Lost in Louisiana
Lost in Louisiana
Exploring Louisiana has been a dream for a few years now, not only due to its rich history full of fascinating blend of both French, Spanish and American heritage, but also because of my slight obsession with perhaps the sexiest vampire-centred TV drama ever created, True Blood. This desire to explore Louisiana was recently reinforced by 12 Years a Slave, a powerful and emotionally evocative film concerning slavery in the 19th century…
For me, Louisiana has always been a mysterious and, to some extent, an unsettling land of bayous swarming with alligators and Voodoo Queens; a state, whose unique present culture has been heavily influenced by Creole and Cajun heritage; a land of southern wilderness that would be exceptionally fun to explore at some time or other. There is actually a big difference between Creole and Cajun (most people think that they are the same): the Creoles are the descendants of colonial French and Spanish settlers, whereas the Cajuns are the Acadians who have exiled from Newfoundland, Canada!
One somewhat earth-shattering revelation following my road trip: I did not encounter a single person that speaks with the “Louisiana” accent portrayed in the popular media…
For this post, I have selected a few of highlights from the weekend getaway from New Orleans.
As you may or may not be aware, Louisiana is famous for its extensive bayou: marshy, practically stagnant parts of the Mississippi River floodplain in the southern reaches of the state. Following three very intense days in New Orleans, both in terms of the heat and the experience, we headed out into the bayou to cool down a little and experience the “nature” side of Louisiana. The heat, nevertheless, proved to be unrelenting…
The bayou is absolutely stunning: seemingly endless expanses of flooded forests full of big trees in the massive delta of the Mississippi river. The bayou is home to countless alligators, as well as yummy crawfish and catfish. Every day, we went alligator spotting, and saw plenty of these beautiful, slightly frightening creatures, either basking under the sizzling rays of the sun, or swimming leisurely by.
Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley Plantation is a stately estate with a rich historical past on the bank of the Mississippi river. It is a veritable testimonial to the golden age of the old South prior, to the outbreak of the Civil War. Being about an hour’s drive from New Orleans, this plantation is a perfect destination for a day trip. As you approach the plantation by following the narrow winding road along the river, you catch a glimpse of the long alley leading towards the house, lined with twenty-eight massive, magnificent 300-year-old oaks. It is a truly breath-taking and unforgettable view…
Many people recognise this plantation because it is the one that has been used in several Hollywood productions, most notably in the Interview with the Vampire. The tour of the main house, with its perfectly recreated period furnishings, gives a great insight into the tough plantation life, both to some extent for the owners and, of course, for the slaves.
On the way to Oak Alley Plantation, you pass the beautiful Felicity Plantation (not open to the public), which was one of the major filming locations for 12 Years a Slave. The slave quarters constructed for the film, as well as the main house, are visible from the main road.
Lake Martin is the most magical and serene place that we visited on our Louisiana road-trip! I am not sure whether my photographs really capture or do justice to the stunning scenery that was all around us: wide, tranquil expanses of water with millions of lilies floating on the surface; tall, powerful trees with plush garlands of Spanish moss hanging of their branches; exciting, plentiful wildlife everywhere we looked: alligators, turtles, a proliferation of birds, stunning herons in particular.
Here, I also witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets; this year it was only beaten by sunsets in Santorini, and I was even happy to put up with the irritating mosquitoes to be out to enjoy it!
Lake Martin is located a short drive from the small, old-school town of Breaux Bridge, or two hours from New Orleans.
Prior to visiting Louisiana, I had absolutely NO idea that Tabasco, a condiment that you see in almost EVERY restaurant and supermarket around the world, hailed from Avery Island, Louisiana! It actually says so on the label, but how many of us have actually bothered to look?!
Avery Island is not actually an island; rather, it is a salt dome, rising above the flooded forest and marshlands that surround it. Tabasco sauce was first produced here in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny. Originally all the peppers that were used for this hot sauce were grown here. Nowadays, however, only the seed stock is grown on Avery Island, which is later shipped to various growers in Central and South America. However, much of the salt that is used in Tabasco sauce is to this day is sourced from Avery Island.
Gumbo is my favourite food from Louisiana… This delicious concoction, consisting of stock flavoured with many spices, okra, either meat of shellfish, a thickener, and a variety of vegetables, originated from Louisiana Creoles in the 18th century. I tried it in almost every single eating establishment that I visited; it varied quite drastically from one place to another, but each gumbo was tasty in its own right and always comforting!
The funny thing is I had gumbo for the first time in years back in September in a small village of Broadford on the Isle of Skye: it was a signature dish at Creeler’s Seafood restaurant! Cannot think of anything more random…