A Travellerspoint blog

Glimpses of the Treme: Saying Goodbye to New Orleans

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On my last two days in New Orleans I got two brief glimpses of the famed Fabourg Treme. Again, I admit that most of my knowledge of the district comes from the TV series of the same name, but regardless of how I found out about it I'm glad that I did.

Our first trip into the neighborhood was with a Haunted History Tour. We visited Saint Louis Cemetery #1, which is the location of the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. For film buffs, it's where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda trip on LSD in Easy Rider. Apparently that was the first and last film that ever got to use that cemetery. Needless to say, the Catholic Church was not very pleased with the movies' use of it.

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To top it all off, there is a resident black cat named Marie. Being the Crazy Cat Lady in Training that I am, I was thrilled. But it made me miss my kitty at home, Bruce Wayne.

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Today we ventured into the Treme without a tour guide. Our destination was the Backstreet Cultural Museum. It was a wonderful exhibit that I highly recommend to anyone that comes here. We were greeted at the door by Francis Sylvester, the owner of the museum, Treme historian, (former?) Mardi Gras Indian, father of an Indian Queen, and self described "camera man" (not a "photographer" because photographers have "fancy equipment that they don't know how to use").

The first room he took us to was lined with Mardi Gras Indian costumes. I walked in and my jaw hit the floor. Remember how excited I was in the last post to see just one on Bourbon Street? Well, this is what was in that first room:

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Wall to wall costumes. It was incredible. Everything is hand sewn with no use of glue guns or sewing machines. They make a new costume every year, costing thousands and thousands of dollars. One of the costumes belonging to the "Chief of Chiefs" cost over $20,000. That's more than Josh's car cost. These people are truly dedicated to their craft and I have a great respect for them.

The next room he took us into had artifacts from other historical Treme organizations, including Zulu, the biggest African American Krewe in New Orleans. We also got to learn about Jazz Funerals, including the funeral of Austin Leslie, which was the first Jazz Funeral after Katrina. I've been surprised at how openly people here talk about Katrina. It happened. It's another chapter in the story of the city. And the story of the first Jazz Funeral after the storm is also part of it. It was very touching.

We leave this city tomorrow and, like most trips, it's hard to return home after experiencing so much. I especially love this city and hope to return here again someday. But I've got to get back to my kitty, Bruce (aka "Baby Boo"), to my friends, and to... the job hunt. Well, that last one isn't very exciting, but it's a fact of life.

Posted by slugtrek Tuesday 14 December 2010 18:07 Archived in USA Tagged art people animals photography new_orleans louisiana mardi_gras treme Comments (0)

Crawfish, Ghosts, and Football

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There is a very real possibility that I'm allergic to oysters. But, like my coconut allergy, enjoying the food far outweighs the consequences. We've had a ridiculous amount of seafood on this trip, but the meal that stands out is the two pounds of crawfish that Josh devoured on Friday night. Ok, I had two, but that's minuscule compared to Josh's portion. I'm surprised he didn't explode afterward.

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Next up was a ghost tour with the infamous "Scary Mary" LaCoste. She was a lively, sarcastic old woman filled with stories about the city. We definitely lucked out having her as our guide.

At one point we got to a house on Royal Street supposedly haunted by a woman named Julie. She was an Octoroon (person with 1/8 African ancestry) who lived with her white lover in the townhouse. Laws against interracial marriage prevented them from becoming husband and wife. However, a nearby priest was apparently ignoring those laws and marrying anyone, so she broached the subject with him. He was apparently pretty against the idea and offhandedly said that if she spent the night on the roof naked they'd get married in the morning. Well, guess what she did? Unfortunately it was a cold winter night and she froze to death while clinging against the chimney.

Scary Mary then invited us to take pictures of the roof and, after fiddling with the settings on my camera, I got an "orb." Yeah, orbs are most likely just dust reflecting the camera flash, but it's fun to suspend your disbelief sometimes. Besides, the orb is on the chimney that she died against. Commence "ooohhs" and "aahhhs" here.

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New Orleans is filled with spooky attractions. Yesterday started with a trip to Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District with the Save Our Cemeteries tour. It was suppose to be a one hour tour, but it ended up stretching into almost two hours. The tour guide was really into his job and we loved listening to him, so we didn't mind. Besides, he liked Trent Reznor, who apparently ratted out some people who stole statues from the cemeteries. And he strongly disliked Tom Cruise, who was supposedly quite obnoxious during the filming of Interview with the Vampire. I'm not surprised by either story, actually. All in all, the guide was awesome!

The cemetery itself was quite captivating too. Really it's best to let the pictures do the talking here.

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The last picture reads:

"Died of Yellow Fever

Sercy
Born Aug 29 1878
Died Aug 30 1878

Mary Love
Born Oct 7 1876
Died Aug 30 1878

Edwin Given
Born Dec 3 1873
Died Aug 31 1878"

Yes, that's three children under five in the same family who died within a day of each other. It's really sad, but it's history. Yellow Fever was pretty brutal, especially in New Orleans.

But let's remember, along with a harsh and tragic past, New Orleans is known for being a city of celebration and vice. It's a city of contradictions, contrasting emotions, and sarcastic wit. I love this place.

We once again ended the night on Bourbon Street with a large Hand Grenade. Unfortunately the hotel maid here threw out my souvenir cup! That was really the only souvenir I got for myself so I'm kind of upset. Guess I have to go back tomorrow night and get another one. Because seriously, this was damn cool. Thankfully the drink is quite tasty so I'll enjoy having another, but it's also quite expensive and I hate wasting money.

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That same night we also saw a Mardi Gras Indian. And it isn't even Mardi Gras. Admittedly, I wouldn't have known what it was if I weren't a fan of the TV show Treme. I don't know how accurate of a representation that show is for the real Mardi Gras Indians, but if it's even close I think it's a pretty cool tradition and I'm glad to have seen one.

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Today started with breakfast in Jackson Square. What an great view to start the morning.

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It was here we started noticing a huge number of people dressed in black and gold, jerseys, and other Saints paraphernalia. When St Louis Cathedral let out after the morning service, half the crowd also showcased enthusiasm for the team. A quick Google search confirmed it was game day, so we wondered on down to the Superdome to catch a taste of the action. I've never experienced a tailgate party before so I don't know how it compares, but it certainly lived up to New Orleans' reputation as a party city. I'm not even from here, but I wanted to shout "go Saints!" to random passersby. This is even more impressive because I hate Football!

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And they won! GO SAINTS!

I love this town. I really do.

As a parting gift, have an eagle statue with a cone on its head.

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Posted by slugtrek Sunday 12 December 2010 17:41 Archived in USA Tagged churches parties night football photography new_orleans louisiana Comments (1)

Baton Rouge to New Orleans the Long Way

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On Thursday morning we woke up to a frosty surprise coating our car. It was a chilly 29F when we left our room and set out on the Great River Road. Even the locals seem surprised by the cold snap, so at least being Californians isn't an excuse for freezing our butts off this time.

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Our journey down the road began in downtown Baton Rouge, with a brief driving tour of the sights. We saw the old capitol, the new capitol, and the LSU campus among other things.

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As soon as we exited the LSU campus the scenery drastically changed. Suddenly we were in rural Louisiana. The road would be paved one minute, then gravel the next. For the most part we couldn't actually see the river. It was just to our right over the levee, but occasionally we'd see a boat go by above us, confirming that we were on the right track. But mostly we just enjoyed the scenery around us.

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We passed small country homes, farmland, ranches, mobile homes, and factories. Lots and lots of factories. Companies seem to like to use the water from the river for whatever purpose in their factories, so the banks are densely populated with smoke stacks and menacing windowless metal buildings.

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At one point we crossed the river to visit some of the old historical plantation houses. There were many to choose from, but we chose to visit Oak Alley. It's appeared in many movies, but it's probably most famous for being Louis' home in Interview with the Vampire. But the home has a vibrant history outside of its media appearances. It started off as a sugar cane plantation, passed through a couple of other owners before being restored and preserved as it is today. Now it's one of the most famous houses along the River Road.

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Along our trip we noticed huge stacks of wood lined up on the levee near the river. We were both confused at first, but I vaguely remembered it had something to do with the Christmas season. I couldn't quite remember what, but a Google search after the fact confirmed that they were for the Christmas bonfires. They are an exclusively Louisianan tradition that dates back centuries to before the levees were built. I wish we could be here on Christmas Eve to see them light up!

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We neared the Big Easy and the quiet countryside gave way to crowded suburbs. As soon as we turned down St Charles Street we knew we had arrived.

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We were both quite groggy from our road trip, but we dragged ourselves over to Bourbon Street to get a taste (figuratively and literally) of what was to come. We shared a small Hand Grenade and strolled down the street just after sundown. But we were both too tired to stay long so we headed back to our hotel just a few blocks outside of the French Quarter. We are here for six nights, so we have plenty of time to get smashed and take advantage of our hotel being within "stumbling distance" of Bourbon Street.

In the meantime, here's a picture of a Hand Grenade dancing around promoting the drink while entertaining passing children.

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Keep in mind there is a giant Cathedral just a few blocks away from all of this debauchery. You pass by some strip clubs, bars, and other naughty things only to see this staring at you from down the street:

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Today we got to see the Quarter wake up. Most stores were closed, but we got to enjoy it with only the locals who were out doing the dirty work that most tourists don't get to see. We were only up that early because we wanted to get laundry out of the way, but it turned out to be a fun experience anyway.

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Tonight we'll be headed out to take a walking tour and have some more fun on Bourbon. Tomorrow there is a Gumbo Festival in the Treme and an art fair in the Bywater that we want to check out. But who where we'll end up.

Posted by slugtrek Friday 10 December 2010 13:25 Archived in USA Tagged churches art buildings night weather photography new_orleans tourist_sites louisiana Comments (3)

Continuing along the Gulf Coast

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From Panama City we headed up the coast through Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Gulf Breeze, and Pensacola. From there we said goodbye to Florida and entered Alabama.

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We got off the highway in Mobile, but it was cold and we didn't have any particular sites in mind so we hopped back on and headed towards Mississippi. Our time in Alabama was brief, so maybe we'll have to head back there someday to experience more of it. Next up was Mississippi...

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Biloxi was the first major city we came across, so we decided to stop there for the night. We got a room at the IP Casino Resort and Spa, which apparently has the best buffet in town. When we first saw the price tag of $17 for a buffet, we thought maybe we'd skip it. However, when we realized wine and beer were included we quickly changed our tune. We stacked our plates high with crab legs, enjoyed a nice merlot, and enjoyed the most expensive buffet either of us had ever eaten at.

The view from our room was nice too. We could see the Back Bay of Biloxi and the town of D'Iberville just across the water. We could also see several other Casinos set up right on the shore.

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The next morning we headed out for breakfast in Gulf Port. We were fully aware that we were headed into the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but I was still taken back by the level of destruction that was still present five years later. I was very conflicted about taking pictures or even talking about it here on the blog. I'm not a "disaster tourist." I came to the gulf to see the gulf and experience the local culture. But the signs of destruction were just too major to ignore. Besides, five years later we hardly hear about the progress along the Mississippi gulf coast. So I decided to swallow my worries and snap a few shots. I tried to do this as respectfully as possible. Hopefully I succeeded.

Gulf Port appeared to be mostly rebuilt in the downtown area near the water. I didn't see the city before, so I can't really compare. But there were still a couple of vacant lots and a crane lifting building materials up on one of the taller buildings. We had breakfast at the Port City Cafe, where I had delicious Biscuits and Gravy. As many of you know, that's one of my favorite dishes, so I had to have it in the south at least once. Gulf Port seemed like a fine place to do so.

Afterward, we hopped back into our car and headed west on 90. For Sale signs dotted the road for miles and miles. Some lots were completely empty. Some had broken foundations. Others had severely damaged buildings boarded up and abandoned while others were in the process of being rebuilt.

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Lots that had rebuilt were beautiful. I love southern architecture, so I was thrilled to see many of the houses come back in that style. It makes me excited for the next segment of our journey down the Great River Road.

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Of course, I came here to see the gulf and it didn't disappoint. If it wasn't so cold I may have taken off my shoes and run out into the water. But I've had my fair share of swimming in freezing temperatures, so I passed and enjoyed the view from the shore.

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We veered away from the coast after Bay St Louis and headed in to Louisiana.

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It was barely noon at this point, so we decided to take a detour across Lake Pontchartrain via the Causeway. The causeway is 23.87 miles across, so when you enter it you can't really see the other side. It was a foggy morning too, so when we reached the halfway point we couldn't see the shore in any direction. We appeared to be in the middle of the ocean.

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Out of the fog came the skyline of New Orleans. But we won't actually be there until tomorrow.

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Instead, we turned west in Metairie and headed straight to Baton Rouge. Tomorrow we'll take our time following the Mississippi River down to the Big Easy. The route will be lined with plantation houses and beautiful scenery. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to this!

Posted by slugtrek Wednesday 8 December 2010 17:48 Archived in USA Tagged lakes beaches bridges buildings skylines alabama florida photography new_orleans gulf_coast mississippi louisiana Comments (1)

You Are Now Entering the Wonderful World of Manatees

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Yesterday began with a stop in Siesta Key, where the ridiculously white sand squeaks beneath your feet. The sand is apparently 99% pure quartz and I've never felt anything quite like it. This was also our first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico. The green tint of the water against the pure white fluffy sand was rather surreal considering what beaches look like back at home.

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We continued up the barrier islands towards Crystal River, which was going to be our stop for the night. When we stopped for lunch on Anna Maria Island we got our first hint of what was to come.

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We continued on our way up the gulf coast of Florida through Bradenton, St Petersberg, Clearwater, and other towns whose names I can't quite recall. We took Manatee Road through Manatee County past Manatee this and Manatee that. Then we made it to Crystal River, home of the Manatee. The Manatee theme continued at full force there.

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The next morning bright and early at 6:00am we headed off to swim with the adorable creatures with Riverventures. It was about 34F when we first headed out, but I wasn't going to back out. Manatees are my favorite animal (besides Pugs, that is) and I had only ever seen them in captivity. Besides, this was the only planned stop between Miami and Baton Rouge. We were getting in that water.

Josh and I were the only people on the tour that early in the morning, but it worked out rather well. We had a private tour with the famous Captain Glenn (formerly known as Captain Gatorman due to his previous experiences in the Everglades).

The water was a nice 72F and the steam rose off the water into the icy cold air. It was then I realized that the water was actually warmer than the air, so being in the water was actually the preferred option. Within minutes we arrived at Three Sisters, where another sparsely populated tour boat was just setting anchor. It was still a couple of minutes until 7:00am, the earliest we were allowed to enter the water, so we took the time to prepare ourselves and guzzle some last sips of hot coffee before getting in the water.

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Seven o'clock arrived and the fun began.

This was my first time snorkeling so it took a few minutes for me to get the hang of breathing through the tube. But once that obstacle was out of the way my attention was fully devoted to these beautiful animals.

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They were incredibly friendly and curious. There are all sorts of rules in place to protect them, like not following them, keeping out of their roped off sanctuary, and only touching them with one hand at a time. But these rules didn't limit our interactions with the creatures really. I'd put my hand out and they'd come right up to it.

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Sometimes I'd be floating along looking in front of me for a Manatee, only to have one come up from underneath and bump into me. They caught me by surprise quite a few times.

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We spent an hour and a half in the water before the chill in the air forced us out. Some people from the other tour group outlasted us, but we were far too cold to stay. After changing out of our wetsuits and chugging a few more cups of hot coffee, we felt mostly thawed out. Our feet remained blocks of ice for quite some time, but the pain was worth it. In fact, the cold weather probably enhanced our experience by bringing more Manatees into the warm spring.

I repeat: it was worth it!

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But our time with the Manatees had to come to an end. We returned to our motel for a hot shower and then hit the road. We knew we wanted to make it to at least Apalachicola, which was at least a four hour drive. There really wasn't much to see between the locations so, except for a quick lunch, we drove all the way through. Apalachicola was a cute small town, but there wasn't much in the way of hotels so we continued on.

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(Don't worry about the smoke in the following picture. It was apparently a controlled burn, but it looked really terrifying.)
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We made it to Panama City, where we'll be resting for the night. Of course, such an awesome day can't end without one crazy thing happening. About halfway through typing this post the fire alarm in our hotel went off and we had to run outside in nothing but pajamas and sneakers. It was another exciting addition to an already exciting day!

Tomorrow we'll continue up the gulf coast and stop in either Mobile, Alabama or Biloxi, Mississippi. That means tonight is probably our last night in Florida. This state has been quite an experience!

Posted by slugtrek Monday 6 December 2010 17:02 Archived in USA Tagged beaches animals boats florida photography gulf_coast manatees Comments (2)

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