A Travellerspoint blog

New Orleans: Plantation Tour

Or What Happens When I Singlehandedly Plan a Trip!

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Let me preface this series of posts on our recent weekend getaway to New Orleans by saying that this is what happens when I am given free reign to plan a trip without the counterbalancing effect of someone who likes to, say, actually sleep while on vacation. Clay and I were meeting my parents in New Orleans and they decided that I could make the plans so that we could do whatever I wanted (and Clay wonders why I am spoiled). Combine this with the fact that Clay and I live in different cities and he was not present to veto or otherwise alter my plans and the end result is a weekend in New Orleans, Cora style, which is to say meticulously planned and packed with history with a side of some really delicious food!

Friday morning dawned bright and early, and I mean early. I mean, who in their right mind plans to meet for breakfast at 6:45 in the morning after getting into New Orleans after 11 pm the previous night after making the 6-hour drive from Houston post-work? Yeah, that would be me. Although arguably the decision to spend 6 years of my life in graduate school disqualifies me from the "right mind" category in the first place.

Anyway, the day began with what was actually a pretty decent breakfast from the bistro in the Courtyard Marriott where we stayed. As you may know, Courtyard has been reconceptualizing and redesigning their hotels, and this is the end result - a spacious lobby with lots of technology and a small bistro open for breakfast and dinner.

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After catching up with my parents over breakfast and coffee (blissful coffee!), we (and by we I mean my dad and I) excitedly waited to be picked up for our tour. Although packaged tours like The Old River Plantation Adventure are not typically the route Clay and I go, after doing some research and reading the reviews, I decided to give it a try. The first benefit - not having to navigate New Orleans traffic during rush hour! We were picked up by our driver and tour guide at our hotel. The second benefit - during the entire one-hour drive each way between the plantations and New Orleans, we got to learn about the history of New Orleans and the plantation culture in Louisiana. Okay, so maybe one-half of us thought that was a benefit and one-half of us thought that meant nap time, but guess which half I was in!

The tour is designed to accommodate multiple preferences. Our day began with a full group of about 25 people. We were all dropped off at the first plantation, Oak Alley. Following that tour, one could choose from two different plantations for a second tour. After the second tour, those who stayed for the afternoon swamp tour were taken to lunch whereas those who chose not to do the swamp tour were returned to New Orleans. It actually felt well-orchestrated and flexible for a group tour.

Our first stop, Oak Alley, was a classic southern plantation. We had some time to walk around the grounds before the formal tour of the house began.

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The tour traced the often tragic history of the home from the time it was built as an ante-bellum plantation, as it fell into disrepair and later was lovingly restored as a private home, until it became a part of the foundation that owns it today. Our tour guide was wonderful and provided a context for the dream that Oak Alley represented to the generations of individuals who have owned the plantation.

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If Oak Alley represented the classic ante-bellum home, our next stop, Laura Plantation, represented the classic Creole plantation. Although I loved the first tour, I think this was my favorite. The tour provided an entirely new perspective on what it meant to be Creole and the distinctness of the Creole culture from that of the Americans, while also delving into the unique, although no less brutal, history of slavery in Louisiana.

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Following a very full morning, those of us who were staying for the swamp tour were dropped off for lunch at a little spot in La Place. We had placed our orders in the morning so that the food would be ready when we arrived. My choice, the shrimp po boy.

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After a morning of touring plantations, I think Clay was more than ready for something more manly, like a swamp tour. Although decidedly different from the earlier activities, the swamp tour fully rounded out the day. We had already learned about New Orleans, Creole culture, and plantation life. But one distinct piece of New Orleans and Louisiana history that we were missing was Cajun culture. And our tour guide was a living example. He was as fascinating as the history of the swamp as he shared some about his life, which is so very different from my own. Plus, I got to hold an alligator!

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I will be honest, the late night and the early morning meant that I was exhausted by the time we returned to New Orleans. However, I really enjoyed the tour and am glad we (and by we, I mean I) decided to do it. It did feel a bit rushed at times, but I never felt that I did not get to see everything I wanted to. If organized group tours really are not your thing, everything we did (both plantation tours, lunch, and the swamp tour) could have been done independently through each of the individual sites. If you like a little more time and flexibility, you could drive yourself to these or other plantations or to the Cajun Pride Swamp Tours location. However, the benefit of the package was ultimately what I mentioned above - someone else was driving and provided quality narration while doing so. Plus, if you enjoyed a mint julep or two while at Oak Alley, you might need someone else to drive!

Posted by cgplatt 14:24 Archived in USA Tagged tour new_orleans Comments (0)

Local Attractions: George Ranch Historical Park

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

In yet another attempt to escape the city for a while, one afternoon I went for a drive, randomly choosing to go in whichever direction seemed most likely to result in country roads and fresh air. It was during this venture that I literally stumbled upon the George Ranch Historical Park. It was a beautiful day and my interest was piqued, so I parked my car and headed toward the visitor center.

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I happily paid my $10 to the helpful lady at the desk before setting out to explore the park. Although the 23,000 acre George Ranch is still a working ranch to this day, the historical park, located on a small portion of the ranch, traces the history of one family from the time they arrived in what was then Mexico as a part of Stephen F. Austin’s colony (the family was originally from Arkansas!) to four generations later when the last direct descendent passed away.

My tour began at the dogtrot cabin. Technically the second home built by Henry and Nancy Jones after moving to their new land, the original home had burned down. The current dogtrot cabin was an almost identical recreation based on original blueprints. There I got to meet the Jones, who described what life would have been like in those early days of ranching and of Texas. Their first home was rustic, but functional. Even on a relatively warm day, it was amazing how the design of the home took advantage of what little breeze there was.

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After seeing the dogtrot cabin, my next stop was the home of one of the Jones’s daughters – Polly Ryon. The distances between the home sites are walkable, but there is also a tram that makes regular stops.

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The family soon moved up in the world and in the 1860’s built a much nicer house, which was later occupied by their daughter, Polly, and her husband, Colonel William Ryon. Because the original house burned down, the house currently representing the Ryon home was a house built during the same time period and moved to the park. It is furnished with many objects owned by the family. With the exception of the dogtrot cabin, tours are offered at each site on the half hour, although one could easily spend additional time exploring each of the sites. Without exception, the tour guides were knowledgeable and clearly passionate about sharing this family’s history and legacy.

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My next stop was the very Victorian, and very expensive, home of the Ryon’s daughter, Susan and her banker husband, J.H.P. Davis. The home was originally located in the nearby town of Richmond where Mr. Davis conducted his business. As the park expanded, the home was moved to the site where it currently resides. It too is furnished with objects original to the home or belonging to the Davis family. It was an incredibly beautiful home, with detailed wood paneling, expensive wallpaper, and opulent carpeting. Their incredible wealth was reflected in the bamboo furniture set imported from China and the later addition of indoor plumping. The family cemetery and a blacksmith shop were located nearby.

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In addition to the house tours, George Ranch also offers interactive demonstrations throughout the day and there are other sites, such as the blacksmith shop and a sharecropper farm that add additional depth to the history of the park. Before my final house tour, I watched the cattle ranching demonstration. Cowboys showed what it was like to work cattle on the ranch in the 1930’s and 40’s. It was an interesting demonstration and the children who were present clearly had a fun time. In addition to these daily demonstrations, the park offers other special programs such as historical meals.

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My final house tour was at the home of Mamie, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Davis, and A.P. George. Built in 1900, this house was the first in the family to be built with indoor bathrooms and was later updated in the 1920’s and 30’s. The house is on the site where all of the family’s homes (with the exception of the Davis home) were originally located, although they are spread throughout the park today. The oak tree was planted by Nancy when she and her husband first moved to the land in 1824 and still stands today.

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The Davis’s only surviving child, Mamie, and her husband only had one child and he unfortunately died at a young age. Knowing there would be no one to pass their land and money onto, the couple created the George Foundation to preserve their legacy. The park is but one component of the foundation.

I spent about 3 ½ hours at the park, but could have easily spent more. I would recommend not going in the middle of summer because most of the sites have no air conditioning. Also, I really enjoyed being there on an uncrowded day. The park has a quite large parking lot, so I imagine it does get crowded at times. This is definitely something I would recommend to anyone with kids or anyone who enjoys history. Within an easy driving distance from Houston, the George Ranch Historical Park was certainly a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

Posted by cgplatt 09:55 Archived in USA Tagged texas Comments (0)

Another Packing Post

This time about carry-ons

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Unlike my previous posts essays on packing, this post is not about packing for a specific place. Of course, I was going to a specific place, but the information provided below is relatively generalizable. In this case, the specific place I was packing for was Midland, Texas where I would be meeting Clay for his 10-year high school reunion. I knew that from Houston the small regional airplane I would be on would not have overhead space for a rollerboard (plus I am short and have trouble getting anything into an overhead bin in the first place), so I wanted to pack in something smaller that would not have to be gate checked. Enter the Columbia bag:

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So, how could I fit a long weekend's worth of clothes into this? First, I knew I would have to make intentional clothing choices. Ultimately, what saved the most space with my clothes was wearing each pair of pants twice and only packing one pair of shoes (I wore a second pair onto the plane). I ended up packing:

  • Black pants (worn on plane)
  • Gray and coral shirt (worn on plane)
  • Black cardigan (worn on plane)
  • Gray and black striped shirt
  • Jeans
  • Purple shirt
  • Brown sleeveless shirt
  • Coral cardigan
  • Black shoes (worn on plane)
  • White shoes
  • Related accessories
  • PJs, etc.

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The white pair of shoes went on the bottom and everything else, once rolled, easily fit in on top of that.

To ensure my cosmetics would fit, I had found most things I needed in travel size and of course packed all my liquids in a separate quart-sized baggie to pull out at airport security.

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Once I squeezed in my flat iron and hairbrush, everything just fit into the bag.

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Packing this way was the perfect solution for my weekend away. Plus, I got to feel quite impressed with my packing skills each time someone asked me, "Where is your bag?" as I carried it on my shoulder! Little did I know that I could have really used a raincoat...

Posted by cgplatt 18:22 Tagged packing Comments (0)

Local Attractions: Houston Arboretum

As Told in Cell Phone Pictures

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

We have a few upcoming trips planned. I love that I can type that sentence!! I am happy when one vacation is in the works, much less three! First we will be heading to Midland, TX for Clay’s 10-year reunion. Our next trip will be to New Orleans, where we will meet-up with my parents. The last one is a mystery – Clay is planning a surprise anniversary trip (7 years!!) and refuses to reveal the location. In the meantime, I do not have much to write about other than what I have been up to in and around Houston.

Now that Houston is, at least temporarily, my home, my local attractions posts have officially expanded! Those who know me well know that with extended exposure to cityness, I begin to feel suffocated and unhappy. I am never fully at home in a place where the trees are carefully arranged around houses and the buildings block out the sun. I need a bit of nature now and then to really feel like myself (and I am not talking about roach encounters – those I can do without). Thankfully, Houston delivered. I recently discovered the Houston Arboretum.

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Miles of trails located on over 150 acres carefully wind through the natural habitat of Houston.

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Even on the beautiful and pleasantly temperate Saturday morning I was there, the arboretum was uncrowded. According to their website, the arboretum offers interpretive programs and other activities throughout the year. For me, though, it was enough to momentarily get away from the city. The arboretum is located right next to a major road, so the noise of the notorious Houston traffic was never completely absent. However, the wind through the trees, the rustle of animals in the meadow, and the sound of birds singing in the trees made it really, really easy to ignore. I will definitely be going back!

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Posted by cgplatt 18:08 Archived in USA Tagged parks houston Comments (0)

What We Bring Home

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

I think everyone tries to find a way to commemorate the places they have been. For us, like for many others, the opportunity to travel is limited to a few days a year. So not only do we strive to make the most of our vacation moments, we do what we can to hold on to those moments once we return – to momentarily take us away from our daily lives and back to that amazing evening watching the sunset on the beach or the perfect winter weekend spent bundled up against the snow. Clay and I collect special items from the places we go to decorate (and perhaps one day furnish) our home, especially our living room. There is really no pattern to what we decide to buy, but it has to be something we both love and often it is something that has a story behind it. These are a few of the things we have brought home from the various places we have been, some collected before we had even met.

We started this practice on our honeymoon with the purchase of a mirror. Made by an Irish artist, we had seen a similar one for sale early in our trip, but had passed it up because we were concerned about the price. We later regretted that decision, so when we came across this mirror, on sale, we did not even hesitate to grab it up.

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Soon, the mirror was hanging on the wall of our first very (very) small apartment. As we settled in after our honeymoon, we realized we had already collected items from all over the world.

We had paintings from Haiti and Australia...

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... a handmade figurine from Alaska...

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...and the perfect place to hang our keys from my first trip to Ireland.

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Clay had given me a set of gorgeous sake glasses from South Korea when we were dating.

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Over the years of our marriage, we have added even more items to our home from the places we have been.

Mexico

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Washington, D.C.

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Alaska

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Taos

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Hawaii

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And most recently, the San Juan Islands

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Even our families have contributed. For instance, my brother had a papyrus custom painted for us when he was in Egypt.

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Each item represents something about the places we have been. Although some may argue that experiences should be prioritized over things, finding something to bring home from the places we have been helps us to remember the oh-so-amazing times we had, even in the midst of our often hectic lives. I may not be in Hawaii right now, but I can look at the painting we bought (well, hypothetically - the painting is in Dallas and I am not) and briefly be transported to a perfect evening watching the sunset over Bali Hai as I rest my head on Clay's shoulder, hypnotized by the gently crashing waves and thankful for the opportunity to experience such overwhelming beauty.

Posted by cgplatt 17:56 Tagged souvenirs Comments (0)

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