LOVE TO WANDER
This has been such a great trip - good music, food with soul and one warm welcome after another. It may seem like an unlikely destination for a honeymoon, but it is definitely where I would have chosen to spend mine!
I never had much time for history at school, but I really enjoyed seeing modern history being brought to life in the Deep South and appreciated how important it is to an understanding of the world we live in today.
When to go: April is definitely a good time to go. The Summers are hot, humid and mosquito ridden. The winters are cold and dark.
With hindsight: I would definitely have allowed more time in Nashville and planned Memphis much more carefully in advance (it was very frenetic trying to cram everything in). New Orleans to Nashville is definitely the best way round to do this trip, in my view - save the best until last.
Highlights: Too many to list - always the sign of a really great holiday. They are all in the blog.
Lowlights: There were one or two uncomfortable incidents with panhandlers etc. - particularly in Memphis. You do need to take care here, particularly at night.
Photos I wished I had taken :
The three little boys dancing their hearts out at the front the movie show at the Country Music Hall of Fame. One was a lot better than the other two and there was some very amusing stiff rivalry going on between them. They never missed a beat. Great exercise - the film lasted 20 minutes!
The all American family out for the day at the Nashville Draft. The two little kids (brother and sister) both sported large cowboy hats and the cutest little cowboy boots you can imagine. Happiness is ...!
The Hermitage hotel by day - there is a painting in the lobby I would have liked to have replicated, but trees are all in the way of the view now and you just can't get far back enough to do it justice.
The Country Music Hall of Fame all lit up at night.
Wish I had seen: An alligator.
Foodie First Regrets: I never got to try Ooey Gooey
and now for The Awards:
Best Hotel: The Hermitage, Nashville
Best Cocktail: The Smoked Old Fashioned, Etch, Nashville
Best Breakfast: Sunday Brunch - The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville
Best Lunch : Lunchbox Eats, Memphis
Best Dinner: Etch, Nashville
Best Experience: Stephanie Layne - Sweet Magnolia Tours, Nashville
2nd Best Tour: New Orleans School of Cooking (too good to leave out of the awards!)
The Deep South has suffered so much - from the slavery days, through the Civil War, the bitter struggles for civil rights and votes for women and World War. The power of music to excite, soothe, entertain and unite people has pulled all these threads of history together over the years and is still very much what this area is all about today.
Many thanks to Alice Young at Audley Travel for putting together such a memorable trip for us - it was perfect. #The AudleyWay
What I missed most: My family: Becky (for the breakfasts and the cooking school), Tom (for the BBQs and the football) and Nicky (shopping for boots and the cocktails). Oh - and a nice cup of English tea!
"Bye y'all - Keep Safe"
Next trip: Picos de Europa - searching for Spring/Summer wildflowers in the mountains ...
The 1800s were heady days for drinking in the US, but especially in the South, where (some say) one of America’s first cocktails - Sazerac - was invented. America’s only native spirit was also created in the Deep South: Bourbon, made from the corn that was prolific in Kentucky. To be authentic, it must be: made in the US; have at least 51 percent corn mash and aged in charred oak barrels. A few decades later in 1920, prohibition came into effect - manufacture, sale, transport, import and export of liquor was all illegal, giving rise to the illicit manufacture and trade of alcohol. Moonshine (un-aged corn mash whisky) was prolific - named in tribute to its clandestine manufacture at night. Prohibition may have made liquor illegal, but spirits flowed freely in the back alleys and countrysides of America. Many of the best cocktails were created in those days and survived the dry years. These days there is a growing appreciation for the traditional cocktails of the Deep South. Here are my absolute favourites, where best to enjoy them and recipes for re-creating them when you get back home*. Sampling them all will take you on a winding course along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River all the way from New Orleans to Nashville, discovering the fascinating history, toe tapping music and all the fun that this vibrant region has to offer along the way. It is for sure one of the USA's best road trips. Are you ready? "Cheers!"
This is a fantastic hotel. If I could sum it up in one word, it would be "PERFECT." If I get the chance to add a few more words, I would pick: elegant, efficient and peaceful. It is the oldest hotel in Nashville and the first million $ hotel to be built here. "Meet me at the Hermitage" is what the locals say - you can certainly see why!
During the War of the Roses - the battle for the right for women to vote, it was the headquarters for both the suffragists (wearing yellow roses) and the anti-suffragists (wearing red roses.). The 19th amendment that gave all Americans women the right to vote was issued in August 1920. Tennessee was the hold-out state that was the last to make the perfect 36 needed to get the law changed.
It has a great bar with 130 bourbons on offer. During prohibition, they got away with continuing to serve bourbon by putting it into a teapot (!)
Room prices doubled during the NFL draft here this week-end - very glad we booked this trip up a year ago. You need to pre-book parking - there are various options on-line ranging from $15 - $35.
Nashville changed its name to Draftsville as the NFL draft got into full swing. Broadway was completely packed out with music ringing from every bar and stage as the crowd worked themselves into a frenzy yelling "The Pick is In". You couldn't hear yourself think - never mind navigate your way back to that Boot store to find the all essential bootjack. No point having new boots if you can't yank them off your feet - unless you do it the American way and "just leave 'em on"?
We took in the atmosphere for a few minutes and then headed to a more peaceful area and spent the rest of morning walking in soft sunshine through the Tennessee State Capitol Building and the war memorials in its beautifully laid out grounds. You can see the stage where a reformed Merle Haggard (of I'd rather be an "Okie from Muskogee" fame) performed his last song. The revolving globe standing next to the solemn row of monuments describing the progress of the World War 2 was poignant - thank goodness, the allies were victorious and the world kept right on turning. A beautiful snake of fountains depicted the importance of the Mississipi River here - the quote from Ian Menard particularly took my eye "I am the river - sit and listen to my wisdom."
We walked all the way down to the Farmer's Market exploring the many interesting sights on the way - a really nice way to spend a fine morning and also - free. We finished the walk at the Carillon and waited patiently for the noon chimes. It didn't disappoint - and there was no-one else there, which was special for us. As we walked away, the bells started chiming out "Old Man River" - and we sang along to it. It always amazes me how many song lyrics you can hold in your head - even when you can't remember the name of the restaurant you just visited?!
Lunch: The Capitol Grill, the Hermitage Hotel. Excellent - as is everything else about this hotel.
We were booked into the Grand Ole Opry for the evening show. It was a $20 taxi ride to the Opry from Downtown - we took an Uber. The app works just fine out here - amazing! We took the backstage tour which was fascinating and well worth the extra $20.. It was a real thrill to be able too stand behind the curtain and watch the audience emerge as the curtain rose - just like a performer would! The show was great fun - the time passed very quickly, which is always a good sign. John Conlee sang "In my Eyes" - guaranteed to make you reach for your tissues - he has been married to his wife for the same number of years that we have. Lindsay Ell strutted her stuff in a little black glittery mini dress and a made her guitar really sing. The grand finale was Wynønna Judd, who skilfully belted out "Love can build a bridge", getting the audience to sing along with her. She built up the mood from a soft start, chided us to get our act together half way through ("it's not perfect until it's perfect") and built up to a roaring crescendo. The stops were all fully pulled out and any inhibitions dumped firmly in the trash. Everyone was on their feet, clapping their hands and singing their hearts out. I have never seen so many stomping cowboy boots and bobbing hats in one room - everyone was on top of the world! It was a standing ovation and a really great finale to this wonderful trip. Videos aren't allowed - but you can get a feel for it all on the links below.
The Capitol Grill at the Hermitage was still open by the time we got back and served a great club sandwich, washed down with local beer.
Wished I had seen:
The Cheekwood Botanical Gardens
The Ryman Auditorium
RCA Studio B Tour
The Woolworth store - scene of the sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. It is now a restaurant - the counter has been carefully preserved. We only saw it from the outside.
The Listening Room - where for a cover you can hear some great music. This is where new talent is most likely to be discovered as it is where the publishers hand out and relax.
There is so much to do here - we wished we could have stayed at least another day.
A Bloody Mary at the excellent Capitol Grill in the Hermitage Hotel - a great accompaniment to Sunday brunch - our last meal before the long flight home and there couldn't be a better place to be.
It took us most of the day to drive from Memphis to Nashville. We arrived to discover that the NFL professional draft had just started - Nashville is the base this year. Well - that wasn't part of the plan! Crowds of 300,000 are expected over the next few days, creating pressure on facilities and hotel prices to double. Very glad we booked this trip up over a year ago!
We checked into our hotel and the very helpful concierge there sorted out all the restaurant reservations for the next couple of days for us - a 'must do' in view of how busy the city was.
Dinner - Etch - 303 Demonbreun St. - www.etchrestaruant.com. An upscale restaurant offering creative menus that were absolutely delicious. It is made with Belle Meade bourbon, smoked simple and bitters and garnished with an orange wedge and a cherry. . The roasted cauliflower just has to be tried. The smoked Old Fashioned cocktail is also highly recommended.
Nashville has a very upmarket feel to it. It is a booming city with a rising population that is growing fast. On our first full day here, we took a tour with Stephanie Layne - a local singer/songwriter. Despite the crowds in the city, our driver (grand-daughter of an ex manager of the Grand Ole Opry, interestingly) managed to negotiate the throbbing streets (at least - those that weren't closed off!) very efficiently. In a 3 hour tour, we learned so much about the city, its history and the music business as a whole. The grand finale was staged in the centre of the National Carillon Bells in Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. If you stand on the spot in the middle, the acoustics work to really amplify your voice, so it was a great place for Stephanie to perform two of her songs for us. Very special - very memorable - nothing beats the real warmth of a live music performance, especially when it is sung just for you in such an atmospheric location. We were SO lucky to have it to ourselves that day. The bells chime on the quarter hour, half hour and on the hour - Stephanie had a bit of competition at the end of her performance, which made us all laugh. The tour was organised through Sweet Magnolia Tours. It was my best tour of the trip.
We stopped off at The Parthenon en route - the world's only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon. The ornate structure originated as a plaster pavilion in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. It is a structure which sums up what Nashville is all about for me. Apart from the music, the "Athens of the South" is home to several prestigious educational institutions, hospitals and healthcare companies - a centre of learning and democracy. Today it serves as an art gallery and home to a gold-gilded towering statue of Athena, the largest sculpture in the Western World. Amazing that the statue of Victory she holds in her hand is 4 cubits high - the same as the average human being!
The afternoon passed quickly away visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame. Although there are some interesting exhibits here, it isn't really a very exciting tour in my view. The audio guide for an extra $5 didn't really add much. The museum is confusingly laid out in places and it is hard to pick up all the numbers on the route. It is worth a trip if you are a real country music fan and want to stand and admire all the the gold records in the Hall of Fame though.
Dinner: Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse 300 4th Avenue North. Very attentive service, smart decor (if a little glitzy), but the food was very expensive for what was really a basic steak and fries. There are better, more wallet friendly options. Give it a miss.
Learning the lingo: "Meat and three" - Meat and a choice of three vegetables. Unbelievably enough, Mac 'n cheese is counted as a vegetable here?! The best place to try this is apparently Pucketts - 500 Church Street at the intersection with 5th.
Souvenir I am glad I bought: My first pair of cowboy boots - from Broadway, I never realised that boots could have soles that actually make your feet rock - they really make you want to dance along to the beat!
Glad I packed: Denim jeans. What else do you wear with a pair of cowgirl boots!
What's on my Playlist: It has to be Dolly Parton - you just have to love her.
It is said that the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg and that if you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, ultimately, you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta. It plays a big role in the social life of the city - so push the boat out a bit and stay here - even if just for a night - if you can. If you want an alternative, more wallet friendly option, you could opt for the Hilton Double Tree opposite - same great city centre location and still very comfortable, but less than half the price of the Peabody. You can still see the ducks march, use the hotel lobby, bars and restaurants after all - even if you are not a resident!
Although it is a very grand hotel with a fantastic lobby and lots of history (The cheque that RCA wrote to buy Elvis Presley from Sun Studios was written on Peabody Hotel notepaper), there is a lot to irritate you about the Peabody:
Day 2 - Tuesday
Start the day at Graceland. You can drive here (parking is $10). Book the VIP tour if you want to avoid the lines Add a further $5 and go and see inside his planes. Further tips on this website:
Graceland is not as you might imagine. It isn't actually all that big (although it was luxurious for its time). It had the feel to me of being a happy home and not particularly ostentatious or tasteless. Obviously, the museum is stuffed full of Elvis memorabilia and it takes quite a while to view it all. His music accompanies as you rock and roll your way through it all. You need to allow at least a half day here - devoted fans may well need more!
Lunch - Glady's Diner (!). Pick the Cadillac booth for a great photo opportunity - It just has to be done?!
Drive onto Stax Museum of American Soul Music. This was the least interesting of all the museums we visited, but does help you to piece together the history of the music scene here and how it all developed. If you can't pack everything in, I would leave this one out. It is often included on combo ticket deals, so if you can, you might as well see it while you are here.
Last, but not least, the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum is well worth a visit and opens until 7pm, so it is a good thing to do right at the end of the day. You need to get there by 5pm though to do it justice. There is a good audio tour which takes you around all the interesting exhibits. I added a lot of new music to my playlist Wishlist on this tour! Blues was the mindfulness of the day - it helped oppressed, dirt poor workers focus on something that took their mind off the difficulties of their lives. Blues and soul music were often played by black and white musicians together - you could tell the depth of the friendship by how well they played together. Despite segregation laws, blues, gospel, soul and country music refused to be segregated - its appeal crossed right through colour lines. When the different genres began to fuse with the white dominated Country music scene, something really beautiful began to flower. Music has such a power to unite people.
By 7pm, Beale Street begins to strut its stuff, so this is a good time to take a walk down its neon filled sidewalks.
Dinner: Charles Vergos Rendezvous - 52 South Second. www.hogsfly.com. You can access the restaurant through an alley just opposite the back entrance of the Peabody Hotel. They serve to die for ribs and brisket which you can eat smothered in their own special recipe absolutely delicious BBQ sauce. They sell the sauce too, if you want to take the taste home - choose regular or hot. I am not usually a BBQ sauce fan - but I would definitely recommend trying this out!
There is a LOT to do here and you need to be very well organised if you want to do it all! This was how we tackled it. We stayed at the Peabody Hotel which makes a great central base in downtown Memphis.
Arrival - Sunday
Arrive in time to see the March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel. At 5pm, they leave the marble fountain in the lobby where they play all day, walk down a set of steps and along a red carpet right into the elevator. The elevator takes them up too the rooftop where they disembark and settle into their sumptuous duck palace for the night. If you want a front row position, get there by 4.30 at the latest. If you miss it, they march back down to the fountain at 11am the next morning. The duck palace is worth a visit - it shuts at 10pm each day.
Dinner - Huey's 77 S 2nd St. It's close to the hotel, does great hamburgers and has live jazz on Sundays from 8pm.
Day 1 - Monday
Tour of the City in a 1955 Plymouth Belvedere - an experience provided courtesy of Brandon Cunning - Rockabilly Rides. This is such a fun way to orientate yourself and learn all about the city. In 90 minutes, you see pretty well everything there is to see so you can decide where you want to explore in more depth in the rest of the time you have. Apart from the thrill of being driven in this classic car, you also have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like along the way. Brandon Cunning makes it such fun. It will set you back $250 - but we thought it was worth every penny. It's popular though - you have to book at least two months in advance.
After the drive, walk back to Sun Studio. They do tours on the half hour for $14 pp - Aim to catch the 12.30 tour. The unassuming little building that gave birth to Blues and Rock and Roll really comes alive when you do the guided tour. Sam Phillips famously recorded "anything, anywhere, anytime" and Elvis cut his first record here for $4. Great music follows you round all the way - such fun! There are some unique exhibits there you will never see anywhere else. If you only have time for one of the Music Museum tours, make it this one.
Walk to the National Museum of Civil Rights via the I am a Man Sign which commemorates the events that took place in the lead up to the death of two sanitation workers following a bitter dispute over poor working conditions, You will see pictures of the marches that followed these events in the National Museum of Civil Rights later. It is hard to believe that in the "land of the free", slaves granted freedom in 1863 still had no vote until the mid 1960s. Slaves were eventually given 3/5 of a vote (an attempt to increase electoral college power for the South). Even though they were allowed a vote, only 3% actually cast it because of laws introduced (eg a literacy test) to stop them.
Lunch: Luncbox Eats 288 S 4th St.
A great little find for lunch! They have 1950s style chairs on metal wheels and serve their drinks in jam jars. The BLT is the specialty - it is without doubt the best BLT I have ever tasted. The bacon is battered and fried - I know - but it is heavenly! Aim to get there by about 2pm latest. They shut at 3 and you need to leave enough time to visit the museum.
Allow 2 and a half hours for a visit to the National Museum of Civil Rights. There is so much to see here and it is all excellently displayed, so you don't want to rush it. The story of the struggle for civil rights from the "end" of slavery in 1864 up to the day Martin Luther King was shot on this site in 1968 is brilliantly told. You can listen to first hand accounts of the horrors of the Jim Crow period and lynchings. At one point, you walk down long corridors with pictures of the marchers and really feel as though you are marching for freedom yourself along with them. The sad tale of how Martin Luther King was shot the day after his momentous speech is told in detail. You can watch the film of his moving "I have a dream" speech and and see for yourself the room where it happened in the blacks only Lorraine Motel, which has been preserved. A must do in Memphis. The museum shuts at 5 and also shuts on Tuesdays.
Dinner: The Majestic Grille 145 S Main St.
Set in a grand 1930s movie house, showing silent films, they serve good cocktails, steaks and upmarket American food. Reservations advised.
Now for Day 2 ...
RIP Elvis - everybody loved you, including me!
It took us most of the day today to drift along a quiet Highway 61 en route from Vicksburg to Memphis, The delta landscape was dotted with elegant white cranes all along the route. The Onward Store at Rolling Fork makes a good stop en route and have lunch/stretch your legs. This is where Teddy Roosevelt went on a bear hunt, failed to trap a bear and was offered a caged bear to shoot to make him feel better. He refused to kill it and gave birth to the name Teddy Bear. The original bear he gave to a child to commemorate the event is housed in the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg. There is a restaurant at the Onward Store, but it was closed on Easter Sunday.
What's on my playlist?:
Elvis Presley, of course - who else?!
Frank's Pub & Grille - Tunica Resorts - Highway 61. Give it a Miss!
We shared the bar "Cheers" style with a crowd of bikers with "Red Neck Paradise" blaring through the speakers. This was without doubt the worst chicken sandwich I have ever eaten - deep fried to an unpalatable, rubbery lump and with no taste at all. The cheery sign on the wall made me laugh though - "It's a Good Day to have a Good Day!"
Huey's - 77 S 2nd St. Downtown Memphis
It was Sunday, so live jazz - The Sensations - played from 8pm - we had front row seats. The burgers are the specialty here - the World Famous Huey Burger sets you back just $6.75. There is a healthy option - with no butter ands reduced fat mayo, if you feel the need. They challenge you to get a hamburger frill pick to stick in the ceiling . The best way to do it is apparently to get a dry straw, insert your frill pick with the frill closest to your mouth, then aim up and BLOW HARD! They take them down periodically and count them and make a donation to Memphis Zoo based on how many they collect. $15,000 has been donated so far.
What I'm watching:
We walked from Downtown to the Memphis Pyramid shopping centre in an attempt to get a view of the city at sunset from the glass elevator that goes right to the top. Sunset was 7.38pm - the pyramid shuts at 6.30 on a Sunday. There is no point walking all the way there either - there is easy parking right outside, or you can take the trolley bus right there. It is also not a great place to walk - we were pan-handled a couple of times en route.
Is Memphis a safe city? It has a distinctly downmarket feel to it generally and you need to be careful where you walk - especially after dark. It didn't feel as safe as New Orleans and they have one murder a day! Shortly before our visit, to Huey's there was a "dine and dash" incident. There is a noticeable police presence around the main drag in Beale Street. It is still a poor area - just as it was back in the 1950s. You can imagine what a vibrant place Memphis (little Harlem of the South) was back in its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, with streets so packed with traffic it required traffic police to be on duty 24/7 at the intersection. Very different from the ghost town that was left following the assassination of Martin Luther King and white flight. Even The Peabody Hotel was boarded up in the 1980s. It is gradually being restored, but it still has some way to go. Everyone says "Keep Safe" when they say goodbye to you here, which tells its own story.