Page Five of our daily Tour Journal   

13th May 2004
The morning dawns and whilst the rain has stopped it is predicted to start again this afternoon. The streets are no longer flooded but the shops in the main street are all closed except for one cafe that provides us with breakfast and the latest news.

Apparently 10 inches of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours. Lots of shops have been flooded. Many shops and vulnerable homes are now busily sandbagging their front and rear entrance doors in preparation for the afternoon.

It all sounds like a damn good reason for us to skedaddle out of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and head up north to our next way point in Natchez, Mississippi.

We take an elevated four lane interstate highway for the first part of our journey and can look down on plenty of flooded areas along the way. Much of Louisiana is apparently below sea level so when it floods there's no place for that water to go. The highway takes us on into Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital. We intend to pick up a  less busy road called the 61 which will take us along a more leisurely scenic route into Natchez.

Well we must have taken a wrong road somewhere because we ended up way out out on the wrong side of the city. Then we managed to get lost multiple times cutting across town on minor roads. We asked numerous people for directions and then lost our way again. Eventually a Good Samaritan said "did y'all understand those directions". We nodded our heads "yes" but our eyes must have said "no" because he said "why don't y'all jump in yo cawrr and follow me down the 64. When I wave my hand y'all just turn left and follow on to the 61.

It worked out just dandy.

We think it is a very great advantage to have an Australian accent. The locals are inclined to go the extra mile (or 7 miles in this case). I'm sure that Aussies are equally obliging in the main, provided they can actually understand what the foreigner is trying to say.

Several times daily someone says "ah just lerv yo accents....where yo folks from"?? After answering we usually add, "hey, we really love YOUR accent too". And we really do.

As you can see we're travelling in nice people country now and people couldn't be more friendly. We've suffered not a skerrick of rudeness since leaving New Orleans....quite the contrary in fact.

We're travelling through pleasant enough countryside but nothing remarkable so we didn't take any photos. The Louisiana economy is not so healthy so roads and public works are generally in pretty poor shape. We had thought Mississippi to be in a similar plight as well but crossing the border brought a huge improvement in both the road and the nature strips along the highway so maybe we're wrong about Mississippi.

Entering Natchez we discover many well manicured suburban streets of beautiful old homes and plantation mansions all well endowed with wonderful old trees dripping with spanish moss. It's a fairly small city and we have no trouble finding our bed and breakfast establishment "Twin Oaks". It's opposite an incredibly beautiful plantation mansion called "Dunleith". Our tariff here at Twin Oaks actually includes breakfasts at Dunleith plus a free tour of Dunleith. It's a bonus we didn't know about when we booked.

Heavy rain now arrives in Natchez. What have we done to deserve this cursed weather? Adding to our troubles is the fact that water seems to have affected the phone line and Brian can't get a decent internet connection. He has to force the modem down to 26,000k to get a connection but that soon crashes out too. Believe it or not he ends up having to go down to 9600k which is just enough to handle vanilla type emails but no use for web browsing. We can imagine our cyber deprived  friends out there on Prickle Patch Farm, clapping, cheering and laughing their heads off upon hearing about Brian's current discomfort.

Had a Mint Julep followed by a prime rib dinner in an alleged haunted house claimed to be the oldest building left standing in Natchez. Then we called it quits for the day.

14th May 2004
It poured rain all night and there's no respite in sight this morning. Had breakfast at Dunleith Castle then inspected the truly beautiful and elegant plantation house which turned out to be well worth our time.

The sun appeared for a few seconds as we were
leaving Natchez which enabled us to take this
photo of Dunleith House, across from our B&B

Natchez was the scene of great wealth prior to the Civil War and there are about 15 or 20 outstanding plantation mansions we could visit if we had the time. Based on another recommendation we drove over to "Longford", a hugely impressive but extreme example of antebellum wealth display. Quite different to the earlier visited and highly refined "Dunlieth" architecture and our very cold and haughty guide didn't do anything to modify this impression. The history was very interesting nonetheless and we didn't regret our decision to include this tour in our activities list.

Still raining.

We visit the huge and impressive looking Natchez Visitors Center for additional tour info and saw a very good orientation video which was a great aid to understanding this city's early history. Then we decided to sign up for a "Historic Natchez" bus tour.

The bus tour turned out to be the highlight of the days activities. We enjoyed our bird's eye view over hedges into old and beautiful homes and more mansions of course, but the real highlight was the black lady bus driver's commentary which was almost totally unintelligible.

We would have thought that a lifetime of watching American television and film would have given us a reasonable ear for Afro American accents and slang. But we kid you not, we could not pick up more than 30% of the words even though we were seated in the prime position. We kept looking at each other with raised eyebrows and an unspoken "what did she say" but the response from either side was always a shake of the head or shrugged shoulders! From our front seat position we couldn't observe the reactions of our fellow (mainly American) passengers but we're reasonably certain they would have been equally nonplussed. These kind of unexpected experiences are what makes travelling fun and gives us something to recall and share in the years ahead. Still can't believe it though. Remember, this was a Tour Guide we're taking about here and I reckon an Asian or European tourist with even good English would not have been able to catch more than 10% of the commentary!!

We drove down to view tugboats pushing huge strings of barges along the Mississippi. The weather was far from ideal. The river was dark brown and the sky was heavy grey.

This Natchez riverboat is actually a casino which
is permanently tethered to the riverbank

We visit a supermarket but when we exit we discover the rain is bucketing down in huge torrents. As Lynn is wearing wet weather gear she gets the privilege of wheeling the shopping trolley to our car which is some distance downhill across the sloping carpark. Brian now takes up the story.....

I observed Lynn loading stuff into the trunk. I observed her open the rear door to retrieve my umbrella. I observed her shopping trolley begin a downhill descent towards a busy highway. I observed several kindred shoppers pointing in awe as the trolley relentlessly made a beeline for the carpark exit. I observed scores of unaware highway motorists approaching an on-coming shopping trolley at 55 mph. I observed that a quiet hush had fallen over the crowd of shoppers gathered with me under the  supermarket awning. And I heard the sigh of relief when at the last moment the shopping cart diverted several degrees, hit a curb and somersaulted into the garden.

"Did ya see that?", the guy beside Brian asks. "Yep" was the shortest and safest reply.

That evening we went to "Monmouth" another Natchez Plantation mansion. The owner of our B&B was a professional chef and had strongly recommended the experience. It turned out to be a set course dinner for 20 guests around a giant sized table in a chandeliered mansion dining room and served by Roosevelt and Henry the liveried "servants". A nice meal but most of the guests looked somewhat uncomfortable and overawed. Not so one highly extroverted individual who looked at the menu and exclaimed "I don't see me no cheeseburgers on this here menu".

Anyhow, everything is hugely posh but we're taking it all in our stride,  that is until it comes time to pay the bill. Brian hands across his MasterCard but Roosevelt soon returns with it saying "sorry, sir, we tried three times but it won't go through". It seems like he shouted it but so far as we can see nobody at the big table turned a hair. We switch to the Amex card and hold our breath.

Brian is seriously concerned about this MasterCard glitch. If the Commonwealth bank has screwed us up we will face significant logistical challenges. We don't know whether it just wouldn't scan or whether the transaction itself was rejected.... and we don't have the courage to ask in this very public arena.

It soon comes back together with a pencilled in 20% gratuity but what the hell, let's sign it and get out of here.

Dunleith Plantation mansion with evening illumination

Still raining as we turn in for the night. We'll worry about the credit card problem tomorrow but it looks as though we may have to pay for a long international phone call whilst we wait in a computerised queue to talk to MasterCard tomorrow.

15th May 2004
First things first. We got up early, filled the car at the local gas station and our MasterCard worked fine. Then we made a small purchase at a local store and it worked again. Thank goodness.... we're greatly relieved.

We're quite sad to leave Natchez. It's a beautiful city and deserved more time but we have a schedule to keep. We have a fairly long drive ahead of us down to Ocean Springs  near Biloxi MS on the southern coast fronting the Gulf of Mexico. It's intermittent rain the whole way but very easy driving on a four lane highway which has very little traffic. The wide verge beside the road and huge grassed area between south and north bound streams is so green and well manicured. We been hugely impressed by the vast expanses of lawns and large beautiful trees we've encountered in Mississippi and those along the highway are no exception.

We don't know whether Mississippi is within the so called "Bible Belt" but we think it must be because we just can't believe the number of churches we've seen. The density must be at least 10 times greater than in Australia. The vast majority are Baptist and you can't believe how many there are. Another eye opener is the public display of devotion one encounters, particularly in restaurants. We've seen many examples of families holding hands and praying before attacking their burgers or whatever. It doesn't change when you move up market either. We've observed suited businessmen in high quality restaurants doing the same with no hint of self consciousness whatsoever. It's rather nice and we are both impressed. 

Perhaps one of Dinkum Dixie's American readers can clarify the question about what areas make up the Bible Belt. If so we'll pass it along in a future edition of this Journal.

Footnote:
Eddie Keith from Mississippi State University has since advised:-
"Not sure there's anything official on that, but I would assume that it's basically all of the original Confederate states. Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas in particular. East Texas and the Florida "Panhandle" would also be a part. Louisiana too, although it's distinctive because it has a very large Catholic population due to its French and Spanish heritage."

By late afternoon we'd reached the Gulf and we drove through Biloxi which is a small touristy city heavily populated by huge casino hotels. Ocean Springs is a low key sister city and we found our motel without great trouble. It turned out to be a gem and much better value than any accommodation we've experienced to date. We have a King Bedroom with a separate sitting room, large bathroom, a tiny little kitchenette with fridge and microwave (no stove). This is costing us $95 for Saturday night but only $79 on Sunday night, including taxes. It's as good as the best of our previous B&B's and much better than some. On the other hand the cost is very significantly lower. We've even got a great view over a miniature forest.

Lynn knocked together a cup of soup and a tossed salad using some stuff we bought at a local supermarket and it was heaven to have something plain, simple and relatively bland for a change.

16th May 2004
It looks like we are going to get some decent weather so we decide to visit the Bellingrath Gardens which is across the State line over in Alabama. It's 65 acres of ponds, streams and gardens which were built by Walter Bellingrath, one of the original Coca Cola multi millionaires.

The gardens turn out to be a small disappointment. It is not hard to believe that they were once truly outstanding but they seem a little neglected and not quite up to scratch.

Of course the heavy rain of the last few days hasn't helped the blooms but even allowing for this the pavements, edging, pruning and many other little things show that maybe there just isn't enough cash flow to keep everything in top condition. We can't help making an unfavourable comparison with the incredible Buchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in Canada and the exquisite Wintergardens in Wanganui New Zealand.

Leaving the Bellingrath property we cross over a 3.5 mile concrete bridge onto Dauphin Island. This is far far longer than any bridge we have in Australia but not nearly as long as the 14 kilometre bridge we once used to travel across to Prince Edward island in Canada. We believe that even the Prince Edward Island Bridge is a tiddler compared to the 26 mile long Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge near New Orleans in Louisiana.

You know, we are still making many driving mistakes as we adapt to driving on the right hand side of the road. If we were in Australia we would be copping heaps of abuse from other drivers but here in the US we have not been tooted once. Nor has there been a single instance of anyone yelling at us or making rude gestures. We haven't seen any instance of really serious speeding or reckless driving either. "Hot damn, I think there must be more cowboys down under than they got here in the Yooonited States".

We see lots of black pelicans....yes black all over except for the tops of their heads. They also seem to be a smaller model than the white ones we have around Nambucca Heads.

We watched a car ferry dock before turning back towards Ocean Springs. Hey, how do you like the yellow waterfront holiday house we bought on Dauphin Island? It almost look as if it's an escapee from some movie set. We're saving up to build the other three quarters of our holiday shack sometime in the future .

As we drove home we passed a wrecking yard which took our attention. We always knew that America was the home of the specialist and the home of the niche marketer. Well here's a place that had hundreds of metres of multi-tier racking with just noses and trunks. What happened to the middles? Well your guess is as good as ours. When you thing about it, there probably isn't a great deal of call for middles.

It's been lovely to see the sun again and nice to observe lots of ordinary Americans launching their fishing boats, having a barbeque or just sitting out on their porch taking it easy.

We grab some Chinese food and take it back to our motel room for a leisurely dinner before hitting the hay. We've got a very big day ahead of us tomorrow. And nope, we skipped visiting any of the local casinos. It's not really our scene and once you've seen one you've seen them all. Brian used to go to a big Auto Parts Show in Las Vegas almost every year  and he reckons he's seen enough casinos to last him a lifetime.

 

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