Aside from Oak Alley Plantation (http://bit.ly/2wFleJv) these were my two favorite non-food activities I did during my trips to New Orleans.
Before I describe what I did and why I loved it, I need to begin my saying that Gray Line Tours are my preferred company of choice. No matter the city or country you are visiting they have an office and website set-up to cater to your travel needs. You can often save by combing the cost of two or more tours during your trip. Once you have booked your plane tickets and hotel, research on their site should be your very next step (and no this is not a promotional ad).
St Louis Cemetery I
No matter how you feel about visiting a cemetery, no trip to New Orleans is complete without one. There are a number of reasons why.
First of all, New Orleans cemeteries are one-of-a-kind. Due to the high water table all graves are above ground. Because of this, there are elaborate sculptures, tombs, and crypts of all designs here to see. New Orleans is nicknamed “City of the Dead” for this reason. No matter your faith there is a section for you. All are welcomed.
Secondly, you never know who you are going to meet (wink, wink). The cemetery I chose had to do with this rationale.
St. Louis Cemetery I, is the oldest (opening in 1789) and most famous cemetery in New Orleans. It is where the legendary Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau who died in 1881, is buried. Her grave is in the front of the cemetery and displays the many gifts her visitors have left for her.
Fun fact: “Saved by the Bell” wasn't just a classic 80s TV show. It is also a pop culture saying that arose, pardon the pun, from burials that occurred a little prematurely.
Due to medical anomalies which wouldn't be understood until many, many years later if at all, some people were buried while unconscious, not dead. Claw marks could be see in the coffin until they ultimately suffocated to death.
This phenomenon caused a lot of panic, understandably, so many family members began burying their loves ones with a string tied around their wrists that connected to a bell above ground. If it rang, the theory was that the loved one could be saved in time, if the person who heard it didn't die from fight first.
This led to another term; graveyard shift, so that there would be someone around to hear the bell if it should ring. It is said these both have a history of beginning in New Orleans.
The highlight of this tour was someone who was buried here that wasn't on any of the promotional materials I had read. I think that is a BIG mistake.
As we were walking around our guide pointed out former mayors and leaders of New Orleans and Louisiana I spotted a name that made me stop, dead in my tracks, so to speak.
It was none other than one Mr. Homer A. Plessy; of the United States Supreme Court case “Plessy v. Ferguson” (1896). You should recognize it as the case that allowed segregation of blacks and whites to continue by famously claiming “separate but equal” institutions were constitutional. It would not be reversed until the U.S. Supreme Court decided “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas” in 1954.
As a law and politics buff I didn't need to see another grave. There would be no bigger thrill.
But of course I did continue on, once I found my group after stopping to take so many photos of the Plessy grave, we sort of got separated. Rejoining the tour was harder than I thought it would be. All of those confusing paths and tall monuments makes it easy to get lost fast. So pay close attention so you won't need to get “Saved by the Bell” yourself!!
This cemetery was closed to the public in 2015 in order to preserve it. Families of those buried can buy an access pass and for anyone else that wants to visit while still alive you need to be apart of a tour.
Dying in New Orleans might be more fun than living here. Many have Second Line parades throughout the neighborhood of the departed as away to celebrate their life. As the parade proceeds more and more people join in. There is great music, dancing, dress, all to make it seem more like a party than a funeral. When in New Orleans…………..
I have heard some have Second Lines for their weddings too but that is not the tradition.
Second Lines are more commonly seen during Mardi Gras and I have to say I like the thought of going out with a big bang very much.
Lafayette Cemetery is the only other cemetery I would like to see. Coincidentally the Judge, John H. Ferguson, of the Louisiana decision of “Plessy v. Ferguson” is buried here.
In pop culture Anne Rice’s character Lestat from “Interview with the Vampire” is buried here. Movies like “Double Jeopardy” and “Dracula 2000” were filmed here. More surprisingly New Kids on the Block filmed their “You Got It - The Right Stuff) video here! As a life long NKOTB fan I can’t believe it and thus have to the location in person.
Swamp and Bayou Tour
Doesn’t spending some time out in the bayou touring a swamp sound fun? It’s not glamorous but it is much more fun than it may sound.
You begin by hitching a ride on a coach bus for about an hour or so until you reach the countryside. This bus meets in the same location in the French Quarter, near Jackson Brewery as the cemetery tours (like above) do. Once you get off the bus you will see the boat all ready and waiting for you.
The reason I wanted to take this tour was because I wanted to see some alligators up close. I love me some wild life especially when they are in their natural environment. The great thing about New Orleans and Louisiana is that the landscape is so unique. You can be standing on a levee admiring an old plantation house one minute, be cruising on the Mississippi River the next, then walk around shopping in the French Quarter and end up in a swamp hunting some gators. There is not another spot on the globe I can think of that offers any of these experiences the way New Orleans does all at the same time.
Since I took my tour in December it was cool out on the water and there were no bugs. I imagine this might not be as pleasant a ride during the summer months when Louisiana can hit temperatures in the triple digits. Just thinking about it makes me feel hot and itchy.
I want to say this tour took about an hour or forty-five minutes, the standard tour time amount.
We were able to see throngs of Spanish moss covering the murky colored water, which always makes me feel extra Southern. We saw a bunch of turtles, one raccoon - which I HATE because of their people hands and people feet - and a few gators. Of course it wasn't the right season for them to have been out in droves and I was good with that. I didn't want to feel surrounded. Apparently there is one male that is the king of that swamp and however many feet long he was is a spectacular sight to behold. I was good either way.
The highlight for me was getting to hold a baby gator that our tour guide had on the boat. His mouth was taped so there was no chance of getting bit and we were allowed to hold him (I am assuming) if we wanted. I pulled up my big girl bloomers and went for it. I couldn't resist what a great picture that would be. I held him just long enough to take the photo and outward because I didn't want him to pee on me. He was felt like he weighed the same amount as a small toddler and that took me my surprise. He looked like a tiny little bit of a guy, but he was mighty none-the-less.
This tour was a truly once in a lifetime experience and I am thrilled I did it.
Remember that this was back in 2009, way before any bayou or swap related folks had time slots on cable television.
Apparently, I am a trend setter.
The only tour I have taken, yes by Gray Line, in New Orleans that I definitely didn't think was worth it was the Super City Tour. Normally these types of tours are a great way to see the city and learn some interesting facts. I took one in San Francisco it was one of the best parts of my trip.
However, the day I took this tour in New Orleans it was raining and so we didn't make any of the planned stops. Instead, I felt like I was on a boring school trip. I suppose the guide matters as much as the itinerary, but I think for this city it is better to take the specialized tours so you are really getting out there and exploring your interests.
That being said I still plan to take the Laura Plantation, Katrina, and Holiday tours at some point in the future.
Sadly my next post concludes this series with, What Remains, on my NOLA to do list.
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