- Off the Beaten Track
Louisiana
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South Louisiana - Cajun Country
Exiled from Nova Scotia between 1756 and 1785, French Acadians lost all their possessions - land, homes, livestock and even family. The expulsion was so severe that half of the 6,000 refugees died from malnutrition and disease. For most, it was ten long years of misery before they found a refuge and happiness in Southern Louisiana. Strengthened by their hardships, the Cajuns remain a unique society, fiercely proud of their French connection with a deep love for church, friends, music, dancing and fun. They have a "joie de vivre" that is enviable and infectious.
 
The Acadian - Cajun Connection
The 700,000 Acadians who live in Louisiana are descendants of the first white people to settle in North America arriving in 1604, fifteen years before the Mayflower. They called the area Acadia which included what is now part of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Maine.
Imagine if you will, another place and another time. The French and English are at war. The British are fearful of the Acadians loyalty to France. The men are called to a fictitious meeting and held prisoners. Women and children are loaded into boats according to their ages so families were separated, in some cases, forever. The men were deported later.
After years of suffering in their search for acceptance, many responded to an invitation by the King of Spain in 1784, to settle in South Louisiana. Happy in their new location, the news spread quickly to the scattered remnant, to join their ranks. Longfellow's poem Evangeline was published in 1847, introducing the story of the Expulsion to the English speaking world.
This tragic but fictional account of Evangeline and Gabriel, separated on their wedding day, made Grand Pre, Nova Scotia a place of special interest. A huge stone cross marks the cemetery, a lovely statue of Evangeline and a Memorial Church/Museum are part of Grand Pre National Historic Site. Guides dressed in period clothing reenact history.
In Louisiana, Lafayette is the unofficial capital of Cajun Country and Acadian Village, a living museum helps to preserve the language, lifestyle and early structures of Acadian life. A blacksmith shop, doctor's office, a quaint little chapel and a 400-year-old dugout canoe are part of the village which is a blaze of colour with pink, purple and white azaleas and fragrant magnolias.
The men of Louisiana love to cook! A group of retired men called the "Bubbas" prepare the food because they want strangers to experience southern hospitality and cuisine at its best. They served crawfish etouffee, alligator sauce piquante, jambalaya (shrimp stew served over rice), fried turkey, fried alligator, curl fried potatoes and seafood gumbo (a thick shrimp soup served over rice). The announcement was made, "Anything ya'all need, jest call me."
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Couples in Cajun costume danced and asked the guests to join in. Waltzes, two-steps and polkas were danced to drums, fiddle, accordion, guitar and a scrub board! I'm serious. Beads like those worn for Mardi Gras were tossed to the crowd so everyone was wearing at least six strings. "Laissez les bons temps rouler" is the motto. Cajuns take their fun seriously.
Vermilionville is a performance center in Lafayette that represents Cajun life in early Louisiana. Performers entertain with authentic music and dancing. In the surrounding village, volunteers dressed in period attire demonstrate the trades of the day — woodworking, blacksmithing, spinning, weaving and sewing.
The Jean Lafitte Acadian Culture Center presents a video donated by the Canadian Government, telling the story of the Deportation from the brutal round-up, to the humiliation and degradation of a proud people as they were shipped off to the southern states, England, France and the Caribbean.
 
Atchafalaya Basin
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Five o'clock a.m. and we were headed for the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin to see the wildlife. This Basin is comprised of 860,000 acres of swamps, lakes and water prairie. The trees were so covered with white egrets that it looked like it had just snowed. Out on Lake Martin, a pristine wilderness, I was dismayed to see many illegal duck blinds. It didn't make our guide happy either but game wardens are spread too thin to protect this area as it deserves to be.
Huge cypress trees represent a forest 200 years old. Signs posted "Don't Enter Feb-July - Birds Nesting." We saw turtles basking in the sun, water mocassins, alligators, nutria (like a ground hog), owls, egrets, ibis, osprey, bald eagles, night herons and anhinga. This is also a nesting ground for Roseat Spoonbills, huge white birds with pink wing tips and undersides. Watching them fly is a beautiful sight.
 
St. Martinville
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St. Martinville on the banks of the Bayou Teche has a small park where one of the huge oaks is designated "The Evangeline Oak." It was here that arriving exiles were embraced by fellow countrymen and it is the most visited site in the city. Nearby is historic St. Martin de Tours Church and a statue of Evangeline.



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The Acadian Memorial Building
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The Acadian Memorial Building is a monument to the victims of the Acadian Exile with a mural depicting the arrival, a Wall of Names in bronze and granite and an Eternal Flame, dedicated to preserving the memory of those who arrived in the 1760s. Genealogical searches start with the 3,000 names on the wall and then continue in the History Center, where the Acadian/Cajun biographies are stored.
 
New Orleans - Queen of the Mississippi
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No visit to Louisiana would be complete without seeing New Orleans. The Best Western Airport All Suite Hotel was very inviting but the French Quarter was calling so I hired a taxi for a quick introduction to the city. With map in hand I started my tour on famous Bourbon Street with its wrought iron railings, balconies with colourful hanging baskets and interesting shops. Of course, I had to try one of those famous beignets at Cafe Beignet on Royal Street and they were just as good as my grandmother used to make!
The French Quarter is the city's prime tourist attraction. It is an area bordered by Canal Street, Esplanade Avenue, Rampart Street and the Mississippi River. The center is Jackson Square named in honor of General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. The Cabildo and Presbytere flank St. Louis Cathedral. The Cabildo was the seat of Spanish colonial rule and the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803. Now a museum, the memorabilia of 200 years of history are on display. The Presbytere, originally the residence of the Capuchin monks of St. Louis Cathedral exhibit s Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana - the interesting evolution of Carnival.
Music everywhere! A jazz band was brightening everyone's day but some local children were doing a neat tap routine and a small marching band made up of young children, was gathering a little crowd of its own. What a happy atmosphere!
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Highly recommended was The Court of Two Sisters at 621 Royal Street, one of the most historic restaurants in the French Quarter and it exceeded my expectations. Unlimited choices, attractively displayed and a most helpful staff made a pleasant memory.
The French Market is the country's oldest public market with five blocks of retail and specialty shops, entertainment, the Farmers Market and Community Flea Market on the Mississippi River. The shopping was so much fun I had to buy a suit case to get back to the motel. To top it off I bought a dozen pralines from Aunt Sally's Praline Shop.
My next two nights were spent at Maison St. Charles Quality Inn and the St. Charles Streetcar stopped right across the street. This is a fun route, 13.2 miles on an oak lined avenue past the antebellum and Victorian mansions of "Uptown" New Orleans. Stop at #14 for the Garden District. A true bargain at $1 one-way.
The Riverfront Streetcar follows the Mississippi on a 1.9 mile route from Esplanade to the Convention Center,with stops at the Aquarium of the Americas and Riverwalk - an upscale shopping mall with 140 shops.
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A cruise on the old Steamboat Natchez is interesting and informative with the Port of New Orleans the second busiest in the world. There's no doubt about it, New Orleans is an experience. Rich in culture and history with big city variety, world-renowned for its fine cuisine and music that includes jazz, rhythm and blues, rock 'n roll, Cajun, classical, gospel, country, zydeco. That is a hard act to follow.
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HOT TIPS:
Avery Island is home to the only Tabasco Factory in the world. Tours and Country Store are excellent.
Where to Stay: Lafayette Hilton and Towers. 1-800-33CAJUN
Food: Shrimp, blue crab, oysters and crawfish (crayfish). Cajun and Creole cooking.
Pecan Pralines: the most popular Louisiana confection
Restaurants: Prejean's for award-winning Cajun cuisine and music in Lafayette
Breakfast at Brennans - 417 Royal Street, New Orleans. It's not just a meal, it's an experience. Reservations are a must. (504) 525-9711
 
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