After leaving Austin, we headed across the south eastern part of Texas towards Louisiana. Our goal for the day was to get as close to New Orleans as possible, which meant any sightseeing would be done on the fly.
Spring has certainly become evident down here and there were lots of bluebonnets (Texas state flower) growing wild along the highway, as well as flowering redbud and Bradford pear. These flowering plants put on a fine show amid the soft fuzz of colour which can been seen in the forest trees as the leaves and buds start to emerge.
Crossing into Louisiana brought our tally of states up to 24 for me, 26 for Peter. I will unashamedly admit that, apart from spending time with Murray and Genny (and for Peter to attend his conference), the other reason for this trip is to notch up as many more states as I can. Peter is indulging this obsession with some patience. The weather reports indicated heavy rain to the north of us which we expected to meet the following day. Hoping to be able to spend time in New Orleans before the heavens opened, we decided to press on and get there that night. Meals for the day consisted mainly of the many snacks and chocolates that Genny had so kindly provided. We also finished off the packet of Tostados we bought in Mexico.
As far as possible we took roads that went along the southern part of Louisiana, to pass through the rice fields and bayou country. The roads were frequently a series of long bridges constructed over the marsh lands, or were built up to wend through the alligator infested swamps. We passed through Lafayette, LA, noting that it claims to be one of America’s beautiful cities. It was indeed quite charming. We crossed one of a series of spectacular bridges spanning the Mississippi River and made it into New Orleans by about 7.15 pm. We were quite pleased with the time we had made and thought we would find some accommodation then head downtown to try some Cajun food.
Easier said than done! Arriving in New Orleans on a Saturday night meant we had to contend with an extraordinary amount of traffic. We drove at a snail’s pace along the freeway leading into the downtown area, but eventually made it into the French Quarter where we had details of a number of reasonably priced hotels. We tried four, only to be turned away each time. The place was booked solid. We even tried a not so reasonably priced one only to get the same response. We decided on another course of action. We would park the car and see some of the French Quarter, have dinner, and then head out of town for accommodation. Finding parking was as difficult as finding accommodation.
We didn’t want to park miles away in some obscure part of town, as our car was chockablock with all our gear and we didn’t like our chances of finding it intact when we returned. After enquiring at a number of parking lots (even one that was stacking cars two high using hydraulic platforms) we eventually found one that had vacant spaces. We parked the car and on the attendant’s advice, moved all the gear on the back seat into our already crammed boot. By this time it was 9.15. We had driven around for about 2 hours. At least we had seen a fair bit of the French Quarter by then, some streets two and three times.
New Orleans is a most vibrant city. People were bedecked with streamers and plastic beads, and were obviously many hours ahead of us in terms of their celebrating and partying. The ground was littered with what appeared to be the remnants of a parade, which we assumed must have been a St Patrick’s Day celebration. We were amazed that this feast would be celebrated in this very non-Irish part of the city, and indeed when we asked a man at the Information centre, he told us that they were celebrating St Joseph’s day. Any excuse for a party. As Joey’s supporters we had to join in with that. We found a charming restaurant and were directed upstairs into a room which had a great view of all the activity happening in the street below. The waiters were courteous and efficient, dressed in black and white, and bustled to attend to their packed house. We ordered the “Taste of New Orleans” medley which included rice and red beans, gumbo, and shrimp and crawfish etouffe. The only thing we missed out on, Murray, was the boudin. Maybe we will find that somewhere else.
After dining, we wandered through the streets enjoying the wonderful carnival atmosphere. We saw some amazing sights (not all of them totally decorous!) and found a little shop selling “world famous” praline. We tried some but I was not so impressed. We were infected and intoxicated by the spirit of the city, but eventually returned to our car and headed out of town to find a place to stay for the night. We were almost in Mississippi before we stopped and booked into a motel and fell into bed just after midnight.
Next morning we awoke to find no rain, but heavy fog. We decided to avoid the heavily trafficked freeways and continued east, crossing out of Louisiana, into Mississippi, along a road that hugged the Gulf coast. I’m sure would it have made for spectacular viewing if we could have seen more than 50 yards in any direction. We got out and walked on the beach, just to be sure the water was actually there. This was obviously a major resort area and we passed many casinos and fancy hotels. Our progress was slowed by the fog as well as a fair bit of roadworks along the way. I expected that in light of the serious freeway pileup in Georgia only a couple of days earlier, drivers might have been more cautious, but I was more than amazed to find cars crossing double lines into blind fog to overtake me. No wonder there are accidents!
We soon found ourselves in Alabama and drove far enough east to catch the tip of the Florida panhandle. This was a most satisfactory state visit as it enabled me to catch up one on Peter. He had attended a conference in Orlando earlier last year. We then headed north back into Alabama up to Montgomery, the state capitol. This was the site of a significant event in the civil rights movement, the bus boycott in 1955 after a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. We saw a TV movie about her just a few weeks ago, so it was interesting to see the place where the events occurred. We also saw the site of the first Confederate White House, and the Civil Rights Memorial which is situated not far from the church where the Rev Martin Luther King Jr preached.
From Montgomery, highway 65 could have taken us directly north to Nashville, but by taking a slightly broader sweep to the north-east we could pop across the border into Georgia. So it was. We headed along the freeway across Alabama and into some backwood roads of Georgia, stopping for the night at a charming college town called Carrollton. The motel we found was not the flashest. I think they must have just shampooed the carpets as the smell of cleaner was potent. We also had very raucous neighbours who seemed to be coming and going all night. I was more than happy to get out of there and get back on the road next morning. Our route through Georgia was made more bearable by the fact it would take us through Chattanooga. How could we miss seeing their famous Choo-choo, especially with my fine railway heritage and also having spent a week with train fanatics Genny and Murray.
The scenery through north-eastern Georgia up through the Appalachian Mountains and into the hill country around Chattanooga was the most beautiful we have seen on this trip. Each day, a little more spring colour becomes evident and the mountains were oozing waterfalls as a result of the heavy rains of the previous days. We passed through another little town called La Fayette, a timber town in the mountains only a few miles short of Chattanooga.
We finally arrived at the Choo-choo town and were impressed by the beautiful aquarium building and attractive visitors centre. There are many other scenic attractions to enthrall tourists, such as Ruby Falls and Rock Mountain, but we had a deadline to reach Nashville by early afternoon, so we stayed just long enough to get a photo taken with the train and then continued on. We arrived in Nashville on schedule, booked into our hotel (a 100% on the previous night’s accommodation) and Peter registered for his conference.
And our tally after the trip? Majella: 27 states, Peter 28. To get any more this time, we would have to take the REALLY long way home, so I guess that is it for a while.
Although I haven’t checked my email to receive any responses to yesterday’s question yet, I will give you another easy one: “There is a house in New Orleans…” (apparently). What is it called? I’m sure I must have driven by it at some stage!