Natchez and New Orleans

 

The upside of not being able to get all the way to Mobile as we had planned,  was not only that Ian could make a new door for Carina, but we also had time to go to Natchez, the oldest town on the Mississippi River, and drive along part of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a designated scenic route. Fred and Kim at Demopolis Yacht Basin had very kindly let us use the apartment in the marina shower and laundry block, which made the last few days much easier, and warmer. It was still very cold and Carina isn’t at all well insulated.

 

Demopolis Yacht Basin – the fuel dock at night

The beam from a tow can just be seen on the left of this photo.

Demopolis to New Orleans via Natchez and the Natchez Trace

It took us rather longer than we had anticipated on our last morning, to get all the little jobs done and it was lunchtime by the time we’d finished. So we had lunch at Smokin’ Jack’s BBQ restaurant on the outskirts of Demopolis. It was the day after Thanksgiving, which had been quite a strange day for us, being on the outside looking in, with everywhere quiet and most shops closed for at least one day, and many for two. We hadn’t realised that there was a potluck Thanksgiving Lunch going on over at Kingfisher Marina and we were sorry to have missed it.

Smokin’ Jack’s was quite busy with local families eating out. People in Alabama seem super-friendly. Everyone smiled and nodded to us as they came in and went out, as if we were regulars and they saw us in there every week.

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Smokin Jack’s BBQ, Demopolis

It was perhaps unsurprising that a BBQ restaurant should have an assortment of ornamental pigs on display on the counter.

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Smokin Jack’s BBQ, Demopolis

They had a Coca-cola thing going on too.

The Natchez Trace  is an ancient trail which was used for hundreds of years by Native Americans. It links Natchez, on the Mississippi River, with Nashville, on the Cumberland River. Now, there is a 444-mile road, the Natchez Trace Parkway, as well as a walking and cycling trail which follow the historic route.

Driving along the Trace, a tree-lined single carriageway road with little traffic, was a completely different experience from driving on the multi-lane Interstate. But the weather hadn’t finished with us. It had been cold, but sunny, for the last few days, but half an hour after leaving Smokin Jack’s, we found ourselves in a torrential rainstorm and wondering what we should do if we saw a tornado coming. But we were worrying unnecessarily, and the rain eased off as we reached the rest area at Lower Choctaw Boundary, established in 1765 to mark the eastern limits of the old Natchez District. It was also the site of John Gregg’s Provisions store, which supplied travellers going north to Tennessee. 

Natchez Trace  at Lower Choctaw Boundary

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We stayed in the Grand Hotel in Natchez, situated on a bluff high above the Mississippi River. We didn’t have far to go for dinner, as the hotel was next door to Bowie’s, a bar and restaurant where there was a benefit gig for a local man who had been injured while felling a tree. The band were good and we even had a dance, but the noise levels were a bit of a challenge to our elderly ears.

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At Bowie’s

The next day we wandered along the river front and through the town.

Old Cotton Warehouse, now Bowie’s Tavern

 

The start of the Natchez Trace

 

Natchez has more than 1000 antebellum houses, more than any other town in Mississippi.

Rosalie Mansion

The first European settlement in Natchez was Fort Rosalie, founded by the French in 1716 and named after the Countess of Pontchartrain. The mansion was built next to the fort, on the bluff overlooking the river, by Peter Little in 1821 .

The Mississippi River at Natchez, looking north

Smith-Bontura-Evans House

This house was built by Robert D. Smith, a free African American, as his residence and to house his carriage and transport business.

Parsonage

The Parsonage was also built by Peter Little, for his wife to use when entertaining visiting Methodist preachers.

Uptown Grocery

But even Natchez had its failed businesses.

Old South Trading Post still going strong

 

Merchandise on offer at Old South Trading Post

 

Texada, the oldest brick house in Mississippi Territory and the oldest Capitol Building in the State of Mississippi

 

The Natchez Coffee Co

 

Barge on the Mississippi River

It felt quite exciting to be approaching New Orleans at last.

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When we got there, it was warm, humid and cloudy. We ventured out into the French Quarter and wandered down to the river. It’s vast. And if we thought Ole Man River was tricky up near St Louis,  we were just glad we hadn’t had to bring Carina down to New Orleans. 

Riverfront, the French Quarter

Garden behind the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis

We’d had some advice on where to go and what to do in New Orleans. A must-do was the Preservation Hall, where every night since 1961 there have been 4 45-minute concerts. So we walked to St Peter St and joined the long queue to get in – you can only buy tickets in advance for a few seats. We waited for 20 minutes, but were unlucky. The couple in front of us got in, but they were the last. The hall has a capacity of about 80 people. We could wait and be the first to be admitted to the next show, an hour later, or we could come back the next night. 

In the queue for the Preservation Hall

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It was too early to eat, so we went to Pat O’Brien’s next door and had cocktails in the patio garden , a Sazerac for Ian and a Hurricane for me. Mine had 4oz of rum in it and I could hardly walk afterwards. 

Hurricane

We had quickly noticed that New Orleans has its own pronunciation of some words, with the emphasis being placed on the second syllable rather than the first. As in, New Orleans, not New Orleans. Our hotel was in Burgundy St, but the young man who took us back there from the Enterprise Car Hire place  had corrected us. It’s Burgundy St, not Burgundy St. 

This caused a sticky moment when we went for dinner at Gumbo Shop, down the road from Pat O’Brien’s on St Peter St. 

Our pleasant waiter dutifully explained the daily specials to us. One of them came with rice and  what sounded like pakarns. 

‘Sorry, could you just say that last one again?’

He looked at us with  well-practised patience: ‘It comes with rice and pakarns.’

We looked at each other and tried again. 

‘Pakarns?’

‘Yes. Pakarns. Like small nuts.’

Light dawned, with some relief. He meant pecans. Or pakarns, as they’re obviously known in New Orleans. 

 

We stayed in  the Hotel St Pierre in the French Quarter. Our room was in Gabriel Peyroux House,  accessed from the main hotel across a narrow, plant-filled passageway. Peyroux house was built in 1780 and in 1965, Louis Armstrong stayed in the room next door to ours. The main hotel had a gracious ambience.

St Pierre Hotel and Peyroux House, Burgundy St

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The passageway between the hotel and Peyroux House

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The hall and breakfast area

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The lobby

 

The next day, the weather had changed again and we had bright, but very cold, sunshine. We wanted to see more than the French Quarter and took the streetcar down the long, straight, tree-lined St Charles Avenue to the Garden District. This is where the elegant old houses and mansions were built in the American style, in contrast to the European influences in the French Quarter.

Ian had made sure, from the website, that you could get change on the streetcar. We needed 2 daily passes at $3 each. He proffered a $20 note. ‘We don’t give change.’ There was no arguing with her. The only way we could get change was to be given a token which we could subsequently use in the system. Since we were leaving the next day, that wasn’t going to work. We were obviously those irritating tourists. We had a $5 note. A lady behind us in the queue  pressed some coins into Ian’s hand. The kindness of strangers, again.

Junction of Canal St and St Charles

Garden District, New Orleans

Coffee break in PJ’s, Magazine St

We wandered round the Garden District, marvelling at the grace and style of the houses. Then we went into Lafayette Cemetery on Prytania St. The lady in the hotel had told us it was a cool place to go, but I was a little surprised at how many other tourists were there. It was clearly a destination.

 

Tiled road signs

Waiting for the streetcar on St Charles

St Charles Avenue

Audubon Park

Audubon Park

We went into Audubon Park with the intention of visiting the zoo, but found it was closed on Mondays, so had a brief look at the park and then went back to the hotel. Suitably revived with tea, we got in the queue again for Preservation Hall.

This time, our perseverance was rewarded.

The Preservation Hall is like nowhere else. Founded in 1961, its purpose is ‘to protect, preserve, and perpetuate Traditional New Orleans Jazz’. It doesn’t have a bar and you’re only allowed to take in bottles of water. Nor are you allowed to take photographs. There are only about 40 seats, and everyone else has to stand. The atmosphere was  like a cross between a British village hall and, despite the lack of alcohol, an 18th century tavern. We listened to Leroy Jones and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  It was unforgettable.

The British lady we had met in Columbus had recommended Mr B’s Bistro. We came upon it by chance and ate there. It was a bit more up market and expensive than the restaurants we usually frequent, but it was the last night of our trip. We convinced ourselves that we deserved it. Then we went on to the Spotted Cat on Frenchman.

Royal St at night

Dominick Grillo at the Spotted Cat

We had a few hours in the French Quarter the next day before leaving for the airport. We’re looking forward to being back in the Spring!

Jackson Square and the  Cathedral Basilica of St Louis

The Cabildo

Corner of St Peter St and Chartres St

Jackson Square

Royal St

Latrobe Park

French Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demopolis – should we stay or should we go

We arrived in Demopolis after 3 days of more or less continuous rain, which was not really what we had envisaged when we were happily anticipating this trip.

Demopolis stands at the confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers, and our plan was to travel a further 200 miles down the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile on the Gulf Coast, and leave Carina there for the winter.

There are no marinas between Demopolis and Mobile, and not many places, apart from Bobby’s Fish Shack, where you can anchor or tie up. It was going to take us four days to do the whole journey, so we needed two or three days to re-provision, get the laundry done and have a look round Demopolis.

On Saturday we got the bikes out for the first time on this trip. Since getting them in 2015, we’ve acquired some proper bikes at home, and in comparison our $130 folding jobs from Walmart seemed clunky and inefficient. But we needed the exercise after sitting on the flybridge all day for 3 days.

It’s not far to Demopolis downtown from Kingfisher Marina and we passed  Bluff Hall, which dates back to 1832.

_MG_0001 (2)Bluff Hall

Bluff Hall

 

_MG_0003 (2)Rooster Hall

Rooster Hall

Rooster Hall is on Demopolis Public Square and was built in 1843 by the Presbyterians of Demopolis. After the Civil War, it became a courthouse. It then became an Opera House, sometimes featuring performers from New York or New Orleans. It has since been the city hall, a fire station, a meeting house and auditorium, voting station, and an office building.

_MG_0002 (2)N Walnut Avenue, Demopolis

Walnut Avenue, Demopolis

We stopped at the Mustard Seed Gift Shop, on the corner of the square, where Ian noticed that coffee was served. Coffee shops seem to be rather few and far between, and after 20 minutes’ cycling, we needed coffee.

We went on to Gaineswood, a plantation house on the south side of the town. It was designed and built by General Nathan Bryan Whitfield, using slave labour, with construction starting in 1843 and taking nearly 20 years to complete. It’s now operated by the Alabama Historical Commission as a historic house museum. Paige, the director, greeted us and was interested to hear we were from Northumberland. It transpired that General Whitfield was a third-generation immigrant, from the beautiful Whitfield estate in Northumberland, about 30 miles away from where we live. He wasn’t actually a general, but had inherited the title from his father. Paige told us that one of the general’s descendants had gone to Northumberland hoping to visit  Whitfield Hall, and was disappointed to find that it is still a private residence and not open to the public. He was talking about this in the village pub and was overheard by the present owner, who gave him a conducted tour of the estate.

 

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The back door, Gaineswood

Dining room

General Whitfield appeared to be the sort of man who could turn his hand to anything, and he not only designed and made the silver epergne for his dining table, but made it specially high so that his guests could converse with each other across the table and still see each other easily. He then went on to make the special cabinet with the rounded front, on the left of the photo, to store the epergne in when it wasn’t in use.

Music room

He also made the pianola-type instrument on the left of the photo.

Front entrance hall

The slave quarters

Sunday was fine too, so we took the bikes out again and rather overstretched ourselves with a 14-mile ride out to Foscue Creek Park and the Spillway at Demopolis Lock, on the Black Warrior River. It was particularly arduous for me, since after wondering for some time why I didn’t seem able to keep up with Ian, we realised that one of the brakes on my bike was locked on.

Black Warrior River at Foscue Creek Park

Taking a break

You know you’re in the southern States when you see the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees.

More Fall colours

The Spillway Falls, Demopolis Lock

Swamp Cypress roots

We knew the weather was going to change again and that the earliest we’d be able to leave Demopolis would be Thursday. We were in for 3 more days of rain and a spell of very cold weather, with temperatures barely above freezing. On Monday, heavy rain fell continuously. Anna-marie, the Dockmaster at Kingfisher Bay, asked us when we planned to leave and looked at us in a concerned way when we said Thursday. She said the river level was going to rise by 20’, and would carry on rising because of all the rain that was falling upriver. The river would be full of logs and debris. And if we got stuck, because a log had damaged the propellor, TowBoat US wouldn’t come out and rescue us until the river had returned to normal levels, because it would be too dangerous. And that could take days.

That did it, really. The prospect of inviting more damage to the boat, and more expense, and possibly being stranded in a dangerously flowing river was enough to stimulate some lateral thinking.

Kingfisher Marina has a sister establishment at Demopolis Yacht Basin.  They are adjacent to each other on the river. Ian investigated the possibility of leaving Carina there for the winter. It turned out that we could have Carina hauled out, and stay on the boat while working on her, for what seemed like very reasonable charges compared with the marinas in Mobile.

Carina is an old boat, and if we’re being honest, she is really a fixer-upper. In the five years we’ve owned her, Ian has dutifully kept up with all the maintenance jobs on the engine, and the rest of the mechanics. But there’s lots about the fabric and fittings that could be improved. Our problem has been that we’ve never seemed to be anywhere where doing much fixing up seemed a possibility, and all our time has been spent either on the water, or exploring the surroundings.

Ian had long wanted to build a new door for the port side, ever since we had visited Jim Zevalkink in Michigan and seen his amazing workshop. The old door had obviously suffered from water getting in long ago, and was rotten and badly stained. Ian had variously patched it up but it looked a mess. So here in Demopolis Yacht Basin was a perfect opportunity and we had time to use it. But we still felt sad that boating was effectively over for this year.  It felt as though we had hardly got going.

But our decision seemed vindicated on Tuesday, when an experienced boater addressed a gathering of Loopers in the marina lounge and said that the river was too dangerous, and  that it would remain so for a week. It was also very cold. The temperature hardly rose above freezing, and the small fan heater which we have on the boat, which is great for taking the chill off the air when it’s a bit cold, was no match for the wintry conditions.

The marina had a courtesy car and the local shuttle bus would also come and pick people up at certain times. So we went out to the big local hardware store for materials and Ian ventured into a barber shop for a long overdue haircut.

In the barber shop, Demopolis

On Thursday morning at 7.30, with frost on Carina’s railings. two lads came over from the Yacht Basin to help us get the boat taken out of the water. They were encased in thick padded body suits, wellingtons and balaclavas. We were rather less well protected from the cold, and I was glad that at the last minute before leaving home, I had packed some cashmere fingerless gloves and a fleece beanie. We crossed the river and Carina was carefully lifted out of the water in the big  travel hoist. We were welcomed to the yacht basin by Kim and Trenella and plied with coffee and cookies in the office while we waited for Carina to be taken to her place on the hard standing.

We got a hire car the next day, which made life a little easier. We tried a couple of the local restaurants, Foscue House and the Red Barn, which were both good, and discovered Simply Delicious, a local bakery where we indulged ourselves with coffee and cinnamon rolls. They had managed to transform the interior of a modern, plain brick building in a shopping mall into somewhere with a downhome, country-style atmosphere.

Simply Delicious Bakery, Demopolis

We had a stroll along the Bigbee Bottom Trail, near Demopolis Lock.

Bigbee Bottom Trail

The new door took a few days to complete, and wasn’t without setbacks. But it’s now in place and looks really good.

Work in progress

Carina and her new door

We’re leaving tomorrow for two nights in Natchez, the oldest town in Mississippi, and then on to New Orleans before flying home.

We’ll be back in the spring with the aim of crossing our wake in Clearwater, FL and acquiring the prized Gold Looper flag for Carina.