The Retirees visit Graceland

Memphis is best known for Elvis and his home “Graceland”. Graceland is a mansion on a 13.8-acre (5.6 ha) estate, that was owned by Elvis Presley. It is located at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard in the vast Whitehaven community, about 9 miles (14.5 km) from Downtown. It currently serves as a museum. It was opened to the public on June 7, 1982. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991, and declared a National Historic Landmark on March 27, 2006. Graceland is the second most-visited house in America with over 650,000 visitors a year; second only to the White House. It is also across Elvis Presley Dr from a “Disney” type park celebrating Elvis’s fame and life.

I found Graceland to be unsurprising and ordinary in many ways which I think describes the type of person Elvis appears to have been away from the fame. He maintained many of his childhood friends had great affection for his mother and father (Mum Dad and his Aunt are buried at Graceland) and whilst he spent big on toys he also seems to have been quietly philanthropic in many ways to the community of Memphis. However, it did have its moments with the Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass panels in the piano room and the (original?) Matisse on the wall and the Tiffany light shades in the pool room. I enjoyed the fact that the Mario Lanza album is on display in his den (Lanza was a poor immigrant Italian boy who made good singing opera and had a movie career singing opera in film – just like Presley sort of). Starting at the front door we entered into the sitting room and piano room then around to Mum and Dad’s bedroom (they lived with Elvis) then to the dining room kitchen (with carpet) downstair to the bar, the media room with its Mario Lansa album the pool room the Picasso(?) and the graveyard.

The park as opposed to his home is made up of various pavilions (some of which are only available on the VIP tour) each pavilion focusing on different aspects of his life (eg) his military service, his toys, his music etc. And each one having its own gift shop of course. You walk through the yard of the house through the cemetery then cross to the pavilions. We saw his cars his bikes his awards his fatigues then over to the planes. Although not in a pavilion you can visit Elvis’s two planes parked casually to one side of the other pavilions. Overall worth the visit.

Memphis is struggling to regain its economy with a number of buildings boarded up and the town centre seemingly on holiday all the time. But one of its highlights is the Peabody Hotel. There are a number of Peabody Hotels around the USA but none like the Memphis Peabody. The Peabody Memphis is a luxury hotel and is known for the “Peabody Ducks” that live on the hotel rooftop and make daily treks to the lobby where they swim around in a fountain in the main lobby. The Peabody is a member of Historic Hotels of America, a programme of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It also has as a tenant the clothier to dress Elvis whilst he was getting fame and throughout his life. We were told on our tour into Memphis that Elvis continued to use the same barber that he used before getting fame.

The Peabody has a roof top party at various time of the year on a Thursday night and we were there at the right time to visit the ducks in the duck palace on the roof (the ducks had been fed and gone to bed). The following day we took a walk along the Mississippi watching acrobatics by a couple of stunt planes.

Our trip has come to an end with an early start for the airport. Unable to get an Uber (4.30am) the hotel security guard offered to drive us to the airport (I suspect he does this regularly) but he took us on a different trip to what I had expected. When I commented that I had not seen any signs directing to the airport he commented that he doesn’t use the freeway because of the random drive by shootings that occur at night ever since the gangs had moved up from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. That may explain the downturn that Memphis appears to be stuck in. However, we left safely to enjoy a 12 hour layover in LA where we encountered complete disarray with our travel arrangements leaving us shuttling between terminal 2 and Tom Bradly terminal trying to determine where we caught our flight back home. All is well that ends well – we are home safely.

The Retirees visit Memphis and the King

Memphis, Queen of the delta – believe it or not the delta of the Mississippi commences up here. What we would ordinarily consider to be the delta at the river mouth is the creation of the last ice age filling in the opening existing prior to the ice.

We left the American Queen on a tour bus with the plan that the bus would drop us at our hotel. The first stop was the Tourist Information Centre. Elvis and B.B. King are big personalities in Memphis as borne out by the large statues in the Information Centre. During the tour our tour guide sang and played her guitar as she told the story of Elvis and B.B. King in Memphis. We visited an open air auditorium where Elvis used to play before becoming a household name. We saw the recording studio and other sights but all a bit weak. Nevertheless, it was a great introduction helping us to find all the things we would do in the next 5 days except our hotel.

After locating our hotel (which was under renovation – not amused) we took a walk in Main Street where the tram line runs and the tram occasionally does too . There were blokes in blue official looking shirts riding bikes around Main St and they were a mix of tourist information and Policing. A good idea actually. Walked down to Beale St (not a tram in sight) but there was nothing happening due to daylight being present. They follow the practice of keeping the heritage front of a building and whacking a new building behind. We spent the rest of the day doing very little of anything as did the rest of Memphis. Where is everybody?

The following day Kerry was very weary so she stayed in bed whilst I went to the National Civil Rights Museum just past Beale St on the tram line. Built around the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated it is a historical record of slavery and its origins and the struggle of African Americans to be recognised as equal in America. Photos were not permitted inside the museum but it is riveting in its explanation of the growth of the civil rights movement and the racial hatred on both sides of the colour divide. I was fascinated by what I did not know of this part of the American history. It reminded me of the statements my mother made about the American soldiers visiting Brisbane during W.W.2 and how the coloured soldiers weren’t allowed in just any pub they had one allocated on the west side of the Victoria Bridge I think it was the “Crown and Anchor” – long since disappeared from South Brisbane.

The museum is in two parts the first being the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was staying containing the history of the national civil rights movement including Dr King’s assassination and the second part in a building on the opposite side of the road being an old boarding house from which James Earl Ray fired the killing shot. this part details the assassination, the investigation, the capture, and the conspiracies around the assassination.

I spent the whole day at the museum and I was moved by the images and the history and the even-handed presentation of the events it dealt with.

As you enter Memphis across the Bridge from Arkansas you are met by a large metallic pyramid once the home of the local NBA basketball team “the Grizzlies” and now the home of Bass Pro Shop Megastore and the 100-room hotel known as the Big Cypress Lodge. The Pyramid contains 600,000 gallons of water features and the largest collection of waterfowl and hunting related equipment in the world. In addition to the retail store itself, Bass Pro at the Pyramid is home to an archery range, shooting range, and laser arcade. The building also includes an Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill with a bowling alley and a saltwater aquarium. The tallest freestanding elevator in America takes visitors to The Lookout at the Pyramid at the apex of the building, where they can take in the view on an indoor and outdoor observation deck or dine and drink at the “Sky High Catfish Cabin”, a restaurant, bar, and aquarium at the top of the building. See for your self – and you can buy any automatic rifle or hand gun just as though you were shopping in Target (no pun intended).

Upon entering we encountered the largest range of fishing rods and stuck in the middle an ag bike being raffled or you can buy it. the store is supposed to depict a Mississippi swampland with big buttress trees standing in sluggish waterways filled with strange creatures – fish and alligators. Of course you can buy your swamp boat just yonder in bayou. Then there are the aquariums huge tubs of water with fish over a foot long. Standing in the middle is the free standing elevator to the summit – its not free USD $10 per person for the journey the entrance to the Lodge/hotel is to all intents a hunting lodge. And what is a hunting trip without a concealable hand gun or an automatic Armalite.

The trip up the elevator was a little alarming watching as everything on all four sides fell away. That is part of the hunting lodge you can see but once at the top it was truly magnificent. Essentially a restaurant and bar but with an enormous aquarium stuck in the middle and a viewing platform outside. You can see down to the entrance into the pyramid, the bridge to Arkansas, the city centre and up and down the Mississippi including over to Mud Is (Yes a novel name).

That night we went back to Beale St where there was a restored American road car show and far too much daylight to go inside the restaurant. The B.B. King tribute restaurant is on the first floor overlooking the action in Beale St and Second Ave. After dinner we listened to a fabulous band playing B.B. King covers whilst sitting in the bar. emblazoned on the wall was the name of that guitar. We had the real thing in a set of CDs bought from the BB king Museum, so we resisted the stage hand selling the cover band’s CD. Out in the street there were people everywhere, but we are told it was not busy. Unfortunately, lots of people living on the streets and hustlers everywhere. There was a booze bike going around appearing to be powered by the persons seated drinking but on closer examination it is motorised with the peddles just for show. On the walk back to the hotel we went past the Orpheum Theatre. What a day.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Greenville, Indianola and BB King

After Vicksburg we sailed to Greenville and the launching point to visit Indainola the birth place of B.B. King. The boat landed against a huge levee bank emblazoned with a welcome message from the towns folk. We boarded the bus for the trip to Indianola, a little mid western town likely unchanged for 100 years.

Leaving the American Queen we travelled by bus to the museum outside of Indianola. We arrived in front of an old gin which has been transformed into a music hall with the museum to great man attached and his grave and tombstone beside it. Our visit commenced with Kerry posing in front of a monument to “Lucille” BB Kings guitar followed  by an ensemble of male gospel singers presenting some of BB’s tunes in the music hall from which we proceeded to the museum. The museum is superb. It is a mixture of pieces of the past brought together to follow Riley B King from birth to his death. The story is told by a mixture of story cards with static displays of related things photographs, recordings interviews and film clips. Married twice but without any children from those relationships King fathered 15 illegitimate children that he supported throughout his life. Of course, his estate is the subject of disputed claims. After his death in 2015 the decision was made to bury him at the museum. Presently it is exposed to rain hail and sunshine but there are plans to build a chapel around the tomb. No visit to B.B. King’s museum is complete without visiting Club Ebony in Indianola. This is a African American Club built after the 2nd World War which has seen the likes of B.B. King, Ray Charles, Count Basie and others start their careers. King purchased the club and returned each year till his death to play. Sadly, it looks like it needs a good deal of maintenance.

We returned to the boat and set sail immediately. We sat in the cool of the evening watching the river pass by and watched our boat overtake a river tug pushing 49 barges somewhere. These barges carry everything from crops to coal and chemicals and although they are slow compared to road transport these barges keep thousands of trucks from clogging the roads. The record for the number of barges stands at 82 and each barge represents 15+ semi-trailers. We were nearly at Memphis and this part of the river did not have the high levy banks which had covered the view of the river banks and the inhabitant almost from New Orleans.

Next morning, just as we were steaming to Memphis, we witnessed the lowering of the smoke stacks on the boat to allow us to pass under low power lines and bridge crossing the river. In parts of the river they even have to lower the wheel house. This is our sailing day (no ports of call) as we arrive in Memphis tomorrow morning.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Sailing into history – Vicksburg

The following day we went to Vicksburg, the scene of a major battle in the American Civil War and a turning point when Vicksburg capitulated to the Union Army.

(May 18 – July 4, 1863) was the final major military action in the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. Vicksburg was the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. After holding out for more than forty days, with their reinforcement and supplies nearly gone, the garrison finally surrendered on July 4.

We had no desire to walk the battlefields so we boarded the hop on hop off bus to visit the town. The old town was quite attractive and going through a rejuvenation with apartments being developed in the major street of the central business district.

We strolled down Washington St stopping when we came across Biendenharn Candy Co building. Herman, and Uncle Henry, founded a retail confectionary business known as Biedenharn and Brother. In 1890, Herman’s son Joe and his father built a two-story brick building at 1107 Washington Street which served as Joe’s wholesale candy company on one side and his father’s shoe store on the other. Joe eventually took over the operation of the candy business and it became the Biedenharn Candy Company. It was here that Cocoa Cola was bottled for the first time. Up till then Coke was sold by the glass from soda fountains. Joe bottled the Coke and sent 6 bottles to the manufacturer who then licenced the company to bottle Coke. The Biedenharns bottled Coca-Cola here and in other locations in downtown Vicksburg until 1938 when the new Coca-Cola plant was constructed at 2133 Washington Street. The building was sold out of the family and used for a variety of commercial purposes.  In 1979, the family repurchased the building and began a rehabilitation using historic photographs to restore the building’s major spaces and to install exhibits interpreting the Biedenharn’s Coca-Cola heritage. The family then donated the building to the Vicksburg foundation for Historic Preservation.

After enjoying a bottle of Sprite, we crossed the road to Yesterdays Children Doll and Boys Toys Museum over 1,000 dolls dating back to 1843 in an historic setting. We encountered a Popeye doll, every kind of Barbie GI Joe and Cabbage Patch dolls even Laurel and Hardy.

Further down Washington St we found the Museum of the River. The Army Corp of Engineers has been tasked to maintain the waterways of the USA. This is the museum of the engineers achievements and the setback they have overcome. Attached to the building is a retired riverboat designed as the floating HQ for the Corp. The museum described how the Corp has kept the waterway open and managed the disasters created through flooding and most recently improved the river environment. From there we walked down to the river to the old rail station now a storybook for model trains and the civil war naval engagements and the Battle of Vicksburg. One of the tasks for the Corp is too build levees and walls along the river to protect townships from flooding.

Vicksburg has turned their levee walls into a picture book of its history. Here are a few photos of the sights of Vicksburg.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Onboard the PSS American Queen

When fronting at the Pursers desk to book our spot on the Hop on Hop off bus, all spots were gone. We were not beaten yet. So we left the boat after it had landed found a cab and for USD $8 we got a trip into up town Natchez with a guided tour by our cab driver.

Once we arrived up town we were dropped off at one of the hop on hop off bus stops and joined the tour. We decided not to await the bus but start our own tour by visiting the major church in town (catholic so nicely dressed up) then we walked to Magnolia Hall – see the feature photo above. Magnolia Hall was built by Thomas Henderson, a wealthy merchant, planter and cotton broker. The home is one of the finest examples in Natchez of the Greek Revival style. It is an antebellum home and during a bombardment of Natchez by the Union gunboat Essex, a shell hit the soup tureen in Magnolia Hall’s kitchen.

The Natchez Garden Club has restored Magnolia Hall. Rooms on the main floor are filled with mid-nineteenth century antiques, while rooms on the upper floors contain a costume collection.

Note the picture of the plate warmer.

After the Hall we move onto the home of William Johnson. William T. Johnson (1809 – June 17, 1851) was a free African American barber of biracial parentage, who lived in Natchez, Mississippi. He was born into slavery but his owner, also named William Johnson and thought to be his father, emancipated him in 1820. His mother, Amy, had been freed in 1814 and his sister Adelia in 1818. Johnson trained with his brother-in-law James Miller as a barber, and began working in Port Gibson, Mississippi. He returned to Natchez, becoming a successful entrepreneur with a barbershop, bath house, bookstore, and land holdings. Though a former slave, William Johnson went on to own sixteen slaves himself. He began a diary in 1835, which he continued through the remainder of his life. In 1835, he married Ann Battle, a free woman of colour with a similar background to his, and they had eleven children. Johnson loaned money to many people, including the governor of Mississippi who had signed his emancipation papers.

Johnson was murdered in 1851 after an adjudicated boundary dispute, by a mixed-race neighbour named Baylor Winn, in front of his son, a free black apprentice, and a slave. Winn was held in prison for two years and brought to trial twice; Johnson was such a well-respected businessman that the outrage over his murder caused the trial to be held in a neighbouring town. In that town no one knew Winn, so they didn’t know that he was half-black. Since Mississippi law forbade blacks from testifying against whites in criminal cases, Winn’s defence was that he was half-white and half-Native American, making him white by law. The defence worked, none of the (black) witnesses could testify, and Winn escaped conviction. Johnson’s diary was rediscovered in 1938 and published in 1951. It reveals much of the daily life of a 19th-century Mississippi businessman, including the fact that he was himself later a slaveholder. His papers are archived at Louisiana State University.

Through an act of Congress, the home of William Johnson became a part of the Natchez National Historical Park in 1990.

Here is a photo of the Johnson house and next door the Adams County Jail (Goal to us).

Natchez grew up in two parts Natchez below the Hill which provided for the boatmen and the handling of cargo and Natchez above the Hill which was built by the Spanish on the high ground for a fort and township not affected by the river. Our next stop was to visit the few remaining buildings forming Lower Natchez then return to the boat for lunch. Parked nearby was the American Duchess a sister boat of the American Queen.

In the afternoon we had booked to see a historic plantation with original slave quarters church cookhouse gin etc. Frogmore Plantation and Gin contrasts a working cotton plantation of the early 1800’s with a modern cotton plantation and gin of today. Our tour started with a drive through the present-day gin -1800 acre cotton plantation with a computerized 900 bales-per-day cotton gin, then through the fields to the church where we heard songs from the fields from locals who had experienced this life. We listened to the slave customs, secret music, and their surprising relationships with the master, mistress, and overseer. We then walked through authentically furnished slave quarters, a relic of a rare steam gin, and other plantation dependencies.

Our day ended with a bus ride back to the American Queen a grand dinner in the dining room then the show. Tough life.

The Retirees in the South East USA – All aboard the American Queen – the Mississippi River, Nottoway Plantation and St Francisville

The following morning, we caught the bus from the hotel to the American Queen Steamboat – a distance of 200 metres. We knew it was nearby but not that close. So we boarded the boat (not a ship because its on the river) using our boarding cards obtained when we registered at the Hotel and then found our way to our cabin on floor 4. Although an internal cabin, it looked to the chart room and out across the bow deck – an excellent position and a large cabin.

We took a stroll around the boat. Starting at the top on the 5th floor there are the wheel house and the exclusive cabins, swimming pool and gyms. Fourth floor is the chartroom where the Riverlorian Jerry hides out, cabins, the front patio and one of the only decks allowing you to circumnavigate the boat. Third floor is cabins, and the front patio which is the smorgasbord all day dining. The front patio is an undercover patio deck with access to the engine room and the engine room bar. Second floor has the Purser, the Tour director and gift shop. It also includes the gentlemen’s card room the ladies parlour and the library. First floor has the main dining room and the theatre where evening performances delight.

When registering onto the boat we selected our tours but in addition we could register daily (if quick enough) for the hop on hop off bus tours of our daily stops. The boat set sail (nautical term – there are no sails on a steam powered paddle boat). We made our way up river to our first port of call – a stop at “Nottoway Plantation” – an antebellum plantation home.

The boat landed by running onto the bank. this was an exercise that the crew would go through many times. Two unfortunates had to get into the water and receive the ropes then find the anchor spots under the water in the bull rushes to tie up the boat. On this occasion they used a tree to tie up at the stern. Then a walkway was lowered onto the bank and we walked over to the levee (nearly the length of the river has levee banks) up and over the levee to the entry of Nottoway.

We were greeted by our tour guides in costume of the time of building before the American Civil War. Our guides toured the house giving us its history of its first owners and the impact of the American Civil war.  In 1855 John Hampden Randolph purchased 400 acres (1.6 km2) of highland, and 620 acres (2.5 km2) of swamp and Mississippi River-front land to grow sugar cane and where he sought to build a prestigious home that he named “Nottoway,” after Nottoway County in the part of Virginia where he was born. The plantation house is a Greek Revival and Italianate-styled mansion built by John Hampden Randolph in 1859, and is the largest extant antebellum plantation house in the South with 53,000 square feet (4,900 m2) of floor space.

Soon after the house was completed the Civil War began. Randolph did not support secession from the Union, but once the war began, backed the war financially and sent his three sons to fight for the Confederacy, losing his oldest son, Algernon Sidney Randolph, at the Battle of Vicksburg. With the war coming ever closer to Nottoway, it was decided that Randolph would take 200 slaves to Texas and grow cotton there while his wife, Emily, stayed at Nottoway with the youngest children, hoping that their presence would save it from destruction. The plantation was occupied by both Union and Confederate troops and though the grounds were damaged and the animals plundered, Nottoway survived the war with only a single grapeshot to the far left column that did not fall out until 1971.

With the emancipation of the slaves, John Randolph contracted with 53 of his former slaves to continue working as paid laborers; when he returned to Nottoway after the Civil War, most chose to return with him. The sugar business was not as profitable after the war and by 1875, Nottoway was reduced to 800 acres (3.2 km2). John Randolph died at Nottoway on September 8, 1883, leaving the plantation to his wife.

Emily Randolph sold the plantation in 1889 for $50,000, which she divided equally among her nine surviving children and herself. She died in Baton Rouge in 1904. Nottoway has become a resort destination.

We returned to the boat for lunch whilst the boat moved further up river to St Francisville where we caught the hop on hop off bus to Louisiana and the plantation “Myrtles” which was an unscheduled stop on the hop on hop off tour that day. Generally, the hop on tours were disappointing (the towns are rural mid-western towns like any Queensland rural town providing a centre for the rural communities surrounding it). This was interesting because it claims to be the most haunted place in USA and has documented proof of its ghosts.

The Myrtles has 22 rooms spread over two floors. The Myrtles Plantation was built in 1796 by General David Bradford on 600 acres and was named “Laurel Grove.” Bradford lived there alone for several years, until President John Adams pardoned him for his role in the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion in 1799. In 1834, the plantation, the land, and its slaves were sold to Ruffin Gray Stirling. Stirling and his wife changed the mane of the plantation to “The Myrtles” after the crepe myrtles that grew in the vicinity.

The Myrtles survived the American Civil War, though robbed of its fine furnishings and expensive accessories. In 1865, Mary Cobb Stirling hired William Drew Winter to help manage the plantation as her lawyer and agent. Winter was married to Stirling’s daughter, Sarah, and they went on to have six children, one of whom (Kate Winter) died from typhoid at the age of three. In 1871, William Winter was killed on the porch of the house, possibly by a man named E.S. Webber. After being shot, he staggered inside the house and died trying to climb the stairs. He died on the 17th step of the stairs. Visitors, as well as employees in the home, still hear his dying footsteps. Touted as “one of America’s most haunted homes”, the plantation is supposedly the home of at least 12 ghosts, historically only Winter’s death has been recorded. Our tour guide maintains that Mrs Winter and two of her children were poisoned by a negro maid who had her ear cut off by Winter for eaves dropping and ejected from the house to work with the field slaves. To try and ingratiate herself in the household again she intended to make the children sick but she poisoned all three and in turn was killed by the other slaves fearing reprisals from the master. The one eared ghost steals visitors earrings as evidenced by the large number of single earrings found in the house. National Geographic are said to have sent an investigator who captured photos of the spirit and the ghosts of the two children and these are on display at the house. The rest of the town was rather unexciting. We visited the local Presbyterian Church (the usual unadorned interior for this religion) and then across the road passed the court house after which we returned to the boat.

Dinner was great. We found ourselves seated with Jim and Jacqui both retired teachers from Chesapeake Bay Maryland. We struck up a great rapport with them and can count them amongst “our new best friends”. The dinner was superb, and the evening show followed. The performers were excellent but we made the mistake of not booking our hop on hop off tour for Natchez the next day.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Antoines on Mother’s day

This was our last full day in New Orleans and it was Mothers’ Day. Veronica had managed to book a table in Antoines for the event. We arrived early along with a few others and even though it was barely 10.00 am the girls were into the sparkly and orange juice. Most of the restaurant is styled in a Rococo architecture and very ornate as can be seen in the pictures. The Maitre de showed us to our table and here we thought we had hit the jackpot as the jazz band was set up in this dining room. However they were like strolling minstrels going to each dining room after finishing a set.

After salivating over the menu, my oysters were served followed by my veal steak then the bombe Alaska. Washed down with wine and serenaded by the jazz trio.

Antoine’s is a Louisiana Creole cuisine restaurant located in the French Quarter. It has the distinction of being one of the oldest family-run restaurants in the United States, having been established in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore. Antoine’s Cookbook, compiled by Roy F. Guste (the fifth-generation proprietor) features hundreds of recipes from the Antoine’s tradition. The restaurant is also known for its VIP patrons including several U.S. presidents and Pope John Paul II.

Antoine’s features a 25,000 bottle capacity wine storage and 15 dining rooms of varying sizes and themes, with several featuring Mardi Gras krewe memorabilia. The lengthy menu (originally only in French, now in French and English) features classic French-Creole dishes. By tradition, Antoine’s is closed to the general public on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mardi Gras. The restaurant can be reserved for private parties on these “Closed Days”. My photos below include the menu and the dishes. Fabulous lunch leaving us gluttonously full. The restaurant is also a museum with each dining room filled with historic items. For instance a photo of Madam Veuve Cilcquot, and old menus of the restaurant. We revisited Bourbon st to see if it was any better – afraid not.

Following lunch it was time for us to move to the Hilton Hotel from which we would embark on the American Queen up the Mississippi River to Memphis. The hotel is immediately across the road from Hurrahs Casino and we could not miss out on that. So, after a cat nap we showered dressed and crossed to the casino. Being minor punters we invested USD $20 and soon showed a profit on the investment and relying on our experience and intuition we lost the profit all bar USD $1.50 walking away with our investment and enough to buy a padded bag envelope from the US postal service. A big day!

The Retirees in the South East USA – Cemeteries, Parks and Rooftops of New Orleans

The following morning, we rose early to catch the city tour. We travelled by tram to the city, then caught the riverside tram back to where we were last night but this time to catch the bus. The tour started travelling through the French Quarter where we saw a sign saying “300 NOLA” . New Orleans Louisiana (NOLA) is 300 years old this year and the signs are erected to remind everyone. We then passed Jackson Sq. named after General Jackson who liberated New Orleans from the British, passed a monument to the workmen who died in the Blue Horizon tragedy, passed a typical American settlers home (a “shotgun” home due to it having a hall from front to back), a typical Creole home (pitched roof and wooden shutters) a restored plantation home and a multi – coloured home (9 colours) finishing with their own style craftsman home.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are full of crypts. New Orleans is surrounded by and has formerly been part of the swamps forming most parts of Florida. So the appearance of many crypts in the cemeteries raised the question why not bury the dead in the ground? Some one suggested to us that they bury their dead above ground because the water table is so high. However the bus driver/tour guide disagreed. He explained that this habit was about recycling rather than water tables and pointed out one crypt which contains over 250 Augustinian nuns and 1 priest – is that heaven or hell? During the yellow fever epidemic it was believed that the fever was spread by the dead so they developed some half way houses to hold the dead until it was considered safe to open the crypt. One of the effects of yellow fever is a comatose type state which lead to people being buried alive in some cases. How do they know? The frantic scratching on the underside of the coffin lid told the story.

From the cemetery we travelled to the City Park and its sculpture gardens. Along the way we passed New Orleans’s oldest oak tree (800+ years). The park is immense and contains the second oldest tree as well – surprised? The sculpture garden is very interesting with its tower of violins, a magically suspended window with its escape ladder (or is someone breaking in?), elongated spiders and hollow horses and the ever – present oak trees draped in Spanish moss. This moss is not a moss but feeds from moisture in the air. It has been used in the past as mattress stuffing, but it must be treated (washed or boiled) before doing so otherwise the small creatures living in the moss bite (hence sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite).

There ended the tour and the bus raced back to the city. I have had better tours but it gave us a better understanding of how valuable our tram passes were. We decided to walk back to St Charles Ave tram and in doing so passed through Jackson Sq and the artists all trying to flog their wares. There is that blue dog again. We saw one in the sculpture gardens. This led us to walk the back streets spotting restored apartments with gardens on their balconies. A quick decision we decided we would return to city park in the afternoon.

Back on the trams again.

The trip on the tram took a lot longer than we anticipated. There are two trams that run in that direction – the Cemeteries tram and the City Park tram. The Cemeteries trams out numbered City park trams two to one. The trip dragged but we made it to City Park – end of the line. City Park, a 1,300-acre (5.3 km2) public park, is approximately 50% larger than Central Park in New York City, and holds the world’s largest collection of mature live oak trees, some older than 600 years in age. It also has rows of Crepe Myrtle trees planted as a result of Hurricane Katrina’s damage to the existing trees. It also has the Issac Delgardo Museum of Art now the New Orleans Museum of Art which our tour driver had said was free to enter. What he did not say that it was free for residents of New Orleans on Wednesdays only. So we skipped the museum and decided to visit the sculpture gardens again and  then the gardens which included the Temple of the Twin Sisters which turned out to be a hot house for tropical plants.

Quite surprising was the model railway tucked away in one corner. We rejoined David and Veronica and made our way to the tram stop.

We managed to catch the tram almost immediately and enjoyed a much faster ride home. After appropriately dressing for the evening to walk through Bourbon St, we boarded the tram once again. The tram terminates across the road from Bourbon St and even though it was late afternoon/early evening the sun shone brightly showing up the seediness of Bourbon St. Brash bands playing in filthy bars, strip clubs, hookers standing in doorways awaiting their next customer, filth in the street – not the scene expected. Where were the jazz bands and the juke joints we had heard about. So after walking a number of blocks we determined to move over onto Royal St. via St Louis St in the French Quarter past our restaurant for tomorrow night. Cleaner but still no juke joints or jazz bands but rather art galleries reflecting the neighbourhood the Supreme Court of Louisiana and antiques shops. We found another Café Beignet with a guitar player serenading it patrons so we pulled in for dinner. We all ordered omelettes of different kinds and no one was really happy with the meals but the music was enjoyable and we sat around for up to an hour enjoying the music.

We finally returned to our tram stop for the journey home. I am reminded of a funny incident whilst travelling back to our hotel. To return to our hotel we had to pass through a round – about with a garden and memorial in the centre. It seems a regular hangout for the homeless and the down and out residents. This evening in question, a fellow boarded the tram dressed in jeans blue underpants barely covered by the jeans and a T shirt with some voodoo cartoon on it. He looked dirty and unsteady on his feet. The tram slows to pass through the roundabout and our fellow traveller strikes up a very loud conversation with one of the fellows lounging under a street light in the park. The conversation goes along until the park resident says, “Are you all comin’ to pick up your bag?” Tram rider says “You all got my bag?” Park resident “yeah you all want your bag?” The tram rider became agitated, rang the bell, hitched his pants up, and pushed to the front of the tram. As the tram slowed the driver opened the door and the now excited tram rider does not wait for the doors to open fully (when the door opens a step extends to make the departure or entrance to the tram easier) and he steps out falling flat on his face on the ground. There was murmuring throughout the tram as that would have hurt, but whatever substance he had taken and whatever was in the bag seemed to fortify him against feeling pain as he pulled himself up hitched his britches once again and strode away. I was astounded as I thought for sure we would be waiting for an ambulance to collect the fallen rider.

On returning to the hotel the others went up to the roof top whilst I went to the room gathered together the wine glasses and snacks and joined them on the roof top. A grand view of the stadium and central business district.

The Retirees in the South East USA – New Orleans

Well we made it. Returned the car to the airport stayed overnight at a new airport hotel and caught that bloody early flight to arrive in New Orleans and travel to our hotel in St Charles St. A city of jazz legend and mixed cultures of French/Spanish/American cultures visible in its architecture and its people. Our hotel in St Charles St is part of the Wyndham Group and has a pleasant old world New Orleans feel to it. It is only a one bedroom apartment so this time it was our turn on the settee.

St Charles St is one of the longest streets in NOLA (better get used to it – New Orleans Louisiana) and has a tram line running up the centre all the way to Bourbon St and out to City Park and the city cemeteries. You can see it from our apartment window. After registering and dumping our gear in the room we explored nearby and took a walk to Walgreen’s Chemist to purchase a tram pass for the next 3 days. In doing so we discovered the Avenue Pub – a local hangout in a building dating back to late 1800s and in some respects was probably unchanged.The exterior reflected the French influence of the earliest settlers and the pressed metal ceiling on the interior reflected its age. Despite the surrounding the offering was of considerable variety. David and I sampled local craft beers – the pub owner had inherited it when her father died and she moved out to NOLA to sell it but stayed and has won a number of awards as the best venue for craft beers. Kerry and Ron played it safe with a Pimms or so they thought. The local variety of Pimms here is mixed with Ginger Beer, horrifying Kerry but I did not hear too much complaint from Ron.

Having quenched our thirst we continued the sight seeing looking for Walgreens. From the Avenue we could take in the full effect of our hotel, the local Baptist Church and its neighbouring properties, which continued the architecture of NOLA. There is also a steel construction of a surprising kind. It was once a restaurant on the top tier of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the restaurant was too heavy and was causing damage to the tower floor resulting in it be dismantled and abandoned in 1981 and purchased for the NOLA Worlds Fair in 1984. It was not a success there either and ended up here in St Charles Ave where it remains an unsuccessful restaurant.

We purchased our 3 day passes (which were in expensive and enabled us to visit most parts of the town) in order to travel to the docks of the Mississippi. We had booked to dine on the steamboat Natchez (yes, a steamboat powered by a diesel fuelled steam engine). Uncertain of the travelling times we arrive 1 hour too early and decided to have a walk on the waterfront. Audubon’s Aquarium of the Americas was the first thing to greet us. The walk would be about 1 mile long, and we passed some interesting monuments including 1 to the “Immigrants”. We were still too early to board so we took a tram down to the French Quarter which as its name suggests it was the market place for the French when Louisiana was a French overseas colony. Nowadays it is a haunt for tourists and the junk they like to peddle to tourists so we moved quickly through this area up to Café du Monde where they serve the famous New Orleans beignet – a deep fried donut like cake smothered in icing sugar. We did not have time on this occasion to stop but we were able to take in some of the street scenes that are typical of NOLA including the Catholic church facing Jackson Square.

We returned in time to join the queue thronging to board the Natchez. Once on board they sat us down straight away to feast on the smorgasbord (the dinner is divided into two sittings and we chose the first sitting so that we could enjoy the sights and our meal). After dining (pretty average offering except for the desserts – bread pudding and bananas forster) we settled back to enjoy the cruise.  With New Orleans being over 100 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi we travelled generally south sissippi Riverviewing the industry along the river and learning about the need for levies along the banks. One of the more interesting sights was the two “RORO” (Roll on roll off) ships moored in the river. These are emergency US Navy transports on call 24 hours a day able to load and unload from the rear of the vessel in all conditions.

We passed the competition the Creole Queen (an imitation paddle steamer – diesel and screw propulsion), the national guard HQ for New Orleans and various other deep-water sea going freighters (the river is over 200 feet deep at this reach). We were also able to visit the engine room and view the boilers “Thelma and Louise” and view the pistons driving the paddle wheel. There was a beautiful sunset this evening and some dazzling lights from the Creole Queen, downtown New Orleans and the bridge over the Mississippi to cap off the day.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Key Biscayne et al

Although we only had 3 days in Fort Lauderdale we still managed to drive down to Key Biscayne (Key Largo and the drive to Key West was just that little bit too far) on our way to Miami. We had hoped to see the launch of the SpacEx rocket from Cape Canaveral, but this proved too hopeful. We stopped at somewhere for coffee and cake and found a beach (with meter maid charging for entry to the beach), a pier with café (there was a charge to walk on the pier and the café was unable to serve us any of the items we ordered from their menu) but we did get some great photos of what should have been a delightful beach side stopover.

We reached Key Biscayne drove over the bridge stopped for a restroom break and lunch finishing up the supplies we had carried from Orlando sitting in the car in the carpark by the beach. However, as we continued to drive into Biscayne we found a fabulous park by the ocean from where we hoped to see the launch. Here was a carpark for thousands of cars with access to partly open grassy areas leading to the beach – only $5 to enter. The beach was littered with thick layers of seaweed washed ashore from the beds just 25 metres off the beach. Kerry braved the crossing to stand in the water to view the launch that we were never going to see from so far away. But it really is a beautiful park and in summer I guess it will be standing room only. We headed for home to pack to move down to Miami as we had to be at the airport by 4.00am. Then onto New Orleans Tennessee.