Monday Morning Bites: Quote of the Day

Happy Monday! I figured we could all use a nice piece of cake or at least a visual to start the day 🙂

Enjoy the rest of your week!

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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 ?

 

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.

 

Life Lately….the little things

 

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Hello peeps! Its been a week since I got back from my vacation in India and the jet lag is just about catching up with me.  I’m slowly getting back to the grind and adjusting to the cool November weather. I had a crazy busy work week and I’ve also been on an emotional roller coaster since I got back coz I was really sad to leave my family and get back to reality. But I had a fabulous vacation so I’m focussing on planning the next one that and also it got me thinking  about what makes me the most happy when I’m home with my family.

A strong cup of coffee in the morning with the entertainment section of the newspaper. At home in India, there is an endless supply of coffee until noon so I am pretty wired the whole day!

 

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We have a tradition whenever I go to India for a holiday. Watch a movie in the theatre with whoever is in town when I visit.  My parents, brother, cousins, sis-in-law,aunts, nieces, nephews and friends. Sounds fun? Except the movie is always bad. When I say bad, I mean its one of those movies where  you’d rather eat your straw hat than sit through it. But we do. The whole thing started out innocently enough. The whole extended family would go for a movie together once a year. But the movie we picked out the  first time was bad. The second time around, it was really bad. One year, my cousin left 15 mins into the movie and said he couldn’t do this to himself and that he was losing 3 hours of his life. So it came to be known that whenever I was in town, the movies that played would suck or I world magically make them suck. But we go anyway every year religiously so we can laugh about it later. Also I think the cream doughnuts, butter popcorn, cold coffee and chicken curry puffs that they have at the theatre might have had something to do with it. Just saying.

I think about  all the mini moments in my life that make me happy. Those exact moments/instances almost never come around in the same manner again so its important to really enjoy them. It could be the time when my nieces laugh about something silly.Their laughter is so infectious that the whole house rocks with their joy. Or it could be the time when my eight year old nephew gives me a hug in the middle of watching a movie…just because he felt like it. I think though, my favorite moments are when the whole family gets together on rare occasions. Everyone  gathered at home -talking over each other, having parallel conversations, laughter ringing through the house and of course ordering in delicious food.

I think all these little things make up the big happy moments in my life and I had many of them when I was in India.

What  makes you happy?