USA: Louisiana and the Mississippi Blues Trail

Heading down the freeway from Texas towards Louisiana the terrain started getting swampy. We stayed overnight at a rest stop which unfortunately seemed to be built on some sort of swamp. On a side note if you are ever driving through Texas, take advantage of the rest stops. Not only is it legal to stay overnight at them, there is also free WiFi, air conditioning and really nice toilets. The swamp turned out to be a problem as we needed the windows of the van open because it was so hot and the mosquitos of the swamp took this as invitation. It looked like we had chicken pox when we left in the morning after our fitful sleep.

We found a RV park out in the suburbs near the docks which seemed like a front for crystal meth dealing. The good thing about crystal meth fronts is that they are well secured and this was no exception and featured a high fence, cameras at the gate and key code access. The bus also stopped right outside the park which allowed us to get into the safer and more touristy areas of New Orleans.

The “French Quarter” section of New Orleans has some really colourful buildings.

The French Quarter, where we spent most of our time, shows none of the post-Katrina economic and social problems that afflict New Orleans and is where most of the tourists go. We only had one night in New Orleans and so we only got to experience this area.

Awesome alleyway with a bonus restaurant
Somebody actually gets to live in these places?

As nice as it is during the day, night is when the French Quarter really comes alive. We did visit the famous and awful Bourbon Street where there are hundreds of bars and drinking in the street is legal but we found our favourite areas when we just explored.

Cool Market

We stumbled upon a really cool night market next to one of the jazz bars that we visited where we picked up some dinosaur art.

Art!

We spent the rest of the evening visiting different blues and jazz bars.

Welcome to the land of the multiple ‘s’es

Pressed for time as usual we headed onwards, north to Mississippi. There are many giant estates and mansions from the era of slavery and civil war and many of them allow visitors. We turned into old people for a day and visited one that was famous for its interesting octagonal architecture.

The Octagonal Mansion!

We not only got a tour of the mansion but we also got a brief history lesson of the civil war and the brutal acts committed by both the Union and Confederation. The owner of the mansion never got to complete his vision as all his crop was destroyed by Union forces and he ran out of money. Only the first floor was ever completed. The other floors remain as scaffolding and various storage rooms.

Looking up at the unfinished floors
Home of the teddy bear

After seeing this unmissable photo opportunity from the highway we had no choice but to stop in at Onward, Mississippi just to take this photo. In the woods near this town is apparently where Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear cub. After newspapers published the story, companies started selling teddy bears to make fun of his refusal to shoot the cute, baby bear. The story was also apparently completely made up. So here we are at the town where Roosevelt didn’t not shoot a bear cub but where they made teddy bears anyway.

Coke museum

Another quick stop along the way Vicksburg, the site of a famous siege during the Civil War but, more importantly, where in 1984 Joseph Biedenharn first had the genius idea of putting Coca Cola into bottles. Prior to this historic day, Coca Cola could only be enjoyed from soda fountains at cafes. The museum held a few priceless artifacts including a replica of Joseph’s funnel-like bottling apparatus but mainly housed decades worth of Coca Cola merchandise. We ordered a coke float which came flat from a pre-opened 2l bottle and we were back on the road.

Clarksdale blues club

Next we went for a quick stop at Clarksdale one of the most famous tows for Delta blues music. They had a small blues museum in a back street next to some of the famous old blues clubs. I can’t image Clarksdale has changed much since it became famous for producing blues musicians in the 50s. Even the streets surrounding the blues clubs downtown were desolate with many abandoned buildings and very rundown looking homes.

Bluesy street art

Our next stop along the Mississippi Blues Trail was Memphis, also famous for blues, Sun Studio’s rock and roll and, above all else, Elvis. The Graceland caravan park that we stayed at offered a free pink Cadillac ride to a restaurant that Elvis once ate at plus a 10% “Elvis discount”. It was an offer to awful to refuse.

Pink limo!

Of course, we had to go to Graceland itself. Somehow, Lisa Marie has managed to make the surrounding areas of Graceland even more tacky and tasteless than Elvis’ mansion itself. You are forced to walk through gift shops galore to get get anywhere, subjected to Elvis radio everywhere you go and aren’t even trusted to cross the road without boarding the Elvis bus. The Graceland mansion itself was a breath of fresh air after that experience.

We went straight to the pool room

Matching couch, walls and ceiling are always a safe choice.

Three TVs? Oh Elvis!

Elvis insisted on having three TVs in his living room after he heard that President Lyndon Johnson used to watch three at once.

Inside the car museum

The car museum was great and was made to look like it was inside an old drive-in movie theatre.

The actual pink Cadillac

Not the one we took to dinner unfortunately.

Ferrari
Private jet!

You were also able to go inside both of Elvis’ private jets. He used them for touring but also for general day to day transportation it seemed. Once, after realising that his four year old daughter had never seen snow, he flew her to Colorado and back for the afternoon.

The Sun Studio!

Just because we hadn’t had quite enough Elvis yet we went for a tour of the Sun Studio. It was closed down shortly after its heyday in the 1950s and was restored as a museum when its cultural significance was realised in the 1980s. As such, it hasn’t changed much since it was first opened and you can see the original reception office and much of the recording studio is original including the soundproofing, the floor with the X to show musicians where to stand and even the microphone used by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and others.

The microphone of destiny
Motorcycles everywhere

That night, there happened to be a huge motorcycle event on in the main street. We saw lots of strange motorcycles and went to a few bars and saw plenty of live blues bands. We even went to a trivia night at a bar but, unfortunately, the theme for that week was, “Your’re not from here: Memphis trivia”. After the first round it was clear that no, we weren’t from here. The host felt sorry for us and even tried to get us some points by trying to convince the other teams that we should at least win the “best team name” competition. But alas, the Memphis trivia goers didn’t find “That’s Quizright, Mama: An Elvis TriVbute” to be the most worthy team name. At least the bar had N64 Mario Kart on offer!

 

Next stop: Nashville and heading east

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s