Sunday, July 22, 2018

Take a Weekend Trip to New Iberia

Bayou Teche, New Iberia
As my summer vacation comes to a close and the hectic school-year calendar approaches, Steve and I made one more trip to south Louisiana before we become consumed by school schedules, his Masters studies, and my book events.  In this sort of calm before the storm, we threw ourselves into the Jeep and headed south.

After our first visit to New Iberia in April to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, we fell in love with the city and with the people.  I am simply enchanted with all of it: the hospitality, the natural beauty, the lyrical Cajun accents, and the complete joie de vivre that we found there.  And because the weekend of the literary festival was so fun and so full of activities, we didn't get a chance to see and do everything we wanted to, so a return trip was more than needed.

The attractions around Iberia parish are epic.  When we were there in April we did a quick tour of the Tabasco factory (because it was Sunday they were not in production that day), and Jungle Gardens on Avery Island. Both were amazing and call for a return trip.  I want to see Tabasco when they are in production and Jungle Gardens is beautiful and deserves more than the quick couple of hours that we were able to give to it before going home.

For this trip we wanted to visit New Iberia again, catch up with some friends we made in April, and tour Jefferson Island.

When we arrived, my friend Wendy asked if we were up for going with them to the Cajun French Music Association dinner and dance with them and so we tagged along for that which was big fun.  We danced a bit and learned a couple of Cajun dance steps.

Cajun French Music Association dinner and dance.

The evening ended at Clementine on Main where we had a couple of drinks and the most divine bread pudding on the planet.  After listening to our New Iberian friends, I decided I need to brush up on my French!  If I lived in New Iberia, I'd go to the French breakfast at Victor's Cafeteria on Thursday mornings and learn a few things!

The next day, our only full day this trip, was dedicated for Jefferson Island.  We stopped in Delcambre on the way and looked at the boats which was pretty cool.

Somebody please throw me on a boat and take me out into the Gulf!

Shrimp boat at Delcambre.

You have to see Jefferson Island to believe it.  I took lots of pictures and not a single one does it justice.  Driving into the parking lot, we had to go really slow to avoid hitting peacocks.

Peacock on Jefferson Island.

The island isn't actually an island, but a rise from a salt dome, just as Avery Island is.  In November, 1980, a Texaco drilling rig on Lake Peigneur pierced the salt mine which cause the huge lake to drain into the mine, backed up water from the Delcambre canal and the Gulf of Mexico rushed into the mine and lake bed, and remarkably, none of the mine workers were injured, although much damage was done and property lost.  You can easily see the chimney from a home which is all that remains.  The litigation dragged out for years.

Here's an eight minute video of that disaster:

Joseph Jefferson died in 1905 and his beautiful home and island were sold:

After his death in 1905, Jefferson's heirs sold Jefferson Island and the 2,000 acre plantation in 1917 to a partnership of John Lyle Bayless, Sr. of Anchorage, Kentucky; Paul Jones, bourbon distiller of Louisville, Kentucky; and E. A. McIlhenny of Avery Island, maker of TABASCO® Sauce. John Lyle Bayless, Jr. affectionately called Jack, developed Rip Van Winkle Gardens around the historic home in the late 1950's after selling the salt mine that tunnels under the island and lake. Bayless donated the home and 800 acres to a private operating foundation which he formed to assure its continued operation far beyond his lifetime to share with everyone, the place he so loved and enjoyed.
The house was amazing:

Joseph Jefferson home.

We spent the entire day in this paradise; the gardens are gorgeous.

Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island.

There are many oriental influences in the gardens including these gates:

Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island.

I was mesmerized by the lotus garden and took a million photos here.

The Lotus Garden.
The flowers were so delicate and beautiful.

Lotus flower.
Here's another:

I took another million pictures and videos of peacocks.  I really wanted to capture their calls on video but wasn't able to do that.

We spend a long time just sitting on one bench or another, listening to the sprinklers, watching butterflies, raccoons, peacocks, and squirrels, or just watching the lake.

There is the chimney - all that remains of the house.

For lunch we went to the Jefferson Island cafe which offered air conditioning (yay!) and a beautiful view of the lake.  I imagine in cooler weather (that is, not over a hundred degrees...), people dine outside because there's a nice cooling breeze coming off the lake, fanned by the Spanish moss, and through the trees.

I had a pastrami and Swiss cheese sandwich and Steve had an eggplant dish that he raved over.

We spent a couple more hours in the garden after lunch then went back to the hotel to shower and change for dinner.

We got to Main Street a couple of hours before our dinner reservation so that we would have time to shop.  We stopped at Books Along the Teche and visited with Howard and Loraine Kingston for a while and purchased a couple of books.  Loraine told me that Burke has a new Robicheaux book coming out in January called New Iberia Blues.  I can't wait!  Anything James Lee Burke related, Howard and Loraine know.

Books Along the Teche.

It was still too early for our dinner reservation so we walked Main Street, visited with some locals, and finally stepped into Bourbon Hall for a cold beer and a couple of quick games of pool.  We went to this sports bar when we visited in April and because the service was fast and friendly, we went back.  I lost three games of pool, but hey, I'm out of practice.

On to dinner.

Our dinner choice was Clementine on Main.  Clementine originally opened in 1980, closed for two years, and recently reopened under new owners.  They describe themselves as "southern casual fine dining" and I can attest to that.  The beautiful, old, tiger oak bar is stunning.

Tiger Oak bar at Clementine.

The restaurant was busy when we got there; a lot of the locals were having an early dinner before the Iberia Performing Arts League production of Annie.

We both opted for the flat-iron steak which was divine.  Perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, and tender as it could be.  Steve had a sweet potato/sausage hash and grilled, smoked vegetables for his sides and I had fries and wilted spinach which had just the right touch of fresh garlic.

Flat-iron steak, sweet potato hash, wilted spinach.

Our appetizer was Avocado Tartar which was described as a "deconstructed guacamole" and this raised the level of guacamole to new heights.  Let's just say that I ran out today to buy avocados and Tabasco's Sriracha sauce so I can try to recreate this.

Avocado Tartar at Clementine

At the end of the meal I sent a text to my friend Wendy confessing that I was eating the bread pudding once again - I couldn't stop myself.

Fabulous bread pudding at Clementine.
After dinner we walked around downtown a little and then walked through St. Peter's cemetery right before dusk; it was serenely beautiful.

There is a lot of history in the cemetery and the city does cemetery tours each year with residents playing the parts of various people and telling their stories.

One more pass through downtown to see Church Alley alight:

and we called it a night.

Our final morning in New Iberia consisted of a tour of Konriko, the Conrad Rice Mill, which is the longest operating rice mill in the country.


Our tour guide was adorable, full of personality, and told us the story of the mill, showed us how everything worked, gave us samples of their signature Wild Pecan Rice (yes, I bought a bag - it's amazing!)

The mill is on the National Register and so they are a little limited as to what modernization they can do, but with over a dozen employees, they still produce a quality product and the thing I loved most: they waste nothing.  Nothing!  They either sell or donate hulls and broken rice and other by-products to farmers for feed, or breweries for their production needs.

The mill store is a relatively modern structure but a great deal of it was built with salvaged lumber and other items.  It was well worth the stop, plus we got to meet the mill cats who we are assured control any rodent problems!

We took one more pass through downtown and hit Highway 31 heading toward St. Martinville.

It is a stunningly beautiful drive with sugar cane fields everywhere and the two-lane highway is lined with towering oaks draped with Spanish moss.

In St. Martinville we toured the Acadian museum and memorial.

The full sized mural that greets you inside the museum is simply gorgeous.  It is 12 x 30 and was painted by Robert Dafford.

There is an audio that lasts for about twenty minutes as some of the people depicted tell you their stories.  I expect that this is a terrific place to come do research if your family has Acadian ancestry.

We saw the Evangeline statue which was pretty awesome.


And the Evangeline Oak:

And we ate (again) at St. John Restaurant which was delicious.  I had alligator au gratin and Steve had another eggplant dish.  Both were excellent and we had a cool view of Bayou Teche while we ate.

We stayed on Highway 31 through Breaux Bridge and on to Arnaudville where we stopped for a cold beer.

Bayou Teche Brewing.

A cajun band was playing outside,

a mobile cigar lounge was parked under the trees...

and a BBQ food truck was there.  I could have stayed all day but I filled a growler, listened to a couple of songs, and came on home.

We've been to New Iberia twice now and each time I love it more.  And there is still more to see.  I want to return to some of the places we saw the first time, like the Bayou Teche Museum.  We haven't been to Loreauville or to the Jeanerette Museum.  I could spend an entire week on Jefferson Island and Avery Island.  I still haven't made it to Cypremort Point, I haven't done a swamp tour on the Bayou, and there are lots of restaurants I still need to try (although you may never get me away from Clementine).  And this weekend is the Iberia Film Festival!  The Cajun French Music Association has dinner and dancing once a month and there is always some festival or another either in New Iberia or nearby.

I'm so impressed with how these people love their community and work so hard to make it a lovely place for both locals and tourists.  New Iberia has recently reinstated their own police force, too, and this has instilled a lot of pride and excitement in the town which saw some spike in crime after Hurricane Katrina.

I love Iberia parish and I hope they'll let me be an honorary Cajun because I'm brushing up my French and plan on coming back really soon!

The SIGIS Take a Trip Series:
Take a Trip to the 2012 Defenders of Liberty Air Show at BAFB
Take a Springtime Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden, LA
Take a Trip to Logansport, Louisiana
Take a Trip to the Lock and Dam on Red River
Take a Trip to the 2012 Barkus and Meoux Parade
Take a Christmas Shopping Trip to Second Hand Rose in Minden
Take a Trip to the Fourth Annual Barksdale AFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Grand Cane's Fifth Annual Pioneer Trade Day
Take a Trip to the 2011 Highland Jazz & Blues Festival
Take an Autumn Trip to Jefferson, Texas
Take a Fall Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base
Take a Summertime Trip to Grand Cane
Take a Trip to Desoto Parish
Take a Summer Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Melrose Plantation 
Take a Trip to Ed Lester Farms and a Random Antique Stop
Take a Trip to the Norton Art Gallery and the Masters of Cuban Art Exhibit
Take a Trip to Natchitoches to See the Christmas Lights
Take a Trip to the Third Annual BAFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Oakland Plantation

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