A Quick Tour of Southern Louisiana
This was an eventful weekend in Louisiana. One that I will certainly remember for some time now. The weekend actually started on Thursday for me. There was a party and celebration that turned out to be a birthday celebration for me. We shared food and spirits, and danced the night away to a variety of rhythms. After dancing, we turned to some karaoke to finish off the night. My voice is incredible you should hear it :). Just kidding, I’m terrible.
The adventure continued on Friday afternoon when I picked up some friends and left for New Orleans. Three of them had never been, so I was excited to show them the City. I had a few pit stops in mind though along the way. One was the Tiger Truck stop. There is a gas station between Lafayette and Baton Rouge on Interstate-10 that actually has a live Bengal Tiger in a cage. This has been a controversial issue as some believe the cage is inhumane, but the gas station insists that the cage is up to industry standards. We briefly looked at the tiger and the cage, then we continued on to Baton Rouge.
In Baton Rouge, we stopped to see yet another tiger. The lifestyle and significance of which is much more widely known. Mike the tiger, which is LSU’s mascot, lives in a environment-palace next to Tiger Stadium. He is visited by thousands of people year round as his cage is on the university grounds where people walk everyday. It is also a favorite meeting spot for many people on a football game day. Mike was sleeping today behind some bushes, so we just caught his tail-end. Once I had shown them the cage we went down the street to get some Persian food before continuing on to New Orleans.
We got to New Orleans at about 19:00, which gave us plenty of time to explore the city. Before heading to where I wanted to park, we passed by the famous New Orleans cemeteries. New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana are famous for their elaborate and above ground cemeteries. They are above ground because the water table in New Orleans is abnormally high because New Orleans is technically below sea level. Therefore, if you bury coffins in the ground they will inevitably float up out of the ground at some point. The tombs are often uniquely decorated and constructed in a manner that represents the person found in the location. They were mostly constructed by the affluent so they are above and beyond what most tombs look like.
After making it to the downtown area, we parked in the French Quarter and then began our night. Normally, I would want to show visitors other areas of New Orleans, but the French Quarter is still the most famous even though it has become overly touristy. Nonetheless, if you know where to look, then you can still enjoy the historical sentiment that emanates from the core of the City. New Orleans has a lot to offer outside of the French Quarter area, but if you only have a day to visit or show people, then I’d say that is where you can get the best ‘bang for your buck’. It is centrally located and connected to many things.
I first walked them over to where the Mississippi river runs through the city. On one side is New Orleans, the other is Algiers. There is a walkway along side the river that runs in front of the Aquarium of the Americas. There are also steam boats, such as the Natchez, that operate from that walkway. The two sides of the river are separated by a bridge, but this part of the river is important in that it is where New Orleans gets its nickname from. The area of the Mississippi river that runs through New Orleans is curved and makes a soft C-shape. For this reason, people call New Orleans the Crescent City. You’ll see this represented in many things, even the police have a crescent on their badge.
Once we left the river area, we walked into the actual French Quarter, stopping first at Jackson Square. Jackson Square is a very central location and it is a place where you can really see the historical connection between the Spanish and the City of New Orleans. Jackson Square is set up like a typical colonial Spanish city. It has a Cathedral (St. Louis Cathedral), cabildo, and a small park. New Orleans also has a central business district in the downtown area. This connection to Spain is something that is often forgotten mainly because it is after all, named the French Quarter. An overly simplified explanation is that it was first French, then it burnt. The Spanish took over the city, rebuilt it, then ultimately turned it over to the French again. So basically, architecture is Spanish, names are French.
Jackson Square is also unique because that is where you can find many of the horse carriages, as well as tarot card readers, street performers, and much more. It is a very open area with lots of things going on. Between the church and the cabildo lies Pirate’s Alley, which is famous for the swashbuckling pirates who in their heyday traded illegal goods when they came into the port of Orleans. We stayed in that area for a few minutes doing some people watching, then took Pirate’s Alley heading towards Bourbon Street.
Bourbon Street is by far the most famous street in New Orleans. In fact, it is probably one of the most famous in the world. However, aspects of it have really become over run with tourism and filth. The street is home to many bars, music joints, and the occasional strip club, and it sees the feet of several million people a year. Bourbon street really doesn’t capture the spirit of New Orleans too much in my opinion. In fact, I really would not recommend people staying longer to visit it, but as I said earlier, with limited time, you have to show the basics. Bourbon street was full of its typical mixture of drunken party-goers, observers, and yes even religious preachers trying to make sure that you do not meet your ever impending meeting with hell. New Orleans is always an eclectic gathering of folks, which is why I think people are drawn to it time and time again. New Orleans is additionally one of the more ‘European’ American cities. Even as one of my friends said, much of it reminded her of Spain.
Although we were on a strict time scale, I wanted to try to show them a closer look at local culture. I did this by taking them to Frenchman street. Frenchmen street is basically a Bourbon Street without all the tourists. It is where locals go to play. Frenchmen is a short walk from the French Quarter, but easy to miss if you do not know where you are going. We arrived and made a short walk down the street passing through the art market. The art market was interesting they had around 15-20 tables set up with a variety of art styles and types of goods. As we finished up the market we made our way to the famous Café Du Monde for a round of beignets before hitting the road. Beignets, if you don’t know, are square pieces of fried dough covered in powdered sugar. They are a Louisiana favorite and have been made famous by restaurants like Café Du Monde, which is a staple in New Orleans.
Saturday morning we woke up early after a good nights sleep. Today we were to head to Louisiana State University to catch the football game between them and Auburn. Before heading to the game though, we decided to stop at Abita Brewing Company for a tour. I had only been to the restaurant and pub in Abita before, but never had I actually taken the tour at the brewery. Abita is a small town near to Covington Louisiana. It is famous for its water spring which has given the town its name of Abita Springs. Abita Springs is renown for the Abita Brewery that now ships beer around the United States. They have a good variety and selection, likely something any beer enthusiast would enjoy.
Arriving at Abita Brewing Company was great. I was greeted with a smile and hand a plastic Abita cup and told, “just don’t forget to push the lever back on the tap.” Basically you get the opportunity to taste as many of the beers that they have available as you want while you are waiting for the tour. The tour starts with two interesting videos. One giving a brief history of the town and the brewery, and the other an overview of the approach that Abita Brewery takes to making its products. I learned that they are a very green facility and do a lot to use recycled products and to recycle the excess products that they have. Some of their bottles and packaging use much fewer materials than the average for industry standards. Next up, one of the employees takes you into the brewing house and teaches you the process of brewing beer, the Abita way. The tour finishes back in the main room where people can relax in one of the many chairs or do a little shopping at the souvenir store. Soon after the tour we got on the road again heading for Baton Rouge again.
On the way to Baton Rouge, one of my friends asked me about the significance of the Tiger being the mascot for LSU. It took me few minutes to remember the details, but I then told them a little about it. Basically the “fighting tigers”, originally Tiger Rifles, was the name of an independent military unit in the New Orleans area. They became quite famous during the Civil War and their fame spread so much that they were widely known in the south for their devotion to the fight. The name stuck and was adopted as the university mascot in the late 19th Century to honor the group and their efforts.
We arrived in Baton Rouge nearly an hour later stopping only to get some Indian buffet that was much desired by the group. The football game wasn’t until the evening so I had a few hours to show them around the campus of LSU. LSU is a fun place to watch a football game. The fans are usually into the game and the crowds are usually quite large in number. It can be a fun place to spend a Saturday if you have never been.
So that is it for my weekend, it was a good time spent and a memorable one. It is always nice to travel in good company. Sorry for the randomness of thoughts, that is just how it went down.
*Special thanks to SJ for several great pictures of the trip.