Friday, November 20, 2009

Houmas House, Darrow, Louisiana

Festivals, weddings and history live at Houmas House in Darrow, Louisiana. Bette Davis slept in an upstairs bedroom while filming “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte”. Jeff won the Quickfire Challenge during a 2009 taping of “Top Chef”, and a number of TV ads have been made on the lush grounds of this, the largest American sugar plantation of the 19th century.

Phylicia, a tour guide dressed in authentic period costume, rings the garden bell signaling the start of the 23-room Sugar Palace tour. Grab your camera - this is one museum where visitors can linger and take as many pictures as they want.

The three-story Greek Revival mansion is filled with artwork and antiques, each with its own history.

Wander through the foyer with its hand painted murals reflecting a sugar cane motif. Is that Marie Antoinette’s mantle clock in the sitting room? In the game room just off the library, entire fortunes were won or lost on a single game of billiards.

At the foot of a freestanding, three-story helix staircase, a silver fruit server holds an array of apples and pineapples – symbols of opulence and welcome. But, did you know that placing a pineapple at the foot of a houseguest’s bed was a polite way of letting them know it was time to go home?

Centuries old oaks (some over 450 years) dot the grounds, along with the main house and a garconiere (bachelor’s quarters).

Chef Jeremy Langlois serves a delicious lunch at Latil’s Landing Restaurant near the original kitchen, built in the 1770’s.

Located on Louisiana’s River Road at 40136 Highway 942D Darrow, LA, Houmas House is open for tours Mon & Tues 9 – 5, Wed – Sun 9 – 7 (except for Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission is $20 mansion and gardens tour,
$10 gardens and grounds only.

Visitors aren’t just tourists, they are welcome guests. Stay all day at the plantation, strolling through 38 acres of gardens and ponds, and an extensive gift shop.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mt. Takasaki National Park, Oita City, Kyushu, Japan

This mountaintop monkey preserve is home to over 1,700 Macaques. Not a zoo, there are no cages or restraining bars. Creatures run freely in their own natural habitat, and visitors can wander through the grounds just inches from the little fellows, clustered in twos and threes.

Every day, just before 2:30 pm, the groundskeeper uncoils a green hose, and begins to spray down the dusty yard. That’s the signal for the monkeys to climb down from their perches and scamper to the center of the yard.

Suddenly the park explodes in a frenzy of fur, chatter, and the thunder of little feet. A simple 2-wheeled metal cart is dragged across the court, spilling potatoes out of its hinged back.

In its wake, Macaques shove and snatch, shriek and claw. Competition is fierce. The oldest and strongest grab handfuls of potatoes, while juveniles and females fight for the smaller bits. Babies, who suckle for over a year, cling to their mothers’ backs, lest they get trampled in the fray.

Suddenly, its over. One blink and you would have missed it. Before the sprayed pavement dries, monkeys begin to disappear into the forest, treasured spuds in hand

Not found in many guidebooks, Mt. Takasaki National Park lies in the northeastern part of the island of Kyushu, Japan. The park is open from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm. Feeding time is at 2:30 pm. Admission is 500 yen (about $5 US) for adults and 250 yen for children. Tel (097-534-6111). To reach the park, cross the walking bridge that connects the island to the town and then board the monorail to the feeding area.