There’s nothing quite like the bayou country of southern Louisiana. From the haunting beauty of the swamps and the quaint towns of Cajun Country to the vibrant ethnic melting pot of New Orleans, the unique culture and landscape draws us back time and again.
This time, we visited the home of Tabasco on Avery Island, immersed ourselves in the WW II museum in NOLA, and got swept up in a Mardi Gras parade, despite the fact that we’ve always sworn we would never, ever go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
In the Heart of Cajun Country: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
I don’t know about you, but we have a bottle of vintage Tabasco sauce in our fridge. I think I brought it from home when we started our travels five years ago. (Does anyone ever use up a bottle of Tabasco?)
Avery Island is home to the Tabasco factory, where 68 million bottles of hot pepper sauce are made each year. The spicy condiment was created in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a banker bankrupted by the Civil War who happened to be a gardener and food lover.
It’s a simple recipe—a special variety of hot pepper, salt, and vinegar—fermented for three years before bottling. Conveniently, Avery Island sits on a mountain of rock salt that’s mined for the hot sauce.
The small museum is fascinating (there’s a whole sub-culture devoted to Tabasco), the self-guided tour is interesting, and the restaurant has a make-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar that begins with a 2-ounce pour of vodka and includes an elaborate array of garnishes. That may have had just a little influence on the good time we had.
Avery Island Tabasco Factory
Tabasco pop culture
Tabasco barrel aging; the intensity of the fermenting peppers is overwhelming. The mashed peppers are covered with a thick layer of Avery Island salt and fermented for three years.
Taste-testing at the Tabasco Flavor Lab; kind of surprising considering that Eric hates spicy food.
Giant bottles of Tabasco plotting to take over the world
The souvenir glass reads: “Making day drinking socially acceptable since 1868.” Photo taken after olives, pickled green beans, celery, and bacon garnishes disappeared.
There’s more to Avery Island than hot sauce, though. Edmund McIlhenny’s son Edward was a passionate conservationist, and he created extensive botanical gardens and a sanctuary for wildlife on the property.
Concerned about the devastation of Snowy Egrets (who were being hunted to extinction for their beautiful plumes), Edward hand raised eight chicks. The egrets grew up, flew away, and then came back, bringing their friends. There’s now a colony of tens of thousands that return each year in early spring to nest and raise their young.
We walked the four-mile path through the gardens, through ancient oaks festooned with Spanish moss, past ponds with alligator eyes watching us, and through gardens that come spring, are lush with foliage and flowers.
We were there in late January, too early for either birds or flowers. Still, it was beautiful.
A magical moment in the gardens on Avery Island
Entrance to the Buddha Garden
The Buddha Temple
Buddha in the garden. The statue (circa 1100 AD) was a gift to Edward McIlhenny in 1936.
The little town of Breaux Bridge is in the heart of Cajun country. We’ve learned to plan our visits so that we’re there on the weekend to catch the traditional Cajun music jams. Our favorite is Saturday morning at Joie de Vivre, a cozy café in downtown Breaux Bridge. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside, it’s a colorful melange of music and community spirit. (You can see a video clip of a music jam from a previous visit here.)
The bridge to Breaux Bridge
Joie de Vivre in downtown Breaux Bridge; doesn’t look like much from the outside
But inside, it’s so much fun! This is the Saturday morning Cajun music jam.
The Cajun accordion
Fiddles, mandolins, and guitars round out the jam
Colorful artwork by local artists at Joie de Vivre
About the RV Park
Every time we’re in the area we stay at Poche’s Fish’n’Camp. The park offers level concrete sites situated around picturesque fishing ponds, with full hook-ups, good Verizon, a laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country (the park is about 5 miles from Breaux Bridge). With Passport America, it’s a bargain at $20 per night.
Campsite at Poche’s Fish’n’Camp
The sunsets are always beautiful over the ponds at Poche’s
New Adventures In New Orleans
In the past several years, we’ve been twice to New Orleans in April for the French Quarter Festival, a music and food extravaganza that we absolutely loved (and would go back to again). This time, traveling through in late January, we anticipated a much more low-key visit, with the opportunity to do a couple of things that we’ve wanted to do for a while.
We planned a visit to the National World War II Museum, which our friends Pam and John told us we must not miss. And we planned to spend more time on Frenchmen Street, the local’s hangout for great music. We figured that visiting in late January, we would be clear of the city before the insanity of Mardi Gras began.
As always, we stayed across the river at Bayou Segnette State Park. It’s an easy 15-mile drive to the charming town of Algiers, and a quick 10-minute ferry ride across the Mississippi into the French Quarter. Breakfast at Tout de Suite, a neighborhood café in Algiers, is a tradition on our visits to New Orleans.
Colorful homes in Algiers
Breakfast at Tout de Suite: Crawfish étouffée with poached eggs, served over creamy corn grits.
The little ferry to New Orleans crossing the Mississippi
We much prefer the ferry to driving into the city. The weather in January in NOLA can be a bit chilly, but we’re talking a comfortable mid-60’s during the day and mid-40’s at night.
It’s fun to see the festive decorations in the French Quarter, but we never intended to be in the city for Mardi Gras.
New Orleans seems like kind of an odd choice for a war museum, until we discovered that this is where the Higgins boats, the famed amphibious landing crafts credited with helping to win the war, were built.
Visiting the National World War II Museum is a total immersion into the sights, sounds, and experiences of the war, both overseas and on the home front. It’s like stepping into a time machine, where you’re whisked back to 1939 and the dawn of events that over the next six years, changed the course of world history.
Of everything, I found the personal artifacts to be the most poignant. So many letters from soldiers to loved ones at home…and so many telegrams informing families that their loved one would not be returning. So many medals of courage, so many stories of sacrifice beyond belief. If you go, be prepared for a deeply emotional experience.
The museum is enormous. Know going in that there is NO way that you can read everything, watch every film and inspect every artifact. Neither Eric nor I are war history buffs. But we were both fully engaged in the experience, and felt like it was well worth the expense ($23-25 per ticket) and the investment of time. Even trying our best to be selective, we ran out of time the first day and ending up going back the next day (for an additional $6). And we still didn’t see everything.
Outside of the National World War II Museum; this is not even half of the museum.
Inside the museum on a Friday morning; a Douglas C-47 transport plane hangs from the ceiling.
And on Saturday morning…our advice, don’t go on the weekend if you can avoid it.
The U.S. planned never again to be at war after the First World War. Our attention was focused on surviving the Great Depression, not building a military force. Thus, we were frighteningly outnumbered on the military front at the dawn of the war.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed sentiments overnight, and the entire country rallied to join the war against the Axis powers. Here, Clark Gable enlists in the Air Force.
One of the famed “Flying Tigers” used in the fight against the Japanese
The Road to Tokyo is a journey through the war fought in the islands and jungles of the Pacific
The Road to Berlin is a journey through the war fought on the European front, replete with snowy forests, bombed out villages, and desert scenes
Although personal journals were officially forbidden, many soldiers found solace in writing and kept hidden diaries of their war experiences. This journal was crafted from metal salvaged from a Japanese plane that had been shot down.
The tragedy of the American Japanese experience is touched on in an exhibit on the interment camps
Our New Orleans experience wasn’t all about the war. We spent lots of time walking (our favorite way of exploring and to recover from the museum), discovered a couple of new places where we had delicious casual meals, hopped on the streetcar to visit the beautiful Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park, enjoyed some great music on Frenchmen Street, and experienced a bit of Mardi Gras, which turned out to be a lot more fun than we anticipated.
St. James Cheese Company, just a couple of blocks from the WW II museum
A tasty lunch to fortify ourselves for another day at the museum
Hopping on the Canal Street streetcar delivers you to City Park, a beautiful green space in the city and home to the sculpture garden, botanical garden, and art museum.
More than 60 sculptures are in the garden. I often wonder how people come up with their ideas.
An afternoon on colorful Frenchmen Street, the best place for music in New Orleans
An evening at d.b.a. New Orleans with Meschiya Lake, our favorite local jazz/blues artist.
I never realized that in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is celebrated for weeks before the actual date with dozens of parades on weekends. We happened to be enjoying an evening on Frenchmen Street when the Krewe de Vieux, a parade known for wild satire, adult themes, and political comedy, rounded the corner. We didn’t find it too outrageous; not sure what that says about us!
The crowd at d.b.a. moved outside when a Mardi Gras parade came down Frenchmen Street
The marching jazz bands are nothing like your usual hometown parade (as you can imagine)
The Krewe of Underwear, one of the only blog-appropriate groups in the parade
Float celebrating “300 Years of Ineptitude” for NOLA’s tricentennial
We had a couple of great meals at St. Roch Market, a “Southern Food Hall” and totally cool space that showcases a variety of excellent food vendors. It’s not convenient to anything, but we walked the couple of miles from Frenchmen Street twice because the food was so tasty.
Coconut curry shrimp; all shrimp should be served with the heads on because really, it’s more delicious that way.
About the campground
We always stay at Bayou Segnette State Park when we visit New Orleans. Although it’s a 15-mile drive to Algiers followed by a short ferry ride across the Mississippi to get to the city, we much prefer that to driving and parking in the city. Plus, we enjoy Algiers.
The campground is peaceful and the sites are spacious with good separation from neighbors. Paved sites, water and electric hook-ups, free laundry in the restroom complex, and good Verizon coverage. (It looks kind of blah in the winter compared to spring, when it’s lush and green.)
Campsite at Bayou Segnette, winter version
Next Up: Snapshots Of A Winter In Florida