This time, we visited the home of Tabasco on Avery Island, immersed ourselves in the WW II museum in NOLA, and got swept up in a Mardi Gras parade, despite the fact that we’ve always sworn we would never, ever go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
In the Heart of Cajun Country: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
I don’t know about you, but we have a bottle of vintage Tabasco sauce in our fridge. I think I brought it from home when we started our travels five years ago. (Does anyone ever use up a bottle of Tabasco?)
Avery Island is home to the Tabasco factory, where 68 million bottles of hot pepper sauce are made each year. The spicy condiment was created in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a banker bankrupted by the Civil War who happened to be a gardener and food lover.
It’s a simple recipe—a special variety of hot pepper, salt, and vinegar—fermented for three years before bottling. Conveniently, Avery Island sits on a mountain of rock salt that’s mined for the hot sauce.
The small museum is fascinating (there’s a whole sub-culture devoted to Tabasco), the self-guided tour is interesting, and the restaurant has a make-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar that begins with a 2-ounce pour of vodka and includes an elaborate array of garnishes. That may have had just a little influence on the good time we had.
There’s more to Avery Island than hot sauce, though. Edmund McIlhenny’s son Edward was a passionate conservationist, and he created extensive botanical gardens and a sanctuary for wildlife on the property.
Concerned about the devastation of Snowy Egrets (who were being hunted to extinction for their beautiful plumes), Edward hand raised eight chicks. The egrets grew up, flew away, and then came back, bringing their friends. There’s now a colony of tens of thousands that return each year in early spring to nest and raise their young.
We walked the four-mile path through the gardens, through ancient oaks festooned with Spanish moss, past ponds with alligator eyes watching us, and through gardens that come spring, are lush with foliage and flowers.
We were there in late January, too early for either birds or flowers. Still, it was beautiful.
The little town of Breaux Bridge is in the heart of Cajun country. We’ve learned to plan our visits so that we’re there on the weekend to catch the traditional Cajun music jams. Our favorite is Saturday morning at Joie de Vivre, a cozy café in downtown Breaux Bridge. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside, it’s a colorful melange of music and community spirit. (You can see a video clip of a music jam from a previous visit here.)
About the RV Park
Every time we’re in the area we stay at Poche’s Fish’n’Camp. The park offers level concrete sites situated around picturesque fishing ponds, with full hook-ups, good Verizon, a laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country (the park is about 5 miles from Breaux Bridge). With Passport America, it’s a bargain at $20 per night.
New Adventures In New Orleans
In the past several years, we’ve been twice to New Orleans in April for the French Quarter Festival, a music and food extravaganza that we absolutely loved (and would go back to again). This time, traveling through in late January, we anticipated a much more low-key visit, with the opportunity to do a couple of things that we’ve wanted to do for a while.
We planned a visit to the National World War II Museum, which our friends Pam and John told us we must not miss. And we planned to spend more time on Frenchmen Street, the local’s hangout for great music. We figured that visiting in late January, we would be clear of the city before the insanity of Mardi Gras began.
As always, we stayed across the river at Bayou Segnette State Park. It’s an easy 15-mile drive to the charming town of Algiers, and a quick 10-minute ferry ride across the Mississippi into the French Quarter. Breakfast at Tout de Suite, a neighborhood café in Algiers, is a tradition on our visits to New Orleans.
New Orleans seems like kind of an odd choice for a war museum, until we discovered that this is where the Higgins boats, the famed amphibious landing crafts credited with helping to win the war, were built.
Visiting the National World War II Museum is a total immersion into the sights, sounds, and experiences of the war, both overseas and on the home front. It’s like stepping into a time machine, where you’re whisked back to 1939 and the dawn of events that over the next six years, changed the course of world history.
Of everything, I found the personal artifacts to be the most poignant. So many letters from soldiers to loved ones at home…and so many telegrams informing families that their loved one would not be returning. So many medals of courage, so many stories of sacrifice beyond belief. If you go, be prepared for a deeply emotional experience.
The museum is enormous. Know going in that there is NO way that you can read everything, watch every film and inspect every artifact. Neither Eric nor I are war history buffs. But we were both fully engaged in the experience, and felt like it was well worth the expense ($23-25 per ticket) and the investment of time. Even trying our best to be selective, we ran out of time the first day and ending up going back the next day (for an additional $6). And we still didn’t see everything.
Our New Orleans experience wasn’t all about the war. We spent lots of time walking (our favorite way of exploring and to recover from the museum), discovered a couple of new places where we had delicious casual meals, hopped on the streetcar to visit the beautiful Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park, enjoyed some great music on Frenchmen Street, and experienced a bit of Mardi Gras, which turned out to be a lot more fun than we anticipated.
I never realized that in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is celebrated for weeks before the actual date with dozens of parades on weekends. We happened to be enjoying an evening on Frenchmen Street when the Krewe de Vieux, a parade known for wild satire, adult themes, and political comedy, rounded the corner. We didn’t find it too outrageous; not sure what that says about us!
About the campground:
We always stay at Bayou Segnette State Park when we visit New Orleans. Although it’s a 15-mile drive to Algiers followed by a short ferry ride across the Mississippi to get to the city, we much prefer that to driving and parking in the city. Plus, we enjoy Algiers.
The campground is peaceful and the sites are spacious with good separation from neighbors. Paved sites, water and electric hook-ups, free laundry in the restroom complex, and good Verizon coverage. (It looks kind of blah in the winter compared to spring, when it’s lush.)
Next Up: Snapshots Of A Winter In Florida