Country, Jazz, Rock n Roll

Trip Start Sep 14, 2010
Trip End Nov 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Monday, October 4, 2010

Hi Y'all!

That's right...we have hit The South!  An area with an identity all of its own -Southern pride, a musical way of speaking and a food culture involving fried chicken, wings, fried green tomatoes and banana bread pudding!

On the way to Kentucky and Tennessee, we stopped off at Huntington, Virginia, where Jamie Oliver did the American Food Revolution. The Huntington Kitchen is still open and we didn't see too many overweight people so maybe it's working... or, as it was 9am on a Sunday morning, maybe they weren't out of bed yet!

We also made a quick trip over the Ohio river into the State of Ohio...just so we could add another visited State to our list!

Next, Kentucky - we entered the birth place of Muhammed Ali and Johnny Depp and the home of the Corvette factory (which we didn't get to visit and surprisingly, there aren't too many on the road). Kentucky is famous for its bourbon, bluegrass music, fried chicken and its horses! Thoroughbred breeding here is a multibillion dollar industry and the town of Lexington (the horse capital of the world) is horse-mad, with coloured and decorated horse statues all over the town. In Spring, the paddocks bloom with tiny azure buds, giving Kentucky it's nickname 'Bluegrass State'. Our visit to Lexington was only brief, but Courtney would have loved to have visited the Kentucky Horse Park and get back in the saddle and visit one of the several working ranches around Lexington.

Leaving Kentucky behind, we headed for Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee was the last Southern state to secede during the Civil War and straight after the war, a few confederate veterans formed the Klu Klux Klan to terrorise the newly freed blacks. The most interesting thing we found out about Tennessee is that its illegal to fire a gun at any wild game other than whales from a moving vehicle. Good luck getting a whale in to Tennessee!!!

Nashville, the country music capital of the world consisted of guitar-carrying country singers and the beer-scented air of the bars and honky-tonks along Broadway. Nashville was different to what we expected and whilst Courtney didn't particuarly enjoy it, the music took both Pete and particularly Dawn, back to their early years. Bars and clubs all have live music and at all times, there were at least two or three bands you could hear as you wandered along - one place even had two bands in the same tiny bar! BB King was playing at his club, BB King's Blues Club but unfortunately tickets were sold out. Courtney and Dawn took a tour of the stars homes and then we all spent the afternoon browsing the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and taking a tour of RCA Studio B, where many of the early stars recorded their songs, including Dolly Parton and Elvis. After going to the Grand Ole Opry, we went past Vernon Winfrey's (Oprah's father) barber shop. He was sitting out the front on the porch and happily chatted to us and invited us in. He was a lovely guy, very laid back and has a great sense of humour. 77 yrs old and still cutting hair albeit a little slow. He spends more time chatting & drinking coffee with his friends than actually cutting.
We would all assume that music would be the biggest industry in Nashville, but surprisingly it is healthcare! I guess all those bars and fried chicken catch up to you eventually! Dawn is enjoying the pulled-pork sandwiches; the meat here is cooked beautifully.

Memphis was a lot of fun and we all really enjoyed the atmosphere. It certainly had something to do with Memphis' ability to deliver amazing BBQ pork and music. When it comes to pork, its hard to choose if to have it pulled or in rib form. As we've said above, Dawn prefers the pulled-pork sandwiches and has taste-tested many of them (not to mention the key-lime pies and apple dumplings). Fried chicken is also huge here and we ate some good (and BIG - chickens must be on steroids!) chicken at a local place called Gus' Fried Chicken. Not too many small people eating in that place! Memphis and its many musicians pay musical homage to Elvis, Johnny Cash and Howlin' Wolf, just to name a few. Beale St is full of clubs and bars and we had some wonderful nights, particularly at Blues City Cafe where we were entertained by a magnificent band. As fun and funky as Beale St was, Memphis is a struggling city and we saw many vacant shops and the city was very quiet. We wonder if the GFC has hit this area fairly hard.

No visit to Memphis would be complete without a visit to Graceland and Dawn relished every minute of it, spending a full day exploring every exhibit honoring The King. We were all expecting something a little more tacky but his house was actually quite small and tasteful (well, it was last redecorated in the 70's!). Once again, the exhibits were excellent, though very cunning - they all exited out in to one of the many gift shops. We knew it wasn't the healthiest of lunches but we couldn't be at Graceland and not try one of Elvis' favourite meals - a fried banana and peanut-butter sandwich. May sound terrible but actually delicious and easy to see how he became addicted to them! On the way back to the hotel we called in to Sun Studios where the likes of Elvis, BB King, Carl Perkins, Johhny Cash any Roy Orbison (just to name a few!) started their recording careers, and had an excellent guide giving us the history of the place.

There is a beautiful hotel in Memphis called The Peabody Hotel and it has a quirky tradition. At 11am, the hotel's 5 ducks come down from their 'Duck Palace' (housed on the rooftop) accompanied by their Duck Master, file across the red-carpeted lobby and go in to the lobby fountain where they stay until 5pm.The tradition has been going over 85 years and started as a practical joke when the manager of the hotel came back from duck-hunting, a little drunk, and thought it would be funny to put his live decoys in the fountain. It became a crowd-pleaser! The hotel is beautiful and we spent a lot of time milling in the magnigicent lobby and having a cocktail. Pete wanted to visit The National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr was assasinated. It is another museum with extensive exhibits chronicling the struggles for African American freedom and equality in the US.

If anybody remembers musician Jeff Buckley (sang 'Hallelujah'), he drowned in the Mississippi river in 1997. We met the security guard who was the only witness to his drowning. He said it was a hot day and while waiting for his band to arrive, he walked out in to the river for a swim and never came back. Apparently the river can have strong undercurrents, and it has also been suggested the wake of a passing boat dragged him under.

A lot of our travels has involved eating the local food and the specialties for each area. For breakfast we have had sweet potato pancakes and sausages and gravy (white gravy) with biscuits (which are similar to our scones). If you want a biscuit, you must ask for a cookie. Courtney made the mistake of ordering a biscuit with her coffee at Starbucks in the middle of the day and got a very strange look before quickly asking for a cookie instead. Talking of coffee, cappucinos and lattes are almost non-existent and when you do get them, they are horrendous. Even Starbucks coffees are weak and tasteless and the smalls are at least the size of our mediums, if not bigger. The size of the meals are huge - we ordered a serve of nachos as an appetiser and the three of us couldn't finish them. People at the other table had the nachos each, followed by a huge plate of ribs! And you dont see too many vegetables or fruit down this way! One thing Courtney and Pete are enjoying is the lemonade, not the Sprite variety, the fresh lemonade - so refreshing! Courtney has been craving for a milkshake for a while now and has been disappointed on two ocassions when they haven't been the same as at home. They are so thick and just like scoops of icecream stirred quickly until they melt. Our milkshakes are definitely better.

We are on our way to New Orleans and have passed through some quite poor states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisianna - desolate and ramshackle towns and trailer parks. But we saw a magnificent sunset in Arkansas and Courtney, singing "Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton" picked fresh cotton on the side of the road.

Thinking of you all,

Courtney, Pete and Dawn
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