Discovering NOLA

When you start a bucket list in your twenties, you don’t really think about it much. At least I never did. Now in my mid-fifties, there’s a different sense of urgency as I get older to explore and enjoy the places and experiences I planned to live in my youth.

One of the places on that bucket list started long ago is visiting New Orleans. Today, via the Florida Turnpike, we hit the road to The Big Easy with great expectations, a detailed itinerary, and ready for a new adventure.

We arrived in New Orleans and immediately headed for the historic French Quarter. Our excitement was only trumped by the overload to the senses of the smells, sounds, and sights of this vibrant city. We couldn’t wait to explore; we couldn’t wait to savor some of Nola’s Cajun cuisine!

 

We arrived at lunchtime and found a charming restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter named Pere Antoine. This restaurant was not on my list of must see and visit, but we were hungry. We ordered Seafood Gumbo and Gumbalaya, a combination of Gumbo and Jambalaya. The food was tasty and spicy, exactly what we expected, and the service and ambiance were lovely.

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The restaurant is named for a Spanish friar, Antonio de Sedella, lovingly known as Pere Antoine. He was the people’s priest, and his death in 1829 at the age of 81 was mourned by the entire city. If you’re into ghost stories like me, you should visit the street named for Pere Antoine, where his ghost has been known to visit. The main entrance of St. Louis Cathedral is on Pere Antoine Alley, right by Jackson Square.

We were off to explore the city before checking into our Airbnb.

Walking through the French Quarter we found by chance a must-see on my list, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.

As voodoo shops go, Marie Laveau’s is pretty touristy. With an array of religious and spiritual paraphernalia, tribal masks, charms, herbs used for sacred rituals, and more, this shop will immerse the curious visitor into the misunderstood world of voodoo. Spiritual private readings, as well as an alter with offerings to the high priestess of voodoo, Marie Laveau, are part of the experience.

Exhausted from the road trip we headed to our Air B&B to relax and get ready for dinner.

We have been staying at private homes through the many rental companies available like Air B&B, VRBO or HomeAway for years. It gives us the opportunity to experience all kinds of homes, with space and privacy that truly help us relax and unwind. This home is a remodeled shotgun. Gorgeous high ceilings, crown moldings, hardwood floors, and open living space, made this home the perfect home away from home to enjoy our short stay in New Orleans.

 

Since our house was Uptown in the Carrolton neighborhood, we chose a restaurant for dinner only a few miles away. Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar, located on St. Charles and Napoleon, is easily accessible by the St. Charles Streetcar. The restaurant’s old world charm with rich wood, brick walls, a bar imported from Paris, Parisian chairs and antique accents is only second to the cuisine. Oysters, a New Orleans staple, are offered in a variety of ways in the full-service oyster bar. The seafood was fresh, perfectly prepared, and a delicious ending to our first day in the city.

 

Day two promised to be a day of discovery, with a few planned activities starting with breakfast at the world famous Cafe Du Monde, where visitors line up all day to savor their Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. Even on a rainy day, you can see the line forming early morning. But here’s a secret, you really don’t need to stand in line. You can simply walk in and find an empty table and just sit down and wait to be served. Don’t tell, it’s our secret.

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Cafe Du Monde opened in 1862 and was part of the French Market. If you’re looking for eggs and bacon you’ve come to the wrong place. This coffee shop only serves the famous savory fried square doughnuts smothered in powdered sugar, coffee, and hot chocolate twenty-four hours a day.IMG_9269 - Copy - Copy

The French Market, with six blocks of shops, a flea market, restaurants, a farmers market and more, is a favorite gathering place to shop, eat, drink, and enjoy music and entertainment. You can find pretty much everything here–from art to pralines that come in all kinds of flavors–you can check off most of your souvenir gifts at the French Market.

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With satisfied appetites and some shopping done, we head off to explore the city.

To stroll the streets of the French Quarter is to go back in time. The rich Spanish and French history is visible in the city’s architecture, the names of the streets and businesses, and in the eclectic and diverse backgrounds of its residents. Street performers abound, and music fills the air.  And although Mardi Gras had long passed, hints of the traditional celebration was still everywhere with beaded necklaces hanging from balconies and trees.

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With the latter half of day two rained out, we headed back to our Nola home to relax and dry out.

 

The streetcar is a great way to get around in New Orleans, and for $1.25 you can purchase a one-way ticket.

On this rainy day, we headed back uptown on the St. Charles streetcar, which began transporting locals and visitors back in 1835. Immerse yourself in a time long gone, as you ride the St. Charles line past stately mansions in the Garden District. A walking tour is the best way to explore the beautiful homes of this historic neighborhood.

It was time for lunch, so we stopped at the Blind Pelican, right on the St. Charles line. Offering a casual ambiance and moderately priced menu, this restaurant was one of our favorites.

Famous for the oysters, you can order a dozen raw for $3.00, and $7.50 for a dozen chargrilled. Other southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, and shrimp, roast beef, or oyster Poboys are must haves.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a tour of one of its unique and iconic cemeteries. Because New Orleans is below sea level, burying the dead below ground is not an option. Instead, above ground tombs and family vaults are spread across the city, with the oldest cemetery dating back to 1789.

 

Saint Louis Cemetery Number One is the resting place of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. It is also the home of a nine-foot tomb in the shape of a pyramid, the future final resting place of the tomb’s owner, actor Nicholas Cage. Some say that the unusual tomb is in honor of Cage’s National Treasure movie franchise; others believe that the pyramid is linked to the actor’s possible involvement with the secret Illuminati society.

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The best way to visit one of New Orleans cemeteries is to hire a tour guide. You don’t want to miss out on the interesting stories and history that lie within these cities of the dead.

The National WWII Museum was next on our list of attractions. This museum is worth the visit. You can purchase tickets to the museum at $27 for adults to free for veterans. For an additional $6 you may purchase tickets to see the movie “Beyond All Boundaries,” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. This 4D movie is spectacular! It was my favorite part of the visit.

We continue exploring The Quarter, peaking into gardens, and enjoying the sounds and people of the city.

 

Here are some of the local colorful characters of The Quarter. 

 

We ended our visit to New Orleans with a fun Segway tour. This was a first for us, and I was a little bit nervous. However, just ten minutes of practice on the Segway was all we needed to feel completely comfortable. This is an activity we should have done at the very beginning of our visit, because the tour takes you through the entire French quarter and beyond; a great way to become acquainted with the city.

Every city has a bookstore you can lose yourself in. Right next door to City Segway is Beckham’s bookshop. I could have stayed in this bookshop for hours. Specializing in rare books, Beckham’s opened its doors to book lovers in 1967. Dogs are welcome, but have to play nice with Juniper, the resident cat. Check out Juniper’s blog at http://www.beckhamsbookshop.com.

Our Segway tour guide recommended the Gumbo Shop for our last meal in Nola.

A favorite with the locals, the Gumbo Shop was the perfect ending to our unforgettable visit to New Orleans.

Nola is now checked off my bucket list, but I’m not done with this fascinating city. We are already planning a trip back to the Big Easy.

Miami Hauntings

What do Miamians do on a Saturday when there’s nothing to do?  Visit haunting sites of course! Well, maybe this Miami resident, who also happens to be fascinated by all things ghostly.  October has always been my favorite month of the year.  Awakening memories of childhood birthdays, crisp autumn air, and spooky Halloween fun, I am always in the mood for a good ghost story.   Always ready to indulge me in my crazy adventures, my husband is happy to drive to each of the famously haunted Miami places on my list.

First on our tour is the City of Miami Cemetery, located at 1800 NE 2nd Avenue.  On the U.S.National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery was founded in 1897.  The 10 acre plot sold to the City of Miami by Mary Brickell for $750, is the resting place of some of the oldest and most prominent families of South Florida.  img_3278
We came across the grave sites of Julia Tuttle, known as the “Mother of Miami,” the department store Burdine family, and John Sewell, the third mayor of Miami.

On this beautiful October morning, there was no hint of the ghostly voices this cemetery is notorious for. But if you are in the mood for some local haunted history, History Miami Museum offers an annual Ghosts of Miami City Cemetery Night Tour every October.

img_3317Named the “most haunted house in Miami” by the Miami Herald in 1989, Villa Paula has a rich history of haunting activity.  Located in what is now Little Haiti, Villa Paula was built in 1926 for the first Cuban Consulate, Don Domingo Milford, and his wife Paula.  Paula died shortly after, due to complications resulting from a leg amputation.  The house has had several residents, later becoming a home for senior citizens, before falling into abandonment and overrun by vagrants in the early 1970’s.

Rescued in 1974 by Cliff Ensor, Villa Paula’s supernatural activity began to manifest itself, and was documented for the first time.  Apparitions of a woman floating through the hallways with only one visible leg, the smell of coffee and roses lingering in the air, the movement of items, the sound of footsteps and heals on the veranda, a chandelier suddenly falling from the ceiling, the sound of a piano playing, and the death and disappearance of cats were some of the reported incidents.  Ensor went as far as conducting regular seances to keep the spirits at bay, after learning from a psychic that five spirits occupied the house, including one of an abused maid who buried her illegitimate baby in the garden.

Current owner and art dealer Martin Siskind has restored the neo-classical mansion to its former glory, turning the home into an art gallery open to the public.  The stories of hauntings continue.

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The iconic Biltmore Hotel, gracing the upscale Coral Gables neighborhood since 1926, has been through many transformations throughout its almost 100 years.  Built in the roaring twenties by Coral Gables founder George Merrick, the Biltmore was a place of lavish parties, golf tournaments and fashion events, and frequented by celebrities, influential personalities, and gangsters.  When a gangster named Thomas “Fatty” Walsh was murdered in the Al Capone suite on the 13th floor of the hotel, a ghost story emerged.
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The Biltmore’s golden years were stunted at the onset of World War II, when the splendor of its golden years was halted, and the hotel was re-purposed as a military hospital.  The hospital continued to service veterans after the war, until it was closed and abandoned in 1968.

For years the beautiful landmark remained empty.  Stories of ghosts resurfaced, as neighborhood kids sneaked into the hotel and roamed through the scary rooms and hallways.  Could the spirit of the murdered gangster Fatty Walsh still haunt the 13th floor? Were the spirits of deceased soldiers still restlessly bound within these walls? The resounding answer is YES.

Today the Biltmore Hotel stands as a proud and elegant piece of Miami history.  The stories of ghosts continue to draw visitors, like me, fascinated by the mysteries of the spiritual world.  We weren’t able to go to the 13th floor, but we enjoyed an afternoon in one of the most historic and beautiful hotels in Miami.

Nothing guarantees a haunting like a mansion built on an ancient burial ground! Located on 444 acres in an idyllic setting in Palmetto Bay, the Deering Estate consists of a three-story cottage, once known as the southernmost inn in the United States, and a three story stone mansion built in 1900, and purchased by philanthropist and businessman Charles Deering.  Deering moved to the estate in 1922, and died a few years later in 1927, leaving the estate to his wife and children.

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Now owned by the State of Florida Miami-Dade County, the estate hosts concerts on the lawn, moonlight canoe trips, art exhibits, family and children educational events, culinary events, ghost tours and spookovers.  In October of 2015, as a birthday present and pre-Halloween treat, my husband surprised me with an evening ghost tour.  My love of history and historical homes, together with my interest in the paranormal, made this ghostly adventure special. Their was an energy and excitement in the air as the group was ushered from room to room by our ghost tour guide.  She was colorful, animated, and knowledgable, producing spirit voice recordings and pictures of apparitions.

As our guide talked about Mr. Deering, pointing to a wheelchair he spent most of the last years of his life in, I took several pictures of the chair.  Later, when we uploaded the pictures to the computer, we noticed something in one of the pictures.  The mist that seems to be floating onto the chair may be an illusion created by a light or camera malfunction, but some may agree that we captured some sort of spirit form.  I guess we will never truly know.

In this month of spooky tales and trick or treating, consider visiting some of Miami’s famous haunted places.