Sunday, February 21, 2010

Walking Tour, Attempt #1

News stories and online postings about New Orleans suggest robbery and murder await tourists who dare venture to the city. Even natives I encountered on the train urged extreme caution. "While in the French Quarter, always walk against the traffic on the driver's side, to avoid having your purse stolen by the passenger of a passing car," advised one. "The French Quarter is the safest part of the city, but don't go out by yourself after 9 pm, even there," said another.

True or not, this info made me a bit leery about doing what I like to do best when traveling ... walking around off the beaten path and seeing all the funky local stuff tourists usually miss. What's more, this info even made me sink so low as to consider taking an organized tour. I know, gag, but mingling with tourists is (ever so slightly) preferable to getting knifed in a dark alley.

So, after exploring available tour options, I settled on a walking tour of the Garden District neighborhood, figuring that walking around with a bunch of folks from Iowa (or wherever) was a lesser evil than riding around with them on a tour bus. When I showed up at the Grey Line Tours office bright and early the Monday after the Super Bowl, however, I was told the tour had been cancelled due to lack of interest. (Damn you Saints for winning the Super Bowl, causing most tourists to party hardy and fail to wake up the next day ready and eager to tour the city.)

Non-cancelled tours that day included a bus tour of the city, a bus tour of the Katrina-ravaged parts of the city and a bus tour to a plantation an hour outside of the city. Given my total disdain of bus tours, these were not especially enticing. Given all the warnings about the dangerousness of New Orleans, neither was venturing out on my own. Following a half hour of indecisiveness, spent visiting the crappy Starbucks on Canal Street for a latte fix, I decided on the plantation tour because it included off-bus time. (Plus, a person on the train had said plantations were a must-see for Yankees visiting the deep south.)

While I imagine you'd love to read a minute-by-minute synopsis of the entire four-hour tour, you'll have to make due with the abbreviated version (plus pics!) because this post is more about why I ended up on a plantation tour than the tour itself. The bus driver spouted Louisiana facts the whole hour there and back (admittedly in a mildly amusing way) We were released from tour bus hell twice, once for the walk-thru tour of the plantation house (and quick visit to the gift shop), and once on the banks of the Mississippi facing the plantation for a photo op.

Bottom line, I would have preferred walking around on my own off the beaten path of New Orleans (or, had I planned to spend more days in New Orleans, perhaps venturing out via rental car to explore the various plantations along the Mississippi at my leisure), but the plantation bus tour was not completely awful. After all, not only can I now say that I've been to an actual antebellum sugar plantation (woo hoo), I also can say I was not robbed or murdered in the process.

Oak Alley Plantation - Vacherie, Louisiana
(and the tour bus that took me there)

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