Do not schedule two walking tours within the same day.
Especially when both tours are over 2 hours long. BUT, do schedule a walking tour when entering a new city. Especially if that city is New Orleans, Louisiana.
I first visited the Big Easy as a sophomore in high school. I played the flute in my competition marching band (shout out to the Black and Silver Brigade!) and New Orleans invited us to play at the Sugar Bowl. Florida Gators vs Georgia Bulldogs. My vague memories of the city: a 10-hour bus ride, staying on the 44th floor of the Sheraton downtown–with broken elevators, umbrellas we weren’t allowed to twirl, tons of crawfish and bread pudding, and I slept through the game after our halftime performance. Yes, you read that right.
Needless to say, when I embarked on my current domestic travel journey, I immediately thought of New Orleans. I had to come back, had to redeem my 15-year-old self sleeping through a football game in the Superdome. And attempting to climb forty-four flights of stairs with a big-ass suitcase. I think we made it up four before we realized how crazy our attempt was.
New Orleans sings with the vibrant, varied flavors of its history and strength. The mix of old and new, French, Spanish, African, and American blending into a culture that no other city in the country possesses. Not even another city in the state. So how best to explore this city? Well, instead of my usual lists, I thought I would do something a bit different…
Try Walking Tours
So earlier, I discouraged you doing multiple walking tours in one day because I did multiple walking tours in the same day. While I have nothing but singing praises for the tours (as you’ll soon hear), by the time I finished the day, sweat drenched my body, my calves screamed in languages I can’t repeat, and I just gave up on cosmetics (and they gave up on me). If you have the time, spread your walking out. Your feet, your back, and your skin in the sweltering heat will thank you profusely.
You’ll have a number of tours to choose from, but my recommendations? Two Chicks Walking Tour and Voodoo Bone Lady Ghost Tour. I cannot praise them enough, not just for having knowledgeable guides. But the guides each had personality that wowed me uniquely. I’m going to take you on a walking tour of New Orleans as I viewed her, but don’t worry, I won’t last two hours.
With Two Chicks Walking Tour, I explored the Garden District of the Crescent City. When most people think of New Orleans, the French Quarter typically comes to mind. The swirling iron and hanging green, the booming jazz and broken bottles. And Bourbon Street. Of course. Me? I always think of the Garden.
Go to NOLA after September, when the temperature begins to slowly fade into a breeze…
We start the tour on an uncomfortably humid Saturday morning, right outside of District Donuts on Magazine Street. (to read about that Haven, click here!). Magazine borders the back of the Garden with St. Charles covering the front. We have slight…slight breeze in the air, just enough to remind you hot this city truly is… But, we’re in the Garden and the scenery, quite honestly, makes up for the wet spot on your back.
I have soft spot for the Garden District. I probably shouldn’t considering the history I’m about to colorfully reveal, but I’ve always found the extravagant display of wealth a little charming. Like a kid on the first day of school wearing her brand new outfit, shoes barely worn in. Her backpack still has the tag on it and her hair is LAID to the gods. That first day isn’t about education; kids just want to show off. That’s the Garden District. A beautifully opulent show.
Bring a bottle of water…or two.
Richard, the quirky and colorfully entertaining tour guide, has the graces to keep us in the shade of looming oaks as we trek down the sidewalks of the District. You’re struck by the bright, boldness of Garden District, the overwhelming presence of white facades.
Remember, New Orleans was originally settled by the French. Only after America purchased her in 1803 do we get the now familiar look of the Garden District. So, the Garden is distinctly American. America, in the 1800s, wears her wealth as a bright sequined dress complete with five-inch platform heels and gold jewelry. She wants everyone to see her and she wants everyone to know what she’s wearing.
As you get lost in the heart of ionic and Corinthian columns, you notice that every home makes a statement. Could be color, sometimes the ornate cast iron fence that wrapped around the entire property. Typically, the statement performs in the array of giant green plants lining up and down the front yard. But most of the homes scream look at me, look at me gesturing wildly for attention while turning cartwheels on the block. They want your attention. And your praise.
I just love that…
Beware of carriage stones…
Now as we round the corner, please wipe your face and take note of the large slab of rock at the edge of the sidewalk. Ladies, this one’s just for you…
The scandal of carriage stones makes me laugh. Despite America’s in-your-face wealth, they are still essentially former Englishmen and women. The Victorian period is in her decadence in the late 1800s. Propriety above all–despite the impropriety behind closed doors (my favorite period in British history, don’t get me started). As such, well-bred women could not show their ankles if they wanted a husband. Not unless they enjoyed sexist labels tossed at their backs.
But! A conundrum.
Ladies still had to ride in carriages. How ever would they manage to get inside without flashing some poor gentleman two inches of bare skin? And thus ruin her reputation?
The solution? A carriage stone. Protecting ankles and female virtue since 1893.
That amuses me; women in 2017 walk around with their entire thigh exposed–as I did in the photo–but a hint of ankle suddenly made you immoral. Can’t imagine what that society would think of women today.
In the beginning, America displayed her wealth so prominently in the District that she wouldn’t put too many homes on the block. Each house would have an unnecessarily large yard and garden–hence the name of the district. America was “new money” and had no qualms about letting the French across the city know. Buckner Mansion embodies this IDGAF mindset quite nicely.
The mansion is the largest in the city, sitting on a fourth of a city block. Yes, you read that right, too. Buckner only built the giant in order to show off against a rival in Mississippi. I mean, the home has three ballrooms. Three. Because everybody has one, two wasn’t enough and four was too many.
Oh, and did I mention the house is haunted. Well, that’s the rumor…
As the Garden District began to build more homes within the blocks, new homes had architecture that deviated from the familiar style of the Garden.
Of all the qualities of the Garden District, this amuses me most. America buys the city from the French, subsequently turns her nose up at the Quarter, and then just says I’m going to do my own thing and you’re going to take it. Even if what she does makes absolutely no sense. And in later years, some of the homes just got silly with the combinations of designs, colors, columns, and roofs. Now? Those combinations are a signature of the Garden.
Having fun yet? Well, now let’s find the street that connects the English to the French…
Connected by Canal Street
No, your eyes do not deceive you, those are palms trees in the street. Palm trees and trolley cars. Yes, we’ve arrived at Canal.
Canal Street, to me, puts Miami in the middle of the French Quarter, Downtown, and the Garden District. The stretch literally feels like an entirely different city, even though less than twenty steps takes you to the Quarter. The street still has the Nawlins vibe, the rhythmic sounds spilling from each alley, each shop frame, the delicious smell of loosen-my-belt cuisine that has your mouth watering. The acrid blow of Bourbon Street’s iconic scent, literally slapping you in the face as you round that corner…
Canal connects the Garden to the Quarter, the only meeting place where these testy colonists would meet. Most of the time, the two sides refused to do business with one another. But Canal was neutral, like Switzerland.
And now, the Vieux Carre…
I hope you’ve rested, hope you’ve eaten because now we explore the French Quarter as the sun goes down over the horizon… For this walking tour, the Voodoo Bone Lady paved the way…
The French Quarter appeals in her mystery, the whispered secrets that linger between alleyways, the soft laughter of history tempting you inside each shop, each restaurant. She is classic New Orleans, the French beauty and strength that, instead of throwing her dollar bills at you on the floor, stands stately, simply, and waits for you to enter her riches inside.
Take another bottle of water. It’s still hot at 6pm
When I think of the Quarter, my mind shifts to dark streets and smooth jazz. I’m transported to a time when scandal walked beside you down Royal Street and your carried you secrets with you. Everyone from the courtly Creole man in his formal coat to the slave staring longingly at the night skies understood the mischief of magic in the air.
A perfect place for ghosts to roam. Even more perfect for witches to practice–a place where the people were built on the rumor of magic and believe in it so strongly, they painted and decorated their homes around it.
As we walk deeper inside the heart of the Quarter, let the drunken sounds of celebration fade and let the colors and music blend together into a time warp. Let’s go back…back into time…
Louisiana, unlike any other state in the Confederacy before Civil War, had the highest concentration of gens de colour libres, free people of color (Savannah comes in at #2). And unlike most people of color in the Confederacy (free or otherwise), Louisiana allowed her people of color to own homes, work businesses, sadly even own slaves. The Black Codes restricted what they could and couldn’t do (for example, Black women couldn’t wear their hair freely, but were required to hide it in tignons or a headscarf) but they tasted freedom that their brethren would never feel.
For those who’ve glanced at my About page, you know I have a degree in poetry. Well, for my thesis I wrote about the complex world of Fancy Maids from slavery to the contemporary world. A Fancy Maid, unlike most slaves (or free women of color), was traded, sold, and exchanged solely for her…sexual prowess, even the potential of prowess. A strong male slave could fetch a high $900 on the auction block, but a maid? Men came from far and wide and paid thousands for the promise to empty their sins inside her. She could sell for $1200 if the price was right.
A smart maid discovered her worth early on and use it to get exactly what she wanted–freedom. New Orleans has rumors of elaborate balls thrown on a warm summer night, Creole men fill the halls of the rooms, looking around for the perfect maiden to dance with. Only the women weren’t the fair-skinned French women of the Quarter, they weren’t even the wives the men strategically left at home. These were quadroon balls–exclusive to women of color.
Creole men came to pluck them, not just from the sidelines, but into his world of wealth and privilege. If the woman were lucky, he’d fall in love with more than just the history in her skin and give her more than just his seed. He’d give her property, promise, and of course, her freedom. Or her children’s freedom.
I’m brushing over this history with a romantic hue, but the reality of it wat pretty ballrooms and the promise of loosened chains. Colorism found its roots in this history and dug deep. Actions from Old World 1800s still impact us today, both positive and negative. But I am fascinated by the history in New Orleans’ roots, buried just beneath a city that already sits below sea level. In other words, a history you can still taste on the tip of your tongue.
If you like ghosts, try a haunted tour of the Quarter.
Our guide, Brian, had the loud, dramatic personality needed to sell a group of tourists on ghosts, vampires, and witches. Only Savannah, GA’s reputation dares to come close to NOLA in ghost stories.
The Haunted House of New Orleans (LaLaurie Mansion) still stands as one of the more famous homes in the city, and not just for her beautifully ornate iron and green plants. No, this homes has a curse inside its halls–no one has owned the home for more than six years before…mysterious accidents, events, and trials forced him or her to give the property up. Don’t believe me? Just ask Nicholas Cage…
Apparently, the former mistress of this home, Madame Delphine, abused and tortured her slaves here, leaving them to rot in the slaves quarters as an example to the others to know their place. One slave fell to her death while being chases by her Mistress and, according to legend, still runs around the galleries at night.
The locals grew up on tales of things that go bump in the night, spirits that haunt hallways and city blocks. They can’t bury the dead like everyone else–you think people won’t believe they wander the streets? And when you walk through the French Quarter you can almost feel that energy humming through the humidity.
Last piece of advice?
Roam down Bourbon Street, at least once.
Because this is where the party always starts. And ends. And continues well into the hours of the next day. Culture thrives here, but doesn’t shy away from the intoxication of more, the blind stupor of stumbling walks and loud music. You’ll get over the smell, I promise, but what you can’t ignore? Good food, great music, and just an overall good time. Oh, but ignore the construction on the street; the city is finally improving her sewer and drainage, a project long overdue.
I’ll admit, a bit too much for me, but I couldn’t miss on at least, getting a hint of hedonism.
Well, as we head back up to Royal Street, a quieter version of Bourbon, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time on my walking tour of New Orleans, Louisiana. I especially hope you enjoyed the warring tension between two nations that colonized a swamp and made it one of the most famous attractions in the world.
If you ever visit, don’t forget to check out Frenchmen Street, ride on the Natchez Steamboat, and check out the vibrant fun down Decatur Street!
Related post: Eating my way through New Orleans!
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