ANN BAILEY: Down South: A trip to rememberLong ago, I came to the conclusion that I’m a home body. I love living on the farm and each evening when I pull into our yard I feel like I’ve arrived at a retreat center. After a busy day at work, the quiet of the farm is a respite and “hanging out” with my husband, daughter and sons is one of the best ways I can think to spend my time.
By: Ann Bailey, Grand Forks Herald
Long ago, I came to the conclusion that I’m a home body.
I love living on the farm and each evening when I pull into our yard I feel like I’ve arrived at a retreat center. After a busy day at work, the quiet of the farm is a respite and “hanging out” with my husband, daughter and sons is one of the best ways I can think to spend my time.
Along with the things I enjoy about my family and the farm, there also comes work, of course. My family’s summer days are filled with chores such as baling hay, mowing lawns and gardening, and we also have other farmstead and building upkeep, such as painting, to do.
Given those responsibilities, plus the fact that our sons are involved in sports and we have animals that require daily care, in the past I’ve preferred to have “staycations” instead of traveling somewhere.
Last summer my family and I made an exception to that when we decided to drive to Medora, N.D., and spend a few days touring southwestern North Dakota. My sons were on a mid-season break from baseball, we decided the lawns would be OK if they weren’t mowed for a bit longer than usual and my brother and sister offered to make sure the cats, horses and dogs were fed and watered.
Our trip was a lot of fun and everything was fine when we got back, so I decided that getting away wasn’t as difficult as I had made it out to be and that we should do it again.
This month we made good on my plan and flew to Louisiana to visit my brother, Terry, and sister-in-law, Marie, who live in Lafayette, La.
We flew into New Orleans and stayed overnight at a motel and then Terry and Marie picked us up the next day and gave us a mini-tour of New Orleans. We got out of the city with only minutes to spare before a Mardi Gras parade began.
We spent the rest of the week touring the area around Lafayette, which is a two-hour drive west of New Orleans. Lafayette is in the middle of Cajun country — the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s mascot is the Rajin’ Cajuns — so there’s a lot of good food to be consumed and many interesting places to see.
I thought I’d share some of the highlights of our trip in case anyone else is thinking about taking a trip down south. Here they are:
• Eating beignets at the Café du Monde in the New Orleans French Quarter. The pastries are melt-in-your mouth delicious and when they’re paired with the café au lait, it’s a match made in heaven..
• Riding a street car to the Camellia Grill in New Orleans. The street car trip, which takes about 45 minutes one way, goes by Tulane and Loyola universities, beautiful old houses and is guaranteed to pick up some colorful locals. The day we were riding, Elvis, who was most likely ready for a parade, was on board with us.
The Camellia Grill is another great place to eat. I ordered a juicy cheeseburger, homemade onion rings and pecan pie. (I figured the walking we did in the French Quarter would offset the calories.) The waiters are funny and talkative and serve the food with style.
• Avery Island near New Iberia, La., which is just down the road from Lafayette. Mclhenny Tabasco sauce is made on the Island and visitors can tour the factory and check out the gift store. The island’s 200-acre Jungle Gardens, which is home to many kinds of animals, birds and plants also can be toured. Much to my children’s delight, we saw several alligators sunning themselves near the road while we were driving around the island. We got out of the car for a closer look, but heeded the warning signs that advised not feeding the alligators.
We also saw thousands of Snowy Egrets on Avery Island, which has a sanctuary for the birds. E.A. Mclhenny, son of Tabasco sauce inventor Edmund Mclhenny, helped saved the egrets from extinction. The birds nest on platforms on the island’s “Bird City.”
• The Konriko rice mill in New Iberia. The rice factory is the oldest belt-driven rice mill in the United States and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can watch workers package rice and make crackers. The mill has a store that sells a variety of Konriko rice products and other Cajun country food.
• A swamp tour. There are dozens available throughout southern Louisiana. This trip’s swamp tour was the third one, and definitely the most entertaining, I’ve taken. Our guide was a Cajun who lives on a houseboat in the swamp for many years and now raises and rescues Catahoula hounds. He brought three hounds along on the swamp cruise, much to my dog-loving daughter Ellen’s delight. Jesse, Valerie and Ruby were well-behaved dogs and the sight of them riding shotgun next to our guide added local flavor to the tour.
Meanwhile, our tour guide was a wealth of information about the swamp and its inhabitants, both human and animal, and he had very definite opinions about the federal and state government’s role in bayou policy and protection. My children not only got a lesson on bayou biology and history, but they also learned that some people disagree with the way the government governs and aren’t afraid to voice that.
• Eating out at the many restaurants that feature fresh seafood and Po’boys, the southern version of what we call a submarine sandwich. I was in shrimp heaven as I ate it deep fried, fresh and in pasta. Crawfish, the signature seafood of Cajun country, crab and catfish also were on every local restaurant menu.
Worth the trip
These are just of the few many things, which also, of course, included spending time with our great hosts, Terry and Marie. If anyone is considering taking a trip down south, I’d recommend a visit to Louisiana. For me and my family, who enjoy nature, getting a taste of the area culture and delicious Cajun cooking, it was a trip to remember.