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Posts Tagged ‘Baton Rouge’


Our second day on the road was a quiet and uneventful one. Consequently, I will give a blessedly shorter account than usual (well, that’s what I say at the beginning of it).

Besides, it was Sunday too, so I’ll keep this all quiet and peaceful like, y’all.

Breakfast in the room was included in our Juliet hotel tariff, which made a pleasant change to our early morning routine. Unfortunately, the weather was not as accommodating as we left in that light drizzle we had become accustomed to over the past few days. But when we left, the temperature was still in the low eighties.

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We made two false starts as the windscreen was greasy and it took several ingenious attempts to clear it. A4 printer paper did the trick, and we finally left the environs of Lafayette at 10.30am.

One of the fascinating aspects of driving in the USA is the preponderance of massive roadside signs, advertising everything from hotels, restaurants, casinos, gas stations, people running for political office and, of course, in this part of the country, extolling the virtue of having Christ in your life.

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And then there are the churches themselves, principally Baptist and Pentecostal, many of which pop up from nowhere with their immaculate, well scrubbed exteriors and attached cemeteries on a much more modest scale than those we had wandered among in New Orleans.

Some are so small that the congregation could not be more than a couple of dozen. We speculated, however, that, on this late Sunday morning, they would be packed with worshippers.

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Aside from those signs, we had very little company on the road (perhaps everyone was in church).

We drove through miles of bullet (unfortunate use of language in this part of the country, sorry), straight road with grass verges on either side, watched over by woods and forest. An occasional vehicle came into view and disappeared as quickly again.

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We slowed down as we drove through Baton Rouge for fear of waking it up (though last night’s football victory might have done the job for us).

Our intention on this trip had been to spend as much time on the (‘Blues”) Highway  61 as possible. Our sat nav, however, had taken us up Highway 19 at the intersection of both roads at Baker, and we were required, unless we were to turn back, to continue to Centreville where we could turn west to return to the 61.

Small towns with names as exotic as Slaughter (back to the bullet theme), Zachary and Ethel passed by in a blink of an eye.

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We crossed into Mississippi, annoyingly missing the large welcome sign, and sought sustenance at a roadside McDonald’s just south of Natchez.

Although it didn’t have the high tech booking system that we had marvelled at the previously day, the restaurant was clean, colourful – and “minimalist”, as remarked upon by a Facebook friend at the time.

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We didn’t believe that we could pay less than yesterday for our lunch, but the bill below cannot lie.

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We pulled in to the Vicksburg Best Western hotel at 3.15pm as planned, affording me the opportunity to complete a blog piece before dinner.

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In keeping with the “rubbish” food theory I expounded in the previous article, we refrained from negotiating the hair-raising road intersection to get to a Mexican or barbecue restaurant, deciding to walk the two hundred metres to the Waffle House. 

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I did not expect my Steak ‘n’ Eggs to warrant any Michelin stars, and although there was some gristle in the steak, it was cooked to my requirements and was edible.

And cheap!

We rounded it off with yoghurts bought from the supermarket next door.

And we went the whole day without alcohol!

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Although we had already spent four nights in Louisiana, the road trip only began in earnest on Saturday morning as we queued up for our booked hire car at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. I say “queued” because that is what we had invariably been obliged to do on most occasions in the past.

But not this morning.

The most extraordinary thing about the rapid transaction was that we weren’t offered an upgrade from our standard SUV (which we were more than happy with anyway).

We were on the I-10 heading towards our halfway pit stop in Baton Rouge within minutes under a leaden sky.

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And yes, we were Texans for the next two weeks!

After the customary familiarisation with the car’s controls, it was time for the all important search for the Grateful Dead Channel on Sirius XM. It took a while, but once we had safely negotiated our way through all the Hip Hop, Sports and Christian channels, not to mention right wing”shock jocks, we were able to “settle down easy” with our favourite station.

We had not had breakfast, so planned on finding a roadside eatery between New Orleans and Louisiana. That was easier said than done. We left the road at at La Place and Gramercy Lutcher to follow the signs to the “services”, but on both occasions found ourselves driving several miles with no Subway or McDonald’s in sight!

We did, however, pop into the Gatorville Cajun Village which boasted several exhibits and stores dedicated to……well, you guessed it, Cajun culture. There was an attractive looking restaurant which offered breakfast, but the line to even sign up, let alone get in, was too long.

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Eventually, at Donaldsville, we pulled outside McDonald’s.

Now, this is where I insert rule number one about taking a road trip. You are only allowed to eat cheap, “rubbish” food. No more of them fancy oyster things, or crawfish, or even jambalaya, but proper “rubbish” food.

Egg McMuffins and coffee were the order of the day, and although they were smaller, disappearing in a couple of bites, than i recall from when I last had one in the previous century, they “filled a hole”.

And, boy, was it cheap. Whereas, with tip, we had spent $80 on breakfast in Brennan’s in new Orleans the previous morning, We had been impressed too with the standalone digital ordering screens that greeted us. Our meal was, however, deliver by a member of the human race, and a pleasant one at that.

We arrived in Baton Rouge, the state capital, at lunchtime and were astonished to find so few people about the streets. Of those that were wandering aimlessly about, most were wearing either Ole Miss Rebels or LSU Tigers football colours. They were due to take up arms against each other that evening (they had a long wait). For the record, the home team, LSU, won convincingly 45-16, so perhaps Baton Rouge came alive then.

But it was clearly an important city as it had not one, but two, state capital buildings. The Old State Capital below was certainly the more architecturally appealing.

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The absence of traffic as well as people made it all the easier for us to take a stroll around the riverfront and downtown areas. Janet did, however, come across a couple of old timers who willingly posed for a photo with her and their pride and joy.

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Baking heat and unforgiving pavements made the amble around the Spanish Town more arduous than it might have been, but there were some beautiful homes to drool over.

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With Halloween at the end of the month, we were increasingly coming across houses decorated for the occasion.

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We left tranquil Baton Rouge for Lafayette in western Louisiana, arriving half an hour before the scheduled check in of 3pm.

We had selected Lafayette over Baton Rouge as our first overnight stop because the town is regarded as the place of pilgrimage for lovers of Cajun and Zydeco music, a raucous fusion of blues, rhythm and blues and African-derived styles which makes much use of fiddle and accordion.

And remember, this whole trip was about the music.

In particular, the Blue Moon Saloon and Guest House, a few hundred yards from our hotel, is renowned throughout the world as the best venue to witness live music in this style. It is also a youth hostel, described by its owners as “a home-grown honky-tonk where all kinds and sizes are welcome”.

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With tonight’s gig at the Blue Moon not scheduled to start until 9pm, we were not planning to eat until around 7.30pm. So, as Pooh would have so eloquently put it, it was “time for a little something”.

One southern “delicacy” that we had still not sampled was a Po’ boy, a traditional sandwich from Louisiana. Given their size, it would have been uncharacteristically greedy had we consumed a full one, so I plumped for a half-sized version of the Crawfish Boil Sausage Po’ boy.

Delicious.

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We ate at the Sainte Marie restaurant, where we shared another popular dish of the region, fried green tomatoes (with shrimps), which, needless to say, we’re scrumptious. I followed up with crawfish étouffée, a thick soup-like dish with rice. Not only was the food outstanding, but our young server, Taylor, kept us enthralled with her energy and attentiveness,

And now to the reason why we were in Lafayette – the music at the Blue Moon.

After paying our $10 cover charge, we took up our seats on a back bench (the place is essentially a shack), and ordered our drinks. Everyone there was drinking out of plastic glasses, but for some reason, the barman, rather conspiratorially, explained to me that I could have a real glass for Janet’s gin and tonic, provided she “looked after it all evening and didn’t break it”. A whiff of that voodoo atmosphere we encountered in New Orleans returned to haunt me.

The music was great, though the second band did not come on stage until nearly midnight. And the evening wasn’t wholly satisfactory.

It appeared that the event was being used as an excuse for a school or college reunion, as a large group of twenty somethings appeared more interested in catching up with each other, and doing a lot of hugging, than engaging with the music.

And I could write another piece on the personal and sexual politics that were being played out before our eyes while we tried to peer over their heads to see the bands!

But it was an experience.

 

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The idea for this trip came thirteen years ago when I bought the book entitled The Blues Highway: A Travel and Music Book by Richard Knight.

But then, as we were on the point of booking the trip, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, the planned starting point for the trip. We resolved then that we would wait to do it when life in the city had returned to some semblance of normality.

In 2012, we did finally embark on a road trip, but in a very different part of the country – the National Parks of the South West, covering the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Setting off from Las Vegas, our expedition took in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon, followed by a sizeable detour through New Mexico, visiting Santa Fe, Albuquerque and iconic locations on Route 66 such as Winslow, Arizona (“Standin’ on a Corner”) and Gallup, New Mexico before returning to Vegas.

Numerous trips to San Francisco, Tahoe, Vegas as well as the North East (of the U.S, not England!) followed, as the Southern states, other than Florida, failed to seduce us sufficiently into venturing in their direction. Maybe their racist past (and present), Christian fundamentalism and gun culture all have had something to do with it. Moreover, the scene from Easy Rider where the main protagonists get short shrift in a southern diner still haunts me, and the song by Folkestone band, the Transients, entitled They Don’t Like Hippies in Baton Rouge, only serves to exacerbate the anxiety.

But now, with mid-term elections looming and the divisions in America widening, we have chosen this moment to plunge ourselves into the belly of Trumpsylvania, though a Californian friend’s recent assertion that we were essentially visiting “blue cities in red states” is a comforting and far from innacurate one.

So what is the attraction of this particular itinerary that has stubbornly refused to disappear from our vacation radar?

The Blues Highway, essentially Highway 61, runs, for the most part alongside the mighty Mississippi, from New Orleans  to Chicago and traces the migration of many African Americans from the Deep South to the Northern cities following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Equally, it charts (sic) the development of the major music genres for which we are so much indebted to the United States for, principally the blues and gospel (Mississippi delta, Memphis, St Louis and Chicago), but also jazz (New Orleans), cajun and zydeco (Lafayette), country (Nashville) and soul (Memphis again, and not forgetting Elvis!).

After an initial overnight stay in Newark, New Jersey (flights from the UK being so much cheaper), we fly to the “Big Easy” for four nights before hitting the road with single overnight stays in Lafayette, Vicksburg and Clarksdale. A three night residence in Memphis follows before we head east to Nashville for four nights, arriving on the eve of my birthday.

From “Music City” we cross country back to the main road for three nights in St Louis, followed by a night in Peoria before arriving in the “Windy City” for another four nights, when we are hoping to be joined for a couple of nights by friends from San Francisco. Two nights in New York City conclude the trip before we catch our return flight from Newark.

The trip has the added bonus of introducing us to seven new states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois with brief detours through Kentucky and Arkansas. The prospect of experiencing new cultures, historic tours and spectacular scenery is, of course, exciting, but it is the music that is the driving force of the trip. Clubs, bars, museums and street musicians will, therefore, be the major focus of the next three weeks.

And we must not forget the other star of the show – the road itself.

Little thrills the blood more than the thought of exploring this amazing country by car with the radio blaring out the music style that reflects the landscape you are travelling through at the time. I am sure it will reveal some entertaining adventures as this blog grows over the coming weeks.

So let’s get on with the show!

See y’all later!

 

 

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