A Travellerspoint blog

March 2015


March 17th to 24th

More music all the time is why they call Nashville ‘Music City’. In Nashville, it starts with a song and a stage. Nashville is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and the Grand Ole Opry…..not to mention a replica of the Greek Parthenon.
Firstly, let’s just start off by saying we didn’t see Keith, Nicole, Dolly, Tim, Garth or Taylor, but we did see the largest southern style mansions/houses we have ever seen in one place. Turns out most of Nashville’s celebrities live on the South side of town, right near our accommodation for the week.

Broadway to Nashville is as Bourbon is to New Orleans and Beale is to Memphis. However, what we can say about Broadway is it is exactly as you would expect of a city they call ‘Music City’. As we took a leisurely stroll down Broadway Street in Downtown Nashville, you could hear country music, bluegrass and honkytonk filtering out of the bars, pubs, shops and restaurants. They even pipe music from large speakers situation randomly along the street.

Just off Broadway you can find the Ryman Auditorium. Even though we aren’t huge country music fans we toured the Ryman, known as the ‘Mother Church of Country Music’. When you walk into the Ryman Auditorium, you can feel the history of country music. It is a place where you not only see and feel the history, but also learn a little about the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music stage show broadcast live on radio that commenced in 1925 and has unearthed some the biggest stars of country music. We can only imagine how the acoustics would be given the décor and positioning of the wooden pews, and can only assume that when artists play here, their audiences would have been sitting wide eyed and open mouthed at the awesome sounds they would have heard. We only did the self-guided tour and now wish we had of done the backstage tour, but still found the visit well worth it. Oh, and the big acts still play here as they appreciate its history and the acoustics the old building provides.

On the Saturday morning we decided to take the short 20 mile drive to Franklin, somewhat an outer suburb of Nashville but also a small town in its own right. Upon entering Franklin we noticed a couple of Men’s softball games were being played so we stopped by for an hour or so to watch some of the action…and to try and figure out the rules. It appeared to be an Over 30’s tournament, with games timed for 60 minutes, no fast pitches and a home run is counted as an out (a little similar to backyard cricket when over the fence is out). Franklin is the site of one of the American Civil Wars bloodiest battles where 37,000 men fought over a 2 mile stretch of Franklin’s outskirts. Only a few of the historic homes are still standing from this era. On the way back we stopped by the Loveless Café, known for its biscuits (a type of scone), fruit preserves and country ham.

The Parthenon, yes a replica from Athens built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The full scale copy of the 438 BC original now houses an art museum and a 42 ft statue of the Greek god Athena.

On Sunday morning when we woke up decided to go for a hike. After researching ‘Best hikes in Nashville’ we hit the top rated trail, a mere 5 minutes drive from our accommodation. The Radnor Lake trail is only 1.5 miles long, but in a wonderful area and very popular, in fact we had to park about a half mile from the carpark it was that busy.

Later that afternoon, we thought we might swing past the infamous Bluebird Café. We had read that going to the Bluebird Café is like going to a jam session with 100 of your closest friends. It is usually packed and is often very hard to get in. Reservations are required during the week (and usually sell out within minutes), so we decided to venture over on a Sunday night (open mic night) and snag entry to what is affectionately known as the ‘listening room’. Why do they call it the listening room? Apparently if you go to the Bluebird with the intention of making small talk with your dinner guests, you are mistaken. Even the waitresses will Shhhh! you. When you go to the Bluebird, you go to listen. Anyway, we jumped in the car and arrived at 4:15pm because the doors open at 5:00pm – FAT CHANCE! Now remember…this is a little place that fits only about 100 of your closest friends (closest friends because even 100 people are like a tin of sardines), the line was close to 80-90 deep. Now the show doesn’t commence until 6pm and they only serve snacks, so we were kinda glad we didn’t hang around.

The current location of the Grand Ole Opry lies on the outskirts of town and is surrounded by OpryLand, a large commercial area of shopping centres, resorts and theme parks. The new Opry was opened in 1974 by President Richard Nixon and to carry on the tradition of the show’s run at the Ryman, a 6 foot circle of oak was cut from the corner of the Ryman’s stage and inlaid into centre stage at the new venue. The artists on stage usually stand on the circle as they perform.

How did we view Nashville overall? Very clean, modern and laid back with a great vibe. Certainly a place where you could easily live. We understand why Keith and Nicole have decided to raise their girls in Nashville. They are quoted as saying it reminds them of where they grew up in Australia. We concur.

Posted by V3USA 12:08 Comments (0)

We're going to Graceland, Memphis Tennessee

March 10th to 17th

Memphis, home to Elvis and Graceland, Rythem and Blues and the site where Martin Luther King was killed.

After checking into our spacious 3 bedroom apartment thanks to Airbnb, we find the closest Best Buy store to try and get our still ailing computer fixed. As mentioned previously, we had been having trouble with it in Boulder, thought it was fixed and then lost all Internet connection and therefore access to the School of Distance Education and Alyssa's school work. So, Best Buy have a Geek Squad who can get our Dell computer back up and running. The short version of this story is that the Best Buy was at least 30 minutes drive away and we needed to take it back a couple of times before finally getting it running on the last day of our visit. All is working well now, though the last week was quite stressful.

From the photos in the video below you will notice a group of murals that form part of Overton Square, home to thriving businesses anchored by live performance theatres, bars and upscale shopping. It is located right across from Overton Park where over 300 acres of rolling green oasis is location on the middle of Memphis. This spot is welcome relief as Memphis has a high level of poverty, has many Victorian mansions sitting beside run down shacks and whole neighborhoods seem to be been almost covered in honeysuckle vines. In fact we ventured to downtown one Thursday around 3pm and it almost resembled a ghost town, almost no activity, very aged buildings and a totally under utilized and appreciated use of the Mississippi river only seconds away.

Just like New Orleans has Bourbon Street, Memphis has Beale Street. A permanently blocked street full of bars and clubs including the Rum Boogie Cafe and the BB King bar, all with live music. Although only 2 blocks long and much shorter than Bourbon Street, you can certainly feel what the atmosphere would have been like a number of years ago when R & B got its roots. Unfortunately the night we visited there was a St Patrick's day celebration and most of the bars were playing Pop music, which was clearly very different from what we were expecting and hoping for.

By far the biggest tourist attraction in Memphis is Elvis Pressley's Graceland. Built in 1939 by Thomas and Ruth Moore, the property was named after Ruth's Aunt Grace who originally owned the land, hence became known as Graceland. Elvis purchased the 13 acre property in 1957 for $102,500 and put his own designing touches to the house and surrounding area. The tour starts across the road at the Visitor Centre where we catch a 5 minute shuttle to Graceland and are provided with an iPad and earphones for the Audio tour complete with stories told by both Prescilla and Lisa Marie. Here you get to see true 70's style with tacky rooms like the kitchen with red carpet on the floor and the billiards room with carpet on the walls and ceiling. You also notice Elvis had a TV in every room and sometimes more than just one. Next you get to visit the trophy building that houses an amazing collection of his gold and platinum records, as well as other great memorabilia from Elvis’ early career, his movies, his charitable endeavors and more. The tour of the mansion finishes with a walk in the Meditation Garden where Elvis and members of his family are laid to rest. When you return to the visitors centre you get a chance to see the car museum and his 2 airplanes, the Lisa Marie and a smaller jet. The Lisa Marie is fully equipped with gold plated seatbelts, full size bed and even a shower.

One of the other popular sites in Memphis is the Lorraine Motel, the site where Martin Luther King was killed in 1968. The motel building is now part of the Civil Rights Museum and has extensive exhibits and a detailed timeline chronicling the struggle for African American freedom and equality. The turquoise exterior of the 1950's motel and 2 preserved interior rooms remain much as they were at the time of King's death and serve as pilgrimage points in their own right.

Next, a short drive North East to Nashville.

Posted by V3USA 11:57 Comments (1)

New Orleans

March 3 - March 10

The Big Easy, the Crescent City, or La Nouvelle Orleans - whatever you call it, New Orleans is uniquely different to other cities of the US. Something about the pace of living, something about the values of the people, something about the Joie de vivre that's an everyday part of life here. New Orleans is a mix of the European experience and the Caribean character. And yes, the natives do speak English, or at least some form of it. How yall are? being a common greeting of the locals. We didn't mind, cause we probably sound a bit different too.

Our goal was to experience the French quarter, eat at a famous restaurant, ride the Streetcar, have hot chocolate and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, hear some great music, ride the riverboat and get a glimpse of Bourbon Street, and that is exactly what we did. That, and to fall into the rhythm of the place, the easygoing, relaxed atmosphere and just get a sense of the city, a feel for the city and its way of life.

On our second day in New Orleans we hopped on the infamous, oldest, continuously operating wooden streetcar in the US. This gave us our first glimpse of the georgeous homes and sprawling oaks along our way to Bourbon Street. If you have the time, the Streetcar provides a nostalgic, easy and fun way to get from one place to the other, albeit noisy from the cluttering and crackling of the car on the tracks. It is possibly the best way to see the rich variety of homes, gardens and sights along St. Charles. Lucky for us, we were only a block from the start of the Streetcar ride that took us directly to Bourbon Street.

What is a visit to New Orleans without going to Bourbon Street? Bourbon Street is worth at least one visit, two if like us you are curious about whether it is the same during the day as it is during the night. During the day (our first visit), its sleazy and seedy but still had a certain vibe. It's neither clean nor does it smell all that good and there are nudie bars all along. But it is famous for being seedy and that is why you have to go. At night it comes to life. The people, the bars and the music of every description - jazz, blues, rock, pop just to name a few were a delight and are what gives it its party atmosphere. The street is closed to traffic at night so you can stroll down the middle of the street without being subjected to bar establishment and titty bars trying to pull you in.

For a more laid back, languid style we would recommend Magazine Street. Magazine Street is full of boutiques, antiques and galleries and worth pulling up stumps for the day and simply strolling from one end to the other. The other Street we were told to visit was Frenchmen Street. Frenchmen Street is more likely to satisfy the need for jazz and blues music and is without the sleaziness of Bourbon Street.

Unlike most cities of the US, New Orleans is eclectic appearing to have evolved , for the most part, gracefully and organically. It is made up of old neighbourhoods all interconnected by rambling streets suited for walking. We say well-suited to walking because if you are going to drive, expect narrow one-way streets and make sure you have really good suspension on your car. The houses have character and are inviting, dynamic and interesting. In one direction you'll see shotgun houses with brightly coloured doors and shutters (sometimes mismatched), and in the other direction a stately, but very historic rambling plantation style home with wrought iron gates, elaborate windows and doors made of either cut glass or stained glass and concrete pillars on the front porch. Most with flickering gas lamps above the door. And if the diversity of the housing doesn't get you, the spattering of multi coloured beads left over from Mardi Gras that hang vicariously from the tree lined streets or knotted over fences and 2nd floor railings will certainly catch your eye.

We were also very fortunate to actually see inside these homes. Ranging from the little shotgum style home to the 3 level mansion on a oak lined street. On Wednesday, Larry (Real Estate Broker) our host took us on a personal tour of some open display homes that were for sale. Where else would we get this kind of opportunity. Each of us had our favourites: Ronnie the recently refurbished shotgun, Alyssa the 2 level house with the pool and Nick the really big expensive mansion (old Southern money!!!)

We decided to go to Jacques-Imos on Wednesday night, just to experience some local cuisine. We had been told that the line up is usually out the door, so we decided to head down early. We were very fortunate to be seated with no waiting. This place is very interesting...the walk through the kitchen to be seated is a bit of a treat and the toilet is located in the kitchen. It is a tiny refurbished shotgun and has loads of ambience? Lys and I shared the shrimp and Nick had the chicken. We had the garlic cornbread and enjoyed a complimentary dessert at the end (we decided to avoid the Alligator cheesecake). Great food, funky environment....a great place to eat. Our next culinary experience was better though.

Cafe Du Monde is the original French Market Coffee Stand and has been around since the early 1860's. Who are we to argue with the many locals who were bursting out the canvas sides who we got there. Why wouldn't we step inside to experience the ambience in such an historic place. So we found a seat amongst the throngs of other patrons and ordered a hot chocolate and savoured a plate of traditional beignets covered in powdered sugar. Hint: dark clothes and powdered beignets don't mix.

On Friday night we do the Natchez steamboat cruise. Once again, you can't come to New Orleans without doing a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River. So we had an evening with nothing planned and decided to give it a try. For all its history and romance, riding a steamboat is as exciting and genuine as a century ago. From the calliope pipes and live jazz, to the paddlewheel's 26 tons of white oak, our time on the mighty Mississippi won't be forgotten.

What do you do when you plan on doing a Plantation tour and a bike race/ running race (Frisco Fest) breaks out? Join in, visit the 100 odd artisan stalls and eat jambalaya and gumbo. That's what you do. On Saturday we decided to do a Plantation tour and visit San Francisco & Oak Alley Plantations. When we arrive at San Fransico plantation we see cars everywhere and parking attendants guiding us to vacant parking spots. What? We stop by a police officer and ask him what we have managed to stumble across and he tells us it is the Annual Frisco Fest; a fete style festival designed to raise money for the redevelopment/upkeep of the plantation. Score! We walk around the 100+ stalls! buy some popcorn, visit the plantation grounds and gift shop and then head straight to the food tents for some good ol' locally produced jambalaya and gumbo. After filling our bellies, we proceed to the car and make our way to Oak Alley plantation. No other visual experience exemplifies the 'Old South' than this spectacular mansion. The most memorable feature being the 1/4 mile of 300 yr old oak trees framing the antebellum mansion. We toured the house and also the drastic yet historical site of the slave cabins. Well worth the visit. And before anyone asks...no we didn't partake in either the ride or the run....bummer! (If only we had known).

On Monday, our last day in New Orleans, we thought we might take a drive down St. Charles to both the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery. We believe you can't say you have been to New Orleans unless you have taken a drive down St. Charles. The Garden District is absolutely beautiful and the cemetery (otherwise known as 'little cities of the dead') is chock full of Mausoleums and tombstones that could easily be mistaken for a neighbourhood of small homes.

In most cultures, Monday is known as the dreaded day when the weekend has ended and the work week has commenced. In New Orleans, locals know they can always look forward to their Monday night tradition - red beans and rice. Larry (our fabulous host), Patty and Michael invited us to dinner on Monday night and Larry serenaded us with his trumpet playing. We enjoyed some great conversation about New Orleans and the many cultural differences and a fabulous, yummy meal of red beans, rice, French bread, drinks and Larry's special dessert of strawberries with yogurt and cool whip.

My final thoughts on the Big Easy...New Orleans, the most unique city in the US so far.

Posted by V3USA 09:24 Comments (1)

Boulder, Colorado

February 16th to March 3rd

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog. Long story short, we have had computer problems so organised for a technician in Boulder to fix and erase a virus, however we are now in New Orleans and the computer is worse with no access to Ronnie's email and no access to the Internet. So until we get things repaired, we are limited to the iPad, so here goes.

After a couple of overnight stops in Santa Fe (New Mexico) and then Colorado Springs ( where we encountered our first real snow fall) we drove through to Boulder to stay with our good friends Doug, Anne and their boys Owen (11) and Luke (8). The drive from Colorado Springs was a little concerning due to the amount of snow falling and already on the road, as well as Donny the dodge, who isn't a fan of slippery roads. So after a couple of hours of white knuckle driving, we arrived safely to this view from the front of their house:


Boulder is a college town, home to the University of Colorado Buffaloes and a little over 100,000 people. It is supported by some big technology companies with IBM having a large base on the outskirts of town and Google recently announcing they will be building a community not far from downtown. Boulder is also known as the location where Mork from Ork landed (1970's TV show with a then unknown Robin Williams 'Na Nu Na Nu') and where the JonBenet Ramsey murder occurred in 1996. Being over 5,000 feet in elevation and having beautiful views and many open country yet undulating and mountainous roads, it is also a place where some of the world's best endurance athletes train to gain altitude training benefits, including Australia's 3 time Hawaii Ironman winner Craig Alexander.

This is my 5th visit to Boulder in the past 15 years so it must have some attraction (other than the free accommodation at Doug's house, thanks again buddy). The city of Boulder is where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains. West of the city are slabs of sedimentary stone tilted up on the foothills, known as the Flatirons. The Flatirons are a widely recognized symbol of Boulder. It is also home to a number of very cool micro brew pubs, restaurants and cafes. We came across the Village Inn coffee shop one morning, purely by mistake, where we were treated by a Kiwi waitress and as it was our fist trip to the Village Inn, we were granted a Village Virgin chant from everyone in the quaint little diner.


After a few days re-acquainting and catching up with other friends, we departed for the ski area of Winter Park where Doug and Anne have a cabin. Although we did not ski, we did enjoy a coupe of nice and snowy (albeit very cold) days. A snowstorm hit Boulder whilst we were at Winter Park and Donny the Dodge looked ilike this on our return:


The next few days were particularly cold. One day we had to dig the snow away from Donny and it was -15C. That is darn cold. It turns out that for the first 2 weeks of February, very little snow had fallen, yet once we arrived, the weather turned and it was officially the snowiest February on record. Kind of reminds us of the last time we visited for Christmas 2009 where we somehow brought a cold snap that locals still talk about.

On one of our days off from school work we decided to drive to Denver (45 mins drive) and see the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Here we spent close to 5 hours viewing the exhibits, seeing a movie in the Planetarium titled 'We are all Aliens' and seeing an iMax 3D movie titled 'Walking with Dinosaurs'. It was a great day out.


Also, I got a chance to see a College basketball game with the Colorado Buffaloes taking on the 7th ranked Arizona Wildcats. The game was pretty much over at half time (Arizona was cruising) but the atmosphere of 11,000 people, school marching band and continuous action during breaks in play was a great experience.

Until next time, cross your fingers for our computer and I hope to give an update soon on our time on the Mississippi River.


Posted by V3USA 17:46 Comments (3)

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