Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
With time closing in on our road trip, we left Texas behind and headed to Louisiana. In terms of driving there really wasn’t anything to write. Leaving Austin, we hit Highway 71, joined Interstate 10 through Houston, then Lake Charles and Baton Rouge to New Orleans. A motorway cruise but a fair trade off in exchange for reaching one of America’s most eclectic cities in time to enjoy the evening.
Eight hours inside a car in the UK would be regarded as a monster drive, London to Glasgow or similar. Being here as long as we have (I say we, I mean me as Renée is an actual American) reprogrammed time and distance. Getting to NoLa (New Orleans, Louisiana), over 500 miles away was something we now took in our stride.
ACE Hotel, New Orleans
We know the ACE having stayed there in LA on a previous trip. The rooms just about pass but where they excel is their recreation areas. They usually have a decent restaurant and a very good bar. The one in New Orleans matched up perfectly and they have done a great job of capturing the local vibe.
By the time we arrived it was dark – maybe the best time to come into this exciting city. Parking on the street in the valet area instantly showed the how chilled out people are. There is limited space outside the ACE, parking is at a premium, and it is busy, yet the two valets wanted to talk about the car, tell me what they liked, and were not in the slightest bit interested in parking it after they had realised it was a right-hand drive manual (or somehow knew I wouldn’t want anyone to drive it). I asked one of them where we should put it and he suggested the lot right opposite. He also said he’d keep an eye on it. Nice guys.
When I’d booked the room, all I could get was one with two queen beds. Checking in at the desk they asked if we really wanted two beds, and given we had still not annoyed each other to that point despite being in a car together for countless days over the past weeks, the answer was no we didn’t. Another upgrade followed, this one with a leather sofa seating area and a big terrace. The girl on the desk also asked if we wanted to eat and gave us a recommendation for Seaworthy a few doors down who serve until late. I instantly liked New Orleans. It just felt the right place to be.
The freakishness of New Orleans started as soon as the bags were unloaded in the room and I returned to the lifts on our floor to go down and move the car. Some spaced out woman was hovering around, swaying from alcohol or drugs I guess, with a small girl. I heard her talking but didn’t think it was to me, then I realised it was to me: “You’re not some weirdo, right?” Without doubt the craziest thing I’ve heard in weeks. A weirdo asking if I’m a weirdo! I laughed, got in the lift with the young girl (she was maybe 10 years old). Before the doors could close weird woman starts again while pointing at me: “I see you. Porsche guy, right?” She wasn’t in the lift on my way up from reception so how the hell could she know this? Clearly a witch, the doors couldn’t close quick enough. I asked the young girl if it was her Mom? She had a big smile telling me it was.
I see you. Porsche guy, right?
Late night dinner and cocktails don’t get much better than this. Sitting at the bar, ordering small plates and working our way through the drinks menu. Instantly relaxed after the long day of driving and soaking up the atmosphere of this special part of America.
During the day, New Orleans becomes touristy. Bourbon Street is one of the obvious destinations on the trail but probably isn’t the place to experience the French Quarter. You only need to step on the streets ether side for it calm down and see the place for what it is, and how it once was. The architecture is similar to that of Charleston, but there’s no question New Orleans has its own, unique identity steeped in the history of this great country; its battles over who controls it, who controls who, what religions are practiced in it, music, voodoo… you can still see the evidence of it all it you look and listen closely and it is fascinating.
One of my favourite actors, Nicholas Cage has adopted New Orleans as his spiritual home. Leaving Last Vegas is one of the great films of our time, and Cage, who’s of the Coppola family so shouldn’t have any problems in life, is a complete train wreck. One of those people you can look up to for their achievements but also take solace in when you’re going through a rough patch. Whatever decision you’ve made to get yourself into any mess you find yourself in, you can rest assured it will be nothing compared to a Cage mess.
The most severely haunted house in the United States of America
Cage has owned a fair bit of property in New Orleans, the well-known one being the LaLaurie Mansion, previously the home of Madame LaLaurie who for many years tortured her slaves on the property. She’d chain them up in the attic, break their bones and reset the limbs in a different position, drill holes in their heads. The kind of things that would make you want to haunt a place from the afterlife. Allegedly Cage only ever spent one night at LaLaurie’s old house and was too freaked out by what he experienced to sleep there again. He also owned the infamous Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel, another haunting hot spot.
She’d chain them up in the attic, break their bones and reset the limbs in a different position.
New Orleans cemeteries
There are a few of these scattered around the French Quarter. We chose to visit St. Louis Cemetery No.1, parking up on the street nearby opposite the Arrow Café and paying a $20 each admission fee for a tour – some of the best money we’d spent on this trip. We’d paid a ridiculous $25 to park the 993 for two hours at 9:30pm in overpriced Austin, yet here we can park for free and get a tour guide full of knowledge for a similar amount. I won’t share everything that the guide told us, it was more than worth it to learn of the site’s past, battles with the English, the story of Marie Laveau (the queen of voodoo) who’s tomb is here, arguments about film makers disrespecting the cemetery (among them Easy Rider)… it went on and on. All this is heat so fierce I thought I would pass out.
The story of St. Louis Cemetery No.1 I will share from the guide is of one of an odd, unoccupied pyramid mausoleum. Plots here are scarce, and off the scale expensive. Marie Laveau, the most prominent practitioner of voodoo in Louisiana rests here with some believing her powers remain strong from the grave. That somehow even though she has been dead for almost 140 years, Laveau could grant a wish or lift a curse if you ask at her tomb.
Local rumour has it that Nicholas Cage believes he was cursed for buying the LaLaurie Mansion. They think that’s why be bought the pyramid here in the hope that by being close to her, Marie Laveau will lift the spell. Cage has not actually said that anywhere, it is an urban myth. And it seems more plausible that the other theories relating to him being an Illuminati member, or that it is a nod to his National Treasure movie trilogy (also Illuminati).
Anyway, Cage lost all his property in New Orleans to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when they were chasing him for unpaid taxes, and they briefly took the tomb before his lawyers pointed out they are not allowed to take a grave. Maybe Laveau worked a little something for him?
Driving New Orleans
This is a great place to drive around at night if you are still sober, or early in the morning before it wakes up. However, there is one extra danger to look out for – trams (trollies). There are places that have these in the UK but they are not places I go, so I am pretty much unfamiliar with them. I’ve come across them driving in Europe and just try to get out of the way quickly whenever I see one. The same thinking was applied here as they don’t look like they are to be reckoned with.
Eating, drinking, music
Along with the tripods I’d left in Tennessee and the charger for one of the Macbooks (why don’t they all use the same charger?), I’d forgotten to pack a razor. Spotting the Parker Barber, a guy called Cheetahheel in there did his best to make me respectable again, and perhaps more importantly this US based West Ham United fan told us exactly how to roll through the French Quarter. “Get a beer at the first bar you see on the corner of Bourbon, walk down Bourbon with it, get off and go eat at Peche on Magazine Street”. Fine advice as Peche is a local’s spot, a good one serving some nice creole food and decent cocktails.
Coffee from Stumptown. The Bars in the ACE are superb, as was the live music. You could do much of New Orleans in this one hotel, or at least within a few blocks. What you can’t do at the ACE is swim. To the people who come here a pool is something you stand in with a stiff one (drink). No way either of us were going in the water – we didn’t have a course of antibiotics in our luggage.
Late into the night we had a choice to make before morning: keep on rolling towards Florida or head back up to Tennessee We’d heard much about the 30a road on Florida’s Emerald Coast and its great beaches. Our problem on out last night was that we could not find a decent hotel last minute.
NoLa had really delivered. Going somewhere that could potentially be a let-down (as in the hotel, not Florida) might allow some of the magic to escape. Having covered close to seven thousand miles this far, and the humidity rising sharply as we continued eastward along the coast, the appeal of the cool Smoky Mountains of Tennessee was hard to deny. We wouldn’t have wanted Austin to be our last ‘on-the-road’ stopover, but the Big Easy in Louisiana seemed right, it’s a hard place to top. It was time to head north.
Passing through Mississippi and Alabama
Our trip began in Tennessee and ends in Tennessee. To get back there we headed out along the coast to Gulfport and then up through the Desoto National Forest in Mississippi, a dash across Alabama back to our own base camp at the foot of the Smokeys in East Tennessee. It was well over 10 hours of driving and nowhere near enough time to begin to get a flavour for these interesting places. There are some things I’d like to see here like the Museum of Wonder, a drive thru museum in Alabama and the Mississippi house Elvis grew up in. Another time.
De Soto was a great place to drive through. No traffic, no patrol cars, it’s a pretty forest and an ideal place for pushing a 911 of any era. The car is at odds with the pace of life here but no one complained. Not that we saw anyone to complain.
This was the last long slog of effort crossing America, tomorrow we’d be with family in Tennessee and enjoying a slower pace with no fixed itinerary. Somewhere in Alabama we managed to pull off a near perfect pit-stop, combining Shell V-Power Nitro+ with Dunkin Donuts and a Taco Bell before pushing onto the Tennessee state line. It was tiring, Steak ‘n Shake milkshakes were needed about an hour from the final destination. There are far too many temptations on US roads, I’ll be lucky to return home without a coronary or diabetes.