New Orleans turned out to be a great choice for our trip together this year! It is its own little world filled with music, history, unique culture, food and architecture. We made our best attempt to soak in all we could in just four days!
Since it was the first time in New Orleans for the majority of us, we couldn’t miss the famous Bourbon Street! Walking down Bourbon you hear every genre of music, both inside the clubs and on the street. It is a hopping place with one club after another. Pat O’Brien’s was a great place to start our evening with one of their famous Hurricanes! You can carry your drinks on the street in the French Quarter but the catch is that you can’t take a drink from one club into another one. Therefore, you must buy a drink in each new club you visit which makes for a lot of fun!
We enjoyed the red dueling pianos at “Howl At The Moon”. The guys on the piano were great at improv and could play almost anything! They also did a great job of interacting with the crowd. Adding to the excitement was a man playing a vest frottoir with spoons. What a character he was to watch…wow did he do his part including the crowd! There was a “young” couple having a great time dancing. We learned they were celebrating her 80th birthday. Now that is the way I want to age! I saw an interview recently with Dick Van Dyke in which he was asked what his secret was to a long and happy life. His response was “just keep moving”. He will be 90 years old this year so I think that’s great advice! There is a video you might want to check out on dustbowlrevival.com It features Dick Van Dyke trying to get his wife to smile and dance with him while she’s cooking dinner. Remember watching the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 60’s? He doesn’t seem to have changed much!
The mansions in the Garden District are a “must see’ while in New Orleans. The entire area was once a number of plantations which were sold off in parcels mainly to wealthy Americans. Now the Garden District is known for its architecture and is an impressive collection of well preserved southern mansions.
While you’re in the Garden District don’t forget to visit Lafayette Cemetery #1. Established in 1833, it is one of the oldest cemeteries in the City. I’ve never seen anything like it, row after row of above ground tombs. It’s actually a very serene, beautiful place that you won’t want to miss. For you movie buffs, the movie “Double Jeopardy” with Tommie Lee Jones and Ashley Judd was filmed in this cemetery. Be sure to visit earlier in the day as the cemetery gates are locked at 3pm Monday-Saturday and noon on Sunday. It is recommended that you don’t go into cemeteries alone, but travel in a group or tour.
We definitely needed more time to spend on Frenchmen Street. It is said to be the new “Bourbon Street” and the place the locals go. It is absolutely the place to hear some serious jazz music! The Spotted Cat had an incredible band playing, the “Shotgun Jazz Band”. The talented dancing couples added so much to the already dynamic atmosphere. It was one crowded fun place! I would highly recommend it being on your list of clubs not to miss in New Orleans.
There are so many shops and restaurants to explore on Magazine Street. One of the shops we visited was Sotre. It represents New Orleans well in that it is an eclectic blend of everything from jewelry to vintage linens, upscale home goods and much, much more. Sotre is located in what was once a residence built in an architectural style known as a “shotgun house”. The term “shotgun” refers to the idea that if you open all the doors to the house the pellets fired from a shotgun would fly cleanly from one end and out the other. This particular building was a “double” shotgun house which could house two families.
As none of us had seen a swamp before, a swamp tour was definitely on our list. We toured Manchec Swamp with Cajun Pride Tours cajunprideswamptours.com This is a private swamp with protected wildlife and is located 27 miles from downtown New Orleans. Our guide, Captain Nolan was very informative about the alligators, other swamp wildlife and the history of the swamp. The swamp has a beauty uniquely its own and we saw lots of gators. We didn’t see the “big guys” as they are outnumbered by the females in the swamp 15 to 1. It was breeding season and they are very busy!
The captain shared an interesting story with us about a woman of color named Julia Brown. Julia was a voodoo priestess and was both feared and respected by the townspeople of the local town of Frenier. She was known to sit on her front porch and sing songs. One song went like this….”One day Im gonna die and I’m gonna take all of you with me”. Julia died on September 28th, 1915 at the age of 100 years old. The very next day the area was hit by a hurricane, “The Great West Indies Storm”, which wiped out the town of Frenier. You can draw your own conclusions….
Our tour ended with the opportunity to hold a baby alligator. In my opinion all babies are adorable and he was no exception. I’m pretty certain the baby did not feel the same about us, that’s why his mouth was carefully taped shut! In case any of you are concerned about what happens to the babies…after they reach a certain size they are actually released into the wild. Remember that alligators hibernate in the winter, so plan your trip accordingly. I would also suggest checking groupon.com for possible discount tickets.
Approximately 20-30 minutes further past the swamp is Oak Alley Plantation. It is famous for its alley of 28 evenly spaced gorgeous live oak trees that are believed to be a century older than the mansion. That’s pretty incredible when you realize the mansion was built between 1837-1839! There is a guided tour of the main house and a self guided tour of the grounds. If you plan to include both the swamp tour and mansion tour I would suggest including them both in the same day since they are in close proximity of each other.
As you probably know, New Orleans is famous for its history of voodoo queens, ghosts and other spooky things. Haunted History Tours hauntedhistorytours.com is one of the oldest tour companies in New Orleans and offers a variety of different history tours. They report focusing on actual documented hauntings and real events in the City’s history. We decided on the “5 in 1 History Tour” so that we could have a little sampling of New Orleans ghosts, vampires, voodoo, werewolfs and unsolved crimes. The tour was at night of course and we tromped through the French Quarter in the pouring rain. Have I mentioned the rain yet in New Orleans? When it rains, it pours and pours and pours…. We had been told lots of spooky stories and then our guide came to a quick stop and began to tell us that the building we were standing in front of was originally a brothel that a little song was written about. The song begins “There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun”! I’ll bet most of you remember listening to that little song made famous by The Animals in 1964. She continued to tell us that the building is now haunted by the “madam” of the brothel. It’s said that as she walks the halls you can still hear the jiggling of the doorknobs as she notifies the ladies that “time is up”!
There are so many things that we still want to see and do on our next trip to New Orleans; ride the St Charles streetcar, see the Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, take a ferry ride to Algiers Point, browse the French Market, and listen to more incredible music. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or how old you are, you will have a great time in New Orleans!