Friday, August 10, 2018

LOUISIANA PLANTATION TRAIL EXPEDITION!

For decades, I have seen  photos of this "tunnel" of  oak trees in magazines, and dreamed that one day I would be able to see it in person.  And, by the Grace of God, this past July, I was able to actually stroll what is called "Oak Alley" in south Louisiana.  The photo above was taken by Brian Jewell, editor of Group Travel Leader Magazine ( www.grouptravelleader.com ) , who (along with other members of his staff) worked with the River Parishes Tourist Commission ( www.neworleansplantationcountry.com ) to co-ordinate our group's site visits to seven different plantations.

During my tour of Oak Alley Plantation ( www.oakalleyplantation.org ), I was able to understand that this famous scene was the "street" or passageway that led from the banks of the Mississippi River to the "big house", where the planter/owner lived with their family. It is one fourth mile in length, and made up of 300 year old live oak trees.   The photo below shows a closer view of the familiar Louisiana plantation-style home that usually comes to mind, when you think about this part of the country.
A view one would get as they left the main plantation home would be the passageway to the Mississippi River. Perhaps at one time, the visitor could see steamboats on the river, but now the huge grass-covered levee renders the actual waters of the river out of sight, since they are on the other side of the levee.  The photo below is looking towards the levee, and the "blue sky" above the levee indicates that is the space above the river. 
Another very popular historic home to tour in the area is The Houmas House ( www.houmashouse.com ).  What I find amazing about this home, is that the owner actually lives there still, yet he lets visitors enter his "inner sanctom", to get a glimpse of how the property is being used now.  In addition to it providing a domicile for the owner, he has added to the property so that it has large spaces for special events, a restaurant, gift shop, and rental cottages for overnight visitors.   

I mentioned that seeing "Oak Alley" was a long-time dream; likewise, a swamp boat tour has also been an activity that has interested me.  On this trip, we were able to take our first trip into the swamp on an air boat ( www.airboatadventures.com ), equipped with "ear muffs" to protect our ears from the extremely loud fan motor that propels the boat over the shallow waters.  Once we had journeyed deep into the swamp, the driver stopped the boat, we took off our ear protection, and listened/watched as he pointed out the fascinating flora and fauna that surrounded us:
We also took a different swamp tour, at a different location, and this time, it was on a pontoon-style boat, and at a much slower pace ( www.cajunprideswamp.com ).  Needless to say, we saw plenty of alligators on both trips into the Louisiana swamp.  On the pontoon boat ride, the captain's young son passed around a small, live alligator that guests could choose to hold, if desired, and have their picture made with the alligator.  After much hesitation, I decided to hold it, because I wanted to get a photo of me holding an alligator.  However, after seeing the (scary--- in my mind only) alligator that showed in the photograph with me, it looked no bigger than a large lizard I commonly see around my home.  Hence, I am too embarrassed to put the photo in this blog!  Yet, at the time I was contemplating holding it, it seemed huge!   While educating myself on New Orleans area attractions, I came across an article that offered suggestions for Grandparent/Grandchild outings that mentioned "swamp visits".  I would recommend one of these swamp boat tours as an excellent opportunity to spend time with a grandchild in the outdoors! ( I want to give a "shout out" to the website that provided the article, because it has started a "spin-off" called Boomers. The  Executive Editor of the new Boomers magazine is a Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sister of mine, from our days at the University of Arkansas.  Her name is Laura Claverie, and you can read more great articles for folks of my generation, by clicking on www.nolafamily.com/nola-boomers/ )


All of the plantations we visited included recreated slave quarters, in order to commemorate the people who did the actual physical labor to make these properties possible.  The re-created slave quarters shown below were at the San Francisco Plantation. 
The San Francisco Plantation main house ( www.sanfranciscoplantation.org ) is shown in photo below, and is on property owned by Marathon Oil.
The first time I saw a photo of the San Francisco Plantation, I was immediately curious about the cylindrical tower pictured adjacent to the big house.  During my tour of the property, I learned that this was their water storage and supply system.  If you look closely at the photo below, you will see that there is a pipe leading from the tower, into the upper story of the home.
At the Destrehan Plantation ( www.destrehanplantation.org ) we were able to see their water supply tower system (shown below), which was not quite as ornate as the one at the San Francisco property.
There are various educational exhibits/demonstrations available for visitors at the Drestehan Plantation.  I was delighted that the one our group was able to witness, involved the use of the indigo plant, which was one of the crops grown on plantations, hundreds of years ago:
The Ormond Plantation is not only historic, but also available for special events, and our group was treated to a delicious evening meal there, in the formal dining room.  In addition, their website ( www.plantation.com ) indicates they also function as a Bed and Breakfast, to provide overnight lodging. 
The elegant cuisine we enjoyed at the Ormond Plantation was just one  of the many opportunities to sample local flavors.  We enjoyed a seafood lunch, along with several nearby refinery workers, at a restaurant adjacent to the levee. The display case at the counter where you placed your order left no question as to what their specialty was:   ( you can see below it is GULF SEAFOOD!)
Another important crop, in addition to the indigo plant,  during the height of the plantation era was sugar cane.  One of the ways that sugar cane was used was to make rum.  In recognition of that tradition, a local family has recently opened a small distillery, which we were able to tour.  They proudly label their product as "Made in the USA"!
We also went to a restaurant where alligator was not only on the menu (which I was able to sample), but also there was a live alligator just inches from the shoreline, that caught the attention of the man shown in this photo, who is pointing to it.
No trip to the Gulf of Mexico area is complete without the traditional "Shrimp Boil Plate", so I thoroughly enjoyed the one I was served at the Frenier Landing Restaurant ( www.frenierlanding.com )


Another plantation we visited that has an architecture less associated with an "antebellum" time period, was the Laura Plantation (www.lauraplantation.com ).  It is said to have a "Creole" design, and our tour guide did an outstanding job of describing the lifestyles of the various creole characters who have lived there:
So far, I have mentioned five of the plantations we visited .  The sixth one was called Evergreen Plantation ( www.evergreenplantation.org ), and for me, it was the most memorable because of the animated stories provided by our tour guide.  Before we retreated to the air-conditioned interior spaces to tour, we went around to the front of the house which faces the Mississippi River and levee, to get a photograph of its impressive entryway way and porch:
One of the plantations whose modern-day owner was deeply touched by learning of the history and hardships of the slaves who had formerly lived at his plantation, decided to take a completely different viewpoint, as he prepared the plantation for public visitation.  Simply called "The Whitney" ( www.whitneyplantation.com ) it is focused almost entirely on the enslaved people who were born there and died there, or otherwise wound up at this location.  He built a wall, inspired by the Viet Nam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., that is engraved with
the names of all those slaves who were, at one time, simply listed as "pieces of property", by the slavemaster who owned them. 



Our group visited a historic church (Riverlands Christian Center) in Reserve, Louisiana that gives a glimpse at what segregation in the churches looked like in the pre-civil rights era.  Since it was a Sunday, we were able to participate in their weekly worship services, as well as hear a presentation called "Soul River---A Musical Journey through African American History".  Visitors are always welcome at the worship services of the Riverlands Christian Center, and to schedule a presentation of their "Soul River" program, call 985-210-6621.
The Riverlands Christian Center  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and serves as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.firstplace4health.com ) memory verses that says, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." 2 Corinthians 4:17 .  I am very thankful for the strong faith of persecuted Christians, that enables them to endure their hardships, because of their faith in God's promises.   This church is a reminder of a time when the ONLY hope an enslaved person had, was that of eternal glory, after they died.




 This trip along Louisiana's Plantation Trail gave me "MILES OF SMILES"! (Or, as they say in the swamp, "See ya later, alligator!")

Friday, May 18, 2018

MACON CHERRRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL EXPEDITION!

I have been reading about the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival ( www.CherryBlossom.com ) in my travel magazines for a long time, so I jumped at the opportunity to attend, when it was offered!   The visit came about because my good friends from college have a son who is a professor at Wesleyan College in Macon.  More importantly, they have GRANDCHILDREN in Macon, and have arranged their lives such that they can spend extended periods of time in Macon.  I had the blessing of getting to meet them there, during one of their visits!
The Cherry Blossom Festival is such a big deal, it even has its very own "Storefront location" in the downtown area!
Furthermore, certain parking spaces in the downtown area, are painted pink with a stylized pink cherry blossom symbol, indicating they are for parkers who have "official" Cherry Blossom Festival tasks to attend to.


The official Cherry Blossom Store had every imaginable type of souvenir---predominantly in the trademark pink color---that one could imagine!
One of the activities associated with the Cherry Blossom Festival, is an International Food Fair.  We were able to get a preview of some of the specialty foods available, from this young man who was giving out samples, in the Cherry Blossom Store downtown. 

The photo above shows one of the Yoshino Cherry Trees in bloom.  Just about anywhere you go in the Macon area in the spring, you will see similar blossoming trees.  That is because there are 300,00-350,000 Yoshino Cherry Trees around the city.  Since this tree is not native to the South, one might be curious how this phenomena got started.  The story goes back to the 1950's when local enthusiasts for this particular tree variety, planted 500 around the main downtown area.  ( The 1950's is also around the time, I was a little kid playing on the levee of Crooked Creek, that ran through the downtown area of my hometown.  There was the cutest little dogwood tree growing there, in freshly disturbed soil, so it was quite easy for me to pull up, carry home, and present to my mother as a gift.  I knew she liked dogwood trees, and thought she would be delighted!  I was WRONG!  I was severely scolded, and told that numerous dogwood trees had been planted by the city beautification committee, and my actions were a detriment to their beautification project!  UGH!  I do not remember what my punishment was, but it must have been severe enough that I have never pulled up plants again, from anywhere, no matter where they were located!)
Since Macon, Georgia, is located in the geographic center of Georgia, it has the nickname of "Heart of Georgia".  And, since Georgia is famous for its large trees, draped with Spanish moss, you can see plenty of it all over the city. 

During the festival, Macon calls itself "The Pinkest Place on Earth", and many properties decorate their entrances with huge pink bows---like those shown here on the banister, ferns, and door wreath.
The historic Sidney Lanier Cottage is in the downtown area of Macon.

Notice that the poet was born in this cottage in 1842.  The reason this is significant is that it is a reminder that this structure, as well as several other historic structures in Macon, are still standing, even AFTER the Civil War.  That is because Union General William Tecumseh Sherman spared Macon on his "March to the Sea", when much of the surrounding area was burned to the ground by Union troops, under orders from General Sherman. 

Public places are not the only ones that decorate with a pink theme during The International Cherry Blossom Festival.  Notice the lovely mailbox at this private residence, that is festooned with a cascade of pink blossoms!
And some people even color their dogs pink for the International Cherry Blossom Festival!  I was very fortunate to get to have my photo made with this gorgeous pink poodle, at the Macon Visitor's Center.  My friends and I were at the Visitor's Center, to hop aboard the tour that is available,  to show visitors the many historic sites all around the county.   I would definitely recommend the tour, and you can find out more about it at their official website, www.maconga.org
Another activity our group attended was the International Cherry Blossom Parade in downtown Macon.  This photo shows us with "front row seats" for the dozens of marching bands and floats that we watched, including the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses!
This visit with my longtime friend and sorority sister, in Macon, Georgia, is my visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse, because the memory verse talks about MIRACLES, and my friend represents a miracle!  (We are shown in the photo above, sitting beneath a Macon storefront painted with pink cherry blossoms)  She said at the time she was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, she was told that disease had an average survival rate of 3-5 years.  This reunion visit was held ELEVEN years since that original diagnosis, so I am PRAISING GOD and proclaiming, "You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples."  Psalm 77:14

Kathy and I both attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and it was through our sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, that we became acquainted.  So, we are not only Razorback fans, but also sorority sisters, as well as "Sisters in Christ"!   That is an eternal truth that gives me "MILES OF SMILES"!!     Tricia

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ALBANY EXPEDITION!

It is with a heart full of gratitude, that I am able to be communicating in this photo, the message, "Greetings from Albany, Georgia"!  It is a place I had never visited before, and knew nothing about.  However, that all changed after a tour of the area, that started at the location of this photo---the historic Bridge House, which is now home of the city's welcome center and the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.  It is aptly named, as it is located adjacent to the bridge that crosses the Flint River, which was the original "lifeblood" of the city, and has continued to play a key role in Albany's growth and economy. 


Developments along the Flint River are a magnet to visitors, because they lead to an attraction that is dedicated to Albany's most famous musician---Ray Charles.  An area called The Ray Charles Plaza has the sculpture of the man and his piano, that is shown in the photo below.  However, this is no ordinary statue.  This sculpture slowly rotates over a circular fountain, while recorded music of familiar Ray Charles songs, emanates from the speakers that surround the sculpture.
The Ray Charles Plaza is part of a multi-phase development, that includes a 2.4-mile paved Riverfront Trail, kayak docks, scenic overlooks, Radium Springs Garden, and the new Broad Avenue Bridge.  Notice in the photo below, that one of the seating benches in the Ray Charles Plaza has been made in the shape of a musical note. 
Our group enjoyed listening to the music of Ray Charles, as we sat beside the Flint River, and soaked in the sun on this "Chamber-of-Commerce-Day" in Albany, Georgia!  There is a nice hotel right across the street from the Plaza, that would be an ideal location for folks needing overnight lodging, that wanted to take advantage of the water sports activities available on the Flint River.  (Note: There are several local outfitters that rent kayaks/canoes for just this purpose.)


The multi-phase development of the Flint River area goes all the way to the 800-acre wild animal park called Chehaw (www.chehaw.org ).  Chehaw has a zoo, conservation land, mountain bike trails, camping sites and more.  Part of the "more" is shown in the photo below---The Muckalee Swampland Station. 
It is called an alligator outpost, because we saw NUMEROUS alligators, of varying sizes, all over the swampy location.  Some of the alligators had crawled up out of the water, and were fairly easy to spot.

Then there were the "older and wiser and LARGER" alligators that were well camouflaged, and lurking just under the surface of the water, waiting for an unsuspecting critter to enter their "food chain".

We were also able to get quite close to a gigantic rhinoceros that seemed unamused to being photographed. 

Our guide did a wonderful demonstration of getting this camel to gallop, by running just outside its fence, causing the camel to gallop along after her.

There was also an exhibit of pink flamingos, which are an iconic symbol of this part of the Southern waterways. 

Our group was able to get in a good bit of walking, by following the deck that weaved through the spring-fed, black gum swamp.  There were educational signs posted all along the walkways, that helped us interpret what we were seeing.

At another attraction in Albany, we saw this antique candy delivery truck, and learned about the origin of the name "Albany".  The Native American inhabitants called the area Thronateeska (meaning "the place where Flint is picked up"), and thus the name "Flint River".  Then, in 1836, Mr. Nelson Tift, chose the city's site because of its river location and named it "Albany" with the hope that it would prosper as a trade location like Albany, New York.

Our group visited the Flint Riverquarium ( www.flintriverquarium.com ), which is also located near the banks of the Flint River. 

The
touch tanks at the Riverquarium lets visitors pick up and closely examine a variety of marine creatures.

One of the guests was particularly intrigued with a the sea cucumber shown in this photo, as she had never been able to pick one up before, and wanted to make sure I got a close-up photo of it!
Although this beautiful fish is not a fresh-water native, I have yet to visit an aquarium anywhere in the country, that did not have one of these colorful swimmers on view.  As a kid, this was my favorite fish shape  to draw and color in my art classes.


The Flint Riverquarium is unique in that it is built around a recreated 175,000-gallon blue hole spring, and houses more than 120 species of fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians that inhabit the Flint River watershed. 

Another very popular attraction in this city is the Albany Civil Rights Institute ( www.albanycivilrightsinstitute.org ).  Both audio recordings, videos, and still photographs are used here to capture the stories of ordinary people who became effective agents of change. 

The Institute was built so that it could be adjacent to the original Mt. Zion Baptist Church, that played a key role in what came to be known as the "Albany Movement". 


We were at the Institute shortly after the national day recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so his portrait was still on display in the lobby, along with memorial wreaths. 

The Institute courtyard has a recreated covered porch, and it includes signage that comments on the importance of the front porch in Southern history (before air conditioning was developed!)

After we toured the Institute, we walked into the adjacent Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church.  There we were treated to a choral recital by Rutha Harris.
 Ms. Harris (in the red dress on the left of photo) was assisted by her niece, in telling the story of the Freedom Singers.  Both ladies are retired school teachers now, but continue to engage visitors to the Institute with oral history presentations, and songs.  Mrs. Harris was a member of the original SNCC Freedom Singers, and was invited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to be part of the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963.  She stated that singing at the March on Washington, in front of Dr. King, was one of the greatest experiences of her life. 
The 2018 Albany, Georgia, Visitors Guide has a six-page article about Rutha Harris, and she was kind enough to give those who wanted one, a personalized autograph of her B/W feature photo in the magazine.  She is called "The Voice of Albany". 
This sign is a visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com )memory verse, because they both have the word "Zion" in them.  Psalm 84:7 says, "They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion."  I am thankful for the strength that Rutha Harris has displayed in her life's journey.  She stated that "Freedom is a constant struggle.  This is why I still sing."    It takes strength to struggle, and walking by faith in God can supply that strength.
I want to thank all those who made it possible ( www.visitalbanyga.com , www.exploregeorgia.org, and www.grouptravelleader.com ) for me to take this most interesting tour of Albany, Georgia, because it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!    Tricia