Saturday, 14 August 2010

Mobile, Alabama

When I arrived in Mobile (Alabama) it was raining - a great start to my visit. As it was also before 10.00 a.m. Dauphin Street, which I had been told is “where it’s all happening”, was as dead as a Dodo. I looked around and decided that Mobile was like a Southern Belle past her prime. Fortunately the sun soon put in an appearance and I quickly fell in love with this gorgeous Southern Belle.
For an immediate cheer up I found a muffin shop and settled in a corner with hot coffee and a delicious lemon and caraway muffin. By the time I’d finished Dauphin Street was coming to life. Businesses were opening up and people were strolling up and down.
My first visit was to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Bienville Square. With its rather stern classical frontage, complete with Corinthian columns it is a surprise when you get inside. A fabulous soaring azure blue ceiling (complete with gold stars) arches across the nave, at the end of which is a blue sanctuary with a red and gold ceiling. On the front of the altar is a wonderful carving of the Last Supper and above it is a bronze canopy.
As I left the Cathedral I looked over to the right and noticed a small white wooden house. My curiosity was piqued. It is the Portier House and was built in 1833 for Michael Portier, who was the first Bishop of Mobile.
Bienville Square (pictured), is one of several restful corners in the city and the sun was causing the water of the fountains to glitter like a multitude of sequins.
The best thing to do before beginning to discover the joys of Mobile is to do what I did next. Go to the Welcome Center and Historic Museum at Fort Conde.
As well as picking up lots of information about the city, including self-guided walking tours of the historic districts, there is a video about Mobile to watch. Fort Conde itself is a replica of the 18th century French fort and is where costumed guides give free tours.
I love the story about the streets of Mobile. They were originally paved with wood blocks which, when the roads flooded, would float away. That wasn’t the only reason why the wood blocks disappeared – homes in those days had open fireplaces and what more convenient for lighting the fire than wood blocks!
While giving a demonstration of the firing of a musket our guide explained that the saying “flash in the pan” comes from the flash in the pan of the musket as it is fired. He had lots of other bits of information like that.
In the museum are two rooms, one representing a room where the regular soldiers bedded down – very basic - and the other is an Officer’s bedroom. While looking at the Officer’s room some schoolchildren were asked to point out the differences – such as the bed, chest of drawers etc. What was the first thing they noticed? A certain item of pottery ware – the chamber pot.
Leave it to children to provide a laugh!
Not far from Mobile are places such as Bellingrath House and Gardens, the Estuarium (an aquarium) and some beaches.