Biltmore Estate Girls Weekend

Last weekend, my blogging girlfriend Tammie Reed (Talking With Tami) & I took off to Asheville for a really fun girls getaway!

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Weekend of fun coming right up!

 Tammie was reviewing Chevrolet’s new totally electric car, a Bolt EV they provided the trip, and she asked me to accompany her.

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I was able to drive the Bolt EV as well.

Tammie and I left on Friday about lunchtime and we casually drove up, stopping to freshen up the charge on the car in Greenville, SC.  We arrived late in the evening, checked into Aloft Hotel (I’m a hotel snob & I approve), walked down to a local sushi restaurant (who knew that you could find delicious sushi in the North Carolina mountains), and then grabbed some rest for our fun-filled Saturday at the Biltmore House.

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I’ve been a season pass holder for the Biltmore Estate for several years now.  It’s always changing and I think I learn something or see something new with every visit!

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Main entrance… guests of Biltmore have entered this gate since 1898!

This was Tammie’s first visit and she was shocked at the size and beauty of it all.

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We had so much fun walking through the estate and taking in the opulent lifestyle the Vanderbilt family must have enjoyed.  One of the goals of the Biltmore estate is to carry on the many legacies of George W Vanderbilt.  These include a gift of hospitality, sustainability, and education.

Each guest who visits the Biltmore Estate is made to feel welcomed and valued.  The Vanderbilts were known for their lavish dinner parties and weeks of entertaining guests at a time.  While I’m sure Vanderbilt never intended to open his home to the public, he wanted a place designed that had the comfort of his guests in mind.

As you tour the home and see the beautiful tables, you can easily imagine the dinners that were enjoyed by family and guests alike.

When George W Vanderbilt III made the decision to build the estate in the 1890s he was inspired by all of the amazing country homes he had seen in his many travels in Europe.  He wanted a place that he could invite friends and family to enjoy the same hospitable lifestyle he had come to enjoy while traveling abroad.  While this was not his only home, it was one he loved and put a lot of effort into creating.  GW wanted a home that would showcase his love for art and literature (he had an amazing collection of both), while also being a self-sufficient, working country estate.  He used the latest in technology and technique to help achieve his agricultural goals.

When guests came to Biltmore they were celebrated and entertained in a spectacular fashion.  Guest often stayed for weeks at a time and had enough activities planned that they never grew bored with the country estate.

The Vanderbilt’s hospitality was enjoyed by many high-ranking social, political and art individuals including the US Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Hodges Choate as well as authors Edith Wharton and Paul L. Ford.

When guests dined at the Biltmore they were able to enjoy large meals served in the banquet hall.  With its medieval decor, large triple fireplace and rich, dark colors it was an impressive setting I am sure!  The tapestries hanging on the wall were antiques from the 16th century when GW acquired them so they are true treasures now!

Biltmore-Formal-Dining-Room | Fiddle Dee Dee

Couldn’t you just see this table set for a large dinner party with pressed linens, gleaming silverware, glistening crystal, and beautiful china?  Seating arrangements would have been carefully arranged so that guests of honor were predominately seated for conversation.  Dinner may have been for a party of 6 or a party of 36!

Menus for guests were planned around the seasonal bounty that was readily available on the estate.  Once a menu was planned, Mrs Vanderbilt would approve it, or even tweak it a little.

I found this menu dated from March 26, 1896 published a current Biltmore cookbook:

Blue Points (oysters that would have been overnighted by rail) w/ celery, olives, radishes, salted almonds

Saucie de Lyons

Consumme Royale (a rich, clear soup that has been clarified)

Parisienne Potatoes

Cucumber Salad

Terrapin ala Maryland

Sweetbreads with French Peas

Sorbet

Lettuce Salad

Cheese & Biscuits

Ice Cream

Fruit & Coffee

That is a huge meal and just a sampling of what a guest of the Vanderbilt’s might enjoy!

Guests were treated with the finest of food, almost all of the bounty from the estate itself, although an ocasional telegram might have been sent North to have a shipment of lobster overnighted by rail to the estate!  Attention to detail was a standard guests came to expect when they entered the home.

Oh how I wish we still entertained and showed such hospitality today!

Edith Vanderbilt’s sister wrote after visiting the estate,

“The dinner table, in the center of the room, being too large for common use, a small cosy round table is drawn up before the central fire, & there we dine each night, with 2 footmen in knee breeches, gold garters, etc. to serve and look de style!”

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The breakfast room was a perfect place to enjoy an intimate luncheon or take afternoon tea.  Luncheons were smaller affairs consisting of only five courses.  It was a wonderful opportunity for guests to gather to talk about events of the morning or plan other activities for the afternoon.

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 I love the blue jasperware tiled fireplace mantle!

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Food and drink were an expression of hospitality and home away from home for the guests of Biltmore.

Cooking would have been done in one of three kitchens; the rotisserie kitchen (where meats might have been prepared), the pastry kitchen, or the main kitchen with its large stove and oven, icebox for storage and plenty of workspace!

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There were pantries for canned goods, fresh goods, and a huge walk-in refrigerator!  It was the most modern of its time!

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Total pantry envy!!

After supper, ladies might retire to the salon for conversation and possibly live music, while the men disappeared off to the smoking lounge and gun-room for a nightcap.

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I love the dark masculine interior of the smoking room

Guest lodging was plentiful in the home.  With 250 rooms, you can imagine the space available.

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Mr. Vanderbilt’s own bedroom was set up so that when he awoke in the morning and curtains were open, he could see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

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Mrs. Vanderbilt’s room was set up in a similar manner, yet much more graceful and elegant!

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There were so many activities available to guest and residents of Biltmore House during the day and evening.

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Outdoor activities including horseback riding shooting sporting clays, hunting, bocce ball, bicycling, hiking (yes they hiked during the Guilded Age), picnicking, fishing were all apart of life at Biltmore.

A July 1908 New York Times article noted that “Mrs. Vanderbilt hosted a fishing party on the estate and landed 20 large mountain trout, the largest catch of the day!”

{I feel like we are missing out on so much in this day and time!}

If you wanted something more relaxing, a stroll through the beautiful gardens or conservatory adjoining the house would be just perfect, especially as the sun is beginning to go down.

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Tammie enjoying the garden late inthe afternoon

If the weather was less than desirable a guest could remain indoors and swim, bowl, workout in a gymnasium, play various board games or read one of the nearly 23,000 books in GW’s library!

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It is said George W Vanderbilt III read nearly 4,000 books between the age of 12 and his death at 51.  He kept a journal listing all of them.

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“The vast swimming tank under the great hall is a great resort for the young men after exercising — ten feet deep so they can take a deep dive.  This forenoon we are to drive about the farms and see the wonderful stock.  Mr. Vanderbilt is teaching the farmers about the first rudiments of farming.”

~from a letter written by Joseph Hodges Choate to his wife, January 1902.

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Each activity would have required an outfit change, up to five a day!  Could you just imagine the flurry of fashion in that house?!

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Just an example of attire from the Guilded Age

Not only were guests at Biltmore treated well, but so were the large amount of staff and employees.  House staff had their own kitchen and dining areas with fresh foods and game as well as bedrooms they did not have to share, which was a rare treat in that time!  Employees of the estate were able to enjoy the bounty of the estate farms as well, in their homes or on their breaks.  It was as if they were family.

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House staff dining room

The legacy of hospitality and sustainability are two of my favorite reasons to visit the Biltmore Estate over and over as these are still prevalent around the estate today.  No, it’s not exactly the same, but the staff of Biltmore are gracious and kind, welcoming, and knowledgable.  The restaurants utilize a farm to table program with much of the produce and meats are estate raised!  And while we did not visit the winery on this trip (I did purchase some amazing grape juice), the legacy of Vanderbilt land continues.

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Take a trip for yourself and see just how fabulous the Biltmore Estate is!

 

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Strolling the Streets of Cienfuegos

After spending nine days in Cuba, I now understand why Ernest Hemingway had so much love for the island where he owned a home and spent 30 years off and on (mostly on the last 10 years), and found much inspiration for his writing while living and traveling in this country. He left, partially over politics, in 1960, but always referred to Cuba as his home. It’s also where Hemingway wrote some of his best literary works. Aside from the drinking and women (both of which Hemingway was fond & obviously I am not), the music, vivid color surrounding you at every turn, passion of the people, simplicity of living, meticulously kept Fords and Chevys, and a lovely, strong people will draw you in. And despite the differences between those of us visiting and those who live there with their government dictated lives, the Cuban people are filled with natural pride for themselves and their country.

I had several run-on sentences forming in my own mind describing this amazing country as we spent our time there!

“Cuba is a country with no historical precedents: economically poor, but culturally rich; visibly mildewed, but architecturally magnificent; infuriating, yet at the same time, strangely uplifting. If the country were a book, it would be James Joyce’s Ulysses; layered, hard to grasp, serially misunderstood, but – above all – a classic.”

– Lonely Planet Cuba

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We spent most of our mission trip in Cienfuegos on the southern coast of Cuba. Known as the “Pearl of the South,” It’s the capital city of the Cienfuegos province and a bustling, busy city built around a bay. While much of Cuba has a Spanish influence, Cienfuegos was actually settled by French immigrants in 1819 and has actually earned status as an Unesco World Heritage Site due to its architecture and layout. It is a beautiful city and so unlike cities on other Caribbean Islands and even within Cuba!

“The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Situated on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area, the town first developed in the neoclassical style. It later became more eclectic but retained a harmonious overall townscape. Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.”

– UNESCO commenting on the Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos

Each morning we awoke in our Casa (B&B) to the sounds of street vendors making rounds on their bicycles selling their fresh baked breads, eggs, fruit and even flowers to homes and restaurants alike. Each had their own unique call to let potential customers know they were coming and what they were selling, many with regular customers waiting in the doorways of their flats to purchase what they might need for the day.

The last day of our trip, while Dad was meeting with the Cienfuegos preachers, Mom, Madeline and I ventured into downtown to see this lovely city we had been passing through all week. We had fabulous tour guides through our friends Oscar and Angelica as we strolled the city streets. Oscar is a 5th year medical student at Universidad de Ciencias Médicas.Cienfuegos (The University of Medical Sciences, Cienfuegos) and Angelica is in her last year of what we call high school.20638774_1165878766847583_947183016067189798_nDuring the day these streets are filled with pedestrians, bicycles, carts, buses, an occasional shiny classic car, dogs, chickens and even turkeys! When you head out you might ride in a cart, take a taxi, or walk, after all, that’s what most of the locals do!

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Our taxi ride

We took a stroll down the Prado with it’s eclectic buildings with beautiful facades, bright colors, and vibrant life, stopping to snap pictures and even shop a little and then headed down the pedestrian Boulevard where we enjoyed the Walking the streets of Cienfuegos you feel like you are caught up in a glorious time warp, yet it is 2017!

Here are a few of the highlights of our day sightseeing Cienfuegos.

Our Casa was in the area of Cienfuegos known as Punta Gorda.

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Two mornings I slipped out of the casa just after sunrise to explore the area. It’s very safe and such a lovely stroll. Punta Gorda is home to beautiful estates built by money in the late 1910s and 1920s. Many of these have been turned into restaurants, B&B’s or hotels now, but they are still stunning to look at. I also adore the natural chippy paints and colors some faded from the weather and others as vivid as if they were freshly painted.

Club Cienfuegos, once a Yacht Club is now the home of several restaurants with a variety of flavors. While we didn’t venture inside, I loved the beautiful lines and curves of this representation of a bygone era.

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Built between 1913 & 1917 the beautiful Palacio de Valle is now home to a restaurant, hosts cultural events, and is a museum.

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The Palacio Azul (Blue Palace) is a former private residence built in 1921 for a tobacco baron. It was renovated in 2004 and turned into a hotel. While I didn’t have the time I’ve read that you can actually stop in for a tour as it was renovated to match it’s 1920s ambiance and is stunning!

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The Prado is the main thoroughfare in Cienfuegos. Here you will soak in a little local history, find shops, businesses, restaurants, and maybe the occasional parrot to talk to.

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Cienfuegos was home to the famous Cuban bandleader and singer, Benny More’. It was a place he called home and stayed even after the Cuban revolution and many other musicians left. He referred to Cienfuegos as the “city he loved best.”  The statue on the Prado is a selfie stop, even for the locals.

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If you continue onto the pedestrian Boulevard you will find yourself at the Parque José Martí, a gorgeous city square. Off the square you will find the Benny More’ Cultural center featuring art and photography from locals. There is also a little cafe inside that is a great stop for a bottle of water or a soda made with real cane sugar!

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The Parque José Martí (also known as the Plaza de Armas) is the heart of Cienfuegos City.

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Cienfuegos City Center

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Here the architecture is stunning and history abounds as you find Government buildings, the cathedral, theater and other gorgeous structures.…

Stop in at the old Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción that was first begun in 1833 and finally completed in 1869! It is undergoing renovation right now, totally funded by donations.

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Each of the stained glass windows are being sent one at a time to Spain to be restored, and locals are doing the structural work.

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The arts in Cuba are so important! Our friend Oscar was telling us about how wonderful the ballet is and the shows he has seen at the ornate Tomas Terry Theater. For just 2 CUCs you can wander around the horseshoe shaped auditorium theater built in 1888.

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Tomas Terry who wanted the people of Cienfuegos to have access to the arts.

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We walked up to the top of  The Casa de la Cultura Benjamin Duarte (formerly Palacio de Ferrer), built in 1918. While it looks like it is falling down, this beautiful historic building is currently being restored to her original elegance and is just stunning, crumbling features and all.

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From the top we were able to take in a unique view of the Government building and city in general.

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While the park, Prado & Boulevard areas are lovely the people here still live in poverty.  Even so, they are still a proud, hardworking people!

The Palacio de Gobierno or Government Building is  stunning as well. I could not find a construction date for this stately building, but is acts as the city hall of Cienfuegos and is not open to the public.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little pictorial journey around Cienfuegos.  There is so much more that I can share, but that is for another day.

For more of my Cuba posts, you can click here to check out the Cuban Car Show, or click here to check out our mission trip and all the lovely people that we met!

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A Cuban Car Show

Wednesday-09/13/2017 — I started working on this post last week, just as hurricane Irma made it loud and clear which direction she was finally going to take.  I’ve had it sitting in my cue for days, finished, but not published for several reasons.  First, I was worried about all the people in the path of this horrific storm and was a wee bit more focused on that.  Second, we lost our internet (which honestly I could have cared less).  And finally, because after I wrote this post, I was worried to death over the beautiful people in Cuba we came to love and treasure on our trip last month.

I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to publish this right now, and I’m still not positive.

 Tonight as I write this addendum, as far as we know our friends are safe, but they are hurting and are faced with what could be years of recovery.  Cuba prided itself on hurricane preparedness, but how do you really prepare for a direct hit from a Category 5 Storm?!  Like the other Caribbean Islands hit by Irma, the category five storm did massive amounts of damage.  People there are hurting for food (this is an agricultural country, you don’t just walk into a store and purchase groceries) and fresh water.  It will take a long time for Cuba to fully recover.

So I have decided to hit publish on this post, and I will continue to share other elements of our trip.  I want you to see Cuba as it was, what we saw and what we experienced.  It’s a beautiful country, with amazing people and a wonderful culture.

The people make Cuba what it is, and that will last whether these cars made it or not.

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Cienfuegos, Cuba

For years I’ve only seen Cuba in history books and an occasional travel magazine.  The architecture is unique, the colors are so fun, and the classic American cars?

They are everywhere!

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A row of taxi’s on the square in Cienfuegos, Cuba

These last American imports  (the trade embargo was implemented in 1960) are carefully cared for by their owners and mechanics to keep them in top running order.  Many are privately owned and treasured by their owners, and other have become taxi’s for taking tourists and locals alike to their next destination.

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Couldn’t you just see a surfboard secured to the top?  I would love to travel around in this old jeep!  How fun would it be?

As we drove through the country, especially while we were in the resort community of Varadero, I was reminded of the old beach movies with Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello… you know the old cheesy ones where the kids were piled up in the large classic cars, headed off to the beach with their surfboards on top?

{I always wanted to be like Annette!}

Cubans and tourists alike head to the beaches year round in a classic car if they choose!  How cool is that?!

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For Americans to see cars of this caliber, and so many at that, we pay $50 to attend a weekend car show in Pigeon Forge!

But in Cuba, they are real, they are common and an old-fashioned soul like myself soaked up the view the entire trip.

Take a peek for yourself and see if you catch a glimpse of some of the varying architectural styles as well!

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Not only are the cars a lovely reminder of days past, but this B&B with it’s mid-century modern look is like you have just stepped out of a time machine!

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I absolutely fell in love with this beauty while we were in Varadaro!

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The owner of this car wash it no less than four times while we were staying just down the street in a B&B in Cienfuegos!

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While it’s not black, this car totally reminded me of an old gangster’s vehicle… something you might see in the streets of Chicago way back when.

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A quick stroll before worship on quiet Sunday morning in Matanzas … It reminded me of a scene from an old WWII movie set in France…. Or I have a vivid imagination!

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My Dad almost wrecked the rental van as he slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road and told me to “get out and take a picture of that FORD!”

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I just loved the taxi’s lined up.

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At a service station between Cienfuegos and Matanzas; a group cooling their car while traveling to go hiking in Cuba

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This was out in the country after a little rain.  The colors seemed so much brighter to me!

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Did you like the cars?  Which was your favorite?

It’s a true time capsule of American Classics!

I’m looking forward to sharing a peek of Cuban culture before I head off an another adventure this weekend!  Be sure to stop back by & enjoy your day!

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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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