Last Wednesday we woke to find the weather still moody in Memphis. We checked all the forecasts and endless tornado warnings before packing up the car to head south (and it can be tricky for outsiders because locally they do the warnings by county name and often you don’t really know which county you’re in!). The forecast seemed to be OK for south of Memphis from what we could see (nothing terrifying anyway) so we set off down Highway 61 (the ‘Blues Highway’ – the road blues musicians from Mississippi used in the past to get north to Memphis and beyond). Pretty quickly we were in Mississippi state and driving past an outbreak of casino resorts… as well as some very flooded fields, thanks to the recent heavy storms. At one point the highway heading north was flooded but going south it was all passable at least. We did experience some pretty ferocious rain on some of that morning’s drive but luckily there wasn’t much other traffic (it’s not a main highway any more – outranked by the Interstate 55 these days) and, as the song says, we made it through the rain… to Clarksdale, MS where suddenly the sun came out and it was very, very hot again.
Clarksdale is a small place in the Mississippi Delta that feels more than a bit forgotten. Its fortunes are clearly on the turn though as its status as one of the homes of blues music means that music fans, at least, are coming to call more and more. Also it’s obvious that many folk are doing everything they can to get visitors into the town on the back of this (and none less than actor Morgan Freeman who spent some of his childhood in Mississippi and who has now opened a club and restaurant in Clarksdale). We visited the Delta Blues Museum (small, charming, someone has rebuilt Muddy Water’s actual former cabin home inside) and they are currently building an extension to the building so it's obviously doing something right. There are lots of cafés and blues clubs too (including Freeman’s very cool Ground Zero Blues Club – the staff were very friendly and invited us in to take pictures even though we’d already had lunch and were too early for dinner). It was while we were in Ground Zero (signing our names on the wall as instructed) that we saw on the news that a big tornado had just hit Alabama causing much destruction and killing hundreds - quite sobering to see what the storms really can do at their worst.
On the way out of Clarksdale we passed one of the suggested sites for the musician Robert Johnson selling-his-soul myth (where Highway 61 crosses the 49) and then we drove into nearby Tutwiler to see the mural commemorating where W.C.Handy supposedly first heard and named Blues music in 1903. Then we drove on through sunny Mississippi to the capital Jackson where we ate, did laundry and slept (sorry, Jackson, not much else). Here are our Mississippi photos:
On Thursday we left Jackson, MS pretty promptly and set off for Louisiana, getting to New Orleans late in the afternoon. We’d booked three nights in the city and here are a few of the things we got up to:
We wandered the streets of the central French Quarter… really you could walk round this part of the city forever – it has so many beautiful buildings, so many buskers and other entertainers to watch, so many lovely cafés and places to stop, so much lovely food and drink to try, so many interesting people to watch and meet… the weather was just gorgeous too. It is pretty full of tourists but somehow it’s still irresistible… though a few glances at some of the out-and-out drunken mayhem of Bourbon Street was enough (especially with a little one in tow – it was almost like being back in Britain!).
We went to an exhibition about Hurricane Katrina at the Presbytere Museum in Jackson Square. The exhibition covered the history of storms and floods in the area and then what happened in 2005 from lots of different angles. It was very moving – overpowering really.
We went on a trip along the Mississippi on ‘the last real paddle steamer’ on the river (so they said). It was sunny and the calliope (whistle) played a tune as we boarded - see below.
We saw the Preservation Hall Jazz Masters featuring Leroy Jones at a great little venue in the French Quarter. We drank cocktails (in plastic glasses) waiting in the queue – it was all very summer holiday. There was so much other music we could have gone to see (not to mention the whole Jazz Fest that was going on elsewhere in the city during the daytime) but we really enjoyed the one event we picked. Plus there was all the street music of course.
On the second full day we decided h should get first choice of activity (and she always picks animal-related things!) so we took the lovely streetcar along St Charles Avenue, through the beautiful Garden District and to Audubon Park where we made our way (in blistering heat) to the Audubon Zoo. We had a great afternoon there – it is said to be one of the best zoos in the USA and it really was a hit with her, lots of hands-on stuff to do, lots of kids being volunteers around the whole zoo.
We spent our last evening in the French Quarter again (it really is special). We ate at the Napoleon House, watched a magician, shared some ‘beignets’ (lovely little French doughnuts) in the Café du Monde and then finally saw a wedding procession dance by (complete with jazz band). It looked a little like this:
New Orleans photos are here (there’s quite a lot but this is only a fraction of what we took…):
We were so tired after the busy, busy New Orleans days that we slept like logs on the last night and then packed up the car and set off to Cajun Country on the Sunday morning. We drove over Lake Pontchartrain (that is one long bridge/causeway – over 20 miles long!) and then we turned west as far as Breaux Bridge where we:
Ate a fantastic meal at the Café des Amis in that little town.
Went on a swamp boat tour where we saw egrets, a lot of water and then a real live alligator in the wild.
Found our lodgings for the night – a 1950s/Elvis themed shack with a giant lobster (or, considering all the signs for them, a crawfish) outside. It was a metal sculpture, I should point out.
Ate Cajun food and danced to a Cajun band at Mulate’s just near the shack place in the evening.
Our rest-of-Louisiana photos are here:
We absolutely loved our time in Louisiana – what a fantastic place... the accents, the flavours, the sights, the sounds. And now we’re in Texas… and heading west, west, west.