This is the diary of a trip to the USA to celebrate another significant birthday in the lives of Graham and Bill. The holiday was arranged by Jane and Mary with the help of Trailfinders (more...). Please note that occasionally the author has used the native language and not English just to try and recreate the correct atmosphere.
|Wednesday, 5 November - Home to Atlanta
Thursday, 6 November - Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Hermitage
Friday, 7 November - Nashville - Country Music Hall of Fame Museum and Ryman Auditorium
Saturday, 8 November - Nashville - Belle Meade Plantation and Flea Market
Sunday, 9 November - Memphis via Casey Jones' Village
Monday, 10 November - Memphis - Sun Studios and Graceland
Tuesday, 11 November - Tupelo and Natchez
Wednesday, 12 November - Natchez
|Thursday, 13 November - Natchez to New Orleans
Friday, 14 November - New Orleans
Saturday, 15 November - Natchez Steamboat
Sunday, 16 November - New Orleans to Mobile
Monday, 17 November - Mobile to Montgomery
Tuesday, 18 November - Montgomery
Wednesday, 19 November - Montegomery to Home
We leave home at about 9am and arrive at Bill and Mary's about half ten, the journey being delayed by road works at the end of Ormond Avenue. At 11:15am we pile into a taxi and are driven to Terminal 5, Heathrow. We depart about 3pm and land in Atlanta at about 7:20pm local time. We try and use some new technology kiosks to get our passports verified. A kiosk refuses to take Graham's photos so he tries again at the kiosk Jane had used and is successful. Meanwhile Bill and Mary have been more speedily processed by humans. We collect our baggage and go through a door marked 'Exit and Green Folder'. We have our bags scanned again and hand in our passport tickets. It turns out that we have been through the 'Things to Declare' channel. We find a shuttle to take us to the Renaissance (mispronounced reneesance) Concourse hotel. We are taken first to the domestic terminal where we wait for the hotel shuttle to pick us up. We check in and take our bags to our rooms. We meet in the bar and dining area and are eventually shown to a table for four. Eventually we order some beers for Bill, Graham and Mary and a shandy for Jane. Eventually we are asked to describe a shandy. Eventually we order our single course meal. Eventually we get it. Jane has a roast pumpkin chowder (two bowls arrive - one not ordered). Bill has a crayfish mac and cheese (mac is short for macaroni), Mary has a caesar salad and Graham has a Caesar salad with chicken. We order an extra two beers and later the waitress brings us another two beers to compensate for the delays. Eventually we pay up and Bill retires to his room with Mary and a pint of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Graham and Jane retire empty handed. It is now 10:15pm in Atlanta and 3:15am at home.
We have breakfast at the hotel. Again the service is poor - it seems we are supposed to await a 'hostess' to allot us a table, but she keeps wandering off. So we just go and sit down anyway. We check out and get on a shuttle bus which seems to be the best service the hotel can offer. We are dropped off at the domestic terminal and cross the road to get on to the sky train which takes us to the car rental center. Jarvis takes our details and assigns Graham and Bill as the drivers of the mini van. We go to the car park and Joseph tells us to select one of three mini vans. We select the newest one (a Chrysler Town & Country) with only 8800 miles on the clock. We pack it up and clamber in. While Bill takes it for a spin around the car park, Graham keys into the Garmin GPS system 'Market Street, Chattanooga'. We drive north on the I-75 and then turn off on the I-40. The roads are busy and the trees are showing their autumnal colours. We arrive in Chattanooga and park next to the old railway terminal building which is now a hotel. We wander around the old trains parked at the station. They have nearly all been converted into bedrooms, two per carriage. There are 48 carriages. We ask a cleaning lady if we can take a sneak view of one and she obliges. It is very hot inside but it will be cooler tonight. It has a large double bed, a living area and a small bathroom. We walk through the terminal building which is undergoing a facelift. We cross the road to the Brewery House where we eat at a table under an umbrella and a clear blue sky. We take a stroll down the almost deserted Market Street and enter a rather upmarket household furnishings shop called Revival but we do not purchase anything. We return to the van. It is Graham's turn to drive so he does while someone works out how to use the GPS. We stop somewhere in Chattanooga having crossed the Tennesee River twice and Graham enters Rachel's Lane, Hermitage into the GPS as our next destination. We drive in a North West direction and cross a time zone. The GPS changes its time which is fortunate as we think the Hermitage will now still be open when we get there. The leaves on the trees are still changing colour. We drive up and down hills with colourful trees lining the interstate. We make a pit stop near Manchester and get to the Hermitage an hour before it closes. The Hermitage was the home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the USA, who defeated the British Army at the battle of New Orleans by stonewalling them. He was in favour of slavery and selective voting rghts. We walk along a path through an orchard to his house which has been carfully restored and contains a lot of Jackson memorabilia. The fields have Belted Galloways in them. The house has two floors but he and his wife, Rachel slept on the ground floor. His adopted son Andrew and his family and all house guests slept on the upper floor. We are shown round by costumed interpreters (aka guides). We watch a video at the visitors' center and some return to the house to take photos although the light is fading fast. Some deer are spotted crossing a field below the house. We return to the van and drive twenty miles to the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel (more...). We check in and make our way to our rooms on the sixth floor. To use the wifi costs $9 for 24 hours. Bill has a shower and we convene to sample the bottle of Bowmore we have imported. Graham successfully negotiates to have free wifi for our room. It is free in the lobby. We dine in the bar room and are entertained by a Country and Western group. The service is much better than last night. We return to our room for a a further sampling before retiring.
We have breakfast next to a very rowdy wedding party. Jane is not feeling too good which she puts down to the gumbo soup she ate last night. The hotel shuttle takes us downtown and drops us off at the Ryman Auditorium. It's 5C but bright. We ask the driver where we can buy tickets to get the 'Hop on hop off' bus and he tells us to walk a couple of blocks down the street and we should see a red trolley bus where we could buy tickets. We walk a couple of blocks without seeing a red trolley bus. We stop at the door of the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum and ask the man mending the door where the red trolley bus is. He suggested we go inside and ask at the desk. We step inside and decide to buy the platinum package for the museum instead. This entitles us to enter the museum, have an audio guide and take a trip to RCA Studio 2B. We make our way to the elevator which takes us to the third floor where we start our tour at the Kenny Rogers exhibit. We watch clips of old videos (more...). We wander along the top floor admiring all the exhibits and listening to our audio guides learning all about the history of Country and Western music. At the end of the floor are two cars. One was owned by Webb Pierce and is a 1962 Pontiac Bonneville convertible with leather seats, silver dollars and pistols for door handles and a huge set of bull horns on the front. The other car is a customised 'Gold' Cadillac owned by Elvis. it has a bar, television, and ice-maker in the back. We go down to the second level and tour the Bakerfield Sound and enter the rotunda where all the plaques to those who have entered the Country Music Hall of Fame can be seen. It is now time to get to the tour bus so we descend to the ground floor and wait for Brenda to take our tickets from us. We get into the shuttle bus with about twenty other people and Vanessa, the driver. On the way to the studio Brenda points out the landmarks and we park outside Studio 2B. We enter an ante-room where Brenda plays snips from various artists who have recorded there, the Everly Brothers, Jim Reeves, Waylon Jennings, Chet Atkins. We then enter the room where they all recorded their music and we sit down surrounded by a variety of keyboards including a black Steinway played by Elvis. Brenda explains how 'Are you lonesome tonight?' (more...) was recorded at 4am on a Monday morning with no lights on and at the end of the recording Elvis hit his head on a boom mike. The editor just spliced most of the noise out of the tape. We hear the recording and the tell tale two clicks at its end. We return to the museum in the shuttle bus. We walk to Tootsies and climb to the roof top patio and start to share a table with a pair of girls from Dorset but they move to a nearby table. We have lunch under a clear blue sky. Live music is playing inside the bar. After lunch we wander down to the Cumberland river calling in a Boot N More on the way. We walk back from the river to the Ryman Auditorium. There are no suitable seats for a show. We buy self-guided tickets to tour the place. It started life as a tabernacle but later was used as a music hall. In the '40s it was where the radio programme 'The Grand Ole Opry' was recorded. We tour the two floors and return to our hotel in its shuttle. Graham and Jane make a useless trip to an Apple store 6 miles away. They don't have any unlocked iPhone 6s. Graham drives the party to the City House restaurant in Germantown about 2 miles from the hotel. We eat and return to the hotel to sample Bill's Laphroiag. Jane is not feeling too well so retires to bed without sampling.
We have a quieter breakfast than yesterday. Bill drives us 7 miles out to the Belle Meade Plantation where horses were bred which won the Kentucky Derby all descending from Bonny Scotland who never raced but was a good stallion. We first visit the stable block and wander round all the many horse-drawn carriages. The next stop is the main house where we join with others for the 10:15am tour. In all the main rooms there is a Christmas tree decorated in the style of the era of the room. We are welcomed by Amy, dressed as a flapper (it's Christmas and the guides are dressed in period costumes - a different period per room), who gives us a brief history of the place which was founded in 1807 and stretched to 5400 acres though now there are only 26. There were 130 slaves living on the estate. The main house had a telephone and electricity by the beginning of the twentieth century. We pass from room to room and were given talks by costumed people. Did you know that Father Christmas has only been dressed in red and white since Coca Cola took an interest in him in the 1920s? Well it is a myth as he was often dressed in red and white before then. At the end of the tour we have a wine tasting of the wines produced in the grounds from imported grape juice. We buy two bottles of Red Muscadine. Our next stop is the Germantown Flea Market and Farmers Market situated to the side of the Bicentenial Park. We buy some apples and eat them at the top of an amphitheatre from where we can see the State Capitol building on the top of a hill. We return to our hotel for a short rest. At 3pm we take the shuttle to downtown Nashville. We walk up the hill to Printers Alley which used to be cobbled and picturesque but is now asphalt and seedy. At the end we turn towards the river in an area called 'The District' and walk by the old warehouses. We stop to watch a bunch of people having a relay race up the bank. We wander on to 150 3rd Avenue to look for Southern, a place to eat. We arrive at 4:20pm and can have a table as long as we eat off the lunch time menu. The evening menu starts at 5pm. We have drinks and time passes. We have a look at the Memphis evening menu and wait till we can order from that. Three of us have a tasty tomato bisque and three have rare 10oz sirloins whilst Bill has a long rack of ribs. The food is delicious. We leave at 6:30pm and saunter back to where the shuttle wiil pick us up at the steps of the Ryman Auditorium. Many people pass us on their way to the Grand Ole Opry show. We return to the hotel and drink a bottle of Red Muscadine wine and retire. We are lightweights. It's only 8:30pm.
We check out about 9am and the hotel cancels Mary's one dollar phone bill and Graham's wifi bill. Bill drives us along I-40 westwards. We stop somewhere to fill up with petrol. There is a problem using the pumps as it requires a zip code along with a credit card. Jane talks to a man in the garage and arranges to put in $50 of petrol. That's just over 16 US gallons. We return to I-40 and get off at Jackson, TN. We find a garage where Jane can make herself more comfortable and then we come upon Casey Jones' Village (more...). We go inside a Pullman carriage and then enter the Country Store for ice cream and milk shakes. We use the GPS to get back onto the I-40 and drive to Memphis where we arrive at the River Inn (more...) at about 1pm. We are offered a glass of wine or champagne so after much soul-searching we accept. The champagne is a bit sweet but the wine is fine. Our rooms are ready. Bill and Mary have been allocated room 225 which is across the street and turns out to be a suite. Graham and Jane's room features on the web site's home page. It is a delightful room with a four poster bed and a river view. We meet up with Bill and Mary and stroll along the river bank for about a mile and return along the sidewalk. We go into the nearby shop called Miss Cordelia's and buy some milk but no wine as they don't sell any. They sell beer and soft drinks only. We return to our rooms till 4:30pm. We climb up the stairs to the fourth floor where there is the Terrace restaurant overlooking the Mississippi and the setting sun. We drink beer and take a lot of photos. We order some upmarket tapas and end with sharing two desserts, one of which is a pair of peanut butter and jelly donuts. How American is that? We go to the Swansons' large suite to play Scrabble and drink the second bottle of Red Muscardine. After a whisky sampling we retire to await a FaceTime session with Emma (our daughter who wants to wish her father a Happy Birthday) in the early hours of tomorrow.
Happy Birthday, Graham! At 1am Graham contacts Emma to see if she would FaceTime him as he'd like to get to sleep. She does. Robin has overslept and Thomas is still asleep. We go back to sleep only to be wakened by Stephen at 5:15am. He thinks we are in Atlanta so we tell him it's only 5:15am and exchange pleasantries. We go back to sleep and at 8am go downstairs to meet Bill and Mary after Graham has opened all his cards and presents. After breakfast at about 9:30am Bill drives us to Sun Studios where we park behind them. We enter the coffee and souvenir shop and buy tickets for the guided tour. We hang around for half an hour before this tall, blue-haired tattooed elegant lady in red 10 inch platform leather shoes introduces us to the studios. We climb up the stairs and hear the history of Sam Philips who today would probably be called a geek or nerd. He started recording music on a single-track Ampex recorder and, using a lathe, cut a master acetate disc which was then sent off to be turned into vinyl records. He recorded many people, like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and of course Elvis, before he sold Elvis to RCA for $35,000 in 1955. We go down stairs into the recording studio where in December 1956, Elvis was passing by and Sam Philiips secretly recorded a jam session with Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, known as The Million Dollar Quartet (more...). We are allowed to hold the mike used by Elvis and have our photos taken. We board a free shuttle to Graceland and are dropped behind the ticket hall. We purchase the platinum tour for oldies. The first step is to join a queue and take hold of a set of headphones and an iPad. Next we board a shuttle to cross Elvis Presley Boulevard to go up the drive to Graceland (more...). We tour the ground floor and the basement. Upstairs is private. Next we visit the parents' office in the gardens where all the Elvis fan mail was processed. We then go into a room where all his awards are shown. This is followed by a visit to his raquetball court where more exhibits are displayed. The final stop is to visit the family graves situated by the swimming pool. The graves are of Elvis, his parents and grandmother and includes a stone for his stillborn twin - Jessie Garon. We think all of it has been tastefully done. Next step is to see a slideshow of some of the archives. A shuttle returns us across the street and we visit the car collection, Rolls Royces, Mercedes and Cadillacs and a John Deere tractor used to keep the estate trim. Next stop for some beer for three of us and water and food for Jane. We go round an exhibition of his costumes, mainly worn in Las Vegas. We visit the plane he used for Music tours ( Convair 800 ) and a private jet. We get the 4pm shuttle back to Sun Studios and Bill drives us to Beale Street. We wander up and down Beale Street which is probably very busy at night or during the main tourist season. At 6:30pm we join the Swansons for pre-dinner drinks. They have bought a bottle of wine to celebrate Graham's birthday. They sing the song written by Robin and Emma for Graham's birthday . There is an interruption as the maid brings in the port and chocolates to be put aside after the meal isi over. We eat in the Paulettes restaurant and have the Monday night special. The first bottle of wine is on the cold side so Graham suggests to Betty, our waitress, that 30 seconds in the microwave should warm it up sufficiently. Betty obliges and the wine is much better. After the meal Jane retires and Graham visits the Swansons to sample the port but not the whisky.
We check out of the hotal at about 9am. Graham is to drive the first part. We get to the outskirts of Memphis and turn on to Lamar Avenue which we follow for 100 miles till we reach the outskirts of Tupelo. It is about 78F and very sunny. Brenda navigates us to the birthplace of Elvis. We enter the museum and learn about his early life. He was born in a two room wooden shack constructed by his father and other family relatives. It is a shotgun house (more...). He lived in it for about three years and then was forced to move to another part of Tupelo because his father, Vernon, had forged a four dollar cheque. When Elvis was 13 the family moved to Memphis. By now Elvis was showing signs of playing the guitar which he learnt to play from the local church's pastor. In the museum there are many artifacts from the collection of Janelle McComb who was a very good friend of Elvis and collected a lot of memorabilia. We visit the shack and the memorial chapel and then we enter his local church which had been moved several blocks to the museum site. We sit in wooden pews and the show starts. A screen descends on the wall behind the lectern and a further two screens descend the side walls. The film starts and shows what a church service would have looked like when Elvis attended the church. We leave Tupelo and head south west to Natchez. At Carthage we stop at a run down petrol station and buy coffee and crisps. As it gets dark it starts to rain - the first we have had since since the first night in Atlanta. We arrive at the Eola (no not Ebola) Hotel (more...) in Natchez at 6pm. We make our way to the bar and have some beer followed by a meal. Bill triggers the juke-box as it is free. We return to our room to sample some whisky and play a trial game of Pointless. Hugh and Jane have given the quiz book as a birthday present to Graham in the hope it will provide some entertainment during the evenings. We try it out and Mary does not want to play it again. Is it because she didn't do too well?
The Eola Hotel is the oldest hotel in Natchez and is privately owned. It is a bit tired. We have breakfast and can select various options from the menu none of which is that exciting but the coffee is good. After breakfast we walk in the biting cold (47F) towards the Mississippi and walk down Silver Street. At the bottom is a paddle steamer which is a hotel and casino. We walk up the hill to the sight of Fort Rosalie where we speak to a couple of men who are surveying the site with a view to building a replica Fort Rosalie. We walk on to the visitor center and watch a film on the making of Natchez - a port for shipping the locally grown cotton after the Natchez Indians had been banished across the river to its western bank. We leave the center and walk round the gardens of Rosalie House, one of several antebellum houses in Natchez. We find the post office and purchase stamps. We make our way back to the hotel for comfort breaks. We walk up Main Street to the Roman Catholic basilca of St Mary. We return back down the street and enter a coffee bar and second-hand book shop and stick pins in a map of England where we have come from. We walk further down the street and enter a bistro where we all have chicken hot pie soup. We sample corn bread and book a table for tonight. We return to the hotel and get in the van. Graham drives to the Grand Indian Village site. We enter the museum building and watch a film. We walk around the rest of the museum looking at the Indian artefacts. Outside we walk around two large mounds built by the Indians in 1200 AD. On return to the van we decide to go and visit another antebellum house. We make our way using Brenda to Longwood and park near the house set in 85 acres of woodland. We arrive with five minutes to spare before the 3pm tour. Louis takes us around the basement of the house which was being built for the Nutt family. The house is octagonal (more...) in layout and was never finished because the civil war broke out and ruined the cotton barons because they could not ship their cotton or the cotton got burnt by the soldiers. We are shown to the first floor where we see the bare brick walls of all the rooms. In the centre we can look up to the dome on the fifth floor. It is an amazing structure. After leaving the house we take a short walk into the woods to visit the family cemetery where all the Nutts have been buried together with the Scottish teacher of the children. We drive out of the estate and find a liquor store to purchase some wine and beer. In Mississippi you cannot purchase beer in a liquor store but you can purchase beer at a gas station. We buy some wine and then go to the gas station where we buy some beer. We find our way to the nearby Natchez Trace Parkway along which we drive for a couple of miles to the Elizabeth Female Academy (more...) or what's left of it. It was the first place in the US to award degrees to females in 1818. We return to the city stopping a couple of times to photograph the deer grazing at the side of the parkway. Back at the hotel three of us each consumes a can of Blue Moon beer. At 7pm we walk up Main Street to what used to be called Top Grills but is now the Rolling River Bistro. Graham and Bill negotiate to have a carafe of the house red Merlot. Mary has an IPA beer. Jane has water. We have starters (scallops or fried green tomatos), the mains (seafood lasagna or seared tuna and salad), then puddings (bread pudding with bourbon sauce or banana pudding). The meal was delicious. Trip Advisor here we come. We return for a final sampling of Laphroiag.
We are the only ones eating breakfast. The service is appallingly slow. We pack the van and set off to visit Melrose, another antebellum house. First we drive around the town to post some cards and look at the outside of other antebellum houses. Melrose is set in large grounds. The trees have a lot of Spanish moss dangling from them. We are too early for the tour so we visit one of the two slave cabins in the grounds and listen to how slaves were treated. We return to the visitors' center and begin our tour. The ground floor is covered in decorated oil cloth and a matching carpet has been placed over it to protect it. A lot of the furniture was purchased in Europe. The house was built by a Mr McMurran who was lucky enough to marry someone very rich whose father gave them as a wedding present 300 slaves and 800 acres. It is a fine property (more...) and we feel we got value for money for the $5 old peoples' fee. Bill follows Brenda's instructions and we drive south to New Orleans. Just outside New Orleans we stop at a garage for a comfort break and to purchase some lunch items. We arrive at the Bienville House Hotel (more...) and just manage to park the van in the entrance to the garage. We are too early for our rooms and the van has to be parked by them a block and a half away. We walk down Decatur Street to Jackson Square. At the back of the square is the cathedral so we visit it. It was promoted to a basilica by Pope Paul VI. We visit the Presbytere Museum which devotes its ground floor to the Katrina hurricane of 2005. In the entrance lobby is displayed Fats Domino's piano (a Steinway 'baby grand') which was ruined by the floods. There are a lot of videos and it is a very moving exhibition showing the resilience of the people whilst President George W. Bush stays on holiday (more...). We visit the Mardi Gras exhibit on the first and wander back to the hotel. Our rooms are ready but Jane is missing her medicines so a trip is made to the van and the bag is found. Crisis over. We have pre-dinner drinks in room 226 and decide where we shall eat. We walk down Decatur Street in the cold. It's about 38F. We enter Coop's Place and sit at a round table near the door. We have an excellent meal albeit in noisy surroundings. Crowds are queuing to get in. We depart and return to room 358 for a whisky sampling.
We meet up for the complimentary continental breakfast. The ground floor is crowded. There are not enough tables to sit at. Eventually people leave and we sit at a table and eat cereals, drink juice and coffee and have a piece of bakery. We leave to walk around the old quarter. It is a bright day but only 36F. Graham is glad he is wearing the sweat shirt he bought yesterday evening. We enter a free museum dedicated to Andrew Jackson, the hero of Nawlins or NOLA or New Orleans. We continue our walk, reading lots of historical plaques. Eventually we come to the French Market. We wander through it without spending any money and end up in a café where we have coffee. We board the little train and pay 40 cents each for a ticket. We skirt the Mississippi and get off at the Canal Street stop. We cross the road and wait for the street car which will take us to the City Parks. It is quite a long ride. We get off at the terminus and walk along the banks of the bayou in the neighbourhood of St John Bayou (more...). It is a pleasant walk with a lack of people. There is the occasional dog walker. We get lost as the name of a street on our map has changed. A man helps us. He explains the history of the district and points us in the direction of somewhere to eat. We walk to the Parkway Bakery and Tavern (more...). We find a place to sit and order our 'poor boys' (aka po' boys) (more...). After a few minutes our name is announced and we picked up our carefully wrapped 'poor boys'. They are sandwiches in a crusty roll. They taste excellent and are cheap - $36 for the four. Three of us wash it down with a bottle of Abita amber (more...). We continue on our walk in the neighbourhood and return to the streetcar terminal. We wait a long time for one to come. It terminates at Bourbon Street so we walk along the street and make our way back to the hotel. There is a lack of shops selling fruit. At 6pm we meet in room 226. Three of us have a bottle of Blue Moon (more...), a beer we have taken a liking to. We make our way to Mr Ed's Oyster Bar and Seafood (more...) just around the corner. We each have a different variety of seafood. It's very tasty. In Nashville, country music was played everywhere. In New Orleans, jazz is not played everywhere. We've hardly heard any. Maybe it's too cold and out of season.
It's less crowded in the breakfast area and we get a table straight away. We walk to the river end of Toulouse Street via the river bank and buy tickets for the 2:30pm cruise. We walk up Toulouse Street and west along Bourbon Street to Canal Street. Here we get an olive green streetcar which takes us down St Charles Avenue. Mary has selected a walk for us. We get off the street car and ask a lady where Melponeme Street is. We walk back to the traffic lights and find the name of the street is now Martin Luther King Boulevard. We walk a block down it and it turns into Melponeme Street. We walk around neighbourhood visiting an Irish-built church and a German-built church. On Magazine Street we come across the 'District' (Donuts, Sliders, Brew) and grab a seat on the sidewalk. Bill and Graham join a queue inside and eventually return outside into the bright sunshine with the drinks. A slider, according to a local, is a small burger not worth the effort. We continue back to St Charles Avenue along First Avenue. One of the elegant houses belongs to Anne Rice, author of "Interview with the vampire". We visit the Eiffel Society (more...) which is a building reconstructed from the restaurant which used to sit on top of the Eiffel Tower and now sits fourteen feet off the ground in New Orleans. It is a night club and is closed. We wait some time for a streetcar which returns us to Canal Street. We walk down the street to the river and along the river bank to the steamboat. In the park by the river are groups of people, some dressed in blue, some in green. They are playing a game which one person described as something like Risk but they capture statues (more...). We listen to a jazz band as we wait to board the boat. Just before we board a person on the top of the boat plays jazz music on what looks like a steam organ. We board and make our way to the top deck at the front. A jazz band plays. A man tells us what sights we are passing as we make our way downstream. Bill, Graham and Jane leave Mary to keep the seats while they go into the dining room to have lunch. It is a buffet and is very good value for $10. We return to Mary who informs us of the sights we have missed. The boat turns round and makes its way upstream under the cloudless sky. There is a MetLife blimp (more...) flying above us. The boat turns by the bridge which carries US90 over the river. It is now getting cold as we dock at 4:30pm. We make our way back to the hotel and meet at 6pm for pre-dinner drinks. We decide to eat in the hotel's restaurant which has just reopened under the name of Latitude29 (more...). Jane and Mary have squid salad and Graham and Bill have a half rack of ribs and very tasty they are. We share chocolate wontons in a dipping cream - different but pleasant. We play Scrabble and finish off the Bowmore and retire.
Amazingly it's warm enough to have breakfast outside in the small courtyard overlooking the small swimming pool. We pack our bags and leave them in reception. We walk to the river bank and along to the ferry terminal. We are told that the ferry doesn't start until 10:45am; it's Sunday. We walk back to the hotel and ask for our van to be delivered. Twenty minutes later it is returned. We pack it up and turn on the GPS to hear the dulcet instructions of Brenda. Graham drives out of the city and over Lake Pontchartrain on a very long trestle bridge. Just outside Gulfport we turn off I-10 and make our way, to the annoyance of Brenda, to the coast near Long Beach. We stop outside Gulfport by a Waffle House and buy four coffees. Jane and Graham drink theirs inside. Bill and Mary drink theirs on the white beach. There are very few people on the beach and no one where we are parked. There are several waders - birds - on the beach, and a small Sparrow Hawk in a nearby tree. We put Brenda to sleep. We drive east along US-90, through Biloxi and other towns. We stop for gas and when we reach the outskirts of Mobile we wakn Brenda who guides us to the hotel on North Royal Street. The Battle House Hotel (more...) occupies most of the block. It was first built in 1905. It was restored in 2007. We are allocated adjacent rooms with a joining door. We wander down Dauphin Street and stop to watch a lot of police cars, ambulances and hearses speeding past us with all sirens blaring. A bystander tells us it's a violence awareness parade. We reach T.P. Crockmiers and have a good lunch. We walk on down the street to check out Wintzell's Oyster Bar where we will eat tonight on the advice of our waitress at the hotel last night. We walk back up the street and hope to visit the cathedral but it is closed even though it's Sunday. We return to the hotel for a rest. At 6:30pm we meet for pre-dinner drinks. Mary is pleased with herself as she has been for a swim. We walk to Wintzell's and have a good meal. We ask if it is the custom to pin dollars to a person's chest as they walk down the street on their birthday as it is in New Orleans. It is. We tell them it's Bill's birthday tomorrow and he is presented with a piece of bread pudding and sauce in a doggy bag which takes the form of a small polystyrene box. Bread pudding appears to be the standard pudding in this area of the USA. We return to the hotel and play Scrabble. Jane wins.
It's Bill's birthday today. Happy Birthday Bill. We meet under the big dome in the reception area and go down Dauphin Street. It is about 43F and blowing hard. We avoid the coffee bar on the left because it does not seem to make sandwiches. We cross over the road and enter Pete's Paninis. We order four coffees, three breakfast paninos made with toasted sour dough bread, scrambled eggs and bacon and a side of fresh fruit and a scrambled green eggs and ham panino for Bill. The delightful server girl wishes Bill a happy birthday but does not stick a dollar note on his chest. She wants to become an operations theatre technician so she attends university on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The restaurant has won a Nappie award. Bill informs the waitress in English it's a diaper. We all agree it was a much better breakfast than the $18 per person offered by the hotel. We return to the hotel and pack our bags. Graham pays $14 to retrieve our van from the car park. First we drive to the Battleship Memorial Park (more...) to see where the battleship, USS Alabama, is moored. There are also some planes like the Blackbird spy plane. We turn round and head out of Mobile as instructed by Brenda and get on to the I-65 North. After a while we stop at a rest area for a pit stop and find that US-31 goes to Montgomery so we adjust Brenda by telling her to avoid I-65 and she takes us on US-31 through lots of run-down villages with many abandoned cars in their yards. It is slower than the interstate but less boring. We arrive at the Courtyard Marriott and check in. Jane is delighted that the clothes she left at the River Inn in Memphis have arrived though she is now missing a pink jumper. We go out in the van to check out the restaurant Mary has chosen for Bill's birthday bash. It is called 'True' (more...). The next stop is the Visitor Center on Water Street. A pleasant lady gives us details of walks we can do around the city tomorrow. We return to the hotel for a short rest and reconvene at 6pm. Bill drives us to True where we have an excellent meal. We share crawfish beignets and spicy chicken skins to start. Three fried catfish and one pork (belly and loin) are eaten as mains. Chocolate torte and a pear and pecan ice cream are eaten for desserts. The wine consumed is Vieux Papes. As it is Bill's birthday his dessert is on the house. Graham drives back to the hotel, and after a glass of Malbec we retire.
We have breakfast in the hotel. It's still cold at 28F and cloudy but expected to get less cloudy and slightly warmer today. We drive down the road the hotel is in and drive around the park where there is a Shakespeare Theatre and a lake with cormorants swinging on bars. Afterwards we drive to downtown Montgomery and find a free car park behind the Museum of Alabama. We enter at no cost and spend a small amount on the first floor including buying some presents in the gift ship. We ascend one floor and make our way to the Voices of Alabama (more...) exhibit which turns out to be a well put together story of the making of Alabama with several seating areas to watch a series of videos showing its history. There are a lot of Creek Indian artefacts. Our next stop is across the road at the State Capitol (more...) building which we enter at no cost. It has a superbly decorated rotunda. Since 1985 it is no longer used as a meeting place for the Legislature unless the State House is flooded as it was in 2009. We go to the baptist church where Martin Luther King preached but a tour is taking place so we go the Civil Rights Memorial Center (more...) and see a moving tribute to those who lost their lives in the struggle for civil rights. Many were killed by the Ku Klux Klan (more...) whch still exists. We return to the van and drive to a car park near the Visitor Center. We walk across a bridge which spans the railway line and walk along the bank of the Alabama River. We make our way to Dreamland BBQ (more...) where two of us have pork ribs, Jane has soup and Bill has chicken tenders. Three of us wash it down with Coors Lite. The other drinks Diet Coke. The ribs are delicious. We walk to Old Alabama Town (more...) and negotiate for half a tour at $5 each as they stop selling tickets in ten minutes time at 3pm. We walk to the Lucas Tavern and a lady explains the history of the museum. We wander around the reconstructed buildings and walk back to the van. We pay $2 for parking and drive to find where we'll eat tonight. At 6:30pm we drive to the nearby Olive Garden. We order a starter of deep-fried zucchinis, calamari and stuffed mushrooms. The girls order steaks and the boys tilapia and shrimps. A bottle of Merlot is ordered. When the bottle arrives one of the servers serenades us with a rendition of Happy Birthday . The soup for Bill and the salads for the rest of us arrive. These were the extras with the mains. A male server arrives and he tells us he comes from the New Forest. He has been in the UK and US armies and is now studying to become a lawyer in Montgomery where he now lives. His name is Michael. The starters appear and are eaten quickly as they are delicious. The fish for the boys arrive followed by the wrong steak for Mary and the wrong potatoes for Jane. Apparently the menu is wrong. They now serve sauteed potatoes and not mashed potatoes with the steak Jane ordered. Jane starts her steak but it is too well cooked. When Mary's steak arrives Jane is offered a new steak with mashed potatoes which she accepts. At a nearby table a party of Muslims arrives, four young girls, their father and two older women with headscarfs, to celebrate a birthday. Michael tell us more about the experiences of being black with an English accent. He offers to take us around Montgomery when we next go there. We get Jane's left over steak put into a doggy bag. We wish the girl on the next table a happy 22nd birthday. We return to the hotel for a pre-retirement drink having spent a delightful final evening.
It's still very cold at about 25F as we eat our breakfast. At about 9:45am we pack the van up and head towards I-85 North. After a short while we turn off to Tuskagee to take the longer but scenic route via Columbus. Woods, scrubland, churches and the occasional house or trailer park form the borders of the road. We stop for a quick lunch at an Ingles supermarket just north of Manchester where we are able to purchase meat and two sides for $5. Bill spots some plovers whilst Jane buys some tinned clam chowder to take home. We lose one hour when we cross from Alabama into Georgia at Columbus. We get to Atlanta and the rental return car park at 4pm. We get on the sky train which takes us to the domestic terminal and then board a shuttle bus which takes us to the international terminal miles away. We are early. We check in and sit and watch planes landing and taking off. That's what you do when you get old. We go through security and sit close to a power point so some us can use our iStuff as we wait for the plane. It is a little late taking off. We land at 9:45am and take a couple of buses back to near Bill and Mary's where Mary's car has been parked by their house sitter. Graham sorts out some of Bill's computer problems and grabs the photos taken by Bill (650) and Mary (20). We have baked beans on toast and say our goodbyes. We get home at 3:15pm somewhat exhausted and are excited to see what changes have been made to our retirement home.
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