Day Trippers: The Plantations of River Road

#oakalley

#oakalley

Have you ever wondered what it might have been like to live in another era? Wanted to step back in time and witness what life was like without all the modern conveniences we enjoy today? Maybe you’re happy right here in the present, but wouldn’t mind spending a few hours in the past… I definitely fall into that last category!

#oakalleyA history loving amateur photographer, whose favorite movies include Gone with the Wind, and Interview with the Vampire, it’s no wonder that a visit to the plantations of River Road were on my must see list during our recent visit to New Orleans.

Traveling Back…

River Road is a one hour drive outside of New Orleans, so you’ll want to rent a Time Machine, er, I mean car. The route is easy, and along the way you’ll drive through some pretty unique terrain.

#louisiana

It’s important not to time travel on an empty stomach, so we decided to make a quick detour to 1968 in order to eat at Spahr’s Seafood Restaurant, which came highly recommended by a local New Orleanian.

#spahr's

Spahr’s, located in Des Allemandes, Louisiana, the catfish capital of the universe, was a highlight of the day! Not only did we eat a mountain of delicious golden brown fried food, including catfish, alligator, shrimp, hush puppies, and onion sticks, but we dipped all of it in equally scrumptious sauces! All of this was washed down with sweet tea, and to top it all off we shared a slice of peanut butter pie.

While waiting for our food I noticed an outdoor area that looked pretty and decided to step out for a few photos. The manager, Carl, kindly opened the back door for me, which is when I noticed what looked like a statue in the shape of an alligator right next to the picnic area…

#alligator

Then I noticed the sign…

#bewaresign

Wait, that’s not a statue, that’s an Alligator!

The Plantations

At one time there were as many as 500 plantations along River Road, and while there aren’t nearly that many now, there are still quite a few available to visit. Most offer guided tours, have beautiful gardens, exhibitions, restaurants, and gift shops.

#oakalleyWe had time to visit two, and I chose Oak Alley for it’s magical trees, and Laura, a Creole Plantation for it’s historical significance.

Laura A Creole Plantation

#lauraplantationThe Laura Plantation, originally known as the Duparc Plantation, was built in 1804 – 1805 by Guillaume Duparc a French naval veteran of the revolutionary war. Laura, the great granddaughter of Duparc, wrote about her life on the plantation and her memoirs were published in 2002. Laura’s big house is a traditional Creole style raised house and there are several surviving out buildings on the property including six slave cabins.

During the tour we were given access to not only the gardens, but the big house and the slave cabins as well. There are exhibits about life on the plantation, which can be viewed at your leisure before or after the tour.

Oak Alley Plantation

#oakalleyOak Alley Plantation is most famous for its double row of Southern Live Oak trees which are around 300 years old! The trees run from the river to the house and were planted long before the present house was built.

#oakalleyThere is a lot to see and do at Oak Alley and at least two hours are recommended if you plan to see everything. We arrived later in the day as I wanted to get the afternoon light, but still managed to see quite a lot. Tours of the big house run every 1/2 hour, while the rest of the plantation including the slave cabin exhibit and gardens are self guided.

Before our tour of the big house we stopped for a mint julep, which you are welcome to bring with you on the tour! Photos are encouraged and your guide will be dressed in period costume, which definitely adds to that feeling of stepping back in time.

#oakalley

Once we completed our tour it was time to see the oak trees up close!

#oakalley

I spent a good amount of time taking photos and just enjoying walking among the trees. They’re absolutely stunning and it’s no wonder that so many films, television shows and music videos have been filmed here, Interview with a Vampire and Beyonce’s Déjà Vu music video to name just a few.

#oakalley

#oakalley

A History Lesson

#lauraplantationThe plantation homes lining the great Mississippi River Road are a sight to behold, and to visit them is to take a step back in time and get a small glimpse of what life might have been like for these people 200+ years ago.

#lauraplantationThey provide an important look into slavery and a very dark part of United States history. While it’s not easy to see, and read about the deplorable way these people were forced to live, I’m not one to shy away from the truth. Although it was difficult for my children to see and hear about what took place in the not so distant past, it was also a very valuable and worthwhile history lesson.

#lauraplantation

Tips & Advice:

  • River Road is a one hour drive from New Orleans in Vacherie, Louisiana
  • Laura Plantation can only be seen via guided tour.
  • Tickets can be purchased onsite.
  • The tour is 40 minutes long, and children and strollers are welcome.
  • Parking is complimentary, the gift shop sells snack and drinks, and there are multiple bathrooms.
  • The Louisiana Creole versions of the famous Br’er Rabbit stories were recorded at Laura in the 1870s.
  • Families still lived in the slave cabins at Laura Plantation until as recently as 1977.
  • Tours at Oak Alley run every half hour.
  • Children are welcome, and there is a gift shop, restaurant and restroom facilities.
  • You can stay overnight on the Oak Alley plantation.
  • The trees at Oak Alley have a potential life span of 600 years!

Pin for later:

#pinmehilarystyle           #pinmehilarystyle

New Orleans! Last But Not Least!

#mardigrasbeads

#tennesseewilliams

Poor Cleveland, though I’ve never had the occasion to visit, I have to say it’s really no contest, how  could it be? Especially when stacked up against New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans, three incomparable destinations!

Each of these cities are known worldwide for their famous tourist attractions, iconic buildings, food and culture. They’re all exciting in their own right, but what about their hidden treasures? You’ll never know what you might be missing if you don’t take the time to venture off the beaten path… This past visit to NOLA we took the time to do that very thing! We explored some new neighborhoods and dug a little deeper into some old favorites!

I know I’ve been writing about the Crescent City a lot lately, but I couldn’t wrap up without sharing just a tiny bit more…

Magazine Street

#magazinestreetRunning from Canal Street downriver to  Leake Avenue upriver and stretching a distance of six plus miles, Magazine Street is a treasure trove of shops, restaurants, and bars with sections of residential homes interspersed throughout. Many of the establishments are one of a kind and you’re guaranteed to find something of interest, along the way.

Because of its length many people choose to take a cab directly to specific locations, but if you have the time and inclination to walk you’ll have the opportunity to experience many of NOLA’s great neighborhoods including, the Central Business District, the Warehouse District, the Garden District, and Uptown. We chose to split our time and walked different sections of the street over the course of a few days.

These fun banners were hanging from the street lights in the Warehouse (Arts) District.  They were perfect for this area filled with galleries and museums!

Along The Parade Route, Beads, Beads, Beads…

#mardigrasbeadsWalking along a residential section of Magazine Street one afternoon I noticed remnant Mardi Gras beads adorning, gates, lanterns, doorways, telephone poles, and tree branches. They were everywhere!

#mardigrasbeads

Even though they look so pretty all those sparkly shiny beads can be a bit of a nuisance once the party is over. I read that over 86,000 pounds of beads were collected after Mardi Gras 2016. Cleaning just the trees along the parade routes, it can take the crews as many as three weeks to remove the bulk of the beads from the city’s trees.

Faubourg Marigny

#marignyJust downriver from the French Quarter,  you’ll find the Faubourg Marigny, or The Marigny as it’s often called these days. Less “touristy” (for the moment anyway) and more relaxed than some other parts of the city this neighborhood is popular with locals and tourists alike. Long on charm and full of history you’ll find local food, art and music as well as unique galleries, and fun shops. Look out for the Frenchmens Art Market and the Dirty Coast T-shirt shop, both full of local treasures to bring home.

#marigny

 

Bywater

New Orleans Last But Not Least-1551Keep on going past The Marigny and you’ll find yourself in Bywater. Colorful historic fixer uppers along with trendy new restaurants  and bars are helping to breath new life into this longtime neighborhood.

Well, I guess that about wraps it up for NOLA, for now, anyway. Until next year’s visit…

 

New Orleans! The French Quarter!

#frenchquarter

#frenchquarterI’ve been writing a lot about New Orleans lately, the food, the festivals, the family fun, but what about the French Quarter? While the Crescent City has many great neighborhoods the French Quarter is NOLA’s oldest and most well known, and in my opinion her crown. Also known as the Vieux Carré, the French Quarter is oozing with undeniable charm, a fabulous hodgepodge of fine art, grit, delicious cuisine, music, and art!

Faded Splendor

#frenchquarterNew Orleans is just shy of 300 years old and has a long and fascinating history which helps to make it one of the most unique cities in America. Because it was French and then Spanish and then French again, before it was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase, the Quarter has a vibe all its own. It’s hard to put a finger on it, it’s not quite European, and not quite American, but a mix of both and yet there’s something else there as well. Maybe it’s the voodoo? It’s definitely the Creole, but there’s more. As you wander the streets lined on both sides by the colorfully painted buildings indicative of the Vieux Carré Its impossible not to feel the history of this magical place the peeling paint and 300 years of grit only adding to its charm!

#frenchquarter

The St. Louis Cathedral

#stlouiscathedralIf the French Quarter is the crown of New Orleans, than the St. Louis Cathedral is the jewel in her crown. The St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest operating cathedral in the United States and along with the fleur-de-lis a true icon of the city.

The Cathedral is centrally located in front of Jackson Square Park, which is surrounded by local artisans and musicians day and night. It’s a great place to wander around or just to take a break and listen to the music. As I mentioned the Cathedral is operational, so if you fancy attending a service while in town you can do that too! Flanking the Cathedral on either side are the Cabildo and the Louisiana State Museum. Both are open to the public, but I have to admit I’ve never been to either one.

Beyond Bourbon Street…

#frenchquarterBeyond great cuisine and the infamous Bourbon, Street New Orleans is famous for its music and art scene and rightfully so! There are many great music clubs, but no need to be so formal if you’re looking to hear great music, you really needn’t look much further than the nearest street corner.

#frenchquarter

The same is true for the art scene, just look to the left or right and you’ll find yourself looking into one of the city’s many art galleries. Everything from local artisans displaying their still wet paintings in Jackson Square to multi artist galleries and antique shops on Royal Street, Chartres Street and just about everywhere else in the Quarter!

You never know what you’re going to find poking around. On our most recent trip we had the good fortune to stumble upon the grand opening of photographer Frank Relle’s, new Royal Street gallery. His photographs are stunning and having one of his prints is definitely high on my wish list.

One of my favorite New Orlean’s artists is Mark Bercier and I was so excited when I had the good fortune to meet him while visiting his paintings at the Bee Galleries on Chartres Street. I’ve admired his work for years and meeting him was really something special! He spent quite a bit of time showing me around and explaining his work!

The Quarter After Dark

#stlouiscathedralAlready feeling like you’re someplace special, something happens in the Quarter after dark and the light of the gaslamps on a warm night creates a hazy glow that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into another time and place. Couple this after dark ambiance with its long and storied past and It’s no wonder that New Orleans finds itself on the “Most Haunted” list more often than not. Haunted hotels, apartments, restaurants, you name it, it’s haunted!

Want to learn more? Consider taking an evening tour, you’ll learn a ton of history, have a lot of laughs and it’s a great way to see the neighborhood safely. Though I love the French Quarter, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that its best to stay on the beaten path or in a larger group after dark.

Accommodations

#frenchquarterI’ve been to NOLA 5 times and each time I’ve stayed somewhere new. This most recent visit found us at the Omni Royal Orleans on St. Louis Street between Chartres and Royal. Our room looked out on Royal and though it was a great view it wasn’t quiet, so you might consider asking for an interior room if you decide to stay here. On the up side we saw quite a few Second Line Parades being led by newlyweds right from our hotel window!

#frenchquarter

The rooftop offered great views of the river and the Quarter as well as a heated pool, a bar and a workout facility. The boys really enjoyed the break! I would definitely stay here again, as the service and location were perfect! Side note: You’ve got to love a hotel that hands out champagne in go cups!

Speaking of staying again… New Orleans will celebrate her 300th birthday in 2018 and this is one birthday party I won’t want to miss… who’s in?

Photos Galore!

#chartrestreetAs usual I took a ton of photos on this trip and though I’ve done my best to narrow them down there are still so many I want to share… The famous gaslight lamps and lanterns, the street signs, storm shutters, selfies, street views, the Ursuline Convent and so much more…

#frenchquarter

New Orleans! Family Style!

#audubonzoo

#audubonzoo

New Orleans is SO much more than Bourbon Street*, so if you have kids and you think that means NOLA has to wait, think again! There is no shortage of  family friendly activities in the Crescent City! No matter your interests I guarantee you’ll find something that fits your bill… Parks, the zoo, the aquarium, those heavenly beignets I keep talking about as well as many other yummy treats, river boat rides, museums and so much more.

The Audubon Zoo

#audubonzoo

Having visited many zoos throughout the world I feel pretty confident when I say the Audubon Zoo in Uptown New Orleans is pretty great! We’ve been three times! Though with the amount of turtles located throughout the zoo they might want to reconsider the name… Maybe The New Orleans Turtle Zoo?!

#audubonzoo

The zoo has a  wide variety of animals from around the world, but my favorite part of any zoo is the exhibit showcasing the local area and the Audubon Zoo does an especially great job of this with their Louisiana Swamp exhibit.

 

The zoo recently finished renovating the elephant enclosure as well as a few other areas and it’s really lovely! Beyond your typical zoo the NOLA zoo has a number of exotic animals including a white tiger and a white alligator.

#audubonzoo

#whitetiger

Audubon Aquarium

#audubonaquarium

The Audubon Aquarium is located on the Mississippi River just blocks from the French Quarter. Though I can’t say it’s the best aquarium I’ve ever been to, the kids have no complaints and the convenience of its location just can’t be beat!

Audubon Park

#audubonpark

In the mood for a run, a leisurely walk, or a picnic? Maybe a game of golf sounds good? Audubon Park located Uptown and adjacent to the Audubon Zoo is a perfect place for any of the above mentioned activities and many more!

Walking along you’ll find stately southern mansions, beautiful wildlife and unique foliage. For example on this most recent trip I learned about Cypress Knees! Who knew trees had knees?

#audubonpark

The WWII Museum

#wwiimuseumnola

The National WWII Museum is a relatively new museum located in the Warehouse District about a 20 minute walk from the French Quarter. In case you’re wondering…

Why The National WWII Museum is located in New Orleans:

#wwiimuseumnola

Okay, now that we’ve answered that question.

I’ve always been fascinated by and taken in interest in WWII and I found this museum to be a wealth of knowledge. The information is in depth and includes first hand accounts and has an easy to follow flow with a lot of interactive exhibits. They’ve done a great job of not just telling you about the history, but immersing you in the settings as well.

I will say, that we’ve had to two occasions to visit this Museum, four years ago and earlier this month and the museum has been expanded multiple times since our first visit. I found that we needed quite a bit more time than we’d allowed for our most recent visit and there were key parts of the war that I felt were missing from the exhibit floors. There was no information at all about the concentration camps or their victims. It could be that with all the new buildings I was just unable to locate it, but the map wasn’t great, so I can’t be sure.

Simon is currently learning about Anne Frank in school and we had hoped there would be some focus on this part of the war. Still, he had a chance to learn about the war in Europe and the war in the South Pacific in chronological order.

Frenchmen Art Market

#frenchmenartmarket

Looking for something to do in the evening? How about the The Frenchmen Art Market?  Located just on the other side of the quarter in the Marigny District on Frenchmen Street the Market is open 5 might a week from 7 pm to 1 am and features local artisans of all kinds. We’ve visited a number of times and our boys enjoy the outdoor living spaces and chalk art while we take turns enjoying the artist’s booths.

So there you have it… If you were on the fence about whether or not NOLA is an appropriate place to visit as a family I hope I’ve helped change your mind. Looking for more fun ideas… Check out the Audubon Insectarium, ride the streetcar, take an evening tour of the city, or a boat ride along the river.

*Locals don’t hang out on Bourbon Street, so if your aim is to experience the real New Orleans… Bourbon Street is not it!

 

 

New Orleans! Let’s Fest!

#letsfest

Let's FestFestival Season has officially begun! I must admit that until our most recent trip to New Orleans I had never actually attended a festival before. Lucky for us we had the opportunity to attend two!

Hogs For The Cause

Let's Fest

Hogs for the Cause is as you might guess a BBQ Festival. It’s also a charity event raising money to support families fighting pediatric brain cancer. This amazing charity, which started out 7 years ago, in support of one family, has since grown to have served over 200 families in need.

Tim is a very big fan of BBQ and when we heard this festival was going on in New Orleans over our boy’s Spring Break it was an easy decision… Spring Break in NOLA! BBQ & NOLA, what more could we ask for?

The event is held in City Park, which we had never been to, and although we didn’t have time to explore as much of it as we would have liked, it’s clearly a place worth coming back to. The NOMA is located there as well as miniature golf and many other family activities.

Sidebar: For year’s I’ve been receiving fashion emails and advertisements from multiple clothing companies and every spring they talk about Festival Season. I had noticed that rubber boots and shorts both figure prominently in these emails, but never thought about why… That mystery is now over! Festival Season is also the rainy season… rain and festival grounds = MUD! A lot of sticky icky goey MUD!!!! DUH!

The week and night before Hogs for the Cause it rained terribly and in fact day one of the festival had to be cancelled. I guess instinctively I was somewhat prepared because we all wore plastic flip flops to the fair grounds… We didn’t really have anything else. However, I knew we were in real trouble when everyone walking up was wearing wellies, rain boots, shrimp boots, whatever you want to call them, they definitely knew something we didn’t know…

We met up with some dear friends who happened to be in town the same week and attempted to get some BBQ… and while we did get a bit of this and that, it wasn’t long before we were literally bogged down in the mud. Elliot’s shoes were lost to a particularly deep patch shortly after that, and soon thereafter we gave up on food altogether and just worked on escaping the enormous pit of warm, brown, sticky gooey mud that surrounded us on all sides.

As we went on the mud got deeper and stickier, and there was nothing we could do, but laugh at the situation, because honestly I think if I had given much thought to what might be in all that warm brown mud, I might not have been laughing!

Once we escaped the bog we made our way to an elevated area where we finally ate a little something had a much needed beverage and then decided to head out and get cleaned up. It’s obvious that this particular festival would have been a lot of fun because beyond amazing BBQ there are also multiple stages with live music and a ton of children’s activities.

Let's Fest

Of course if in the future I do find myself at another fairground festival, I’ll be sure to dress appropriately!

The French Quarter Festival

Let's Fest

While the first day of our visit found us bogged down in the mud, our last day was spent enjoying the French Quarter Festival in Jackson Square Park in the shadow of the St. Louis Cathedral. A favorite place of mine!

Let's Fest

The French Quarter Festival started in 1984 as a way to bring residents back to the Quarter. There are 23 music stages and it is the largest free music festival in the South. The great restaurants of New Orleans get together to provide the food and beverages and according to the official website it is known as “The World’s Largest Jazz Brunch!” This festival is consistently voted favorite festival, favorite free event and favorite food festival. I can’t disagree!

Because we attended on the first day it was a very manageable crowd and we were able to really enjoy the various food and music offerings without too much trouble. The festival is quite large and has a large presence along the river as well as in the park and though the cities musicians can often be found on the streets, during the Festival they are out in full force just about everywhere!

Let's Fest

Lucky for us, it was a dry sunny week and the grass in the park was dry and warm, we ordered our food and were able to enjoy it peacefully while listening to the sights and sounds of the festival around us!

New Orleans! On The Mississippi!

#MississippisunsetThere are some places that just feel like home and for our family New Orleans is one such place. We’ve been fortunate to visit multiple times and though we have many favorites, we also try to experience new things each time we visit. This past trip found us on THE River. The Mississippi River that is! Though technically this wasn’t a new activity for Tim and I we’d never taken the boys. In fact it had been 16 years since Tim and I had last set sail on the Mississippi back when we were still an engaged couple. Very romantic!

#MississippiselfieThe weather was beautiful and we had nothing on our agenda so we figured why not and It was so worth it! Not only was the scenery beautiful, but we learned a lot about New Orleans and it was a lovely place to sit back and relax for a few hours.

The Details

There are two options for riverboat rides, the Steamboat Natchez, New Orlean’s only steamboat, and the Creole Queen a paddle boat. We choose the Natchez, which conveniently docks on the riverfront just on the other side of the JAX Brewery in the French Quarter.

There are multiple times and options available, but because we decided on this activity last minute our only option was the evening dinner cruise. Dinner is optional and we had already eaten, but in hindsight it looked pretty good! If you’re a planner advanced reservations are available.

Along The Way

#stlouiscathedral

Boarding begins one hour prior to the boat setting sail, but you’re welcome to board all the way up until just before departure. The cruise sails down the river for one hour and back for another putting you right back where you started.

Along the way you’ll hear information about New Orleans and the surrounding areas along the river banks. We learned about Steamboat homes and the cities levies as well as a bit of history. We saw a many sights, including the Domino sugar factory, which produces 20 percent of the nations sugar, an oil refinery, plantation homes, the lower 9th Ward, navy vessels, the Creole Queen and so much more. The sunset was spectacular and I couldn’t take enough photos!

Once the sun went down we explored the ship a bit, learning all about how the steam engines operate. Afterwards we ordered drinks and contented ourselves with the view and the sounds of a live Jazz band.

If you’re in the Crescent City and looking for a nice way to take a break while still enjoying all that this amazing place has to offer you might consider a ride on the Great Mississippi River.

New Orleans! Lets Eat Lunch & Talk About Dinner!

#muriels

#letseatlunchandtalkaboutdinnerAre You A Foodie?

The other day when asked, that very question, I wasn’t sure how to answer… I’ve never considered myself a foodie, actually I’ve never given it much thought, what is a foodie, exactly? A person who likes good food?  Continue reading

New Orleans! Cafe du Monde!

#cafedumonde

#originalfrenchmarketcoffeestandAs I’ve mentioned before I really love New Orleans! The sights, sounds, smells (yes, all the smells), just the overall vibe of the place makes me insanely happy. I’m not sure its even possible to put into words just exactly what makes me love NOLA so much, but having just come back from our yearly visit I thought I’d give it a try. Because each and every trip to NOLA starts at one of my favorite places, Cafe Du Monde, I’m giving it it’s very own post!

#beignets

In my everyday life I don’t often indulge in pastries, donuts or other baked goods, so it’s a bit funny that the first place I head upon arriving into town is a place famous for fried dough smothered in powdered sugar! Irresistible!

Why Cafe Du Monde? Don’t Other Places Have Beignets?

#cafedumonde

Conveniently, Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours a day 364 days a year, with the exception of Christmas and when the occasional hurricane passes by, so no matter what time I arrive its open! Not only that, but they’ve been in the business of making beignets for over 150 years, which pretty much guarantees they know what they’re doing! In my opinion there’s no substitute! Believe me I’ve sampled a few in my attempt to find out…

Located just across the street from Jackson Square Park on Decatur you can’t miss the Cafe’s green and white awnings and twinkling white lights, but if you have any doubt about whether you’re headed in the right direction just follow the trail of powdered sugar on the sidewalks…

Table Service or Take Out?

#cafedumonde

There aren’t many options as you can see from the photo of the menu above. Beignets, drinks and souvenirs are all they offer, so your only real decision is whether you want to dine in or take out. Because the quality and consistency of Cafe Du Monde is widely known expect long lines. I’ve seen them as long as three blocks, really, but don’t be discouraged, they move fast and you have two options. If you’re under a time constraint then the take out window is your best bet. Either way, don’t get into line without cash!

Option 1: The Take Out Window

  • Be prepared. Get cash BEFORE you get to the take out window! THEY ONLY TAKE CASH.
  • Once you get your order(s) shake the bag to ensure complete coverage.
  • Roll up your sleeves, hopefully you aren’t wearing black, before reaching in and carefully pulling your beignet out of it’s bed of fluffy white sugar.
  • Lean forward and preferably away from the wind that will automatically arise the moment you attempt to eat a beignet from Cafe du Monde! Try not to inhale…
  • Enjoy!
  • Repeat daily!

Option 2: Table Service

If you have more time consider table service!

  • Be prepared! Get cash BEFORE you get to the table! THEY ONLY TAKE CASH.
  • The server will come to your table and your beignets will arrive a short while later.
  • Lean forward over the table while eating them.
  • Enjoy!
  • Repeat daily!

Cafe Du Monde is a true New Orleans institution! After 150 + years of business it could use a little polish, but I’m not complaining, the beignets are divine the service is fine and that’s more than good enough for me!

On a side note:  Last year, after multiple visits, I finally decided to take the time to write a review of Cafe Du Monde on Trip Advisor. I even included a photo! Ha Ha… about a week later I received an email from Trip Advisor saying my review wasn’t real and they wouldn’t publish it. I guess my love for this place was just unbelievable!