When we travel a familiar road, and this is one of many Spring trips to Florida, we tend to choose favorite places to stay. InLouisiana, it is usually in Lake Charles, at the Sam Houston Jones State Park. This time we decided to try something completely different and found a campground outside Eunice, Louisiana. Eunice is a typical small southern town, with a nice courthouse square, a couple of restaurants, and some lovely old homes. One thing that makes this town special is the Liberty Theater’s live Saturday night radio show; a treasure we discovered in our travel bible “1,000 Places To See Before you Die’.
We found the campground just outside of town and although it might be called an RV park as opposed to a campground it is a weird hybrid of the two. The spaces were large but sort of random, not the slot spacing of an RV park. Several avid fisherman were teaching youngsters the art of fishing at a large pond. The old swimming hole, was in the process of being restored, think Huck Finn. The swimming hole had a small pier and a charming tire swing hanging out over the water. Apparently this campground was the ‘go to summer place’ in the 60’s before it fell into disrepair. Some of the people who camped here as kids bought it so their kids and grandkids could enjoy the same fun experience. Kind of a neat plan.
We always seem to meet interesting people during our travels and this trip was no exception. La Lopp (the rabbit, in Cajun French) and his wife Pat were the first we met. They were camped next to us but actually lived in the town of Eunice, five mileaway and had lived there for years. La Lopp still lived in the house where he was born, his wife Pat lived down the street. (we didn’t ask). Pat, was born in Opelousas, just up the road a piece. Curious, we asked how far that was from Eunice, she said about 40 miles and he said about 17 miles. I hope they don’t do a lot of traveling, their judge of distance could be a problem.
They were staying at the campground to attend a barn dance on Saturday night in the old restored barn on the property. We made this stop specifically to go to the Liberty Theater Saturday night show, so we had a tough choice between the barn dance or the radio show. We mentioned we were going to the Liberty Theater and Pat told us her sister takes the tickets ($5), La Lopp told us the sister had been taking tickets there for years, ‘She don’t have no husband or nothin. ‘ We heard the music from the barn after the radio show and it sounded like everyone was having fun.
State Champion 3rd Generation Player
According to ‘1,000 Places . . . . . The Liberty Theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The entertainment brings to mind the Grand Ole Opry or Prairie Home Companion. This Saturday night live radio show, “Rendez-vous des Cajuns”, is a popular event in Eunice. Folks from several small nearby towns come to the theater to dance and enjoy the Cajun and Zydeco music. The theater has under gone some renovation and is a beautiful old place. The stage has a charming mural screen and of course the traditional red velvet curtain. There was a feeling of excitement as the ‘on the air’ sign lights up and the MC starts the show. It took a minute to realize we didn’t understand a word he was saying until it dawned on us he was speaking Cajun French. Needless to say we didn’t understand the interviews but the music was universal and we loved it. The special musical guest this night was an eleven year old, third generation accordion champion. He was a handsome young man, very poised and a great musician. and a real hit with the audience. We’ll definitely stop here again.
We also stopped at the Savoy Music Center, the local music store where they make and sell Acadian accordions along with many other vintage instruments. This morning was a Cajun music jam with local talent from the area. The place was packed with musicians pickin’ and plenty of grinners tapping their toes.
Apalachicola, Florida, I don’t know what’s more fun pronouncing it or spelling it! We first heard this hideaway mentioned by some travelers, when we were in New Orleans in 2002. Apalachicola anchors the mainland leg of the causeway that connects the mainland and St. George Island. Apalachicola was once a major shipping center, now it is a quaint little town, with arts, crafts and charming restaurants. We browsed some of the small shops and looked for a lunch spot. Zoe met a cat that claimed the sidewalk and to Zoe’s credit, she decided to cross the street instead of taking on the cat. That cat was so smug!
St. George Island is one of our favorite places. The Island is 24 miles long and only about a mile wide. One end of the island is the state park, where we stay, with miles and miles of uncrowded pristine sugar sand beach. The island residents live on the other end of the island. In the middle are some condo rentals, the Blue Parrot beach cafe, couple of beach stores and most important the seafood vendors. We eat fresh shrimp, sautéed in butter, on the grill, scampi, stir fried, and just plain boiled. It might be a cholesterol nightmare but it is little bit of heaven. Monty flies his kite, we walk the beach, read trashy novels and just plain enjoy ourselves.
Heading north we stopped at the Stephen C. Foster State Park outside Tallahassee. It has beautiful cypress trees covered with Spanish moss and a carillon bell tower that plays Foster’s music every hour. They also have a magnificent building housing amuseum dedicated to Foster, with several pianos and dioramas of his life. OK, it is a little weird but interesting. Throughout the year there are living history events, candle making, quilting, candy making, etc. We bought jam at the gift shop, and watched the blacksmith work his magic. We saw some interesting bird houses for Martins. These houses are popular because Mar t i n s eat mosquitoes and in the South that is an important menu item for the Martins. This was Easter Sunday and there was a church service on the lawn.
Just Kicking Back
Our next stop was the Okeefonokee Swamp in Georgia. We were looking forward to taking a swamp tour and enjoying some wildlife. Unfortunately the drought has taken a toll on the swamp and the water was too low for boat tours. We walked the swamp boardwalk but the only critter we saw was a green tree lizard, I think the mosquitoes were large enough to be called critters but we gave up counting them. We only stayed one night in the swamp and headed north through Georgia to Elijah Clark State Park. It was a nice park right on the lake. They had a good visitor center and we enjoyed our stay.
Asheville, North Carolina was the next stop on this journey. We were looking forward to touring the Biltmore Estate and we were not disappointed. We enjoyed the self-guided tour with audio headsets to describe each room. It was a peek back to the early 1900’s and a way of life, for the very wealthy, that just boggles the mind. The estate was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II over a six year period 1889-1895, it is the largest privately owned house in America. The whole estate is a wonder of gardens. The green house has exotic plants from around the world and a relatively new winery has taken over the old dairy. There is a working farm complete with pastures and interactive activities for children, including games from the 1800’s. The stone work in the house is beautiful and in a time when indoor plumbing was rare this estate had fifty indoor bathrooms.
I loved the tapestry room with a long hall (ninety feet) lined with tapestries, the opposite wall of the room was all windows looking out on the rolling meadows. The library was mind boggling, the ceilings must have been 20 feet tall and the walls completely lined with books. The house even has a bowling alley and a heated indoor pool. The guest list included politician, artists and musicians. Each guest had a maid/butler that took care of their clothes and helped them dress for the various activities of the day. The Vanderbilt family still owns the property and allows the estate to be open to the public. Seeing this estate and the grounds was a wonderful experience and we loved it.
We stayed right off the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoyed driving down this beautiful scenic highway. We found The Folk Cultural Center tucked along this winding road. It was a marvelous place to see displays from the local artisans. The craftsmanship was absolutely beautiful. Included in the displays were; jewelry, pottery, weavings, clothing, paintings, woodworking, and furniture. There was a weaver in residence this day showing how she weaves her cloth before making clothing available for purchase at the Culture Center. It was the most gorgeous cloth I’ve ever seen. There was also a man making brooms in the old Quaker style.
Downtown Asheville is an interesting place. From the sculptures on the streets to the murals on the buildings and the coffee bus on the corner it was just a delightful town. The old fashioned mercantile store was a treasure, we could have spent the afternoon there, old style candy in big barrels, games and toys I haven’t seen since I was a kid.
The Road to Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock State Park was a park we had read about and looked forward to seeing. The road up to Chimney Rock was one switch back after another. We saw some small state parks along the way and originally thought about staying up there but the after taking this road in the Dodge dually we were convinced we made the right decision. Although the elevator to the top of the rock was closed we enjoyed a hike to the falls and browsing the visitor center. We met two nice couples, one with grown children just enjoying an empty nest vacation and a young couple, looking over the area to consider a job offer. He was a recent engineering graduate so we enjoyed talking about where he went to school and engineering at the UA. Love the people interaction on these trips. We credit Zoe with that, she attracts people everywhere.
Black Mountain is a little town just up the road a piece from Asheville. Quaint little shops plus an old hardware store we spent a couple of hours in. Also we enjoyed the best pizza ever in a delightful patio overlooking main street.
From the Asheville area we headed back to Georgia to check out the little town of Dahlonega This is an interesting small town, it has a wonderful town square, anchored by what once was the courthouse but is now a mining museum. The docents there were great and we enjoyed learning about the gold rush in that area. Who knew they found so much gold in Georgia? In the evening they have bluegrass music on the square. It is giant jam and people just gather and play. We had an excellent catfish dinner with hush puppies, I love hush puppies.
Carriage Ride, Georgia
We had trouble finding the campground where we intended to stay while in Dahlonega and when we turned to our trusted Trailer Life camping guide we couldn’t even find it listed. After some memory jogging we remembered finding it on the Internet, which didn’t do us much good since we didn’t have any Internet connection to check directions. After much fussing we did find the place, it was a huge meadow surrounded by trees with quite a few camping rigs spread over the meadow in no particular order. At night there was loud music coming from somewhere in the trees but we never found the source. It wasn’t coming from the campground but beyond across the river. The young people running the place were from Australia and the whole thing was just sort of strange. When we studied the map of the area,we realized we had been a hop, skip and jump from here at Tallulah Falls, Georgia on a previous trip.
On to Nashville to visit with Ruth and Charles for a few days. That is always a bright spot in our travels and glad when we head east so we can stop here. I’ve got my tennis racquet and Ruth is waiting.
Monty’s cousin lives in Mountain View, Arkansas and that is the last stop on this trip. Mt. View calls itself the Folk Music Capitol of the World. It must be true,the flags on the light poles on the square say so! This is a beautiful area, off the beaten path but worth the visit. If you are a fan of traditional bluegrass music this is the place to be. They have jams every night on the town square, not just one jam but five or six groups of people playing music and some appearing on stage in front of the courthouse. There was even a morning jam in the RV park where we stayed. Monty’s cousin, Danny and his wife, Alice, are delightful people. When we checked into the RV park Monty mentioned we were here to see his cousin, the guy asked who that was and when Monty mentioned Danny’s name, the host replied, “Oh we don’t know that rascal Danny Dixon and never seen his wife, Alice”. Those southern folks have a down home sense of humor.