Archive for March, 2011

We left Mallory’s house bright and early and after a quick visit to the Parthenon to take some photos in the (still grey) daylight, we were back on the road again. The first half of our day’s drive took us to Louisville, where we paused only to take a photo of the world’s largest baseball bat. We took turns to do this so that we wouldn’t have to pay for parking and as I was getting back into the car, my camera fell out of my pocket.

Largest Baseball Bat in the World

I heard a crash and my heart stopped for a second as I noticed the drain right next to the wheel of the car. Thankfully the camera was resting on the grate covering the drain and had not fallen in. The metal case is a little scratched from its adventure, but thankfully it is still in full working order. The next stage of our drive took us to our stopping point for the night, Lafayette, Indiana. We had no particular desire to see the town, but it provided a useful stop off point on the way to Chicago and a cheap motel for the night. The evening was spent repacking, watching TV and eating a bizarre meal of peas, tomato soup and popcorn. Unfortunately, despite requesting a non-smoking room we were given a smoking room, which was a most unpleasant experience and left all my clothes smelling of smoke.



Our one day in Nashville began with a quick breakfast before heading out into the cold and miserable day – we are not used to this, what happened to the 80 degree weather of Florida and Texas?! Our first trip of the day was an attempt at thrift store shopping, I say attempt because we came away empty handed. Although we found a number of good things, they were all the wrong size, never mind. After returning the car to Mallory’s we followed the route she had suggest we take towards the centre of town. As luck would have it this route took us past a Ben & Jerry’s shop right next to the Vanderbilt campus and we just had to go in to continue our Ben & Jerry’s tasting mission. Four scoops later (between the two of us – a small cup is two sccops, welcome to America!) we resumed our walk downtown. Another necessary sugar stop was made at Gigi’s cupcakes, highly recommended by Mallory, where I had a s’mores cupcake and Liz had a champagne one. These were lovely, but incredibly sweet and following the ice cream made a good lunch substitute! (For the St Andreans reading, it was very much like Bibi’s.) The sugar high must have kicked in somewhat by this point, for me at least, since I walked up the hill only to turn around and see Liz trailing behind.

The Parthenon by night

The walk down to “The District” was slightly longer than expected, and we eventually got there at around 1pm. After visiting a few shops we went to find the Country Music Walk of Fame, although we had decided that $20 was a little steep for the museum, this at least was free. We could not find it however and after giving up and heading back towards Broadway, we found ourselves there. A brief walk and a couple of pictures later we returned to Broadway. Our next stop on our tour of Nashville on a tight budget was going to be the Parthenon (the only full scale model in the world!) but since it was such a grey day and we were so tired we decided to give up. Our new plan was to head out to experience some live music with Mallory later in the evening and to visit the Parthenon in the morning, hopefully with better weather. Our walk home felt endless, but really only took us just over an hour. Arriving back, we collapsed onto the sofa to watch TV for a few hours. Travelling so much is really exhausting. Mallory came home at about 4pm and we made our plans for the evening. Unfortunately, the live radio show that she had planned to take us to was not running, but there was a festival running at a number of venues. We decided that an early showing followed by dinner would be better, and cheaper than the later showing, so after a quick dash to get ready, headed out. The band at the Station Inn (I think it was called?) were called the Waymores, who were very good and we enjoyed local beers and warm popcorn while listening. We were a bit surprised to be shushed by the bartender for talking, apparently in Nashville it is all about the music, no talking allowed! After the show had finished Mallory drove us to a local restaurant for dinner. We had a delicious meal, which was really cheap and there were plenty of vegetarian options for Liz, which certainly makes a change. Before returning to her apartment, Mallory drove us to the Parthenon so that we could see it all lit up at night. It was very impressive, although part of me still wonders why there is a full scale replica of the Parthenon in the middle of Nashville. After having a look at it and taking a few dark and blurry photos we headed back to the apartment for an hour or so of TV before bed.

With the knowledge that we had to be in Nashville between 4 and 6pm to meet our couchsurfing host for the next two nights, we were up bright and early in order to fit in the 4.5 hours of driving to the Jack Daniel’s distillery, the distillery tour and the drive back towards Nashville. We left the hotel at about half past nine and spent the next few uneventful hours driving. Fast forward 5 hours and we arrived at the Jack Daniel’s distillery at about 2.15pm. Parking the car we headed into the visitor centre where we were each handed a flyer with “Tour 9” printed on it, along with various other facts and advertisements and told that the tour would begin shortly. The tour began, as all good American tourist attractions seem to, with an introductory video. Following the video, our guide, who was wearing several Jack Daniel’s branded items and had a brilliant Tennessee accent, loaded us onto the minibus to take us to the start of the tour. The minibus drove us up to the top of the hill, where we all posed for a group photograph in the Rickyard. Once the bus driver had snapped the picture, he disappeared back in the direction of the visitor centre and left us to the mercy of our guide. Our guide explained how the wood is seasoned for barrel making and also how maple is burnt, using 140 proof whiskey in order to create the charcoal used in the whiskey making process.

Jack Daniel - the taller version!

No burning was in progress on the day we visited, so we continued down the hill to the next stage of the tour. Our guide led us past the distillery’s own fire brigade, to the cave where the water used to make the whiskey bubbles up from a natural spring. Outside the cave is a statue of Jack Daniel himself, interestingly this statue, cast in bronze, is a replacement for an older marble statue that now stands in the visitor centre, and while the original statue was made to the exact proportions of Jack Daniel, the replacement statue was made a good 5 inches taller, standing at 5’7”, when Jack Daniel was only 5’2”. (Which personally I think is a great height to be – perhaps I am biased?) We were led into a small building and after an anecdote about Jack Daniel kicking a safe in frustration, (a tantrum that broke his big toe and eventually led to his death after gangrene set in) our guide talked us through the ingredients that go into the mash to make the whiskey. From this point on the tour photography was banned since we were going into the heart of the distillery. The tour took us through the whole process of making Jack Daniel’s, from the mash and the distilling of the bourbon, which is then filtered through ten feet of charcoal in order to become Tennessee whiskey. It is then aged in barrels until it is ready, they do not set a time limit on this process, their team of tasters test each barrel to ascertain whether it is ready – this sounds like a job I would enjoy. We were also taken to watch a short film that showed how they make their own barrels from scratch and then recycle them when they are done (many are sent to Scottish distilleries or used to make Tabasco sauce) before being shown how the bottling process works. Now I don’t know about you, but I would certainly expect a distillery tour to include some sort of a tasting at the end. This was no exception, however, at the end of the tour the only thing available to taste was lemonade. This is because Moore County and the town of Lynchburg have been dry since the Prohibition, and in order for the county to become “wet” once again at least 1600 residents have to sign a petition. Unfortunately, Moore County does not have that many residents, so dry it shall remain. Several years back a law was passed that allowed the distillery to sell commemorative bottles of whiskey, but these were REALLY expensive. Sadly, we did not have time to visit Historic Lynchburg, which in hindsight was probably good as we have all the Jack Daniel’s memorabilia that we need from St Andrews and do not need to spend money on more! Our trip back to Nashville to meet Mallory, our host for the next few days in Nashville was uneventful, other than it being rush hour and we arrived at hers not long after 5pm. Mallory was heading out to a USA vs. Paraguay soccer game with a friend, but took us for a quick meal before she went out. We went to a local café and had a delicious (and cheap) meal before going back to the apartment. While Mallory headed out, kindly entrusting us with her apartment and her keys, we spent the rest of the evening chilling out and planning our day in Nashville tomorrow.

Walking in Memphis

Memphis egg

After a bit of a lie in we arrived in Memphis at about 11ish. Although we had found somewhere to park online, we made a detour to stop at the tourist information centre on the way in. This was a good idea, strange cities are much easier to navigate with maps! After Liz had set off the alarm by getting a bit too close to the BB King statue we decided to move the car to a proper car park before exploring. Of course, we had to take photos with the giant Faberge style Memphis egg outside the visitor centre first. Having moved the car our first destination was Mud Island and finding the entrance, we wandered across the walkway. It was a lovely day and we got a great view of the city and of the Mississippi, however, that is where it ended, the far end of the walkway was closed off, so we turned back the way we had come. Our next destination was the famous Beale Street for a wander. It mainly seemed to be bars and restaurants, with brass musical notes set into the pavements with the names of famous musicians with a connection to Memphis. We stopped off in a restaurant for a delicious but rather greasy lunch before going in search of the Rock and Soul museum. Another museum with an audio tour and an introductory film! Both were good however, and the museum documented all the different types of music in Memphis and how they all came together, which was really interesting. After finishing in the museum and claiming our free gift (a branded guitar pick) we headed back out into the sunshine. Our final port of call in our whistle stop tour of Memphis was the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The National Civil Rights Museum is situated in the old motel, but the motel front and MLK’s room are preserved as they were when he was killed. After visiting the the Lorraine Motel we decided to head back to the car, since there was nothing else that we could do without spending more money. I also wasn’t feeling well at all by this stage so heading home seemed a good option. Back at the hotel I had a nap, then felt much better and we had another chilled out evening. I know you will all laugh and say what a hard life we lead, but travelling is exhausting!

We could hardly come to Memphis and not go to Graceland, regardless of how expensive it is. Armed with our $4 off coupon, we arrived at Graceland just after 10am. Having bought our tickets, we thought that it would be a good idea to check out some of the other exhibits first before going on the mansion tour, but none of them were open yet. So after a failed quest to find coffee, we joined the queue for the tour. You are not permitted to walk across the road and up to the mansion by yourself, instead you have to queue for minibuses that drive you the 200 yards across the road and up the driveway. It might be a crowd control/security thing, but it isn’t very green! We were all handed a headset for the audio tour and told to listen to the first clip, which told us how to use the audio tour.

Elvis' grave

Outside the door we were reminded once again that no video recording was allowed and that we were allowed to take photos but not to have the flash turned on, then were told which number on the audio tour to press as we walked into the hallway. The tour walked us around the downstairs areas in the house, the upstairs is kept private as a mark of respect. The audio tour was very informative, but it was a little stop and start since I had to keep pausing it while I waited for the queues of people to move on so I could see what it was talking about. Graceland at the weekend… possibly not the best idea. After the house, including the pool room and TV room/ bar in the basement, the tour went through Vernon Presley’s office, the shooting range, the car port, and exhibits which were situated in what used to be the racquetball courts and the Trophy Room, with all of Elvis’ awards lining a long corridor. The mansion tour finished with a visit to the meditation garden, originally built by Elvis as a quiet space for reflection, which now houses the graves of his parents, his grandmother and Elvis himself, as well as a small marker for his stillborn identical twin, who is buried elsewhere. The amount of floral tributes and gifts here was astounding. Apparently Graceland receives thousands every year, and they display all of them somewhere around the estate. After visiting the graves we were bused back across to the main complex (after queuing for 15 minutes in the cold) to visit the rest of the exhibits.

Pink Cadillac

Finally the restaurant was open, so Liz was able to get the coffee that she was craving before we headed into the Automobile exhibit. This houses 33 vehicles which belonged to Elvis, including the famous pink Cadillac among an array of cars, limousines, motorbikes, golf carts and a tractor. The cars were awesome, although it was quite badly lit for photos and of course flash was banned which was a little disappointing. After the cars we went to various exhibits, which although they each had a different theme, all contained very similar information. We were also able to tour Elvis’ two private planes, which were really cool. The ‘Lisa Marie’ named after his daughter features two bathrooms with 24 karat gold seats, a living room, a conference room a guest room and a private bedroom for Elvis, with every seat equipped with a gold plated seatbelt, there is rich and there is too rich! The second plane ‘Hound Dog II’ was much smaller and had bright green and yellow leather seats. After the planes we went to the final two exhibits, situated a short walk down the road. The way that the tickets worked meant that we could not revisit any of the exhibits once we had left them, so with nothing left to do, unless we wanted to buy Elvis nail files or similar in the gift shop we went back to the car. We went back to the hotel via the supermarket to get something slightly more substantial than the instant soup that we had. Although we had planned to spend the afternoon catching up on blogs, we ended up watching copious amounts of Veronica Mars on the laptop while eating microwave popcorn and only doing a little blogging. Oops.

After a slightly disappointing free breakfast at the Best Western in Indianola, we packed up the car and headed towards Leland (birthplace of the frog!) to visit the Jim Henson exhibit and pick up route 61 (the Blues highway) north towards Memphis. Apparently our GPS has a sense of humour since it directed us to drive into the river to get to the Jim Henson museum (mostly dedicated to his most famous character Kermit the Frog).

Us with Kermit.

Luckily our directions to the river took us past the museum itself, so we were able to find it quite easily after deciding that the GPS is mostly useless. The museum was small, but really interesting. The lady that ran it was very helpful, perhaps overly so, talking us through every exhibit before we got a chance to read about things for ourselves. She did give us time to look around on our own at the end though, and we got lots more information from her than if we had just wandered on our own. After posing for photos with the giant Kermit, marvelling at the memorabilia collection and visiting the gift shop (I am now the proud owner of a Kermit wallet.) we thanked the lady and got on our way. After a quick pause to take photos of the area and the creek, we headed towards Clarksdale, home of the blues. Arriving in Clarksdale, we were disappointed to learn that our GPS (no longer a lady, now “Scottish Jim” with a constant craving for Irn Bru) had once again taken us to the wrong place. A phone call to the Rock’n’Blues museum and a short drive later we finally reached our destination, you guessed it, the Rock’n’Blues museum. Getting away with student rates (love it when they do that!) we found that we had the museum to ourselves. This was great as we could peruse the exhibits and short film at our leisure, not having to get irritated with people standing in the way of things we were trying to read. The museum was good and I learnt a great deal about many blues “greats” and legends, including the legend of Robert Johnson.

THE Crossroads

As legend would have you believe, he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical ability, believers of this legend point out how this story is supported by his music, songs like “Cross Road Blues” (where he allegedly sold his soul) and “Hellhound on my Trail”. Our next stop, naturally, was to find the famous crossroads where this allegedly took place. It took us a little while to find them, since they are not at the current crossroads of Routes 61 and 49, but at their original crossroads, closer to the centre of town. The spot is marked by three blue guitars, and once you have found it is somewhat hard to miss. Pulling up nearby we went to take photos before returning to the car for the drive to Memphis. We left rather quickly after a weird old man pulled up and wouldn’t stop staring at us… weird! The drive to Memphis was dull and a little rainy, and we arrived at our hotel late afternoon. Despite the cheap price, we were impressed with the Ramada Inn, and they had upgraded us to a room with two doubles, rather than the one that we had booked… score. As much as I love Liz, its quite nice not to have to share a bed (/sofa/airbed) with her every night for six months! We had a chilled out evening with TV, blogs and pizza. Welcome to Memphis

Mindful of the 8 hour drive ahead of us we managed to leave Randi and Jens’ house by 9.15am. Although we stopped for petrol a couple of times and briefly for lunch, nothing remarkable happened. Most of the day was spent on I-20 which is long and boring. We did finish our drive on US Highway 61, which was much more scenic. We had originally planned to visit some sites on the Mississippi Blues Trail, but it seems we had underestimated the distance we had to drive from Dallas. By the time we arrived in the vicinity of any of the sites it was well after closing time for the museums and getting dark. We will try again tomorrow. After arriving in the hotel, we spent some time watching TV and the rest catching up on our blogs, it is so hard to keep them updated when you are couchsurfing, it’s a bit like hitchhiking in that you feel that in exchange for the free couch/ride that you need to give good chat, hence no time to blog.

We were so tired that we barely noticed Jens leave early in the morning and slept until our alarms went off at half 8ish. Our plan, to be showered and out of the house by 10, since we only had a day to spend in Dallas and we had plans to go out with Jens and some of their friends later in the evening (Randi had work). Randi offered to make us breakfast, a delightful idea, eggs, bacon and southern biscuits. Breakfast was delicious and since Randi had cooked, we did the washing up. Eventually we left the house at 11.20ish,  little later than planned, but worth it for the delicious breakfast. Arriving in Dallas, we headed straight for the Museum of Art, which Randi and Jens are members of and had generously lent us their membership cards for free admission and parking. The parking garage was a little hard to find amongst the maze of one way streets and roadworks but Liz did a fantastic job of navigating us to the underground car park. We were a little disappointed to find that the Contemporary Art section was closed while they installed a new exhibit, but I really enjoyed looking at the Greek and Roman art collections. After finishing in the museum, we set off in search of a Starbucks (for Wifi) following the directions on the iPhone. Unfortunately, Google maps failed us and we did not find a Starbucks where it said there was one, however we did discover one right opposite the art museum. We settled down there for a while to start planning our trip along the Mississippi Blues trail for the next couple of days. Once we had outstayed our welcome at Starbucks, we headed back to the foyer of the art museum to use their Wifi to book our hotels for the next few days, unfortunately our couchsurfing requests for Memphis received no replies. Hotels booked, we stowed the computer back in the car and set off to find Dealey Plaza, the site of JFK’s assassination. On the way there we came across fountain plaza, and realised that it was the exact place that my father had described to me over the phone. There is a fountain there that shoots jets of water vertically up in seemingly random geometric patterns which he remembers sitting by during a visit to Dallas in 1987. It was fantastic to watch and I took loads of photos, although I have none of Liz when she walked through, managing to stay almost completely dry.

Fountains at Fountain Plaza

We found Dealey Plaza a short time later and although we opted not to go into the museum, we spent some time sitting on the grass there. There are two crosses on the road that mark the places where the two shots hit JFK from the 6th floor window of the Book Depository. After a short sit down and a couple of pictures, we headed back to the car. After such a huge breakfast we hadn’t needed lunch and decided that we just couldn’t miss the Cosmic Cafe, an indian themed vegetarian restaurant, recommended by several people as a great vegetarian restaurant. Sitting down, Liz was somewhat astounded with the array of options, and seemed to enjoy the fact that she could choose whatever she wanted on the menu. The food was amazing and we both left thinking that we could never eat again. We were waiting to hear from Jens about where to meet for drinks, unfortunately his mobile phone had an unfortunate encounter with a cup of coffee so we couldn’t call him so we just headed back to the house. No one was there, but the door was unlocked so we went in to be greeted rapturously by the dogs. Randi’s dad popped in to check that we were ok, thankfully Randi had introduced us that morning so he did not think that we were just random strangers wandering into his daughter’s house. We heard from Jens a short while later and he directed us to Potager, where we were meeting him and his friends. We got a little lost, since the GPS is proving to be practically useless, but got there in time for one drink before it closed. Our next destination was Caves, a dive bar where it just happened to be karaoke night. One of Jens’ friends came with us to direct us, and although we got a little lost, we did get to see the stadium that hosted the Superbowl. The evening was fun and I was persuaded to sing karaoke. I picked a song that I knew well, although was somewhat embarrassed about my selection since it didn’t really fit in with any of the other songs being performed… oh well, I can at least say that I have sung karaoke at a dive bar in Texas. At about 12ish Randi arrived from work and Jens headed home, since he had an early start the next morning. Not long later we made our excuses and headed back as well since we were completely exhausted.

Fort Worth Stockyards

If you have read the previous post, you will be unsurprised that we spent most of the morning in bed recovering from the night before. At about 12ish we checked out of the hotel, still feeling a little fragile and headed to Denny’s for a greasy hangover curing fry up. It worked pretty well and by the time we got to the Stockyards we were feeling almost human. The Stockyards kind of have to be seen to be believed, the sort of Wild West town that you see in films and don’t think really exists anymore. According to Wikipedia (source of all knowledge) Fort Worth is often referred to as “Where the West Begins”, and is the last standing Stockyards in the United States. Although it is no longer operational the whole area plays up to the image, with shops selling cowboy boots and hats and saloon bars. The afternoon was spent wandering around shops, looking longingly at the cowboy boots that are so far out of my budget it’s not even funny and posing with cowboy hats (unfortunately all shops seemed to ban photos). We also wandered through some shops selling lovely, but again, very expensive, jewellery and although I would have loved to have bought some, my budget just doesn’t stretch that far.

Car with horns

Interspersed with our time wandering the shops, was time spent lazing in the sun and watching a cattle drive through the stockyards,overseen by volunteer cowboys. Both the cattle and the cowboys looked somewhat bored by the second “show” of their twice daily cattle drive, but it was good to watch none the less. By about half four, having wandered most of the shops we decided that however cool as cowboy boots look in Texas, they wouldn’t have quite the same effect in Godalming and got back into the car to drive to Randi and Jens’ house in Arlington. After a brief stop off at the supermarket to buy dessert (they were cooking us dinner) we arrived at theirs at about 6ish. Randi and Jens were really welcoming and friendly and as they prepared dinner, we kept their cute but energetic dogs entertained. We had delicious fajitas for dinner followed by the chocolate cake and ice cream that we had brought. We chatted with Randi and Jens for ages until Jens went to bed, since he had an early start in the morning. Randi showed us how to set up the sofa bed before heading to bed and said we would probably see her before we headed out in the morning, we also got a dog to keep us warm for the night. 🙂

Since we had a relatively busy day ahead we were up, showered and out pretty early. Our first stop was Toy Joy, a shop that our hosts had raved about. It is essentially a toy shop for adults (no, not in that way!) which stocks everything from board games and model cars to disney themed handbags and novelty ice cube trays. In all honesty we were a little disappointed, most of the stuff there is the sort of things that appears in all the little catalogues that come through the door every Christmas. Although we had anticipated a longer visit, we were done in about 20 minutes and decided to begin the trip to Fort Worth. The first leg of our drive took us to Waco, where we met up with Chad, a golf blogger who Liz knows from the Dunvegan. He took us for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant with great food before waving us off on our way to Fort Worth. We arrived at the hotel at about 5ish and after a brief issue with our room not wanting to let us in, settled down to blog for a bit before heading out later on to celebrate the half way point of the trip. I took the laptop for a couple of hours, then we ate dinner then I read my book and got ready to go out while Liz used the laptop. At about half 9 we wandered downstairs to call a taxi to take us to Billy Bob’s Texas, which is apparently the largest Honky Tonk in the world. Our taxi driver was a little weird, but insisted that he would pick us up for the return journey later, so having checked online that Billy Bob’s closed at 2am, we arranged to meet him outside at 1.45am.

The glitter "ball" at Billy Bob's - yes it is a saddle.

It was disappointingly quiet inside and after buying drinks we found somewhere to sit down. It appeared to be karaoke night, but not quite your usual karaoke. Everyone participating seemed to sing several songs, and knew all the words off by heart. Needless to say, we did not enter. After a few rounds of drinks we were slightly surprised to hear “Last call for alcohol” called around the room. It was not yet midnight, so we asked the girl who was clearing tables and she told us that they closed at midnight. LAME. The website said and still says 2am. After being told to drink up and chucked out with everyone else at bang on midnight, apparently there is no such thing as 15 minutes drinking up time, we found ourselves outside wondering what to do next. Going home seemed a little pathetic after less than two hours, especially on our night out to celebrate being half way through the trip. After asking a couple of people where was still open, we wandered out into the stockyards area and were taken by the hand (literally) by a lovely drunk girl to a bar called White Elephant. She introduced us to some people then left again, unfortunately, they had also called last orders, so on the advice of the girl behind the bar, we wandered off in search of the basement bar. It was still open, and would be for the foreseeable future. Spotting two bar stools we sat down next to some people who looked to be around our age, and two older gentlemen. The older gentlemen were very chatty and friendly and bought us some drinks. At some point however they became a little over friendly, so we made our excuses and wandered back towards Billy Bobs to pick up our taxi. As luck would have it, the driver was a little early to collect us so we didn’t have to wait too long. The ride back was interesting, the driver, a large Nigerian man with a strong accent was rather chatty, and a little inappropriate. Determined to work out whether Liz and I were a couple, he asked us if we liked girls. When we said no, his response was, “You like boys? You like penis?” Both of us laughed a little nervously at this only to be asked whether we preferred black or white penis. “Errr…” This conversation brought us to the door of the hotel, and after being paid and asking Lizzie if she would be his girlfriend if he came to the UK, he went on his way. We made our way up to the room and fell into bed. I miss having drunken marmite toast when I come back from nights out.