I’ve had a desire to visit the Deep South for most of my life. Growing up in the United States, it’s almost impossible to not be regularly surrounded by movies, music, literature, art, and history that is inspired by, or linked to, this region of our country.
Over the years, I’ve frequently daydreamed of what it might be like to sip sweet tea on the porch of a gigantic plantation house in the late afternoon, surrounded by a history that is both beautiful and dark. Of magnolia trees and Spanish moss dancing in the wind, to the chorus of creatures hidden away in the swamps and bayous. Of blues and gospel, folk and jazz. Of intense sun one day, and wild storms the next. Of crawfish boils and cold beer on a humid Saturday night, and sweet pastries and chicory coffee on a lazy Sunday morning. Of sweet southern drawls and hospitality making me feel remarkably at home.
The stories of Atticus Finch, Scarlett O’Hara, and Huckleberry Finn will live on forever here, and authors like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, and Maya Angelou – if they weren’t living or visiting, drew great inspiration from this region.
And let us not forget, the magical and mysterious thrive in these parts – vampires and voodoo, monsters and mojo. Some of the world’s best myths and folklore originated in this southernmost rim of the USA.
I can’t describe how fortunate I felt when an opportunity arose to experience southern Louisiana!
I began researching work conferences early in the year, and this one came up. The more I researched, the more it began to outshine my other options, and the fact that it was taking place in New Orleans (during Jazz Fest, too) was definitely icing on the cake. I was sold.
Jeremy and I are still reeling quite a bit from this trip. We’re both in complete agreement that it’s been our favorite so far – crazy storms and all!
We spent a full week in NOLA and only just scratched the surface. We’ve already started making a list of places we didn’t make it to, and those we want to revisit, for next time.
Friday, April 28
We got in on a Friday afternoon and checked into our darling bed and breakfast, Monrose Row, located in the historic Faubourg Treme district (you can learn more about the many neighborhoods of NOLA here), not far from the French Quarter.
After checking in and having a great conversation with our innkeeper, Cindy, and exploring the B&B’s gorgeous courtyard, we ventured into the French Quarter for a light lunch at Napoleon House, where my infatuation with Pimm’s Cups officially began (can you believe I hadn’t had one up to this point?) Absurd. They’re SO good and even better when made with muddled strawberries!
I think I blushed a thousand shades of red when our waiter asked if I’d like a Pimms Cup to-go and I laughed and muttered something like, “I wish!” in response, thinking he was joking. YOU GUYS. He totally wasn’t. This was my first visit to a city (one of only eight in the US) that allows you to stroll the streets with your alcoholic beverage in hand. J pointed it out after he walked away. You can bet my response did not come in the form of a laugh from that point on!
From there, we wandered around the French Quarter for a bit, gathering our bearings. We popped into Crescent City Brewhouse for a quick drink.
After the pick-me-up, we slowly strolled on and found ourselves in Jackson Square. This area is brimming with artists, street performers, fortune tellers, gorgeous architecture, beautiful blooms, and lots and lots of tourists.
With the river nearby, we took a few moments to stroll along it (we later learned there is a lovely river walk, which we didn’t make it to this trip) before heading back into the center of the French Quarter.
Dinner that first evening was at The Green Goddess, where I had another first-time experience (is it just me, or am I beginning to sound like I lead the blandest, most sheltered life?) – curry!
Jeremy anxiously awaited my reaction to the first bite and was practically jumping up and down when it became clear that I was an immediate fan. Add that to our weekly meal rotation!
We quickly ran our way through the infamously wild Bourbon Street (though we crossed it many times during our trip, it’s not quite our pace) before veering over to Frenchmen Street (much more our style!)
This area is full of music and art and, as we learned, is the area that locals venture to for a night out to escape the obnoxious drunken tourists.
After enjoying a drink and a few songs from one of the best cover bands we’ve ever heard (with selections from Prince, Amy Winehouse, Elton John) at d.b.a., we found ourselves picking through unique art and thrifted pieces at one of the loveliest antique markets I’ve yet visited.
The full day of travel hit us hard, and we made our way back to Monrose Row, tiredly, yet excitedly, chatting about our first day in the city and the days to come.
Saturday, April 29
Saturday started with the most delightful breakfast at the B&B, where we met a few of the other guests and each shared our plans for the day.
Ours started off at Lafayette Cemetery #1. For those who aren’t familiar, New Orleans is known for its beautiful, above-ground cemeteries, of which there are many. Thousands of people make their way through these cemeteries year after year, and, due to some vandalizing issues, some of them are only accessible with a tour guide.
In an attempt to save a few dollars, we decided to explore Lafayette Cemetery #1, which is open to the public for free. Though you can pay for a tour led by a guide, we opted to do this self-guided tour.
If you travel to New Orleans, please, please, please don’t leave before taking the time to do this. It doesn’t matter which cemetery you visit, but you must visit at least one. There is so much history here and it’s so very different than visiting one elsewhere.
We learned of countless meanings behind the various placements, engravings, symbols, and colors found throughout the cemetery, how the transferring of a tomb from one family to another (yes, that’s a thing) works, and the history of many of the people laid to rest there.
We got to see several locations and tombs that have been used in, or used to inspire, film and novels. And, of course, there were several myths and supernatural stories to learn, too. A visit to one of these cemeteries is well worth your time when visiting this city.
Lafayette Cemetery #1 is located in the Garden District, so we decided to stay in the area.
Every few steps, we were stopping to ooh and ahh at the huge, colorful homes, often slightly hidden behind a massive tree, flowering bush, or front garden.
Only a few blocks from the cemetery Buckner Mansion, the mansion featured in American Horror Story: Coven. I kid you not when I say, the moment we found the mansion and ran up to peer through the gate, a single crow sailed in, landed, and slowly turned its head to look straight at us. This was the first and only crow we saw in New Orleans. I still have goosebumps.
After shaking off the creepy crawlies, we continued onward, to Magazine Street – one of the more popular places for tourists to visit, as its forever long and lined with hundreds of local shops, big-name stores, restaurants, and bars, with some residential dwellings mixed in.
We popped into District Donuts, as J was craving caffeine and I was craving sweets. It definitely hit the spot for both of us!
Feeling energized, we hit the street again, stopping into several stores along the way.
After an hour or so, we stumbled upon Sucré – a sweets boutique – which was at the top of my list of places to visit!
We were mesmerized by their little cakes, macarons, and truffles, but decided to each get a small scoop of sorbet (J got blood orange) and gelato to help cool us down. The nectar cream gelato is to die for, y’all. Truly.
Hopped up on all of the sugar, and also trying to beat what looked like a quickly approaching storm, we practically ran to NOLA Brewing, where J sampled a few brews, before hailing an Uber to take us back to the B&B.
We were practically in and out, grabbing some warmer clothes for the evening, before heading to Dreamy Weenies. As a vegetarian, I rarely get a chance to enjoy a veggie dog with all the fixin’s and, while I’ve had quite a few, this one is way, way up there.
I opted for a veggie dog that was placed on a potato-salad filled bun, and topped with veggie chili and cheese. J’s bun was smeared with cream cheese before being topped with a dog and chili, cheese, pico de gallo, and Creole seasoning. So good. The waffle fries took them over the edge.
This tour was by far one of the highlights of our trip. We had an amazing guide who was not only animated and fun, but knew when to get serious, too. A true NOLA history buff, he definitely knew his city – J and I had a good conversation with him about Hurricane Katrina during “intermission” that really enlightened us. Plus, we learned that he made a few-seconds-long appearance on American Horror Story: Coven (he’s the skeleton below):
We walked back to the B&B after the tour, visions of ghosts and vampires and Marie Laveau in our heads…
When we arrived back at Monrose Row, we excitedly began telling Cindy about the haunted history tour experience. We rattled off some of what we’d learned, began discussing some of the historic people that had come up. When we name dropped Madame LaLaurie – an infamous New Orleans socialite and alleged serial killer in the 1800s – she cut us off and said, “Ah! Madame Delphine LaLaurie! She owned this house, you know.”
We instantly turned as pale as the ghosts we’d hoped to spot on the tour.
Sure enough, she showed us the records and the deed. While she didn’t live in the house (her daughter later did) we were certainly a little spooked! A blood-red cherry on top of the haunted history tour, I suppose.
Sunday, April 30
Sunday started off a little rough. We’d been tracking a storm that was set to pass through in the afternoon for a week or so, and were holding onto every ounce of hope that it might hold off, since this was the day we’d decided to attend Jazz Fest. Sadly, it came earlier than expected, and made a grand entrance, too.
We’d finished breakfast and returned to our room to check on the weather and come up with a plan for the day when a HUGE clattering sound and booming sound shook the room. Our innkeeper yelled from downstairs, “LOCK YOUR SHUTTERS!” Side note: It seemed like a good majority of the houses in New Orleans have operating shutters on not only the windows, but the doors, too. Sometimes, it’s even hard to tell where the front door may be, as people keep them closed up much of the time!
Anyway, the thunder and lightning were the most intense I’ve ever heard in my life, and almost immediately, there was flooding. There was even a tornado watch during this time, which we later learned is actually rather uncommon in Louisiana. (We were informed the next day that tornados did, in fact, touch down outside of NOLA.)
Jazz Fest was put on hold, and several artists began to cancel, as the fairgrounds were flooded and lightning had struck the ground there, knocking out the power for awhile.
We were devastated – Jazz Fest, with Tom Petty headlining on this day, was a part of the reason we’d come a few days early.
We did our best to suck it up and take in a real southern thunderstorm. It was actually an experience I’m glad we had, looking back. It was wild and beautiful, and the city desperately needed the rain.
We continued lounging around and waiting out the rain for about an hour, and when it lightened up enough to venture out, we caught a ride to 13 Bar over on Frenchmen Street. They’re known for their “tachos” – tater tots topped with various fixings, like nachos. I got an order loaded with BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese, and J enjoyed a tofu banh mi. We kept an eye on updates about Jazz Fest, only to see more artists backing out and that the doors still hadn’t opened.
We left and escaped the rain once more by stopping into a record store next door, perusing their selections for a time, and checking in again on Jazz Fest. No updates.
Since we were in the area, we decided to visit the Old US Mint – a museum of historic currency, with an art exhibit and jazz exhibit on the upper levels.
This ended up being a hidden gem and one that we would recommend if you’re looking for a quick and free way to take in some art and history, or want to escape the rain while in the city! The jazz portion was mainly focused on Louis Armstrong, which I admittedly didn’t know a thing about, before visiting this exhibit. J was in his element.
When we stepped back outside, the rain had let up, and we found a bench to sit on to discuss the rest of our day. We have never been so back and forth about a subject in the entirety of our time together – the doors to Jazz Fest finally opened, several hours late, and we were following the social media commentary on it. Lots of complaints about why the ticket charge was still full price, when festival-goers would only get to experience 1/3 of a day, the fear of headliners backing out last minute, and so on. For whatever reason, the universe finally gave me a shove and I practically jumped up saying, “Let’s just go for it. Now!”
And we’re so thankful we did.
While we didn’t get to experience the arts and crafts village, the food, and the several other acts that day, we made it just in time to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And all of the back and forth was worth it.
While it’s not the first year I’ve heard it, rumors are circulating that this might be the band’s final (major) tour, and it’s their 40th anniversary year.
Tom Petty was my first concert experience, and really helped launch my love of music, especially for classic rock (and even folk, jazz, and blues, which all heavily inspire the band.) And to say I’ve now seen him in multiple states and settings really means the world to me. It was an unforgettable show and experience all around.
Following the performance, we left the fairgrounds, vowing to come back for another Jazz Fest another time, to experience it fully.
Lunch was so filling earlier in the day that we weren’t feeling famished, but thought we should grab some dinner before calling it a night. We ended up at Saint Lawrence, and each enjoyed a drink and split an order of their macaroni and cheese, which proved to be a mac and cheese game changer.
We weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we rambled for a bit, heading toward Frenchmen Street, taking in the nightlife, stopping into shops here and there, gradually making our way back for our final night at Monrose Row.
Monday, May 1
Monday morning, we had yet another scrumptious breakfast made by Cindy, and I caught up on some work before packing and heading to the JW Marriott for the remainder of our stay.
It was too early to check-in, so we left our bags and headed off to grab some lunch at Killer Po’Boys, which specializes in vegan and allergy-friendly po’boy options, which was glorious for J and I, as he’s allergic to pretty much anything that goes on a traditional po’boy and I’m a vegetarian. Mine was loaded with pulled sweet potato, and his with pork belly, and they remain somewhere near the top of our food experiences in NOLA, for sure!
From there, we hopped in an Uber and made our way about 30 minutes north, to Laplace, Louisiana, for a swamp tour! This was something J and I had discussed doing very early on in our trip planning and exceeded our expectations.
We decided on Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, as this company is a privately owned wildlife refuge. Many of the other tours offered in the area take place on swamps that allow alligator and other wildlife hunting and fishing. And the care these guys have for the animals out there, you guys, it melted me.
I went in not really having much of an opinion on alligators, if I’m being honest. I thought they were a little creepy and a lot dangerous. This tour made me do a complete 180º. Our guide talked a lot about how alligators, and many animals, for that matter, are portrayed as dangerous, deadly beasts on TV and in film and the media, but how most attacks only occur when a human has done something “stupid.” Provoked the animal, threatened it or its babies.
We saw loads of wildlife as we made our way across the swamp – birds, turtles, fish, racoons, snakes, and the occasional alligator. Because of the rain the day before, the swamp level had risen, and many of the alligators were hidden, harder to see.
Our guide ventured off route for a bit, telling us that he knew where some of them were likely stationed. He brought the boat to a stop and began calling out to them – making a “yip! yip! yip!” sound. We waited for a time, and he did it again. And again. We stared across the calm waters, nothing but the occasional bird soaring past. And then, suddenly, yards away, we saw movement. And a few seconds later, a head, and a tail, slowly making their way toward us. Then someone shouted from the other side of the boat, “Hey! Over here!” And another one was coming from the opposite direction. Witnessing this is something I’ll never, ever forget. He was calling them, and, like a beloved pet, they came.
He could recognize each one, telling us how he’d raised this one from birth, or saved that one when it was injured. He had names for them. He respected them, and they were clearly so excited upon seeing him.
When we’d start to move away, the alligators would stay in the same spot, their tails fanning behind them to keep them afloat, yet, at the same time, as if waving goodbye.
To end the tour, our guide surprised us with a baby alligator (she was three years old, but the size of Rosie, our miniature dachshund.) We were each allowed to hold her for a moment, and it took everything I had not to burst into tears. She was so tiny, her belly was so soft, and I’m sure, though she seemed calm and is probably used to putting on a show, that she was so scared. It was one of those excited-then-guilty feelings – excited to hold an alligator, to have such close contact with a creature I’d just had my mind blown about, but the guilt of stressing her out, drying her out, and not just leaving her be. Our tour guide echoed some of these same sentiments, and kept an incredibly close eye on her, vowing that if anyone panicked and threw her overboard, he’d be diving in right behind her. That, right there, made me 100% satisfied with our decision to experience the swamp with this company. If you have the time to spare, a swamp tour is something you will not regret!
After arriving back in the city from the tour, our room at the hotel was ready, so we checked in and spent some time in the room so I could tend to some work matters and prepare for the conference the following day.
We grabbed dinner that evening at The Industry Bar and Kitchen, where we got one of the best deep dish pizzas I’ve ever had. We liked this space because it reminded us a bit of home – it looked like some of the bars we frequent here – but we were easily reminded that we were still in New Orleans as the shutter windows were all thrown open and we were able to sit in one, watching the bustling streets grow darker and louder as the sun set.
We called it an early night and promptly fell asleep upon returning to the hotel that night.
Tuesday, May 2
I spent the following day at the conference, and J spent most of it at the hotel, and visiting 504 Craft Beer Reserve.
We stumbled upon SEED – a vegan restaurant – while in the area, where we shared a vegan version of crab cakes and split a taco salad.
There were so many other items I wanted to try on the menu (seriously, I even considered asking J if we could go back the next day), but we were saving room for beignets at Cafe du Monde later that evening!
And that’s where we headed next. Disclaimer: DO NOT WEAR DARK COLORS TO CAFE DU MONDE! We were laughing so much as we walked into the space, because with every step we took, little clouds of white powdered sugar puffed into the air around our feet. The floor is covered with it, and when we sat down, J pointed out that there is a container of powdered sugar on each table, to add to your already powdered sugar-drowned beignets, in case you don’t have enough to begin with.
So. Worth. It.
We split a plate of three, but I could have easily devoured them, and then some, all on my own. Paired with an iced chicory coffee? Heaven.
We bought a box of beignet mix before leaving, in hopes of recreating them at home when the craving hits. I can’t wait!
Cafe du Monde sits just outside of Jackson Square, so we stopped there for a few minutes to take in an amazing violin duo before continuing onto Bourbon Street (yes, we braved it!) to grab a highly recommended Hand Grenade cocktail at Tropical Isle.
This is another NOLA bucket list item you must complete, my friends! J is not a mixed drink kind of guy and he was loving it.
Even better, get your hand grenade to-go and sip on it while perusing Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo, like we did!
Wednesday, May 3
I spent Wednesday at the conference as well, and, because it was thunder-storming like crazy again, J took it easy at the hotel.
We ran out that night in the storm for pasta at Arabella Casa di Pasta (where you get to create your own pasta, if you wish!) which was fantastic. The food, the drinks, and the atmosphere. This place was top-notch.
I was feeling a little bummed about not being able to do much in the weather (the city looked SO empty that evening, no one was out and about), so J recommended we swing by Sucré (the French Quarter location) before heading in for the night.
This guy gets me.
The employee that evening went above and beyond in letting us sample all kinds of treats, chatting with us about Fort Wayne (he used to live in Chicago and came through here for work), and offering some really great suggestions for NOLA to-dos.
Maybe it was because we were the only two there during that period of time, but we definitely felt like were being treated especially well. We selected a few truffles to take back home, and shared a strawberry-filled key lime tarte.
While we didn’t do much that evening, it was actually one of the most low-key, romantic, and memorable travel experiences I think we’ve had. In a way, it felt like we had a little piece of this jam-packed city to ourselves for awhile. Huddling together and hiding under awnings to escape the rain, watching the rain fall and seeing the glow of the streetlights and reflections of the buildings in the puddles of rain along the streets and sidewalks made us slow down and really see and appreciate what was around us.
Thursday, May 4
The conference started a little later on Thursday, but the rain came early.
We rushed into Elizabeth’s in the Bywater District for breakfast just before another storm rolled through. I have nothing negative to say about any of the food we had in this city, it was all so delightful!
We watched the downpour as we ate, and waited, and waited, and ordered a breakfast cocktail, and waited for it to slow down. It didn’t.
So we grabbed an Uber and were dropped off at the Pharmacy Museum. This was something I never expected to do, but am beyond glad that we did.
You could spend a couple of days in here, if you’re really looking at and reading all of what’s on display!
The rain let up a bit, and we ventured over to Faulkner House Books, situated in the building where William Faulkner lived when he wrote his first novel.
From there, we walked down to Frenchmen Street, to Hex: Old World Witchery, to have my fortune told. J decided to sit this one out, and wandered over to Tahyo Tavern – a dog-themed bar that donates their proceeds to their non-profit dog rescue. Seriously, this city kept getting better and better.
Okay, guys. I’m a pretty opened minded person, but know when to be skeptical. I’ve had my fortune told before and, while I think I’ve gotten some great advice, I know what I’m actually getting is really just very generic thoughts and phrases that could fit anyone’s current state, desires, problems, goals… But this one. This one. I was so genuinely freaked out, I almost walked away. A few times. I had a tarot card reading done, and in a short, fifteen minute session, the psychic was rattling off super specific, super personal events, issues, people, relationships, and concerns. For a moment, I wondered if they’d somehow looked me up online when I swiped my card, but then I realized that none of what came up has been shared anywhere. Ever.
Overall, it was really positive, and I left feeling good, albeit, a little weirded out. Also, pretty sure the skeptic in me died in that booth.
I spent the afternoon at the conference, which wrapped up that day.
Once it was over, we hung out at the hotel for awhile, so I could organize my thoughts and notes from the last three days, while it was still fresh.
For our final dinner in New Orleans that evening, we made our way over to Magazine Street again and visited The Rum House. What a way to go out! We both ordered different versions of their street tacos and drinks from their happy hour menu and considered ordering seconds (of each) because they were that good.
The last big item on our New Orleans must-do agenda was to take in a show at Preservation Hall.
Let me back up and tell you why.
My Papaw passed away this past November. In the weeks and months before his passing, I learned more about him than I had in over two decades. He spent a lot of time reflecting on his life and his adventures in his final days, and the lessons he’d learned and how he’d grown from these experiences.
On one of my final visits with him, we were talking about his love of music. He was an old country lover through and through, but he was also a man who would give anything a listen once, and offer commentary on whatever it was he was hearing. He was fascinated by rhythm and how instruments worked and how artists chose to play them.
We were on about one style of music or another when he abruptly shifted gears and said, “Let me tell ya. Your grandma and I, many years ago, we was in New Orleans.” (This was news to me.)
He continued, “Beautiful city. We were strolling about, taking it all in, when all a sudden I heard something I ain’t never heard before. We followed the sound and stopped outside this little place, tiny, tiny little place, people crowded around, watchin’, dancin’. Everybody happy. Little place called Preservation Hall.
I ain’t never heard nothin’ like it, but I liked it. That’s the first time I heard jazz music. Won’t ever forget it, not after all these years.”
He went on to offer that, even if you’re not familiar with, or a fan, of something, chances are, you can appreciate it. That you should always give something new a chance, because you might just be better for it.
This, more than anything, made me long for New Orleans. I wanted to visit this place, see if it was still around. I wanted to stand where my grandma and grandpa had stood and experienced jazz music for the first time.
Preservation Hall is still there, alright, and some even say it’s the tiny, little place that saved New Orleans.
We got in line for the 8 PM show (they usually do three a night) and I was already feeling emotional. This was our last night in the city, and I was finally about to step into the only place I really needed to go to be fulfilled by the trip.
While waiting in line, I was thinking to myself, If Papaw could be here, in any capacity – if he could somehow see or hear this show tonight, I hope he can, I hope he’s here…
This thought was interrupted when an elderly, homeless man came walking up the street and got the attention of all of us in line by shouting, “Hey! All you gonna spend all this money to have a good time, why aren’t none of you smilin’? You’re in one of the best cities in the world, ’bout to see an amazing show. SMILE! You’re not gonna have a good time, go home.”
He then spotted J and myself – this line was probably a hundred people long by now – and walked over to us. He chatted a bit about the city and his feelings toward the state of things and made us laugh a few times over. Then, before he took off, he grabbed J’s shoulder and said, “One more thing, you’re a lucky guy,” pointing at me, “you better take care of her, you hear? You better treat her right.” Then he gave us a wink and walked on.
I stood there, stunned.
Papaw had a lot of favorite sayings and phrases. From the time I was a kid, I remember him saying, “You ain’t here to have a good time, go home!” when someone would complain, cry, or act like a stick in the mud. He’d repeat it over and over until we broke out in smiles, until we were having a good time.
More recently, when I started bringing J around, he’d never let us walk out the door without grabbing J’s shoulder and saying, “You takin’ care of her? You better treat her right.” It’s the last thing he said to Jeremy before he left this earth.
If there was any kind of skeptic left in me at all up to that moment, New Orleans sucked the rest of it right out of me.
We walked into Preservation Hall – which, mind you, hasn’t been touched or renovated since 1961 – into this tiny, little crowded space, where everyone was gathered around listening, dancing, to the sound, to the jazz music.
This place, made up of only worn wooden floors, a few rickety benches, and a handful of floor cushions up front. This place with walls turned a golden yellow over the years, filled with paintings of musicians who passed a long time ago.
This tiny, little place, filled shoulder to shoulder with people, singing, dancing, tapping their feet, following the sound.
And through half of it, I sobbed.
They would play “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
And laughed, and sang.
And for a second, I thought I saw Papaw there, peering through the door. Younger, stronger, curious as ever. Tapping his foot, humming along. Hearing jazz for the first time. Probably wondering how anyone could make a trumpet sound like that, envisioning how the instrument was made. Having the time of his life.
And then I heard his voice say, “If you ain’t havin’ a good time…”
So, I smiled.
Because I wasn’t ready to “go home.”
I wasn’t ready to leave this city filled with culture and history, sorrow and strength, magic and mystery, and sweet, soulful sounds. This city where you can’t help but have a good time.
Leaving could wait until tomorrow.
We’ll be back, New Orleans.