It was time to say goodbye to the state of Tennessee, my next destination for the following week or so was Austin Texas, to get there I decided to head south and then east which would take a few days. My first stop Baton Rouge Louisiana and then onto Houston Texas.
The drive from Memphis to Baton Rouge Louisiana distance is roughly 620km and to get there I crossed the states of Arkansas and Mississippi, unfortunately, my timetable didn’t allow me time to check out these states though I did make some observations from the road. The drive involved crossing over the Mississippi River four times, the total distance of the river is 3730km (which makes it the second longest in the USA) so I managed to drive along approximately 15% of it.
I crisscrossed part of the Lower Mississippi which involved driving over a variety of bridges, the river itself was quite busy with a lot of commercial shipping carrying mainly agricultural products of various sorts. I went through a few small towns which I would describe as being in a poor state, a lot of run-down neighbourhoods, abandoned houses and closed down businesses. I saw few people and there did not appear to be much activity in these places, there were however a lot of casino advertisements by the side of the road directing traffic to more affluent areas by the River. I looked at a few casinos paddle ships sitting on the river and appeared to be permanently moored. I decided not to take a look inside and none appeared to be busy, mind you it was during the day so maybe this would change in the evening. I had Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” was on the radio the and “Rolling Down the River” was an absolutely stunning drive.
After roughly an eight-hour drive, I reached my destination of Baton Rouge. Most people would probably continue onto New Orleans and I thought about it, however, I’d been there previously (and also on another trip which I’ll write about later) and decided on doing a different city for the night. Id booked into a casino which was in downtown and a reasonable price. I am not a gambler so I left after check-in and walked down to the Mississippi River to watch the sunset. I had no time to take in any tourist attractions however I did look at the USS Kidd, a floating World War 2 memorial, it was closed but made for a pleasant view.
I was hungry so headed into the downtown area, Baton Rouge has population approx. 220,000 people, so an easy downtown to walk around. There did not appear to be much going on so I headed to the first bar that appeared open and my quiet evening plans were changed immediately, I came into a courtyard area with hundreds of people dressed in running gear drinking beer. The first person I asked what was going on was an Australian which was very unexpected, I think the Aussie jogger was more surprised than I was. He happened to be living there and worked in politics, Baton Rouge is very political apparently. He introduced me to his American friends who presumed we were mates because both being Australians we had to know each other…..
In the morning with a steaming hangover and a big breakfast in my stomach, I was on the road again to Houston Texas via the city of Galveston. This is not the most direct route to Houston but I decided that I wanted some beach/swim time and were better than the Gulf of Mexico. I headed west and then south at the first opportunity off the interstate towards the Gulf. Upon reaching the coast I noticed a pungent sulphur smell (this was not good for the hangover) and that the sea had a reddish hew and appeared full of seaweed and not much in the way of wildlife.
With the air conditioning on and windows up I continued my drive along the coast and reached Goat Island on the Bolivar Peninsula. I don’t like to say bad things about the places I visit but it was difficult to enjoy the outdoors. It was to easy to see what the area was once like with large holiday homes and resorts but some of these were boarded up and no longer appeared to be in use. With the reddish sea, seaweed, effects of oil spills and lack of wildlife it makes it a hard destination to look for positives though I am glad I did as it was confronting to see the environmental impact of oil rigs on the ocean shore. At the end of the island, I caught a ferry that connects the island with the city of Galveston itself. I drive through town quite quickly which was a shame as there were a lot of really impressive old mansions that looked interesting but no time next destination Houston. So much for some beach time and a swim.
Houston is the 4th largest city in the USA with a population of around 2.5 million. The traffic was a high-speed nightmare, very congested and traffic flowing almost bumper to bumper at around 120km per hour. There are expressways zig-zagging all over the place with traffic coming in and off turnpikes and it took a lot of concentration to make my turnoff. Thanks to my navigator I brought from home I made my accommodation, an old Victorian designed mansion in the Montrose area. I met a few backpackers and walked with them for some pizza, Montrose is a “hipster” area and full of dive bars, restaurants and art galleries.
The next morning instead of heading downtown to look at the attractions I decided on doing some clothes shopping. As indicated in a previous blog at the time the AUD dollar was equivalent to the US Dollar, this made US clothes insanely cheap in comparison to my hometown of Sydney. I looked for an antique shop, purchased an old suitcase and headed to the nearest mall. I had come to America with the minimum amount of clothes and decided now was the time to expand my wardrobe so this involved walking through a triple story shopping centre an approximately 1km across purchasing trainers, jeans, t-shirts and jackets, I am not a fashionista but don’t mind some occasional retail therapy.
I still had enough time in the afternoon for a cultural activity so when I returned to the hostel I walked to one of the galleries in the area, the Menil Collection. This is a private collection of 17,000 exhibits donated to the city of Houston on behalf of the Menil family who had passed away, as a bonus it has free entry. It covers a wide variety of art forms and periods and includes works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack, I had no idea about the collection previously but feel fortunate to have viewed it.
My shopping and cultural efforts completed for the day I headed to a few dive bars. If you don’t know Dive bars are an American colloquialism for a neighbourhood bar where local people come to meet, often the bar may be run down and usually offers cheap drinks. I went to a few bars, met some locals and then headed back to the hostel for an early night, my next destination Austin Texas