|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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Eddie Keith from Mississippi State University has since
"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
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.
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
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.