Misty was scheduled to spend December at Turner Marine in Mobile, Alabama to have some work done, and we had some catching up to do and errands to run before we headed to Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans on December 6th. We’re off for some Antebellum exploring and N’Awlins fun before heading to Vermont for the holidays on December 12. We got to Mobile early to escape the cool weather on the rivers, and were thrilled to be at Turner for their Thanksgiving celebration the day before the holiday.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with fellow Loopers at Turner Marine.
In between chores, we took some time to explore Mobile. Unfortunately, the city is quite depressed, but there are a few blocks downtown near the convention center that are work checking out. First up was the Carnival Museum. Mobile was the the first capital of French Louisiana, and began celebrating Mardi Gras, their annual Carnival celebration, in 1703. It’s the oldest annual Carnival celebration in the United States. Yes, older than the celebration in New Orleans!
Amazing Mardi Gras costumes and floats, Mobile’s Carnival Museum
Mardi Gras Park sits on the site of the old Mobile courthouse at the corner of Royal and Government Streets. There’s a collection of brightly colored statues representing different aspects of Mobile’s Mardi Gras traditions: kings, queens, jesters and musicians that line the circumference of the park.
Mardi Gras Park, Mobile
There are still some beautiful old homes in downtown Mobile, but many are on busy streets, or next to a commercial property. Some, but not all, are well kept.
Beautiful homes, downtown Mobile
Wandering around downtown Mobile
During the week we were aboard Misty at Turner Marine, we watched the shrimp boats come and go daily. While they told us the season was winding down, and their catches were smaller, it still looked like he had a pretty good day on the water!
Shrimp fisherman and his catch, Turner Marine
While we were not crazy about this marina (or should I say boatyard?) itself, but the staff were friendly and we had some amazing sunsets, great neighbors and beautiful night skies.
Various night skies from Misty’s aft deck
While looking into airfares to Burlington for Christmas, we discovered that a flight out of New Orleans was a bit less expensive and had fewer connections than airports in Florida and Alabama. New Orleans and Natchez were pretty close by: Natchez is a 3.5 hour car ride, New Orleans a 2 hour ride. Sooo…we decided to fly home to the boys via New Orleans, and spend some extra time in the area, as Nancy had never been. But first up is Natchez, where there are several Antebellum homes to visit. We were starving when we arrived, and decided to grab lunch before heading to our Inn. Lunch in town at Cotton Alley Cafe was delicious! Everywhere we went was dressed up for Christmas…it was great!
Cotton Alley Cafe, with a bouquet of cotton on the table! Yes, we’re in the south!
Downtown Natchez is charming, but small. There are several Antebellum mansions in the area that are open to the public for tours, and we had plans to explore a few. Before we headed to our Inn, we drove down to the water, and walked around a neighborhood with beautiful, historic homes, including Rosalie, which is also open for tours.
The Mississippi shore, Natchez, and historic homes in town, including Rosalie
The mansion tours are on a set schedule, and some require a reservation. We had a 2 pm tour of Longwood, but drove up to another plantation home, Melrose, and toured the grounds with the limited time before we headed over for our tour.
Melrose Mansion, slave quarters and stables
The Longwood House Museum is a unique example of Antebellum architecture, being an octagonal structure. It is also an unfinished mansion, as construction was halted in 1861 due to the onset of the civil war. The Nutt family, who built the home, lived on the finished ground level until Julia Nutt’s death in 1897. Two further generations lived in the house, but there was never an attempt to complete construction. When the family donated to the house to the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 1970, it was agreed that the home would remain unfinished for authenticity. It’s fascinating, as in some of the unfinished parts of the home, there are still construction tools and materials, as if the crew would return at any moment. Outside of tours, the property is used as a party venue, and lights can be seen inside that are there for ambiance when rented.
Longwood House Museum
We stayed at the lovely Monmouth Historic Inn & Gardens, another home that can also toured.
The beautiful grounds Monmouth Inn and Gardens
Our beautiful suite at the Monmouth Inn
Inside the beautiful Monmouth Inn
The Monmouth Inn is also home to the only operating restaurant in an Antebellum home, Restaurant 1818. After touring the beautiful and fascinating Longwood we spent a leisurely afternoon wandering the grounds of the Inn. Before an amazing dinner, we enjoyed mint juleps in the Mansion’s Quitman Study.
Enjoying Mint Juleps and dinner at 1818, Monmouth Inn & Gardens
In the decades prior to the American Civil War, market places where enslaved Africans were bought and sold could be found in every town of any size in Mississippi. Natchez was unquestionably the state’s most active slave trading city, although substantial slave markets existed at Aberdeen, Crystal Springs, Vicksburg, Woodville, and Jackson as well. While the buildings that housed the slave marketplace are long gone, there is a sad monument showing some of the shackles that were used for the slaves.
Fork in the Road monument for the Slaves, on the site of the old slave trading post
There’s little to see on the highways in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The roads are largely lined with dense trees or swamp land. However, as we left Natchez and saw the landmark restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard. We didn’t stop for a meal, which is said to be great, due to timing. Sadly, she’s in great need of some TLC.
Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez
It was close to lunch time by the time we got to Baton Rouge, so we stopped to wander around a bit before finding something to eat. Downtown is very quiet, but it looks like they have made a real effort to spruce up the waterfront and surrounding area. We stopped first at the “new” Capitol building, and wandered around the large park in front of it. The building was the vision of Huey Long, the controversial Louisiana Governor and Senator. His statue stands in the park facing the Capitol.
Louisiana Capitol Building
Baton Rouge Waterfront…Oh, and the Coke truck was blasting Christmas Carols
The “old” Capitol building served as the state capitol from 1905 until 1928. In 1928 the legislature moved to the current building. It is now the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The stained glass dome in the lobby And the staircase below it are spectacular!
Louisiana’s Old Capitol Building
Our lunch at Cocha was wonderful and entertaining. Both the food and drink were delicious and inventive. Our waiter was a former “famous” drag queen in San Diego, and his dramatic narrative of the car accident in the parking lot was, well, dramatic! We also enjoyed (and devoured, hence no picture!) a Naan Bread based pizza. We have since adopted that in our own kitchen! A quick and delicious way to have pizza at home without the fuss!
An entertaining and delicious meal at Cocha
There are numerous restored Antebellum homes along the Mississippi River, and a visit here has been on our bucket list for a long time. Our next stop was Oak Alley, where we were staying in a cottage on the plantation grounds. The cottages on the plantation are believed to have been built by the second resident owners, and used to house the hired hands. These cottages were referred to as “Quarter Houses”, as each unit was divided into four parts with a common fireplace chimney in the center, with an opening in each of the four units.
Our charming cottage at Oak Alley, and the fragrant rosemary tree providing holiday cheer
We loved having the space (something we usually do without!), and while the restaurant serves a full breakfast and lunch for guests, they do not serve dinner. Instead, you can order from their menu, and they will deliver your fully prepared meal to your cottage for you to heat up whenever you want. It was traditional Southern Creole cooking and it was delicious!
It was fun to have the run of the grounds after the house closed for the evening…felt like we lived there!
Beautiful evening walk at Oak Alley
The next morning we drove up river to visit Nottaway Plantation. This spectacular plantation house is an Inn, and has cottages and restaurants scattered around the grounds.
Nottaway Plantation, and hanging out on the porch
Nottaway sits across the street from the river levee, where huge bonfires have been erected on the top. While the bonfires are now a Christmas tradition, it is thought that they were originally burned to both guide ships on the river, and lead parisioners to church.
Christmas bonfires smoldering, and others ready to go
After touring Nottaway, we returned to Oak Alley for lunch, a tour of the plantation house, and the slave exhibit on the grounds.
The beautiful oaks, some over 300 years old, rule the day at Oak Alley
A moving tribute to the Oak Alley slaves. A rare acknowledgement.
Our last morning in river country was spent touring Laura Plantation, an authentic Creole Plantation.
Laura Plantation, bursting with traditional Creole color and a sad history
This was a fascinating place, and we learned a tremendous amount about the Creole traditions, and some troubling realities of slavery that go beyond the obvious, thanks to our amazing tour guide. Slaves on Creole plantations only spoke French, which they could not read or write. After the civil war, French wasn’t being spoken, so when the slaves were freed, it was into an English speaking country. So, many stayed on the plantations, as it was an easier solution. While they were no longer called slaves, and given “pay”, it was not in currency, and could only be used at the plantation “store”. This further tied them to the plantation, as they purchased their food and goods from the plantation, always at inflated prices, often driving the freed slaves into debt. The freed slaves were still very much under the control of plantation owners. We were told that some slaves lived under these conditions for generations to come, some as recently as 1977 in North Carolina.
Sugarcane plantation map along the Mississippi in Louisiana
Behind the house at Laura Plantation are several remaining slave quarters, and it’s thought that this was where the household slaves lived. The field slaves would live in quarters far out in the fields, and likely never saw the plantation house.
Laura Plantation back gardens and slaves quarters
After leaving Laura Plantation, we were on our way to New Orleans…finally! Rob has been there on business, but Nancy has never been. We stayed at the lovely and conveniently located Hotel Le Marais, on Conti Street, just off of Bourbon Street. The hotel staff was great throughout our visit, kicked off by the concierge, when they sent us to Johnny’s Po’ Boys for lunch soon after we arrived.
Hotel Le Marais
Johnny’s Po-Boy for lunch…Welcome to New Orleans!
We had a great day wandering around acquainting ourselves with our neighborhood, and enjoyed a carriage ride around the French Quarter for a little background and local flare. It was a blast!
Our Carriage ride around the French Quarter
We continued exploring the neighborhood after our carriage ride, and enjoyed a Hurricane at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, a local landmark.
Jackson Square and the beautiful Basilica of St. Louis
Inside Basilica of St. Louis
We walked all over New Orleans, loving every minute of personality this city has to share!