Thursday, April 22, 2010


Louisiana who knew it existed? We thought Louisiana was just New Orleans but what a surprise we got once again. Because of the strong influence of French, Spanish and African cultures this state is considered exceptional in relation to other states in the empire. Our first introduction to this new state and area was the Acadian Cultural Centre. A movie along with exhibits gave us a good understanding of the origins, migration, settlement of the people and the unpleasant treatment by the British in the 1700's in Nova Scotia.

We continued next to the Vermillion Ville Cajun/Creole Heritage & Folklore Park to see a re-creation of life in the Acadiana area between 1765 and 1890. The grounds are laid out as a historical village with some restored original homes, interpreters that demonstrated the traditional crafts and local musicians.

We discovered that Louisiana has some of the friendliest folk in the US. Our Canadian licence plate was confusing and the immediate impression was that we were French. The wheels kept moving and our next stop was St. Martinville, the birthplace of Acadiana. Unfortunately everything closed at 4:30 pm so we just had a brief walk around. We did find the Evangeline Oak; the most photographed tree in the World and the Statue of Evangeline; the Acadian heroine immortalized by Longfellow. A quick stop in St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church made us realize how modern American churches are compared to the much older European ones.

Second day in Louisiana was a short drive to New Iberia. We were not invited but happened upon a T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) Party. A local candidate was canvassing and we knew we had entered Republican territory. As we approached the crowds with banners I warned Don to keep all his comments to himself and we'd discuss later in the Moho.

I had watched politics on television but the live version is even more scary. I am grateful that issues such as guns, religion, gay marriage and abortion have all be dealt with in Canada and we can move on. Enough politics, we moved on to Victor's Cafeteria where the locals know a good thing. Atmosphere was much lighter and the most important agenda item there was enjoying the great food. Unfortunately we went for the famous crawfish pie but it wasn't on the menu for that day. Instead the hostess sold us a frozen crawfish pie with good instructions to savour later.

Next stop was Avery Island. This place is known for the great Tabasco Plant. Edmund McIlhenny knew a good thing post-Civil War when he decided to cultivate red peppers into the world known hot sauce. 700,000 bottles are produced daily and after touring the Plant we discovered it takes 3 years from the time of picking to bottling. The production includes storing the pepper mash in bourbon barrels which might account for the great taste. The McIlhenny family continue today to supervise all aspects of the process.

It was time to explore Louisiana's Northshore. We crossed Lake Pontchartrain via the 24 mile causeway. You don't want to run out of gas out there in the middle of nowhere. All I could think was you could almost run a marathon across this concrete structure but how boring with only water on both sides and nothing for miles and miles. We reached our first of two pre-booked park destinations, Fairview State Park in St. Tammany Parish. Louisiana has great State Parks which would explain why they are so busy.

The first physical activity was a bike ride on the Tammany Trace from Mandeville to Abita Springs. This was a 30 mile paved, flat old railtrail that was busy with runners, walkers, bikers and rollerbladers. We had a pitstop at the Abita Brewery where Don sampled the seasonal Abita Strawberry Lager. On we went to explore the Park trails and the introduction to the swamp where I spotted my first alligator in the wild.

The Tammany Trace became my favourite spot as I did a 10 mile run (the 1st since the NY Marathon) and a 30 km. bike ride. Don and Crocus also enjoyed the ability to let loose and crank out the miles.

Time to move to the big City of New Orleans; sample the cajun/creole cuisine and play sightseeing tourists. Our first tour was the Honey Island Swamp Boat Tour. It was 2 hours on the Pearl River as well as navigating deep into the bayou. The guide was excellent and could spot all types of wildlife from alligators, snakes, birds, frogs and lizards. He was a wealth of knowledge and gave us facts of the area pre and post Katrina.

Now it was time to slow the pace and wander the Garden District admiring the distinct architecture - grilled ironwork, ornate exterior moldings, Greek columns and stained-glassed windows. Many of the homes are still owned by descendants of the original owners. The streets had narrow sidewalks but were shaded with huge oak, magnolia and palm trees. The Garden District was first populated by the new Americans because they were shunned by the Creoles who continued to live in the French Quarter. No expense was spared when they developed their community which consisted of their own church, theater, cemetery, grand hotel and even a railroad. The pace changed once we took the St. Charles Streetcar into the French Quarter. No part of our travels could compare to the music, food, galleries or people that we encountered in the two days of the FQ.

It must sound as though all we are doing is eating and drinking but when opportunities arise to sample local cuisine we can't pass it up. From the cafe au lait and beignets to the grilled oysters, seafood gumbo, muffuletta sandwiches, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya and the rice/beans not to forget the hurricanes; we tried it all! Almost every establishment had live music either inside or on patios but the most impressive was a noon concert we caught at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park where Jim Hession entertained us with his ragtime, stride renditions on piano. There was definitely lots of great talent in their small City.

So our two full days were busy and the entire time we kept our friends in mind; Ruby because it's your favourite City, Brenda because you've always wanted to walk Bourbon St., Brad because you would have loved the jazz, Jeff because your recommended gallery was an oasis from the hustle and Dave because your advice regarding the hurricanes was duly noted. However, it was that time again! Good-bye to Louisiana and hello Mississippi.

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