Monday, April 25, 2011

Do you believe in magick? A road-trip through Louisiana.

At the age of 13, my bookshelf contained the following items:
  • "Gone With the Wind" on VHS
  • A Scarlett O'Hara Christmas ornament
  • Tarot cards illustrated by Salvador Dali, a Book of Shadows, and various books on Wicca and the occult
  • "Interview with the Vampire" on VHS
  • The entire Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, including a copy of "the Vampire Lestat" signed by Sarah Michelle Gellar
It was a collection curated with love and displayed with pride.

To say that my teenage self was obsessed with the American South would be an understatement. (Also worth mentioning: at the age of 13, I had an ongoing Internet relationship with a guy I met on Cpt. Schmuck claimed to be a 14-year-old born-again Christian from New Orleans. To this day, I refuse to believe he was anything but.) It was everything Cold Lake was not and therefore, it was my idea of utopia: a land of vampires, hoop skirts, voodoo and magnolias. I vowed that when I finally graduated from high school, I would take a road trip across the states to New Orleans. Maybe I'd even meet Cpt. Schmuck.

It never happened. But the obsession didn't really fade, either. (During my undergrad, I was the only journalism student who elected to take History of the Civil War.) So in a lot of ways, buying my ticket to New Orleans was an act of fulfilling all my teenage fantasies.

It didn't disappoint. Here's where we eat, slept and played during our five days in Louisiana:


724 Dumaine St, New Orleans
$7/per person

With only a short period of time in New Orleans, I was turned off the large tour groups that offer vampire, voodoo and ghost tours. So instead, Jay and I decided to visit the Voodoo Museum.

If you love comic sans font, then you'll love the voodoo museum (all two rooms of it). It is the very definition of tourist trap. But if you've got 10 minutes and $7.00 to spare, I suppose it's not a complete waste of time.

Tour #1: Self-Guide Tour of the Garden District

Located near the Garden District is New Orlean's Info Centre (2020 St. Charles Ave). Here you can pick up phamplets for both self-guided walking tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District. (Be forewarned though: since the Garden District guide is produced by a restaurant, it glosses over the juicy stuff, like where Trent Reznor and Anne Rice used to live. Printing out a guide from the Internet beforehand is highly advisable.)

To get the the Garden District, take the St. Charles streetcar. It comes about every 10 minutes and costs $1.25 per person (exact change needed).

The Lafayette Cementary, which is in the middle of the district, closes early in the afternoon (2:00 pm) so be sure to go early.

Tour #2: Nottoway Plantation, White Castle
9 am - 10 am: $15 (complimentary with overnight stay)
11 am - 4 pm $20 (with a sample of traditional Louisiana cooking from the onsite cafe)

On our way to Beaumont, Jay and I spent one night near White Castle at the Nottoway Plantation.

The teenage girl in me still doesn't believe that not only did I get to stay overnight here (see below for my Nottoway restaurant and hotel photos), I also got a private guided tour of the entire mansion in the morning. "I love it here," I kept saying to Jay in complete disbelief.

Of all the mansions we toured (Nottoway, Evergreen, Oak Alley), Nottoway was hands-down my favourite. If you're looking for grandeur and reinforcement that your girlhood dreams of Tara are, in fact, completely realistic, then Nottoway is a must-see.

I'm not even going to bother writing any more. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves:

(AH! The white ballroom! I seriously want a white ballroom all of my own, complete with white floors, chaperone mirrors, gilded sofas and perfect symmetry.)

$70 for two plantations
$120 for swamp tour combo (includes lunch)

Most of the plantations along the Old River Road are accessible at considerably lower prices if you go solo, rather than through a tour operator (Oak Alley, for example, is just $18). But Jay and I agreed that shelling out $120 each for a swamp tour combo was well worth our money.

Richard, our tour guide, was exceptionally knowledgeable about the New Orleans area and spent the roughly 70-minute drive to the plantations sharing information about the Old River Road, Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, industry in Louisiana and the history of the both the Cajun and Creole people.

First up was Oak Alley Plantation. After touring Nottoway, the tour paled in comparison. However, the mint julips offered on your way out the door ($6) won me over.

Okay and I guess the photo opportunities were halfway decent, too.

Next up was Evergreen Plantation. After touring the two larger plantations, Evergreen was a welcome change.

Rather than going on at length about the features of the house while wearing a ridiculous costume, our Creole guide Renee gave us a relaxed no-bullshit tour of the grounds, which include 22 intact slave cabins. (We were also joined for the tour by a cast member of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which was filming on-site.)

Of all three plantation tours, Evergreen offered the best narrated tour with a focus on slavery and the Creole lifestyle.

Following our plantation tours, it was time for the Manchac Swamp ($49 with hotel pickup; $24 without transportation). Since the land is privately owned, Cajun Pride Tours is the only tour-operator on the premises, although they have partnerships with other tour operators, including Old River Road.

Jay says this was his favourite activity of the entire trip.

We were both enjoying the beautiful day but somewhat nonplussed about the experience. . .

. . .until this guy swam up right next to me. . .

. . .and until I got to hold this guy.


31025 Hwy 1, White Castle
$170 (including breakfast and a complimentary tour)

Each of the plantation's rooms is named for one of the Randolph family members.

We stayed in room #7 in the Overseer's Cottage. The resort's facilities are amazing and include a pool and hot tub area. A hot continental breakfast and complimentary tour were included with our stay. If this isn't clear from above, I highly recommend Nottoway.

114 Magazine St, New Orleans
$89/night (valet parking an additional $30/night) with complimentary breakfast

Since we were only spending one night in New Orleans before we headed to Beaumont, we made a reservation at the dirt-cheap Best Western St. Christopher, located a five-minute walk from the French Quarter. (I'm big on points cards. I started collecting points with Best Western last summer, so our room was actually only $64 for the night.)

Our room was lovely, but if you plan to stay here for longer than a night I recommend spending an extra $20 for a window.

415 Dauphine Street, New Orleans
$130/night (valet parking an additional $30/night) with complimentary breakfast

After three nights in Beaumont, we were pleasantly surprised to step into our room at the Dauphine Orleans. Since it's located directly in the French Quarter, we were anticipating a cramped, noisy room.

Instead, the square footage of our expansive room rivalled that of our condo. It was notably noisier than the Best Western St. Christopher and the continental breakfast was weak, but the comfortable room and friendly staff made up for it.


714 St. Peter Street, New Orleans
$35 (lunch for two with tax and tip)

After checking into our hotel on day one, Jay and I were starving and moving into hanger territory. (Hanger - noun 1. When you're so hungry, you become angry. Also see: hangry.) We headed down to the French Quarter and our challenge quickly became quite clear: finding vegetarian-friendly options in the sausage-loving city.

After reading a dozen menus we finally settled on the Old Coffee Pot, which offered a variety of salads and a vegetarian plate. Unfortunately, when it came time to place my order the server kindly informed me that the cook was a "bitch" and that I could only order from the lunch menu. My options were suddenly narrowed down to a caesar salad (which isn't even technically vegetarian) and a biscuit. Jay ordered the jambalaya.

Verdict? The jambalaya was flavourless and dry and my caesar salad was over-sauced. 6/10

Muriel's Jackson Square
801 Chartres Street, New Orleans
$60 (dinner for two with tax and tip)

After our subpar lunch, we decided to extensively research our dinner options online. Jay came up with Muriel's, which offers a vegetarian-friendly roasted eggplant pasta with baby arugula, tomato butter sauce and shaved parmesan.

Jay tried the BBQ shrimp, served with a chipotle-parmesan grit cake. He claims he didn't like it--but only because the shrimp came fully intact. (I may be the vegetarian, but we both prefer our food without a face.)

Verdict: I would rank this as our best meal of the trip (the bread pudding for dessert tipped the scales), but Jay wasn't wowed. 7.5/10

200 Magazine Street, New Orleans
$30 (brunch for two with tax and tip)

The Ruby Slipper is known for their brunch and according to our server, "famous" for their Eggs Cochon. The service was great, but the food was unremarkable. 7/10

621 St. Peter Street, New Orleans
$20 (lunch for two with tax and tip)

For a quick lunch, La Davina offers paninis and salads for under $10. Perfect for a quick snack. 7/10

31025 LA Hwy 1, White Castle
$50 (dinner for two with tax and tip)

I'm biased towards anything related to the Nottoway, but when we finished our just-out-of-the-oven-fresh herbed bread and flavoured butter (!) the server gave us MORE. Amazing. (The butter in question was BBQ, dill and strawberry vinaigrette flavoured.) Jay ordered the Pecan Duck. As for me, my options were limited. But I'm going to be honest: it didn't even bother me that the only thing I could order was a caesar salad--the fresh bread and ambiance more than made up for it. 8/10

546 St. Peters Street, New Orleans
$50 (dinner for two with tax and tip)

The table was sticky, the service was quick, the portions were huge, but it was largely unmemorable. 6.5/10
613 Rue Bienville, New Orleans
$140 (dinner for two with tax and tip)

For our last night, Jay and I splurged at Arnaud's, where diners are charged an additional $4.00 per person for a live dixieland band. It was expensive (mains are $20-50 and don't include sides) but by ordering tapas-style, we cut the bill considerably. The endive salad was bland, but the Oysters Kathryn, souffled potatoes with béarnaise sauce and praline crepes were amazing. 8/10

It wasn't Mardis Gras or the end of a teenager road trip. We may not have gotten shitfaced on Bourbon Street or witnessed any witchcraft. And to be honest, we barely left the French Quarter. But somehow, still, New Orleans was everything I always thought it would be.

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