This would be the only full free day before Melody’s conference started so we booked a couple tours. We started with a swamp tour, then went on a plantation tour. We then navigated down Bourbon Street on the way to dinner and ended with a ride on the streetcar.
Since we had gotten groceries the night before, breakfast didn't take us very long. After doing a bit more planning, we headed out to find the bus and took the ride to the conference hotel, where we were going to be picked up by the tour shuttle. That way Melody could also confirm the hotel location and which stop to use when getting off the bus or streetcar.
There was only one other group of three people on the shuttle with us for the half hour ride to the swamp at Cajun Pride Swamp Tours. We had plenty of time before the actual tour, so we found a table and ate the lunch we had packed. We also wandered around, looking around the grounds. We found a small hibernation area where a few small alligators were hanging out in a huge tub.
Boarding time arrived so a couple dozen of us got onto the boat and headed into the bayou which wandered through the swamp. We started to see alligators right away and also saw some turtles. The tour guide called out to each alligator, turtle, and raccoon, greeting them and tossing them marshmallows. Someone asked why he fed them marshmallows, and his answer was that's what you feed to marsh animals. Later in the tour, he was talking about the plants that you would cook the roots and end up with a light, white confection; the plants were the marsh mallow.
We heard many such stories, including how Spanish moss gets dried and then becomes known as horsehair. Of course, he talked a lot about alligators, swamps, and swamp life (he lives on a swamp). We also heard a bit about Cajuns, which he said he was.
Later in the cruise, he took out a young gator he had in a cooler on the boat. While he doesn't like doing it, he explained he was required to put a band around the gator's mouth while it was on the boat. He then explained how to best hold the animal, and let people handle it. He then went back to the side of the boat to feed another couple alligators which we're swimming up, so I watched him do that. At one point I turned around and noticed that Melody was holding the alligator. Eventually, the animal was about to go to one woman who was highly intrigued but at the same time extremely scared by it, at one point literally running away. The guide eventually talked her down and got her to hold the gator; she was happy she did but was more than ready to hand it back.
It drizzled during the whole cruise, but the boat was covered, so it didn’t impact us. The guide said the alligators were more numerous when it was sunny, but we still saw quite a few of them.
Back to the dock, and we had a few minutes before it was time to board the shuttle, heading to the plantation tour.
It was another half hour and a crossing of the Mississippi River before we got to Laura Plantation. There were supposed to be four of us getting off the shuttle (everyone else went to Oak Alley Plantation) but we were the only ones who did. After a bit of confusion, the driver shrugged and just went on.
There was a bit of time before our tour began so we browsed around the gift shop and looked over the parts of the plantation we could see from outside.
Our swamp tour guide was Cajun, and our plantation tour guide was Créole. He gave us a lot of information about Créole history, especially as it related to the various periods of time discussed as the tour proceeded.
The main house is quite large. We started in the basement where a wine cellar used to be. To help prevent flood damage, the basement is at ground level and built of brick, with the house framing above. The main business on the plantation was a sugar farm and mill. On our way out, we saw charring on one of the overhead beams from a 2004 fire, a year before Katrina.
Up to the main floor porch, we started in one parlor and worked our way through the house, progressing through history. The guide kept opening and closing doors, which helped the various groups from interfering with each other (groups were spaced very closely, often only a room or two apart.) As we got to the end of the house, we were at Laura’s period of time (1863–1961, Civil War to Cold War) and stories were drawn from her memoir.
Going back outside, we saw the original site of the kitchen and walked through a garden. Each of the families had a personal garden in addition to the communal one.
Past the garden, we entered into the slave portion of the tour. Some slave quarters were reconstructed to give guests an idea of how small the buildings were, and each was meant to house two families (regardless of family size.)
The last stop was the building where Laura spent the rest of her years. There were plans to restore it, but repairing the main house after the fire took the funds which were set aside. They still plan on doing the work.
With that, the tour was over. We didn’t need to wait very long before the shuttle showed up to take us back. Because of the order that people were dropped off, we rode to the east side of the French Quarter then looped back, the shuttle maneuvering through the tight streets with all the traffic and pedestrians. By the time we were dropped off at the Marriott, we were ready for dinner.
After looking at options, we went to a small place on the far corner of the French Quarter and decided to walk along Bourbon Street to check things out. Very crowded, very loud. We found where the restaurant was supposed to be, then noticed a handwritten sign saying that it was at the back of the bar at the same address. We placed our order, grabbed a table, and were soon eating catfish and chips with a side of Brussels sprouts (which had bacon in it.) really good.
We then walked back across the French Quarter, this time bypassing Bourbon. We happened to walk past Café Beignet, so we stopped to have beignets for dessert. Even though it would be a bit slower, we hopped onto the streetcar back to where we were staying. After a long day, We settled in for the night.