Friday, March 23, 2012

New Orleans Part 1

At long last, (I know you've been waiting anxiously!) a post about our New Orleans trip!

The Big Easy beckoned.  Nancy and I felt we had no choice but to answer the call.  So, we packed our bags, rented a car and headed to Cajun country.

This is what happens when Sid takes a picture, but it's all we have!

We had planned our itinerary and figured, if we did power-sightseeing (you know, like power shopping), we could experience all the must-dos on our lists in eight days.  The first day was planned as strictly a travel day, destination Lake Charles for the night. 

Our first of many big laughs was as we tried to figure out how to unlock the doors, set the trip odometer, turn on the wipers and figure out all the gauges in the car!  It took a few minutes, but finally we were on the road.

With the exception of getting lost right off the bat (we recovered nicely, thank you) and having to drive straight through the middle of Houston, the trip was fairly uneventful.  We saw our first refinery, one of many, many, MANY that we saw on the trip.

Refinery outside Lake Charles

We spent the night in Lake Charles, LA as planned, and started out again early the next morning, destination Lafayette, LA.  There were several things we wanted to see there.  Instead of staying on Interstate 10, we left the highway and travelled one of Louisiana's Scenic Byways.
Notice that the sign is also in French

Although when I think of a scenic drive, I think of mountains, Louisiana has its own beauty.  Along the way, we saw what we thought were either crawfish ponds or rice fields.  Turns out they were both.  We learned that crawfish are farm rasised in these ponds.  During the crawfish harvest season (which happened to be during our trip, lucky us!), the farmers use a flat bottom boat with what looks like a tractor wheel on the front to crawl through the ponds. 

A view of the ponds from the car window

These ponds are set with crawfish traps,

Crawfish traps (All you can see in the fields is the top white part)

the crawfish climb in and can't get out.  The farmer then culls the crawfish, throwing back the too-small ones for harvest next year.  When the shell of a crawfish gets too thick, the harvest season is over.  They then crawl down into the mud and the farmer drains the pond, a crop duster plane sows rice seed and the ponds are filled back up.  The man who explained this to us you will meet a bit later.

Not having stopped at McDonald’s (our usual breakfast place), by the time we reached Lake Arthur, TX, we were hungry. It’s a tiny town (2000 population) but a place called Sugar Chic caught our eye and we decided to stop.
A cute little bakery in Lake Arthur

Our breakfast

It was a bakery, so we had bread pudding and pecan pie with chocolate chips for breakfast. It was hard, but someone had to do it! Ashley, the waitress, was born and raised in Lake Arthur, but loves New Orleans so we chatted about all the places to go while we ate.

We also saw some very interesting things in the tiny town of Lake Arthur.

A giant crawfish

Bunny hay roll

Business sign

Back on the road, the next stop was unplanned and unexpected. Fresh strawberries by the road! The berries and the vendor came from Springfield, LA, where a nearby town has a big strawberry festival every year. This guy swore they were the best strawberries in the country! And I think he was right! This is the guy who told us all about the crawfish farming, too.

Nancy at the strawberry stand
Nancy tasting the strawberries (She approved, so we bought a boatload of them)

Lafayette (pronounced laf-ay-ette by the locals, not lah-fay-ette) Visitor center was the next stop.

Visitor center

Fun sign

Next to the beaver bayou
The center was very picturesque, with multiple buildings, a beaver bayou and neat art. I loved listening to the volunteer in the center speak, as she had what I called a native tongue - very subtle Louisiana accent that would take you by surprise on certain words. I could have listened to her all day.

First was Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.  It consists of 6 different parks in South Louisiana.  The Acadian Cultural Center is in Lafayette and contains many exhibits and tells stories of the origins, migration, settlement, and contemporary culture of the Acadians (Cajuns) and other area groups.  

At Jean Lafitte (that’s what everyone condenses it to) we saw a fascinating movie about the original settlers of South Louisiana. In 1755, French-speaking Acadians were exiled from their homeland in Nova Scotia, Canada by the British. Many of the settlers, now known as Cajuns, found a new home in the fertile marshlands and prairies of South Louisiana. They joined Native Americans and Creoles (see below for definition) and flourished. 
The ranger was very friendly and had spent time in Florence years ago. It’s surprising how many people we met that knew where Canon City actually was. Anyway, he insisted that Lafayette and surrounding areas were “a completely different country” from New Orleans. We didn’t understand it at the time, but finally got it when we took a cooking class in the Crescent City (more about that later).

I had to take a picture of an alligator, just in case I didn't see a real one on my trip.

Alligator sculpture at Jean Lafitte

Jean Lafitte , by the way, was a gentleman pirate in the early 19th century.  Why a national park was named after him I could not find out!

Now’s probably a good time to present some of the things I learned.
Acadians are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists  who settled in Nova Scotia, a distinct colony of New France.  Their descendants settled in south central Louisiana, known as Acadiana and became known as Cajuns.

Creole people refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent. The term was first used during colonial times by the settlers to refer to those who were born in the colony, as opposed to those born in the Old World.  Whites were generally known as French creoles, while blacks were referred to as Creoles of color.  Creoles generally lived in New Orleans.

Vermillionville, next on our list of places to see,  is a place where the histories of both Acadians and the Creoles are being recreated for us all to learn about.
First thing upon arriving at Vermillionville was lunch. We ate a typical Cajun lunch of a cup of gumbo, tasso and rice, black eyed peas, carrots and a biscuit at La Cuisine de Maman’s Cajun & Creole Restaurant, on the grounds.

Our lunch

Tummies full (always a priority with us), we toured the village and saw some interesting homes

Nancy outside the restaurant

A cajun house

Outdoor stairs

Typical house

The outhouse

Water cistern

Quality construction :)

Outdoor stairways

An upscale outhouse (3 holer)



Interior dining room

Shingles placed to prevent water run off


You’ll notice that the stairs for the houses are on the outside, no matter how large or small, plain or fancy the house. This is because the stairs always led to the older boy’s quarters.

We also watched a blacksmith make a twisted iron hook, got serenaded at the school by the teacher and his accordion,
Accordian like the one the teacher used
saw a trapper carving toys, a fisherman making a fishing net and a lady spinning wool. The village isn’t a living history site per se, but they do have some demonstrations.  All of the houses were basically built in the same style, with  features commenserate with the owners economic status. There were beautiful flowers and trees all over the grounds and we spent the rest of the day touring the grounds.
Dinner that night, upon recommendation of the visitor center, was at Randol’s a restaurant and dance hall.
Another alligator, just in case!

Nancy in front of Randol's

Inside Randol's

Nancy had the crawfish bisque and I had a crab cake. It was a little pricey, but worth it.

Crab bisque

Crab cake

After eating, we went into the dance hall to listen to the live Cajun band. While eating, we had been watching this older woman dancing by herself to every song. Myrtle was born and raised in Lafayette and comes to the dance hall to dance two or three times a week.

Myrtle and Nancy

That was it for that day - we were exhausted from all the walking. So off to bed, with another big day planned for tomorrow! 

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