April 17



Louisiana Slideshow


. . .We took a short plane hop (from Tampa) to New Orleans where Ginny and Harvey were waiting for us at the gate. From there, we drove through the dark of evening back to "the camp", supped on brie and crab soup, some wine, hot bread and salad. After some good conversation and general planning for the next day's activities, we retired to the newly finished "chateau". Their home is on a canal off the Tickfaw River in Killian (just outside of Springfield) - a beautiful setting with cypress, oak, and a panoply of blooming plants.


On the Tickfaw River

On the Tickfaw River, home of our dear friends the McQuirters


April 18



We headed into New Orleans after a light breakfast. We had a drive through the French Quarter to sort of get the lay of the land before we went for an enormous buffet lunch at the Court of Two Sisters. Our dear friend, Eileen, had eaten here in the 1940's and loved it. To its credit, it is still a fine place for a generous and widely assorted buffet - there are tasty salads, huge piles of fresh shrimp and crayfish, meats, fresh fruit and desserts. The pleasure of listening to live jazz adds to the dining experience. It has a lively courtyard as well as indoor seating and a lot of what we think of as New Orleans atmosphere.

After checking in to the Hotel de la Poste in the heart of the French Quarter, we began our discovery tour by walking the district. It is as pretty and interesting as we had expected - wrought iron balconies with colorful flowers spilling over the top, small shops with just about everything imaginable and the aromas from kitchens drifting through the air. We walked the length of Chartres, then up to the corner of Dauphine to catch the St. Charles Trolley. The trolley skirts the edge of the famous Garden District. There are numerous mansions (for want of a better word) some of which date back to the late 1850's mixed in with newer homes and replicas. Some have beautiful gardens at their fronts (oleanders, jasmine, bougainvillea, banana trees, magnolias, live oaks draped with Spanish moss) many are Italianate, Greek Revival or Victorian (or a combination thereof) and have elaborate cast iron fences and balconies (or galleries), ornate porticoes, wood fret-work trim, all to the point of being "flashy" - they were designed by "Yankees" during the 1850's. These deserved a closer look and were added to our plans for the next day.

Also along the trolley trail, there lies a peek at the Lafayette Cemetery, Christ Church Cathedral, the Ruhlman-Hackett House (designed in 1854 by Gallier - more later), not to mention the Zoo and some grand colleges (Tulane and Loyola)! In the cooling of the evening, it was a most enjoyable journey and a pleasant look at the other side of town from our more typically Creole headquarters.

After a short rest, we headed out for a night in the French Quarter. As we meandered up Bourbon Street (closed after dusk to vehicles), sounds of zydeco, R & B, jazz and blues assaulted our senses from virtually every restaurant or bar. We peeked into some and lingered at others until our wandering led us to the famous Arnaud's. Started by "Count" Arnaud Cazenave in 1918, this grand old place has been restored completely. It has a variety of dining rooms, ornate mosaic floors, leaded glass windows and high ceilings with lazy fans. Aside from the crystal, linens and silver, potted palms are strategically placed to add to the atmosphere of old New Orleans. It's definitely worth a look. We were ready for a light snack and ducked into its more casual "sub-shop" called Remoulade to enjoy their spicy shrimp salad and a cool Abita amber beer.

Feeling rested, we continued our stroll down Bourbon Street. It is intense, loud, partying and stunning. After ducking in to a few places to listen to their sounds, we went in to Pat O'Brien's Bar. It was constructed in 1791 as a home and became the bar in 1942. It has a patio bar that's casual (except for the startling flaming fountain in the middle of a garden). There's a "dueling piano bar", a courtyard restaurant, and a small bar with hundreds of old steins hanging from the ceiling. The foyer is decorated with crossed rifles hanging overhead and the entire building has dark woods and glazed bricks. They served up some tasty cool drinks (their specialty is the Hurricane in up to a 3 gallon glass) and the crowd was lively. Their "expert" suggested the "R&B Club" a few doors down Bourbon as the best place to catch good blues on a Sunday night. We finished our evening at the R&B Club listening to blues by a couple of good local bands. The first was reminiscent of the old Paul Butterfield style, while the second (led by the owner of the club) had an extremely versatile repertoire. We returned to our rooms a little after two and the club was still going full tilt - one might even say they were just warming up!



Bourbon Street Sign

First sign we saw on Bourbon Street





April 19





Beignets and coffee at the Café du Monde started our day in top form. This is a must for any visitor - hot, rich coffee with fresh hot beignets loaded with powdered sugar. What a treat! We walked down Decatur to Jackson Square with its impressive statue of Andrew Jackson perched upon his horse. Here we visited the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest in the United States of America. It is adorned with a large mural behind the altar that represents Saint Louis and the 7th Crusade as well as numerous wall paintings, an intricate ceiling mural and finely restored "painted" stained glass windows. An oddity (to us) was their "Millennium Door" which has been sealed temporarily with the intention of a grand opening event to coincide with the Pope's New Year's Eve party!

We crossed Jackson Square which is surrounded by an iron fence and filled with lots of flowering plants and banana trees. Along the edges, vendors, street performers and artists create a festive atmosphere. A quick trip across the park brought us to Café du Monde where we enjoyed those heavenly beignets and the "French Market" with its small shops and open air stalls.

Just up from Jackson Square on Royal Street is the Gallier House Museum. It was built in 1857 by the famous (in this town) architect James Gallier as his family's home. It has been very carefully researched and restored. As an architect, Gallier had not only drawn detailed plans, but also sketched wall covering designs, window treatments and other decorative items. There are fine marble mantles, high ceiling rooms, ornate cornice moldings and trim. The rooms have been refurnished with period drapes and furniture, crystal, silver, china and other accoutrements. They had an inside room for bathing which was quite a luxury at the time, quarters for their servants, a large cistern and (of course) an out house - with two seats! What once was the carriage entry holds a vintage carriage and ends in a beautifully manicured jewel of a garden courtyard. The tour guide was informative and able to answer any of our questions.

For those who can appreciate a bit of the weird, the Voodoo Museum on Dumaine holds a collection of magical articles. They offer a museum tour, cemetery tours and plantation house/swamp tours as well as psychic readings, rituals, voodoo dolls and a gift shop. They have put together an historical and multicultural exhibit to both entertain and educate their visitors.

We returned to our hotel via Royal Street. Here one finds dozens of antique shops scattered between gift and jewelry shops. It provides a nice window shopping walk. Because all of the museums are open from Tuesday through Sunday, we checked out of our hotel and drove out to view some more of the Garden District. Its finest examples are just off of St. Charles on First Street, Prytania, Jackson and Coliseum. For example, the Buckner has a 22,000 sq. ft. interior, Brevard-Mahat has delicate roses on its double galleries and fence, the Briggs-Staub has pointed arches and shutters with a bulls eye window, and Colonel Short's Villa has a heavy cast iron fence designed to look like cornstalks entwined with morning glories. This list could go on, and we will surely wander through more of the district on our next visit.

After lunch at Cannons (salad mounded with spicy popcorn shrimp) we began our drive out of town to the Oak Alley Plantation. We traveled through beautiful, lush green countryside to Vacherie. Along the way we passed several other old plantation homes - Evergreen (in modest disrepair) seemed caught back in time with its grand oaks dripping Spanish moss, and a completely restored plantation complex which offers a tour of "the way things were". There are dozens of restored homes, some of which have been refurbished to become inns.

Oak Alley immediately grabs your attention with a spectacular avenue of two rows each with fourteen live oaks that span a quarter mile from where the original French settler's cabin sat out towards the river. These trees are now about 300 years old and stand in contrast to a similar set of "baby" trees at the rear of the house that are a mere 150 years old. In 1836 the wealthy sugar planter Jacques Telesphore Toman bought the property and built Oak Alley mansion for his bride. The home's architecture combines several styles but is primarily accented by 28 (eight foot circumference) classical columns that surround it and stand two stories tall. The walls of the house are sixteen inches thick, it is surrounded by thirteen foot wide verandas and has tall windows that provide lots of cross ventilation. A thousand acres of the original land around it has been sold to leave the plantation grounds on twenty five acres. The interiors are furnished and decorated in the style of the period and their tour provides interesting historical information about the life style of the times. 

We stopped at the top of the levee to look across the Mississippi before heading back to the camp. The rest of our evening was free to relax, chat and enjoy a snack of bread, cheese and wine.



Jackson Square Corner

At one corner of Jackson Square this corner begins a series of small arcaded shops


April 20



While enjoying our fresh fruit for breakfast we were joined by one of the neighbors, Ward. This charming Cajun has a deep love for nature and wildlife and has done extensive photography along the canals and bayous of the area - he has promised to show us his portfolio later. This morning's trip took us to Baton Rouge to run a couple of errands. We had a nice tour of the complex of the State buildings and through the local campus and its sorority and fraternity houses. All were quite impressive and certainly in a nice location near inlets from the Mississippi River. We had another Hellenic feast at Zorba's. I might add here that we met Ginny and Harvey while we were traveling in Greece and that wherever we go together, we search out "Greek" restaurants because they always provide tasty fresh food and a welcoming atmosphere.

On our return to the camp, Ginny and Mike decided to take naps while Harvey began preparing the boat for a trip down to the lake to watch the sunset. I settled in on the deck to enjoy the birds singing, beautiful trees and plants, and lizards basking in the sun. It was a very peaceful lull. Wesley, Ward's son, had stopped by with a beautiful mature king snake. His intention was to give it to Harvey for territorial protection and his gift was graciously accepted (although Ginny refused to hold the gentle creature).

We boarded the "Ginny Lou" and began our trip from the small canal, into a larger one, and eventually out to Lake Maurpas. The shore was scattered with homes that varied from house boats to fishing shacks to "boat-ominums" to plantation mansions. Tall cypress with dripping moss and eroded roots or trunks jutted out along the shore line in the open spaces of the "swamp". There are restaurants at the main junction of two canals that one can tie up to for a meal or a drink - we understand it can be quite a party on the weekends. As we made it to the entrance to Lake Maurpas, the sun set in tones of deep coral to purple back-lighting the magnificent cypress trees. What a sight! We snacked on cheese, crackers, wine and olives while returning to the camp. There was not much of moon out so steering back to camp was done very carefully.


Baton Rouge Old State Capital

Our friend Virginia worked here for a very long time


April 21


We had a sumptuous breakfast of Belgian waffles smothered in fresh strawberries with mimosas. Ward joined us and said he will bring Ginny a filet from the 13" catfish he picked up from his lines yesterday. Each morning he goes out to check and set his lines, then picks up his catch in the evenings. Jay, another neighbor and the "puppy-sitter" brought over an ice chest with a batch of fish he'd caught the night before while out with his girlfriend. We had a very laid back sort of morning - Mike had some time to help clean up Harvey's PC, Harvey got everything together for the plumber, Ginny cleaned the fish, and I just dinked around taking it all in.

The afternoon was spent with a stop at Don's for massive shrimp po-boys, fried crayfish and crayfish etouffe. We toured around the Ponchatoula, Edmonton and the area surrounding the camp to see a wide variety of homes. These included some rather large homes raised up on stilts to protect them from the rising water that occurs. We traveled through an area where some of "Eve's Bayou" was filmed, truly swamp land with interesting plants and wildlife. Of some amusement to us was a sign that stated this was a conservation area, the only permitted use is fishing, hunting and trapping!



Destrehen Mansion

Destrehan Plantation is one of many landmarks on the River Road


April 22


Hot home made biscuits with "little sister's" home made strawberry preserves started the morning off fine. Ginny presented me with a wonderful recipe book (she and Harvey each had five recipes in it because they're great cooks). It contains some tasty looking "Louisiana style" recipes and was put together by their church. I'm sure I'll have a lot of fun trying them out when I get home!

After a pretty drive through some small towns and across the countryside (remarkably flat compared to our area in Northern California), we arrived at Pontchartrain Vineyards in Covington. This charming family run winery is well known in the area for producing a fine variety of wines. Susan Seago poured tastes of the five white wines they had available (they had sold out of their reds), and we chatted about wines, vineyards, and a bit of their history. A bit later, her husband John came out and after some more wine chat, he brought out some bottles of "test" cabernets and a Cynthilla Norton (American grape) that he had pulled from the barrels a couple of days before. He shared these samples with us and we tasted and offered comments as best we could. It was great fun and a rare treat. We look forward to the finished products!  

Off to Friends Restaurant for a huge seafood platter. This taste of a "little of everything" was wonderful. The restaurant is at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain and offers a splendid view with indoor or outdoor seating. Around the corner lies a small local cemetery. We took the opportunity to wander through and dance on a few graves.

Back at the camp, we met Betsy (Ward's wife) who had brought over his portfolio. Ward was out checking his lines. She took me back to her home to see a number of framed prints. Ward has an excellent eye and a real talent at capturing the beauty of the Louisiana water environs. Our last evening concluded with lots of good wine, chicken Caesar salad and fresh strawberry shortcake topped with Blue Bell ice cream - a yummy treat. We made a late evening of it, reluctant to have to leave tomorrow. It was a fine vacation and we have lots of ideas about things to see and do the next time we visit.


Lake Ponchartrain Sunset

Sunset over Lake Ponchartrain