Friday, November 16, 2012

from crawfish to kingfish

It's the week before Thanksgiving and nothing to off we go to Louisiana.  We are in Lafayette and just spending time seeing the sights and eating great food.  A cold front came in this week, so the weather has been low to mid 60s only during the day and down to 39 at night.  Quite a surprise!  This kind of weather usually happens in December/January normally.  Oh well, we are still enjoying our selves.

This area is know as Cajun or Acadian country.  French settlers who originally lived in Nova Scotia, Canada, were deported from that area by the English and sent adrift along the eastern seaboard.  Some of them ended up down here in the New Orleans area.  The Cajuns took pity on them and helped them to settle in and survive in this area.  When most of us think about Louisiana what usually comes to mind is New Orleans, Mardi Gras, Cajuns and  french speaking folks.  There is more to this state, I'm sure, but that is a big part of it.

Tuesday we spent the day going around Lafayette, which it turns out is a very small town. Not much really exciting here, but we did find a couple of things to interest us.  First stop was the Alexandre Mouton house, which was the "maison dimanche" Sunday house in Vermillionville, for the Mouton family.  The house was built in 1800s by Alexandre so that the family would have a place to stay when they came into town for Sunday mass.  Alexandre Mouton is credited with making Vermillionville, the name was later changed to Lafayette, into an important place to live and do business.  The house was eventually enlarged by various owners over the years.  Furnishings in the house are of the period, not of the original owners.
What was most interesting to us was to chat with the woman who gave us the tour.  She was astonished when we mentioned that our reason to come to Lafayette was because it was a sister city with Le Cannet France.  She and her family hosted two students from Le Cannet a few years ago.  What a small world.

We went to check out the Cathedral, which was land donated to the city by Mouton.  It was really interesting to see many French family names, including some names that are in my on genealogy.  I will now have to do some looking into this to see if there is any connection.

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting Vermillion Ville, a Cajun/Creole Heritage and folklife park just on the outskirts of town.  This is a recreation of a village, with a few actual homes that have been moved to this location.  Interesting to view and talk with some volunteers working here, spinning wool, playing music.   A good way to spend a cool, but sunny afternoon.

along the Bayou Teche

The day ended with an incredible meal at Prejean's, which was a recommendation given to us by the hotel clerk.  We started out by sharing some appetizers - gumbo and crawfish enchiladas.  The enchiladas were incredible!!! Fred then crawfish etouffee, different at every place you order it, but always good.  I had catfish with some crawfish in a sauce on the side.  What a meal, one that we may repeat before we leave Lafayette.

Wednesday we spent most of the day on Avery Island, the home of the McIlhenny family, founders of Tabasco pepper sauce.  The factory tour was okay, but not very detailed.  The country story had a tasting area which included not only the various sauces, but also a Tabasco infused cola and Tabasco raspberry ice cream.  Not running out to buy any I can tell you that.

Once we were finished there, we went on to the "Jungle and Bird City", which is this wonderful area that you can drive thru and stop to watch herons in the water, see a Buddha and many varieties of plants, trees and bamboo.  No gators out today since it was not warm enough for them to be out sunning themselves.  They were buried in mud somewhere to keep warm.
This was a very quiet and peaceful place.  We spent over 1.5hrs just driving, stopping and walking some of the grounds.  There were very few people here, so really was like a retreat for ourselves.  Quite relaxing.,_Louisiana

After that we went into the town near by, New Iberia, to visit the KonRico rice mill.  The oldest known working rice mill in the US.  It's a quick little tour, but was interesting, though now this evening we are thinking of more questions that we wish we could ask about rice.

Before leaving the rice mill I asked for suggestions for dinner.  Got directions to a local place where we had an early dinner.  Again crawfish for both of us, this time fried in a light batter- yummy.  As you can see from the pictures below, you can't judge a book by its cover.  We have learned from our time in the south and in Texas, that good food can be found in what is anything but a "normal restaurant".

restaurant in New Iberia 

This area is a big sugar cane growing area.  There are fields now being harvested and there are fields with a new crop just planted.  This is a tropical type climate, so growing is happening now.

sugar cane field

sugar cane has been harvested and is now being moved down the road to get processed.  this is an area of small local processors

Thursday I had booked a swamp tour for us to do in the afternoon, but what to do till 1pm?  We had heard that Breaux Bridge was an interesting little town to visit.  Okay, so off we went to see whatever was there.  Not much and it only took about 40 minutes to do it.....well now what.  I had seen on the map something called the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site.

Okay, let's go there since it is just a bit further down the road from the swamp tour starting spot.  What a bonanza!  There were 2 sections to the site, one was a creole house, Maison Olivier, which we got to tour.  We learned that once a live oak is over 100 years old, it can be registered in the book of ancient oaks, once it has been given a name.  So, we are now driving around and looking at what are obviously old live oaks and wondering what there names are....Bill, Betty, Cathy........Below is a picture of Gabriel, which is at the back of Maison Olivier.

Gabriel is over 500 years old

Next was the Acadian part of the site, where we could have spent hours there with Phil who is a historian and had lots and lots of information/stories about Acadian life.  He spends his days here at the farm as though it were his and is growing tomatoes, strawberries ( yes now) and other small veggies.  In addition he takes care of a few cows and a goat. We did not have enough time and it is a definite go back sometime.
So, you ask, what about Longfellow-Evangeline.  Well its all about the love story of Evangeline and Gabriel, separated by the English in Nova Scotia and finding each other later in this area.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about it.  I have never read it, but it is considered quite famous down here....
After thanking Phil for the tour, we jumped into the car and rushed back up the road to join a small group of 4 others plus guide for the swamp tour.  One thing we have learned is that each swamp is different, so don't hesitate to take a tour of another swamp.  One thing we don't do is to take one of the high powered boats, with guides feeding the gators marshmallows- yes there are those kinds of tours.  Not our thing!

One day left to our time here, so we headed east to the state capital Baton Rouge.  Visited the old state capital building which is a beautiful building to visit.  The structure survived a fire during the Union occupation during the Civil War, but had to be totally redone inside many times since.  It has a great curved stairway leading up to a mosaic dome that is wonderful to see.  Great big wood doors, metal sculpted hinges, fireplaces in all the rooms and all with views of the mighty Mississippi river.  It is now used for weddings, receptions, banquets and the like.

Outside is the Louisiana gratitude train that came from France at the end of the war.

looking up at the rotunda

We left there to walk a few blocks to the Old Governors Mansion that was built by Huey "Kingfisher" Long.  A beautiful home that he and a young architect who had recently returned from touring chateaus in France designed to together. Quite a grand "palace" for Huey Long and his family.  As Huey Long said, "everyone a king and no one wears a crown".
The mansion was used by many others since him, but was finally replaced by a newer residence which included air conditioning, a must in the south.  The cost of adding it to the existing residence would have been equal to the cost of new construction, so new won.

Well that has been our week.  Our minds are tired from all the history and trivia that we have learned.  We both agree that it has been a good week and we are glad we came.  We have also satiated our crawfish need for awhile.
I am sitting here finishing this sipping my free glass of wine that the hotel offers and feeling like it is time to say goodnight.  I want to be sure to get this out while I have such good Internet options in the hotel.
Tomorrow we head back to Somerset and the Roulotte. Keep in touch.
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!