Day 5 & 6: Wednesday 10/8 & Thursday 10/9 – Natchez on the Mississippi
Arriving in Natchez late afternoon, we first stopped at the Visitor Center to get the lay of the city, then on to our hotel. Tired and hungry, we unloaded the beaST, cleaned up quickly, then walked to downtown for a fabulous meal at an Italian restaurant. Satiated, but beat from a long days riding, we walked back to the hotel and crawled into bed. The next morning we woke to a beautiful day and this:
The Mighty Mississippi
The Mississippi River here is wide and beautiful. Uncluttered by development, you can get a pretty good picture of what it is about this river that enthralled Mark Twain when he visited here in the 18oo’s.
On the other side of the bridge is Vidalia (as in onion), Louisiana
A barge chugging downstream
Natchez is a small city, built high on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Park your bike and leave it; this is a walking city, where everything in the city center is accessible by foot.
After breakfast, we hiked to our first stop on our walking tour, the Natchez visitor center. This visitor center is a destination in itself – everything you need to know about Natchez is right here. Natchez, being a historic city (founded 1716), has lots to tell, so do see the short movie about the history of this place if you visit.
Cycling was huge in Natchez in the late 19th century
The beginnings of the city of Natchez started with this building, a fort, built on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, Natchez was actually two cities in one. Natchez proper, built on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, was where the plantation owners and those of high social standing lived. The “other” Natchez was down by the river, below the bluffs, where the riverboat landing and docks were. This was known as “Natchez-Under-The-Hill.” As you might imagine, undesirables unfit to mingle with those of the Natchez social elite roamed the streets of Natchez-Under-The-Hill, with its saloons, bordellos, and general sleaziness that made up river life in the 18oo’s.
The road leading down to Natchez-Under-The-Hill
When riverboats plied the waters of The Big Muddy, this is where they landed in Natchez. This replica is a permanently docked casino and B&B at Natchez-Under-The-Hill.
Did Mark Twain sleep here?
So, we inquired in the saloon. This place was just too cool. We just peaked inside, and Roo & I agreed we have to come back here tonight for a beer or two before dinner. We did. More on that later.
This building (the brick one) was known as the Blue Cat Cafe back in the 1950’s. A young, musical upstart who fancied playing the blues and country music, made his way over to Natchez from across the river in Louisiana. He played here to the local crowd for a couple of summers before being noticed and told to bring his music to Nashville, TN. He went. His name was Jerry Lee Lewis, and he was the primary influence of a new genre of music known as Rockabilly.
As we climbed out from Natchez-Under-The-Hill, we came upon a beautiful riverwalk that the city had built and is expanding on. The city of Natchez is making great strides in restoring it’s historic structures and beautifying land along the Mississippi river.
We walked and walked through downtown Natchez, taking in the historical sites, looking at the beautiful old buildings, restored and unrestored, and watching the locals go about their day. We ate lunch at Slick Rick’s Cafe, and had coffee at the Natchez Coffee Company. Slowly, we were making our way to the part of town that was the first to be plotted out in the 1700’s in order to visit the oldest building in Natchez.
Unfortunately, the tavern was closed for lunch and dinner the day we visited, but Roo thought maybe looking cute in the window might get us a looky-loo inside. It didn’t (but she was cute!)
It was now dusk, and stomachs were grumbling. We grabbed a snack and started making our way back to the saloon in Natchez-Under-The-Hill for those two beers.
Inside the saloon, we ordered our beers and marveled at the decor of the place. As darkness settled and the locals wandered in, we could really get a sense of what it must have been like on the riverfront in the 19th century.
We sat at the bar with our beers and struck up a conversation with a local couple who were born and raised in Natchez. They were fascinating, telling us about growing up in Natchez in the tumultuous South in the 1950’s and 60’s, leaving town for years and then coming back home. They grew up together, dated on and off, went their separate ways, then came back to Natchez and reunited. Here they were, both now in their 70’s, telling us their fascinating story. This is what travel is all about.
As we sat talking and drinking our beers, people started to get up and walk out of the saloon. Was it something we said? Our hosts said, “Oh! You haven’t seen our famous sunset!” We got up and walked outside to this:
Sunset on the Mississippi
Wow! What a beautiful way to begin our last evening in Natchez. On to dinner, then back in the hotel to sleep. Tomorrow, we head towards Birmingham, but not before seeing more of Natchez’s treasures.
Next post: Two Up on The Trace: Antebellum Delights and the Blessing of the Motorbikes