It was too good to last. We knew it was time to say our farewells to the temple of the grandchildren. It had been a great visit but nearly three weeks with Henry and Beatrix had to come to an end. Seeds were sown to grow into the idea of visits by the kids to us in Richmond. In the meantime, Skype will be our main way to see them.
Oliver had left the day before to attend a course in Detroit so we’d said a tearful goodbye to him. Now it was time for those last hugs and kisses with Henry, Beatrix and, of course, our lovely daughter-in-law, Katie. Bye bye Little Rock and hello the open road.
We always try to tag on a visit to another part of the US of A on each trip. This time we had decided to make New Orleans the goal. As it was about a 450 mile journey, we decided to have an over-night at Vicksburg, Mississippi, more or less the mid-point.
The road south through Arkansas and across a corner of Louisiana was extremely boring for the most part. Miles and miles of flat or slightly undulating country on straight roads with loads of trucks for company is not exciting. The main crop along the roadside was corn standing 8 to 10 feet high. A call of nature took us off the highway onto a dirt track leading into the corn. Within a few yards there was plenty of privacy. It felt a bit like we were re-enacting the Cary Grant scene in “North by Northwest” when he tries to hide from his pursuers in a corn field. We kept looking into the sky for the crop duster! Later we called in at the Louisiana Visitor Center which offered the luxury of free coffee. And good coffee it was too. Then it was back onto the highway.
Over to our left there was what seemed to be a very large lake. A glance at the map informed us that we had actually reached the Mighty Mississippi. At this point it had already travelled over 2,000 miles and had only about 300 miles to go, give or take the odd meander, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. On our very first trip to the US more than 20 years ago we had had our first encounter with a tributary of the river at over 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. It was not much more than a trickle, how it has grown!!
Soon we crossed the river by a vast and high iron bridge into Mississippi State. We were now in Vicksburg our destination for the night. The Holiday Inn was easy to find and the welcome from reception was of the top Southern variety. The only problem was that their accents are often almost impenetrable to us aliens from another planet. But, if you want to communicate, you will.
We knew there wasn’t much time for sight-seeing but a quick trip around the locality was a necessity. Vicksburg was the scene of many battles during the Civil War. There are dozens and dozens of memorials and cemeteries mostly to the north of the town. It had started to rain and dusk was falling so our tour was entirely by car. The next morning, after a good breakfast, we made another sortie into the town to look at the old buildings and to visit a memorial site that was right above the river. You could see why Vicksburg was such a strategic place during the war. It controlled the crossing of the great barrier formed by the river.
The road south through Mississippi was a pleasant surprise. We had expected it to be completely flat but no, the road went through rolling hills with green forests on each side and plenty of dips and gentle curves. Ideal leisure driving conditions. And the sun had now come out.
Of course it was too good to last. As we crossed back into Louisiana the land flattened and the roads became concrete ribbons running through almost featureless landscapes. Then the road rose up on stilts over the swamp. And there it stayed. This was bayou country, the basin of the Mississippi, and the rest of the 50 mile or so journey to the Big Easy was almost entirely elevated above and amongst trees, over swamps and lakes. And then in the distance high buildings started to appear and we were entering New Orleans.
Our bed for the next three nights was at the Hotel Richelieu in the famous French Quarter. We have to thanks our friends Bill & Doreen for recommending it after they had stayed there in April. It was comfortable, a bit funky and ideally located.
We asked a guy at the desk for recommendations for the best place for live music and somewhere to eat. He directed us to Frenchmen Street, only three short blocks away for the music – far better than Bourbon Street he said. And was he right. Within a few minutes we had entered the Spotted Cat Music Club, had beers in our hands, the band was playing an old favourite “Margie” and people were jiving furiously. We had arrived.