A Plantation, a Preserve and lots of seafood – NOLA

Comments 17 Standard
American Bullfrog

At the River Walk in New Orleans were 22 plaques describing interesting facts about the mighty Mississippi River.  One thing we learned is that this mud-laden water has flowed over 2,350 miles and takes about 66 days to get from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.  Our crossing of the Mississippi River was a unique trip, according to one of the plaques.  Because Louisiana is the only state divided by the river, and New Orleans the only city that straddles it, this is the only place you can cross the river without crossing a city or state line.  Oh yeah, we felt unique after leaving New Orleans.

Mississippi River

On other days our excursions around the area took us to a Plantation and a Preserve.

Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge are nine majestic historic plantation known collectively as the New Orleans Plantation Country.  The roots of these lavish estates began in 1718 with the founding of New Orleans.  Most plantations produced sugar, which provided their owners with the kind of vast wealth it took to build these huge estates.  To keep their place in history, the homes have been authentically restored to their original style.

We chose to tour the “Grande Dame of the Great River Road,” the Oak Alley Plantation, which is a protected National Historic Landmark.  It is named after its distinguishing feature, an alley or canopied path created by a double row of massive live oaks about a quarter mile long.  They were planted in the early 18th century, long before the present house was built.  The alley runs between the house and the Mississippi River.

Alley of Oaks

Mint Julep seems to be the favorite drink in this area, and they had a little bar set up at the house.  It was still early in the morning, but we didn’t want to seem out of place.  So, with a Mint Julep in hand we strolled the grounds after the guided tour and admired the majestic oak trees close-up.

On another day we took a trip to the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Barataria Preserve, which is 14 miles south of the state park where we stayed.  The preserve’s 23,000 acres include bayous, swamps, marshes, forests, alligators, nutrias, and over 300 species of birds – lots of them.  After a brief stop at the visitor center, we meandered down the boardwalk trails (Visitor Center Trail and Palmetto Trail) and dirt trails (Bayou Coquille Trail) which wind through the preserve.  Here is the trail map, or you can enjoy a self-guided tour or explore with a cell phone tour.

The swamp critters we encountered are quite fascinating.

American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog

 

Ibis

Ibis

American Alligator

American Alligator – Steve finally sees his first ‘gator!

The rest of our days at Bayou Segnette State Park were spent cooking seafood, for just outside the park is a bustling Seafood Market.  And we got busy, cooking and eating, and on other days we simply enjoyed the frequent visits of the Northern Cardinals, seven of them at one time!

After this stop, we need to double up our exercise!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places:

Gulf Shores, AL

Pensacola, FL

************************************************************

 

Taking it easy in the Big Easy – New Orleans

Comments 16 Standard
French Quarter

Dang, we missed Mardi Gras?  Oh well, let’s just walk around and sightsee instead. 20130304-RV-LA-22

The city of New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras, Creole cuisine,  Super Bowl XLVII, Jazz music, beignets and Hurricane Katrina.  New Orleans is also known by other names such as the “Big Easy” because of its gentle, slow and easy-going way of life.  Or the “Crescent City” because among the many bends and turns in the Mississippi River bordering the city, a small but sharp curve in the river between Esplanade Avenue and Canal Street forms a crescent. New Orleans is also simply known as “NOLA.”

The idea of driving to and parking in the city did not appeal to us, so we searched for alternatives.  We decided to catch the free ferry from Algiers Point (about 14 miles from the State Park).  After paying $5.00 to park the car at a good lot (you can apparently park on the neighborhood streets for free, but we didn’t like the looks of them), we crossed the Mississippi River to town in about 15 minutes, ending up at Canal Street.  It was a non-event, but the ferry and waiting areas on both sides of the river (Algiers Point and Canal Street) could use some cleaning up.

New Orleans

Aboard ferry with NOLA in the background

We dedicated this day to walk, eat, drink and be merry on the streets of the Big Easy.  Let’s go!

First things first, a sugar rush is what I needed before our walking tour.  Off we went to get one of those square deep fried doughnuts known as beignets (pronounced  “ben-yays”) or “French doughnuts.”  No, Steve doesn’t want anything to do with sweets.  His loss – more for me!  Next to Cafe du Monde was a store where pralines are deliberately made behind glass so you can see and smell – and oh, maybe buy some? – of the super-sweet stuff.  It’s a candy made with brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, butter, and pecans, another specialty in NOLA.  I HAD to get some of that, too!  Steve’s eyes rolled once again.

A few feet from where I was munching on my dougnuts is Jackson Square, a historic park in the French Quarter declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  This is where aspiring artists, musicians, entertainers, horse drawn carriages, arts, mimes and  just people mingle.  We think the entertainment was fairly tame because it was still early in the day.

Jackson Square

That beautiful white building in the background above is the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of Francethe oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.  New Orleans is instantly recognizable by the cathedral and its position overlooking Jackson Square.

The St Louis Cathedral

Inside the St Louis Cathedral

To begin processing the sugar coursing through my veins, we strolled along the Moon Walk.  Mayor Moon Landrieu installed this scenic boardwalk on top of the levee to reconnect the city to the river; it is known as the “Moon Walk” in his honor.  It was a breezy but beautiful day to stroll.

Moon Walk

At the moonwalk viewing the Century Bridge and the business district

We ended up at a floodgate and entered the French Market.

The French Market stretches six blocks, containing lots of retail shops, outdoor cafes, a farmers market and a flea market.

In the heart of New Orleans is its oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter . This district as a whole is a National Historic Landmark, and contains numerous individual historic buildings.  Strolling along the quaint streets, we noticed the stunning architecture as the dominant feature.  Some colorful homes with balconies are adorned with intricate ironwork and courtyards are filled with lush greenery.  These are the balconied homes that we saw on tv (was it Cops?) where people tossed out beads during the Mardi Gras festival 😦

French Quarter

Bourbon Street was slightly impacted by hurricane Katrina and is in the heart of French Quarter.  We walked its 13 blocks from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

While it is now primarily known for its bars and strip clubs, or “party central” in NOLA, Bourbon Street’s history provides a rich insight into New Orleans’ past.  At night this is where things get crazy and the “unique” people come out to play.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is now a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street.  Built sometime before 1772, is one of the older surviving structures in New Orleans and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States.  We stopped and got our first “Go-Cup” of Voodoo Daquiri.  It’s legal here to drink on the streets, provided the drink is in a plastic container they call a Go-Cup – no bottles or cans allowed on the streets.  It felt a little strange walking down the street with an alcoholic drink, but hey, we like to try something new each day!  So, with our Go-Cup in hand we continued our excursion.

Some of the famous names in Jazz music have their own niche on Bourbon Street, called Musical Legends Park.

Musical Legends Park

Musical Legends Park

At this point in our walk at the French Quarter we got hungry for some NOLA specialties.  Never had a Po’ Boy before, so it was a Po’ Boy sandwich and Gumbo for us, followed by another round of drinks – a Voodoo Rum and a Spicy Bloody Mary.  Whoa!

Notary in NOLAWe carried the drinks and continued our exploration.  Leaving the French Quarter, we headed toward Canal Street where the business section and hi-rise buildings are situated.  One of our to-do’s here was to look for a Notary Public.  Why?  Let me digress for a moment. This is a friendly reminder to all my dear readers to always check your credit card charges every couple of days.  Steve diligently checks our credit charges and caught several transactions charged in Pennsylvania.  He cancelled the card immediately, but to get the charges removed from our account he had to have the paperwork notarized, since we are on the road.  In this area the notaries are usually lawyers, so of course it costs much more.  Well, down a back alley we went to have the friendly lawyer do his thing. OK, back to having fun now!

20130304-RV-LA-23

Central business district

With our business done we headed to the River Walk Marketplace.  This is a tourist trap located next to the Convention Center and the cruise ship terminal.  Since this is not shopping day for us, we instead went there to learn more about the Mississippi River.  That will be our next story.

Riverwalk

Is that train moving? – Tough arrival in New Orleans

Comments 23 Standard

“Is that train moving?” Steve asked repeatedly.  After peering behind us I replied that it was moving – toward us!  That blaring horn was telling us to get out of its way.  “Let’s get out of here!” Steve yelled in exasperation, while I nervously signaled oncoming car traffic to stop.  They were not slowing down nor giving us enough space to enter the road with 60′ of RV/car.  But we had to get out of the way or risk getting crushed by the train, which would have definitely put a damper on our weekend.  With a tiny bit of clearance we turned left and Steve stepped on it.   Whew!  Holy smoke that was close.

So, you might ask, how the heck did we end up here?

It all began 25 miles west of New Orleans.  As we were merging onto I-10 East we noticed cars pulling over and backing down the onramp – not good.  Crazy drivers!  Then we saw the backup that we could not avoid and proceeded to sit there for 2 hours waiting for a fiery crash ahead to be cleared from the road.  We may be retired and not in a hurry, but when you are in this situation you get agitated and antsy.  But there was more excitement ahead!

20130301-RV-LA-4

When the jam cleared and we were approaching the Huey P Long Bridge, traffic was again heavy and cars were weaving in and out in front of us.  Some drivers here are really baaad!  Understand that we are now heading into Friday afternoon traffic due to the huge delay we had just experienced.  There was major construction underway on the bridge, and the two available lanes were literally not wide enough for Betsy and a truck to travel side by side.  So Steve drove right down the middle – let them honk, we want to live!

More traffic

If you plan to come into this area from the west very soon, we suggest you call your destination and get directions over the phone until maps are updated.  We thought we were prepared by having printed and GPS instructions.  However, the construction here is so recent and hugely changed, there are no current directions that we can find.  At the foot of the bridge we didn’t know whether to go straight or make a turn.  So we turned and soon noticed that phenomenon where the trees start closing in and the streets begin to get narrow.  Oh, we’re getting busy now!  If we had been driving a car this would have been easy, but with our size the stress sets in.  It turns out we would have gotten lost if we had gone straight ahead, too.

As we saw the river up ahead and the oncoming traffic we made a best-guess turn.  Ok, this looks better, we’ll follow the road under the bridge and get right back on track.  I grab my laptop and open Google Maps to find out where we are now (GM doesn’t know about the new roads, either).  We start re-plotting our course and settle down a bit.  What else can go wrong?  Then there’s the TRAIN…

Steve pulled up to an angled busy intersection with a RR crossing, with a train sitting a ways back at our right rear – almost impossible to see from inside the RV.  We stayed behind the crossing line as long as possible, but had to cross it to turn left onto a road.  Steve pulled up to the intersection when he saw a break, but a speeding motorcycle killed our opportunity.  Steve kept asking, “Is that train moving,” and for a while it wasn’t.  Then it was.  Right at us.  But the cross traffic was relentless, and of course nobody wants to stop for the train, even though the conductor was laying on his horn now.  I was signaling through the window for people to stop, but they either didn’t see or ignored me.  Finally, the traffic stopped and we “jumped” through that intersection as quickly as possible.  Sorry I didn’t get pictures, we were a little busy at the moment.  Would the train have stopped for us?  Probably, he was barely moving.  But I don’t want to ruin the suspense of the story!

Welcome to New Orleans!

After wiping off the sweat, we arrived safely at Bayou-Segnette State Park.  To calm our nerves following what was easily the worst driving day of our adventure, we explored our new digs.  We chose this State park after seeing a good rating from Nina of Wheeling It.  It is just a thirty-minute drive or a free ferry ride across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

Bayou Segnette State Park

At the park, all sites are long and paved, and have either a wood deck or cement patio with table and fire pit.  Sites are widely spaced with lush grass.  This is the second state park in Louisiana we’ve been to where laundry is FREE and wifi is available (but a bit slow).

As we explored further around the park, we noticed miles of levees, floodwalls, floodgates and water control structures.  They have been busy here indeed since Katrina showed up in 2005, and the construction continues throughout the area.

Flood Gate

Steve examining the flood gate.  That’s about 2′ of concrete with a bank vault-looking door!

Flood wall

Miles of flood wall

Levee

On top of a levee, with the flood wall behind.

We will be hanging out here for about a week to see the sights and food of New Orleans.  More to come!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places:

Biloxi, MS

Gulf Shores, AL

Pensacola, FL

————————————————————————————————

Tabasco and Aigrettes – Avery Island, LA

Comments 18 Standard
Centuries old Buddha

Now back to our regular programming.  The last two anniversary posts, hiking and biking faves, were fun to write not only for the sharing part but because they brought back fond memories as we discussed and voted on them together.

Now where were we?

Registering for the tour

Registering for the tour

Pass the Tabasco, please.”  We hear this in restaurants, diners, even at home,  that’s how famous Tabasco sauce is.  I love Tabasco, for it gives that extra zip to an otherwise bland food.  But do you know that the plant that makes Tabasco is sitting on an island of salt right here in Louisiana?  Do you know what an Aigrette is?  How could Tabasco and Aigrette be in one sentence?  Well, hang on and read on, even if you don’t like Tabasco sauce. Avery Island

We love touring working factories of all types, and we try to locate them as we move along on our travels.  Avery Island is the home of world-famous Tabasco sauce, owned by the McIlhenny Company.  The island is surrounded by swamps and marshes, and you must pay $1.00 to drive onto it.

The island is the largest of five “salt domes” in coastal Louisiana, and the first salt dome mined in the US.  And we’re not kidding around when we say BIG.  According to the information we got at Avery Island, “If you fashioned of pure salt a life-sized model of Mt. Everest, there would still be enough salt left to model a dozen or so of the major mountain peaks of the Allegheny range”.  Wow, my blood pressure is rising just thinking about that!  The mine currently produces about 2.5 million tons per year and the extracted salt is 98.9 pure.

We learned a lot of interesting facts about the making of the famous sauce from their 8-minute video:

-Tabasco pepper sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, its recipe unchanged for over 142 years and in the same location, Avery Island.

-30 acres of the peppers, known as Capsicum frutescens variety tabasco, are grown on Avery Island to produce seeds only.  The seeds are then shipped primarily to Central and South America, where peppers grown in the constant heat and humidity are used to produce the sauce.

-To determine ripeness, peppers are compared to a little red stick (le petit bâton rouge) that each worker carries.le-petit-baton-rouge

-The pepper mash used to make the Original Red Sauce is allowed to age for up to three years in white oak barrels (previously used for Jack Daniels whiskey).  Just like wine, it is being fermented and aged!

-Tabasco originates from  a Mexican Indian term meaning “land where the soil is hot and humid.”

-A 2-oz. bottle of the Original Red Sauce contains at least 720 drops.

A viewing gallery is provided, where we observed the bottling and packaging operations, and on this day the batch of  Tabasco was going to Germany.  How about this number – 700,000 bottles are produced per day at this one plant, and every bottle ever produced came from right here!

Tabasco Pepper Sauce

We ended our tour with a stop at the Tabasco Cafe where we enjoyed our current favorite food, Crawfish étouffée and Boudin splashed with what else ,Tabasco sauce.  Yum!

On the other side of Avery Island is the Jungle Garden, a 170-acre lush garden with a bird sanctuary as the highlight.  The garden was cultivated by E.A McIlhenny, son of the Tabasco sauce inventor.  He also installed the sanctuary for the Snowy Egrets called “Bird City “, and through this and his other efforts he was able to save these birds from extinction.   We saw the specially-built platforms which are rebuilt every year just for the nesting birds.

Bird City

Platforms for breeding Egrets

Now to the aigrettes.  During breeding season the Snowy Egrets develop “aigrettes”, or “nuptial plumes.”

Egret developing aigrettes.

Note the aigrettes

Years ago, aigrettes were so desirable (used to deck out woman’s hats), that plume hunters nearly completely exterminated these beautiful birds. Their filmy plumes are such a beauty that it costed more than gold a century ago.  While we were viewing them we spotted two lovebirds doing their thing.  Click here to view my first-ever X-rated image 🙂

Snowy Egrets

Ain’t they cute! It must be mating season.

Self-guided driving access to the Jungle Garden tour was a little pricey, but the Tabasco plant tour was free.  Anyway, that’s how Tabasco and Aigrettes can be in one sentence!

During this stop we stayed at Poche’s Fish-N-Camp RV Park, which was recommended by one of our followers, Alice and Bernard.  It’s a very quiet, clean and spacious park with lots of open spaces and large ponds that we enjoyed walking around several times.  We had a 360 degree view of the ponds and the birds were chirping to their heart’s content . If you like to fish, this is a good place too, for their ponds are well stocked and you dont need a license to do so.  We would definitely come back here again to spend much more time!

Poche RV Park

Our digs surrounded by very large ponds

And finally, Louisiana’s sunsets are not too shabby…
Louisiana Sunset
Louisiana Sunset
Next up – we’re heading to the Big Easy for our first time ever!

Hanging Out In Cajun Country – Sam Houston Jones State Park

Comments 19 Standard
Swamp Trail

Welcome to Louisiana signThe Southwestern Region of Louisiana is known by some as “Cajun Country” and boasts both bayous and big cities.  Our first stop in the Pelican state was Sam Houston Jones State Park.  It is located at 107 Sutherland Road, Lake Charles, Louisiana at the confluence of the Houston & Calcasieu Rivers and Indian Bayou.

The landscape is obviously in stark contrast with the desert and plains of the Western states we have traversed recently, for we are now in America’s Wetland.  When we arrived, we entered a park with tree-filled lagoons and a mixed pine and hardwood forest covering 1,087 acres of land.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

We like state parks for their large spaces between sites.  But here the sites are a bit tight and narrow – not what we normally expect of a state park, and some sites were buckling due to tree root incursion.  We were actually forewarned that state parks further east are old and may need work.  But this was the first state park we have seen with full hookups and 50-amp power.  And the beauty of the park and the nice hiking trails grew on us the longer we stayed.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

The water and power hook ups are way too far from the site, but the office kindly lent us an extension cord. The park is mostly peaceful and quiet, but there was some kind of constant distant humming from a plant that got really aggravating.  The birds and the wind could not drown out that noise!

Sam Houston Jones State Park

Note how far the hook ups are.

There are three hiking trails winding through this beautiful park.  First we took the Riverwalk Trail — 1.6 miles that follows Houston river and dry cypress swamps.
River Trail
20130225-RV-LA-26
Swamp Walk Trail — 1.1 miles around the swamp and this is where I saw my first Gator and other animals!
Baby Gator

Steve’s new screen background – this guys is so cool, and the colors around him are gorgeous!

On another day we tackled the Longleaf Pine Trail — 3-1/2 miles, then added the Longleaf Pine Extension — 1.3 miles.  Luckily on this trail we did not hear that obnoxious noise.  Instead we were in the midst of hardwood and long-leaf pine trees.
20130224-RV-LA-14
The park is said to be located in the Central Migratory Flyway, just north of the most productive birding region in Louisiana.  Even if we were too early for the migratory birds, we did hear a lot of birds but rarely saw them – the trees are so tall!  But with patience I managed to capture the resident feathered friends.
Red-headed Woodpecker
Great Heron
Finally, we had our first taste of Cajun cooking.  We ordered shrimp étouffée and chicken and sausage gumbo from Steamboat Bills.  We can imagine ourselves gaining many unwanted pounds during the next few days we are here in Louisiana, as we savor the wonderful flavorful dishes.
Cajun Style

Upcoming stops – do share with us any “must do’s” at these locations:

New Orleans, LA

Biloxi, MS

—————————————————————————————————