Graveyards, Ghosts, and Gullywashers

St. Francisville, LA to Vicksburg, MS

No rush this morning, except to get to breakfast at the inn by ten o’clock, as we thought we’d just be going to Natchez tonight.  It was nice to wake up slowly!  We looked around the inn now that we could see it in the daylight – I had stuck my toes in what I had hoped was the hot tub part of the pool last night, but since it felt the same as the rest of the pool…Kim watched a big ole frog hop right in the pool this morning – made me feel right at home!  We eventually wandered over to the dining room for breakfast, which was a nice buffet.  I had an egg roll (not the Chinese variety), a bite of sausage, some bacon, fried potatoes, some really yummy little apple treats, and cheese blintzes with blueberries.  Nice way to start the day!

As you may have noticed, we’ve been indulging in some mighty good food on this trip, so we thought we might take a little walk this morning in hopes of getting rid of a fried something or two.  Armed with Laurie’s map, we headed off for the visitor center/museum.  Before we had even gone a few blocks, we were glowing.  Seriously.  Like with sweat dripping off of us – it was just a bit humid!  We passed several houses with official-looking plaques and descriptions on them, but according to our map, we were not officially on the walking tour yet.  Where was that visitor center??

We found it!  And it was air-conditioned!!  We took our time examining the exhibits, and seriously, they had done a good job giving us a taste of what life was like in antebellum St. Francisville.  When we were ready to face the heat again, we started our tour.  There are a lot of old homes here, most of which appear to have been restored and are being lived in today.  We passed the Methodist Episcopal Church, which is now the Methodist Church, several houses with lovely gingerbread trim and wrought iron balconies, the old bank building, the courthouse, and the Episcopal Church.  There was a wonderful old graveyard next to the Episcopal Church, and since it was full of huge old live oaks covered with Spanish moss, it was shady and several degrees cooler, so we took our time exploring it.

We finished our walking tour and made it back to the inn to collect our car, and we went straight to George’s for some cold tea!  They weren’t quite open yet, but we must have looked really hot and thirsty, because they let us have our liquid refreshment!  Now we were off to tour one of the plantation houses in this area, and we had chosen Rosedown, the home of Jefferson Davis’s mother and named for the flowers she loved.  It wasn’t far away, and we got there shortly after eleven, with the sky looking fairly threatening.  Bad news for us – a tour was just underway, and the next one didn’t start until noon.  We decided to pass, and then the lady asked us if we didn’t want to tour the gardens between now and then.  We were going to just have a short stroll through the rose gardens and then leave, until she wanted to charge us half price just for that.  And mind you, it’s late September – there was not all that much in bloom!  So we just said thanks, but no thanks and went on in search of a plantation that suited our schedule.  You can see Rosedown at http://www.crt.state.la.us/parks/irosedown.aspx if you’re interested.

That led us to The Myrtles, which was built in 1796 by General David Bradford, who led the Whisky Rebellion.  Guess he decided to come South after that worked out so well…  Anyway, The Myrtles is haunted, or so the story goes.  We were only allowed to take pictures in one area of the interior of the house, and that was this huge mirror in the entryway.  Even though the glass in the frame has been replaced on multiple occasions, the same markings always appear back on it in the same places.  We were told a story about a slave girl who supposedly haunts the house, but after reading the accounts at http://www.prairieghosts.com/myrtles.html I have decided not to relay what we heard.  Check it out and decide for yourselves!  After our tour, we walked around the grounds for a while, then got some gas and took off for Angola and the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

You know how sometimes you just know you should follow your intuition rather than doing what someone or something else is telling you to do?  Well, this afternoon was one of those times.  Once again, Kim was led astray by her navigator, and we soon found ourselves deep in the woods, first on a road, then a gravel road, then a dirt road, and then on a one-lane dirt road, all going nowhere fast!  We saw few signs of life, other than the “Posted: No Trespassing” signs, so after a while, Kim performed a lovely seven or eight point turn and we went back to the highway we never should have turned off of, and before too long we were at the prison gates.

Just outside the gates of the prison was a museum, http://angolamuseum.org about the history of the Louisiana Penitentiary, which was known as one of the bloodiest and most awful prisons in this country.  I found it interesting that the current warden was willing to share that history, although it’s hard to see how far you’ve come unless you’re willing to admit where you were.  This is the prison where “Dead Man Walking” was filmed as well as the place it was written about, and many other prison movies have been filmed here.

We were the only visitors, and soon we were joined by a nice-looking man, all dressed in white.  He proceeded to give us a guided tour of the museum, and it soon became evident that his knowledge was first-hand.  He was the nicest guy, very gentle and soft-spoken, and he will be turning 50 soon.  He’s been incarcerated for 25 years, serving 60 years for aggravated burglary.  Seemed a shame to us – such a heavy sentence – don’t think they pass those out much these days.  He’s coming up for parole, but he’s been turned down twice already…  Anyway, his name is Edrick and we liked him!  He showed us his ‘crafts’ – remember those chains we used to make out of chewing gum wrappers?  He makes all kinds of things using that same technique and cigarette packages.  The museum was really interesting and well worth the out-of-the-way stop.  Later, when we learned there had been an escapee last week, we were glad we had found our way off of the back roads and back onto the highway…

The rain started falling about the time we got back on the road, but it just drizzled on us as we made our way back to Natchez.  Our original plans were to make it there in time for lunch at Mammy’s Cupboard (it was really good!!) but we missed that, so we decided to stop for a treat at The Malt Shop.  We both got chocolate malts and split a shrimp po’boy and enjoyed them on the picnic table out front.  The sky was really gray and threatening, and it was very hot and humid, but  at least it wasn’t raining!  We went back to the Basilica, which we were able to see this time.  Wow – more beautiful stained glass!  There are some gorgeous photos on the website, http://www.stmarybasilica.org and if you make it to Natchez (we highly recommend it!) be sure to stop at see for yourself.

 

It started raining in earnest as we drove out of Natchez, so that put a damper on our plans to stop in at the places on the Trace that we missed in the dark on our way down.  We did stop at the Emerald Indian Mound, which is huge and centuries old, but then it started pouring.  Kim gamely drove on to Vicksburg through the driving rain, and we were done for the day.  We ordered pizza and did laundry and called it a night.  We were really sorry to have missed getting to spend more time in Natchez on the flip side – we enjoyed it a lot!  FYI, they do ‘pilgrimages’ in the fall (this year it’s now – Sept 26 – Oct 10) and for four weeks in the spring where the plantation homes are on tour with guides in antebellum attire.  It would be a fun time to be there!

A little soggy but overall, I can’t complain about the rain!

Jan

Closed, on Mondays…

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!

Jan