Homeward Bound…

We’re headed home today.

Two & 1/2 days in The Big Easy is NOT enough time, i didn’t even get to the garden district or Lafayette Cemetery. How did that happen? LOL. Lestat would be so disappointed.  Although, i did manage to squeeze quite a bit into a few days, there is still a lot on my list that we’ve still got left to do!

We didn’t get to the Presbytere to see the Mardi Gras floats & exhibits museum.

We didn’t make it to The Garden District, Magazine St., Anne Rice’s old house, Lafayette or Metairie (which i finally learned to pronounce: met-err-ee) Cemeteries, a few plantations, the botanical gardens, and Longue Vue house & gardens. This should fit nicely into another 3-4 days, don’t you think?

Anyway – we got up early, packed up our bags, and walked for the last time to The Café du Monde. We walked up Bourbon St. for the last time, and made our way across Jackson Square to have our Café au Lait & Beignets.

I had a much better time managing the powdered sugar this time, and did NOT end up completely covered in the confection!

We had our breakfast, people watched for a bit, and then leisurely made our way back to The Royal St. Charles Hotel to check out and collect the temperamental rental car.

Whenever I leave a big city I always have the same feeling… its a weird sadness, I don’t want to leave. I’m not sure if it’s the leaving or the going back to real life that causes it, but it’s the same feeling as going back to work on a monday morning after a long weekend.

We drove the couple hours back to the Jackson, MS, Airport and boarded our plane.

Back to real life… for now.

New Orleans: Oak Alley & the Louis’s

We got up super early, 7am, both of us in a pissy mood… Then, I realize that our time it was actually 5am – I didn’t feel so bad once I figured that part out. We grabbed a brochure for the plantation tours from the kiosk the day before. I knew there were several plantations I wanted to see: The Evergreen, which is still a functional sugar cane plantation with people working and living there, Destrehan, and Oak Alley.

The problem is, all the plantations are about an hour outside of town. They’re all basically on the same road, but they are fairly well spread out and each tour is roughly 90 min.

Which meant, we could do all the plantations, but wouldn’t have time to still visit the cemeteries… See my dilemma. So, we chose one plantation, and two cemeteries (more to add to the next visit list). I chose Oak alley because of association – Oak Alley is the plantation they filmed part of “Interview with a Vampire”, and the wedding of Bo & Hope on “Days of our lives”.

Oak Alley Plantation

We walked down the brick path between two perfect rows of 300-year-old Oaks, 28 trees in all, and I knew exactly which scenes from the movie they had shot at this spot. The tour itself was fairly interesting, they talked about the history of the house, grounds, sugar, and family that lived there, but what I found amazing – there is ONE piece of furniture actually belonging to the family that occupied the house. Unfortunately, no photography allowed inside the mansion, curses foiled again! I did manage to get a few good photos of the exterior and what’s left of the grounds.

There were a few little snags on the way back to New Orleans, first – the pesky tire pressure light kept coming on in our rental car, and second was getting pulled over for speeding. 12 mph over… Thank you St. Charles Parish Sheriffs Office.

I had mixed feelings, I consider myself a professional speeder – really. This is only the 2nd time I’ve ever been pulled over – ever! And then there was mom’s reaction (good times), and the appearance of the trooper that made it a little bit tricky.

I was actually more pissed about the car in front of us, which was going at least 90MPH, was not who he was after, but me – going 77 in a 65. And, yeah I know, I was still speeding, but the faster driver is still the one who should have been pulled over – that’s what would have happened in California!

So the super trooper – straight out of the movies (complete with the hard brim hat and aviator sunglasses) gives me the ticket, and we drive away. See Katie, they DO give out speeding tickets in Louisiana. By the way – It was $138 for 1-13 miles over the limit, and just continues to go up from there… might I recommend going the actual speed limit?

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Cemeteries

St. Louis Cemetery #3

St. Louis #3 is, awkwardly, right off the freeway in a fully residential area. I always wonder what it would be like to live in a house with a cemetery for your backyard… would you be haunted on principal?

We got there just before closing and the last tour bus leaving, so it was pretty deserted of the living. I remain intrigued by the way the tombs are lined up. There are these decrepit, decaying, crumbling tombs standing right next to brand new ones, shiny marble ones.

Dates ranged from 1800’s to 1990’s, some of the damage was simply time and the wearing away from elements, and some of it was damage from Hurricane Katrina. I read that this cemetery was lucky, and only had minor damage from the flood.

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(Speaking of, we did not take the Katrina tour, but there is a tour of the path of destruction from the Hurricane. But, from what I could see & the places we visited, New Orleans, for the most part, seems to have recovered nicely)

This cemetery could be a small city all it’s own, mom hung near the front gate while I explored and took my photos. It was almost twenty to 3, and we had to make it back to the French Quarter and St. Louis #1 before it closed, or I would be going in the morning before we left!

St. Louis Cemetery #1

I went in alone, in search of Marie. Mom said she felt uncomfortable in St. Louis #3, and didn’t want to go in this time. So she waited outside the gate. When you walk in there is a large pyramid shaped tomb with a sign next to it that says where you’re standing used to be the middle of the cemetery… this got me very curious. I had no idea where to go or where she was, but I found the statue that it on all the cemetery brochures right away.

The area of town is just past the French Quarter and it does look a little shady, but the police station is literally across the street, and there were plenty of other visitors today.

  • Jennifer (our ghost hunt tour guide) advised us to skip St. Louis #2 because it’s an unfriendly neighborhood, but to not miss #1 & #3.

The feeling and vibration of this cemetery is different than any cemetery than I’ve ever been in, both in atmosphere and style. It was 10 to 3, and I was worried that I wouldn’t find Marie before closing since I had no clue where she was. I turned and walked back the way I’d come, I literally asked aloud for Marie to help me find her. I just walked straight, and then to the left of the entrance, and looked down one of the aisles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a freestanding sign, I took a step back and went down that aisle.

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Then I saw it – the famous XXX’s…

The sign I saw was the notice to the public stating it’s illegal to deface or mark a tomb (obvious, this is something that’s highly discouraged, but not followed at all). There’s a plaque commemorating the Greek revival tomb being built for Marie Laveau, and a very brief paragraph of who she is/was. Scattered on the ground in front of her resting place are offering left from people who’ve asked the Voodoo Queen for favors and prayers. There were flowers, beads, pennies (which apparently are her favorite), keys, candles, shells, feathers, there was even a pair of reading glasses, and a tube of Chap Stick. I left her the change that I had in my pocket.

Now, I’ve heard two different stories about what to do when you ask Marie for a favor:

  • knock 3 times on her tomb, greet her and tell her what you need, spin around 3 times, leave your offering and mark the tomb w/ the 3 Xs.
  • Second, is pretty much the same, except without the spinning, and after she’s granted your favor – then you return to her tomb, and mark the XXX with chalk or brick.

I’m not sure which is right, but I did ask her for a favor.

The thing that amazes me about this particular cemetery is its size. My curiosity definitely got the better of me – the cemetery is about the size of a square block, but holds over 100,000 dead. I had to find out what happened to the rest of it, and where did those tombs & bodies go?

Well, I found out…

Apparently, the reduced size is from stacking bodies… as in, stacking the next generation right on top of their other family members – because of the limited land space available. And, I mean, literally stacking them, like… bodies in the same tomb. Eww.

Google sez the cemetery got smaller “due to the development of the land around”, meaning the housing/residential area I assume. Supposedly they moved some of the bodies to St. Louis #2, and possibly #3. But it almost looks like they just moved the crypts & vaults closer together to make room. But then, they could have just moved the tombs and stones–like they did in poltergeist?

We had an early dinner at The Corner Oyster Bar & Grill (on Decatur St.) We both had an omelet w/ grits, and mom had some really amazing gumbo, which she let me taste. I have to say – best omelet I’ve ever had! I’ve never tried Grits before, lightly buttered, touch of salt, and they were perfection!

This place falls more into the category of “sports bar” than restaurant, complete with almost every teams flag (baseball, football, and soccer) hanging from the ceiling. It was quiet; there was plenty of room, no waiting, and fast service.

Unfortunately for me, the most memorable part of this place was actually the bathroom. It was, quite literally, a small closet with a toilet. No arm room, no knee room, you really only have room to turn around and sit down with your feet sticking out into the bar area, as you pray to God the door doesn’t just swing open since it opens OUT… if I could have maneuvered it, there would be pictures of that too…

Only one day left, i can’t believe it!

Ghost Hunt: New Orleans

First full day started off a lot later than expected, and by late I mean it was rolling toward noon before we even go out of bed! The jarring sounds of “Inna Gadda da Vida” woke us …I know, but I have a good explanation! It’s the crazy ring tone I’ve got set for my dad when he calls me, ya know, so I know it’s him calling before I answer.

I think we can partially blame the combination of the black out curtains in the hotel room, and being pretty beat from the festivities of New Years Eve.

Our first item on the list for the first full day in New Orleans is Café du Monde.

We walked up Royal St. and got in some really amazingly high priced window-shopping. Then, went down St. Anne St. Which found us right in the midst of Jackson Square, and standing in front of the monolithic St. Louis Cathedral. Unfortunately we didn’t actually go inside, that item has been put of the list as a definite for the next trip!

Jackson Square (and most of the French Quarter actually) was still decked out in its festive holiday garb, which was fantastic! We walked thru the courtyard, crossed Decatur St., several street artists, and finally arrived at the café.

The Café du Monde Order: Café au Lait & Beignets.

I’ve never had a beignet before, and if you haven’t either – there is a whole other side of heaven that you’re missing! It’s like… well; it’s like a plate of 3 luscious deep-fried donuts made from pancake-ish batter covered and piled high with confectioner’s sugar.

Yeah… I know… wipe your chin, close your mouth. lol.

(Side note: black coat/clothing = bad idea)

Walking inside the restaurant was a little disorienting, mostly because we had no idea where to go or what we should be doing – do we sit down? Wait to be seated? Do we order first & then sit? So we did what any self-respecting Californian’s would do, ask the strange ladies seated at the table we were standing closest to.

Here’s the skinny: If you want to be served, you sit and wait for a perky waitress. If you want take out, you order at the window. Easy.

The café itself was completely jam-packed, so was the outdoor seating, which was covered completely by green tarp. We did manage to find a table outdoors; we sat and ate beneath the forest green tarp. The pictures Id seen online showed an outdoor seating area that just had an awning, with this weather I’m thankful for the ugly green trap.

And since it was our first time, we had our Café au Laits served to us in full color souvenir mugs, which we took home with us!

After the sugar shock, we walked down the street, through the French Market, and along The Mississippi River.


The River is a brownish-gray color and I wonder if it’s always this color? Is it? We won’t be in town long enough for me to see it change. We passed the riverboat, the steamer Natchez, which is actually a restaurant that has a dinner & Jazz Cruise lasting 2 hours and is the only authentic steamboat in New Orleans. It wasn’t open at the time so we didn’t board, however, it is possible to go onboard and take a look without having dinner tour tickets.

While walking by The Mississippi River, we came upon a kiosk filled with brochures for every tour you can think of. Several catch my eye, Vampire, Cemetery, Plantation, but I already know the Ghost Tour is the one tour I won’t pass up!

We reserve our spot on the Haunted history tours – New Orleans Ghost Tour!

The tour departs from Reverend Zombies Voodoo Shop on St. Peters St. at 6 and 8 pm. We chose the 6pm tour, since tonight was supposed to be the coldest night so far this week, and planned to grab some dinner afterwards, to warm up again.

Since we were doing the ghost tour and not the cemetery tour, I thought we’d go check out St. Louis #1. For me, this is a big deal. I consider myself to be spiritual, but not necessarily religious. During my spiritual journey, I’ve read up on many different religions and belief systems – Voodoo is one of them. Anyone who knows anything about New Orleans knows who Marie La Veau is.

I know the stories of Marie, The Voodoo Queen, of New Orleans. I know of the ritual you can do ask her for favors – and her tomb shows the evidence of this practice with big red and black XXX’s and other markings all over it. Marie’s tomb is said to be the busiest spot for paranormal activity in the city of New Orleans. Unfortunately for us, when we got to St. Louis #1 we learned that the cemetery closed daily at 3pm. So, we would have to come back. I was disappointed, but refuse to leave New Orleans without visiting Marie La Veau.

Instead we walked back up St. Louis back to St. Peter St. and to Reverend Zombies. This city has that same buzz most big cities seem to have. It’s own energy and electricity. Everyone is pumped up and feeling good (The Saints are in the playoff’s) All the Saints banners, & “Who Dat” flags just seem to increase the feeling.

We arrived at the Reverend Zombies Voodoo Shop a half hour early, checked in with our tour guides, and then went inside the Shop to check out the goods. Probably the coolest shop I’ve been in! There’s an Alter with dozens of candles (Oops! Don’t touch!), a candle for everything you could pray for, Voodoo dolls, Voodoo books, Voodoo knick-knacks, gris-gris bags and the fixings to make your own bag, incense, displays, and a Tarot card reader/psychic in the back. As always in all the neatest places you go – no pictures allowed inside the shop. I would have gotten a reading, but we didn’t have enough time before the Ghost tour started.

The Ghost Tour:

The tour departs from the shop, our guide Jennifer, leads us off behind St. Louis Cathedral and down Pere Antoine Aly.

I have to say, this is the best Ghost Tour I’ve been on, so far!

I’m sharing the pictures from the tour and brief captions from the story, so the pictures will actually make sense. But, if you want to know about the ghosts you really have to take the tour! I can’t say for sure what I’ve captured in these photos, but I will note, at no other time during our trip did I have orbs, or dots, or specks of dust or anything of the sort, present on my pictures (and most of the 800+ pictures I took were taken at night!)

The 1st Ghost – Julie:


Julie was a young mistress who wanted her master to marry her, and would do anything to make that happen. Apparently, to get Julie to drop the marriage talk he asked her to do something outrageous, something he thought for sure she would never do – and, of course, she did it. Julie died on the roof of this building…

The 2nd Ghost(s) – The Andrew Jackson Hotel:

These pictures are in succession, so you can see one picture has one orb on it, and the next picture shows orbs/dust/spots all over it.

The story from the Andrew Jackson hotel involves children and several fires. Being that these are children, they are very active and playful. Apparently, ghosts of this hotel are known to take photos of the room occupants with their own digital camera, while they sleep. Seems like an easy set up, except that the pictures are taken from above, so to manage the picture – the camera would be on the ceiling!

And, since the guests claim to be asleep, one can only wonder who’s taking these photos? Also, a word of advice if you plan on staying here – don’t sleep naked!

The 3rd Ghost – The haunted bar: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

I didn’t get anything from the bar except a fabulous Irish coffee!

But, I did take some shots out front. There was a mighty duel, (this is also the spot where mom felt someone/something poke her lightly in the back – twice. She thought it might be one of our tour mates, but when she looked no one stood behind her).

The 4th Ghost – LaLaurie House: (This one’s a doosey!!)

The tale of Madame Delphine La Laurie is probably the most gruesome story I’ve heard in a long while.

She loved to entertain and have parties. During the party she would disappear & return several hours later wearing a different outfit. Apparently this didn’t raise suspicions because she was never seen in the same outfit twice, it was taken as a sign of wealth and chalked up to snobbery. But, what she was really up to in her funhouse would make Leatherface jealous!
(No – seriously – take the tour!)

The experts say the way you can tell if you really have some paranormal activity on your photographs & it’s not just a speck of lint on your camera or dust – is shape and movement. As you can see, these are clear, bright orb shapes and they are in different positions with each picture.

We got a special treat on this tour due to the obscenely cold weather; the last haunt we went to is something that is usually saved for the 8pm Tour only.

The 5th Ghost – Marie:

The bar used to be a brothel-house and Marie was a girl there. She fell in love with one of her men, a sailor, who was meant to leave within days of their meeting. Before he left, he promised Marie he would come back for her. Marie is what you could call a “nice” ghost, except for locking people in the left stall in the powder room; she’s very kind and considerate.

After the tour, we went in search of some much needed grub.

We stumble upon “Boudreaux’s Backyard” the décor was a very fun underwater theme, complete with neon, a boat on the ceiling, nets, starfish, and oyster shells plastered onto the walls. We ordered this wonderful stuffed Portobello mushroom appetizer, which was beautiful and delicious! And for a beverage I chose a green gator, which I’ve had before – but as I said, I want to try everything authentic!

I’m not a big seafood eater, so before our trip I promised dad I would at least try the Jambalaya and Gumbo. My entrée tonight is a bowl of Gumbo w/ rice, and Jambalaya Pasta. It’s a texture, and occasionally, a flavor thing with seafood and me. But, I have to say; being here in New Orleans could completely change my mind.

The Gumbo was so creamy and hearty good, and the Jambalaya Pasta was served w/ penne pasta (my fav!), and had such a rich wonderful flavor, I didn’t even notice I was eating shrimp or crawfish! Still a bit on the pricey side (it’s Bourbon St. after all), but Boudreaux’s Backyard was well worth it! This is our first time here – so why not splurge?

We leave the restaurant and continued down Bourbon St. All day we’ve been seeing folks carrying around these funky, lime green, plastic containers. We learn these are the infamous Hand Grenade, so of course, have to try one!

We go into (one of the 3) Tropical Isle bars on Bourbon St. and have a seat, there’s a one-man band musician playing what looks like a drum kit-accordion-harmonica-guitar instrument, and he’s taking requests. This place is interesting; the décor is all red walls, Tiki gods, Mardi Gras masques, and twinkle Christmas lights. And It’s warm, thank god, while we enjoy our beverages, mom asks the dude to play her a song, and he obliges.

New Years in New Orleans!

The set up: My sister-in-law-to-be asked me to be a bridesmaid in her New Years Eve wedding to my little brother. Of course, I agreed. New Years in Louisiana? New Orleans? D’uh!

So, we headed down to The Pelican State for my little brother’s marriage.

Immediately, and excitedly, I began to make plans for my trip to Monroe and New Orleans. I simply couldn’t fathom a trip to Louisiana without a stop in New Orleans, that would be blasphemous. Having never been,  getting that close, and not going? Well that would just be unforgivable in my eyes. Conveniently, I already had my dream trip itinerary all planned out. And, big plus, since this is my brother’s wedding, mom was my travel partner, and she let me drag her around and do all the stuff I wanted to do, on the condition that she got to see some of the architecture of the city – Mission accomplished!

Thus begins our New Years, welcome 2010!

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It’s January. Unseasonably cold for this time of year, or so the natives tell us. And by “cold” I mean mid 50s during the day and dropping to 20-30s at night. Frigid. Wind chill makes it feel colder than it actually is. For a gulf coast state – this is ridiculous and not what i have been led to expect. I’m suddenly very glad I brought my  wool peacoat… the coat I was convinced I couldn’t possibly need.

Anyway, we rented a car and followed my brother & new sister-in-law down to NOLA. The drive wasn’t terrible and went by surprising quick – well, not so surprising I guess when you’re speeding…  As my sister-in-law so sagely advised me, “the police never pull anyone over in Louisiana!”  Mmm-hmm… more on that later.

Sunday : The Royal St. Charles Hotel & Bourbon St

We’ve arrived and check into The Royal St Charles Hotel, on St. Charles Ave. Except for a minor parking issue, which was resolved quickly, we settled in to our room. A clean, single room, a soft full bed, a lovely carved armoire in the corner, a desk, closet space, and a good-sized bathroom. And, I’m always a fan of rooms that have installed coffee pots. The  hotel desk staff was kind and helpful with directions, and had some good info on tours and sightseeing suggestions. And, thanks to a generous daily gratuity, we received exceptional housekeeping services.

For the next 3 days, The Royal St Charles would be home sweet home.

The Royal St. Charles Hotel is about a block and a half from Bourbon & Royal Streets. We were pre-warned before our trip, by anyone and everyone, of what we should expect to see in the French Quarter and what to look out for on our visit.

Useful Tips like:

  • don’t carrying a big bulky purse
  • don’t go to this section of town or that
  • don’t go out alone.
  • Watch for little kids coming up to you asking for money or directions, it might be a pick pocket scam

During the height of season, and Mardi Gras, these tips would have been a mandatory part of the trip. Thankfully, I can to say – all warnings heeded – we found them to be totally unnecessary for this time of year. Being a tourist and visitor in a strange town, one should always be on guard and well aware of their surroundings, but I didn’t experience any of the scenarios we were warned about before hand, (i.e. purse snatching and clever pick pockets) nor did I feel threatened or uneasy at all in the city, or on Bourbon Street.

In fact, New Orleans definitely deserves its name, The Big Easy, because that is exactly what it is!

Once we settled in our room and had a lie down, we ventured out to check out notorious Bourbon St. We walked down Common St. to Carondelet St., crossed Canal St., which still bore all it’s beautiful Christmas gear, and we strolled onto Bourbon St.

After dark, the NOPD has the amazingly intelligent common sense to block off all traffic on Bourbon St., I’m sure this brilliant idea came after some serious incidents and problems, but in my opinion, this is the smartest thing they could have done! Also, along the street there are these little green signs along the street that state “no bottles or glass allowed on street” this, along with the blocking off of the street was probably an excellent idea!

As we started down the street, the first thought I had after, “I cant believe Im finally, actually, here!” was, “I wonder if this much Neon can cause any really bad health problems?” It sounds corny, but I really felt like Alice in wonderland for a while.

First on the list for Bourbon Street:

  • get a Hurricane!


We walked on, trying to decide on a place to stop and have our first cocktail. Suddenly, mom stops walking, arms akimbo, and listens… inside “The Famous Door” a live band is playing their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (a.k.a. mom’s favorite song). Taking this as a sign – we go inside.

We gave the bartender a hard time, mostly about the pressure of serving us our first drink on Bourbon St, which she took in jest. And boy, did she deliver!

Hurricane Recipe :

1 oz white rum

1 oz Jamaican dark rum

1 oz Bacardi 151

3 oz orange juice

3 oz unsweetened pineapple juice

1/2 oz grenadine,

Ice

While I’m quite faithful to my Malibu & Diet Pepsi, The New Orleans Hurricane could easily take over its spot as my drink of choice – must be the special Pat O’Brien drink mix? I’m not positive on the recipe, most of the establishments had Hurricane mix readily prepared in a large cooler or mixer. Let me just say, I do not consider myself a lightweight or lush in the drinking department, by any means, but ONE Hurricane is enough, and I blame the 151.

After the Hurricanes, it became quite obvious that sustenance was a necessity before continuing onward, or the nice buzz I had going could get seriously out of hand.


We stopped and ate at “The Embers Bourbon House Restaurant”. For an appetizer, we ask the waitress what she recommends. The waitress says, “The Alligator Sausage is great!”

Excuse me, ALLIGATOR SAUSAGE, really?

After the initial shock, remembering we were in the south, and that we’d already been drinking, we decided we had to try it. The waitress brought the plate over and set it in front of us, complete with tartar sauce for dipping. Color me surprised, but it was good! Different, it tasted like fishy chicken sausage, but really very good.

For my entrée I had a southern classic, “Red beans & Rice”. I’ve had this dish before – if we’re counting Popeye’s — but I’m going for the completely authentic experience on this trip. The Ember’s served their Red beans & Rice on a large oval plate, with a well cooked pair of sausages.

A few years ago, I read a book about Bonnie & Clyde. There was a story about them in a house hiding out, just days before their deaths. Police swarmed and surrounded the house, and they had to make a fast escape. While they were fleeing, Bonnie got very distracted and almost got them caught, because she could smell her red beans & rice burning and wanted to go back. I’ve never forgotten that, lol.

The Embers, while a little on the pricey side, served a great meal, and totally worthy of our first celebratory meal in NOLA. After dinner we continued down Bourbon St., it was cold, we checked out the t-shirt shops, some of the bars, and peeking in the nudie clubs. We didn’t stay out too late since we were both pretty exhausted from the whirlwind wedding/new year’s party, so we returned to the Hotel and collapsed.

xo