, but the name stuck.
It’s been owned and operated by the Impastato family since 1914 and is known for their trademark drink – the Pimm’s Cup, a drink created in England 1840.
We ordered a couple and sat back to enjoy the atmosphere. I use to make them with one of my roommates back in the day, so it brought back great memories. I have a bottle she gave me last year that I need to open this summer and make some with – I forgot how refreshing it is!
After a quick trip to the store for some late night snacks, we sat out on the balcony a bit to watch the crowds (and police men on horseback!) before calling it a night.
For more pictures from the day, check out my Flickr album