TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > Frankly My Dear, We Do Give A Damn
Baton Rouge to Grand Isle, LA 05/21/06 (Day 26)
Frankly My Dear, We Do Give a Damn
Even if you were born in Baton Rogue, Louisiana and you honestly think you know everything there is to do or see in the area, we recommend you pay a visit to the Baton Rogue tourism office for a cheery dose of helpful hints and insights from the two fonts of knowledge who staff the place. What one of them doesn’t know (precious little), the other fills in and you will walk away a better traveler thanks to theses two ladies.
“If you want my opinion, and it’s only my opinion,” says the one who was born in New Jersey but has clearly embraced her new Southern locale, “skip Oak Alley plantation and visit Nottoway Plantation instead.” And so we blow off the poster child for Louisiana cotton plantations. We’re just that impressionable.
Twenty minutes out of Baton Rogue, and a short way down the historic and scenic River Road that runs along the levees holding back the Mississippi River, we reach Nottoway plantation house. As we enter the house via a double sided curved staircase (one for ladies and one for men so they wouldn’t see the ladies’ ankles as they lifted their skirts to walk) we do feel a bit like Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Even more so when the guide tells our group that the curtains in the men’s smoking room were modeled on the ones Scarlet turns into a dress in Gone With TheWind.
What sounds like a movie but is actually real life is the tale of how Nottoway—owned by a man who kept more than his share of slaves and who had sons who were fighting for the South—escaped being looted and burned to the ground during the Civil War like so many other plantations. Seems the owner had hosted a certain high ranking Union soldier before the war and, as his marauding troops descended on the place, he remembered how well he had been treated and held his soldiers back. After getting a vow of loyalty from the lady of the house (read into that what you will), he promised Nottoway would be spared. And it was except for the tennis ball size piece of shrapnel that recently fell out of one of the pillars along the front porch.
On a lighter note….Nottoway Plantation is also a B&B and you can literally sleep in one of two opulent (and largely original) rooms—with modern baths, TVs and phones added. Even if you stay in the rooms at the back by the pool you get a key to the plantation house and can use it at will after 5 pm. It’s kind of crazy.
A little further down the road we drive by Oak Alley, all snooty like a prom queen or, yes, Scarlet O’Hara. We take a picture from on top of the levee across the road and motor on. Even though (or maybe because) we know it will mean seeing another example of hurricane aftermath, we head for the very tip of Louisiana Highway 1 where it dead ends at Grand Isle on the Gulf. We phone ahead to make sure the Sandpiper Shores Motel ($45 for a basic room with our own patio with a view of the water) is open for business, then we stock up on grilling supplies and head down.
The highway is a pretty, peaceful drive through small inland towns that were not hit by the hurricane at all. It’s not until we reach Leeville a few miles from Grand Isle that destruction starts to rear its ugly head again. We pass a local dump that runs 100 yards long and 40 feet high and it all looks like building debris from demolished homes and businesses.
So we are pleasantly surprised when we roll down the beachy, sleepy main drag of Grand Isle. Clearly, a tremendous clean up and rebuilding effort on the part of the city and its business/home/vacation home owners has been made. And it shows. The majority of the buildings have been rebuilt and look good as new, and the few properties that have not been restored have, at least, been cleaned up. We especially love the facing homes that are called Blue Fish and Red Fish and each feature a rendering of the Seuss characters of the same name.
At the Sandpiper we head straight for their bar-b-que to get dinner going. The vicious mosquitoes have their fill of us as we cook, then we head to our room and open the last bottle of wine we brought from home—a 1999 Petit Verdot from Husch Winery which was bottled especially for wine club members who attended their annual vineyard picnic event that year. We’ve been saving it “for a special occasion” ever since. The wine is delicious and makes our special occasion in Grand Isle even more so.