Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New Orleans, Louisiana

We made it to New Orleans:

We arrived via Interstate 55, taking the Manchac Swamp Bridge (one of the longest bridges in the world), which goes through the swampy region of the Mississippi delta:

Driving over the swamp.

New Orleans is our favorite city of this RV trip so far. Its architecture is beautiful, and people are very friendly. Definitely a very unique city:

Jackson Square.

French Quarter.

This house/museum is called Madame John's Legacy and is, according to some sources, the oldest building in New Orleans.

French Market.

Goofy Easter bunny hat.

Along the Mississippi.

We went on an air boat tour to explore the swamps:

Air boats.

The huge propeller on the boat is very loud—hence the hearing protection gear. It was also down pouring right before we boarded, so we were given trash bags as "redneck ponchos."

The captain is sitting in the back.

Here is the best part: the captain from another boat spotted an alligator and went bare-feet in the muddy waist-deep water to grab it with his hands and let us hold it! This alligator was about 3-foot / 1-meter long and was about 1.5-2 years old. Alligators this young are not that strong, and at this time of the day (late morning) they were somewhat lethargic because they were not sufficiently warmed up by the sun, so this made it apparently safe enough for us to handle them:

Nervous smile ;)

The guide also managed to grab a much smaller and younger alligator, this one was about 1-foot / 30-cm long and 6-month old. It looks like a lizard with a big head:

We visited the Garden District which has superb mansions:

Home for sale: only $8 million.

When trying to leave our RV camp in New Orleans, the engine failed to start. Thinking it was a dead battery, a staff from the camp was nice enough to come and try to help jump start our RV, but it was not working. It was raining, a Sunday, and Easter Day :-( Our insurer's road-side assistance service offered to tow us somewhere, but there was no mechanics shop open this day. So we reluctantly decided to spend an extra day staying in our spot in the RV camp. I continued trying to diagnose the problem and found out later in the afternoon it was due to the ignition switch that had bad contacts that burned out due to excessive load. As a temporary fix, I cleaned them and bent them to make better contact and was able to start the engine, it worked! Apparently this is a known problem due to RV body manufacturers putting more electrical accessories on the ignition wire than the chassis manufacturer specified. By this time it was too late to start driving to our next destination, so we still spent an extra night in New Orleans. The next day we were able to drive out to buy replacement parts, I replaced the connector, and an auto-mechanic replaced the switch (a PITA compared to replacing just the connector). Finally, all worked out.

Next stop: Alabama!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Petrified Forest & Vicksburg, Mississippi

We just spent two nights in Mississippi, one in the Mississippi Petrified Forest, and one in the nearby city of Vicksburg. Here is our trip so far, with one dot where we slept each night:

(Some of these stops were just rest stops, this is why we have no blog post and nothing to say about Tucson in Arizona, or Dallas in Texas.)

We camped the RV in the campground of the Mississippi Petrified Forest itself, which was very nice. The surroundings were peaceful and quiet, unlike the campgrounds we stay at in or near some of the bigger cities:

The next day we drove to Vicksburg, which is the site of an important battle during the Civil War. Sitting on bluffs, and flanked by the Mississippi river, the town was a natural fortress and was the last city on the Mississippi river still in the hands of the Confederates. After multiple battles and a siege, it eventually fell in the hands of Union soldiers, which cut the Confederate's territory in half (East and West of the Mississippi).

A military park was established around the town, where a paved road took us a few miles through the bluffs where remnants of trenches are still visible. The park is sprinkled with plaques, statues, and little monuments describing which Confederate division fought which Union division on that day.

Shirley House: the only remaining structure from that era.

The most interesting piece of the military park was the USS Cairo boat which was sunk in 1861 when attacking Vicksburg, and 100+ years later was rediscovered at the bottom of the Mississippi river and restored:

They made seven of these ironclad warships in 100 days, but only this one was salvageable.

Vicksburg has one of the largest burial grounds for the men who died in the civil war.

Shot of the Mississippi.

Notice the remnants of trenches, built zigzaging in order to make it harder for the enemy to aim and shoot at the heads of those running in the trenches.

We spent just a little time in the city of Vicksburg itself:

Near the old courthouse.

Vicksburg was the place were Coca-Cola was first bottled. The shop doing that is now a "museum" (not worth the $3.50 price of admission—there is too little memorabilia to make it worth it):

This was about the only interesting exhibit: an old machine to carbonate the Coca-Cola bottles.

At the soda fountain.

Next stop: New Orleans!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Memphis, Tennessee

We reached Memphis where our first stop was the Lorraine Motel where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The Lorraine Motel was transformed into a museum, the National Civil Rights Museum which documents the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the US:

Motel sign.

Wreath on the balcony in front of his room (#306).

The only area of the motel that was preserved as is was MLK's room (shown here) and his friends' room.

The killer shot a rifle from a window on the second floor of this building (a boarding house) across the street, which is also part of the museum complex.

Various pieces of evidence belonging to the killer, including his rifle.

Next we hopped to Pink Palace Museum, which is a really strange place. It is the former mansion of a Memphis businessman who developed self-check out at grocery stores (compared to having a clerk at a general store get your list and pick out all the items for you). He became so indebted he had to give his mansion to the city of Memphis. It is now used as a museum with exhibits covering archaeology, medicine, the Civil War, attractions from Memphis, etc. There is no coherent theme, it really is an amalgam of exhibits. And because it is a mansion, the shape and size of rooms is all weird for presenting exhibits. A very strange museum.

Pink Palace.
Inside one of the random rooms.

Example of exhibit: a model circus.

Example of exhibit: replica of the first self-service grocery store (with shopping carts, checkout stands, etc), which was the Piggly Wiggly, founded by the then-owner of the Pink Palace.

Example of exhibit: drugstore from the early 20th century.

We stopped by the Peabody Hotel which is a fancy hotel in downtown Memphis, but is also famous for ducks that are trained to come swim in its indoor fountain in the lobby. A "duckmaster" takes them to the fountain everyday in the morning and takes them out at precisely 5pm. There were hundreds of visitors around us to watch the ducks at 5pm!

Duckmaster (man in red) walking the ducks out of the fountain.
At the duck fountain.

Lauren in the Peabody Hotel.

Beale Street in Memphis.

Memphis is the home of Elvis Presley's home—Graceland—which we visited. The tour is high-tech: visitors are given headphones and iPads, and an interactive presentation was played on the iPads as we walked across the property:


Audio tour.

Graceland living room.

Graceland TV room.

Many awards given to Presley.

Original concert clothes worn by Presley.

Presley's grave.

Memphis is the location of one of Gibson's guitar factories. We saw how they process the wood, cut it, shape it, add the strings, paint and polish the guitars. I was surprised how everything was done by hand. They seem to have about 50-100 workers, and we were told this factory outputs about 60 guitars per day. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed inside.

Outside the factory.

Admiring the nice, but expensive guitars.

Finally we took a short walk down the banks of the Mississippi:

Next stop: the Mississippi!