We were always due to fly home from SAn Fransisco and have that as the last city on our marvelous world tour. But on a lovely sunny (yet cold)day in New Zealand Mrs P was doing a bit of rare forward research when the USA Lonely Planet fell open on the New Orleans page. It soon became apparent that both P's had always fancied a visit to New Orleans (its amazing you think you'd know each other after spending 24/7 together for eight months but it was news to both of us). So with big ambitions and very sensitive discussions with ground crew at home we decided to extend our trip by a few days and take in some of the highlights of the deep south. Fine in theory but do you think British Airways could see the full beauty of the P's dream - hell no! After several weeks of wrangling and a bit of money changing hands BA finally agreed to alter our fully flexible tickets!
So leaving SAn Fran we headed first to Nashville the home of country music. Now I'm sure some of you will be turnign your noses up at the thought of country music but we have to say (Mrs P especially) that there is a place for country music and the lovely cowboys associated with it. Fortunatly or unfortunatly that place is Nashville. We were slightly concerned the first night when we checked into our motel. All seemed fine as we paid for two nights accommodation up front and headed to our room at the back of the parking lot. It wasn't easy manovering our large SUV through all the police cars and when the police started bashing down the door of a room upstairs we knew somethign was most definatly up! Once the bust was over and the very seedy looking offender was whisked away by the feds we relaxed into our room relying on the theory that lightening doesn't strike the same spot twice.
THat aside Nashville turned out to be a great little city. We visited the Country Music Museum and were suprised to find there is actually some really good music which is called 'country' but doesn't sound like Billy Ray Cyrus. In fact it was such a great musuem it took up pretty much the whole day to get round. Needing refreshment we headed into town that evening for some ribs and baked beans! The food is a lot different in the South and we loved it. We were thankful however that we weren't staying more than a week because there is absolutly nothing heathly about Southern cooking, which is most probably why it tastes so darn good. There are a handful of very good bars in Nashville, all with great live bands and very cold beer. We cruised around a bit and landed in Tootsies for a country fest which saw one very chipper young cowboy dancing and singing on the bar. The atmosphere was great, everyone singing and danicng with the P's standing in the corner pretending to know the words and swaying like slightly scared english folk.
From Nashville we headed across Tennessee to Memphis for a bit of Blues. Excitement levels reached fever pitch as we neared Memphis and the signs for Elvis' Graceland started to appear. In a flash of inspiration Mrs P discovered there was a hotel right near Gracelands called the 'Heartbreak Hotel' with fingers crossed we called en route and were suprised to get a room for the next couple of nights. Arriving at the Heartbreak Hotel (it was actually at the end of Lonely Street)we checked in to our Elvis themed room and checked out the hotels heart shaped pool. Mr P headed off to the Civil Rights musuem at the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine is the motel where Martin Luther King was assasinated and the musuem is housed in the motel. Mr P reported back that it was an amazing musuem and a great visit. Mrs P tried to convince him that her choice of listening to Elvis FM radio by the pool was equally cultural and inspiring.
That night we made use of the hotels courtesy bus to head into town for a few bevs and some food. Standing waiting for the bus outside the hotel, Elvis was playing from speakers in the vegetation and there was a feeling of love in the air - everyone waiting for the bus had something in common...we all loved Elvis and were delighted to be there. There are few occasions in life when you can look around and know you are amoungst likeminded people and take comfort in the fact you have something in common...OR.... you can be completely horrifed that you are standing amoungst a gang of the saddest most pathetic bunch of hicks you've ever seen in your life and maybe just maybe it was time to stop being an 'outed' Elvis fan! The latter most definately applied.
There is one main party street in Memphis, Beale Street, and from what we remember it was rocking. We had planned to get the last bus home but missed that by at least four hours. We wobbled from bar to bar taking in the phenominal blues and increasing Jack DAniels profits.
The next morning the sun was beating down and Gracelands was calling... head in hands we crossed the hotel grounds to get to Graceland Corp. HQ. We were equipped with daft looking tourist headphones for our tour and before we knew it a nifty little bus drove us up the drive of Gracelands. Mrs P had a wobbley moment when whe heard Elvis singing "welcome to my world" but then the hangover made itself felt again and brought her crashing back to reality. We got to mooch round the whole downstairs of Gracelands and we'd have to say although it was obviously state of the art in the seventies when the King left the building for the last time, it was decidely compact for someone of such fame. We saw loads of spangly costumes and thousands of gold and platinum disks but a highlight was definatly the two private airplanes. Maybe he had to scrimp a bit on the house to pay for lear jet and the boeing 737? In a nutshell - it should have been tacky and it was a bit but in a really good way and it was a great place to visit. Another top spot we visited was Sun Studios were all the greatest have recorded at some stage in their careers.
Leaving Memphis we headed further South through Mississippi to Louisiana and into New Orleans. The last leg of the journey was very different from what we'd previously seen. They;ve built huge road bridges over the swamp that stretch for hundreds of miles down to the coast. Bouyed by the difference in scenery we were distracted on arrival in New Orleans and took a wrong turning ending up in a decidely dodgy area of town. After a few Hail Marys, a quick prayer to Allah and long distance call to Budha we felt confident we;d coverd all angles and proceded with caution through the 'hood' and back into the tourist areas. We'd managed to swing ourselves a very nice hotel in the French Quarter which was right in the middle of the action. There were a few signs that the hotel expected its guests to party...a bottle opener in the room and one in the bathroom as well just incase you can;t make it back to the bedroom and complimentary breakfast delivered to your room between 8am and 1pm. Nice touch!
So we headed out to find some Jazz. There are hundreds of bars with bands playing and even more very drunk Americans. We stumbled across a very cool jazz bar were they treated us like gangsters and pulled a new table out from behind the scenes so we could sit right in the middle of the fornt row! It was great to be so close to the cats playing jazz but not so great to be the first to recieve the tip-jar after each song.
Next day we ventured out into the town to explore the french quarter only to find that all the party fiends were tucked up in bed. The streets where pretty much deserted until late afternoon. As the day got progressivily hotter a storm was brewing overhead and it started to rain so we took shelter in the nearest musuem which happened to be the Voodoo Musuem! It turned out to be in the downstairs of the local voodoo priests house and imagine our delight when the priest appeared and 'offered' to show us round. We were shown all sorts of voodoo dolls and opfferings to the spirits and the petrified cat was a definate highlight. It all turned a little bit more weird when the priest started tellign us about his 'children' one of which was an albino he used to use in wedding ceremonies. None the wiser we continued to nod and smile like entusiastuc brits and headed out into the courtyard with the priest. At that point he informed us that his albino child had recently passed on and since then its brother had taken to climbing over the bansiters of the courtyard and dangling down on unsuspecting visitors. At this point Mrs P was looking very confused and Mr P assisted but mouthing "snakes" to her. It turned out the guy had 12 huge pythons that lived in the upstairs of his house!! Feeling very unsettled at this stage Mrs P nearly passed out when a huge clap of thunder went off in the sky in a very dramatic voodoo style! Quick exit...
Next day we headed out on a swamp tour which was great fun. We saw racoons, aligators, huge rats and spiders and a snake. That evening we ventured to Preservation HAll for some more jazz after another amazing southern dinner. If you ever go to N.Orleans we can definatly recommend blackend catfish and fried green tomatoes.
And so our trip came to an end and we headed out to Loius Armstrong airport for the first leg of the long journey home. We both had a brilliant time whilst we were away and will never forget the amazing things we've seen and experienced. We are very lucky to have been able to do this trip and spend so much time together (and actually still get on!). It would not have been half as easy without the help of Mrs D as chief ground crew member taking care of things for us back home - Thank you xx. So now we are on the hunt for jobs, getting used to taking care of a house again (we hadn't changed a bed or cleaned in nine months!) and rediscovering the power of spellcheck! We've even reverted to our normal names instead of Mr & Mrs P! Its been a great few months, thank you for reading our journal and sending us all your lovely messages.
The P's xx