The last stop on our road trip was New Orleans. I had, of course, heard a lot about it, but I had no idea what to expect. And regardless, whatever I would have imagined would not have been even close to what the city is. It’s something completely different. I didn’t even feel like I was in the U.S. anymore. Not just the architecture (Southern French/Spanish) is different from what is found elsewhere in the U.S., but also the atmosphere. We stayed mostly in the French Quarters, but even other areas, such as the Garden District, had a completely different feel to it than any other place I have been to in the U.S. While the tourists have taken over certain institutions in the city, like Café du Monde (one of the cafes that serve the famous beignet pastries), the French Market, and the passenger river boats (we took a tour on a steam boat since it was a childhood dream of mine), the city seems to have preserved its identity and uniqueness well. The Port of New Orleans is also one of the second in the U.S. in terms of volume and manages a majority of the U.S. grain exports among other goods, so tourism is definitely not the only sector that drives the economy. We were lucky to sit at the same breakfast table our first day as two local ladies who gave us the dos and don’ts of tourism in the city, which was very helpful. The food was excellent (mainly Creole, Cajun, and South European, but we also had lunch at really good West African cafe one day), and the were restaurants really nice, often in bistro style. And there was great live music in most bars every evening. If going to the U.S., New Orleans is definitely a must-see! Even after three days, I wanted to stay longer.
One of the main highlights for me on this road trip was the Mississippi River. I think everyone has these books that somehow affected their lives profoundly, and the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were definitely such books for me. They were some of the first books that made me want to be out on adventures: to travel and explore places, which of course is a sentiment that still steers my life. Because of Huck and Tom, the river itself has always been a symbol for for freedom and adventures (and I know that the former is a bit ironic given Jim’s role and the existence of slavery in the books, but keep in mind that I read them as an 8-year old Swedish girl in the 80s). So I was very excited when I saw Mississippi River for the first time little outside Vicksburg. It’s really impressive! It’s actually the world’s fourth or fifth largest river (depending on how it’s counted) and brings out a third of the U.S. fresh water outflows, from 32 American states and even from Canada. In many places, there are no bridget because of how the water flows, so it’s very powerful and yet, it looks very calm.
We passed through Vicksburg and had lunch at the Inn Walnut Hills and then stayed over night in Natchez further south (at the town’s Grand Hotel actually because it was so cheap). Vicksburg was one of these sleepy towns that seemed to almost empty. Once upon a time, it had been a major trade center along the river, and apparently the first Coca Cola was bottled here, but there was little left now except a few antique stores along Washington Street. Walnut Hills served great Southern Comfort Food, though. Natchez was more alive and seemed to be more than just a destination for tourists. We had a great dinner at Cotton Alley Cafe on Main Street and a drink down in the old harbor. In the morning, we went for a walk around town and did a tour of the impressive Rosalie Mansion, before getting back on the road again.
There wasn’t really room in my last post for all the photos that I took those two days, so here is a few from Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery has a central place in the history of the South: first as the original capital of the Confederacy in the 1860s, before it moved to Richmond, Virginia, and then as the setting for much of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. Montgomery was where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for white passengers, which set off the Bus Boycott and eventually put an end to different forms of institutional segregation. Martin Luther King was at the time a minister in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and led the Movement from there. It was extremely hot that day but we took a few hours to walk around and see some of the places where these events took place.
Our next stop after Beaufort and Southport was Charleston in South Carolina. I had high expectations before we got there. Based on a diverse set of novels and films from childhood and onwards, I’ve always thought of Charleston as a romantic place: sophisticated and mysterious at the same time. And I was definitely not disappointed – quite the opposite! The city was far more beautiful than I could ever have imagined and so different from anything I’ve seen in the U.S.
We took a guided tour around the city and as our guide pointed out, there are not historic quarters in Charleston as in many other towns that we’ve been to; Charleston is a historic city. The architecture is really unique, inspired from the south of Europe but developed into its own style. I love the East Coast and New England-style architecture with its small brick and wooden houses in pretty colors, but Charleston’s large mansions with large verandas and grandiose decorations are really something else. At the same time, it’s a living city with an emerging high tech industry and with only little over 5 percent unemployment. So definitely not a dormant museum town.
Apart from the guided tour, we had dinner at a small French place the first night, walked around a bit the next day and watched the Pride Parade, which coincided with our stay. I think I’ve found my no 2 favorite city in the U.S. (no 1, of course, being NY) and I’m already planning to spend a weekend there sometime in the next months.
Unfortunately, I was too fascinated by the city to remember to take out mu camera, so these are basically the only photos I have:
After a lovely two-hour ferry ride (so nice to be out on open water!), we drove down to the little coastal town of Beaufort. We had no idea where to stay so we just drove down to the historic quarters and asked for a room at the first inn that we saw. It was a beautiful colonial house from the 1760s. We got a small suite in the attic called the Captain’s Quarters (perfect!), and I slept so well. Apparently, Cedar’s Inn is famous for its restaurant but we ended up going down to a place in the harbor just to look around a bit. The morning after, we took a stroll around town and it was incredibly charming. Small Southern-style houses with the double verandas. Several of the locals also recommended us to stop by Southport on the way down to Savannah, and the guy at the inn even recommended a place to eat: The Provision Company. So we did as they said and had a very nice lunch in a charming little town that we otherwise never would have found. I can really recommend both Beaufort and Southport for anyone who is in the area, and definitely a night at Cedar’s Inn!
Tuesday morning last week, Jonas and I finally left DC on our long-planned road trip through the Southern states. We started talking about this trip shortly after we got back from last year’s road trip, which went through Arizona, Nevada, and California, and passed amazing places like the Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon, and Death Valley. But the truth is that seeing the American South has been a dream of mine ever since I read the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and later when I saw films about the American Civil War. And our plan is to see it all: Charleston, Savannah, the steam boats on the Mississippi River, plantations, abandoned ghost towns, swamps and reptiles, and finally the French Quarters in New Orleans.
At the time of writing this post, we were waiting for a ferry on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. Another ferry had brought us there a few hours ago from North Carolina’s beautiful Outer Banks, where we stayed for one night, in Kill Devil Hills! I can recommend both the Outer Banks, and the Otracoke Island even more, for anyone who wants a beac vacation. Virginia Beach, which was our first stop on Tuesday, is a pale comparison. The exception being the restaurant where we had dinner, Tautogs Restaurant. Charming, authentic, and with fantastic seafood (I had oyster as first course and scallops and pilaf for main course) and nice people working there, I wish it was a located a little closer to DC because I would definitely be a regular!