Hello. Last April I took a short trip to New Orleans Louisiana. It’s my first time in The Big Easy and I was so excited. Ever since I was young, I’ve always wanted to visit NOLA and my interest in visiting the city grew even further after watching The Skeleton Key, The Last Exorcism, and The Originals. There’s just something mysterious and magical about New Ohlenz. This old city is not only known for its lively mardi gras with enchanting masquerade masks and colorful beads, but it’s also known for its voodoo and black magic, along with Creole and Cajun cooking. Also, this city is the birthplace of Jazz music and not too recently, it also experienced the devastation of hurricane Katrina. Since then, it looked to me that the city had pretty much recovered, and it seems to be back in its usual splendor. There is a lot going on in this beautiful place and you can definitely see the fusion of African and European culture which makes this place even more mesmerizing as you walk along its vintage streets and structures.
I came here in the early days of Spring, the weather was pretty warm and it was very sunny. I did have a light jacket on just in case the temps start to fluctuate. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn New Orleans Convention Center (across the NOLA Convention Center) since I didn’t want to stay close to the French Quarter. Looking back, that was a wrong choice because I didn’t really like the hotel where I stayed, it’s dated and it wasn’t well managed. The service was terrible and my room looked creepy, but it did give me that “haunted hotel vibe” which prepared me for the perfect New Orleans ghost hunting adventure later on, LOL. The hotel is about 50 minutes walk to the French Quarter so for most of my trips, I either took a cab or an Uber and it’s pretty much inexpensive. Anyway, I’m sure you’re all curious as to what I saw and where I went to The Big Easy. In this mini travel diary, I’m taking you to a couple of food trips, a haunted excursion to the French Quarter, a trip to the beautiful Garden District, a swamp boat adventure, and a few plantation tours, along with some view of the streets of New Orleans. Excited much? Read on.
DAY 1: Food & Ghost Hunting Tour
The morning was gloomy when I woke up but I was excited because I had booked a group food tour at Destination Kitchen (link HERE). This food tour has really great reviews at Tripadvisor.com and it’s not just a food tour, it’s also a walking tour talking about the history of New Orleans. The meeting place is at Roux Royal in the French Quarter. I took a cab there from my hotel and it took about probably 15 minutes to get there. The rain was pouring when I arrived but I had an umbrella because I was once a Girl Scout, and Girl Scouts are always prepared, LOL. Anyhow, I got there and met our friendly tour guide together with the rest of the tourists in the group. From there, we were given some “Pralines in a Cookie” which is really one of the best sweets I’ve ever tasted. Then we walked from one restaurant to the other. In one restaurant which I don’t remember, we were being served a cup of Gumbo which is a popular stew in Louisiana filled with rice, okra, meat, and seafood. It was good, however, for what I paid, I expected to be in the kitchen of every restaurant we visited and see the Creole/Cajun cooking in action, along with some food tasting as well. Instead, most of the foods we got from this walking trip are just a bunch of little snacks and samples that are mostly sweets. So, in my opinion, I didn’t think the food trip was worth it, yet somehow I’m glad they were a bit of New Orleans history incorporated with the trip, which made me learn quite a bit given the short amount of time we spent with the tour.
In the afternoon, I spent some time strolling along the streets of the French Quarter, which is the oldest section of New Orleans and a historical landmark filled with Spanish architectures, since the French colonial structures were destroyed by the Great New Orleans Fire in the 1700s. Today, the French Quarter looks like a typical Spanish street complete with cobblestones, narrow walkways, and elaborate ironwork balconies. To me, it’s very nostalgic and I didn’t expect New Orleans especially the French Quarter to look like the way it is. I pretty much felt like I was in Spain and it made me think as to why do I need to visit Spain when I can just visit New Orleans? LOL. This is such an exciting vintage city and from the looks and smell of it, I felt like I was in Europe for real even though I’m in America. Ha! As I kept strolling, I noticed the live jazz music from a lot of musicians in every corner, there were also artists along the street of the Saint Louis Cathedral, and then there’s Bourbon Street where you see some drunk tourists and intoxicated youngsters carrying their hurricane cocktails while screaming at people who pass by. For the most part, the drunkards were harmless and they looked like they’re just having the time of their lives. NOLA is definitely one of those favorite party places in the US and I was able to see that with my own eyes. You can feel the energy radiating from this city and from the tourists, everyone seems happy here.
I tried to go to Café Du Monde to get a taste of their famous Beignets (fried dough with sugar), but it was packed! There was a very long line that didn’t seem to improve. In fact, this place always looks crowded and busy all throughout my stroll in the French Quarter.
I spotted a Sephora at the French Quarter and it’s pretty huge. I love their selection of makeup and other beauty products, although they seem to lack some haircare stuff. I did see that they have a nice array of Nest Fragrances and Atelier Colognes which I had fun testing with.
After that, I headed back to my hotel and had a late lunch at Two Chicks Cafe near the Convention Center, and they had some really refreshing juices and smoothies. This was such a great place for brunch or a nice light lunch and I had their Crab Cake Benedict with Strawberry Banana Smoothie. I loved it! Their food is really healthy and satisfying. I then took a quick nap in order to get myself ready for the evening activity.
I went back to the French Quarter again to have an early evening dinner at Trinity Restaurant which is a fancy-schmancy place but I forgot to snap a photo of what I ate since I was so in a hurry to leave that I had my entrée wrapped to go. I needed to go to the American Sports Saloon across the street to meet the group for the Haunted Excursion Tour. Anyway, the food at Trinity Restaurant was really good, and the service was good as well, so I highly recommend it. Now, for the exciting part, I booked a French Quarter Haunted Excursion Ghost Tour by Nawlins Theatrical Tours (link HERE) and I freaking loved it! It was spooky, it was haunting, it was eerie, and it was fun! The tour guide was very knowledgeable, friendly, funny, and was full of crazy haunting unbelievable-yet-possibly-true ghost stories about some of the houses and buildings in the French Quarter. As far as I can remember, there was a story about the LaLaurie Mansion, one of the most popular Haunted Houses in New Orleans, and one that inspired a season of the American Horror Story. The infamous house was owned by Madame Delphine Lalaurie who tortured and mutilated her slaves to the point that one of them jumped out of the window and fell on the walkways. From then on, the house had several owners and occupants (including Nicolas Cage) and was known to exhibit paranormal activities. Scary much! there were other stories as well, like haunted hotels, morgues, and even haunted restaurants. Some were funny, some were really scary, and some did or didn’t seem to be true. Whichever is the truth, all I know is that New Orleans is one mysterious spooky city. The tour continued with a stop at Bourbon Street that gets really lit up at night. It can be loud and it can be full of drunkards and party people. There are bars, clubs, lights, alcohol, and music everywhere. After that, the tour concludes at the Saint Louis Cathedral. I definitely recommend the French Quarter Haunted Excursion Tour (book HERE) as you will learn a lot, not just about NOLA and the French Quarter’s history, but also it’s haunted history as well. This tour was a lot of fun.
DAY 2: Garden District & Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
On the second day of my trip, I kinda overslept in the morning and was kind of dilly-dallying after having breakfast at the hotel, I guess I felt tired after the ghost walking tour the night before. I did have a plan in the afternoon though, which was to walk from the hotel to the Garden District – a historic neighborhood full of Victorian and Greek Revival mansions. The McMansions here are really grand and their designs are so elaborate that it will leave you in awe. One of the houses here inspired the “Interview with the Vampire” movie and was also a location for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” film.
Within the Garden District is the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 where you can see how New Orleans bury their dead – seven feet over, yes, they bury their dead European style.
My feet had hurt a bit from walking a lot, so I chilled at the Rink Shopping Center’s Cafe nearby before visiting the Lafayette Cemetery. The problem is I chilled too long that the cemetery was already closed by the time I got there. Apparently, it closes at 4 pm during the weekends and 3 pm during the weekdays. So I was a little too late, but I did manage to take some snaps from the outside with my camera’s lens peeking in. There were people sneaking inside the cemetery though by jumping over the fence, but I don’t recommend that. Anyway, just across the cemetery, you’ll find the Commander’s Palace Restaurant, known for its award-winning Creole cooking. I didn’t dine there because I already made a reservation back to the French Quarter at Café Sbisa, a Cajun/Creole Restaurant which makes really good Southern seafood. I had their special of the day, the Soft-Shell Breaded Crab and it was delicioso! I also ordered their New Orleans BBQ Shrimp and Courtbouillon. I made a huge mess on my plate while peeling the shrimps, but I had a really good time.
DAY 3: Swamp & Plantation Tour
Third day and my last day at The Big Easy. During this day, I booked at Tours by Isabelle (link HERE). It’s a swamp and plantation tour where the tour guide with a van picks you up from your hotel together with the rest of the group and will drive you first to the swamps. The tour guide was a friendly woman who was very knowledgeable about New Orleans history, including the Cajuns and the Acadians in Louisiana. The first stop was at Torres Cajun Swamp Tour where we boarded a swamp boat to see the swamps and the bayous, and of course the alligators. We were given some windbreakers and jackets because it was so cold! even more so as the boat started moving. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any gators at all during this trip, someone said there was one out with the nose showing up but I didn’t see it. Obviously, it’s wrong to go gators-watching on a cold April Spring at the swamps. The Gators were definitely hiding. Might as well get your swamp tour around the Summer.
After the swamp tour, we were taken to the Oak Alley Plantation – a national historic landmark famous for its breathtaking imagery and landscape. Here you will see the rows of big old oak trees creating a path leading to and from the big plantation house. The entire view looks magical and dreamy. It was once a sugarcane plantation that housed several slaves. Now it’s turned into a museum with some overnight accommodations nearby. There is also a restaurant inside the big mansion and they serve very good food. Our group was taken to a small dining area where we had lunch before we began our tour inside the house. The lunch and the tour tickets were already paid as part of the tour when I booked it. There wasn’t much to see inside the big mansion of the Oak Alley Plantation, the best view is definitely on the outside where you can see its beautiful grounds. You will be amazed by its Southern grandeur and beauty, but it did come with a price – at the hands of the slaves who built it and went through hell to make the place what is now. At the Oak Alley, you will be amazed and be sad at the same time. You will feel yourself traveling back in time to see how life in the South was, comparing the lives of the haves and the have-nots. You will see how life in the plantation was as a slave and where they live (slave cabins) and how they managed to survive.
As we were about to depart to go to another plantation, I managed to catch a glimpse of the Felicity Plantation which was located not far away from Oak Alley. The Felicity Plantation was the location for the movie The Skeleton Key, but my tour guide said that it’s not open for public viewing. However, she also mentioned that the owners are considering opening the plantation for tours.
Our final tour is at the Laura Plantation. When we were at the Oak Alley, we were told that the real plantation story is definitely at Laura. The Laura Plantation was once called the Duparc Plantation, after Laura’s great-grandfather Monsieur Gillaume Duparc. Years later, Laura Locoul Gore inherited the plantation and it was also meant for sugar farming along with several slaves. Here you’d know about the real slave and master stories in detail, especially as to how their relationships produced several illegitimate children that were never freed from slavery even though they have their master’s blood. If Oak Alley’s grandiose plantation will make you feel amazed and sad at the same time, the Laura Plantation will definitely touch your heart especially when you hear stories of what the slaves went through and how they continued to live their lives as slaves even until the late 1960’s and 70’s. This plantation may seem simple compared to the Oak Alley, but the stories here are real and deeply sad.
I definitely recommend this swamp and plantation tour (link HERE). The tour was pricey but it includes the tickets to the swamp and two plantations, plus a hearty lunch at the Oak Alley. You will be taken back to your hotel once the tour is done, so it’s super convenient.
Back at my hotel, I changed clothes and went back to the French Quarter to dine at Nola Restaurant. It is one of Emeril Lagasse’s eatery that does a fusion of Southern, Creole and Acadian cooking. Here I ordered the Wild Boar Sausage Pizza and the Ora King Salmon. The food here was just ok in my opinion, and the service wasn’t spectacular. I think this place seemed hyped, I bet there were better places nearby. After dining at Nola, I tried passing by at Cafe Du Monde again for what seemed like a hundred times. This was on a Monday night and I noticed that the line was short, everyone’s being seated fast, so I got in line and I was seated in less than 5 minutes. It’s cash only (thank goodness I had some) and I ordered a set of 3 Beignets and a Hot Chocolate. It was cheap and the Beignets arrived fast. It was warm and it smelled good, I was like “finally I could taste this popular deep-fried Louisiana pastry”. Each of them was quite large so I couldn’t eat them all. I just decided to take the rest back to my hotel. But now, the million-dollar question is “Was it worth waiting in line for?” I really didn’t think so, to be honest. It’s definitely hyped in my opinion, and the lines were pretty much filled with tourists who have never been to Café Du Monde before and had heard about their very famous “tasty” Beignets. To me, it was just fried dough laced with a ton of powdered sugar.
I really love my stay in NOLA and I wish I should’ve stayed a few more days. There was a lot to see and the city just mesmerized me. Knowing what I know now, there were things I could have done differently and things that I recommend to you guys whenever you visit New Orleans. I definitely recommend that you use Uber instead of using the city’s taxis. I honestly find most taxi drivers around the French Quarter to be quite unfriendly. I didn’t feel comfortable inside their cabs. Also, the next time I visit this place, I will most probably and do recommend that you stay close to the French Quarter. It’s where the action is, and it’s easy access to a lot of restaurants and shops in the area. The noise does lessen at night, although I’m not sure during Mardi Gras, perhaps the streets will be even more crowded and a lot noisier then. Also, I really need to visit The Shops at Canal Place which I missed out on this trip, and finally, I need to go back to the swamps and see the Gators for real.
Overall this was a very good trip. I went home with pralines, beautiful masks, mardi gras beads, and voodoo dolls. I love every bit of this trip and as I enjoyed my last Cafe Du Monde Beignet, trying not to inhale its fine dust of sugary goodness while contemplating how nice it would be to live here. I left my heart in The Big Easy.
To book a Ghost Excursion Tour to the French Quarter, click HERE
To book a Swamp Boat and Plantation Tour, please click HERE