Saturday, February 18, 2012

Two days in Mississippi

So here were are in Mississippi.  As we come into the state we are driving along rolling hills with pine forests all around us.  All seems good, until we start noticing at the visitor center rest stop and then future rest stops, that part of the sign indicates whether it has security or not.  The places we stopped, had security guards sitting at the rest stop, in the middle of the day, watching what was going on.  Truly different than anything we have ever seen elsewhere.

Well we reached our camping, Askew Landing, near the town of Edwards and find that it is a very pleasant place in the woods.  There is also a small lake here with some very noisy geese!  Drives Fred crazy, but as I say, it is a short putt! He has decided to consider them as walking froi gras! Most of the folks camped here, about 50 sites, are either retired or are here temporarily working for a nuclear plant that is some where on the Mississippi.  We have seen this before that workers come in and camp near the work site.  These folks have come from other parts of the country to work here, some with and some without their families.  We met some of the folks and learned there are 3 home schooled kids here.  It is kind of wet here and muddy, so we are starting to get a farm look about us.

Roulotte is setup so out for a walk in campground

Next day, we decided to go see Edwards.  Well, the town is really really run down and there are no stores or restaurants.  It does have a gas station, a police station and a post office.  It also has an occasional nice house but most of what we saw were run down shanties.  Lots of black men of various ages, hanging around with nothing to do. We saw this same thing in Louisiana, which is disturbing when   you are not used to seeing this.  These areas that we are traveling thru are poorer than either of us have ever seen before.  We often get the feeling that we are not welcome in some of the areas we are driving through and I guess we are seen as "tourist" driving by, which is exactly what we are.  Poking our noses into things that are none of our business sometimes.  I just read this to Fred and he says its more that we are in places that people do not recognize us, so are not sure about us.  We are in some extremely rural areas and they all know each other. We're the unknowns and the wrong color!
Reading the link below is astounding to us...there were 3 antebellum houses in fair condition and then nothing.  Businesses?  There were none to be seen now. Reading the website is a far cry from how they are today.

Took a back road thru town and headed to Vicksburg.  This was the site of a major Civil War battle.  Lincoln needed to end the supply route for the south and so needed to control the Mississippi.  Winning this battle gave him the victory that was the turning point of the war.
The visit starts at the Vicksburg National Military Park.  The museum has a really good docu-reenactment movie that they show.  There are also numerous displays to see before you head out on a 16 mile self guided auto tour of the battlefield.  There are markers everywhere, blue for the Union and red for the Confederates, to show you where and how the fighting took place.
There are large monuments erected by each of the states who participated in the battle.  In addition, families, friends, others, have erected statues and busts of the many officers who participated here.  These were put on the battlefield about 50 years later and are everywhere.
Since this battle was about gaining control of the river, there was also a naval contingent.  We thought that one of the most interesting part of the tour was to visit the USS Cairo (pronounced kayrow).  This was an iron clad battleship that was sunk by one of the first torpedoes.  The boat was retrieved in the late 60s early 70s from the river bottom.  You can actually walk thru the boat!  Quite worth while to


USS Cairo

We left the park and headed for Vicksburg.  I expected to see a historic southern town with lots of white mansions. Okay, yes, I was looking for Tara and Scarlett. Well this town has long been on hard times.  A few mansions, not necessarily doing well, though a few are now working at being B&B and they look nice.  Most of the town seems closed up, other than a few fast food places and hotels that are right along the highway and the Military Park.  Amazingly, we did find a really good lunch in the historic part of Vicksburg.  Even the downtown historic part is pretty much closed up, with just a few shops and restaurants.  Seems as though the big activity in town is the casino, located right on the river.

Today we started off exploring the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This road, which is a National Park, extends from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, 444 miles.  This was originally an Indian trail that got expanded by the farmers who came down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to sell their goods either in Natchez or New Orleans.  When they sold their goods, they also sold their boats since they could not navigate them back up the rivers.  The people in New Orleans and Natchez used the wood to build their houses and make things with the wood.  The boat people now walked back up the Natchez Trace route to their farms.  We walked a bit of this historic trail, which is a woodland route and quite beautiful.  The driving road is right next to it.  Beautiful and a definite must if you are in this area.
We only did about 100 miles of it today, from Jackson to Natchez.  Will try to do more of the other end of the Natchez Trace Parkway when we are in Nashville.

emblem shows the mail man on the Trace

view from top of Emerald Mound

another view and Fred is still not at the bottom level!

Natchez is a beautiful town, with lots of what we all have in mind when we think of southern mansions.  There are actually houses dating from the late 1700s here, all really beautiful and many with large white columns in front!  Lots of B&B sites here that are very inviting.  This looks like a great place to spend a night or two as you explore the area.,_Mississippi
We did a house tour of the Melrose Estate, which is a national park site.  Had a really funny ranger give us a very informative tour, with lots of insight into the families that lived in the house based on diaries the wives kept.  Most of the furniture was original to either the first or second family to live in the house.  The story of the house is one of eventual ruin for the first family due to the Civil War.  This house was never occupied by any Union military, so remained in great condition.
Here we learned that plantations mean that the family raised some crop on the land, be it sugar or cotton or something else to sell to others for profit.
An estate on the other hand, may grow some crop, but it is for their own use, not to sell to others for profit.

fan over dinner table to provide air and shoo away flies; cord by mantle was pulled by slave child

rococco style was loved in these houses!

Well, that was Mississippi.  We are already in Alabama as I finish this blog.  We continue to see 24hr security at the rest stops.  We are in an RV park, attached to the Hoover city baseball stadium just outside of Birmingham.  We have just had a great Chicago pizza ( go figure) in a local place.  There are all kinds of stores and banks and people again...I feel as though we have just come out of the wilderness.
Stay tuned.
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

last days in N'awlins aka NOLA aka New Orleans

We have just had two great last days in N'awlins!

Our Rv park is located along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.  It has been a wonderful place to spend the week, especially since they offer the shuttle back and forth into town.  The first 3 days it cost us $10 for the two to do the trip and then it was free.  Makes getting into town so much easier and cheaper. 
The problem for the city during Katrina, happened when the levee out here overflowed.  I think I mentioned that they are now building a dam here to avoid future problems.  We'll see....

Yesterday we started off having our croissants and cafe au lait in the French Quarter.  Then headed across the FQ to get the street care (trolley) to the Garden district.  This was a fun way to see another part of the city.  Locals due seem to use the street car to move around, but this line is full of tourists like us.

We went part of the way on this St. Charles street line, which is actually a total of about 14miles round trip, to get a different view of the Mississippi.  The Garden district is where the "Americans" built big beautiful homes.  There are lots and lots of great homes in this little square area of New Orleans.  Included here are campuses for Tulane and Layola Universities, which are also very pretty to see.
We got off the street car in the middle of the district and started off on foot towards one of the cemeteries in this area.  We ended up on the wrong side of the tracks, literally, and found ourselves in one of the poorest areas of the city.  Lots of abandoned homes and what was still in use was a very, very run down black neighborhood.
We were not where we were supposed to be. A guy riding slowly by on a bike shouted at us "the Garden district is the other way".  As Fred says, a polite way of saying get out of my area.  I said we were looking for the cemetery and he indicated it was just ahead of us.  It was just another block to Lafayette Cemetery #2.  I rushed us just down the main lane and then out.  Bike guy was circling and watching us while we were in there. 

downstairs boarded up, but maybe someone living upstairs?

ivy growing up and around house, including 3 chimneys covered

wrong side of the tracks

We both high tailed it back to the other side of the tracks, about 6 blocks,  to what seemed  like another world.

We were now where the big fancy houses were located.  There was also another cemetery, Lafayette #1 to visit.  Burials were above ground with a European style of tombs, with lots of German names from the mid 1800s.  Lots of French street names in this area, since they came first, but obviously after the Spanish, I guess it was the Germans?  Not sure where the Spanish are buried since we did not see evidence in either of these two cemeteries, but this city has many more for us to see at some point.  You know we both love a good cemetery and there are some great ones here.

Spent time walking around looking at houses, negotiating cobble sidewalks that are very uneven due to old trees that had been planted along the streets.  It is slow walking in many places, though not all the sidewalks are like that.  It is well worth the seeing!,_New_Orleans

Today, our last day, we start with cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde near the French Market.  As we ate our beignets, we watched a guy pretend he was a police car transformer.  He would fold himself up and roll around on the ground as a car and then stand up and look like a robot.....
We then walked to the levee, just a 1/2 block away to get a look at the river and see the activity there.

Next was a mid 1880 house tour in the French Quarter.  Large rooms with 14ft high ceilings, windows and doors that could open everywhere to allow breezes to flow through.  The original owner had it for just 30years and then had to sell in bankruptcy.  A judge bought it and lived there with his family for 70 years.  It later became a home for "decent" single women.   Included in the house tour was a bit of cooking demonstration in the slave kitchen.  An interesting hour long tour and not very crowded, we were the only ones taking the noon tour today.
Lunch today was in the building that was originally the slave exchange.  I had a creole version of crawfish etoufee.  Creole is with a tomato base and cajun is with a roux base.  Fred had red beans and rice, which turns out to be slightly different each time also.

Then some shopping and another stroll to the river.  It was such a beautiful, warm day today that it really was inviting to stroll and sit by the river.  What a way to spend the last bit of time in N'awlins!

We have loved it here! There is lots to see and do!  The food is incredible!  We will come back to N'awlins.    Word of caution though, be aware that Mardi Gras is a wild time here and may not be to every ones taste.  We both agree that the pre-Mardi Gras activity that we saw here this week before the official party was enough. What is nice right now is the outside house decorating that people do during this time.  So it really is a great time to come see the city.
Lots of stores and museums actually close on parade days, so check before you go.
We are told that summer is not a time to come- very hot and muggy! 

In the morning we leave for Edwards, Mississippi and new adventures.  Stay tuned.

Fred and Michelle
Traveling the country so you don't have to!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

N'awlins - day three + Louisiana plantations

Okay, so suddenly we are in an arctic freeze that came in during the day yesterday.  We woke up to a windy day with temps about 50 degrees, which then dropped to by mid afternoon to 40 with wind chill making it 32degrees.  Walking was at a 45degree angle the wind was blowing so hard!  By night it was down to 28 with wind chill of 16degrees.  The Roulotte was rock n' rolling in the wind and unable to keep warm.  It is not made for cold weather, which is why we try to keep away from it as much as possible.

We had planned to take one of the city street cars to what is known as the Garden district.  Unfortunately, since there was going to be a parade there we were unable to get there.  It was very weird, since the street car staff and even tourist information centers don't seem to know when and where the next parade will be.  Each day we hear it will be at noon, or 1pm or 2pm or one seems to really know.  No point counting on the newspaper either since it never seems to get it right either.  Nor do they seem to know the exact route and how buses or street cars will be effected.  You would think this was the first time they ever had a Mardi Gras in this city. 
We had bought day passes, $3 for all day with on/off anywhere options, but have not yet used them.  Possibly tomorrow?

We did walk Canal street, which is a main street just on the edge of the French Quarter.  This is an area that was flooded and vandalized after Katrina.  There are shops that have never opened and those that have do not look very prosperous.  Quite an odd feel to what was once a thriving area.  There is a major renovation going on here, but it will still need more time.

a view of Canal Street

Then at 2pm we were at the New Orleans Cooking School.  This was wonderful both as far as history of the area and the history of the area food.  Our chef for the afternoon was named Pat and she both looked and sounded like Paula Dean.  She has read lots of history of the area and had great stories to tell about how the French, then the Spanish and then the Americans survived here. 
We learned that Louisiana is still based on Napoleonic code.  The Spanish never saw any reason to change things when they came in and took over.  No one else ever felt the need to change it in Louisiana.
We watched her make Creamed artichoke shrimp soup, craw fish etouffe and pralines for dessert.  It was really really yummy!  We have copies of the recipes if anyone wants them.  This was a blast to do and really fun, even for me the non-cook.  Worth doing if you are in town.

After class, we did a bit of walking around, but it had just gotten so bitterly cold that we called it a day and took a cab back to the RV park.

Today, we unhooked the car and went driving along the Mississippi River to visit some Louisiana Plantations.  In addition to the actual plantations that you can visit, along both sides of the river, there are some really beautiful old southern homes.  What a feast for the eyes.

standing on top of levee as we head to plantations

Mississippi is just beyond the trees/shrubs;  you can kinda see it

In one day, you can only plan on doing two houses since they are usually not right next to each other, though not far from one to another, but there is a lot to hear and see.  Louisiana plantations were sugar growing plantations as opposed to Mississippi plantations which were cotton growing plantations for the most part. 
In Louisiana, a slave could buy his freedom.  Usually this was possible if you lived and worked on a large plantation and your owner "rented" you out for pay to another plantation.  This might be done if for example you were able to do some specific craft like blacksmith, wood builder.  Then the payment was shared by you and your owner, with you, the slave, keeping a good portion of the payment.
The front of the plantations always face the Mississippi River so that there is a view and a breeze from the river.  Summers were incredibly hot and muggy, so there are tall doors that open into each room and run through the house to catch any breeze there might be.

Our first stop was at Laura A Creole Plantation.  The guide was able to talk about the stories that Laura Lacoul, one of the four women who ran this plantation, wrote in her memoirs of life in 1805. Her stories are about her family and their activities on the plantation, in New Orleans and in France. As can be expected quite a varied history for this family.   This plantation still has many buildings that are original to the plantation.  The house is original, other than the roof and plastering on the upper floors, which had been damaged in a fire. This plantation did "rent" slaves to other plantations.

front of house facing toward the river

house is raised to avoid flooding; "basement" used storing wines and other items

looking out from upper level at back of plantation

slave quarters; 2 families, one in each side; there were 65 cabins on this plantation

view of back of main house

Our next stop was Oak Alley Plantation, an incredibly beautiful plantation.  The alley of live oak trees had been previously planted before the owner decided to build a plantation here.  The alley leading to the house has 28 live oaks, 14 on each side, which are ENORMOUS and beautiful!  Pictures just do not do this plantation justice, it is so incredible.  The exterior has been used in many movies and tv shows. 
The original family fell into hard times when the father died and the wife ran into incredible debt.  After that it passed into other hands and some restoration did take place, while maintaining most of the original house.  The grandson of the final owners lives on the property in what had been the overseers house.
We had a really delicious lunch at this plantation, so got to spend some extra time here.

arriving at back of the house

used to boil sugar, now decorative display

front of Oak Alley Plantation

our tour guide

We will come back to see more of the plantations in this area and highly recommend that if you come to N'awlins, you need to include time to see some plantations.  If you don't have a car, there are tours that you can sign up for in the city.  We saw a few of them driving around today.  They are small shuttle type buses of about 30 people, so it keeps the group quite reasonable.

Tomorrow we are back to the city and hoping to see the Garden District.  There is so much to see and do in this area, we are just really getting a glimpse of it.  We haven't even had a steamboat trip or a swamp tour!!!

Stay tuned.
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!