Last year at this time I found myself blessed with a random four day weekend (that actually fell on a weekend!) And it was such a miracle, that I called my mom as soon as I found out, and after a whopping five minutes I persuaded her to meet me in New Orleans.
We went full tourist on this trip, as I had never been there, and Cherbear says she only ever went to a casino when she was here. So when we arrived that evening, checked in to our amazing boutique hotel, Hotel Mazarin. This is a very nice hotel, that is the most unassuming building from the outside, settled right in the French Quarter. The lobby is tiny, but it opens into a marvelous courtyard, where breakfast is served in the morning. The best part however, is finding your room. We were on the second floor, we took the elevator up, made our way around the courtyard balcony, and then entered a second, second story, courtyard.
There were winding hallways, staircases that led to amazing bars, and valet parking! Our first evening we spent hours meandering the streets around the Quarter, as I absorbed the amazing architecture. I have honestly never chosen to visit a place because of the buildings before, but consider NOLA my first architecture trip. I’ve always been in love with the Creole buildings, with their French influences, the spectacular cast iron work, and the splash of color everywhere you go. I have always wanted to visit, but the closest I’ve ever been is Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, one of my favorite running locations.
Actually being there was more than I ever imagined it to be. This is the first neighborhood I’ve been in that made me feel like I was breathing in the life around me. My senses were flooded with sights, smells, including foods that you could basically taste, and most importantly in New Orleans, the sounds. There is music all around you. When we finally headed over for dinner we went the Steamboat Natchez, where we were greeted by the upbeat sounds of a Calliope, situated right on the top of the ship. Cherbear and I danced along the shore, and then headed in for our dinner seating. We enjoyed some decent food, although I don’t recommend going simply for the food, and then the Steamboat ventured out. We saw some amazing sights of the city from the boat, we watched the sunset, and best of all, we enjoyed some true New Orleans style jazz. We had so much fun drinking, and dancing, and just taking it all in, and then we walked back to our hotel, and absolutely exhausted, we fell into bed for the evening.
The next day we woke up early and drove out of the city, along the Mississippi River, and we visited two plantations in the area. These areas are steep with history, both of the upper-class of the time, and the atrocious lifestyles they kept slaves trapped in. The first we visited, Laura Plantation offered an informative tour of both the house, and the slave cabins.
The house was interesting, and when my air condition broke this week in my house, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who lived in this house pre air conditioning. All the windows you see on the second story, which is the only living space, are actually doors that open to allow amazing cross breezes. It may be the simple things that leave an impression on me, but boy oh boy I fell asleep dreaming of having an option like that when the temperatures were rising in my house.
On the flip side, we headed out back to the slaves quarters, I can honestly say I’ve never felt so much sadness and anger from visiting any location. That is until I visited Oak Alley Plantation, the second stop of the day.
It is difficult to compartmentalize the outstanding aspects of these locations, and the terrible history that built them, but that’s really the only way to immerse yourself in these histories. At Oak Alley our first stop was their exhibit on the lives of the slaves there. It was self guided, unlike Laura, which I felt provided a lot more information, and a lot more directly, than the previous tour. After spending some time immersing ourselves in the dark history, it was difficult to head up to the house without absolutely hating the family that lived there.
So we didn’t head up there. Not yet anyway. We first headed to the thing the drew me out to these sites in the first place, the actual alley of oak trees that the plantation was named for. I’ve always had an immense love for oak trees, I find them to be the most beautiful and inspiring trees in the world, and long before the present house was built, and before any slaves lived on the property, some miraculously foresighted individual planted a double row of these trees, and now 300 years later, I found myself surrounded by something I only dreamed existed.
Just look at how beautiful this is. Also special photo cred goes to Cherbear, because she posed me next to every tree here. It started as soon as I was born, placing me amongst flowers, and continues on into my 25 years of life, placing me amongst some trees. We did take the tour of the house after that, and it too was amazingly informative, but still infuriating. You do have to admire both locations for finding a balance in presenting this information. Again though, compartmentalizing is key.
We headed back to the city, and got ready for dinner and drinks on Bourbon. As well as shopping. Very very cool shopping. A weakness for the women in our family. Somewhere around our second hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s, Cherbear legitimately called dibs on dying that night. We roamed around, chasing drinks and music. We followed our hearts to some of the best street music in the area. I had so much fun bouncing from corner to corner, drink in hand, and my favorite dancing partner in tow. My all-time favorite was the saxophonist serenading a tiny little baby with “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
After that stupendous night drinking only things named after weapons and natural disasters, we some how awoke in the morning to go kayaking. We went with this awesome company, Kayak-iti-yat, which is a husband/wife combo who take small groups out on the Bayou St. John. I have to admit, while we had so much fun, great conversation, and sights, I wish there was a little more information presented. But hey! I’m a nerd. The best part of the estimated 1200 calorie burning paddle was the afterward. Beignets! I had been waiting all trip for this one food item. And that night, our last night, we sat outside our hotel room and got powdered sugar everywhere. And Cherbear tolerated me singing “Gonna Take You There” from The Princess and the Frog tirelessly. If you dig the song, you’ll enjoy this post.
We both had to leave the following morning, but the memories of my time spent in Louisiana are some of the best in my arsenal. It was a trip for the record books.