Nashville, a journey to the Deep South

I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville – the home of Country and Western music!

Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and we visited as part of our big tour of the deep south of America so unfortunately our time here was pretty limited. In fact, although we spent roughly the same time in some of the other locations such as Memphis, Chattanooga and Tupelo, Nashville was the one place I really noticed that we wouldn’t have enough time to see the vast majority of the sights this fantastic place had to offer.

I couldn’t wait to visit, mainly to learn more about the history of country and western music, as Nashville is known as the centre of the country music industry, earning it the nickname “Music City”.

Although it was very limited, here’s what we managed to squeeze in during our short time here;

The first point of interest made me chuckle – the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge – also known by the locals as the Dolly Parton bridge due to its two rather large humps….

EE7B964A-489C-4848-A5EB-F61A87CD5ED0

RCA Studio B is a recording studio which was originally known as RCA Studios. The studio helped to revive the popularity of country music and establish Nashville as an international recording centre. 

The recording studio is a single-storey building with offices at the front, but the area of the studio and control room has a second storey which contains an echo chamber.

636D69B9-EBFF-4A93-A7BE-90ED87BC8906

Famous artists who recorded songs at Studio B include The Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and the one and only, Elvis Presley! In her 1994 memoir, My Life And Other Unfinished Business, Dolly Parton told the story of how she was rushing to her first recording session at the studio in September 1967 and, rushing to make the session on time, drove her car through the side wall of the building. The spot where her car impacted the building is still visible even today!

5D38CA58-A9E5-4B18-A083-646E6D8D4A63

Daily tours of the studio are offered by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the tour guides have some fantastic stories to tell which have been gathered over the years – including Elvis Presley banging his head on a low hanging microphone during the recording of “Are you lonesome tonight?” The sound of him doing it can still be heard on the original recording they play for you!

F61C66B2-5272-49DF-858F-E24B13B3E5E4

We also visited the Nashville Parthenon which is in Centennial Park. It is a full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens and was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Today it is used as an art museum – it is really impressive to look at!

CDA7273F-EE03-48D3-BFD2-32974040719A

I don’t even really know how to begin explaining the amazing Country Music Hall of Fame! It is absolutely huge! It is one of the world’s largest museums and this is obvious as soon as you step inside! You could spend weeks here looking at the memorabilia and reading the information contained within one of the world’s most extensive musical collections. 

Here are just a few of the incredible items and collections you can find inside;

Elvis Presley’s gold cadillac – the 1960 Cadillac was customised by Barris Kustom City of North Hollywood. The exterior sheen is due to its 24 carat gold plate highlights and forty painted coats of a translucent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales called diamond dust pearl. The interior includes a gold plated television and a record player with automatic changer!

Taylor Swift’s crystal covered guitar! Swoon! The pictures didn’t do it justice at all!

EEC07089-2FE9-4DB4-B6C1-83CA89DFF6A1

60A458AB-70D7-4E3D-BEB0-A7159BB121EA

Elvis Presley’s 24 carat gold leaf piano (starting to see a theme here!) I don’t think this is actually here anymore, as news articles seem to suggest it sold in an auction to the Hard Rock Cafe for $600,000!! I’m glad I got to see it whilst I was there!

A148C8DF-CC7E-4DF3-BA4C-9AEB63B835FD

Plus rooms and rooms and rooms of memorabilia from hundreds and hundreds of Country and Western music stars, including Roy Rogers, Patsy Montana, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Red Foley, T. Texas Tyler, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, Cindy Walker, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, Keith Urban, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Patsy Kline, Tammy Wynette and infamous names like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton…. the list goes on!

7D0AC65B-399B-4757-A546-48F364E5987D

234A1E0C-1ACB-4616-964A-5B7BC3460168

2129F49F-6FD3-4B93-927F-829A126AEFA8

E71AF658-01EE-47A3-B559-F6ECDCDB5696

223955B8-1B7D-4CD7-8BDC-29CF675CE4D1

After spending a good few hours here we continued to explore this amazing city and came across the Johnny Cash Museum. 

God, I really regret not visiting here but I don’t know how we would have had the time!

7A272CF0-AD3C-4C5E-8FDC-757EDD1E6033

6711A4D8-2575-438B-8271-0218609B8BA8

It features the largest and most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world, and is located in the heart of Downtown Nashville. It is one of only six attractions in Nashville to receive the coveted AAA Gem rating and is ranked the number 1 music museum in the world by Forbes, Conde’ Naste and National Geographic Traveler – if you get the chance – GO!

Walking the streets of Nashville is amazing feeling. It is so relaxed, and everywhere you look are shops selling Cowboy hats and Cowboy Boots, or really expensive guitars.

BCE88107-B3D1-4D8C-97DF-5E34958F4F51

2DABA898-5708-4540-B13D-EE004D3C3FC8

54BA8A1B-3927-4C6D-865C-4ACD51476379

There are bars open everywhere with live music being played and even street sellers selling famous Moonshine! The stuff looked lethal so no, we didn’t have any!

C6BA8FF5-1ECC-4637-99AC-39C6D1084D3D

There’s so much to see and do here, its easy to see why people love it and call it the home of Country and Western music! I just hope I get the opportunity to go back some day!

 

New Orleans, A journey to the Deep South

We visited New Orleans mainly for the Mardi Gras celebrations (see my Mardi Gras blog!) but during our few days here we managed to fit in so much more besides! New Orleans is a truly beautiful place, I really I hope I get the opportunity to go back again someday.

Here’s some of the other amazing things we managed to see and do during our trip to the Big Easy:

Jackson Square

Jackson Square is an historic park in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, for its central role in the city’s history, and as the site where in 1803 Louisiana was made United States territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase. In 2012 the American Planning Association designated Jackson Square as one of America’s Great Public Spaces.

IMG_4722

St Louis Cathedral

The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France (also called St. Louis Cathedral) is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and is the oldest cathedral in the United States. The first church on the site was built in 1718; the third, built in 1789, was raised to cathedral rank in 1793. The cathedral was expanded and largely rebuilt in 1850, with little of the 1789 structure remaining.

The cathedral is said to be haunted by Fr. Antonio de Sedella, more commonly known as Père Antoine. He was a priest at the cathedral and his body is buried within the church. He is said to walk the alley named after him next to the cathedral in the early mornings. Accounts of his apparitions by parishioners and tourists claim that he appears during Christmas Midnight Mass near the left side of the altar, holding a candle.

Another haunting is said to take place in the cathedral by Père Dagobert, a monk who resided in the church. It is said that his voice can be heard chanting the Kyrie on rainy days….

Luckily we didn’t encounter Père Antoine or Père Dagobert during our visit!

IMG_2358

The Cabildo

The Cabildo was the seat of Spanish colonial government, and is now a museum. It is adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral.

The original Cabildo was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire (1788). The Cabildo was rebuilt between 1795–99 as the home of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans, and the third floor with mansard roof was later added, in French style. The building took its name from the governing body who met there — the “Illustrious Cabildo,” or city council. The Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies late in 1803, and continued to be used by the New Orleans city council until the mid-1850s.

IMG_4726

Pontalba Building

The Pontalba Buildings form two sides of Jackson Square, they are matching red-brick, one-block-long, four‑story buildings built in the late 1840s by the Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; and the upper floors are apartments which, reputedly, are the oldest continuously-rented such apartments in the United States.

IMG_4728

The French Quarter

The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré, is the oldest neighbourhood in the city of New Orleans.

The district as a whole has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, with numerous contributing buildings that are deemed significant.  Due to its distance from areas where the levee was breached during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as well as the strength and height of the nearest Mississippi River Levees in contrast to others along the canals and lakefront, it suffered only relatively light damage from floodwater compared to other areas of the city.

IMG_4730

IMG_2371

Saint Louis Cemetery

Saint Louis Cemetery is the name of three Roman Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans. Most of the graves are above-ground vaults constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The above-ground tombs in New Orleans cemeteries are often referred to as “cities of the dead.” Enter the cemetery gates, and you will find decorative ironwork, sun-bleached tombs and stunning crosses and statues. It seems weird visiting such a place as a tourist, but I’m pleased we paid our respects to such a beautiful peaceful place.

IMG_4731

Early settlers struggled with different methods to bury their dead. If you dig only a few feet down in New Orleans, the grave becomes soggy and begins filling with water which results in the coffin literally floating. Even worse, after a rainstorm, the rising water would pop the airtight coffins out of the ground. To this day in New Orleans, unpredictable flooding still lifts the occasional coffin out of the ground in areas generally considered to be safe from flooding.

IMG_4732

Eventually, New Orleans’ graves were kept above the ground, following the Spanish custom of using vaults. The walls of some cemeteries here are made of vaults stacked on top of one another, while wealthier families could afford the larger, ornate tombs with crypts. Many family tombs look like miniature houses, complete with iron fences. The rows of tombs resemble streets–and this is why New Orleans burial plots quickly became known as cities of the dead.

We visited St. Louis cemetery number 3 which is located about two miles from the French Quarter. The cemetery opened in 1854 and the crypts on average are more elaborate than the other St. Louis cemeteries, including a number of fine 19th century marble tombs.

St. Louis No. 3 also includes a Greek Orthodox section. The cemetery was heavily flooded during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but its tombs escaped relatively unscathed other than some plaster damage from debris.

IMG_4733

The Mississippi River

The picture I took of the river looks really cold and wet…. because it was! I couldn’t stand there in the cold for much longer to take a photograph so I’m afraid this was the best one I have!

The Mississippi River is the chief river of the second largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Flowing entirely in the United States (although its drainage basin reaches into Canada), it rises in northern Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for 2,320 miles to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

IMG_4734

New Orleans Street Cars

Streetcars in New Orleans have been an integral part of the city’s public transportation network since the first half of the 19th century. The longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines, the St. Charles Avenue line, is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world.

There are currently five operating streetcar lines in New Orleans: The St. Charles Avenue Line, the Riverfront Line, the Canal Street Line (which has two branches), and the Loyola Avenue Line and Rampart/St. Claude Line (which are operated as one through-routed line). The St. Charles Avenue Line is the only line that has operated continuously throughout the wide destruction by Hurricane Katrina and subsequent floods from the levee breaches in August 2005.

IMG_4735

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation is an historic plantation located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, in the community of Vacherie, St. James Parish, Louisiana.

Oak Alley is named for its distinguishing visual feature, an alley created by a double row of southern live oak trees about 800 feet long,  which were planted in the early 18th century — long before the present house was built. 

The mansion has a square floor plan, arranged around a central hall that runs from the front to the rear on both floors. The rooms feature high ceilings and large windows and the exterior features a free-standing colonnade of 28 Doric columns on all four sides that correspond to the 28 oak trees in the alley.

The grounds include a formal garden that separates the mansion from the old garage. The old car garage is the temporary site for the sugarcane Theater, where the history of sugarcane cultivation is explained through a video and exhibits. A blacksmith shop and the Stewart graveyard are also on the grounds.

The film “Interview with a Vampire” was filmed here!

IMG_4738

IMG_2369

 

 

Carriage Rides

I’d highly recommend taking a carriage ride while you’re in New Orleans – the tours are expensive but the drivers are so knowledgeable – you can learn a great deal during your 90 minute journey.  The carriages take you past the many landmarks of New Orleans, including Bourbon Street, the Mississippi, and Jackson Square.

IMG_2370

Food-wise there are so many amazing places to eat in New Orleans, but I would highly recommend a visit to Cafe Du Monde!

When you are there, order a Cafe Au Lait (coffee with hot milk) and Beignets (a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar served in orders of three). They are absolutely delicious! Be warned – Cafe Du Monde gets VERY busy – be prepared to queue!

 

On our travels around the city we also tried jambalaya – a dish consisting of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. The meat usually includes smoked sausage such as andouille, along with some other meat or seafood, frequently pork, chicken, crawfish, or shrimp.

We also tried gumbo – a stew that consists of a strong stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and what Louisianians call the “Holy Trinity” of vegetables, namely celery, bell peppers, and onions. I highly recommend trying both – very delicious!

Drinks wise, as I say in my Mardi Gras blog – definitely give the Hurricane cocktail a try – a famous cocktail created by New Orleans tavern owner Pat O’Brien consisting of dark rum, white rum, over-proofed rum, passionfruit syrup and lemon juice. In the 1940s, Pat O’Brien needed to create a new drink to help him get rid of all of the less-popular rum that local distributors forced him to buy before he could get a few cases of more popular liquors such as scotch and other whiskeys. He poured the concoction into hurricane lamp–shaped glasses and gave it away to sailors, hence the name.

A definite place to add to your bucket list to visit – New Orleans is one of my favourite destinations out of all of the amazing places I’ve visited so far!

Mardi Gras!

Hello fellow travellers and wanderers! Welcome to my latest travel blog which is about the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans!

I have always wanted to go and see the Mardi Gras parades and spend time in New Orleans – amazing history, culture, architecture, food and one of the biggest celebrations on the planet – what more could you want in a destination??

IMG_4719

Lundi Gras

We arrived in New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras (otherwise known as Lundi Gras) and the streets were already alive with people preparing for the big day. We ventured out in the early evening to watch the Uptown Route parades and the streets were already really crowded. We thought we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see much but every  person we encountered was so friendly! People moved aside and made space for us to see the floats going past, and a couple of hours into the evening there was a group of eight of us who stuck together and took it in turns to buy rounds of the world famous Hurricane cocktails!

img_2348

We watched the 20 float parade of Krewe of Proteus which depicted the theme of “Ancient Elements of Alchemy” followed by the 32 float parade of Krewe of Orpheus, whose king of the parade this year was none other than Quentin Tarantino! The Krewe of Proteus is the second oldest parade Krewe in the New Orleans Mardi Gras and was founded in 1882. The parade floats still use the original chassis from the 1800’s! The Krewe of Orpheus was founded in 1993 and takes its name from the son of Zeus and Calliope. The Krewe of Orpheus were the first super crew who allowed both male and female riders on the floats.

IMG_4706

One of the most well known Mardi Gras traditions is the throwing of beads and other trinkets.  The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers and as well as beads, throws include doubloons, cups, stuffed toys and even coconuts! Doubloons are aluminum coins and come in many different colours. They depict the parade theme on one side and the Krewe’s emblem on the other and are collectors items, particularly ones from the Bacchus parade which includes the image of the celebrity king on one side! By the end of the evening we were already laden down with a huge stash of beads, cups, and doubloons! Check out just some of the stash we came away with:

IMG_7376

IMG_7374

IMG_4707

IMG_4708

IMG_4709

After a rather long cocktail filled evening we crawled back to the hotel to prepare for next day’s big event!

Mardi Gras 

We were up nice and early for the day’s celebrations – we had pre-booked tickets at the Royal Grandstand in Lafayette Square on St Charles Avenue, directly opposite the Gallier Hall. Tickets were $50 per person but it meant we had a great view of the parades and for an extra $5 each we were given VIP access which included easy access to toilets (you’ll understand how important this is if you ever get the chance to go!).

IMG_4710

The parades started early (around 8:00am) and Mardi Gras starts with the Zulu Parade (keep your eyes peeled for the very special most-prized golden coconuts which are handed out as part of this parade!). “King of Carnival” Rex follows the Zulu parade and is the oldest Krewe of New Orleans and also the founder of the Mardi Gras colours of purple (justice) green (faith) and gold (power). Following Rex was the Truck Krewes of Elks and Crescent City.

IMG_4711

I would highly recommend booking tickets for the grandstand – it gives you a brilliant viewpoint and great opportunity to take photos and also gives you the best chances of catching all the amazing throws and trinkets from the parades! Tickets for the grandstand sell very quickly so book them as quickly as possible!

IMG_4712

After watching the amazing parades we ventured over to the French Quarter to continue the celebrations – if you are a cocktail fan then this is the place for you! Try one of New Orleans’ famous Hurricanes and be sure to have a Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiri – any flavour daiquiri you would like served in an amazing Jester cup! Other drinking options in this part of town include “the strongest cocktail in the world” – so take things steady!

IMG_2519

Things were relatively quiet this year in general as unfortunately the year we chose to go  was the coldest year for 100 years! A couple of extra jackets were bought and as you can see from the pictures, the streets were rather empty and the umbrellas and waterproofs were out!

The majority of people who attend Mardi Gras wear masks during the celebrations and float riders are required to wear masks by law! During our wander around the streets of New Orleans we came across some amazing shops selling the most beautiful array of masks, ranging from simple to elaborate! Some places also sell handmade Italian masks created in the old traditional Venetian style. I had to have one, it would be rude not to!

IMG_4720

IMG_7373

Another tradition I knew I wanted to partake in was to try a King Cake!

As part of New Orleans’s Christian faith, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. We refer to this as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night. Today, the tradition continues as people all over the world gather for festive Twelfth Night celebrations. A popular custom was and still is the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings, called “A King’s Cake.”

Each king cake has a tiny baby inside (generally plastic now, but it’s possible the baby might be made of porcelain or even gold). The tradition of King Cake Parties have evolved over time, and the “lucky” person who receives the slice of cake with the baby is asked to continue the festivities by having the next King Cake party (or at least purchasing the next cake for the office!).

Originally, king cakes were a simple ring of dough with a small amount of decoration. Today’s king cakes are much more festive. After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.

They were sold out in most places but I finally managed to get my hands on one! Yummy!

IMG_4721

What an amazing couple of days in New Orleans for Mardi Gras! We spent a couple more days in New Orleans afterwards and because we saw and did so much I’ve written a separate blog on this which I should be able to publish quite soon!

I would love to go back, I loved it so much but also hopefully the next time the weather wouldn’t be freezing and throwing it down with rain!!! Despite the dreadful weather, this was one of my all time favourite trips and favourite destination!