Friday, February 19, 2016

A Family Vacation

New Orleans had been on my list for years. When boyfriend and I finally decided to plan a trip, our parents signed on almost immediately. It's not too far from where my parents live and boyfriend's mom and and stepdad are always down for an adventure. Basically we each picked a must-do activity. Mine was plantation houses, Elaine's was a cooking-related tour. We wanted to do a swamp tour but we weren't able to squeeze that in. We did end up doing a haunted walking tour of the city, a hop-on hop-off bus tour (my mom), and tons of time spent on Bourbon Street. Luckily, we also found out about Frenchmen Street where the more local jazz bars are set up. For being just a long weekend, we jam packed our trip.
It was really special to spend time as a a big group, mixing our families together. They'd all met before (I think), but they really got to know each other on this trip. Looking back, boyfriend and I both agree it was one of our most successful adventures thus far. Everything just seemed to flow and work out perfectly. So much fun.
She is a person who understands life. To continue click below...

On the flight out, a woman's TSA compliant liquids baggie was full of liquor. She was bringing the party, no doubt. Love it. We had a layover in Nashville, Tennessee so we ate Moonpie's with our beers. Very nice way to begin a vacation. Our parents had all already arrived and were already getting settled at the casino and then drunk at a restaurant. We were waiting for the hotel shuttle upon landing and they all pulled up in a huge van. Somehow they managed to convince the hotel to allow them to ride along for our pick-up. Boyfriend and I were surprised! (But, not surprised.) They already had a bowl of gumbo waiting for us saved from the restaurant.

The next morning, bright and early, we picked up a rental van and headed out to see some plantations. Some we decided to drive by and just view from the outside. Two of them we wanted to buy a ticket to tour. We also made sure to stop by a (photo above) lovely row of trees used in many a film and country music video. Forest Gump-y, is it not?
The crew minus my dad: me, my mom, Elaine (bestie! and boyfriend's mom haha), boyfriend, and Floyd (boyfriend's stepdad)
Photo credit:
Our first stop was the Whitney Plantation. Wow. I mean, really wow. I would recommend this place to every person I know. Hauntingly beautiful artistic additions, incredibly knowledgeable and passionate guides, and you spend the morning peering into a place of deep history. The Whitney addresses the sad history with a dignified and respectful view. It's honest and true, but not gaudy or exploitative. I was so impressed. 

Large metal bowls are used for boiling sugar lined the road to slave quarters
Slave quarter interior

I think it's easy for historical places to go one of two ways: 1. completely ignore the horrific portions of the history and highlight all things good or 2. swaddle up with the horrific history and enterprise off of those struggles without acknowledging any accountability. Rather than either of those options, the Whitney wonderfully forges their own path of acknowledgement, understanding, honest remembrance, and all with a promise to work every single day educating people to keep such a history from repeating itself. They had a contemporary art exhibit towards the end which asked visitors to write on a post-it whatever they thought or felt about the plantation. Here is my sentiment:

Thank you Whitney for a brilliant tour 
and for supporting remembrance of this
essential history when so few other Americans
are willing.
one love
(New York City)

These sculptures were one of my favorite parts. Most were located in the chapel on the plantation grounds, but there was one - representative of a specific slave girl - located in the bedroom of a young white master. They had details about the story of the two girls from writings and tales - one master, one slave. The life-sized representations of actual people (based on photographs from the plantation's history) figuratively held your hand through-out the tour. The empty face of each child ran along with me as I walked. My heart yearned to pick up a little girl and throw her on my hip - carry her around and ask her about her day. Fix up bows in her hair and play hide and seek. How a person could see a child as a slave - I will never understand. I don't know how a person could see another person as a slave. Still, the children were heartbreaking. 

This plaque instantly reminded me of the Madonna in the Sistine Chapel (
In my mind it presented a powerful juxtaposition between those sweet little white angels watching over Christ and these equally innocent little boy slaves likely killed from neglect, disease, mistreatment...who knows what other perils they faced living on the hallowed ground in Louisiana. A so-called God allowed them to live and die in such a way.

Sometimes the jars were buried for cooling

Original owner's name is imprinted into the bricks

On a lighter note, the plantation offered very interesting facts about plantation life. There were beautiful plants and flowers through-out. If you know me, you know how much I like trees. I was swooning around every corner. Can you imagine bathing in one of these?:
There's nothing in the photos to use for scale. Just know, teeny tiny compared to modern bathtubs.

The interior of the big house was really beautiful. Hand-painted ceilings, expert fabric draping on the bed canopies and draperies, and antique furniture through-out. After having digested so much about the slaves' lives, it was hard to care much for the fanciful house. Regardless, it did have a really beautiful southern charm. Over the top in some ways, but also home-y in decor.

View of slave quarters from the big house

The beautiful lane again
Between plantations, we took a pit stop at a local eatery - Spuddy's Cajun Foods. Catfish sammie? Don't mind if I do. I can't remember now what all we ordered but I know we went a bit crazy and had a little bit of everything - Gumbo, Chicken & Rice, Sausage Po-Boy. They have really funny kitschy decor - a mannequin with a life-sized alligator head! Hilarious.

Next up was a Creole plantation called Laura.

Nothing about slaves, of course, this plantation was a bit more of a regular plantation experience. The guide spoke in detail about the family and their history - strategically skirting over (or in one story, actually romanticizing) the experience of the slaves. I scoffed aloud when the guide told us of slave loyalty. I guess one would be loyal if they weren't beaten too cruelly knowing their alternatives. I digress. The creole history was interesting. Still, overshadowed pretty heavily by the previous plantation.

After returning the rental van and getting freshened up at our hotel near Bourbon Street, we definitely hit the road for some draanks. I will warn you. Watch out for the drinks on Bourbon Street. They are much much much much stronger than you think, being that they all taste like juice (and turn your tongue you can clearly see here).
My mom and I headed out first and ended up buying the whole crew tons of beads to wear. Well, when in Rome.

For being so lively, I have to say the French Quarter had a really serene vibe outside Bourbon Street. Just one block over and it would be strolling couples on their way to dinner or retires watching the sunset from their balconies. They do a nice job of cleaning the area. I've traveled to quite a few well-trodden places and some spots are so obviously tourist with the trash and nonsense. Here in New Orleans, it's very much come in, go out - bring your money and fun, then leave us in peace to wait for the next batch. You can tell a local in a heartbeat. I can see why they love their city so much. I don't think I would leave either if I had roots in this swampy soil.

<-- The rents a few drinks in I think, getting ready for yet another delicious cajun meal. I hate when I forget to take food photos! 

I have to add that Floyd definitely almost begged me to take a photo of him with this horse haha so funny. -->

This guy is my favorite person in New Orleans. Those beads were leftover from Mardi Gras (like 6 months earlier in the year). And that's dad and I Instagramming a pic to get a free praline. Hey, free is free :)

Floyd, Elaine, me, boyfriend, mom, dad - on the bus tour

The next day we hit the casino for a drink (which was a disaster) and jumped on the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour. The disaster being that we needed plastic cups to leave the casino and we only had '15 minutes' to get in, get cups, order drinks, pay for drinks, move drinks into said cups, and get back to the bus stop. The bus shows up 5 minutes later (according to my parents who stayed behind) and after running through the casino, a spilled drink, and some sticky shoes, we got back outside to find out we had another 20 minute wait. Travel, gotta love it. My parents were good sports about it though. The tour drove us past all kinds of interesting things. I was snapping photos the whole time of all the adorable homes. New Orleans has an example of almost every architecture found in the states - hints of Egyptian revival, colonial, french balconies, sooooo fun. During the tour was the only time I heard or saw anything relating to Hurricane Katrina. Being so absolutely devastating to the city and region, I expected to see more donation opportunities, further relief efforts, but there was nothing. The tour guide said only that city mandate kept the bus operator from driving past the Lower Ninth Ward. I've had the opportunity to listen to several stories about the 9th on NPR (StoryCorps, Morning Edition, etc) over the years. The struggle of the people affected, those who lost their homes, their jobs, is still happening. It was/is still heartbreaking. I was surprised to see that the city hasn't continued making efforts to revive those individuals by using tourism as a vehicle for good. I would have gladly thrown some cash in a bin if there'd been one.

<--- Muffuletta
Later that afternoon, we went on a culinary tour. It was very well done. I wish I still had the email to stare the company here but I deleted it. They began a lovely bar where we all enjoyed a Pimm's Cup. We tried several nice dishes and learned about the history of cuisine in New Orleans. Most especially, it was interesting to finally understand the difference between Creole and Cajun food. I'll let you learn that one on your own.

1960  -  1963

During the tour, we had a secret look at this amazing costume collection. I swooned the entire time. The intricate details were gorgeous. And how they changed every year! They spanned for like 50+ years each year reflecting the period. Totally in love.

It was absolutely time to party of that day of hopping around and eating. Little Gem Saloon was happy to accommodate. We enjoyed really incredible jazz music, delicious drinks, snacks, and just a really great time.

Conveniently placed old cars...

The infamous Cafe Du Monde (sadly underwhelming but a must-do regardless).

After a few more street drinks and some serious people watching, we found ourselves at Frenchmen Street ready to experience some authentic jazz. And we did! Incredible musicians. I don't remember much from the evening ;) but I can promise you it was a fantastic time.

Good Morning New Orleans!

This incredible waffle chicken coleslaw monstrosity was my meal at Elaine's birthday lunch. We couldn't very well visit New Orleans without (BAM!) visiting Emeril. Nola was so delicious. We had wonderful service, amazing food, nice ambiance. I highly recommend it as a stop during your visit. We were able to wish Elaine a perfect birthday with the sun coming in while relaxing with drinks then enjoying truly outstanding food with New Orleans flare. It couldn't have been better.

Pretty sure the rest of this day we visited a couple of other New Orleans neighborhoods and wasted. I remember playing darts for a good couple hours and getting completely gone. Then I met this dog in a bar? That's me on the left  with banana beads trying to take a selfie with an innocent animal (yikes). Our drunkenly selves went into shops - vintage, tourist, you name it and annoyed all manner of service workers for an entire afternoon. I have the evidence in my Camera Roll. 

Also on the way back to the French Quarter, the cab stopped so that boyfriend could snap a photo of me in front of the American Horror Story house. Yeah, that didn't work. The only photo shows a blurred white figure jumping off the rail. But, hey, maybe it looks better 'Ellie as ghost'. Coincidentally, later that evening we took a ghost tour. It was walking, which I think was a little tough on everyone considering the last few days we had running around New Orleans. Regardless, neat info! The cake, of course, being the infamous Delphine LaLaurie. That's her house on the left. I can't imagine living there now. Eeek.

Overall, New Orleans was the best. Not just because of the historical city and all it has to offer but because I got to see it with the best people.

Until next time,