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In The Heart Of Cajun Country

In The Heart Of Cajun Country

Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Birding, Food, Gallery, Louisiana, Travel | 32 comments

Just west of New Orleans, I-10 travels across the vast Atchafalaya Swamp and into Acadiana—also known as Cajun Country. Life is different here. The language is a lilting French/English patois. The music is a vibrant and plaintive mélange of accordion and fiddle. And the food is a delicious melding of locally available ingredients, most notably crawfish, smoked meats, and rice.

Underlying everything is a sense of “joie de vivre” that infuses daily life—a joyful exuberance that is readily extended to visitors. This was our third visit to Cajun Country—and it won’t be our last.

We booked four nights in the heart of Cajun Country at Poche’s Fish’N’Camp—our favorite spot in Breaux Bridge. And quickly realized that once again, we didn’t give ourselves enough time here. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, just missing the weekend gatherings where people of all ages convene in cafés, bars, and dance halls to make music and dance. (We experienced a Cajun Saturday morning music jam on our last visit a couple of years ago. You can see a short video here.) From now on, we’ll make sure that we arrive prior to the weekend. Even better, we’ll stay a full week.

If nothing else, the Cajun culture is a testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of community. In the mid-1700’s, the Acadians were driven out of their chosen homeland of Acadia (present day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), where they had happily and peacefully lived for 150 years. Their villages were burned, families split up, and thousands perished as a result of the inhumane conditions they endured during the deportation.

Along the coast, bayous, and upland prairies of south Louisiana, a few thousand Acadians found refuge. I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to start all over again in hot and humid Louisiana, replete with alligators and other swamp terrors. The Cajuns are a resourceful lot, though—they fished, hunted, farmed, and set about recreating their Acadia (“idyllic place”). And alligator ended up on the menu.

Despite missing the weekend community gatherings, we found plenty to occupy ourselves. We visited the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, a small National Historical Park. The displays are lovingly crafted from heirlooms donated by the families who settled here. There’s also a rather morose half-hour film that focuses on the tragic history of the exiled Acadians. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much attention given to their resilient spirit and the exuberant culture and close community they’ve created après exile.

Louisiana Regions MapDespite the attempts of the government in the early 20th century to “mainstream” the Cajuns (including forbidding French to be spoken in schools), the culture thrives today. In 1971, one-third of the state was recognized as “Acadiana” by the Louisiana State Legislature.

A visit to Vermilionville—next door to the cultural center—is a delight. We spent half a day wandering through the living history museum on the banks of the bayou, where costumed staff, craftspeople, and musicians go about the activities of 18th-19th century daily life of south Louisiana with great authenticity. And we also spent part of a day walking the trails at nearby Lake Martin and Cypress Island, where we were happy to see thousands of nesting egrets and herons (albeit far-off views).

We were there mid-April, at the height of crawfish season when the crustaceans are at their largest and fattest. Once considered a poor-people’s food (the term “mudbug” is still commonly used), the Cajuns took to them with relish, and crawfish are now celebrated as a delicacy. We set out to buy crawfish for dinner. “Y’all want tree or five pounds?” inquired the young man with a warm smile and a delightful Cajun accent. “Want dem medium or spicy? Spicy are hot hot,” he warned. Actually, I’d been thinking one pound, since it was only the two of us. But three pounds turned out to be just the right amount.

Mudbugs look like miniature lobsters, and the tails (which contain the sweet, tender meat) make up only one-third of the creatures. We peeled the meat out of the tails and made crawfish étouffée for dinner that night, a classic Cajun dish. It begins, like all Cajun cuisine, with sautéing the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and is seasoned with a healthy pinch of cayenne. It was delicious.

About the RV Park:

Poche’s Fish-N-Camp is a very nice RV park with level concrete sites situated around fishing ponds. The park offers full hook-ups, good Verizon, a nice laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. It’s in the boonies, but only about 5 miles from the town of Breaux Bridge, and 10 miles from Lafayette. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country here. With Passport America, it’s a bargain at $20 per night.

Next Up: A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

Altar In A Cajun Home

At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village

A Typical Cajun Home

Docent Spinning Wool

Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing

In The Herbalist's Cottage

Schoolhouse In Vermilionville

Trying To Eradicate The French Language

It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion

Lovely Little Church

Inside The Church

In The Garden Of The Church

At The Acadian Cultural Center

Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments

Overlooking Lake Martin

Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin

Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp

Nesting Great Egrets

Turning The Eggs

Poche's Fish-N-Camp

Our Site At Poche's

Peaceful Spot At Poche's

Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish

That's A Lot Of Crawfish

Crawfish Etouffee

Louisiana Regions Map

Altar In A Cajun Home
At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village
A Typical Cajun Home
Docent Spinning Wool
Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing
In The Herbalist's Cottage
Schoolhouse In Vermilionville
Trying To Eradicate The French Language
It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion
Lovely Little Church
Inside The Church
In The Garden Of The Church
At The Acadian Cultural Center
Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments
Overlooking Lake Martin
Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin
Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp
Nesting Great Egrets
Turning The Eggs
Poche's Fish-N-Camp
Our Site At Poche's
Peaceful Spot At Poche's
Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish
That's A Lot Of Crawfish
Crawfish Etouffee
Louisiana Regions Map
Altar In A Cajun Home thumbnail
At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village thumbnail
A Typical Cajun Home thumbnail
Docent Spinning Wool thumbnail
Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing thumbnail
In The Herbalist's Cottage thumbnail
Schoolhouse In Vermilionville thumbnail
Trying To Eradicate The French Language thumbnail
It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion thumbnail
Lovely Little Church thumbnail
Inside The Church thumbnail
In The Garden Of The Church thumbnail
At The Acadian Cultural Center thumbnail
Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments thumbnail
Overlooking Lake Martin thumbnail
Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin thumbnail
Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp thumbnail
Nesting Great Egrets thumbnail
Turning The Eggs thumbnail
Poche's Fish-N-Camp thumbnail
Our Site At Poche's thumbnail
Peaceful Spot At Poche's thumbnail
Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish thumbnail
That's A Lot Of Crawfish thumbnail
Crawfish Etouffee thumbnail
Louisiana Regions Map thumbnail

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A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

Posted by on Apr 25, 2016 in Food, Friends, Gallery, Louisiana, Music, Travel | 34 comments

Acouple of years ago, we discovered the French Quarter Festival—a four-day celebration that takes place the second weekend in April in New Orleans. With more than 20 stages scattered throughout the Quarter, upwards of 1,700 local musicians performing throughout the day and evening, and small plates offered by the best neighborhood restaurants in lovely outdoor venues, it’s like a huge neighborhood block party.

This party, though, just happens to be in a neighborhood world-renowned for incredibly talented musicians and fabulous cuisine. We drifted from one venue to another, enjoying jazz, blues, zydeco, gospel, and people watching. We picnicked on savory shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, crab and artichoke salad, crawfish crepes, and smoked duck po’boys, accompanied by local ice cold Abita IPA. Despite the fact that this is a huge festival, it has a mellow, friendly vibe. We had an absolute blast, and came away with even more affection for “The Big Easy.”

In keeping with our attempt to rein ourselves in a bit (not an easy feat when New Orleans beckons), we stayed five nights at Bayou Segnette State Park, but spent only three days in New Orleans, followed by one day on the trails at nearby Barataria Preserve for a different kind of wild. Adding to our enjoyment were our new friends Ed and Diana, whom we met on Dauphin Island—they decided on the spur of the moment to accompany us to New Orleans for a couple of days.

Bayou Segnette SP is perfectly located for visiting the city—it’s an easy 12-mile drive to the ferry landing in quaint Algiers Point with its plethora of adorable candy-colored 1800’s cottages, and a five-minute ferry ride across the Mississippi, landing in the French Quarter. No driving in the city, no parking issues, and only $2 for the ferry ($1 if you’re over 65). Couldn’t be more stress-free.

On our last visit to New Orleans a couple of years ago, we realized that we needed a guided tour to get the most out of our visit. In general, we avoid tours, preferring to just wander on our own, photographing and exploring at our leisure. But we were interested in learning a bit more about the city without the frustrating experience of “self-guided” walking tours. Trying to read from a brochure of tiny print while stumbling along city streets in search of landmarks is not my idea of fun. But I’m also less than enthralled with the idea of an expensive tour on a crowded tour bus with a bored or overenthusiastic guide delivering corny jokes.

Luckily, we discovered Free Tours by Foot. It’s a pay-what-you-like arrangement, with local freelance tour guides who are highly motivated to deliver excellent tours. I booked reservations for tours of the Garden District and the French Quarter, and we were delighted with both (next time, we’re going to do the Voodoo Tour and the Food Tour). The guides were well informed, engaging, and humorous—we learned a lot about the history, architecture, and culture of New Orleans—including some of the local dirt.

There truly is no other place in the world like New Orleans. A melting pot of culture, religion, ethnic groups, food traditions, and music, it’s one of the oldest cities in the United States and one of the most fascinating. We still have no desire to visit during the insanity of Mardis Gras, and although the Jazz Festival in mid-April is mighty alluring with an incredible line-up of performers—it’s the French Quarter Festival that calls us to return. (All of the locals we met told us that the French Quarter Festival is their favorite, and that they hide out during the other events.)

A few tips for visiting the French Quarter Festival, should you decide to go:

• It’s FREE! The festival is supported by food and beverage purchases, so no coolers or outside food or beverages are allowed. Water is the exception, and you should bring plenty because it’s generally hot in early April. (And you probably don’t want your only beverages to be beer and daiquiris.) The food is terrific, and for the quality, it’s reasonable at $5-8 per small plate.

• Thursday is the mellowest day, with the crowds and events ratcheting up throughout the weekend. Saturday and Sunday at the big waterfront stages you can expect wall-to-wall people. Go early in the day and even the waterfront is manageable.

• Our favorite stages were the smaller ones, especially the Jazz Stage in Jackson Square with its lovely grassy lawn surrounded by billowing white tents of our favorite food vendors, and the Zydeco Stage on Decatur Street (with the lovely courtyard of the National Historical Park French Quarter Visitor Center available for a shady, quiet respite from the crowds and a bathroom that’s not a porta potty being used by thousands. Shhh. Don’t tell!)

• Wear a broad-brimmed hat or bring an umbrella for sun protection. There’s not much shade at many of the pavilions, especially those along the waterfront.

• Bring a folding chair and set it up in a prime location early in the day. You can wander away at any time and come back when you’re ready. If your chair is unoccupied, someone will likely enjoy it while you’re away, but no one will take issue when you return. Locals told us this is expected; it’s all part of the neighborly vibe.

• Don’t miss just wandering the streets of the French Quarter. You’ll find plenty of entertainment—and fabulous musicians—on every corner. It’s also a delight to escape into an open-air coffee shop and watch the crowds go by.

About the campground: 

All of the sites at Bayou Segnette State Park are spacious and paved, with grassy lawns and a backdrop of lush green wild shrubs. Water and electric hook-ups, free laundry in the restroom complex, and good Verizon coverage; $28 per night. The big draw for us here is the location—we love being near New Orleans, but with the benefit of returning to a peaceful spot in nature in the evening.

Bonus tip: Don’t miss the wonderful seafood market adjacent to the park—a dozen vendors offer excellent fresh shrimp, crab, and crawfish for some of the most reasonable prices we’ve seen anywhere ($3.99 per pound for beautiful Gulf shrimp).

Next Up: In The Heart Of Cajun Country 

A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

Algiers Point Ferry Landing

A Beautifully Restored Cottage In Algiers Point

Waiting For The Ferry

Crossing The Mississippi

Boarding The St. Charles Streetcar

Walking Tour Of The Garden District

Gotta Watch Your Step

Beautiful Gardens In The Garden District

Italianate Style Mansion In The Garden District

Our Tour Guide In Front Of The Cornstalk Fence

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Many Elaborate Tombs From The 1800's

The Colorful French Quarter

Voodoo Cultural Center

Wrought Iron Galleries Overlooking The Street

Talented Marionette Artist

The French Quarter Festival

Small Stage At The Festival

Jackson Square During The Festival

Mime In Jackson Square

Jazz Brass Band

Busking In The French Quarter

Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront

At The Waterfront Stage

Zydeco Stage

Fiddle Player In All-Girl Zydeco Group

Iced Coffee At An Open Air Cafe

House Of Blues Venue

Entering The Voodoo Garden

Performance Art On The Street

Tapas Dinner At Three Muses On Frenchman Street

Music Club On Frenchman Street

At Bartaria Preserve

Wild Iris Blooming In The Preserve

Common Yellowthroat

Terrific Seafood Market Near The Campground

Dinner At Home With Diana And Ed

Crab Cakes Made With Gulf Blue Crab

Spacious Sites At Bayou Segnette State Park

A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans
Algiers Point Ferry Landing
A Beautifully Restored Cottage In Algiers Point
Waiting For The Ferry
Crossing The Mississippi
Boarding The St. Charles Streetcar
Walking Tour Of The Garden District
Gotta Watch Your Step
Beautiful Gardens In The Garden District
Italianate Style Mansion In The Garden District
Our Tour Guide In Front Of The Cornstalk Fence
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Many Elaborate Tombs From The 1800's
The Colorful French Quarter
Voodoo Cultural Center
Wrought Iron Galleries Overlooking The Street
Talented Marionette Artist
The French Quarter Festival
Small Stage At The Festival
Jackson Square During The Festival
Mime In Jackson Square
Jazz Brass Band
Busking In The French Quarter
Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront
At The Waterfront Stage
Zydeco Stage
Fiddle Player In All-Girl Zydeco Group
Iced Coffee At An Open Air Cafe
House Of Blues Venue
Entering The Voodoo Garden
Performance Art On The Street
Tapas Dinner At Three Muses On Frenchman Street
Music Club On Frenchman Street
At Bartaria Preserve
Wild Iris Blooming In The Preserve
Common Yellowthroat
Terrific Seafood Market Near The Campground
Dinner At Home With Diana And Ed
Crab Cakes Made With Gulf Blue Crab
Spacious Sites At Bayou Segnette State Park
A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans thumbnail
Algiers Point Ferry Landing thumbnail
A Beautifully Restored Cottage In Algiers Point thumbnail
Waiting For The Ferry thumbnail
Crossing The Mississippi thumbnail
Boarding The St. Charles Streetcar thumbnail
Walking Tour Of The Garden District thumbnail
Gotta Watch Your Step thumbnail
Beautiful Gardens In The Garden District thumbnail
Italianate Style Mansion In The Garden District thumbnail
Our Tour Guide In Front Of The Cornstalk Fence thumbnail
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 thumbnail
Many Elaborate Tombs From The 1800's thumbnail
The Colorful French Quarter thumbnail
Voodoo Cultural Center thumbnail
Wrought Iron Galleries Overlooking The Street thumbnail
Talented Marionette Artist thumbnail
The French Quarter Festival thumbnail
Small Stage At The Festival thumbnail
Jackson Square During The Festival thumbnail
Mime In Jackson Square thumbnail
Jazz Brass Band thumbnail
Busking In The French Quarter thumbnail
Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront thumbnail
At The Waterfront Stage thumbnail
Zydeco Stage thumbnail
Fiddle Player In All-Girl Zydeco Group thumbnail
Iced Coffee At An Open Air Cafe thumbnail
House Of Blues Venue thumbnail
Entering The Voodoo Garden thumbnail
Performance Art On The Street thumbnail
Tapas Dinner At Three Muses On Frenchman Street thumbnail
Music Club On Frenchman Street thumbnail
At Bartaria Preserve thumbnail
Wild Iris Blooming In The Preserve thumbnail
Common Yellowthroat thumbnail
Terrific Seafood Market Near The Campground thumbnail
Dinner At Home With Diana And Ed thumbnail
Crab Cakes Made With Gulf Blue Crab thumbnail
Spacious Sites At Bayou Segnette State Park thumbnail

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Roseate Spoonbills And Zydeco

Roseate Spoonbills And Zydeco

Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Birding, Gallery, Louisiana, Music, Travel | 16 comments

The exotica of Louisiana aren’t limited to New Orleans. Roughly 125 miles west of the Big Easy lies the land of Spanish moss-draped swamps, mysterious bayous, and slightly frayed, picturesque hamlets; people speak in a lilting French influenced patois; crawfish, alligator, gumbo, jambalaya, and Andouille sausage are staple menu items; and dance halls and cafes resound with the music of accordions and fiddles as people of all ages gather to play, sing, and dance. This is Acadiana, also known as Cajun Country. As the friendly folks here say, “Laissez les bon temps rouler”—“Let the good times roll!”

This was our second visit to Breaux Bridge, a small town in the heart of Cajun Country. We knew we liked the area when we first visited several years ago. This time, as we explored further, we “got” that we need far more than a couple of days here. Acadiana has a unique culture, cuisine, history, music, and natural landscape—next time, we’ll plan on at least a week. Or even two.

Despite our brief stay, we had a fabulous time. We spent one entire day exploring nearby Lake Martin and Cypress Island Preserve, and were thrilled to find hundreds of nesting Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Roseate Spoonbills. We walked the trails in the morning, and in the afternoon launched our kayak for a leisurely paddle through the beautiful and mysterious swamp.

Music is central to the Acadian way of life, and dance halls, cafes, restaurants, and bars are filled with the lively sounds of Cajun music. Saturday mornings are traditional times for music jams, and we discovered a charming coffee shop in downtown Breaux Bridge (aptly named “Joie de Vivre“) where we enjoyed a couple of hours of spirited music, song, and dance. It was a blast to watch people of all ages enjoying the music and the community. Here’s a snippet of fun, Cajun style:


Saturday morning Cajun jam at Joie de Vivre, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Both times we’ve visited Breaux Bridge we’ve stayed at Poche’s Fish-N-Camp, a delightful campground with fairly spacious sites situated around fishing ponds. We happened to be there on Easter weekend this time, and the campground was filled to bursting with families and little kids running around with Easter baskets. Nonetheless, it was a relatively peaceful stay—we got into the groove of the zydeco/Cajun/country music of our neighbors, and just let the good times roll.

Roseate Spoonbills And Zydeco

Lake Martin

Great Egret On The Nest

Rotating The Eggs

Nesting Great Egrets

Hundreds Of Nests

Showy Breeding Plumage

Elaborately Preening

Little Blue Heron

Nesting Roseate Spoonbills

Such Colorful Birds

Resting

Sharing Nesting Territory

Trail At Lake Martin

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

Indigo Bunting

The Swamp

Purple Iris In The Swamp

Cattle Egret In Breeding Plumage

Snowy Egret In Breeding Plumage

Yellow Billed Cuckoo

Wildflower Meadow Overlooking The Swamp

Magical Kayak Journey

Kayaking Lake Martin

Turtle In The Swamp

Bridge To Breaux Bridge

Musicians Gathering

Bringing His Bass To The Jam

Let's Party!

Cajun Music Jam

Beautiful Fiddle

Dig Deep

More Musicians Join In

Singing A Cajun Ballad

Poche's RV Park

Poche's Fish 'N' Camp

Roseate Spoonbills And Zydeco
Lake Martin
Great Egret On The Nest
Rotating The Eggs
Nesting Great Egrets
Hundreds Of Nests
Showy Breeding Plumage
Elaborately Preening
Little Blue Heron
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills
Such Colorful Birds
Resting
Sharing Nesting Territory
Trail At Lake Martin
Black Bellied Whistling Ducks
Indigo Bunting
The Swamp
Purple Iris In The Swamp
Cattle Egret In Breeding Plumage
Snowy Egret In Breeding Plumage
Yellow Billed Cuckoo
Wildflower Meadow Overlooking The Swamp
Magical Kayak Journey
Kayaking Lake Martin
Turtle In The Swamp
Bridge To Breaux Bridge
Musicians Gathering
Bringing His Bass To The Jam
Let's Party!
Cajun Music Jam
Beautiful Fiddle
Dig Deep
More Musicians Join In
Singing A Cajun Ballad
Poche's RV Park
Poche's Fish 'N' Camp
Roseate Spoonbills And Zydeco thumbnail
Lake Martin  thumbnail
Great Egret On The Nest  thumbnail
Rotating The Eggs  thumbnail
Nesting Great Egrets  thumbnail
Hundreds Of Nests  thumbnail
Showy Breeding Plumage  thumbnail
Elaborately Preening  thumbnail
Little Blue Heron  thumbnail
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills  thumbnail
Such Colorful Birds thumbnail
Resting  thumbnail
Sharing Nesting Territory  thumbnail
Trail At Lake Martin  thumbnail
Black Bellied Whistling Ducks  thumbnail
Indigo Bunting  thumbnail
The Swamp  thumbnail
Purple Iris In The Swamp  thumbnail
Cattle Egret In Breeding Plumage  thumbnail
Snowy Egret In Breeding Plumage  thumbnail
Yellow Billed Cuckoo  thumbnail
Wildflower Meadow Overlooking The Swamp  thumbnail
Magical Kayak Journey  thumbnail
Kayaking Lake Martin  thumbnail
Turtle In The Swamp  thumbnail
Bridge To Breaux Bridge  thumbnail
Musicians Gathering  thumbnail
Bringing His Bass To The Jam  thumbnail
Let's Party!  thumbnail
Cajun Music Jam  thumbnail
Beautiful Fiddle  thumbnail
Dig Deep  thumbnail
More Musicians Join In  thumbnail
Singing A Cajun Ballad  thumbnail
Poche's RV Park  thumbnail
Poche's Fish 'N' Camp  thumbnail

 

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Visiting A Plantation

Visiting A Plantation

Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Gallery, Louisiana, Travel | 16 comments

Honestly, I was expecting Tara—you know, the enormous curving staircase, ornate chandeliers, and grand ballroom. Instead, I was surprised to find a simple staircase, a modest chandelier, and only four bedrooms. No ballroom.

During our weeklong stay at Bayou Segnette State Park, we pulled ourselves away from the siren call of New Orleans to visit nearby Oak Alley Plantation, one of the most famous plantations in Louisiana. Oak Alley was established as a sugarcane plantation—and of course, as with all plantations, this enterprise was made possible by slave labor.

The majestic tree lined walkway is certainly magnificent, with 300-year-old enormous oak trees forming a verdant canopy from the back porch to the levee of the Mississippi River. The house itself, built in 1837 entirely by slaves (from bricks made on the property), is smaller than you would expect for a wealthy family. Nonetheless, it took more than 100 slaves to keep the plantation running, including a large contingent of house slaves who were at the beck and call of the owners for every little thing. For example, it was the job of a young boy to pull the cord that operated the enormous fan in the dining room. For hours.

Most plantations fell into disrepair after the Civil War (or were burned to the ground). Oak Alley survived, although barely. It changed hands numerous times; at one point when it was uninhabited, cows broke down the doors and made themselves at home, trampling the black and white imported marble flooring (which was subsequently replaced with much less extravagant wood flooring).

We toured the house, and frankly, I didn’t find the dry facts of who lived there and when they died very interesting. Here’s  one of the few tidbits that stuck with me: Rum was the drink of choice—it’s made from sugarcane, after all—and was served to the men. It was considered improper for women to imbibe—but they got around that inconvenience by serving bowls of dried fruit heavily soaked in rum. Here’s another custom: A Southern gesture of hospitality in antebellum times featured the pineapple. Guests at Oak Alley were welcomed with a pineapple, an exotic and expensive fruit. But the appearance of a second pineapple in your bedroom meant that you had overstayed your welcome and that it was time to pack your bags and leave.

We found the most interesting part of the plantation to be the exhibit on slavery, contained in a half-dozen reconstructed shacks. While the family in the “Big House” fretted about whether they had the biggest silverware on the block (the size of the utensils flaunted the family’s wealth), families of slaves lived all in one room; a cornhusk-stuffed mattress, crude table and chairs, burlap curtains, and a few hand carved gourd bowls and dippers were typical furnishings.

Field slaves put in 12-14 hour days of grueling labor working in the cane fields. You might think being a house slave would be better—except that it meant being perpetually on call to serve the whims of the family. Unable to survive on the meager rations provided by the plantation owners, slaves kept chickens and pigs and grew black-eyed peas, corn, mustard greens, okra, sweet potatoes, and watermelon in small garden plots. All of this work took place at night, after they had finished work on the plantation. Medical care was crude, disease was rampant in the hot and humid climate, and punishment was brutal for those who rebelled or didn’t work hard enough. Being a slave meant that you were simply property, to be bought and sold at the master’s discretion. It is a testament to the human spirit that the slaves managed not only to survive, but to maintain their dignity and culture through their religion, folklore, and music.

Visiting A Plantation

The Front Of The Plantation House

The Drawing Room

Rum And Rum Soaked Fruit

The Not-Spiral Staircase

Docents In Full Costume

Simple Chandelier

The Dining Room And Fan

Oversized Silverware

The Master Bedroom

The Welcoming Pineapple

Plantation Office

Oak Alley Plantation

Slave Cabins

A Slave Cabin

The Hearth Of A Slave Cabin

Water Bucket

Bowl Carved From Gourd

Simple Table And Chair

Memorial To The Slaves

Confederate Officers Tent

All The Comforts Of Home

A Confederate Officer

Visiting A Plantation
The Front Of The Plantation House
The Drawing Room
Rum And Rum Soaked Fruit
The Not-Spiral Staircase
Docents In Full Costume
Simple Chandelier
The Dining Room And Fan
Oversized Silverware
The Master Bedroom
The Welcoming Pineapple
Plantation Office
Oak Alley Plantation
Slave Cabins
A Slave Cabin
The Hearth Of A Slave Cabin
Water Bucket
Bowl Carved From Gourd
Simple Table And Chair
Memorial To The Slaves
Confederate Officers Tent
All The Comforts Of Home
A Confederate Officer
Visiting A Plantation  thumbnail
The Front Of The Plantation House thumbnail
The Drawing Room  thumbnail
Rum And Rum Soaked Fruit  thumbnail
The Not-Spiral Staircase  thumbnail
Docents In Full Costume  thumbnail
Simple Chandelier  thumbnail
The Dining Room And Fan thumbnail
Oversized Silverware thumbnail
The Master Bedroom  thumbnail
The Welcoming Pineapple  thumbnail
Plantation Office  thumbnail
Oak Alley Plantation  thumbnail
Slave Cabins  thumbnail
A Slave Cabin  thumbnail
The Hearth Of A Slave Cabin thumbnail
Water Bucket  thumbnail
Bowl Carved From Gourd  thumbnail
Simple Table And Chair  thumbnail
Memorial To The Slaves  thumbnail
Confederate Officers Tent  thumbnail
All The Comforts Of Home  thumbnail
A Confederate Officer  thumbnail

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The French Quarter Festival

The French Quarter Festival

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Food, Gallery, Louisiana, Music, Travel | 18 comments

We’ve wanted to return to New Orleans (our last visit was more than a dozen years ago, pre-RVing) but were more than reluctant to haul our trailer into the city. When we discovered that we could stay at beautiful Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, drive 12 miles to the colorful little town of Algiers, and catch the passenger ferry to the French Quarter (a 5-minute, $2 trip across the Mississippi) we were in.

Our main reason for visiting New Orleans was the French Quarter Festival—a four-day extravaganza of music and food that takes place in mid-April. We arrived on Saturday, just in time for the final day of the festival on Sunday. This was the best of New Orleans—the music, the food, the fun, the color, and the festivities—without the sleaze factor. Well, except for Bourbon Street—it’s always sordid, but that’s its job, right?

Twenty-one stages of incredible talent (blues, jazz, Cajun, gypsy, samba, zydeco) were scattered throughout the French Quarter, with music from more than 280 groups. Despite the fact that we were given a beautiful fold-out map of the stages and a detailed line-up of the performers, we quickly gave up trying to be anywhere at any particular time, and just wandered the French Quarter from 10:00 in the morning when the festival opened until 6:00 that evening, just in time to catch the last ferry back to Algiers. It was all good. We realized that it wasn’t possible to make a mistake, because every bit of music that was happening was amazing.

The French Quarter Festival is free—the only thing you pay for is food and beverages. And believe me, you don’t want to be carrying in a picnic, not when your choices are offerings from the finest restaurants in New Orleans—Antoine’s, Brennan’s, Court of Two Sisters, Galatoire’s, Muriel’s…more than 60 food and beverage vendors set up tents throughout the French Quarter. It was tough to choose, but we settled on crawfish and goat cheese crepes, crab and artichoke salad, and a savory crawfish and alligator sausage cheesecake, a New Orleans specialty that we both agreed was one of the best things we’ve ever eaten. Our beverage of choice was locally brewed IPA from Abita.

Surprisingly, the festival didn’t feel crowded at all, despite the fact that 700,000 people attended over four days. I know that sounds like a scary number, but it was remarkably low-key and relaxing. The only time we felt crowded (and it was seriously wall-to-wall bodies) was along the riverfront at the main stages late in the day. We bailed on those venues, wormed our way through the crowd, and made our way back to the smaller stages, which continued to have a relaxed vibe. We enjoyed the festival so much that we’re planning to do it again—next time for more than one day.

Two days after the festival, we returned to New Orleans—it’s such an easy trip from Bayou Segnette, and we couldn’t resist. If there’s any place that’s a melting pot, this is it. The French moved in and established New Orleans in 1718, and since that time people from nearly every country, ethnic group, and religion have migrated to the area. The resulting mix has created a culture of music, food, and tradition unlike any other.

We started our morning with a wonderful breakfast in Algiers at a funky little neighborhood café (delicious crawfish etouffee, grits, and perfectly poached eggs), and again caught the ferry to New Orleans. We wandered the French Quarter, explored the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park/French Quarter Visitor’s Center for a quick overview of the history of New Orleans, and visited the Jazz National Historic Park—how cool is that, to have a National Park dedicated to jazz?

Even on an ordinary weekday, there are musicians on every other street corner, and the sounds of saxophones, trumpets, accordions, and violins accompanied us as we strolled the neighborhoods. Late afternoon, we ended up at Herbsaint on St. Charles Avenue for a delicious meal of shrimp, artichoke, and maitake mushroom risotto. Once again, we caught the last ferry back to Algiers—the only downside of the ferry is that it doesn’t run into the evening. But apparently that will be changing soon.

Our only regret is that we didn’t make arrangements for a tour of the city. We usually avoid tours, because we like to explore on our own and do things at our own pace, but we both agreed that a couple of hours spent with a tour guide would have enriched our experience. There are plenty of options for free or low-cost tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District (I’m especially intrigued by the highly rated tours offered by Free Tours By Foot), but it’s something you need to plan for in advance. It gives us something to look forward to on a future visit. That, along with the music on every street corner and the fabulous food!

The French Quarter Festival

New Orleans Skyline From Algiers

Lovely Old Homes In Algiers

Eastlake Style Home circa 1890s

In Service Until 1990

Tout De Suite Cafe In Algiers

Menu At Tout De Suite

Crawfish Etoufee, Grits, Poached Eggs

Louis Armstrong At The Ferry Dock

Ferry To New Orleans

The Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront

Fanciful Sea Creatures

Welcome To The French Quarter Festival

Samba Group

The Drummers

Festival In Jackson Square

Small Stage Venues

Fabulous Jazz Combo

Pirates Alley

Zydeco Festival Stage

Cajun Inspired Music

Mostly Mellow Atmosphere

Gypsy Style Jazz

He Plays Like Louis Armstrong

And Sings Like Louis Armstrong

Street Musicians

On Bourbon Street By Mistake

Bourbon Street Scene

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street Of Course

Maintaining Order On Bourbon Street

Job Opportunity At The Voodoo Shop

Afternoon Crowds At The Waterfront Stage

Festival Along The Waterfront

Jackson Square Apres Festival

Brass Band In Jackson Square

One Of Many Fortunetellers

Jean Lafitte National Historic Park Visitors Center

Jazz National Historic Park

Ranger At Jazz Historical Park

French Market

Classic French Quarter Architecture

Fading Grandeur

Fancied Up Balconies

Elaborate Wrought Iron Fences

Colorful Wrought Ironwork

Leftover From Mardis Gras

Sightseeing By Carriage

Courtyard In The French Quarter

Fortuneteller On Rue St. Pierre

Rue Royale Oldest Street In New Orleans

On Rue Royale

Opulent Antiques Stores Rue Royale

Antique Oyster Plates

Thinking About A Halloween Mask

Late Lunch At HerbSaint

The French Quarter Festival
New Orleans Skyline From Algiers
Lovely Old Homes In Algiers
Eastlake Style Home circa 1890s
In Service Until 1990
Tout De Suite Cafe In Algiers
Menu At Tout De Suite
Crawfish Etoufee, Grits, Poached Eggs
Louis Armstrong At The Ferry Dock
Ferry To New Orleans
The Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront
Fanciful Sea Creatures
Welcome To The French Quarter Festival
Samba Group
The Drummers
Festival In Jackson Square
Small Stage Venues
Fabulous Jazz Combo
Pirates Alley
Zydeco Festival Stage
Cajun Inspired Music
Mostly Mellow Atmosphere
Gypsy Style Jazz
He Plays Like Louis Armstrong
And Sings Like Louis Armstrong
Street Musicians
On Bourbon Street By Mistake
Bourbon Street Scene
Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street Of Course
Maintaining Order On Bourbon Street
Job Opportunity At The Voodoo Shop
Afternoon Crowds At The Waterfront Stage
Festival Along The Waterfront
Jackson Square Apres Festival
Brass Band In Jackson Square
One Of Many Fortunetellers
Jean Lafitte National Historic Park Visitors Center
Jazz National Historic Park
Ranger At Jazz Historical Park
French Market
Classic French Quarter Architecture
Fading Grandeur
Fancied Up Balconies
Elaborate Wrought Iron Fences
Colorful Wrought Ironwork
Leftover From Mardis Gras
Sightseeing By Carriage
Courtyard In The French Quarter
Fortuneteller On Rue St. Pierre
Rue Royale Oldest Street In New Orleans
On Rue Royale
Opulent Antiques Stores Rue Royale
Antique Oyster Plates
Thinking About A Halloween Mask
Late Lunch At HerbSaint
The French Quarter Festival  thumbnail
New Orleans Skyline From Algiers  thumbnail
Lovely Old Homes In Algiers  thumbnail
Eastlake Style Home circa 1890s  thumbnail
In Service Until 1990  thumbnail
Tout De Suite Cafe In Algiers  thumbnail
Menu At Tout De Suite  thumbnail
Crawfish Etoufee, Grits, Poached Eggs  thumbnail
Louis Armstrong At The Ferry Dock  thumbnail
Ferry To New Orleans  thumbnail
The Audubon Plaza On The Waterfront  thumbnail
Fanciful Sea Creatures  thumbnail
Welcome To The French Quarter Festival  thumbnail
Samba Group  thumbnail
The Drummers  thumbnail
Festival In Jackson Square  thumbnail
Small Stage Venues  thumbnail
Fabulous Jazz Combo  thumbnail
Pirates Alley  thumbnail
Zydeco Festival Stage  thumbnail
Cajun Inspired Music  thumbnail
Mostly Mellow Atmosphere  thumbnail
Gypsy Style Jazz  thumbnail
He Plays Like Louis Armstrong  thumbnail
And Sings Like Louis Armstrong  thumbnail
Street Musicians  thumbnail
On Bourbon Street By Mistake  thumbnail
Bourbon Street Scene  thumbnail
Bourbon Street  thumbnail
Bourbon Street Of Course thumbnail
Maintaining Order On Bourbon Street  thumbnail
Job Opportunity At The Voodoo Shop thumbnail
Afternoon Crowds At The Waterfront Stage  thumbnail
Festival Along The Waterfront thumbnail
Jackson Square Apres Festival  thumbnail
Brass Band In Jackson Square  thumbnail
One Of Many Fortunetellers  thumbnail
Jean Lafitte National Historic Park Visitors Center  thumbnail
Jazz National Historic Park  thumbnail
Ranger At Jazz Historical Park  thumbnail
French Market  thumbnail
Classic French Quarter Architecture  thumbnail
Fading Grandeur  thumbnail
Fancied Up Balconies  thumbnail
Elaborate Wrought Iron Fences  thumbnail
Colorful Wrought Ironwork  thumbnail
Leftover From Mardis Gras thumbnail
Sightseeing By Carriage  thumbnail
Courtyard In The French Quarter  thumbnail
Fortuneteller On Rue St. Pierre  thumbnail
Rue Royale Oldest Street In New Orleans  thumbnail
On Rue Royale thumbnail
Opulent Antiques Stores Rue Royale thumbnail
Antique Oyster Plates  thumbnail
Thinking About A Halloween Mask thumbnail
Late Lunch At HerbSaint  thumbnail

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Moving Along

Moving Along

Posted by on Dec 7, 2013 in Alabama, Birding, Gallery, Louisiana, Mississippi, Music, Texas, Travel | 6 comments

Inaively thought that given a year to travel, we would never feel rushed. But the first week of November, in the middle of Texas, we looked at each other and said, “We need to get rolling.” We had reservations for the Keys starting mid-November, but first we wanted to spend a week with my folks in north Florida before undertaking the 650-mile trek to south Florida.

That gave us one week to cover 1,100 miles—basically a straight line from San Angelo, Texas to Eastpoint, Florida. This meant packing up and moving every day, which is most definitely not fun, especially when we’ve grown accustomed to at least a couple of nights—and more often several nights—in one spot. Sometimes, moving on is preferable (like when we’re trying to get ourselves out of Texas, and we’re camped near Houston. Otherwise known as Hell). More often, we have to pry ourselves away from an interesting spot we’ve discovered, promising ourselves that we’ll return. Our list grows longer with every trip. I suspect I’m going to be dragged out of this life lamenting, “But wait! There’s still so much to do!”

Here’s how the last week of our travels to Florida played out:

• Austin, Texas: 205 miles from San Angelo, TX. We spent two nights in Pecan Grove RV Park, a funky old trailer park right in the middle of town. Many people parked their RV’s there decades ago and never left—just landscaped, stuck in a few pink flamingos and neon palm trees, and called it home.

We walked everywhere from Pecan Grove—Zilker Park is a couple of blocks away, with miles of walking trails along the river, a botanical garden, and an herb garden; toured the Moody Theatre, home of Austin City Limits; and went both nights to the Continental Club, a 1957 dive bar that’s considered the place to go for live music—we peeked in and found the downstairs bar to be deafening and overly grungy, but the lounge upstairs was great—we enjoyed world-class jazz and a relaxing, albeit shabby, ambiance. The motto of the town is “Keep Austin Weird,” but we didn’t see anything weirder than is considered normal in Ashland. Except maybe the shop with Elvis memorabilia. We don’t have an Elvis store in Ashland.

• Tomball, Texas: 140 miles. We were trying our best to dodge the vortex of Houston and ended up in a private RV park somewhere slightly north of the city. It was hot, unbearably humid, the traffic is a nightmare, and we couldn’t wait to get out of there. If there was an easy way to completely avoid that part of Texas, we would.

• Lake Charles, Louisiana: 180 miles; stayed at Sam Houston Jones State Park—a decent state park, but muggy and buggy. And it rained. Ugh. Nothing is appealing in that kind of weather. I have no idea why certain areas of this country were ever settled. Eric wants to come back to the nearby Atchafalaya Swamp, where the birding is phenomenal. So are the mosquitoes.

• Tickfaw, Louisiana: 175 miles; stayed at Tickfaw State Park, a well-kept state park in the middle of a swamp. The boardwalk through the swamp is nice if you trot along at a brisk enough pace to stay ahead of the mosquitoes. We stayed here last year because it’s convenient, but one night is plenty long enough.

• Ocean Springs, Mississippi: 125 miles; stayed at Davis Bayou Campground in Gulf Islands National Seashore. It’s a lovely campground and only $15.00 per night (half price with the Senior Pass). But it’s first-come, first-served so you need to arrive early. Lots of nature things to do in the National Seashore (hiking, birding, kayaking) and the little town is intriguing. We want to return to do more exploring; we only had time to walk a few short trails.

• Silverhill, Alabama: 75 miles. Stayed at Blue Moon Farm for an event at The Frog Pond (www.thefrogpondatbluemoonfarm.com).

This was sweet, one of those wonderful serendipitous events that happens if you’re okay with unconventional camping experiences. This was one of many venues for the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival, an annual event that we stumbled upon while staying in nearby Pensacola last November. Cathe, the delightful owner of Blue Moon Farm, invited us to park our trailer on the farm while we enjoyed an afternoon and evening of talented songwriters/musicians. We’re hoping to return; she hosts Sunday evening music events year-round (the cost was a mere $25 for 6 hours of fantastic music). (Here, a music clip from the event: The Frog Pond At Blue Moon Farm).

• Santa Rosa, Florida: 115 miles; stayed at Grayton Beach State Park. Pure white sugar sand beaches, miles of coastline, great birding, great biking, pretty little beach towns.

• Eastpoint, Florida: 105 miles. Finally arrived at my folk’s house in beautiful Eastpoint!

Moving Along

Pecan Grove RV Park

Hasn't Moved In Decades

Neon Landscaping At Pecan Grove

Austin Skyline From Zilker Park

Herb Garden Zilker Park

Botanical Garden In Zilker Park

Downtown Austin

Austin City Limits

Willie Nelson Outside Moody Theatre

Moody Theatre Tour

Stage For Austin City Limits

Austin By Night From Zilker Park

So Far Out

Airstream Turned Cupcake Wagon

Inside Chuy's Tex Mex Restaurant

Elvis In Austin

Fantastic Jazz At The Continental Club

Swamp Mural At Tickfaw State Park

Boardwalk Through The Swamp

Campsite Davis Bayou

Snowy Egret

Salt Marsh

Trail At Davis Bayou Campground

Camping At Blue Moon Farm

Backyard At The Frog Pond

With Cathe On Frog Pond Stage

Getting Ready For The Music

Afternoon Set

Musicians At Frog Pond

Frog Pond Stage By Night

Great Blue Heron Footprint Grayton Beach

Sunset At Grayton Beach State Park

Sunset From My Folk's Dock

Moving Along
Pecan Grove RV Park
Hasn't Moved In Decades
Neon Landscaping At Pecan Grove
Austin Skyline From Zilker Park
Herb Garden Zilker Park
Botanical Garden In Zilker Park
Downtown Austin
Austin City Limits
Willie Nelson Outside Moody Theatre
Moody Theatre Tour
Stage For Austin City Limits
Austin By Night From Zilker Park
So Far Out
Airstream Turned Cupcake Wagon
Inside Chuy's Tex Mex Restaurant
Elvis In Austin
Fantastic Jazz At The Continental Club
Swamp Mural At Tickfaw State Park
Boardwalk Through The Swamp
Campsite Davis Bayou
Snowy Egret
Salt Marsh
Trail At Davis Bayou Campground
Camping At Blue Moon Farm
Backyard At The Frog Pond
With Cathe On Frog Pond Stage
Getting Ready For The Music
Afternoon Set
Musicians At Frog Pond
Frog Pond Stage By Night
Great Blue Heron Footprint Grayton Beach
Sunset At Grayton Beach State Park
Sunset From My Folk's Dock
Moving Along thumbnail
Pecan Grove RV Park  thumbnail
Hasn't Moved In Decades  thumbnail
Neon Landscaping At Pecan Grove  thumbnail
Austin Skyline From Zilker Park  thumbnail
Herb Garden Zilker Park  thumbnail
Botanical Garden In Zilker Park  thumbnail
Downtown Austin  thumbnail
Austin City Limits  thumbnail
Willie Nelson Outside Moody Theatre  thumbnail
Moody Theatre Tour  thumbnail
Stage For Austin City Limits  thumbnail
Austin By Night From Zilker Park  thumbnail
So Far Out  thumbnail
Airstream Turned Cupcake Wagon thumbnail
Inside Chuy's Tex Mex Restaurant  thumbnail
Elvis In Austin  thumbnail
Fantastic Jazz At The Continental Club   thumbnail
Swamp Mural At Tickfaw State Park  thumbnail
Boardwalk Through The Swamp thumbnail
Campsite Davis Bayou  thumbnail
Snowy Egret  thumbnail
Salt Marsh  thumbnail
Trail At Davis Bayou Campground thumbnail
Camping At Blue Moon Farm  thumbnail
Backyard At The Frog Pond  thumbnail
With Cathe On Frog Pond Stage  thumbnail
Getting Ready For The Music  thumbnail
Afternoon Set  thumbnail
Musicians At Frog Pond  thumbnail
Frog Pond Stage By Night  thumbnail
Great Blue Heron Footprint Grayton Beach thumbnail
Sunset At Grayton Beach State Park  thumbnail
Sunset From My Folk's Dock  thumbnail

 

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