Posted by: glenswatman | October 16, 2008

200810-1-USA Mississippi Louisiana Texas



WEDNESDAY 1 OCTOBER 2008 – We had a bit of a
disturbed night.  It seems we were on
the car park used by the night fishermen and they all drive noisy trucks.  Make an early start along the coast then
over a big bridge across St Louis Bay. 
Following the Beach Road we immediately see storm damage including huge
sections of the road that area closed. 
Remains of a water park include tube slides that terminate mid air or
maybe that’s a new style ride to come! 
It’s a beautiful area so we understand why people want to live here but
judging by the number of damaged homes they sure are paying the price.  Silver Slipper casino has a stunning
location at the end of a headland surrounded by lovely beaches.  We get $10 each play credit; free T-shirts
and half price buffet vouchers.  Steve
has a really good session on the slots winning over $90 giving us a profit of
over $100.  The lunch buffet at $6.99
(£3.75) and 2 for 1 is outstanding value and we make real pigs of
ourselves.  Machines with soft drinks
and coffee are around so having persuaded the bar man to put the Liverpool
match on TV Steve settles in for the afternoon.  Move to the far side car park for the night.



THURSDAY 2 OCTOBER – At the junction with the I10 there is a huge Mississippi
welcome centre and the NASA visitor centre. 
A free shuttle takes you for a tour of the John C Stennis Space Centre
where they test the space rockets.  We
go round a small part of the base and see the huge test towers then drop us at
a visitor centre.  Roaming around there
are lots of things to try out including a shuttle landing which we both manage
to crash!  The thermal imaging camera is
also fun.  The freeway takes us in to
LOUISIANNA where we head to New Orleans on an impressive bridge over Lake
Pontchartrain.  Our “Couchsurfing” has
no parking near her home but has arranged parking at her Mums.  Her Dad Carlos greets us and soon has us
parked up then settled in the house having a drink.  He phones Maria’s partner Skip who has just finished teaching at
school and heads over to pick us up. 
Maria’s Mum Carol arrives home and I chat to her until Skip
arrives.  It’s quite strange for us
having to pack a bag and we don’t know how long for so that confuses the
issue.  Skip and Maria live in the
lovely historical area of Algiers.  As
well as being well travelled Skip is in to property renovation so we have lots
to chat about.  This is one of the
oldest residential areas of New Orleans and built on older ground so they
usually escape most of the storm damage. 
They have 2 dogs, Toller and Izzy
and a cat called Kitty. 
Maria is
doing a nursing course at college and is tired when she arrives back late.  After a quick introduction we settle onto
the airbed in the lounge.  



FRIDAY 3 OCTOBER – Maria is free late morning
and along with her college friend Elizabeth they escort us over to the
city.  It’s a short walk to catch the
free ferry across the Mississippi River to the French Quarter.  Stop at the famous Café du Monde for a drink
and some “beignets”, a kind of flat doughnut that is piled high with icing
sugar.  The best way to eat it is to
shake of as much of it as possible then lean to one side so the rest of the
icing sugar falls on the floor.  Next we
check out the French Market, originally fruit and vegetables but now
crafts.  Maria & Elizabeth must get
back but we have an AAA walking tour to follow.  The architecture is stunning and looks really beautiful with the
lacy ironwork enhanced with flowers. 
Royal Street seems to have the most impressive balconies but Bourbon
Street is the liveliest.  We can only
imagine what it is like at night as we visit during lunchtime and already
people are wandering through the streets drinking cocktails and drifting in and
out of the bars where loud music is playing. 
Make a late lunch stop at the famous “Johnny’s Po-Boys” where we share a
roast beef sandwich with garlic gravy and it is delicious.  Return to the main square to admire the
surrounding buildings before walking back along the riverbank.  The French Quarter has a really nice feel to
it, nothing like anywhere else we have been in America and we can see the
attraction.  Return to Maria & Skips
for a quick shower and rest.  They
suggest going out for a meal so we hop in the car to go back over the river to
Cunningham’s Cheesecake on Charles Avenue. 
The offer an amazing selection of cheesecake desserts so I have to chose
my main course carefully to be sure to have enough room.  I have another beef po-boy and this one is
even better as it comes with the gravy to dip the sandwich in.  



departure is delayed when I get a text from Claire asking me to call
urgently.  Turns out Mum had a fall
yesterday and is now in hospital having an operation to repair her broken
hip.  I speak to Netty and also the
hospital and find she has come through the operation well and is now
resting.  Return to the city and catch
the streetcar, $1.25 (75p) out along Charles Avenue where there are some
magnificent mansions from the 1800’s. 
The streetcar itself is unique in being the oldest one in continuous
use.  It’s voting day today and at all
the road junctions there are literally dozens of boards featuring the nominees
and people waving placards, I count over 100 at one stop alone.  Get off the tram to walk around the Garden
District area where we see even more impressive mansions in many different
designs.  Most of the homes are very
deep, close together and too near the road for a driveway.  Presumably built before cars were around
because there are rows of horse hitching posts at the end of each road.  Lafayette cemetery is interesting with above
ground tombs used by whole families. 
When someone dies the front seal is broken and the bones raked out.  These are then put back in with the new
corpse on top.  Back walking the streets
we keep seeing rows of shallow drums in the ground and investigate.  They are in ground rubbish bins but we don’t
delve deep enough to see whether they are bottomless or have to be emptied from
the top!  Next we take a tram out to
City Park to view the free sculpture garden. 
It’s very interesting and even has a Henry Moore.  There’s a stadium in the park and obviously
a game going on.    Leading up to the
stadium is a huge area set up for tail gating parties almost on a commercial
basis.  We see one with beer taps and
try to buy a beer but it is a private tent and he won’t sell us one but gives
us them for free then throws in some tickets for the football game.  It’s the local college team Tulane playing
against the army and we catch the second two quarters to see the college team
slaughtered.  In the evening we walk out
in the Algiers area with Skip & Maria for dinner at the bar/restaurant near
the ferry terminal.  They both have lots
to do tomorrow so Skip takes us back to the motorhome for the night.  Once again the Couchsurfing system has
worked brilliantly for us and now we have more new friends.



to speak to Mum in hospital and she is very sore but sounds to have come
through the hip replacement operation well. 
Carol has invited us in for breakfast and cooks up delicious bacon,
eggs, cheesy grits and biscuits.  They
taste far nicer than the commercial versions we have had before.  In their garden they have a voting poster
showing the picture of a dog and saying Willie Bean for mayor.  It’s their daughters dog that ran for mayor
in the town of Fairhope and got more votes than many of the other candidates –
now doesn’t that tell you something! Carlos
helps with a few travel tips and by late morning we are ready to move on.  Another example of the excellent southern
hospitality.  We pick up the river road
but can’t actually see the water because of the levy.  Along this route there are lots of cane fields and old
plantations.  We turn off to look at a
few but don’t want to pay $15 (£8.50) to go inside.  Laura is a very attractive old painted home but Oak Alley has to
have the prettiest approach lined with oak trees.  This area has obviously suffered badly in the recent storms as
many homes have blue tarpaulin on the roofs and trees have fallen all over.  Once we have driven past the best of the
plantations its still early afternoon so we have a change of plan and head
onwards to Baton Rouge.  As soon as we
cross the Mississippi River we are impressed as we make our way along the
riverside.  We expect places to be
quieter on Sundays but here there is almost no traffic so it is very easy
navigating.  The State Capitol is in a
fantastic art deco tower building and even more impressive inside.  We ride up to the 27th floor for
great views over the river, the city and also the massive oil refineries.  These deal with the largest volume anywhere
in Northern America.  Check out the
statues, murals and other points of interest on the ground floor.  Walk through the gardens past the tomb of
state governor Huey Long who was buried here after being assassinated in the
building.  Huey Long was also
responsible for building the Governors Mansion as a replica of the White House
so that he would know his way around then he got there!  Notice a sign saying the museums are free on
the 1st Sunday of the month from 1-5pm.  It’s almost 4pm but we manage to race through the art museum then
in to the original State Capital in a castle style building with fantastic
spiral staircase topped with a pretty glass roof.  Hastening through that we make the planetarium just before closing.  Hollywood Casino is at the end of the road
and a handy overnight parking spot. 



to Lafayette we cross an enormous swamp at Henderson but that’s about the only
point of interest en route.  We want to
visit the Acadia Cultural Centre but before going in we pop in to the Mardi
Gras factory opposite where they make the floats.  It’s really interesting to see the works in progress and realise
that this factory also does work for the Mexican and Spanish Mardi Gras.  In the proper museum we study the displays
then enjoy a movie about how the people were banished from Nova Scotia to
finally end up here.  Next is followed by
an even more interesting one about the Atchafalaya swamp and this prompts us to
consider doing a swamp tour. 
Unfortunately after the storms the water level is extremely high and
tours not on track.  With little choice
we take the I10 but it is most unpleasant and made worse as the highway is
concrete slabs that are noisy as you bounce over them.  Lake Charles is really nice with a huge lake
in the centre of town and lots of parking. There is a 911 memorial to 3 local
people who died.  2 beams from the World
Trade Centre were transported here as the centrepiece and it’s amazing to see
how buckled and twisted they area.  The
“Auberge du Lac” is a very posh casino with no membership freebies but at least
they let us stay on the parking lot for free.



is a lovely sandy beach on the banks of Lake Charles but the day starts with
the threat of a big storm.  On the
freeway we really hit it and have to crawl along in order to see.  At Vinton you can free camp at Delta Downs
casino.  Unusually this is also a
racetrack so situated in the country. 
Once the rain stops we check out their sign up offers but just come away
with free T-shirts – at least these are red and a change from our white
collection.  There is no lunch buffet on
Monday or Tuesday so we eat in the van and have a relaxing planning day.  We can tell we are in the country as a skunk
waddles along the edge of the race track then puts it’s tail up when Steve goes
close to take a photo!  With free wi-fi I
can use Skype to contact Mum via the Internet. 
She has been up and about but finds it very painful.  



are woken to the sound of horses galloping past, seems they are out for an
early morning training session on the course and we have a grandstand view by
the starting post.  Hitting the road we
are soon in TEXAS and stop at the excellent visitor centre to gather state
info.  The few tourist attractions in
the town of Orange are still closed after the storms.  Travelling through Bridge City we see the worst damage to
date.  They took the brunt of hurricane
Ike as it came ashore and flooded the area. 
Trees are down everywhere and by the roadside we see the ruined stuff
people have dragged out of their homes awaiting refuse collection.  I stop to shop at the recently re opened
Wal*Mart and am stunned when I enter the store.  The floor is now bare concrete but what hits me most is the type
of things they are selling.  Wellington
boots are piled high, bed mattresses and other necessary replacement items
abound whilst fresh food is non-existent. 
Two impressive bridges lead us to Port Arthur that survived somewhat
better due to a good levy bank.  For
some reason religious symbols abound here and we begin at the Shrine of our
Lady of Guadalupe.  A 27’ bronze statue
sits on top of rocks brought from Mount Tepayac in Mexico where the Virgin Mary
appeared to Juan Diego.  Queen of Peace
Shrine down the road is a beautiful oriental garden built by Queen of
Vietnamese Martyrs Catholics.  As we are
crossing the road to it a Police car pulls over.  The officer is surprised to see tourists here and wants to know if
we are enjoying our visit.  He lived in
England for many years so lingers chatting. 
He tells us it is unsafe to stay in this area overnight as we are on the
edge of gang territory but it is OK in the day.  The seafront is not as we imagined as you can see nothing but the
levy bank and the only interest on Lakeshore Drive is a few nice houses.  The Buddhist temple is closed due to storm
damage but completes the trio of religious sites.  Over on Pleasure Island there are no beaches and the coast road
is closed so we are done with Port Arthur. 
Highway 73 is a shock to the system. 
Whilst the road has been cleared of debris it is still piled at the
sides and gives us a further insight into how bad things were.  There are huge mounds of stuff that looks
like mud covered with hay and these are entwined with debris including tin
roofs, doors, windows and even a fridge whilst other items are stuck up in trees.  This goes on for miles and we cannot imagine
what the coastal road is like as we are now a good 10 miles inland.  The small town of Anahuac is also in the
process of recovery.  You can camp at
the county parks and we call in to the Court House to get a permit.  I am told that Fort Anahuac Park is full of
tent campers from a religious group who are there to help.  They suggest we try White Memorial Park back
near the freeway as it will be much quieter. 
It’s a large and pleasant wooded park leading down to Turtle Bayou but
certainly not a quiet spot.  Along with
the noise of the motorway traffic we hear chain saws running as worked begin to
remove the fallen trees.  Still it’s a
free spot and we are biding our time to arrive in Houston for the weekend so we
will take it.



a reasonable nights sleep.  Whilst the
days are still hot we are noticing cooler evenings, down to 70F and even wake
up to see dew on the grass – a first since we got back in July.  Spend a quiet day relaxing.



the first time since last November we see gas priced at under $3 (£1.85) a
gallon, maybe this is partly because we are driving in an area where every
large plot of land is taken up with massive refineries.  Unfortunately it is not any cheaper for us
as the exchange rate has now dropped to $1.70 = £1.  San Jacinto memorial is the tallest obelisk in the world but both
that and the Battleship Texas opposite are closed due to the storm.  In Houston we return to visit our host
Tim.  Catch up on his news then join him
for a visit to the YMCA where he is a member. 
They have a great fitness centre and I can go free as his guest so get
to put in 40 lengths in the outdoor swimming pool.  When Steve & Tim are waiting for me in the lounge area there
is a TV showing staggering falls then leaps on the American stock market.  As Tim says things must be bad when even the
lifeguards are talking about it!  Take
lunch at the café where they provide healthy food, the turkey chilli at $2.99
(£1.85) a bowl is delicious.  Driving
back he takes us through many of the housing areas with storm damage and we
still see huge oak trees that have not been sawn up.  Many homes were lucky to have the trees fall away from them but
others have had trees fall on both the front and the back.  I phone Mum who has been moved to Whitchurch
hospital but she is still in a lot of pain and struggling to get the new hip
moving.  It’s frustrating that we are so
far away and I can’t nip back to visit and help but we had such a hard time
getting back into America that I fear they would not let me return and that
would leave Steve stranded here alone. 
In the evening we sit in the house chatting whilst Tim cooks us pasta
and pizza to go with the wine.



good internet connection we do more travel planning and are now considering
taking the motorhome into Belize and Guatemala so that opens up a whole new
area of research.  Tim is out for dance
lessons late afternoon and then to a party so we have made arrangements to meet
the daughter and family of our Dutch friends Henk and Klara.  Ineke arrives to pick us up and take us to
their apartment in Spring, about half an hour north.  Along with her husband Jos and daughters Mara, 11 and Jonna 8
they moved here 3 months ago.  They are
also members of the hospitality clubs. 
We go to a nearby Chinese buffet called “China Bear” and chat our way
through the meal.  As usual there is an
excellent choice of food but this one also includes things like crab legs and
crayfish.  Also there is a huge shop
attached to the restaurant selling some impressive Chinese ornaments at very
reasonable prices.  Next they take us up
to Woodlands Market Street where there is a European style village square.  We pick up drinks from Starbucks and sit
around the square enjoying the evening. 
Jos is working in a school here and Ineke works for a petroleum company
but from home.  Both the girls have
settled in really well at school in spite of having to learn English quickly.  After an enjoyable evening making friends
Ineke drops us back home.



SUNDAY 12 OCTOBER – After chatting to Tim we head
west to Brookshire.  Wayne is president
of Health Hides of Houston club and has invited us to visit.  They live in a newly developing area and
designed their own home and created a private back garden where they can
sunbathe au natural.  His wife Sylvia is
also very friendly and they make us really welcome and invite us to stay in one
of their spare bedrooms.  Their swimming
pool is beautiful and has a long rock waterfall across the back making it sound
like a babbling stream.  Find lots to
chat about through the afternoon before joining them for an evening meal.  Looks like we are going to be here a few
days so we all do our own thing in the evening.



MONDAY 13 0CT0BER- Sylvia runs her own Diabetic Management company and
although it is Columbus Day holiday opts to go in to work to do a few
things.  Wayne has quite a lot of
holiday left this year so takes the day off. 
In the morning we give Harry a bit of a sprucing up so we can take
photos to put on the Internet later when we try to sell it.  At dinnertime we go in to Houston and pick
up Sylvia to join us at Brothers pizza. 
We’re all weary in the afternoon so just hang around. After a late dip
in the pool there is a cool breeze so we jump in the hot tub.  It’s a great design with lots of different
massage areas so we stay in for ages.  I
prepare some potato slices and pork to BBQ for evening meal.  After eating we play a game of petanque on
their new petanque court.



TUESDAY 14 OCTOBER – The dull start to the day
deteriorates into a thunderstorm with rain. 
Fortunately it is brighter in the afternoon and we can sit out by the
pool.  Wayne has taken another days
holidays so is even more pleased about that than us!  After a steak BBQ in the evening they teach us a new game of
dominoes.  It is with a set that goes up
to double 12 and called Mexican Train and great fun.



WEDNESDAY 15 OCTOBER – To avoid traffic Wayne
works flexi time and leaves early in the morning.  Being self-employed and “not a morning person” Sylvia heads in
later leaving us home alone.  We finish
working on Harry to enable us to do a photo shoot to put on the Internet to help
when we sell it.  In the afternoon we
get more heavy rain but at least it is still warm.  After our evening meal we finish of the Mexican Train game, which
I am lucky to win.



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