Lafayette to St. Francisville, Louisiana
It was another slow-starting morning! We had lots of catching up to do, both on sleep and on blogging and facebooking and photos after our weekend in New Orleans. We didn’t really have too much on our agenda today – we planned to learn a bit about Acadian culture, eat some good Cajun food, and visit our childhood friend Merrill in the capital city of Baton Rouge. So it was after ten when we finally found ourselves at Dwyer’s Café (http://www.lafayettetravel.com/foodtour/acadianamornings/?id=26) in downtown Lafayette, ordering our sweet potato pancakes with sugar cane syrup and some eggs. We sat outside on the patio, right on the main drag, where we could admire a beautiful mural painted on the side of a building across a parking lot from us. A local couple joined us outside and we chatted with them throughout our meal. That’s one of the most fun things about this kind of travel – we’ve met some really interesting and nice folks along the way! We had read about this restaurant in several of our books, and it did not disappoint! The pancakes were especially tasty – and healthy, too, right? Oh, and just as we were leaving, Elvis, in the flesh, came walking in the door. I couldn’t get a photo – sorry!
After breakfast, we drove downtown, looking for the Borden Dairy store where we planned to have a frappe’ later on. We heard at breakfast that it was being renovated by its new owner, but that it was now open for business – good thing! Sure enough, when we went by, the parking lot was full of workmen. At least we knew where to find it when we were ready for ice cream! Our next stop was at the Jean Lafitte Acadian Cultural Center, which is home to a museum about the exile and relocation of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia and areas around there. We’d also heard they had a very informative movie about the exile, too. Turns out we got there in mid-cycle of the movie, and even though it appeared we were the only ones there, we would have to wait for the next show. So, we took our time in the museum section, which was really well done.
In case you don’t know, this area of Louisiana has quite a storied history. The Acadians were French immigrants who settled in and around the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. When the French and Indian war began, the British expelled these people, who sailed around the east coast of America, only to be repulsed and denied safe harbor in any of the colonies. They continued looking for a home, and eventually settled in the area that is now present-day Lafayette, Louisiana, and includes 22 parishes, which are now known as Acadiana. The word ‘Cajun’ is a derivative of the word ‘Acadian’ and descendants of these people still speak a dialect of French and observe many of the traditions of their ancestors. Many other peoples settled in this untamed, mostly unclaimed area of the Louisiana Purchase – native Americans were already here, and they were joined by Spaniards, Africans, Germans, English, and West Indians. Many of these other cultures refer to themselves as Creole, but there has been a lot of blending of cultures over time. All I know is the food is fantastic, the music unusual but fun to listen to and impossible not to move to, the language is like music to the ears, and the people are friendly. What’s not to love?
The movie started eventually – a private showing for Kim and me – and even though it was very well done and quite moving, I found myself nodding off at times. Kim said the movie was sad and she wondered why she was sitting there watching it while I slept! But I didn’t miss it all! You may be familiar with the Longfellow poem “Evangeline”, which is the story of two lovers separated by the exile of the Acadians. Lots of roads down here (and other things, like businesses) are named Evangeline, which now we understand. After the movie was over, we finished looking at the museum, and then we were off to explore Breaux Bridge and find some of the good restaurants we’d heard about there. But first – we went back to town to get our frappe’, only to be direly disappointed – CLOSED on MONDAYS!! Sadly, we were about to learn that this would be the theme for the day….
We soon found ourselves in Breaux Bridge, parking on the street, right in front of Café des Amis. That should have been our first clue…and indeed there on the door was the dreaded “Closed on Mondays” sign. See what we missed at www.cafedesamis.com and you’ll know how bummed we were! Okay, on to our next place, which was Champagne’s Breaux Bridge Bakery, allegedly serving breakfast and lunch and not to be missed. Hmmm…maybe something has changed since the Road Food people rolled through, but I doubt it. Didn’t look like much had changed in thirty or forty years, but believe it or not, there is a website! Try http://www.champagnesbakery.com. One room, no tables, no drinks, no parking, no menu, lots of cookies, and a handful of meat pies. So we bought a dozen cookies for the road – two each of: the specialty of the house, a pink filled sandwich cookie, a similar looking chocolate crème filled cookie, some cookies that looked like Kim’s favorite, the Mexican wedding cookie, chocolate crinkles, macaroons, and brownies. We crossed back over the bridge (yes, there really is one, built in 1950, crossing the Bayou Teche and topped by a giant crawfish) and went to the Visitor Information Center, rather than heading down a rural highway to get the best cracklin’s in the state (according to our breakfast friends) in a place that MIGHT just be closed on Mondays.
The nice lady there thought we should go back to Mulate’s, which we had seen on the way into town, for some good Cajun food, so we did. Since it was about two thirty, the place was deserted, until we got there. As is often the case, almost immediately the place filled up – four tables came in! You’d be surprised how often that happens to us. Anyway, we weren’t really hungry, but we had no idea where we were going that night or when we might eat again, and you’ve probably noticed that if we go too long without a meal, we might require medical assistance. We split a catfish po’boy and that was just right! The restaurant was dark and cool inside, and you could see there was plenty of room for dancing in front of the stage that, sadly, was empty this afternoon. Looks like lots of famous area musical acts have played here, and we were sorry to miss that fun! Get a shot of ear and eye candy at www.mulates.com and you’ll almost feel like you were there!
We called our friend Merrill in Baton Rouge, and it turned out she was waiting for us (sorry, Merrill!!) so we hopped on I-10 and skedaddled across the Atchafalaya Swamp, arriving in Baton Rouge in front of the Old State Capitol at about four. We found Merrill, who we haven’t seen since Jr. High School (gotta love Facebook!) and went inside. I loved this old building! It looked like a big castle, and on the inside, it had the most beautiful stained glass windows and dome! We walked around a bit, noting what a pretty place it would be for a reception or party, and we didn’t find the missing statue of George Washington, either. Want more info about it? Go to http://www.nps.gov/history/NR/travel/louisiana/ocap.htm to learn more. Even though it was warmish outside, we opted to walk down to the ‘new’ capitol building, which was built in about 1935.
The brainchild and pet project of then-Governor Huey P. Long (yes, of bridge fame!), it is the tallest state capitol building in the US at 34 stories! The interior of the lobby and first floors is very ornate and looks like a capitol building that is out to impress – lots of naked women on murals on the ceiling and some pretty Art Deco features – but the tower was closed for maintenance so we didn’t get to see the view from the top. As it turns out, Governor Long, aka the Kingfish, ran for US Senate and won, so he never occupied this building as governor of the state. Even sadder, it was here in the back hall of this building that he was gunned down and killed by a mild-mannered-looking doctor when he was only 42 years old. Long was a much loved and evidently much hated figure in Louisiana politics, and pretty much of a legend around here. Anyway, you’ll want to see the capitol, so go to http://www.nps.gov/history/nR/travel/louisiana/cap.htm
I neglected to mention the outside of the capitol – it sits on a bit of a hill, looking out over a mall of sorts, complete with a huge statue of – you guessed it – Huey P. Long. The front doors of the capitol are HUGE, and there’s lots of great statuary out front. There are a lot of wide steps leading up to the doors – thirteen on the first section, each one labeled with the name of one of the thirteen original states and the date of its entrance into the Union. After a landing, more stairs of the other states, in order of statehood, ending with Arizona, which I guess was the last state at the time the building was completed. All in all, it was a lovely capitol and one more to add to our collection of capitol buildings we have seen and/or visited. This trip has been kind of fun in that we’ve been through the capitals of each state we visited – Nashville, Tennessee; Frankfort, Kentucky; Jackson, Mississippi; and now Baton Rouge. Technically, we were in Alabama for a few miles on the Natchez Trace, but we’ve both been to Montgomery before anyway.
As we walked back through downtown Baton Rouge, Merrill showed us some of the other great buildings there and told us how, like many other places, the downtown is finally being revitalized and people are starting to come back to their city again. We are glad to see that happening all over the country and regret that the 70’s and 80’s had the influence on city centers that they did. We still reminisce, as we did that day with Merrill, about our bus trips to bustling downtown Paducah when we were kids, getting dressed up, window shopping with our friends, and spending our allowances at the counters of Kresge or the booths of Walgreen’s. Remember that strawberry pie, y’all?? Good times! Speaking of – we sure were glad to find one coffee shop (Community Coffee – a local business) still open (just before 5, downtown!) so we could get that refreshing glass of iced tea – we were all HOT, HOT, HOT!!
We parted company with Merrill back at the Old Capitol, across the street from what used to be the Yazoo and Mississippi Railroad Depot and is now a museum, and we decided to go a little farther north since it was still pretty early. We set our sights on St. Francisville, the second oldest town in Louisiana, and we took the Great River Road to get there. This part of the GRR is often called Plantation Alley for all the lovely antebellum homes that used to line the land behind the levees of the Mississippi here in the Delta. Of course, it first took us past the “Chemical Corridor” of Baton Rouge – evidence of the oil industry that still thrives here – we get to see all the sights! Soon we were in rural Louisiana, passing fields of sugar cane that made me feel like I was back in Queensland for a minute! Somewhere along the way we ended up on the west side of the river, and since St. Francisville was on the east side, we weren’t exactly sure how we would be getting over there. Guess the navigator should have looked ahead!
Turns out a ferry boat ride was in order, and it looked like we might have just missed the one that supposedly ran on the hour and the half hour, which was not a good thing, since we were both feeling the effects of our two glasses of tea. But we were in luck! The guidebooks were misguided, and the ferry actually runs at a quarter past and a quarter to the hour! Saved!! Kim bravely steered us on board the ferry, following the directions of the boatman that no one else seemed to need. I reckon most of the folks on this late afternoon ferry are on it twice a day, every day. So it goes without saying that they all had a big laugh when the horn sounded and we about jumped out of the sunroof! We ate some of our cookies to take our minds off the fact that there were no facilities on board, and that worked pretty well, in case you ever need a good remedy. The ride was short and uneventful, the best kind, and soon we were leaving the ferry in a cloud of dust and making our way into St. Francisville.
You’ve likely guessed that St. Francisville was named for none other than THE St. Francis, he of the friend to birds and other animals. The town grew up around one of the French Catholic monasteries that dotted this area of Louisiana, and it is home to many well-preserved homes and antebellum manors. We had plans to see a few of these in the light of day, which was fading fast, but we had no plans for dinner or lodging. We had called a few places on our way into town, but had not found a place to sleep yet. No worries! We pulled into a gas station to see what our options were, and when I looked up, it was to see a sign that said “St. Francisville Inn and Wine Parlor”, and we were right next door to it! So, guess where we stayed? See our digs at http://www.stfrancisvilleinn.com/
The proprietor, Laurie Walsh, couldn’t have been nicer, and soon we had a key to our B&B room with two beds, which is not an easy thing to find! She also gave us a map of a walking tour and told us which restaurants were still serving (after all, it was 7:30!!!) and so around the corner we went, to George’s Feliciana. Even though it was our only choice, it was a GREAT one!! I thought I’d have a light supper of a shrimp remoulade salad and some corn and shrimp soup, and Kim opted for a shrimp po’boy. Then we threw in an order of sweet potato fries, just because. Well, when our order was ready, there was enough food on our tray to feed the whole restaurant! I have to tell you, my soup was really yummy, but my salad, which was FULL of lemony shrimp and lined with huge chunks of avocado and tomatoes, was to die for!! I ate every last bite! Kim couldn’t begin to eat all of her sandwich, which must have had about a pound of fried shrimp on it and around it. Needless to say, the BUCKET of sweet potato fries went largely untouched, which was too bad, because the ones we did eat were perfect. We were not even tempted to even think about ordering pie, which looked yummy, too. See what I’m talking about – http://www.georgesbr.com/FELICIANA/
I forgot to say that we had attempted to eat at a little place across the street at the V3 Motor Lodge, but the Baldwin Sisters were playing and they stopped serving soup and sandwiches at 7:30. Got lucky, I guess! Sometimes it pays to be slow. We shuffled our over-stuffed selves back to our room to watch the rest of MNF (Go Colts!) and do a little blogging, even though we had no internet. Can’t have everything, but now you know how easy it is for me to get behind on these trips!
I was sound asleep before Peyton was able to work his weekly miracle, but Kim saw the demise of the Dolphins and then could rest easy. It was time to head north in earnest, but we sure have enjoyed our time in Cajun country!
Dem dere shrimps and crawdads, dey be so good!