On the chilly morning of Oct. 6, a group of 26 travelers and one bus driver left Elmdale Recreational Center in Hutchinson. On the chilly afternoon of Oct. 14, the same 27 people returned to Elmdale Recreational Center. We covered a couple thousand miles and several southern states in those eight days.

A motley and diverse crew were we. In age we ranged from the mid-50s through the mid-80s. We were mostly retired, including several teachers and healthcare professionals. We signed up for a variety of reasons -- some wanted to gamble in the casinos, while others were looking for gifts for themselves or their grandchildren. Others were there for sightseeing.

We spent the bulk of our time in Mississippi and Louisiana. Our home base for four evenings was a casino and hotel in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. We left there to visit other casinos and area attractions on the Gulf Coast.

We had several highlights on our trip, beginning with our stay in Natchitoches, Louisianna on Oct. 7. We wound our way through several narrow streets before arriving at our destination, the Chateau St. Denis Hotel. My first impression of the hotel was not very positive: just another old building in an old part of town. My revised impression was totally different.

The hotel was built in 2016 and it was filled with quality art and furniture reproductions. All in all, a delightful experience. My only regret was that we were scheduled to spend only one afternoon and evening there, and the one day was on a Sunday when most of the shops and tours weren’t open. Natchitoches is steeped in history, and I wish we could have spent another day there.

New Orleans highlights included a trip through a working warehouse and design studio where workers were tearing down old floats from previous Mardi Gras and repurposing them to fit the themes of the 2019 Mardi Gras. The reshaping and remolding is a fascinating process: to see Howdy Doody turn into Superman turn into Gandalf is a little eerie!

No trip to New Orleans would be complete without spending some time in the French Quarter and Bourbon Street (Bourbon Street was one of the few places not flooded by Hurricane Katrina). As the sun went down, the dresses got shorter, the parties got wilder and the drunks got noisier. We closed the evening by listening to some improv jazz while sipping some mango and Southern Comfort slushies and eating some of New Orleans favorite exports, beignets. Those little French pastries covered with powdered sugar were delicious.

We also took a paddle wheeler cruise down the Mississippi to visit the site of the Battle of New Orleans where future President Andrew Jackson defeated the British. On the way back to the port, our tour guide gave us the inside scoop on what really happened with Hurricane Katrina. Our guide was not at all complimentary about the way the Federal Emergency Management Administration handled the crisis.

Returning home, we stopped at the Louisiana state museum in Baton Rouge, one of the best and most comprehensive museums I’ve seen in many years. Among other things I discovered that Louisiana has more Indian mounds than any other place in North America, some dating back to 4000 BCE and predating the building of the Egyptian pyramids. The museum has two floors, and I never got to the second floor because I was so engrossed by what I found on the first floor.

The Southerners we met epitomized Southern hospitality. People saw us with our tell-tale tourist lanyards and stopped to ask us, “Now, just where are y’all from?” Usually, they stopped to visit long enough to “shoot the breeze.”

I must close with a plug for the Hutchinson Recreation Commission. Since it is a not-for-profit entity, the trips it sponsors are very affordable. Package trips like the one we took average around $100 per person per day. The cost includes most gratuities, admission to all the venues and approximately half the meals. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy the convenience of not having to drive and worry about the weather or traffic.
We are looking forward to our next trip.

Jim Schinstock is a retired teacher. Email: schinjc@yahoo.com