I completed my tour of Alabama with an overnight stay in the coastal city of Mobile which combines southern charm and elegance with the vibrancy of a major industrial port. Set on the mouth of the Mobile River as it opens up into the central Gulf of Mexico, Mobile began life as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. Named after the North American Mobilian tribe which had settled the area, Mobile changed hands between the French, British and Spanish over the next 100 years all leaving their own mark, the combination of which has helped to make it the city it is today.
Don’t tell the people of New Orleans – but Mobile was the first city in North America to celebrate carnival, the period prior to lent which culminates in Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) on the day prior to Ash Wednesday. So while timid Brits everywhere gorge themselves on pancakes doused in a bit of sugar and lemon juice, the citizens of Mobile let their hair down with balls, parties and parades. The carnival season often stretches from December through to the following February.
As the birthplace of Mardi Gras, it was only fitting that the first sight on my itinerary was the Mobile Carnival Museum. The old mansion in which the museum is housed is a stunning period piece in itself and I was pleased that I overcame my initial scepticism about the attraction as it was money well spent. The museum holds an excellent a vivid collection of costumes as well as a detailed chronology of the events history. There is a small admission fee ($5 adult and $2 child at time of writing) and it is worth checking the museum website for opening times before making plans to visit.
Another attraction well worth a visit but a short drive from the city centre is the Battleship USS Alabama located at the Battleship Memorial Park. Exhibits also include submarine USS Drum and a large selection of military aircraft. The USS Alabama take pride of place and after a walking tour around the now retired Battleship it is difficult not to feel admiration for the sailors who made their home onboard in cramped, uncomfortable conditions. The admission price is approximately $12 for adults and children over 12 with a 50% discount for younger children. The Memorial Park is open every day except Christmas Day.
A brief drive through the back streets of Mobile offered a glimpse of some of the many Antebellum Homes which so beautifully adorn the southern states. It was interesting and a little disappointing to find some of the homes looking a little run-down but overall well worth a detour and many of the homes house small museums including Oakleigh House which is worth a visit for the less time-strapped traveller.
As you would expect of a Carnival city, Mobile has a vibrant nightlife with a rawness that is not available in more touristy destinations.
Much of the nightlife can be found on (and around) Dauphin Street with plenty of bars and places to eat. Live music is available in many of the bars and there is a relaxed youthful vibe throughout the area.
A brief visit is probably all Mobile needs, but I would love to visit during the Carnival season which is when this city finds its soul.