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Nanette and her husband Colin travelled on a Travelbay USA Tour to the Deep South in March 2018. On their return, Nan shared her chronicles with us.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us Nan, we really enjoyed it and also thanks very much for letting us share with our customers so they too can enjoy :)
We are staying on the edge of the French Quarter. The streets are wide and lined with palm trees and streetcars travel up and down continuously. The buildings are elegant, French-style with wrought iron balconies and hanging baskets filled with flowers. We pass a lot of crazy shops selling glitzy face masks, voodoo stuff and bauble necklaces in all colours.
We watch the Natchez Steamer paddleboat load up and set off, and then head across to the French Markets. It's not a case of 'where is there live music?' It's more like 'where isn't there?'
In the evening, we head to Frenchmen's Street on the east side of the French Quarter. Everyone tells us that Frenchmen's Street is the new Bourbon Street, (which is now 'touristy' and 'passe.') This is the new place for music. And it is. There are wonderful bars and restaurants with all kinds of music.
We begin the morning with a city tour. It is not a large city and quite accessible on foot and by streetcar, but it's the insider knowledge which makes a difference. The tour takes in the various neighbourhoods - Faubourg, Marigny, The Treme, the Garden District - and shows us the beautiful houses, many in French style with wrought iron balconies and fences, and others more Spanish. They are mostly pastel coloured - apart from the Haitian houses! - and simply lovely with lush gardens. The magnolias are in flower, and the national tree, the live oak, grows everywhere with long wandering branches extending over large areas.
We go to a cemetery, fascinating because the tombs and burials are all above ground because of the swamp land beneath. There are many statues commemorating New Orleans' history and we pass the Superdome where Katrina survivors sheltered and were largely forgotten after the hurricane in 2006.
Today we are going to two plantations. On the 35 mile drive out, we pass extensive wetlands and see the damage done to the area by Katrina. We see the flood walls, pumping stations, flyovers, canals, spillways and wetlands, all designed to save the city from flood. Local people tell us that Nature didn't fail them; the government did. The houses are built on small stilts which sit on bases deep into the ground. Swamp and river silt account for about half a mile underground.
We arrive at Laura Creole sugar plantation. The plantation was built in 1805, has been fully restored and has 11 original buildings still standing, including four slave cabins. The estate was established by French Creoles. They had some 200 slaves from Senegal, and local tales from the African slaves here were recorded here as the stories of Brer Rabbit.
After the end of the civil war, little changed on the plantations because most of the slaves had nowhere to go so they stayed on as workers. The last family member of an original slave left this plantation in 1977!
After Laura, we drive on to Oak Alley, so called because it has a stunning avenue of 30 live oaks leading up to the big house. It is a grander but less original plantation than Laura, but just as interesting.
We caught a bus to the wetlands and Louisiana swamp and then joined a flat bottomed boat cruise through the wetlands and bayou. The vegetation was fantastic and, contrary to expectations, the alligators all came out. It seems they like marshmallows (?!) and they have alligator-sized marshmallows which bring them out. We saw blue necked heron, turtles and many alligators. The vegetation consisted of bald cypresses, live oak and much swamp growth including Spanish moss which grows in festoons on the trees. It was wonderfully peaceful and beautiful gliding through the swamp.
Leaving New Orleans for Nashville. Sad to leave our wonderful suite in the New Orleans hotel, but ready to move on.
The bluegrass and country music began at the airport - all live groups. The temperature here was some 15 degrees cooler and our first impression was green! Very lush. We are staying at the Sheraton and it is lovely.
The street is heaving, with rooms, balconies and rooftops all crammed full. Pubs and bars all have live bands, neon, darkened premises and not a space to squeeze into.
We have tickets for the Grand Ole Opry. This used to be in the heart of Nashville but the new one is 10 miles out of the town. Transport out is not easy and cab is recommended.
There are some beautiful buildings, which we hadn't seen yesterday, including a full scale replica of the Parthenon, the Capitol building and some beautiful churches.
It is a glorious day and the focus is on music. We go to the Ryman Auditorium, which they call 'the mother church' of country music. then we go to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is several floors of original costumes, instruments, hand -written songs, gold records, videos, Elvis' gold Cadillac and various other cars.
We stop for lunch at Joe's Crab Shack (!) and have some fried chicken and coffee while Theron, our waiter, tells us that his nurse mother cared for Johnny Cash at his home in his final months.
In the afternoon, we explore the surrounds of Nashville, the wealthy suburbs, and there are many huge, beautiful houses set in large expanses of lawn - the homes of the music stars and the music producers. We pass Taylor Swift's house and the gated community where Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman live. Leafy and green would be an understatement.
Our last day in Nashville, we have a lazy morning and then get the shuttle down to the Johnny Cash Museum.
We take a bus out to Music Row, ten miles north of the city. It is called Opryland and there are hotels, like those in Las Vegas, with elaborate gardens, river and boats you can ride on travelling through. We also go to a shopping mall - eye popping - and go to a Madame Tussaud's waxworks of country music.
Today we leave Nashville and go to Memphis in a car with driver. It is a three hour drive.
We are staying at the Hampton Inn which is on B.B. King Boulevard, next to Beale Street, home of the Blues.
In the evening we go out to investigate the clubs and restaurants. Beale Street is very busy, and closed off at each end with police cars so it is a pedestrian precinct. It is lined with clubs, restaurants and cafes and BBQ foods, especially pork ribs, are the specialties.
We have a city tour of Memphis booked today. Our first stop is Sun Records, where many artists such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley made their first records. Then we go to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is housed in the building which was the motel where Martin Luther King was shot. We go to a neighbourhood known as Victorian Village which has a row of magnificent period houses from that era.
Then we go to the Peabody Hotel, a grand Memphis hotel which is famous because a family of ducks live on the hotel roof. Every day at 11am, the uniformed 'duck master' takes the lift to the top floor, opens the door to the ducks and leads them down to the hotel lobby, where there is a magnificent fountain. The ducks waddle in, and stay there until 5 pm when the process is reversed.
We have lunch at Jerry Lawler's in Beale Street and then head out to Graceland. ipads and headphones guide us through what was clearly a lovely home with outdoor facilities - gardens, swimming pool, horse yards, racquetball room and so on. Pictures on this page show the dining room at Graceland, and Elvis' pink Cadillac. Outside is a memorial garden surrounding the graves of Elvis, his parents and his grandmother.
Thanks again Nanette :)
Click here to view the tour Colin & Nanette took of the Deep South, USA.