I’ve always been fascinated by the South and often imagined what life must have been like in the 19th century. Stories of cruel and kind plantation owners, the struggle of slaves, the southern drawl and the famous southern hospitality contribute to its rich history. If you haven’t already read part 1 of my New Orleans trip be sure to check out my post on the French Quarter first. There are information booths strewn across the Quarter which have day trips going out to the plantations and they often club a plantation with a swamp tour so that’s what I did.
There are a lot of plantations in Louisiana and two of the famous ones are Oak Alley and Laura. Laura is a sugar plantation and it supposed to be very beautiful architecturally but the two times I visited New Orleans I went to Oak Alley. It.Is.Beautiful. Enchanting. I cannot describe how magnificent the grounds look when you catch your first glimpse of the plantation. Oak Alley is located on the Mississippi River in a community called Vacherie. There are double rows of live oak trees fourteen on each side forming a beautiful canopy which leads all the way up to the house (more like mansion!) which sits majestically in the center of the plantation. It is totally like a scene out of Gone with the Wind.
The interiors of the house are exceptionally well preserved. The sparkling chandeliers and the gleaming hardwood floors along with decorations of that period echo the romance of a long forgotten era filled with debutante balls, dance cards and long flowing skirts. I almost half expected to see Scarlet O’Hara greet us from the top of the stairs!
During the tour, our guide gave us an insight into some of the traditions and customs of the southerners of that time and especially that of the family that lived at the plantation. They had what was called “courting candles”. When prospective husbands came to visit, the father would turn the candle to a certain height- tall if he approved and short if he didn’t and the suitor would have to leave once the candle burned down to the first rung of the candle holder.
Another really interesting custom was that a pineapple was and probably still is considered as a sign of welcome in the south. The fruit symbolizes hospitality and at Oak Alley guests received a pineapple on their tray in their room. After a few days if they received a second pineapple, it was the hosts’ not so subtle way of letting their guests know that they had overstayed their welcome! Talk about your mixed signals! I had no idea fruit could convey so much. But then on the other hand so does a horse’s head.
The view from the balcony is spectacular with all the oak trees forming a long passage way. I could look at this all day!
Fun fact for all you movie lovers -the plantation was used as a location for Django Unchained and one of my favorite thrillers Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte.
Although the grounds and the interiors of the house give you a glimpse into the rich lifestyle the plantation owners had, it is only when you go outside and see how the slaves lived, you feel your heart is being ripped out. Oak Alley has all the artifacts (tools, meagre utensils, handcuffs, neck braces and other torture tools) used by the slaves on display. The exhibit has the names of all the slaves that lived on the plantation through generations as well some of their stories which will bring tears to your eyes.
Oak Alley wonderfully depicts what life must have been like at the plantation for the owners but also brings to light the horrors of slavery. If you’re visiting Louisiana, I would definitely recommend a trip to Oak Alley.
I took the Cajun Swap Tour twice, once with my mom this past summer and one with my friend last Dec. I was very glad I went twice because in winter the alligators don’t feed while in July they are ready to gobble up anything you throw their way! The swamp tour captains were very knowledgeable and regaled us with anecdotes of their gator escapades, witch hunts and ghost stories that has plagued the bayou for generations and even caught the interest of the Discovery channel. We went deep into the swamp on a boat and the captain handed out live turtles and shells to pass around.
He also brought on board a non- venomous albino snake which did not have any fangs and we were reassured that it was one of the most friendliest snakes he’s ever encountered. It wasn’t very big but it had a really tight grip around your hands and arms. I am quite terrified of snakes so I gave it a miss but my mom was really brave and held it for a few seconds before passing it on. We also got to hold a baby alligator whose mouth was tied up. She squirmed a bit what with everyone holding her and taking pics.I’m sure she was quite uncomfortable.
When I went in July, the gators were still feeding so the captain took out chunks of meat and threw it at them. He knew most of them by sight and even had nicknames for them. One, I remember he called “Leftie” (no well formed left leg) was his favorite. As soon as our boat approached, all the gators would swim closer and start jumping up to catch the meat that was thrown at them. It was really cool to see the way the captain interacted with the gators. It was obvious that he loved being around them and treated them with respect but I was astonished to find that the gators not only recognized the sound of his voice but they were also playing with him! Pretending to ignore him, then circle back and grab at the meat dangling in front of them. It was really fun to watch. All the while, the captain kept us entertained by giving a lot of tidbits about the habits of gators, other animals in the swamp and welcomed questions. One question someone asked that really stood out for its stupidity was ” If i put my hand in the snake’s mouth, will it bite?”. I think most of us laughed. Our captain without missing a beat replied “Anything with a mouth will bite, so I wouldn’t try it”. Basically, use common sense! So the saying “there is no such thing as a dumb or stupid question” doesn’t apply here!
For anyone visiting New Orleans, I would definitely recommend doing a plantation and a swamp tour.It is only about an hour or so outside of the Quarter and a wonderful way to spend the day!
Stay tuned for part 3 of my Garden District Tour where I visited million dollar houses aka celebrity homes, the historic and beautiful Lafayette Cemetery and the really fabulous Commander’s Palace restaurant.