New Orleans #2: Out on the Bayou and Plantations

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July 15th 2016
Published: October 31st 2017
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In our wisdom or stupidity, we had decided to book a tour to the bayou and plantations for the day after we arrived in New Orleans. When we were booking it, I think we were excited, so we were thinking let's do a tour and explore straight away, but in reality we were tired and would have loved to have had a lie-in. The tour picked us up early from the end of our street. We had booked a tour with a smaller company, Tours by Isabelle, as we didn't want to be herded about on a big bus and we had read good reviews of this one on tripadvisor. They offer a few different tours an we had booked the 'Grand Tour', as we wanted to experience the bayou as well as the plantations. The tour was pricey, about $180, but we hoped it would be worth it.

We drove out of the city and our guide explained some of the history of the city to us. That was interesting and I learnt a lot. I enjoyed the scenery as we left the city and the land surrounding us became more rural. It looked so pretty, and once again the landscape was so vastly different to that I had seen in Colorado. I love the geographical diversity that the USA has. We drove for about ninety minutes until we reached the bayou area and the place where we would take our boat tour. i think we had about an hour, maybe a bit longer out on the water. The area was so beautiful. I could have happily stayed on the boat longer and meandered up and down the bayou. I loved the scenery. We saw a few alligators on our trip. They were quite big and got up pretty close to the boat. The boat owner told us about the area and the alligators and alligator hunting season. There is no way I would swim in the water, but he said locals, I think kids, do and that the alligators don't attack them. The area was so peaceful and there were a couple of other tour boats and normal boats that passed us. Our guide also had some alligator skulls, which he used to explain more about these creatures. We had a good laugh posing for some photos with the alligator skulls wrapped round our heads.

After the boat ride, we drove to the plantations. It was lunchtime and we were pretty hungry. Lunch was included in our tour and we were having it at the restaurant at the Oak Alley Plantation. The restaurant was quite big and our tour had its own small private dining room, that was definitely a nice touch. If I remember correctly we just had a set menu, which was good, meaning we could get served quickly and out to enjoy the plantation. To start we were given a small bowl of chicken, smoked sausage and Andouille sausage gumbo. This was tasty and I could have eaten more of it. Our main course was Crawfish Entouffee. I was excited to try this as this is another dish that is traditionally from this area, and it was a mix of seafood, spicy and creamy, things I love. While it was good and I did enjoy it, it didn't live up to my high expectations. I really shouldn't overhype a dish in my mind. I was already feeling full, but managed to squeeze in some bread pudding for dessert. We also tried a Mint Julep, which is a local cocktail. Too strong for me!

We had some free time to wander the gardens of the plantation before our tour, so we did that. At the back of the main house, there are some of the old shacks that the enslaved people lived in. We walked around to the front of the plantation house to get the iconic shot of it, unfortunately, there were about a million other people there either standing in the pathway or were part of the huge queue snaking its way around the house for the tours of the inside. Well, I was never going to get the famous shot free from people, but I did manage to get some okayish ones. The house did look absolutely gorgeous, it definitely has a feeling of grandeur to it and has obviously been well maintained. It was raining a little as we walked around the grounds, but not too badly. We has been told our tour time, so we wandered over to the house and joined the queue for the tours of the plantation house. Some of the staff were outside keeping the queue in order and just chitchatting to people as we waited. They had they gorgeous old-fashioned dresses on. I loved that they looked the part. They were really friendly and informative. This definitely helped pass the time. Soon, it was our turn to enter the house. Each tour is pretty big and they obviously try to get the maximum number of people on each tour. It was a well-oiled machine, because we entered the next room just as the previous tour was exiting.

The land for the plantation was purchased in 1830 by Valcour Aime to grow sugarcane on. Aime was one of the wealthiest men in the South. In 1836, he exchanged this piece of land for a plantation owned by his brother-in-law, Jacques Roman. In 1837, construction off the mansion began and it was completed in 1839. Jacques Roman ran the plantation until his death in 1848. His wife took over but was not adept at running the place. Her spending soon meant that the sugarcane plantation was facing bankruptcy. Henri, the Roman son, took over and tried to turn things around, however the American Civil War and the end of slavery meant it was no longer economically viable. The house fell into disrepair as several owners were unable to afford the cost to maintain the house. Andrew Stewart bought the house in 1925 as a gift for his wife Josephine. She restored the house to its former grandeur and ran the place as a cattle ranch. The house and grounds were left to the Oak Alley Foundation on Josephine's death in 1972. The foundation opened them up to the public. I really enjoyed our tour of the plantation house. The whole place was so beautifully looked after.

Our last stop on the tour was the Laura Plantation. This was just a short drive from Oak Alley. Laura Plantation is a Creole plantation. A Creole is a person of mixed ancestry. In southern Louisiana, Creole is a the non-Anglo-Saxon culture and lifestyle, which dominated until the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. The Louisiana Creole culture was influenced by west Africans, Native Americans and west Europeans. Typical characteristics were a Native birth, the use of the French language and the practice of Roman Catholicism as religion. We waited for a little while in the gift shop, before heading off on our tour of the plantation. Once again, we were given a guided tour of the plantation, no wandering off unsupervised. It was raining lightly again as we made our way around the grounds. This plantation had a different feel to it compared to Oak Alley. The restoration work wasn't so pristine and it felt more lived in. I really enjoyed the contrast between the plantations, each showing its individual personality. I didn't really know what to expect when we were visiting them and I am glad that each plantation was different to the other. It made it more interesting especially as so many things are the same or similar nowadays.

The Frenchman, Guillaume Duparc had petitioned the then President Thomas Jefferson for the land and he built his plantation house on the land in 1804 and 1805. The Duparc family acquired land adjacent to the original site, so that the plantation expanded to an area of 12,000 acres. The plantation had many enslaved people there. After the abolition of slavery people still continued to live and work in the cabins that had one been the enslaved quarters. An electrical fire broke out on the property on 9th August, 2004 and destroyed 80% of the plantation house. It took two years for the restoration work to be completed. I enjoyed looking around the plantation house and seeing the photograghs of the family members who had loved there. After our tour around the buildings we were able to walk around a section of the grounds more freely. I enjoyed that as it meant we could go at our own place and explore in a little more depth, lingering where we pleased. I loved seeing the raindrops on the plants and flowers in the garden. This place was well looked after but didn't have the manicured feel of Oak Alley plantation.

After the tour we had some more free time in the gift shop, where I bought some goodies. I couldn't resist buying some Bayou booze. Our guide was quiet on the way home, letting us all rest our eyes and ears. The drive back didn't take too long. I really enjoyed the day on the whole, but one thing that I wasn't a fan of at the plantations is that you have to take a guided tour. While I liked that the guides were very knowledgeable and personable, I would have liked to go around at my own speed and to be able to take photos without so many people being there. We headed out into the French Quarter in the evening. We found a restaurant to eat at, but the food was pretty mediocre. We took a walk along Bourbon Street, it was a special kind of hell. It was filled with drunk people and just stank of stale alcohol. It reminded me of being in Spain or Greece and all the resorts that cater to British tourists just there to get drunk.

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