January 27, 2012

10 Things To Do In NOLA (Volume 1)

Ghost Tours

New Orleans has the dubious honor of being one of the most haunted cities in the United States, and you guys know by now that I’m a huge fan of getting creeped out for fun. From the malaria outbreaks that plagued the first settlers as they attempted to establish a settlement, to the great fire of 1788 which destroyed more than three quarters of the French Quarter, as well as the disastrous effects of hurricane Katrina in 2005 & the Gulf Oil debacle of last summer...New Orleans sure has a rich history of tragedy which some paranormal enthusiasts feel goes hand in hand with a higher than normal prevalence of spooks and haunts.

I definitely recommend going on a ghost tour of any city you visit, since they are a fun and nontraditional way to learn about the history of the place you’re visiting.  A tour is also a great way to get your bearings as you’ll get to walk around a bit with a local who knows the ins-and-outs of the neighborhood.
Travel Tip: I always join the Groupon site of any city I plan on visiting to get a heads up on good deals and fun things to do.

Preservation Hall

Tucked away on a quiet side street in the quarter, Preservation Hall is one of the coolest music venues in the city with a rich tradition of preserving the jazz music scene and culture of NOLA. Constructed in 1961, it is very sparsely furnished & more often that not there is just standing room only. The bands rotate, and it’s an extremely intimate venue.  They also take requests for a buck or two, but if you want to hear the "When The Saints Go Marching In", (according to the sign near the stage) you’ll need to shell out ten. Since most of the musicians performing depend on tips for a large portion of their livelihood, tip often and generously when “Philip” ( as in "Fill-Up the tip jar") gets passed around.

Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street is in a part of New Orleans just outside the Quarter called 'The Marigny'. It is a long street with jazz clubs, restaurants, bars, and little shops. We really enjoyed this part of the city since it’s off the beaten path, and it wasn’t quite so bustling as say, Bourbon Street.
If you’re into draft beer and good booze then you should definitely check out DBA (which stands for Drink Better Alcohol). Just down the street is another bar called Three Muses which serves fun tapas sized plates and features live music and an eclectic specialty cocktail selection.

Cafe du Monde

A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without some chicory coffee and beignets, and it took us until our last morning on the way to the airport to get there, but it was totally worth the wait.  I feel like I should preface this with the absolute truth. I’m so not a donut person, anything fried sweet (or savory) totally freaks me out, but I think it’s fair to say that I may be down with beignets.  Beignets are pillowy, yet not too doughy, confectioner’s sugar covered, bites of deliciousness.  They’re messy and fun to eat; and our rental car looked like an absolute disaster since we ate them on the way our flight. You should definitely stop by the iconic Café du Monde for a true taste of the Big Easy and perhaps early into your visit rather than later, so if you become a beignet enthusiast like me you’ll have a few more opportunities to get them.  You can also take home a can of their famous Cafe du Monde chicory coffee.  Believe me, it is STRONG, but very, very good. 

The French Market

Café du Monde is actually in the French Market, so you can kill two birds with one stone if you’re so inclined. There are absolutely tons of shops, drink stands, restaurants, and produce stands in this part of the Quarter. The French Market is also right alongside the mighty Mississippi River, which is ideal for scenic strolling. The absolutely gorgeous Saint Louis Cathedral is also near this part of the city so you’ll be able to check out the square there as well. Tons of local artists, performing and otherwise, hawk their wares in this area, and you can scoop up some cool souvenirs that weren’t perhaps manufactured abroad, all the while supporting local folks making a living. It is a great place to spend an afternoon browsing, and definitely a must-visit in New Orleans.

Plantation Tours

One of the closest plantation homes to New Orleans is the Destrehan Plantation, which is also the oldest plantation home in the lower Mississippi River Valley. We opted to venture off the direct path on our way in to NOLA & made a detour to Oak Alley Plantation for a tour. It is an immaculately maintained plantation home, and our guide was in period dress. She had an encyclopedic level of knowledge regarding the history of the property and its owners.
Our guide was super informative and very patient answering all of the questions tour-goers had. Oak Alley also is supposedly quite haunted as well, but we didn’t run into any spooks that I know of, however I can see how eerie the location might be at night with the sprawling 250 year old oaks and nightly settling sounds that old homes notoriously make.

You can also sample a stiff mint julep to support the Oak Alley Plantation Historical Society.  They do not skimp on the bourbon, so be prepared to walk it off for a while if you decide to try one. They're tasty and for a good cause, can't beat that. While the legacy of the plantation homes is a very sad one, it is worth a visit for sure.  If you're hungry while you're there, I recommend the Oak Alley Restaurant that is adjacent to the Gift Shop on the grounds of the property.  They are open for breakfast and lunch 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.  I had the pasta primavera, mint tea & pecan pie and I was in awe of every delicious bite.

The Garden District

The Garden District is just a short street car ride away, and it is filled with some of the most gorgeous homes in the city.  It also is the home to Commander’s Palace, the restaurant where the famous Emeril Lagasse started his culinary career.  If you decide to eat here, please make reservations.

We spent the afternoon ambling around, and checking out some of the striking mansions.  Sometimes the attractions of a city are housed in museums, but in NOLA, the city itself is like one giant museum so you can spend hours just cruising around taking it all in.  There are cafes and shops dotting the area, and a few blocks over is Magazine Street which also is a fun shopping destination.  Stop into notable Magazine Street shops like Sucre (a do-not-miss-it bakery), Hazelnut (a home interiors store run by "Mad Men" star Bryan Batt) or Garb Boutique (run by Lil' Wayne's ex-wife & author Antonia Carter).

Near the Garden District is the Tulane college campus as well as the Audubon Zoo.  If you're into literature, a must-see is Anne Rice's old home at 1239 First Street.  It is where she wrote and the inspiration for the home in the Mayfair Witches series of books.

Cities of the Dead

Due to New Orleans’ low elevation and high water table, the cemeteries in the city feature raised vaults, mausoleums, and crypts to keep the departed cozy and safe.  These cities of the dead are absolutely breathtaking and feature beautiful architectural elements and elaborate structures.  They serve as visually powerful memorials to the inhabitants of a city with an unbelievably rich history.  St. Louis No. 1, 2, and 3 are the oldest cemeteries and they are near the Quarter.

The infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, is believed to be buried in St. Louis No. 1.  If you’re in the Garden District you could checkout Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which is known to be in slightly better shape than the oldest cemeteries.  While the subject matter could be perceived as macabre, it really is a super interesting way to spend an afternoon.  Make sure to schedule your visit on a weekday or Saturday as the cemetaries are closed on Sunday and quite a few are closed on Monday as well.

The French Quarter

Most of our time spent in New Orleans was in and around the French Quarter which doesn’t really make it a thing to do I suppose, but more like a place to be. There are tons of bars, hotels, restaurants, shops, and residences in this visually striking part of the city.  One can find as much trouble as they would like in New Orleans, particularly on Bourbon Street.  I loved the spectacle of Bourbon Street, although I stayed away from the adult entertainment venues that dot the blocks closer to Canal Street.

I appreciated the variety of options throughout the Quarter from the cozy and romantic, to the bawdy and salacious, there really is something for everyone.  New Orleans is very much more than Bourbon Street, but it is definitely worth seeing; my impression was that I could have had a positively scandalous amount of fun if I had been with a handful of friends from my younger years and/or college (who will go unnamed), but since it was just the two of us on this trip we picked more low-key destinations to check out. By all means, check out a drink that most of the bars make called a 'Louisiana Lemonade'...you won't regret it.

All in all, New Orleans is a fantastic and culturally diverse place to visit.  If you’re even remotely into food, music, night-life, art, culture, ghost hunting, architecture, history, or any combination of the above it’s an absolutely must-visit vacation spot.

One of the many reasons I adore the city of New Orleans is the tenacity of its residents to defy adversity and their willingness to pick up the pieces, dust-off, and rebuild. They are absolutely inspirational, and despite the devastating series of events within the last decade, the heart of New Orleans remains hospitable, kind, and generous to those of us lucky enough to visit. 

Laissez les bon temps rouler. 

January 23, 2012

New Orleans is a town that offers great restaurants, hotels, and music. Sometimes you can find free music, like the incredible talents of Tanya & Dorise on Royal Street, but you will likely pay for music if you listen in at restaurants, bars and hotels.

But there are a lot of free things you can do in this wonderful tourist town too. Here is my list of my top ten favorite free things to do. Remember to be careful in where you go, when you go and what you do in the city.
  1. The French Quarter. The French Quarter alone can take up ten or more free things to do and could take up your whole three day weekend doing it. Take in the sights and sounds of Jackson Square. Watch the street performers, look at the artists' works (like super talented Ricco Rideaux, a Jackson Square artist), admire the Pontalba buildings or enjoy the French Quarter Festival in April. Watch beignets being made at Cafe du Monde. Browse the shops through the French Market. Take a tour of St. Louis Cathedral. Take the free National Park Service walking tour. People watch on Bourbon Street.
  2. The Arts District. Gallery hop on the first Saturday night of each month along Julia Street. 
  3. Carnival and Mardi Gras. Enjoy the free show along the parade routes during Carnival Season.
  4. The Mississippi River. Watch the ships pass along the river from Woldenburg Riverfront Park or the Riverwalk.
  5. National WWII Museum. Swing dance every Sunday during the summer.
  6. Lafayette Square. Take in free summer concerts every Wednesday.
  7. The Cities of the Dead. Tour one of the numerous above ground cemeteries in the city. Be careful that you are safe so pick a time when there are a lot of people about.
  8. The Garden District. Plan a self-guided tour from a book on this wonderful old residential neighborhood.  Notice all the beads in the trees throughout the District and bask in the loveliness of the historical homes.
  9. Audubon Park and City Park. Marvel at the 100 year old oak trees throughout these two urban gems. Enjoy the lovely WPA built monuments and facilities in City Park.
  10. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Preserve's Barataria Unit. Walk the nature trail.
Of course, if you take any of these suggestions you'll also find lots of opportunities to spend money if you wish:)

January 20, 2012

New Orleans French Quarter - Notable Buildings

The New Orleans' famed French Quarter is, in my opinion, an American gem - a unique jewel among our country's many different and diverse neighborhoods. There is nothing else like it. What you may not know is that the French Quarter still exists much like it was 100 years ago because of city's previous economic stagnation. There was just never enough money to tear most of it down.

In the early 20th century, there was a large desire to tear the French Quarter down. It had become the equivalent of a New York City tenement neighborhood. It was largely poor and working class at best and often close to being a slum. Just as some of the city leaders were prepared to make the French Quarter a giant urban renewal project, the Great Depression put a screeching halt on those ideas.

Meanwhile, the preservationist movement and tourism was starting to take hold in the city, so by the end of WWII, the French Quarter was largely safe except for the failed attempt to run an expressway along the river side. The preservationists and new tourism entrepreneurs were able to stop those plans.
So, now, fortunately for the city and America, the French Quarter remains an American masterpiece.  Here are a few beautiful buildings to check out:



Madame John's Legacy, 628-32 Dumaine Street, 1788. One of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter, the building is reminiscent of a French Colonial Plantation home. There are no buildings left from the French Colonial period in the city, but this house is about as close as one can get.

The Bosque House, 617-19 Chartres St., 1795. This house typifies the Spanish Colonial Period. The Spanish brought the courtyard to New Orleans, and those courtyards are reached through a covered carriageway. Situated at the rear of courtyards are usually the service rooms and kitchens. Sometimes these are attached as an ell to the house and sometimes not, among homes of that era.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, 941 Bourbon St., about 1781. This shop was responsible for quite a few homes built in the Quarter from the late 18th century through much of the 19th century. These homes were commonly four rooms with fireplaces in each and steep roof. Dormers have been added to the Lafitte's house. The type is often called a Creole Cottage and sometimes have smaller cabinets at the rear.

1122 Burgundy Street, 1826. This too is a cottage but the narrower type to fit a smaller lot. This is a three bay house with a steep roof and dormer. Some are two bay homes and some have an open side gallery, not an uncommon feature among New Orleans homes of various types.

1012 Dauphine Street, 1826. Another variation on the cottage theme but a wider cottage with five bays including a center door.

817-19 St. Ann Street, 1811. Again, another variation on the cottage theme but a taller version. Some are a full two stories tall and some are one and three/quarters stories tall with the roof sloping steeply so that some space under the lowest part of the roof is usable only for storage.

838-42 Royal Street, 1805. The townhouse was a larger home in the French Quarter. These are two and three story homes with the well-known covered balcony on the second and third floors. There were often shops on the first floor with residential rooms on the second and third floors. There is usually a courtyard as private space in the rear of the home with typical urban service buildings at the back.

Pedesclaux-Le Monnier House, 636-40 Royal Street, 1794-1811. This tall and unusual Creole Townhouse tested the builder's confidence in soil conditions. This was a major concern at the time and often limited buildings to fewer floors. This is a four story building with each floor projecting vertically more than might be expected.

Napoleon House, 500-06 Chartres St., 1798-1814. This building houses one of the more popular and famous barrooms in the city. It is another fine example of a Creole Townhouse. The building got its name for the rumor that Napoleon Bonaparte was to be spirited away to New Orleans from English capture to live in this building. It is a remarkable building and a must-see for any visitor to the city.

817 Burgundy St., 1840. This is one of many examples of the American Townhouse in the French Quarter.  They fit so well into the Vieux Carré that you have to believe they are French even if the Quarter itself is largely Spanish. There are many fine examples of this type in the area. They are generally three bays wide, two or three stories tall with outbuildings often attached. One bay is the door entrance to a side hall.

This small sample does not do justice to the variety and number of beautiful, remarkable buildings in the French Quarter. When visiting the city, especially if you are interested in American vernacular architecture, make sure to spend the time seeing as many blocks as possible, and as always be careful in a city with a deserved urban reputation.

January 18, 2012

Shoe Addiction: Sole Society

I have quite the shoe obsession.  It seems the brighter, the weirder, the more patterned...the higher the heel --- I can't help it, I want them!  My latest purchase is a pair of heels from Sole Society.


They're called "The Victoria".  They're a satin, round toed pump with a black lace overlay.  They've got a 4 1/2" heel with a 3/4" platform!  I really like the look of the heels as they'd work well with jeans, color blocked with solid or patterned rights or with a dress and cardigan.

January 17, 2012

résolutions

Long time, no post.  Life has been busy, hectic... something I'm sure most of you out there can relate to.  I've been honestly thinking about resolutions and how I can change myself for the better.  I realized that I have let myself develop traits and characteristics that I am not pleased with nor proud of.  I'm going to be *gulp* thirty this year and I feel like it is time to take charge of what I can and who I want to be as a person.


I know, I know...you don't have to tell me that most (all?) people crap out on resolutions so I can call it something else if you like but basically, these things are going to happen.  I'm not giving up and I'm not blowing them off.  They're stuck with me, baby!

Henceforth....the resolutions...
I know that most people don't keep resolutions, but I'm determined.  I feel like {now} is the time.  So...here we go.  Bare bones - honest & truthful.

1.  Thirty Before Thirty.  I will lose 30 pounds before my 30th birthday, which is roughly 3 months away.  A small, yet difficult, goal to be healthier, thinner, and more active.

2.  Be A Nicer, Better Version Of Me.  I get frustrated with people easily, am guilty of talking about people, and if I'm in a bad mood, sometimes am mean or rude to others.  I single myself out here, even though I know that many others are guilty of these infractions as well.  I cannot change how others think but I can at least attempt to change myself.  I don't like the snarky, sometimes mean & hateful, thoughts that pop into my head and I do not enjoy hurting people's feelings. 

3. Less Stress.  I worry about everything.  Whether it's making money or spending money, my job, what people think, what other people are doing, how are we going to pay for this or that, things I cannot change...I worry about it all.  It's stressful.  Stress has become such an issue that I require medication to deal with.  I need to learn to calmly and rationally deal with situations rather than freak out, panic or worry. 

4.  Lose 50 by 2013.  I admit it.  I've become a fat ass.  I buy clothes that camouflage my 'problem areas'.  I've become one of those women who wear a shirt over their swimsuit and I hate it.  I've never once worn a bikini without a cover-up on at all times.  The way I see it, it's now or never.  Sure, I'd love to eventually be one of those hot older ladies who can rock a bikini (like Helen Mirren) but right now, while I'm still categorically "young", I want to be able to do it as well.  (As of 1/17, I've lost 15 pounds, so I'm on my way!)

5.  Be A Caring Person.  I feel like being a good person is caring about others before yourself.  Taking the time to help where help is needed.  There are several areas in my community that could use a helping hand.  For example - ◘I could volunteer at the animal shelter or donate food/supplies there.  (It hurts my heart to see all those animals without loving homes.) 
◘I could donate unused items from my home such as clothing, household items, etc. to the local Goodwill.  My house is cramped and we have too much stuff that we keep for no good reason, thinking maybe "one day, we'll use it."
◘I could volunteer at our Art Center.  Be a tour guide or take a class.  It is a non-profit organization meant to bring art awareness to our community with free classes & displays of local artists.
◘I could join the groups who walk around beautifying our town.  Picking up trash, planting trees & flowers, painting old buildings, helping the elderly, etc.

6.  Create.  This one is important to me.  I love all mediums of art.  I have this intense desire to create beautiful things.  I have so much creative energy inside me.  Whether it's painting, landscaping, drawing, scrapbooking, designing, sewing, crafting....I love it.  I don't mean to be boastful here when I say that I feel like I have talent.  I've always been shy about being proud of something, because deep inside me I do feel "less than".  I feel like someone will always do something better than me.  I must learn to throw that notion aside & be happy, be excited, be proud - of what I create.  The lesson that I must learn is "I made this.  I am happy with the way it turned out."  I am so thankful for Pinterest because it inspires me to no end.  I'm in the process of turning our storage room into my art/craft studio.  Maybe I could even sell the things I made?  Hmmmm....

I figure that I will probably add more to this list later, but for now it's all I've got.  I guess an unofficial #7 is to not remove things from the list.