10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept. 

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.  

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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Historic Downtown Denver

When you have a very short window to see an area in which you are traveling hitting the highlights is a must, even if only for a quick tour.  When Audley and I were in Colorado a couple of weeks back we really only had 24 hours to see the area.  On Friday of our trip we visited the Garden of the God’s and Pikes Peak and then we spent our Saturday morning before our flight out in downtown Denver.

I am a total history nut.  Not a glossed over version of history that the media and history books like for us to see, but a dig deep and study all the angles of an event or life.   I am fascinated by the people who came before me and how things have changed and grown over the years, bringing us to where we are today.

That’s why when deciding what to see in Denver we chose to start with the Margaret Brown house.

The lions at the entrance of the Molly Brown property

The lions at the entrance of the Molly Brown property

Who is Margaret Brown you ask?  You probably know her better as the Unsinkable Molly Brown after her heroics on the night of the Titanic sinking.

The Molly Brown House

The Molly Brown House

Margaret grew up the daughter of a poor Irish immigrant and married JJ for “love” after throwing out the notion she would marry rich.  Little did she know that “rich” was on the horizon as JJ discovered a band of gold in a silver mine he was working in Leadville, Colorado.  After they became Millionaires, they moved to Denver.

The simple Victorian that was the home of JJ and Molly Brown

The simple Victorian that was the home of JJ and Molly Brown

Knowing she was a first class passenger on the Titanic and her reputation for being a bit boisterous and gaudy, I expected a monster of a house, similar to the homes of the Astor’s or Vanderbilt’s,  but the Brown home was not much bigger than a traditional Victorian home of the era.  Mrs Brown and her husband, JJ, purchase the house that had been built in the 1880’s for about $30,000 which was a bargain as the previous owners were forced to sell due to financial issues.

The Carriage House gift shop

The Carriage House gift shop

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We were only allowed to take pictures outside the house.  There were no fancy gardens only a carriage house (that now houses a gift shop and video presentation of the Molly Brown’s life) and then the house itself.

Front of the home

Front of the home

The simple back view of the Molly Brown House

The simple back view of the Molly Brown House

The house was actually simply decorated without much grandeur at all. As a matter of fact it often stayed rented out as the Brown’s (or at least Margaret and her children) traveled extensively.  Margaret was a huge proponent of education and learned four foreign languages.

The original tile that covers much of the front porch.

The original tile that covers much of the front porch.

Window looking into the foyer of the home

Window looking into the foyer of the home

Despite marrying for love, JJ and Margaret quietly separated in 1909 due to the different paths their lives were taking.  They never divorced as they were both Catholic and didn’t believe in divorce, but she did receive a monthly allowance of nearly $19,000 in order to travel and stay involved in social projects she was undertaking.  She was very involved in social projects that benefitted children as Denver was swamped in poverty at the turn of the 20th century.

With Margaret’s travels she and her daughter found themselves guests of John Jacob Astor and his new bride, Madeleine in 1912. They toured France, Italy and Egypt before Margaret got word about an ill grandchild and decided to head home.  That is how she found herself on the Titanic.

Margaret earned her “unsinkable” reputation for encouraging women to leave their husbands and board the lifeboats before being forced into one herself.  Then, after the ship sank she was quite determined that their lifeboat must go back to the wreck site and search for survivors.  It is also said that she used her knowledge of many different foreign languages to console passengers and see that even the few third class survivors had their needs met.

Molly was known for throwing lavish parties where she would share he adventures from her travels.  The sinking of the Titanic didn’t crush that desire for adventure at all.

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The home was sold shortly after the Great Depression for $6,000.  Molly had used the home for a boarding house to help pay for the upkeep.

The Brown home is on the National Register of Historic Places, The group Historic Denver has been the caretakers since the late 1960’s when the house was slated for demolition.

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Margaret was instrumental in raising money for the building of Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She could see construction from her house.  I can only imagine the awe at watching this go up in an era without high-tech building processes.

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Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

We walked over to the building ourselves, but were unable to enter due to a wedding. It was a beautiful building with gorgeous architectural elements.

Front of the Cathedral

Front of the Cathedral

Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral and they have this statue to commemorate that visit.

Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral and they have this statute to commemorate that visit.

Love the architecture of the cathedral!

Love the architecture of the cathedral!

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We also stopped by the Colorado state Capital. At one time the Brown’s rented out their home to the governor and his family while their own home was being renovated.  You could also see the capital from her home during the years she resided here.

Colorado State Capital

Colorado State Capital

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I also loved the archetectural lines of the capital as well.

I also loved the architectural lines of the capital as well.

It was so neat to see how so many little things connected like a puzzle once we were downtown.  It was a beautiful day and perfect for strolling the streets of historic downtown Denver.

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Tell me, have you ever traveled out west?  What do we need to see next?

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