New Orleans revisited

When we left New Orleans in September we vowed to come back towards the end of our trip. At that time it was difficult to say whether we were crazy about the place because we’d just arrived in the South and everything was new and exotic, or if the city really was as special as we thought at the time. And after 22 states – yes, it really is that special!

We decided to try out some very touristy things, because our trusted guide book recommended it and because Dane really wanted to. So on our first day, we went on a two hour river cruise on the Steamboat Natchez. A very lovely experience that didn’t feel like a rip-off at all. The Mississippi really is mighty and sailing on her was something special. And on a steamboat. Even if that steamboat was only built in 1978. You should have heard the steampipe organ. It is WAY beyond description!

Next on the touristy agenda was a ride with a mule buggy. We were rather lucky with the driver – he was of Irish descent, but his accent was pure New Orleans – through and through. Dane claimed not to have understood one word he said. And he said a lot! And let Dane drive the mule. He (Dane, that is) was so proud and never realized that the mule knew it’s way through the French Quarter better than most. And also knew to stop at the lights! The driver told one dirty Irish joke after another – among lots of both interesting and juicy (but not necessarily true) anecdotes about New Orleans.

After that we were ready for some food and chose the much recommended Acme Oyster House. Even if it had a queue outside, we were inside in a few minutes. The food was very good – particularly the chargrilled oysters. Mmmmm. But the service. It was super quick – we’d hardly sat down before the waitress was all over us to make up our minds NOW. And the oysters were on the table in a couple of minutes. But – unfortunately – so were our main courses. Which of course meant that the main courses got cold before we could get around to them. And the noise level! Quite stressfull dining experience – in spite of the lovely food at very fair prices.

The black cab driver who took us home was a man who knew how to multi-task. He was on his cell having a very serious discussion with his wife about their finances. And he was discussing with the dispatch about his next ride. And explaining stuff to us. The radio was on too. All this besides driving… But he got us home safely and quickly.

The next day we decided to venture into town (campground is 6 miles west of downtown) by way of public transportation. That’s another first on this trip. So we went across the street to the bus stop. Very soon an elderly black man came, lugging a huge carry-all. He spoke in the dialect I’ve read that the slaves spoke. He said: “Y’all gotta ax the driver”. He was mighty friendly though. Well on board the bus we were approached by a number of more or less strange characters, both blacks and whites. But they were all extremely kind and helpful. We changed from the bus over to the newly reinstated St. Charles streetcar. That was a wonderful experience. The streetcar has only been back in action (after Katrina) for a few weeks. When we were in New Orleans last time, it wasn’t running.

We got off in the Garden District because we wanted to revisit the wonderful flag-shop we visited the last time we were there. Last time Dane got a wind spinner depicting a helicopter, but unfortunately – and the cause of much crying – he forgot it hanging from a tree in Savannah. This time we got two… And a long chat with Brad & Dellwen, the two ageing chaps who run the shop together. They certainly were characters too. Dellwen showed me what Brad had brought back with him after having left him to hike in Alaska for several weeks: A big gold ring, studded with diamonds. So sweet!

We jumped back on the streetcar and continued to the French Quarter again. We’d decided to have a proper meal for once, so had checked out the Zagat guide to restaurants. We’d chosen one and also been in there earlier to book a table. When we came back to claim it, the snotty hostess told us we couldn’t get in, because David was wearing shorts. They could have told us that the first time round, we thought! We trodded on, wondering what to do, because Dane was getting tired. On the way David had the good fortune of being shat on by a pigeon. At the time he didn’t appreciate it at all and was swearing a good deal… But just around the corner was a restaurant with a beautiful courtyard where people were dining. That was exactly what David had been longing for. Sitting outside among palm trees and having a lovely meal. They didn’t mind the shorts or the six-year-old, so we got a table in a corner by a little fountain. In Zagat we read (under the table) that this was one of New Orleans’ top restaurants, Bayona. What amazing luck! David now blessed the pigeon rather than cursed it. We had lovely food and a really, really nice evening. It was expensive for New Orleans, but not at all compared to Copenhagen or London. Just this one example: I had a glass of a wonderful late harvest with my coffee, a wine I’ve tasted before. Reason I remember it, is that it shares it’s name with my brother. It cost 5$ for a glass.

Needless to say, we were approached by more very special characters while waiting for a taxi outside. One guy wanted to make the DJ across the street play Puff the Magic Dragon for Dane, but of course needed a few bucks first, another guy told us not to trust the first guy. And then a biiiig SUV drove up and six black youngsters, all in white, got out, the biggest one of them with a huge snake around his neck… and true to form, our Pakistani taxidriver believed in The Jewish Conspiracy and talked all the way about politics in Pakistan, Iraq and US. Only took a break to marvel over the fact that we actually knew who Benazir Bhutto is…

New Orleans, we will be back!

More pictures and bigger versions here.

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A wedding anniversary in Mississippi

If, on our wedding day, anybody had suggested that we’d celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary in a provincial town in Mississippi, we’d probably have laughed at the thought. But here we are! We’d decided to splash out on some sleeping accomodation that wasn’t the RV instead of presents. And according to various guide books, Nathcez on the Mississippi river in the south-westerly part of Mississippi would be a good choice.

Natchez is a strange place – it survived the civil war without battle, because it’s commander thought it impossible to win anyway and so just flew the white flag. So the town is full of antebellum houses. It does it’s very best to attract tourists, but isn’t alltogether succesfull. Something that’s  evident from the number of empty storefronts in downtown. At the same time some businesses seem to thrive – among these unfortunately the casinos. But also the guesthouses in antebellum plantation houses seem to do well for themselves. The one we chose was inside the town, because we wanted to be able to walk to the haunted King’s Tavern for dinner and on the whole not set eyes on the RV for a short while.

We had a lovely afternoon and evening and slept fitfully in big beds in a room 3 times the size of the RV. Next on the agenda is the “Full Southern Breakfast” which is something hotels and guesthouses take great pride in here – so we’re looking forward to it! I won’t be counting calories though – surely the breakfast will hold enough of them to keep me covered for a day or two…

It’s great to be back in the south – there’s something about it which I can’t define, but really like. And I like the warm weather too! Today we’re headed for New Orleans for a repeat performance. We loved that city and want to spend another day there. After that we’re headed for Texas again to complete this part of our trip by celebrating Thanksgiving with the family. We’re very much looking forward to that.

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Graceland

We emptied the RV of all valuables and carried them on our weary backs all day. You would’ve too, had you seen the RV park and Elvis Presley Boulevard. It’s wide, worn down, ill lit and filled with fastfood places, gas stations, boarded up former fastfood places and gas stations and various businesses in degrees of dilapidation. It is hard to picture what it looked like when Elvis bought Graceland.

We queued to get in there, but not too long. There was lots to look at – fun to see all the different kinds of people who thought it worth a journey to visit Elvis’ home. White people, black people, hispanics, a variety of Europeans, Japanese. Young and old, couples and singles and large families. Amazing!

Graceland is really quite modest in size, but the decor is absolutely wonderful. It’s so seventies that your toes curl. Personnally I liked the bar in the basement best – and Lisa Marie, his airplane.

Corner of bar room and detail from bathroom on plane.

Enough said about that – we got a great magnet for our collection and some super cool postcards and then went on into Memphis. What a lovely city that is! People of all colours and ages were extraordinarily friendly, even the hustlers on Beale Street were friendly! We had great lunch right there on touristy but still very bluesy Beale Street and then went to the Civil Rights Museum, which is inside the hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968. It was a good museum holding loads of information that was new to us, but is was a hard one for Dane because there was very little interactivity and a lot of reading to do. However, the best bit was the remake of the bus, where the famous Rosa Parks stood up to the white bus driver and two policemen in Alabama in 1955. Standing inside the bus I translated and explained the whole story to Dane, and that made a big impression on him. What made the biggest impression on me was to actually stand there outside the hotel room and the balcony where Dr. King was shot. Sometimes history works best that way – see it, feel it!

We had a look inside the lobby of the famous Peabody hotel and then had dinner in the Flying Fish in downtown Memphis. I had a large Margarita, large enough for David to share, so when we’d finished that, we’d had it and took a taxi back to the tacky RV site. But that didn’t matter, because we were tired and happy after a nice day in a very friendly place.

There are more pictures and a few side stories on Flickr.

This morning we got up early and drove south through most of Mississippi. That was sad and dreary and bleak. We drove on a road, marked on the map as scenic. I just don’t get it! We’re driving in the Mississippi delta so everything is flat flat flat. But not close enough to see the mighty Missy. And there is such poverty – right in your face. And poverty is never pictoresque, it’s always ugly. So we were happy to cross the Mississippi into Arkansas where we quickly found our nice RV park. It’s just the kind of place, which I’ve mentioned earlier that David and I like. Big shady Pecan (pronounced Pe’can) trees, no fancy trimmings, a lovely lake and room between the campers. And friendly people. Dane was lucky again to find a really sweet boy to play with, so it has been a very pleasurable afternoon and evening. And it’s nice and warm outside!

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