Travel Tuesday: Tara Does NOLA!

new orleans

 

I recently visited New Orleans for the first time and it was beyond all that I had expected.  New Orleans is the largest city in the state of Louisiana located on the banks of the Mississippi River approximately 105 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico.

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A quick little history about New Orleans. The French claimed the territory of Louisiana in the 1690’s and New Orleans was founded in 1718; the city streets were laid out in 1721. Many of the streets are named after the royal houses of France and Catholic saints. Contrary to popular belief Bourbon Street is named after the Royal House of Bourbon whose family occupied the throne of France at the time. So, it was not named after the alcoholic beverage though many are served on that street!

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In 1763 the colony was sold to Spain and in 1803 the Americans came in. The French and Spanish Creole people felt that the Americans were uncultured and rough people. Though they were forced to do business with the Americans they did not want them in the old city (the French Quarter). Therefore Canal Street was built to create a division. Today when you cross over Canal Street you notice a difference in architecture as well as a difference in street names- all the old “Rues” change to “Streets” with different names. In the French Quarter the homes are painted in a variety of bright pastel colours similar to what you might see in many of the Caribbean islands. In the late 18th century a revolt in Haiti brought a number of immigrants and refugees to Louisiana. They were well-educated, skilled and made their presence in politics and business.

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So let’s get to why I loved it so much and why it is now one of my favourite cities. For starters it’s just such a diverse city with so many different cultures and beliefs all mixed together. The locals are very warm, friendly and welcoming. They have some of the most amazing restaurants and bars. Bourbon Street is lively and everyone goes to have a good time. If you’re into Jazz it’s the place to be! If you are planning on visiting New Orleans I would highly suggest going to the House of Blues Gospel Brunch that they do every Sunday – the food alone is a good reason to go, but the experience is really one of a kind.

 

house of blues

Some other fun things to do in New Orleans is to visit Cafe Du Monde  and have some of their famous coffee with their beignets (that are to die for!). You should also be careful not to get too distracted by the local Jazz singers and musicians (they preform around the café) as I did and accidentally spill your coffee into your tote bag!  If you know me, this is not surprising!

cafe du monde

If anyone has watched American Horror Story: Coven, you may be interested in checking out some of the sites where it was filmed. The Coven’s home “Miss Robicheaux’s Academy” aka Buckner Mansion is in the beautiful Garden District and is one of the most beautiful Colonial Style Mansions I’ve ever seen. You can also check out the Lalaurie Mansion aka Madame Lalaurie’s old house. It is reportedly haunted and if you go on one of the many ghost tours in New Orleans you will be sure to go there. Side note – speaking of ghost tours, on one of my last posts I wrote about visiting Key West  and how I was too scared to go on one of their ghost tours. Well I’m happy to say that I conquered my fear and went on a ghost tour! Thank goodness my sister was with me because we were both freaked out! Especially when we found out we were staying in, not only a haunted hotel but on a haunted floor!

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I will however say that the tours are very informative and a lot of history and gory things have happened in New Orleans! A lot of what they tell you is factual; New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in the United States and they have many “Ghost Hunters” coming each year to track what is going on. Not all the stories are that scary. Some are sweet and funny- nothing  like what you see in most of the horror movies.  Also I should mention, my sister and I are wimps!

Now, back to American Horror Story: Coven. If you did watch it and you plan on going to New Orleans check THIS guide out it goes through all the stops and sites on where they filmed.

Another big thing in New Orleans is Voodoo. Before you start getting all freaked out, stop! It’s not that scary and unfortunately the movie industry has given it a bad rep since voodoo is shown in such a negative light so many horror movies. I have always been interested in learning more about voodoo and the culture behind it so while we were in New Orleans we visited the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

This is what we learned:

Most people that grow up in New Orleans are brought up learning or just generally knowing about voodoo. The museum we visited was founded by Charles Massicot Gandolfo who wanted a space for people in New Orleans or visiting New Orleans to learn about voodoo; he wanted to share his fascination with the world. When Charles passed away his brother Jerry Gandolfo, a historian, took over the museum. My sister and I got to meet Jerry and he took us on a tour of New Orleans. He taught us a bit about voodoo, where it comes from, what voodoo is in New Orleans and about some of the traditions that go on today.

 

Voodoo originated in the West African country of the Republic of Benin. Some people say voodoo is as old as Africa. The West African word for spirit is voodoo. The people in Benin that practiced voodoo at that time were people called the Fon.  In the 1720’s, the highpoint of the Trans-Atlanta African slave trade started and Benin was near the centre of what was called the Slave Coast. During that time the first slaves that arrived in the United States arrived in Louisiana from Benin and most of them were Fon.

Today there is no place in the United States as closely associated with voodoo as New Orleans. Over the years and with cultural integration voodoo in New Orleans has changed from what it was originally. However it still remains the belief that spirits interact in all affairs of day to day life.

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So you’re probably thinking, okay what is voodoo/what do they believe?!  There are many definitions and versions of Voodoo around the world and everyone has their own way of telling it. Basically voodoo is a three tiered spiritual system based on God, spirits and ancestors. The belief is in one God and creator but that he/she has retired and is in the heavens mostly detached from everyday life. In New Orleans voodoo has always been very connected to the Catholic Church and it has somewhat meshed together; many of the voodoo sprits and Catholic saints are the same. Also, in numerous Catholic churches in New Orleans the services are done by both a catholic priest and a voodoo priest or priestess. A voodoo priest is also called a doctor and a voodoo priestess is also called a queen.

One of the most famous women of voodoo is renowned Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. She was born Marie Catherine Laveau in the early 1800’s of two biracial parents, one of whom was Creole. She grew up in New Orleans and was welcomed in the Catholic Church where she  often did some of the rituals. Jerry Gandolfo describes her as a saint and many locals in New Orleans that practice voodoo believe this to be true.  It is said Laveau had an open door policy and was always there to help. Since Laveau has passed people still visit her tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 each year. It is said that they knock on her tomb and ask for their wish. Jerry Gandolfo told us that if our wish was pure of the heart, it would come true; I hope mine does.

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All in all I think New Orleans is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited and would highly recommended it to anyone. We met many people there who told us that they visited New Orleans at least once a year, a testament to their love for a city I had the pleasure of visiting.

If you have been to New Orleans or plan on going let us know in a comment. Thanks for reading!

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Cheers!

Tara