USA – Southern States 2

Whiter than white sandy beaches on Florida’s Panhandle. Joie de vivre with Jazz & Blues in New Orleans. American history along the Mississippi.

7 January – 25 January 2020

Experience with the U.S. health care system

Back in Florida, we’re looking for a campsite in Sopchoppy, in Florida’s Panhandle, so I can cure myself. When after two days I still don’t get much better and there is a rash, we go to a hospital. The doctor there thinks it could be Dengue and sends me to Tallahassee to a larger hospital. I stay there for a total of three days.

One night I have to sleep in the emergency room, because there are no more rooms available. In the emergency room there is a constant coming and going, especially at night. It’s really as you know it from TV. There is even one person being escorted by police. Sleep is unthinkable. First, it’s too noisy and secondly, the bed is too uncomfortable. This way I get to know how the different patients are doing next to my room. There is so much going on that not even all patients can be treated in an emergency room. They then have to endure on chairs in the corridors. Luckily, I get a single room on the hospital ward on the second day.

If you’re wondering now if I had to pay the hospital bill myself in advance and it almost ruined me: No. I didn’t have to pay a penny myself. The system works like ours: if you are insured, the hospital will contact the insurance company. If you are not insured, the hospital writes off the amount. In my opinion, at least in Tallahassee, no one is left dying at the entrance just because they have no insurance.

Sandy beaches whiter than white

After my release from the hospital we stay one more night in Tallahassee. After that we head west and want to stay for a while at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, which is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, so that I can fully recover. We drive past pretty beach villages with brightly colored houses. At the hospital we were told that there are the most beautiful and whitest sandy beaches in this area of Florida. This is not a lie! The sand dunes that are located between the villages are indeed snow-white. Perhaps this effect is amplified by the fog.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore has been part of the national park network since 1971. It covers the islands on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico (or on the southern land coast, depending on how you see it) and extends over a good 257km between the states of Florida and Mississippi. The islands off Alabama are not part of the national park. About 4/5 of the National Seashore is underwater. This part is the longest state-protected seacoast in the United States. Six different ecosystems characterize the National Seashore and provide habitat for countless land and aquatic life, including over 400 species of fish and 300 species of birds. Sea turtles can also be observed in the bays. The sand dunes are snow-white and fine as powdered sugar. Some of them are interspersed with sea oats, which helps to keep the barrier islands together. Fort Pickens, which gives the campsite its name, was built between 1829 and 1834 and was part of the defense system on the U.S. coast. It is the largest in the area and was built by slaves. It was used to protect Pensacola Bay and the naval shipyard therein. Fort Pickens itself is also worth seeing. The booklet you get at the registration contains very good information about the history and individual rooms of the fort.

On the other side of the bay is Naval Air Station Pensacola, the largest naval airbase in the US Navy (to most of us probably known from the TV series “Pensacola – Wings of Gold”). It employs 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian employees. It is an important base for training flights. We can see some of them, including those by helicopter. In addition, the Navy’s aerobatic team, the Blue Angels, are stationed on the base. Also on the base is the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Unfortunately, we cannot visit the museum, as it will remain closed to visitors until further notice due to a fatal incident in which involved a foreign soldier who was there for training.

Fort Pickens Campground is beautifully located on Pensacola Bay. When registering for a campsite, a Swiss talks to us in English, and that we should come by visit him. This is a matter of honour and we promise to visit him. His name is Ernst and his wife is Helen. They emigrated from Switzerland to Canada about 40 years ago and spend their winters in the warmer south. They are travelling with a Fifth Wheel. It was bound to happen and we meet another Swiss couple. Sibylle and Hermann have been travelling for almost two years with middle schnauzer dog Shell in their vehicle, which they have affectionately christened D-Hai. Six Swiss on the same campground, that must be celebrated – for four days!

Ernst turns out to be a great barbecue expert and cooks for all of us a super delicious BBQ with Spare Ribs. Swisslike, we others contribute potato gratin and Helen noodle salad. Since the temperatures don’t always allow us to sit by the fire in the evening, we can be with Ernst and Helen in the Fifth Wheel and are not only spoiled with cookies from home! Even during the day we know how to busy ourselves, be it with relaxation, walking on the beach or giving Fabian a new hairstyle. He feels that his hair is far too long! So I work the scissors while he starts at the same time with his electric shaver. The poor thing eventually conkes out and Hermann helps out with his. The result is impressive!

Pure joie de vivre in New Orleans

Sibylle and Hermann are heading west to Houston for the time being, while Ernst and Helen are moving more eastwards. So it is obvious that we will travel a bit with Sibylle and Hermann. We all want to see New Orleans, or “N’awlins,” as the American tourists would say. It is not that easy with the pronunciation of the name of this place. Europeans know Orléans from France, so we call it ‘New Orlins’. Probably not so correct… As I said, from American tourists you hear “N’awlins.” Quite wrong. The locals simply say “New Awlins”. All clear, right?

This city is just great and discovering it togehter is twice as much fun! The French Quarter has a lively atmosphere. Everything is coloured, the advertisements, decorations of the bars or the houses themselves and music from different bars sounds everywhere. People are happy and dancing in the street. When visiting a bar, you can’t go wrong, because there is something for every music lover. We simply let ourselves float in the streets and discover rustic shops or experience the pure joie de vivre when an impromptu jazz concert is given on the street. The live bands in the restaurants are also great. If you want to hear one, you should stay for dinner. At noon there are often no concerts.

Culinary cuisine should not be missed by tasting Gumbo (seafood stew) and Jambalaya (rice dish with chicken), both specialties of Creole cuisine. The Beignets (some sort of doughnuts with a lot of icing) didn’t convince me personally.

New Orleans also has something to offer architecturally. The balconies of the colourful houses in the French Quarter are decorated with beautiful wrought-iron railings. Did you know that in New Orleans there is a difference between balcony and gallery? We didn’t either. A balcony is a balcony as we know it. A gallery is also a balcony with the difference that it has support pillars stretching over the entire height of the building. Also a peculiarity of New Orleans are the so-called Shotgun Houses. Characteristics of these houses are that they are relatively long and rectangular and usually not more than 3.5 meters wide. They don’t have a hallway. That’s why the three to five rooms are directly connected to each other. There is a front door at each end of the house. It is said that when someone fires a gun at one front door, the bullet flies out unhindered on the other side with the doors open, without causing any damage. Hence the name Shotgun House.

Personally, I find cemeteries quite exciting to look at, but I can understand that this is not for everyone. But in New Orleans, it’s recommended to do that. We visited St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, one of the larger ones in New Orleans. The graves are not as small as in the European cemeteries but resemble rather small houses, complete with fence. That’s why the locals call the cemeteries cities of the dead. The reason for the large graves is that the dead are buried above ground, otherwise the coffins would simply float away because of the high groundwater level. This method has proved best for the early settlers. Who wants coffins floating around in the village after a strong thunderstorm? In addition, it is quite common to bury several family members in the same grave. On the gravestones there are sometimes ten or more names. How do they all fit in there? Well, Louisiana usually has a very hot and humid climate, especially in summer. The graves have an effect like small ovens. You can think of the rest…. After about a year, only bones remain, which are pushed into a small gap at the end of the grave to make room for the next family member. Some of the dates of the deceased date back to the penultimate century.

We would have liked to stay longer in New Orleans, but there is still too much to discover on our journey and the four of us move further west.

Via Natchez Trace Parkway to Vicksburg

The trail leads us along the Mississippi, through Baton Rouge to Natchez. We imagined the way along the river to be a little more romantic. The route is lined with petrochemical factories and unfotunately, the river with its huge dikes is practically never seen. And when you see it, you can see the huge freighters that serve the factories. Although this is not very attractive in terms of landscape, it is an interesting experience, since there is probably no guidebook describing where the petrochemical industry is at home.

In Natchez we visit the beautiful Antebellum houses for which the place is famous. Natchez is also the starting (or ending point) of the Natchez Trace Parkway, an old trade and travel route that runs about 714 km from Natchez to Nashville. The route is more than 10,000 years old and was first used by the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians and later also by merchants, soldiers, slave traders and travelers. In the early 18th century, the so-called “Kaintucks”, boatmen from Kentucky, sailed their goods down the Mississippi to New Orleans, sold everything there, including their rafts, and trekked home via the Natchez Trace. You can see the old way especially well in those places that have sunk quite low, because there the ground is relatively soft. There are also many historical sites to visit, such as the Emerald Mound, one of the largest Indian burial mounds in the USA or Mount Locust, the last of more than 50 inns along the old route. The road still leads through a lot of nature. In some cases, the route is overhanging from low-hanging branches and it is advantageous to have a not too high motorhome with you.

On the way we stay at the Grand Gulf Military Park Campground in Port Gibson. A very nicely located campsite near the banks of the Mississippi. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to the river because it flooded the area. Instead we could enjoy a beautiful sunset from the observation tower.

Arriving in Vicksburg, we stock ourselves up with information about the Vicksburg National Military Park. It is a driveable area that makes the front line in the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states in the battle for Vicksburg tangible. Impressive to see how close the soldiers have come in part. Striking detail on the sidelines: General Ulysses S. Grant (for the Northern States) could not take Vicksburg, because the city is strategically located very well. Only through the nearly six-week siege and the fact that the Southern soldiers were sick and poorly fed, the southern states General Pemberton capitulated. Thus, the Unionists had achieved their goal and divided the secessionist states in the middle.

In Vicksburg we say goodbye to Sibylle and Hermann. They continue to Houston and we would like to visit friends in Texas and visit Austin and San Antonio. It was a nice time with Sibylle and Hermann and we hope to see them again soon on our journey.

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