From Vicksburg to New Orleans
On Monday May 7th, we woke up in an extremely hot room at the Comfort Inn in Vicksburg, Mississippi. And as we got outside, it turned out to be even hotter! Louis had uttered some plans about a morning swim in the pool, but as usual we got up rather late and didn’t have time for much before check out time.
Vicksburg is a historic site, but not only because of the important Battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The first bottling of Coca-Cola took place here, and several musicians grew up in the area (Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters). There’s probably a lot to see here, but we felt we’d seen more than enough while looking for a place to sleep the night before. So, after a quick breakfast at Subways we got back on the highway 61 and headed further south.
Stopping in Natchez, Mississippi
We continued down to Natchez, some 70 miles southwest of Vicksburg. Unfortunately, we never got on the Natchez Trace Parkway, which our traveling friends described as a “drive through natural park”. As we arrived, we headed straight for the Natchez Visitors Reception Center. We’d read a little about the city, and knew the place was known for its antebellum homes and riverboat casinos, but didn’t know where to go to check out the highlights. The Reception Center turned out to be of some help, as we could check out both a map and a large model of the area - and thus figure out where to drive next.
We went down a steep road by the riverside to “Natchez Under-the-hill“, formerly known as the most notorious river landing on the entire Mississippi river. Today it’s yet again the stopping place for steamboats, and the American Queen, the largest steamboat ever built(*), was visiting as we stopped by. And even though we’d been traveling along the Mississippi for a couple of days, we had to just stop and look at it. It’s not beautiful in it’s brownish glory, but it sure is impressive!
View of the Mississippi on a damp day
We posed with the Queen and had a chat with an old couple that was on a small road trip as well. The old gentleman was very eager to compare photo equipment, and held a small lecture about aperture and f-stops. We smiled and nodded, but were really a bit impatient to go check out the other sight by the river: The riverboat casino! The Isle of Capri is permanently anchored up by the riverside, and offers gambling and entertainment 24/7. We had a short look inside, and were fascinated by the fact that the slot machines were running hot - even on a Monday around lunch time! While Selma tried to be as discreet as possible while violating the “No photography” signs, Louis had a go at one of the slot machines, and won a quarter! Hoooooray, yet another souvenir bookmark! Our Natchez mission was completed, and we were ready to enter Louisiana.
Winning big at the Isle of Capri riverboat casino
Angola - Louisiana State Penitentiary
We crossed the state border and noticed a road sign to the Louisiana State Penitentiary. We had read about the prison in Angola before leaving home, but hadn’t really worked it into our plans. Now, we figured we had time to take a short detour and have a look.
Angola is one of the largest prisons in the US, with 5.000 inmates, and it’s run like a working farm. Both Dead Man Walking and Monster’s Ball had scenes shot here. There’s a museum located outside the prison gates, and among its exhibits is Louisiana’s old electric chair, “Gruesome Gertie”, which was last used for an execution in 1991.
The prison is located approx. 20 minutes west of the Highway 61, and there’s hardly anything but trees before you reach the end of the road: the prison gates. Our luck continued, as the museum was closed - but we figured we were a lot luckier than the people on the other side of the gate!
Louis posing by the gates of Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola
Selma had tried to get in touch with her GF for a long time, struggling with the crappy connection that seems to be a rule rather than the exeption in this country. As we reached Angola, she was finally able to pick up a signal, and had a chat with the lady back home while Louis started shooting pictures of the prison gates. We must have looked rather suspicious to the guards - two strangers, one talking eagerly on the phone and one taking photos of barbed wire and gate details.
Of course we wanted to have a peek inside, and Louis put on his most innocent smile and asked the strict lady at the gate, but (understandably) we weren’t allowed inside without an appointment. So we stayed outside for a little longer, just reflecting on the fact that we were so close to a way of life so far from what we know. Taking in the destinies of the many men spending the rest of their lives behind those gates - and the many lives outside the prison walls being effected by those inside. Well, we could have stayed and philosophied for a long time, but after a while a guard with a dog in tow got out to the parking lot where we were standing, and we figured it was time to leave.
Gourmet dinner in Baton Rouge
As we got closer to Baton Rouge, we started to get hungry, and figured we’d make a stop in the state capitol and fill up. We drove around searching for a place to eat, but we didn’t know anything about the layout of the city nor where to look for a decent diner - and had no luck. We parked the car and walked around a bit, checking out a monument and an old navy boat down by the Mississippi. But with no restaurants in sight, we surrendered: we got back into the car and went to a McDonald’s down the road.
Arriving in New Orleans
Well fed, we continued south and arrived in New Orleans a little before 9 pm. We let Kitty guide us to the Norwegian Seamen’s Church on Prytania street, and when we saw the Norwegian flag hanging in front of the church building, it felt somewhat like coming home. We rang the door bell and heard a nice “Hallo” in Norwegian. Like music to our ears!
The Norwegian flag greeting us in front of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church
We were guided to our rooms by “housemother” Kjersti (and her adorable son). She handed us towels and linens, and before bidding us goodnight she gave us a few tips about places to visit if we wanted to check out the New Orleans nightlife without walking through crowds of tourists and strip joints in Bourbon Street. So after making the beds (Selma) and chillin’ for a while (Louis!), we decided to do just that.
We hailed a cab and had it take us to Frenchmen Street, a bit east of Bourbon. The cab driver was really nice and talkative, and told us a bit of his perspective on New Orleans after Kathrina. He also gave us advice about where to go to keep safe. The clubs on Frenchmen Street are located within two small blocks, and there’s just a few of them scattered on each side of the street. There’s a nice atmosphere about the area, and not too many tourists. At least not on a Monday night just after a festival weekend.
We went into the Spotted Cat bar where a band was rigging down their equipment, but several guests were seated in direction of the small stage, so we sat down, hoping that the others knew what we were waiting for. The room was tiny and cramped, and Selma was rubbing knees with a young guy sitting next to her. After a short while he got up and walked to the bar, and Selma noticed a gun sticking out of his pocket. Yes, a gun. Selma doesn’t like guns. Selma doesn’t want to rub knees with a guy with a gun in his pocket. So Selma asked Louis if they could leave. Louis is not as easily scared as Selma, so he finished his beer - and then we left.
We decided to give Frenchmen Street one more try. So we went across the street and into d.b.a. At the bar we got to talking with the ones sitting next to us - a guy from Connecticut and a lady from California living in Arizona. A good thing about having traveled so far is that we could say that we’d visited their home states - a great conversation opener. After a nice talk, some beer sampling (on Louis’s part) and a small photo shoot, our compadres left to check out another bar. We finished up our drinks and decided to call it a night and head back to our sanctuary.
The church has a swimming pool in the backyard, and Louis had been longing for a swim for several days. He’d asked permission for a midnight dip in the pool before we left for Frenchmen Street, and as soon as we got back he slipped into his
sexy swimsuit and got into the water. He fired up a cigar and got into a semi-relaxing pose, floating on his back while puffing on the stogie - and then went on to shoot video greetings to the peeps back home.
Louis chillin’ in the pool after dark
Selma wasn’t as thrilled about a midnight pool party, but donned her bikini and swam a few laps just to be able to brag about it later. But she soon got up, and had a quick shower while Louis kept playing in the water. Then she went back out and sat down with her Mac by the poolside - the only place she was able to pick up a wifi signal.
Eventually, Louis had had enough of being king of the pool and went in for a shower. He said he’d come back out, so Selma stayed outside and continued blogging. But as it got cold and the battery on the Mac ran out, with no show of Louis, she went to look for him - and found him sprawling on the bed, sound asleep.
Are you sure he (the guy in the bar) wasn’t just happy to see you?