We left North Carolina last Friday and drove into Tennessee. We resisted the Great Smoky Mountains and Dollywood (because we just can’t do everything) and instead ploughed on down the main highway (for a change). The weather turned really warm and sunny and we had an overnight stop in a little place called Cookeville (where we had our first dip of the trip in an outdoor pool – fantastic) and then the next day we drove on to Nashville via a smaller road (the 70). The 70 went through places with names like Carthage and Lebanon and at some points it seemed to show us so many churches that I wondered if this was the actual Bible Belt you hear so much about…
Anyway, we got to Nashville on the Saturday and went straight to the downtown area. We realised straight away that it was one of those weird American downtowns that have very little in them in some ways – a few big office buildings, a clearly defined tourist area, the odd big entertainment and/or sports venue but besides that quite a lot of emptiness (so different to most British cities). It was scorching hot (luckily we’d got h a cowboy hat for shade the day before) but we did our best to see the tourist sites (largely in this case the shops and sights in the Broadway area – a lot of fun, a lot of record shops, a whole lotta cowboy boots…). We looked at the Country Music Hall of Fame but didn’t go in because really it would have been wasted on us – we like the odd song but we’re not mega country fans or anything. Instead we hit one of the only bars on Broadway that would let under 21s in and had a beer/water and heard some music. It wasn’t bad at all - very friendly, very easy-going.
We stayed out in the area near the (new) Grand Ole Opry (it’s a few miles from downtown) and so the next morning, Easter Day, we went to the Opry and did the backstage tour first thing on (it was nice and quiet – we assume everyone else was in church). The tour was really interesting (h loves theatres and everything to do with them) and maybe especially so because the building had been badly flooded last year (along with much else in the city) and there were lots of stories related to that. The whole Opry area is… large…in fact a bit like Disneyland for Country Music (shops, hotels, carparks… the hotel is even called Opryland) and I’m sure it’s fun if that kind of thing floats your cowboy boat. For us, a few hours one quiet Easter morning was plenty though so we got back in the car and headed west for Memphis. As we left there was a tornado warning (for just east of Nashville) up on the highway sign. Never seen one of those before… Here are the first set of Tennessee photos (including Nashville):
We drove pretty much straight to Memphis after Nashville – we had booked three nights in the western Tennessee city because there was so much we wanted to see there and we wanted to get on with it all. The cheapest way to do this was to stay in one of the Graceland hotels so we stayed in the Days Inn Graceland (which has a guitar-shaped pool and endless Elvis memorabilia all over the place) and photos of all that are in with our Graceland shots in the final slideshow further down. The first selection of Memphis shots however includes mainly what we saw downtown in the city (again Graceland is almost on the edge of the city – 8 miles or so from the centre). The first set includes pictures of:
The National Civil Rights Museum (the outside of it at least – you can’t take photos inside). It is based in and around the Lorraine motel where Martin Luther King was shot and it is all very powerful and informative (some stuff we’d heard of already but also there was much that was new to us – we’d never heard of James Meredith and the whole University of Mississippi business before, for example). There was another tornado warning while we were there too so all visitors had to go and sit in the theatre for the best part of an hour… Luckily they gave us a really good film to watch (‘Witness’ about the Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles who was there with King when he died).
The downtown area – which is obviously in the middle of a serious ‘get people to come into Memphis’ regeneration effort. It’s working too – we saw bustling, buzzing crowds going into a basketball game, a shiny new baseball stadium open for business, the whole Beale Street music/bars area (similar to Nashville’s Broadway – touristy but still good music and lively), a trolley car system, lots of music festival information and parks and developments. The city still has work to do of course (which city doesn’t?) but it is doing everything it can to make Memphis a healthy, vibrant place. We liked it very much.
Some other tourists mentioned that one of the downtown hotels had a parade of ducks every afternoon so we took h along to see the Peabody ducks waddle down their red carpet at 5pm one day. She loved it of course – apparently it’s a long-running tradition…
The Mississippi river – we got our first glance of this big ol’river in Memphis. With all the rain that was coming down at night (there were huge storms every night we were there) a trip on the river didn’t seem too attractive so we gave that a miss this time. As it were.
Music museums – as well as Elvis, Memphis has heaps of music-related stuff to see and hear. We went to the Stax museum (just outside downtown and well worth the trip if you like soul music or even just local history). It’s a great development with a music academy building next door (all pretty new and all part of the great regeneration work that’s going on). We also called in at Sun Studio and Mark did the tour (very interesting he reports – the birth of rock ‘n’roll, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis) whilst h and I sat in the very friendly café and chatted with the staff. We had one more meal in Beale Street (at BB King’s place – Blind Mississippi Morris performing as we ate) and then left downtown. As we left there was another tornado alarm going off… if you want video evidence (with sound) you can go here:
Memphis photos are here:
Graceland photos and Days Inn Graceland photos are here (it’s Elvis Presley central of course… but it’s all still really enjoyable even if you’re only a mild Elvis fan… he had some amazing stuff!):
And then yesterday we left Tennessee (on Highway 61 no less…) and made our way into Mississippi and the whole world of Delta Blues. And the storms continued too… more of that next time.