Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ahwww, how sweet! I guess it's that time of the year  ...

Well, we've settled in once again and are 'sort-of happy' with our new spot.
It's roomy and shady and quiet, but when it rains ... it turns out we're in another low spot.... and yes, it did rain! A lot! Again!

Can you believe it?! I'm so done with this rain!

Fortunately, we 'only' got a few inches and it drained pretty fast but Houston, on the other hand, flooded completely this time!
Again, properties were lost and people drowned ... this is a horrible year for weather so far!

At our park, people are slowly cleaning up their sites from the 'big one' a few weeks ago. 
Many of the regular/permanent people that have RV's parked here, had build some kind of a deck around them, and although most of the RV's were pulled out during the evacuation, many of these structures have been destroyed.

There are quite some people who have given up and are bailing out ...


The owners of the campground, Nita and Roy, are still working on their structures, cabins and bathrooms, and after that they still have the grounds to clean up  ....

Lot's of stuff got caught up in the swamp/bayou. What a mess ...

OK, time for some fun!
We arrived back in the area just in time for the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.


A tell-tale sign of the sub-tropical climate here is the fact that this strawberry festival takes place annually on the second weekend in April. There's places in other states that are still dealing with snow on the ground!
Ponchatoula is known as the "Strawberry Capital of the World". At the turn of the 20th century the local area changed its chief industry from lumber to commercial farming and the main produce was the strawberry.

So, despite the recent floods, this little town set up to party! 
We went early, warned by locals that the crowds and roads were going to be crazy later in the day, and walked the fair grounds.
We watched a game of egg-throwing. This one even involved the 'Strawberry King' himself:

Being the area's major charity funding event, churches, clubs and service organizations had set up shop on the festival grounds to raise money.
This year, some of the profits were going to the victims of the floods.

Unfortunately, this means that everything is waaay over-prized! 

It didn't hold us back from buying a strawberry/chocolate funnel cake though. We had our mind set on 'something strawberry' for coffee, so we went for it. 
Unfortunately it was a disappointment. Although I liked the funnel cake, I really didn't care for the canned (!) gooey strawberry stuff on top. Bleh! You'd think they use fresh strawberries at a strawberry festival?!

Let me see, what else did we do?
Oh, well, we played golf, of course! We checked off three (!) courses of our 'Golf Crescent City' card!
The first one was Oak Harbor in Slidell, about an hour to the east of us.

It was a rather grey day, but without wind, and the temperatures were perfect.

This links-type course is very nice, although water comes into play on 12 holes (sigh), and it's nicely maintained.
We had a good time and a pretty good round also, for a change!

We played the next course  a couple of days later, since James finished one job and had to wait a day to start the next.

This one was in La Place, about 45 minutes south-west of us.

Another beautiful course, although, as a reminder of the latest floods, a few of the fairways and cart-paths still had some water on it ...

I especially liked this course since there were 'pink' tees, which were placed waaaay forward, so even a short hitter like me could be on the green in regulation!

James had a lot of 'fun' in the sand-traps ....

And last weekend we went back to Slidell to play another course there, the Pinewood Country Club. 


The thick trees that line some of the narrow fairways can make for tricky shots and many of the greens are small and fast.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the course was pretty much full, which unfortunately made for very slow play ...

Other than that, I've got not much else to rapport, other than a few shots of our campground's resident Peacocks ...

Yes, you're a stud!
Because of spring, the two males are constantly calling out (have you ever hear a Peacock scream? It's LOUD!) and occasionally there's some fighting!

Merl' thinks they're too big to be bothered looking at them, and of course he can't hear them anyway ...
He has a new favorite sleeping space ... an old box, under the front of the RV. 
If you have a cat you know how this goes; you buy them an expensive fluffy bed and than they choose a cardboard box ...

Oh, I almost forgot, (and guess who else?), it was my birthday yesterday!
James 'surprised' me on this day with coming home early and taking me golfing, when I discovered he had Kim, the golf-pro re-grip my clubs, besides also getting me some new balls. 
Which in itself was very nice, but also really hilarious, because he'd totally forgotten it was my birthday, didn't congratulate me, it was just pure coincidence he did all this.
I didn't say anything, waited it out, and it took until 4pm, after some careful hints, that he saw the light!

Any-who, as a present to myself, I'd gotten me some new (golf) shoes too!

These are so cool! They're Dawgs, 'the world's lightest' golf shoes, and look basically like a sort of Crocs with spikes. 
Now, I know not everybody wants to be seen in Crocs, but I happen to love them, and I like these a lot. Super-light and airy!

We went out to dinner at a neighborhood cafe, just around the corner from the campground.

James was very happy with his mega-pile of fried onion-rings ...

And I was very happy to discover they had fresh boiled Crawfish that on the menu for the day!

A lot of work, but yumm!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Oak Alley Plantation
Well, here we are, back at Hidden Oaks in Hammond, already for two weeks now, and I've still not posted anything! (yeah ... what else is new, I know)
OK, here goes...
According to plan (amazing) we left Simsboro on Friday the first at around 9.30. We didn't have very far to go, only about 70 miles, to the Red River Midway Marina & RV Park in St. Maurice, and the ride was smooth and uneventful, just like we like it.

On arrival, the campground seems deserted and the office is closed, but after calling the owner's cell phone he emerges from one of the cabins on the river's edge. 
We quickly learn that this campground was completely flooded after the recent storms and is only just dried up enough in certain areas to allow some campers to stay. Lucky for us!

The first site we try turns out to be to muddy, hence 'soft' and we barely manage to get out of it when we realize this! The second one turns out to be dry and we even have a  river-view from here.

That afternoon we headed for the Cane River Creole National Historical Park just south of Natchitoches.

Established in 1994, this park serves to preserve the resources and cultural landscapes of the Cane River region. Located along the Cane River Lake, it is approximately 63 acres and includes two French Creole cotton plantations, Oakland and Magnolia.

The Cane River region is home to a unique culture; the Creoles. The nearly three hundred year relationship between the Cane River Creoles and their homeland was shaped by the river. This relationship was tested by flood, drought, war, and numerous other obstacles. Luckily, their resilience and resourcefulness has allowed the Creole culture to endure and thrive.

First up, we visited the Oakland Plantation.


This (relatively) small plantation can trace its roots to the 18th century with the French Creole Prud'homme family. 
In 1789, Emanuel Prud'homme received a land grant from the Spanish government, who ruled Louisiana during that time. Emmanuel was one of the first planters to grow cotton in the area. During this period, Emmanuel began to purchase enslaved workers to labor in the fields and build the structures needed on the plantation. 

In 1818, Prud’homme began construction of his plantation home. In the late 1820s, Emanuel’s son, Pierre Phanor Prud’homme, took over management of the plantation.

Oakland Plantation has 17 of its original outbuildings still remaining. Outbuildings still on the plantation include two pigeonniers, an overseer’s house, massive roofed log corn crib, carriage house, mule barn that was originally a smokehouse, carpenter’s shop, and cabins. 

Overseer's house
                                                      Slave cabin
Unfortunately, the settings on my camera were wrong, and most of my shots got overexposed. !@#$%! I have to watch and check that little turn-knobby-thingy!

The front porch was flanked by these gorgeous magnolias ...

Speaking of magnolias, next up was the Magnolia Plantation, just a little drive down the road.

The origins of Magnolia Plantation can be traced to the mid-18th century with the French LeComte family and are continued by the French Hertzog family. In 1753, Jean Baptiste LeComte received a French land grant in Natchitoches Parish. LeComte established the plantation and focused mainly on tobacco, and subsistence farming.

The overseer's house at Magnolia.
The land has since remained within the LeComte/Hertzog family for more than 250 years, and they still occupy the main house.

At the height of their prosperity in 1860, the family produced more cotton than anyone else in the Natchitoches Parish.

Magnolia suffered greatly during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The original main house, built in the 1830s, was burned by federal troops in 1864 and was not rebuilt until the 1890s. Following the war, the cotton market was unstable, leading to economic hardships throughout the South. 
Though much land was lost, Magnolia Plantation survived numerous financial panics, the Civil War and the Great Depression.

Slave quarters at Magnolia

Of course, like all other plantations, this place would have been nothing without its circa 75 slaves, who build the houses and did all the hard labor, with too little to eat, while living miserable lives in small quarters. 

I was particularly interested in seeing the cotton press, the only one remaining on its original site in North America.


We ended the day in the city of Natchitoches.
Founded in 1714 the site was established near a village of Natchitoches Indians on the Red River and is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory. 

The City’s Historic Landmark District,  encompasses a 33-block area, includes many historic homes, churches and commercial structures. 
A mixture of Queen Anne and Victorian architecture, along with Creole style cottages can be seen throughout the district. 


The Kaffie-Frederick Mercantile, Louisiana's oldest general store, is a real step back in time and a lot of fun to look around in.
It has any thing you could want from candy & bottle cokes to cast iron cookware to clothes to toys to farm & plunging needs & all in-be-between.

While in Natchitoches you have to try the Natchitoches meat pie, a regional dish from northern Louisiana and actually one of the official state foods.
It has a savory meat filling in a crescent-shaped, flaky wheat pastry turnover. It is similar to a Spanish picadillo beef empanada.
Ingredients include ground beef, ground pork, onions, peppers, garlic, oil, and a pie shell.
Natchitoches meat pies are often fried in peanut oil because of that oil's high smoking temperature.

A number of restaurants in the historic district serve them, Lasyone's Restaurant being the most famous. But of course, just our luck, it was closed that day!
Fortunately it wasn't difficult to find another little restaurant that had them on the menu, and we have to agree, they are delicious!

When we returned to the RV, a big cat jumped out of the bay the moment we pulled up, and run into the bushes behind it.
When we went inside it turned out Merlin had been attacked by the !@#@$ beast. One of his ears was ripped, he was bleeding from a puncture wound on his leg and this cat had literary scared the shit out of him, because there was poop everywhere!
Poor baby! He was absolutely terrified and was shaking when I picked him up. After cleaning him, and the RV, and applying some Neosporin on his wounds he calmed down a little, but he stayed and slept in our arms and on our laps for the rest of the evening.

Lesson learned, never leave the bay open if we leave, when we are in new/unknown territory!

Opalousas City Park

Fortunately, the next morning, Merl' seemed fine, his wounds looked clean, and although a little careful, he already stepped outside for a while.
That day, we drove further south, for about 100 miles, to Opalousas, where we found a nice site at the largely empty City Park Campgrounds.

After setting up, and making sure to close the bay this time (!), we drove to Eunice, about 25 miles to the west on the I-190 for a visit to several of this town's 'Cajun heritage' tourist attractions.

The Cajun Music Hall Of Fame and Museum was created to honor those individuals who contributed to the local cultural music and who otherwise may have been forgotten.
The Grand Opening was held November 29th. 1997, and was attended by numerous musicians, singers, songwriters, radio and recording personalities as well as city officials and 32 of the personalities (living and deceased) were inducted into the museum during the this ceremony.

The small museum also features a variety of Cajun musical instruments as well as records and albums of Cajun sounds from years gone by. 

Next we walked over to the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve 'Prairy Acadian Culture center'. Yowser! How's that for a name?

Cajun history, language, music and architecture are very nicely interpreted and the Cajun's recreation, clothing, religion, cuisine and farming are explored in detail. 

This Center is staffed by National Park rangers, and every Saturday at 3:00 pm it hosts a jam session with local Cajun musicians, and at 4:00 pm a cooking demonstration of Cajun cuisine, by one of the Rangers and/or local chefs. 
We stayed for the cooking and got to sample some excellent meat stew, made with Louisiana's famous 'roux', which is cooked until very dark in color or, much easier, made from a jar:

We had something to drink in the local cafe, where we were encouraged to sample some of the locally made 'cracklins', which are basically Pork Belly cubes, with the skin still attached, deep fried till crispy crunchy and seasoned lightly with Cajun spices. 


After a quick dinner we walked down to the Liberty Center for our evening 'entertainment', for which we had gotten tickets earlier that afternoon.

A beautiful 1924 vaudeville/movie house purchased by the City of Eunice, the Liberty reopened its doors on July 11, 1987, with a 1 1/2-hour live radio program featuring Cajun and Zydeco music, local recipes, and Cajun humor. 
It is the only show of its kind found anywhere else and is still going to this day, every Saturday night from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. 
Featuring both Cajun and Zydeco music in the Grand Old Opry/ Louisiana Hayride format. Cajun French is the language of the show with enough English spoken 'so that everyone can enjoy this unique and one of a kind experience'. 

That night was a full house, due to a bicycle race being held that day in the area, and it's participants were all attending as part of the organized event.
We had an absolute blast, the Pine Leaf Boy's that were playing that night played Zydeco as well as Cajun, and had everybody dancing on the small dance floor in front of the podium from the get-go!

Oh, and before you ask ... simply put, Cajun music is the waltzes and two-steps played on a Cajun accordion by the white descendants of the Acadians, who were exiled from Nova Scotia in the 1700s.
Zydeco is the R&B-based accordion grooves of black Creoles and mainly uses either a piano accordion or a button accordion.
Talking about Cajun, the following morning we left Opalousas, without paying for the campground, (shame on us, but we really tried and couldn't find anybody to pay to, neither human nor a 'box' or anything else, so we gave up) and drove the 56 miles to Port Allen, just before Baton Rouge, to the Cajun Country Campground.

Not much of a campground, but reasonably priced, with rather spacious sites and close to the places we wanted to visit in the area.

The first of which was St Francisville, 35 miles north of us, to see the old town and the Audubon State Historic Park.

Established as a Spanish monastery during the years 1773-1785, St. Francisville is one of the most unique and beautiful small towns in Louisiana and the South.

Home to fewer than 2,000 people, the town is the oldest in the Florida Parishes and was once the capital of an independent nation, the Republic of West Florida. 
Besides the many beautiful historical houses in the town itself, it is surrounded by a cluster of large plantation homes, a number of which are open to the public and some of which date from the 1700s.

One of these is the Oakley House,  built around 1806 at Audubon State Historic Site, which we visited next.

As usual, the approach to the house was spectacular! 

The park features the main Oakley House, a restored plantation kitchen, two slave cabins, a barn, museum, picnic area, and walking trails through the beautiful grounds.
We watched a video of the house's history at the visitor center, took a look at some displays and went for a tour of the main house.

Oakley's interior has been restored to the Federal period style (1790-1830)

The slave quarters
When Oakley was built, it displayed state of the art architectural influences that had been developed in the West Indies to allow for better ventilation and air flow during the hot summers. 
The jalousied galleries (jalousies are wooden shutters) allowed cooling breezes to flow through, while blocking out some of the heat and direct sunlight of the day.

As architecturally special as the house itself is, Oakley's real "claim to fame" originated in 1821when the naturalist John James Audubon arrived.
Hired by Mr. and Mrs. James Pirrie, owners of Oakley, to teach their daughter Eliza to draw, Audubon took up residence in the house. In those days, naturalists and artists like Audubon usually traveled from town to town, living with affluent local residents and teaching or tutoring while also doing their other work.

The famed naturalist was taken by Oakley Plantation and the surrounding woods and fields. Of the plantation itself, he wrote that its beauty seemed "almost supernatural," and he described the magnolia and other trees in flowing terms.


When we were there, some of the Wisteria was still in bloom and in the pond lots of dragonflies were flying through the yellow Irises.



It's easy to understand that it was here that Audubon began at least thirty of his bird paintings.
His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed.


One interesting thing I learned during the tour that we took through the house, was that Audubon actually didn't paint the backgrounds of the birds (all the plants) but left these to an assistant.

Another item of interest, one we've encountered in all houses so far, is this fan above the dining room table, called a Pukha.


Coming to America by way of the West-Indies, they were hung above the dining room table to shoo away insects and for cooling purposes.
It was moved by a little slave boy who'd pull the rope, sometimes for hours at a time!

After that much history it was high time for some exercise, so the next morning we golfed the LSU golf course in Baton Rouge.
Considered the flagship university for Louisiana, their course is a nice one.

That's the LSU stadium in the background

Maybe a little too much water!

After lunch we drove to Vacherie, located on the west bank of the Mississippi, about 50 miles south-east from Baton Rouge, on the famous River-road.

We had to cross the river again via one of those crazy high bridges, (yikes!) but it gave us a nice view of baton Rouge and the levies on both sides:

Driving this river-road it soon becomes obvious what makes it so famous  ....

The plantations!

During the 18th century, the River Region sugar industry was flourishing, and a chain of stately plantation homes lined the banks of the Mississippi.
We picked one of the most famous ones to visit, Oak Alley, known as the “Grande Dame” of the Great Louisiana River Road.

 Named for its distinguishing visual feature, an alley (French allĂ©e) or canopied path, created by a double row of southern (Virginia) Live Oak trees about 800 feet (240 meters) long, planted in the early 18th century — long before the present house was built.

Oak Alley Plantation
The property was designated a National Historic Landmark for its architecture and landscaping, and for the agricultural innovation of grafting pecan trees, performed here in 1846–47 by a slave gardener.
(not that he got any credit for that of course!)

Before taking the tour of the house we wandered around the grounds and looked at the out buildings and it's slave quarters.
The original Roman family was (french) Creole and controlled over 220 slaves on their property.

Today, the history of Oak Alley's enslaved men, women and children take the shape of a permanent exhibit. Located on the historic grounds, almost exactly where the original community stood, 6 reconstructed cabins give insight into their lives and habits.

Four of the Cabins depict a type of dwelling--a field slave's quarters, a house slave's quarters, a sick house and a post-emancipation residence. 2 have been converted to exhibit spaces, inviting visitors to understand slave life on a more personal level. Displays here focus on religion, punishment, how slaves at Oak Alley were clothed, and the work that consumed their daily lives. 
It's a sad story but one that definitely also needs to be told ....  


Just like every tourist, we walked up the “Alley” way so we could see the house with the 28 large live oak trees leading up to the front door ... and of course we had to take a selfie!

                       Can you believe it? 400 Years old!
               (The tree, not the dude)

When we finally got to take the tour, we were greeted at the front door by a period dressed gentleman who proceeded to take us through the whole house, during which we encountered several more people in costume.

It was an excellent tour with very detailed information.
We learned that the house is built in Greek Revival architecture, hence the (28) columns (corresponding with the 28 oaks of the alley), and is a true example of an 'Antebellum' mansion. 
('Ante' meaning before, and 'bellum' war. The civic-war that is).


The rooms where beautifully restored and re-decorated in the period of the Roman family.
Notice the very fancy 'Pukah' above this dining room table !


Afterwards we sat down in the shade at the patio of the restaurant/gift shop for another of those typical 'southern delights', a Mint Julep, which is basically mint syrup, bourbon and ice ... 


And, (oh what the heck, you only live once) we also had a slice of bread pudding with rum sauce!

Since you can only see so many plantations before getting overwhelmed and since the entrance fees are 'up there' ($18-24/pp), we decided on seeing only the gardens of one more of the 'big' plantations, those of the Houma House, just a few miles up the river.

This beautiful plantation, also known as Burnside Plantation, is most famous for it's  gorgeous gardens.
It was established in the late 1700s, with the current main house completed in 1840. It was named in honor of the native Houma people, who originally occupied this area of Louisiana.

Being called “The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road”, Houmas House farmed sugarcane on tens of thousands of acres, and became the largest producer of sugar in the country. 
In fact, this grand estate was so lavish that it was described by many as “The Sugar Palace.”
Another 'Antebellum', the house is build in French Colonial style.


The mansion and grounds have been thoroughly restored and enhanced to reflect the opulent lifestyle and grandeur of the successful sugar barons who once lived in Houmas House.

These oaks! Just stunning! That's James there, at the trunk ...
Visitors can stroll through 38 acres of breathtaking, lush gardens, which are replanted throughout the year to reflect the season.
Which we did, and it was the perfect time to do so, at the end of this beautiful, warm spring day ...

No wonder the complex, containing eight buildings and one structure, and the 10 acres (4.0 ha) they rest upon, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 27, 1980.

Indeed, the property is so stunning and romantic that it was voted the Number One Ceremony Location by the Professional Wedding Guild of South Louisiana.

Even the birds lived 'in style':


And that, my friends, brings me (almost) to the end of our trip 'home', and also to the end of this gi-normous post. (Phew!)

The next morning we packed up end drove the last 55 miles to Hidden Oaks.

Upon arrival we were met by a very busy crew, who was still working hard to restore all the damage that was done by the recent floods.
They'd had 8 feet of water on most of the grounds!

We decided to pick a slightly different spot this time, a little further from the Bayou and, hopefully, a little drier.
Although, if we get another 8 feet of water we won't be safe anywhere on these grounds!

This spot is right next to the playgrounds, which gives us no neighbors on that side, it is a little more under the trees, which gives us more shade and faces with our patio to the other side, which blocks us from the sun during the afternoon and early evening.

Since they're officially still closed during their clean-up, and are only letting the 'permanents (and us) in, it's very quiet. 
Just the way we like it!

The weather was still very nice, as it was during the whole trip, sunny, but not too hot, and the evenings are perfect, so after spending the rest of the afternoon to set everything up again, we brought out the BBQ ...


Which brings out the worst in some of us ... (only if you look very closely, you'll see the rip in his right ear)

Did somebody say BBQ?