Category Archives: Louisiana

Mississippi thru Louisiana to the Texas border

Not much happening. Took a pretty straight route from Natchez (south western Mississippi ‚Äď by now y’all must have your atlas out to follow my trip ūüôā ) through Louisiana to Zwolle, near the Texas border. Drove thru some very small towns, you blink once or twice and that‚Äôs it. Not much to see and seemingly not much to do either. Saw a sign for lawnmower racing. You only come up with that kind of stuff when there is nothing else to do. I would have loved to see a race. One town worth mentioning is Natchitoches (pronounced NAK-…ô-t…ôsh), home of Northwestern State University and one of the oldest settlements in Louisiana. It was one of those surprises that popped up in front of me. Nice cobblestone streets and beautifully kept old buildings. The main street runs along the Cane River and not like so many other towns this main street is only two lanes and very quaint. OK, the town had a little touristy feel, but not too bad. The movie Steel Magnolia was filmed here as well. There is even a mini walk of fame with the actresses from the movie. A little lunch and off I went again.

Natchitoches-a place to rest

I feel as if I have neglected Mississippi a little bit. I just had this urge to move west. I didn’t even want to move north into Arkansas, a state I have never been to.
From Tupelo I drove a bit south on the Natchez Trace Parkway, basically through the woods, up and down, not my favorite kind of road, too much work for my right foot. JD does fairly poorly going up hill. I left the parkway; it felt too sterile, manicured forest. Once I traded this two lane road for another things changed. Out of the woods into agriculture. Everything is green, corn is in different stages of growth, some will be ready for July others a month later or so, soybeans, and of course there is cotton.

Cotton

I really regret that I won‚Äôt be in this area in September (of course I don‚Äôt know that for sure yet) when the cotton is in full bloom and ready to be harvested. Just thing of a beautiful snowy winter landscape minus the freezing temperatures. It must look great having all these cotton balls covering acres and acres of land. Pretty soon the rolling hills left me and it was easy gliding on a flat road, hurrah. This was Memorial Day weekend and I was very concerned about getting a camping spot. Several campgrounds I had talked to were full, booked months in advance. So I did what I don‚Äôt like to do, I made reservations; which means I HAVE to be at a specific place and a specific time, not my kind of traveling fun. I made a couple of phone calls and was told (by the general reservation‚Äôs line) that there are a couple of spots available, but it would be best to make reservations, so I did. A state park right at the Mississippi River, The Great River Road State Park in Rosedale, just across from Arkansas. However, no bridge to cross into Arkansas. At least not in Rosedale. There is a bridge 40 minutes south or 1 ¬Ĺ hours north. Anyway, I arrived late afternoon, after buying some essentials, e.g. ice cream, just to find the main office closed and not a soul around. We are not talking little park here, no this thing is big, about one mile from the main road. There are picnic tables and a lookout tower. The main office is high up on stilts, the might Mississippi overflows from time to time. OK, let‚Äôs drive to the camping area. Shi‚Ķ, this place looks like a ghost town. Not a single camper around! Yeah, there was an old trailer, but no car or person near by. Fallen down trees and branches, the bathhouse, also on stilts, looked unused. Here I am in the middle of the woods and nobody around and the nearest campground an hour away. No cell phone reception. Let‚Äôs see if I can get any connection via the internet with Verizon and skype. The signal is super weak. I call the forestry department the only number I could find. The woman who answers the phone can barely understand me, connects me to a guy who tells me, ‚Äúyes, the park is open‚ÄĚ, we lose the connection, I call back, all I hear the woman say is ‚ÄúI can‚Äôt hear you‚ÄĚ. Finally, it‚Äôs the guy again. He had gotten hold of the assistant manager for the park, she will come to the camp site, at least something. Wow, you have to picture this; campground with 61 sites and none of them look like they have been used in a very long time.

Great River Road State Park

It was creepy and I didn’t know if I wanted to stay there all by myself.
Dorothy, the assistant manager, was very nice. Said if I didn‚Äôt want to stay I could get my money refunded. She told me that the park was flooded a year or two ago and never quite recovered from that. It also didn‚Äôt help that the last manager discouraged people from coming. Fortunately, the phone rang and people asked for availability for the night, great I won‚Äôt be alone. Once the initial ‚Äúshock‚ÄĚ had past and I had slept (2 groups of campers had shown up) I looked around and the park was quite beautiful, very quiet, tons of trees, birds and squirrels. The only drawbacks, mosquitoes and horse flies. So many that I had to put on long pants and a long sleeved t-shirt when I had to do anything outside and still, I got bitten in places where the sun don‚Äôt shine‚Ķ besides the bucks, I also had no way to communicate with anyone, no cell, no internet. Some of you find this a blessing, but not in this case. I ended up staying all three nights as planned. I was only by myself for one of the three nights.

Clarksdale blues

The next morning I drove up to Clarksdale, home of the blues. Seemed like a nice place. There were tourists checking out some of the stores. Other than that the place seemed empty. Clarksdale, like so many other small towns has great old building stock. Unfortunately, there is not enough money to keep everything in tact. In addition to crumbling facades, there are empty store fronts.

Bill Lucket - future Mississippi governor?

I was walking around taking pictures when I ran into a man on a ladder who was scraping off paint from one of those old buildings. He asks me what I am taking photos of and we got into a conversation first about stripping paint, restoring buildings and then politics (he is a Democrat). Turns out that he is the co-founder of ‚ÄúGround Zero‚ÄĚ (named before 9/11) THE blues club in town, the other founder is actor Morgan Freeman. Bill is in the middle of restoring this old four story hotel. Lucky me, once again, I got a glimpse of the inside. It must have been one of those grand hotels back in the 50s or 60s with ballrooms and mezzanines. Bill has his hands full with this one. Restoring buildings is just a side business, Bill is a lawyer and he is running for Mississippi governor in 2011. Keep your eyes out for Bill Lucket.
On my way home I drove through Dublin and Rome, not enough time to visit Brazil as well.
That night I had dinner at the Blue Levee Restaurant just outside the campground at the site of an old gas station. From the outside the place looked like a regular small town dive. Dorothy had mentioned it to me the night before and it was also mentioned to me when I was in Clarksdale, one hour north from Rosedale. The place was packed. I counted about 60 guests. I didn’t have reservations, strongly recommended, so I sat at the bar. The countertop was a good 30 inches wide and about eight feet long, completely covered with beer caps (under plexi glass). I counted roughly 7,000 caps, the wait for the food was a little long, but worth the wait. They have 60 different beers on their menu! I heard something I hadn’t heard for some time, balsamic vinaigrette and Mediterranean salad. Remember, this is still fried food country. I skipped the special of the day, grilled Atlantic salmon, and I dared to be adventures and try something I never had before. Appetizer: fried green tomatoes, main course: blackened catfish with garlic mashed potatoes. The tomatoes were absolutely fine, but not something I would go crazy over. Another southern specialty I am not wild about. The catfish was yummy. I would have come back the next day for lunch, but they were closed. The nice thing about sitting at the counter is that you get to talk to the wait staff more than when you sit at a table. Everybody was crazy busy, but very nice. Rosedale is a town of about 2,000 and you would have not expected a restaurant of this caliber in this area. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Good luck in the future!

The drive down to Natchez was straight forward, except when I decided to take a little county road and ended up going back north instead of south. That little detour cost me about an hour and a half and I wish I had that extra time towards the end of the day when I drove thru Vicksburg and Port Gibson. Two towns with beautiful old buildings worthwhile a closer look. Unfortunately, I was still one and a half hours away from my final destination and it was getting too late in the day and I couldn’t look around.

Margaret's Grocery-Vicksburg

However, I did stop at ‚ÄúMargaret‚Äôs Grocery‚ÄĚ, actually the only reason I headed that way to begin with. You will notice that I drive to or thru towns for the strangest reasons.

Margaret's Grocery - Vicksburg

Sadly to say, Margaret’s Grocery was closed down. The once colorful structure was in bad shape, paint peeling and signs falling. Reverend Dennis built this shrine out of love to his wife back in the 1980s. Margaret had the grocery store and Rev. Dennis made it into this colorful place of God. He used to preach in the school bus next to the store. You can read all about it when you google him and the store. Margaret past away last fall and the Reverend is in his late 90s, there was no sign of him.

Margaret's Grocery - inside

A kind hand opened the store to me and I was able to snap some inside shots. There was no light and I could only point and shoot and hope for the best. A local church is suppose to take care of the building, but I am not sure if that is going to happen, too bad.

I only stayed two nights in Natchez. I would have stayed longer if it wasn‚Äôt so damn hot and humid. Even locals found it too hot for this time of year. The lack of shade at the campground didn‚Äôt help either. I usually don‚Äôt complain about heat, I don‚Äôt have AC by choice and I don‚Äôt turn the AC in the truck on. Windows down while driving and you don‚Äôt notice that it is well above 90 F inside, until you get out and you notice that you are wearing a wet shirt ūüôā
Natchez has a ton of antebellum homes and the historic downtown is well preserved. Finding a place that serves lunch after 2 PM is not so easy.

That’s all I have on Mississippi. Comments are always appreciated.

The report about Gadsden is in the works.

The Miss River Bridge at Natchez

Oil change with extra service

Greetings from Natchez/Vidalia.  Mississippi and Louisiana border towns.

How many times have you made a wrong turn just to discover that in the end it was a good wrong turn?  Well, I made one of those wrong turns today which lead me to a Ford dealership.  I know there is nothing exciting about Ford dealerships.  However, I did need an oil change and I was looking for a place to have it done.  This is the first one for the truck.  That pesky little oil change reminder has been coming on for the last couple of days every time I start the truck.  Nice, but annoying.

I don’t know why, but every time I have a conversation with people they start asking where I am from.¬† I just don’t understand.¬† Then they raise an eyebrow when I say New York, as if I would be lying to them.¬† I guess I still have a little bit of a German accent.¬† In any case we get talking about my trip and people are always very helpful.¬† This was no different at the Ford dealership.¬† Somehow I commented on crawfish and everyone was up in arms.¬† Crawfish is the best, you just didn’t have the right stuff etc.¬† Usually, this is where the discussion would end, not here.¬† Sonny from the service department pulled out his phone and called a place in Vidalia and told them that I would be coming.¬† This place is right around the corner from my campground.¬† Instead of getting directions, I got an escort.¬† Chance, a mechanic¬†and his father Rick had to drive that way anyway and I just had to follow them.¬† Now that is service.¬† I also got some travel tips.¬† I just don’t how best drive thru Louisiana¬†to get to Texas.

C & M Crawfish, don't judge a book by its cover

I would have found the place eventually, but I would have driven past it a couple of times.  Dan, the owner was expecting me and he showed me how to peel the crawfish and how to get the tiny bit of meat out of the claws.  It was mentioned that I could suck the rest of the meat out of the head, no thank you!

I had a tasting right there at Dan’s stand, the meat was tender and the seasoning was great.¬†¬†Definitely better than the fried stuff I had in Gadsden.¬† However, I am not sold on crawfish.¬† It took me a good half hour to peel half a pound of crawfish to end up with, not just with sticky, messy fingers, but only a tiny amount of crawfish meat.¬†not even enough for an appetizer.¬† I think I’ll stick with shrimp.¬†¬†Should you have the pleasure of peeling crawfish, make sure you wear a bib!

That's all

The catch

Thank you Ford Natchez!

Smells and sounds

Good bye New Orleans and hello Wiggins, Mississippi. Hope I included all “s’s”, “p’s” and “i’s”.
I left New Orleans via highway 11, an one lane highway with a really long bridge crossing the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain. You don’t realize how much water surrounds New Orleans until you start driving. If it is not a man-made canal it is a natural waterway through the marsh, wetlands or lakes. Once outside the New Orleans area the scenery changed from marshes to pine forests.¬† What also changed were the road conditions, they improved and got even better once I entered into Mississippi.¬† Driving on bumpy pavement with a truck is not that much fun, the shocks are pretty hard.¬† However, driving with the camper on the truck is even less fun,¬†you bounce up and down and even sway a little.

I am now at a quiet campground in Wiggins.¬† Most of the campers here are long term residence.¬† Some of the trailers look like they haven’t been moved in years.¬† No complaints¬†on my side.¬† I can see a little lake out my back door and hear birds singing.¬† Sometimes a squirrel or cat walks by.¬† Quick comparison with my last campground:

Sounds Wiggins: birds, at night AC

Sounds New Orleans: birds, at night bull frog and shrieking raccoons

Wildlife Wiggins: Canada geese with young

Wildlife NO: Hornets and too many bugs to name, especially inside my camper.  I turned into a mass killer.  At one point I had to clean my computer screen because I had squashed so many bugs on it, sorry.

One of the wonderful scents in New Orleans was the sweet smell of the magnolias.  Here, I smell fresh cut grass, not bad but no match to the magnolias.

On my last day in NO I drove and than walked through an area called (Faubourg) Marigny.¬†¬†Located to the east of the French Quarter, east of Esplanade Avenue.¬† I really liked to feel of the neighborhood.¬† Several cafes/restaurants one or two story homes.¬† No tourists.¬† I bought an iced tea at a place that reminded me of the Lower East Side in New York City before NYU students moved in.¬† According to the bar tender the area was voted second best neighborhood in the country.¬† Don’t know who voted and I have not verified this piece¬†of information.¬† So, on your next visit to NO, venture out east and check it out.

OK, I have to go now and cut my hair to fight the oil spill.¬† Yes, you read correctly.¬† There is an organisation called Matter of Trust, located in San Francisco and they collect hair to make booms and hair mats that absorb the oil.¬† They used this method against the oil spill in the San Francisco Bay a couple of years ago.¬† Hair attracts and holds the oil.¬† Hair salons from¬†all around the country and even people from Europe send in their clippings.¬† Pet hair works as well.¬† You have to sign up with Matter of Trust, for free, to find out where to send your hair.¬† Talk to your salon to collect a day’s worth of clippings to help.¬† This is not a hoax, google the organisation and see for yourself.¬† They don’t just take hair donations, go to their website and find out more www.matteroftrust.org

New Orleans – where did the money go?

Historic homes north of the French Quarter

It is time to move on.¬† I have now driven and walked through many of New Orleans’ neighborhoods and surrounding areas and I just cannot see anymore dilapidated, destroyed¬†or neglected houses and¬†homes.¬†¬† According to official sources there are over 60,000 blighted buildings in New Orleans!¬†

Florida Projects


Not all the damage is the result of Katrina, but one still has to wonder where all the billions of dollars went that were donated.¬† The streets are in bad shape too, luckily road¬†repairs are taken place as we speak.¬† Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of nice buildings around. The French Quarter, Uptown, Garden District and the other parishes all have¬†beautiful places.¬† But just walk a few blocks away from the main areas and you run into neglect.¬†
 

Garden District

Drive down to the bayou and there are still trailers in the canals.¬† This would all be understandable if this wouldn’t be five years after Katrina.¬† I guess it also depends what you compare the conditions to.¬† A fellow camper had been here shortly after Katrina and she was impressed by the progress that had been made.

French Quarter

I spoke with Monroe,¬†a resident of the 9th ward.¬† He lives in a nice little house, but to his left is a big house with the roof caving in and to his right are three houses that are up for sale and in need of some repair.¬† Monroe said that many people sold out, got money to fix up the houses but instead just left.¬† Until those houses are sold his block won’t improve. That’s just one of many blocks in similar condition. FYI, the 3 houses are selling for $90,000 total.

Bywater area house

I really liked the Garden District and Uptown.¬† Residential areas not overrun by tourists with funky stores and little restaurants.¬† I saw a sign for a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment for rent on a quiet street, $1,200.¬† Granted I didn’t see the apartment, but that’s a steal in NYC terms.¬†¬† These low rents seem to attract a lot of folks from the NY Tri-State area.¬† All my waiters had just moved to NO in the last 6 months from New York or from Jersey.

Got to go, get my last lunch in the Big Easy.

Arabi area

Bayou and oyster shells to be used to rebuild reefs

Fishing boats near Shell Beach


Crescent City Connection

Oil crisis

Melissa & Michael - oystermen

A quick note from New Orleans.

I am still in New Orleans.  Glad I am not traveling, the wind is blowing at 30 mph.  That would not be any fun with the camper on top of the truck.

Currently, the big story down here is the huge oil leak coming from the BP oil rig that exploded last week.  I drove down to Hopedale, eastern Bayou and yesterday all the way down to Venice.  Fortunately, I could not see or smell any oil.  That can all change due to the very strong winds.  In Hopedale I spoke with an oyster harvester and his sister, they were both extremely concerned that this leak could wipe out the oyster beds for an unforeseen period of time.  The beds had been slowly rebuilt after Katrina and even though the harvests were not back to pre-Katrina levels, they were improving.  This leak is also coming at a time when shrimp and all other fish are spawning.  It takes between two to three years for an oyster to grow to fist size.

It will be a disaster if the oil washes into the marsh and wetlands.   The clean-up would be almost impossible.  Everybody here hopes that the oil will come ashore further east on the beaches where the clean-up would be easier.  At the gas station was a notice for an oil spill prayer service, people are desperate.  So, send all your good thoughts and prayers this way.  This could potentially affect Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Back to photo editing, hopefully I’ll post some later today.

Should I stay or should I go?

Live oaks

I have extended my stay at the campground here in New Orleans three times since I arrived Sunday 8 days ago. I still have not seen everything I want to see and then there is Jazz Fest. Jazz Fest is amazing. Went on Sunday with two other volunteers.  Now I am trying to figure out which other day(s) to go. Pearl Jam, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and many, many more.  Tough choices.

Roamed through the French Quarter today.¬† In short: rod iron balconies, window shutters of all colors, interesting characters, oak trees, the mighty Mississippi, drinking alcohol while walking down the street (not me – others ūüôā ).¬† Enjoyed a big plate of Crawfish Etouffee at the Gumbo Shop, not as spicy as I expected, but good.

I was very fortunate and was invited into a private historic¬†house built in the 1880s.¬† Wow, 14 foot high ceilings, porches around the side and back,¬† approx. 2,500 sq. feet for $370,000 on Esplanade Avenue only 5 minutes from the French Quarter.¬† Let me know if you are interested…

I would love to write more, but it is already tomorrow.  So here are some of my visual impressions of New Orleans, more to come.

Country side - St. Bernard Parish

Above ground cemetery

Oil refinery

Colorful house

Mardi Gras beats

Alex, the street artist

my waitress Debbie Ross at the Gumbo Shop

Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest - one of twelve stages

Having fun

Flags

Anita Baker

After the concert

I am fine

Just to let everyone know, even though the weather was not very good today I have not been affected by the tornadoes that have hit parts of Louisiana and Mississippi.

As so often on this trip I had planned to work on my photos and to write some more, but once again it did not quite work out that way.  Instead I decided to explore an area called Algiers, just south of downtown New Orleans across the Mississippi.  Despite the close proximity to the river, this area was mainly spared by Katrina.  More wind than water damage. 

Today was also my first day off from volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.  From Tuesday thru Friday I worked with a group of people on one house in the north eastern section of New Orleans.  We put up siding all week and almost finished the entire house.  Our day on Friday was cut short due to heavy rain and thunderstorms.  I could barely see 20 feet ahead of me on my drive home.

I worked with a fun group.¬† When we started on Tuesday we were only 8 people, 7 women and one guy.¬† We called ourselves the original eight as more volunteers joined us¬†the next couple of days.¬† People came from all over; Canada, North Carolina, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey and even a group from Norway; boys¬†from carpentry school, high school age.¬† They put up the siding for the front side of the house in just 1 1/2 days.¬† Some people came to volunteer for the day others for the week.¬† It is amazing that people from all walks of life come down here to help make other people’s lives better.

I don’t remember having been this tired in a long time.¬† Start time was 8 AM¬†and quittin’ time was at 4 PM.¬† On Friday I hit the pillow at 9 PM!¬† But is was not all work.¬† We had some fun as well.¬† On Thursday night the remaining 6 of the original 8 got together for some nice vegetarian food just outside of the French Quarter.¬† After dinner one fellow volunteer, Amanda and I walked a bit through the French Quarter and had beignets at Cafe Du Monde.¬† I am sorry, but I don’t know what the fuss is all about these beignets.¬† They remind me of fennel cake at a fair, sorry.

It was pretty cool that within one block we passed several places that played live music.  I have to go back during the day to take in the architecture.  Tomorrow I am going to Jazz Fest, plenty of live music there.

Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the house when we started.  Just picture all sides wrapped in the white Tyvek.

The photos

I am having trouble inserting the photos where they are suppose to go, so here is a separate post just with photos.

The original 8

 

Dinner at Bamboo
The back

Our side


The front

Last day, home owner on the porch right with son

My first encounter with the New Orleans police

Greetings from New Orleans.  Apologies for the long break between posts.  Traveling, taking pictures and working a little can all turn into a full time job.

The distance between¬†Gulf Shores and New Orleans is not very large, only about 200 miles.¬† But once you reach the Biloxi area you feel much further away.¬†¬†You can’t help but think of Katrina and Rita and the damage they have caused.¬† In many parts along the Gulf coast did I see¬†dead sticks in the ground, tree trunks without branches and only half their original size.¬† However, the damage to homes was more apparent in Mississippi and Louisiana.¬† Many empty stilts that once were the support and the protection to houses.¬† Four and a half years later roads are still being paved and as one contractor in New Orleans told me only recently have they put up street signs in some areas.¬† Why is this taking so long?¬† The contrast sometimes is amazing, boarded up houses on one block and beautiful homes on the next.¬†¬†So far I have only gotten a very small sampling of the area, but I am planning on exploring more.

OK, you are wonder what happened that I met the NOPD.¬† Well, I wasn’t speeding.¬† Originally, I thought I had my first travel adventure or misadventure on my hands.¬† Leaving Alabama I noticed that my front license plate was missing.¬† My first thought was that someone in Miami must have stolen it while I was parked in the tennis tournament parking lot.¬† When I arrived at my campsite in New Orleans, the very nice St. Bernard State Park, I asked Ranger Johnston if he could tell me where the nearest police station was.¬† I wanted to report the plate as stolen just in case it is being used in some kind of unsavoury activity.¬† Instead of me going to the police, I had two officers show-up at my campsite within 15 minutes!¬† Unfortunately, they couldn’t help.¬† I needed to report the incident in Miami, oh what fun.¬† We had a nice chat and they left.¬† As I said I thought I had my first adventure on my hand, as it turns out it wasn’t one at all.¬† I looked at some pictures I took of the truck along the way and believe it or not, I must have LOST the front plate on my first day of travel.¬† All I needed to do was call the DMV (35 minutes on hold) and order new plates.¬† It was suggested to me to inform the NY State police and the Pennsylvania State police just in case.

Today I started my volunteering gig with Habitat for Humanity.¬† We are a small group of 8 putting up siding on a house.¬† I have to practice my handheld circular saw sawing skills.¬† Managed to hit not the nail on the head but my thumb, blue was always my favorite color ūüôā¬† It is a slow process.¬† Some more people are supposed to join us tomorrow.

Let me go back to Alabama for a bit.¬† I would have never¬†mentioned Alabama and white sandy beaches in the same sentence.¬† The sand is super fine and the beaches are clean!¬† If you are into shell collecting, this is the place to be; especially when you go¬†to Dauphin Island.¬† The shells are bigger than my hand at least a 1/4″ thick, brownish color¬†and pretty heavy.¬† I took a photo which I will eventually post.¬† Does anyone have an idea what kind of shell this might be?¬† The beach was littered with them.¬† Dauphin Island even has a bird sanctuary.¬†¬†Some parts of the¬†West End beach were corded off for migrating / breading¬†birds.

I had my first po’boy on Dauphin Island, grilled shrimp, very nice.¬† I got to talk to the two ladies who were making the sandwiches.¬† They told my about the big fishing rodeo they have every year on the island.¬† Hundreds and hundreds of anglers from all over the world come to fish.¬† Supposedly the variety of fish¬†is endless.

It is getting late and I still have to make dinner.¬† There is more to write about, the nice guy in Biloxi who told me how to get out of a bad traffic jam, the nice guy running a campground who didn’t know that there was a nice restaurant just 2.5 miles from the site (never ask locals) and the beautiful Live Oak trees.¬† Did I mention bugs, I have been eaten alive.¬† Itching and scratching for a week now.

Good night.  Next time some photos.