Wednesday, July 03, 2013

New Orleans Adventure: On The Way In And First Looks.

After leaving Jackson, MS we drove the last three hours to the New Orleans area.  Since we couldn't check into our hotel until 4PM we changed our itinerary slightly and headed for the plantations.

There are four plantations that are close to New Orleans, close together, and show the diverse types of plantations.  We chose two sugar plantations: Laura Plantation and Oak Alley. (One little side note.  The plantations are located in Saint James parish ... a little Camino coincidence.)

Laura Plantation is an example of a Creole plantation.  Creole means anyone born in a French colony.  Laura was built by a French criminal who was granted his freedom if he would emigrate to the French Louisiana territory.  He accepted the offer, emigrated, fought the British during the American Revolution, and was granted land by President Jefferson.  Soon after building his plantation manor house, he died and his wife became the "president" of the plantation.  From then on the plantation was run by the women of the family.

The colorful Creole Laura Plantation manor house.
The plantation is a typical Creole plantation.  The manor is brightly colored as opposed to the customary white of American plantations.  French was strictly spoken on the plantation.  If you did not speak French you would not get past the front porch.  The more they liked you the deeper into the house you could go.

An engagement fan and portraits of some of the women of Laura Plantation.
Our guide walked us around the manor house and the surrounding gardens and grounds of the plantation.  He explained the history of the Creole and how their culture slowly faded after the American acquisition of the Louisiana territories.  He explained this through the history of the family who owned the plantation.  The last owner, Laura, was not really interested in the Creole lifestyle and prefered the new American ways.

Pictures taken at Laura Plantation can be seen in my 2013-06-16 Laura Plantation Google Photos album.

After Laura we went to Oak Alley plantation.  This example of an American plantation is named for an oak lined path leading between the manor and the Mississippi river.  We ate lunch at the cafe before touring the manor and the grounds.  The old oak trees that form the alley predate the current manor house. No one is sure who planted them.  The view through the tunnel formed by the ancient oaks is spectacular.

Oak Alley's namesake oak alley.
Pictures of Oak Alley Plantation can be found in my 2013-06-21 Oak Alley Plantation Google Photos album.

After finishing the interesting tour ... and finishing the ice cream I bought ... we got back in the car and drove the hour to New Orleans.  I don't like driving in strange cities but I managed to find the hotel with only a relatively minor hissy fit.  The hotel, the French Market Inn, is located in the French Quarter not far from the Mississippi river.  It turned out to be in the ideal location to walk everywhere.  For places too far to walk to, there was a trolley stop a block away.  After getting the car valet parked (your only choice) we never needed the car until we left.  The Inn is actually four buildings combined into one.  This results in odd configurations.  Our room was a cheap inside room.  The room had two windows that open out into a hallway.  The hotel also has a house cat named Patrick who roams the courtyard and greets the guests ... when he isn't sleeping.

Our first evening was spent orienting ourselves, eating dinner, and walking along the river.  This evening was one of the cooler ones.  It would be hot and muggy the rest of the time ... exactly what I expected New Orleans to be in June.

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We were awoken by the phone ringing.  It was a call to confirm our reservation for a French Quarter walking tour later that morning.  We got up, stopped at a coffee shop to buy some breakfast snacks, and walked the couple blocks to meet up with our tour guide.

Saint Louis Cemetery Number One.
The walking tour was a continuation of our Laura Plantation tour of the day before.  The guide explained, through the eyes of the Laura Plantation owner, life in old New Orleans.  We visited old homes, an early pharmacy, and an opera house.  We visited the oldest cemetery, Saint Louis Number One, where we visited graves of Laura's family and other New Orlean notables.  The cemeteries are built above ground due to the high water table that would normally flood any holes dug in the ground.  The cemeteries are very similar to what I saw in Spain on my Camino.  Each tomb holds multiple generations of the family.  When there is a need for a new burial, the last burial remains are simply dumped into a pit at the bottom of the tomb.

One thing I learned on the tour is that the architecture in the French Quarter is not French.  The old French city burned to the ground while under control of the Spanish (Did you know the Spanish once controlled the French Louisiana territory?  I sure didn't) .  The city was rebuilt in a Spanish style which explains all the balconies and the spanish street name plaques on some of the buildings.

The tour took two or three hours as we walked from one air conditioned area to another (The guide wasn't stupid).  I learned quite a bit about the history of the city.  The guide, as would several other of our tour guides, shared his harrowing Katrina survival experiences after his house was completely flooded.

After the tour we went to lunch before walking through the Saint Louis Cathedral.  The Wife was not impressed and I have to admit, I've seen better.  The Wife did get a rosary and I got a magnet.

Inside the Saint Louis Cathedral.
Next was a visit to the Ursuline Convent.  The building in not used as a convent anymore but it still has a long history and the museum items were interesting.  As you enter the chapel it's hard not to miss the shell motif in parts of the entryway.  No one could tell us the significance of the shells.  I doubt it has any connection with the Camino (Saint James' symbol is a shell) but it is another Camino coincidence.

Inside the Ursuline convent chapel.
We left the convent and walked through the french market area.  The market was full of the usual tourist chachques.  Unfortunately it was much hotter and more humid than the day before and we had to retreat to the hotel room to cool off, rehydrate, and to take a late afternoon nap.  This first day made me understand why most tours in New Orleans are in the morning.  This would also be the start of the napping-in-the-afternoon ritual.

Rested, we went out and had another good dinner before going to stand in line at Preservation Hall.  Preservation Hall is a jazz venue where they try to honor and protect New Orleans jazz.  The place is tiny.  It holds about one hundred and only about thirty of those get a seat on hard backless benches.  This being said, the band, which changes members depending on who is available and who is in town, was incredible.  They played a lot of classics and got a lot of people in the audience singing with them.  Their set was short but, with the heat in that small box of a place, we couldn't have stayed much longer I think.

Preservation Hall drum.
After the live jazz we crossed the street to a voodoo store.  The Wife was hoping to get some good information about authentic voodoo but we found it hard to find anyone who would talk about it.  They would talk about the tourist voodoo but not the real stuff.  Voodoo is strongly connected with Catholicism.  When african/haitian slaves were brought to New Orleans they were forced to convert to Catholicism.  Voodoo was the result of the slaves combining their animist beliefs with the christian ones.  Each catholic saint had an alternate name that corresponded to an animist god.  This way they could pray to their old gods while appearing to be good Catholics.  Only Mary was kept whole without an alternate name.  The store was full of ... interesting things.

This first day and a half were full ones.  The rest of the week would be less packed but just as enjoyable.

Pictures of New Orleans can be found in my 2013-06 New Orleans Google Photos album.  The pictures in the set are roughly in chronological order.  As I post I will add pictures.  New pictures will be at the bottom of the Google Photos page so you may have to scroll down to see them.

2 comments:

  1. Okay, off topic, but I am really super impressed/jealous by your blog. you really take the time to get it right. I need to get off my butt and do better with mine!

    Back to your post-You saw a lot of cool stuff! I can understand that you wouldn't get a lot of voodoo information, and I'm sorry some of the buildings weren't too impressive. But I didn't know about the French Quarter being done in Spanish style either! That's really neat!

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    1. Miss McC: Gee ... and I thought my blog needed a lot of work.

      I learned a lot on this vacation. Not just about architecture either.

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