Bella Vida by Letty

Things to do in NOLA

Road Trip to Louisiana’s Romantic Antebellum Past on River Road

Plantation on River Road Louisiana

You have not visited Louisiana until you’ve driven down River Road to experience Louisiana’s romanticized antebellum past.  It’s where rich elite Europeans settled, building incredible mansions guarded by giant live oak trees draped in moss surrounded by acres of fields.  Every need and desire easily fulfilled.  Any request brought to the Mississippi banks.  Steamboats arrived often with lavish furnishings, materials and visitors.  I imagined Louisiana’s countryside today would be similar to Bon Temps, the fictionalized town where HBO’s True Blood series takes place.  As a matter of fact I told my sister I would be visiting Bill Compton’s McMansion this particular Sunday morning and as a good sister she told me to be careful.  It was everything I imagined and more.

Plantation on River Road Louisiana

During my trip to New Orleans I heard many tales of extravagantly rich families owning plantations and acres upon acres of land and industry in the countryside and the extreme poverty of its slaves and laborers.  These tales peeked my curiosity so I hit up Louisiana’s back roads to do some exploring to experience it for myself.

It was much closer than I thought it would be.  After only twenty minutes I was already approaching the massive cable stayed bridge allowing me to cross the Mississippi River.  Leaving behind the highway and it’s view of a swampy area where I could see the tops of tall trees covered in moss standing in sappy brown waters.  Hale Boggs Bridge is quite an impressive feat of engineering due to its gargantuous size.  I think everything in Louisiana is done with the intention of being bigger and better.  There was a soft drizzle as I reached the Mississippi’s West bank.  Large ships, barges and cargo carriers floated by with all the patience in the world leaving behind small ripples that would crash into the shore.  The contrast of industry and bright green vegetation once you reach the other side is beautiful.

Plantation on River Road Louisiana

 

At the stop light there was a lovely perfectly manicured small town to my right, looking up large brown metal and steel cables of the super structured bridge and then I made a left turn onto River Road.  The first thing I saw was new money, a community of large brick mansions with long winding gated driveways.  Continuing past a very ugly industrious zone I got an unexpected surprise, miles and miles of nothing but sugar cane.  The seemingly endless fields of sugar cane reminded me of my summer visits as a young girl to Puerto Rico.  I would have to pass miles and miles of sugar cane fields on small back roads to get to my grandparents home.

Sblue shack

The view is green for miles on a road that twists and curves along the river.  Unfortunately you cannot see the waters of the Mississippi River because the banks have been built up high in order to prevent local flooding.  Sprinkled in between farm lands were the old plantations I had heard about.  Some were grand in beautifully maintained condition while others in disrepair or completely abandoned.  It is very expensive to maintain large old historical homes which in addition often have several more structures on the property.  Small rural communities would appear after miles of fields.  Some more modern than others but most look quite poor.

shack off river road in Louisiana

There is nowhere to stop on winding River Road unless you are visiting a plantation.  I was warned not to pull over on this back road because its heavily used by big freight trucks and visibility is poor due to its many curves.  I recommend a visit to one of the many plantations.  I visited Oak Alley Plantation which was so nice it will be featured in its own post.

River Road is a great way to see Louisiana’s past reflected in its present just a beautiful short drive away from New Orleans.  I turned around after about an hour but River Road continues winding right alongside the Mississippi

River Road Louisiana

Travel Tips

Bring plenty of water and snacks.  There are no restaurants or shops including gas stations so gas up beforehand.

Visit a plantation to learn the incredible history of the area.

Don’t stop off River Road.  There is one spot I found where there is designated roadside parking just past Oak Alley Plantation.  You will be able to see a tiny part of the Mississippi River there.

mansion old river road louisiana

Have you driven down River Road?

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“Time is like the Mississippi River. It only flows in one direction. You can never go back.”   Suzanne Woods Fisher

Do I change like a river, widening and deepening, eddying back on myself sometimes, bursting my banks sometimes when there’s too much water, too much life in me, and sometimes dried up from lack of rain? Aidan Chambers

The Tigris, the Euphrates, the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Yangtze. The world’s great rivers. And every one of them finds its way to the ocean.”  Alison McGhee

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Where to Stay in the Garden District of New Orleans: The Hubbard Mansion Bed & Breakfast

Hubbard Mansion Collage Garden District New Orleans

On my first trip to New Orleans, I chose wisely and stayed in the gorgeous Garden District.  Wealthy families set up genteel households beginning in the early 1800’s in this now historic area.  This picturesque neighborhood features mansion lined streets protected and kept cool by giant leafy live oaks where you’ll find beads hanging from their branches leftover from previous celebrations.  Row after row of architectural beauties in altering styles of Greek revival or Victorian elegance.  Some are very old, some are renovated while others are completely new, each one special in their own unique way.  The Garden District is a feast for the senses. You’ll find a new delight on every block whether it be an interesting architectural detail or the fragrance emanating from a colorful well manicured garden.

The drive up to New Orleans from Florida took longer than planned.  Even at night, the Hubbard Mansion bed and breakfast was very easy to find since it’s located on one of the Garden Districts main streets, St. Charles Avenue.  Arriving late in the evening just beyond the wrought iron gates we were welcomed by the soft glow of vintage lamps reflecting off extravagantly large columns of this Greek revival mansion.  The familiar southern song of cicadas rose and fell as we made our way up to the spacious front porch furnished with white wicker rattan tables and chairs.  The perfect place to sip a cool sweet drink, take in the breeze and watch the streetcars go by.

Exhausted from the heat and the long drive I was looking forward to some southern comfort.  Entering through the white double doors was like taking a trip back in time.  Every piece of antique furniture and accessory hand selected to make you feel like you are living in a different time period.  The best part is not having to give up modern amenities because the soothing coolness of the air conditioning was exactly what I needed.  From the chandeliers to the brightly colored area rug, it’s an accurate representation of the elegant lifestyle of well to do New Orleans households of the past.

This grand mansion features five majestic suites for guests.  I felt like royalty staying in the high ceilinged Henry II suite furnished with period pieces, a marble top dresser and gorgeous triple bevel mirrored armoire.  It was the attention to detail like the rose shaped pillow on the Victorian chair that made me feel as though I was visiting a friend’s home.  I had a restful night’s sleep in a luxurious period king sized bed after freshening up in the extra large Jacuzzi tub.

The next morning I was able to catch up on some writing sitting at a wonderful Victorian desk cleverly positioned to receive the best lighting in front of the seven foot window overlooking St. Charles Avenue.  It was very peaceful.  The birds sang, joggers and streetcars passed me by as I typed away.  The bed and breakfast provides wifi allowing me to catch up with my email which can quickly get out of control if I don’t.  Very convenient if you have to work during your travels.

During the day I enjoyed the many details of Hubbard Mansion and found myself making up stories as to what it would have been like to visit during the 1800’s.  This Greek Revival is a newly built replica of a Natchez Mississippi Mansion and is kept in pristine condition.  Every room is filled with curious Victorian antiques, an old radio, a lovely tea set, large fancy  dining room and so on.  There were several hand carved Victorian settee sofas where one could read, gather or daydream.

One of the famous New Orleans streetcar stops is literally across the street.  Taking advantage of the off street parking the bed and breakfast offers allowed me to explore the rest of New Orleans at my leisure.  It was a real convenience.  I recommend taking the streetcar and also walking to get a close up look of the beautiful neighborhood.  There are restaurants a block away in either direction and the grocery store and gas station are just one streetcar stop away if you need supplies.

After my days of exploring in the heat, hustle and bustle of New Orleans the bed and breakfast provided clean comfortable sanctuary where I could recharge for the next adventure.  It’s the reason I wanted to stay in the Garden District.

Hubbard Mansion Postcard NOLA

Have you been to the Garden District?  If you’re looking for a clean, comfortable elegant place to stay during your visit I recommend the Hubbard Mansion bed and breakfast.  When you go be sure to tell your hosts, Don and Shelia Hubbard I said hello.

 

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Exploring the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana

French Quarter Royal Street New Orleans Collage

When visiting New Orleans a trip to the French Quarter is an absolute must.  Stretching from the Mississippi River toward Esplande Avenue and Canal Street up to Rampart Street, the neighborhood is a feast for the eyes and bursting with things to do.  Precisely because there is so much to do and so many interesting facts to learn I recommend taking a tour from one of the locals.  Tours are numerous and are designed to entertain just about every taste.  I did the cemetery Voodoo tour of which a portion of the proceeds goes back into the community to assist in preservation efforts.  That tour was so fun I have to write up a separate post to tell you all about it.

French Quarter Streets Collage NOLA

Leaving our bed and breakfast in the Garden District we took a short ride down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street in one of the city’s famous streetcars.  For a three dollar day pass you can hop on and off as much as you like.  They are a reliable source of transportation scheduled nine minutes apart.   It was a short walk to Cafe Beignet on Royal Street where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of Cajun hash browns and coffee.   I love to eat and everyone I spoke with told me there was no bad food in NOLA.  They were not lying.  The people of New Orleans are super friendly and treated us well.  After breakfast we window shopped along the antique shop lined street and took in the architecture.

French Quarter architecture Collage NOLA

Founded in 1718 the French Quarter is New Orleans oldest neighborhood.   It was French Canadian, Sieur de Bienville, who came upon this crescent of the Mississippi River deemed safe from tidal surges and hurricanes.  Under his governorship New Orleans, which he named in honor of the Prince Regent of France, became the capital of French Louisiana and this its center.  Today the district is a National Historical Landmark containing numerous historical buildings.  Most of the surviving French Quarter architecture was built during the forty year of Spanish rule which we can see today expressed in colorful pastel walls and elaborately decorated ironwork balconies.  They stand today in part because the Spanish had stricter building codes and eliminated flammable materials like wood.

Jackson Square French Quarter New Orleans  Collage

Our trip coincided with the Red Dress Run, the biggest little red dress event in the world so everywhere we looked there were men and women in sexy red dresses.  The event is held the second Saturday of every August and is sponsored by the New Orleans Hash House Harriers, a social club of self proclaimed drinkers with running problems.  They spilled out of beautiful Louis Armstrong park and onto the streets of the French Quarter in a festive mood.  There was music and drinking going just as you would expect to happen after midnight at ten in the morning.  I must admit, their energy along with the very friendly people of NOLA had me in a such a great mood, the sweltering August heat had no chance of ruining my day.

After our Voodoo Cemetery tour we headed to Riverwalk in search of something cold to drink.  We ended up having a late lunch of scrumptious jambalaya partnered with a cold fruity drink called a Cherry Blossom at River’s Edge.  Following lunch we strolled past local artists displaying their latest works of art along the beautifully manicured landscaping of Jackson Square.  The main attraction is sculptor Clark Mills’s grand statue of Battle of New Orleans hero and U.S. President, Andrew Jackson.  The square is surrounded by historical landmarks like the old St. Louis Cathedral, the Louisiana State museum and the oldest apartment buildings in the United States.

corner french quarter

We then headed back to our quiet, clean and comfortable room in an elegant Greek Revival mansion for a long nap so we could party all night long on infamous Bourbon Street.  Do not miss visiting Bourbon Street, no matter how crowded and obnoxious, it was entertaining to say the least.  I couldn’t think of a better place for my first taste of absinthe than at the Old Absinthe House Bar.  Absinthe reminds me of the anise flavored Columbian drink, aguardiente.  I sipped it slowly so I was all good.  This bar is almost 200 years old and looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in at least 100 and the bathroom at least 300.  I guess the interesting characters that came in and out that night kind of made up for it.  People of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities having a great time together.

You know how I really like to dig in and explore the city.  I had to go back to the French Quarter one more time to visit more than the tourist scene on Bourbon Street.  I had to experience the local jazz music scene for myself.  On my last night we had a blast bar hopping on Frenchman Street.  None of the places had cover charges.  In between stops we ran into an open air art market to inspire my creative side. Every place I visited that night had live music and every single band was great.  Non stop dancing hula hoop girl can attest to that.  We hit up The Spotted Cat, Club Negril and Maison to name a few.  The atmosphere was festive and lots of people were dancing.

horse tie french quarter

I have wonderful memories of the French Quarter and I’m sure I’ll go back one day.

Have you been to the French Quarter?  What are your recommendations?

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“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”   Mark Twain

“I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.”  Langston Hughes

“In the spring of 1988, I returned to New Orleans, and as soon as I smelled the air, I knew I was home. 
It was rich, almost sweet, like the scent of jasmine and roses around our old courtyard. 
I walked the streets, savoring that long lost perfume.”   Anne Rice

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