We were then able to enjoy a full day in New Orleans. We began our morning by getting brunch in one of the small restaraunts in the French Quarter. Named The Grill Nola it was recommended to us both by my travel book, and by a friendly doctor we had got chatting to in the reception of our hotel the night before. It turned out that his ravings were incredibly justified!
The place was gorgeously decorated, and looking around it did feel like you had suddenly been transported back in time. We sat on small stools around the counter which gave it a homey feel, and the fact that there was a queue of people waiting outside the door was testament to just how popular this place was! The food was absolutely incredible – I can hand on heart say that it was the best pancake I have eaten in my entire life! It has probably also got to be the best service I have ever had in my life. The waiters were so friendly and happy, that you just couldn’t help but laugh and chat with them. They called orders across to the chef so quickly and in such rapid succession that we were convinced that half of our orders would be wrong or missing. But no, they all arrived perfectly. One of the guys was so unbelievably cheerful that I couldn’t help but compare him to Olaf the snowman from Frozen. I wish that we could have gone back to this place repeatedly, but sadly we didn’t have the time. For anyone who is visiting New Orleans GO TO THIS PLACE ASAP!!!
For the remainder of the day we split up and pottered around the city. There wasn’t really anything that I particularly wanted to see in New Orleans, so it was nice to have some time just to wander around the city and take in the sights. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go on a steam boat ride, which would have been great fun. You can do an evening Jazz cruise along the river with dinner which I think sounds incredible, although perhaps that’s something to do with a significant other at some point!
We did however, get to do a Voodoo tour in the evening. This was something that I was absolutely determined to do (even if no one else in the group had wanted to do it) but thankfully everyone participated – even if it did take a little bit of persuasion!
The tour we went on was a factual, historical tour (not a ‘scare the pants off you’ type of tour) which suited me perfectly. There’s another tour which apparently takes you around the graveyards and essentially tells you ghost stories. Whilst that does sound very cool, since we only had one evening, I wanted to make the most of my one opportunity to actually learn about Voodoo from someone who knows about it personally.
The tour was, in my opinion, fantastic. We were led around the city and shown places of significance to the Voodoo faith. We learnt about is history, its traditions, its practices, and about the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. I apologise if what I say isn’t 100% correct, but this is what I understood from the tour…Voodoo originally came from Africa, and was brought over to America as a result of the slave trade. The religion was adapted by the slaves, meaning that the Voodoo practiced in New Orleans is different from Voodoo in say, Haiti. Voodoo refers to a spiritual religion, and is not simply a form of black magic as many people believe. This misconception occurred when people mixed up Voodoo, and other religions from Europe which practiced black magic.
We learnt that while practicers of Voodoo do believe in magic, this is actually known as ‘Hoodoo’. Amongst other things, Hoodoo can be used to heal, to influence decisions and to help gain wealth. They do also use Hoodoo dolls, although they are not the type portrayed in movies and on the tv. Instead, they are usually used as a way to bless people, or to influence their spirits.
Another important aspect of Voodoo in New Orleans was the Voodoo Queens of the 19th century. These women had a huge amount of power, and often had the lead role in ceremonial meetings and ritual dances. They could be paid to create amulets, charms, spells, or magical powders and thus their influence was incredibly widespread.
In particular, the guide talked to us about Marie Laveau, known as the ‘Voodoo Queen of New Orleans’. It was said that men of wealth and influence – such as lawyers, business men and politicians, all came to her for advice before making any important decisions. However, at the same time, she put a lot of her time and effort into helping the poor and enslaved of the city, something which I think makes her even more admirable. What I really appreciated about our guide is that she didn’t try and convince us to start worshipping Voodoo, or give us a very one sided perspective about events. She told us that often when people were unable to pay for her service in cash, Marie Laveau would get them to tell her information instead. She also worked as a hairdresser, another place where idle gossip can be overheard. Thus, over time, The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans was able to build up an incredibly complex network of spies and information, which she may also have used to her advantage as well as her skills at Voodoo and Hoodoo.
The tour was incredibly interesting, and I thought the guide did an amazing job. Perhaps I’m a little biased as I found Voodoo fascinating even before this tour, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is in the city. It’s a brilliant way to learn about New Orleans’ history, and about something so different from what many of us believe.
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Radmacher