New Orleans…Part 3: Garden District

Welcome to part 3 of my New Orleans trip! Be sure to check out my travel tales in  The French Quarter and Plantations & Gators.

The Garden District is a neighborhood in the city of New Orleans and  it was the last leg of my trip. I took a streetcar -a 1920’s kind of train/trolley from the French Quarter to  the Garden District and met my group tour guide. We kicked off the tour by visiting the famous Lafayette Cemetery. When you first enter the cemetery you notice that it is very well preserved  considering it was first established in 1833 and has seen so many weather changes. A lot of the people buried at this cemetery died from yellow fever and for a time the funeral business was quite a lucrative one! Some of the wealthier underground residents had huge and fancy tombs and crypts constructed for their after life comfort while the very poor were given vaults where the entire family, sometimes generations were buried in a single vault!

 


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Lafayette Cemetery is a very popular location for Hollywood movies and TV shows and if you are a movie buff you will probably recognize a lot of parts when you visit. Movies like “Double Jeopardy”  and “Dracula” and music videos from LeAnn Rimes and New Kids on the Block were filmed there.

My next stop was walking around the Garden District and admiring all the houses in the neighborhood. Our guide entertained us with stories of different residents some celebrities included. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember who owns the respective houses in the pics below. Just that they were very beautiful. I remember especially that John Goodman’s and Sandra Bullock’s homes were spectacular. We also saw Nicholas Cage’s house and the Manning brothers’ parents’ home. Brad Pitt and Angelina’s house is also in the Garden District but we didn’t get a chance to walk by their house.

 

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Finally, our tour ended at noon and I was starving. We conveniently ended the tour near a restaurant called Commander’s Palace and our guide encouraged us to definitely try the weekend jazz brunch. So I did! Let me just say that I have never had such a wonderful dining experience. Sure, I’ve gone to plenty of restaurants where the food is delicious but a divine dining experience is when the food and service are exceptional and that was Commander’s Palace. I even got my “doggie bag” in a duck!

 

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The frosting on the cake or in my case the delectable bread pudding soufflé with whiskey sauce was the trio of jazz performers who went table to table and played some of the guests’ favorite songs and some of their own. It was my friend’s birthday so obviously Happy Birthday was one of them! I would definitely recommend treating yourself to a jazz brunch if you are in the area.

So when are you planning your Nola trip ?

 

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New Orleans…Part 2: Plantations and Gators

I’ve always been fascinated by the South and often imagined what life must have been like in the 19th century. Stories of cruel and kind plantation owners, the struggle of  slaves, the southern drawl and the famous southern hospitality contribute to its rich history. If you haven’t already read part 1 of my New Orleans trip be sure to check out my post on the French Quarter first. There are information booths strewn across the Quarter which have day trips going out to the plantations and they often club a plantation with a swamp tour so that’s what I did.

There are a lot of plantations in Louisiana and two of the famous ones are Oak Alley and Laura. Laura is a sugar plantation and it supposed to be very beautiful architecturally but the two times I visited New Orleans I went to Oak Alley. It.Is.Beautiful. Enchanting. I cannot describe how magnificent the grounds look when you catch your first glimpse of the plantation. Oak Alley is located on the Mississippi River in a community called Vacherie. There are  double rows of live oak trees fourteen on each side forming a beautiful canopy which leads all the way up to the house (more like mansion!) which sits majestically in the center of the plantation. It is totally like a scene out of Gone with the Wind.

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The interiors of the house are exceptionally well preserved. The sparkling chandeliers and the gleaming hardwood floors  along with decorations of that period echo the romance of a long forgotten era filled with debutante balls, dance cards and long flowing skirts. I almost half expected to see Scarlet O’Hara greet us from the top of the stairs!

During the tour, our guide gave us an insight into some of the traditions and customs of the southerners of that time and especially that of the family that lived at the plantation.  They had what was called “courting candles”. When prospective husbands came to visit, the father would turn the candle to a certain height- tall if he approved and short if he didn’t and the suitor would have to leave once the candle burned down to the first rung of the candle holder.

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Another really interesting custom was that a pineapple was and probably still is considered as a sign of welcome in the south. The fruit symbolizes hospitality and at Oak Alley guests received a pineapple on their tray in their room. After a few days if they received a second pineapple, it was the hosts’ not so subtle way of letting their guests know that they had overstayed their welcome! Talk about your mixed signals! I had no idea fruit could convey so much. But then on the other hand so does a horse’s head.

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The view from the balcony is spectacular with all the oak trees forming a long passage way. I could look at this all day!

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Fun fact for all you movie lovers -the plantation was used as a location for Django Unchained and one of my favorite thrillers Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte.

Although the grounds and the interiors of the house give you a glimpse into the rich lifestyle the plantation owners had, it is only when you go outside and see how the slaves lived, you feel your heart is being ripped out. Oak Alley has all the artifacts (tools, meagre utensils, handcuffs, neck braces and other torture tools) used by the slaves on display. The exhibit has the names of all the slaves that lived on the plantation through generations as well some of their stories which will bring tears to your eyes.

Oak Alley wonderfully depicts what life must have been like at the plantation for the owners but also brings to light the horrors of slavery. If you’re visiting Louisiana, I would definitely recommend a trip to Oak Alley.

I took the Cajun Swap Tour twice, once with my mom this past summer and one with my friend last Dec. I was very glad I went twice because in winter the alligators don’t feed while in July they are ready to gobble up anything you throw their way! The swamp tour captains were very knowledgeable and regaled us with anecdotes of their gator escapades, witch hunts and ghost stories that has plagued the bayou for generations and even caught the interest of the Discovery channel. We went deep into the swamp on a boat and the captain handed out live turtles and shells to pass around.

 

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He also brought on board a non- venomous albino snake which did not have any fangs and we were reassured that it was one of the most friendliest snakes he’s ever encountered. It wasn’t very big but it had a really tight grip around your hands and arms. I am quite terrified of snakes so I gave it a miss but my mom was really brave and held it for a few seconds before passing it on. We also got to hold a baby alligator whose mouth was tied up. She squirmed a bit what with everyone holding her and taking pics.I’m sure she was quite uncomfortable.

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When I went in July, the gators were still feeding so the captain took out chunks of meat and threw it at them. He knew most of them by sight and even had nicknames for them. One, I remember he called “Leftie” (no well formed left leg) was his favorite. As soon as our boat approached, all the gators would swim closer and start jumping up to catch the meat that was thrown at them. It was really cool to see the way the captain interacted with the gators. It was obvious that he loved being around them and treated them with respect but I was astonished to find that the gators not only recognized the sound of his voice but they were also playing with him! Pretending to ignore him, then circle back and grab at the meat dangling in front of them. It was really fun to watch. All the while, the captain kept us entertained by giving a lot of tidbits about the habits of gators, other animals in the swamp and welcomed questions. One question someone asked that really stood out for its stupidity was ” If i put my hand in the snake’s mouth, will it bite?”. I think most of us laughed. Our captain without missing a beat replied “Anything with a mouth will bite, so I wouldn’t try it”. Basically, use common sense! So the saying “there is no such thing as a dumb or stupid question” doesn’t apply here!

For anyone visiting New Orleans, I would definitely recommend doing a plantation and a swamp tour.It is only about an hour or so outside of the Quarter and a wonderful way to spend the day!

Stay tuned for part 3 of my Garden District Tour where I visited million dollar houses aka celebrity homes, the historic and beautiful Lafayette Cemetery and the really fabulous Commander’s Palace restaurant.

 

New Orleans…The City Of Jazz! Part 1: French Quarter

New Orleans! The past few weeks I’ve been teasing New Orleans in a couple of my photo a day posts so I thought I’d share with you my trip experiences and my love for Nola. I’ve been to New Orleans twice, once around Christmas time with a friend and this past summer with my mom. We stayed in the French Quarter  both times at St.Marie, a charming little hotel which is a stone’s throw away from Bourbon Street so it was walking distance to everything yet away from the noise at night. One of the best ways to see New Orleans especially the French Quarter is by walking to all the sights so  Free Tours By Foot was perfect for us.

The heart of the French Quarter lies in Jackson Square, a historic park. Surrounding the park, I saw painters and musicians alike doing what they do best and having fun! By night, the square is totally transformed. There are palm readers fringing the park and the night and candles and hushed whispers make the scene a totally cool and eerie one! On two opposite sides of the square are identical red brick buildings called the Pontalba buildings built in the 1840s one of which is still open to view for all tourists. The upper stories are converted into apartments for rent for the rich and famous, well those who can afford it ! Don’t miss the history of the feisty owner of the Pontalba buildings when you visit!

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Jackson Square Park and the cathedral

I visited the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral which overlooks Jackson Square and it is a lovely sight at night especially around Christmas time when it is lit up and looking very festive. The highlight for me here was the beautiful statue of Jesus Christ in the garden behind the church. The shadow of Jesus Christ against the church is truly stunning.

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Don’t you think so?

For all you art lovers, there are a lot of beautiful galleries in the Quarter. One famous painting is that of the Blue Dog  based on a Cajun legend which catapulted the artist George Rodrigue into worldwide fame. And if you can’t afford any of the half a million or more dollar paintings you see in the galleries, snag one of the paintings you see on the street. They depict all the buildings and homes in New Orleans beautifully.

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I haven’t forgotten the shopaholics! I personally don’t like shopping for hours on end but Royal Street in the Quarter has an endless supply of trinket, jewelry shops,art galleries and departmental stores where you can buy pralines some even with bacon to take back home.

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I can’t describe how delectable the food is in New Orleans. All the Cajun and Creole dishes are so different from anything I’ve ever tasted. Although you see a lot of tourists in the Quarter, in my opinion people seem overall quite happy and very friendly. Of course they would be ! Coz there’s a constant flow of drinks and food and music ! I tried quite a few restaurants there and one was better than the other. I started my morning with shrimp and grits ( I’m almost drooling as I write this) and a mimosa. What? I was on holiday :). One of the best breakfast and brunch places there is the Cafe Fleur De Lis. One of the most famous cafes in the Quarter is Cafe Du Monde known for its beignets. Delicious as they are, you will be in a constant sugar high. Oh and helpful trivia -don’t wear black or anything dark colored if you are super clumsy like me. You will get powdered sugar all over you and when you try to dust it off with a tissue, there is an excellent chance that the tissue will stick to your clothes. Yes, exactly like Mr. Bean!  Also random fun fact: in winter the humidity in NOLA will cause you to have a bad hair day err.. like you see below.

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Beignets!

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Shrimp and Grits and Crawfish

Now, on to drinks of a different nature. You gotta try the Pimms Cup at Napolean’s house which is a dilapidated looking building named after Napoleon the Great. On the Quarter’s most famous Bourbon Street you will get a variety of sugary drinks. I would recommend trying the Hand Grenade cocktail they have simply because the drink looks pretty!

Napoleon House and Pimms Cup

Napoleon House and Pimms Cup

On my first trip out, I caught a jazz performance on Frenchmen Street which is the heart of New Orleans’ live music and night life. On my second trip this past summer my mom and I bought tickets to a jazz performance at Preservation Hall in the Quarter. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen.

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Have I enticed you yet into planning a trip to NOLA? Stay tuned for Part 2 which is all about the South- plantations and alligators galore!

Photo A Day- N for…..

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Newport is a beautiful seaside city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island. Some of the wealthiest families in the 20th century used to summer in Newport and built cottages mansions by the cliffside with spectacular views. The most popular of them being The Breakers built by the Vanderbilt family. The Breakers derived its name from the waves breaking on the cliffside rocks, a truly beautiful sight. The mansion’s architecture represents the Gilded Age and was one of the most opulent mansions in Newport. I spent an entire day touring the mansion, the gardens surrounding it and the cliffside walk. I definitely recommend visiting Newport for a weekend if you are in the tri-state area.

 

New York to India…En route travel tales

Happy Monday!

It really is a Happy Monday because I’m on vacation for 3 weeks! Its been years since I’ve had such a long break and I’m planning to really let go and relax. In fact, I might need a vacation from too much relaxation. Anyway thats the plan. And in my case, I feel the saying “the best made plans go awry” was coined with me in mind :).

So I flew to India Friday night and I usually have an eventful interesting journey whether it is a weather related delay, extreme turbulence or the airline runs out of food atleast the decent kind, right when they get to my row. So it was quite disconcerting to me that come Friday morning, everything was going smoothly at work and I only had to get to Newark airport late that night. Then around 4pm, I got a call and a cute British accent informed me that my flight was cancelled and did I know about it. I did not. But the airline (British airways) put me on an earlier flight from JFK which was pretty great of them but it also meant that I had to leave right away to the airport as JFK was a good hour and a half from my house. So I thought there’s my hiccup. The cab ride was long and painful and it seemed all of New York had decided to get on the road. My cabbie refused to open the trunk since he wanted a big tip. I was annoyed coz I am a good tipper, dangerously so that my friends often hold an intervention when I speak for those underdogs waiting tables and driving through traffic. But not opening the car and trunk doors freaked me a bit and I was in a hurry so I gave him a couple more dollars and before I knew it he had thrown my bags on to the curb and sped off. In true Mr.Bean like fashion  (read clumsy) I grabbed my 3 bags and monster handbag back and forth to the airport entrance to get a cart. The guard or security standing near the carts glared at me coz I was going back and forth leaving one or the other bag unattended for three quarters of a second. Of course it did not occur to him to lend me a hand.

I settled down to this nice airport dinner of fish tacos(its in there some where among the salad), a glass of wine and Mindy Kaling and relaxed while waiting for my flight.

 

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The rest of my journey was quite pleasant. I busied myself the first few hours hoping to find some interesting co-passengers to observe. There was one guy a row ahead of me who said yes to everything the stewardess asked him. He wanted an immigration form even though she kindly told him that he was going to be a transit passenger. There was another guy who within five minutes of settling down and fastening his seat belt pressed the assistance button and in full on panic mode demanded his video screen be fixed as the images were shaky. The stewardess politely informed him that once we were airborne she would see if it was still an issue or try to move him to another seat. Aside from this there was very little activity on the flight. The pilot had a very kindly Hugh Grant voice and gave regular flight updates. I passed in and out of consciousness sleep during the entire flight and finally awoke when I landed in Chennai. I was excited to see my family and now I start my vacation!

Enjoy the rest of your week!

 

 

 

 

 

Photo A Day- E for…..

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Earlier this year in May, I holidayed in Turkey with my family for a week. One of the places we visited was the ancient city of Ephesus near the Aegean Sea. It used to be one of the Seven Wonders and today the ruins are a major tourist attraction. Ephesus is a sacred site for Christians due to its historical and religious association to the Virgin Mary, St.Paul and St.John. The Virgin Mary was supposed to have spent her last days here and there is a beautiful small church with her shrine there. One of the most amazing things about this place aside from the history of the city and the church (I’m going to write a separate post in detail about Ephesus so stay tuned!) is the prayer wall that you see in the picture above. People from all over the world visit Ephesus every day and write down their prayers on paper scraps and put it up on the prayer wall. It is hard not to be moved by this site and sight regardless of one’s religious views.

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This past August ,when the weather was warm but not overly sunny- my mom, G and I went to Bushkill Falls in the Pocono Mountains. I love all things green except maybe an all green salad (shudder!) so when I saw the lush green park, I was super happy to spend a few hours hiking. I use the word hiking loosely as it wasn’t exactly a hike,it was more of a nature walk with beautiful woody bridges and a bunch of stairmasters thrown in. The color coded trails were all easy to hike, the hardest of which involved a lot of steps but totally worth it to view the 8 waterfalls along the way.The three of us enjoyed the nature walk dipping our feet in the creek that we passed on the way to the main falls.

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Beautiful isn’t it?

We rewarded ourselves afterwards with Bushkill’s Finest Fudge located very conveniently in the snack area! All in all, a good way to spend a Saturday. If you are in New York/ New Jersey / Pennsylvania, Bushkill Falls is an ideal day trip for a lovely nature walk.

What do you guys normally reward yourself with after a hike/ trek? Is it coconut water? Or maybe the cream of coconut mixed with pineapple juice and a splash of rum.