Sunday 22 November 2015

Travel Reviews: Memphis, Tennessee, Part 1

Leaving Nashville, we drove the few hours to Memphis, where we were spending the next three days.
Harbor Town is a posh, quiet area just outside central Memphis only a few minutes from the Arkansas state line (which we crossed just so we could say we had been!). The houses around here are lovely and look quite expensive, and the town square has a few upmarket shops and a hairdresser.
The hotel is very nice (and not cheap) with pretty large rooms and friendly receptionists, who helped us when we realised we were supposed to have confirmed a sightseeing ticket but hadn’t. There’s a small downstairs lounge and the bar area is very small too, though the downstairs restaurant (Paulette’s, where we didn’t eat dinner but was used for breakfast) was nice. There’s a piano in the lounge and a pianist in the evenings, and they bring you a little decanter of port along with chocolates at night. The rooftop terrace restaurant is very good too.
Breakfast was delicious – there’s a menu with about four or five hot dishes to choose from so one day I had pancakes and sausage with syrup and the next French toast, then on the third day apple pancakes with bacon; I preferred the plain pancakes but they were still very good.
Miss Cordelia’s describes itself as a “progressive grocery experience” (say what now?) but also “a throwback to a time when a trip to the store didn’t mean aisles longer than football fields.” It caters perfectly to what I imagine the local clientele might be like based on the expensive homes in this area.

As well as a grocery shop there is a café with around 8 tables; people were buying lunch from the deli counter to take away (mainly sandwiches and salads), though as we were staying in the hotel a few doors down we had our lunch here. I had a roast beef, blue cheese and horseradish sandwich, which was good. They had a very large range of sandwiches, paninis and so on with funny names like “triple decker diet wrecker”. The cakes looked very yummy too!
This is a really important museum I would encourage everyone to visit. It traces the history of the whole civil rights movement in the US, from slavery to black power and beyond. I learnt a lot and it was extremely moving at times, but it is also really nicely done – different types of exhibits and enough things to keep your attention that it made the 3 hours or so we spent here seem to fly by.

The museum is actually located in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Junior was shot which adds a whole other dimension. You get to go into the room where he died and you can also go into the building across the street and stand at the window that the fatal shot was fired from. That building is also part of the museum which I wasn’t expecting so that definitely added something extra.
Our hotel had an open air terrace restaurant which overlooks the Mississippi river (though it’s not a great view as the road is in front of it) but it’s a lovely place to spend the evening. The cocktail list was amazing and the food good; the portions were fairly small compared to other places but that’s no bad thing as we were eating so much all the time!

I had catfish fritters from the Mississippi which came with a spicy remoulade dip, and a side of chips which of course turned out to be crisps which seemed a strange thing to have with the meal but never mind. My fiancé had sliders (mini burgers) and his mum who is veggie had houmous and bread and a side of fries. She had a trio of desserts which looked amazing – three small portions of chocolate mousse, key lime pie and strawberries and cream. Well, they didn’t just look amazing – she did let me taste them as well! My fiancé had a piece of cheesecake which he thought was very good and I felt slightly more virtuous by turning down dessert.

My MIL asked the bartender to make a non-alcoholic cocktail and gave him free rein; the one he came up with was lovely but best of all they gave her a free refill when we had our sodas refilled. You definitely wouldn’t get that in the UK! The meal was fairly expensive though – nearly 100 dollars for the three of us.
We arrived at 10.20 intending to do the 10.30 tour but didn’t realise it was quite a small place so they can’t cater for a lot of people on each tour. There is no time on your ticket so you don’t a specific tour and we found the 10.30 was already full. Normally there is only one tour an hour but luckily there were enough people so they had decided to put another one on at 11. There are a few things to look at while you wait and the entrance is actually a café but bring a book in case you are waiting an hour!

As the tour begins, you stand in a room with exhibits in glass cases while the guide talks about them, then you get time to look and take photos. Then you go down to the studio where he tells toy the rest of the history for instance about the Million Dollar Quartet – the famous photo of them is on the wall and this is the exact spot where it was taken, which is pretty cool. We heard about how people like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis came to record there and you can pose actually holding Elvis’ microphone in the spot where he sang. I would definitely recommend it.
I’m not particularly an Elvis fan (wrong era for me) but I was still really excited about going to Graceland. We went on a week day so it wasn’t too busy at all which was good – at the entrance/car park you queue to get on a shuttle bus and we found it quite uncomfortable to stand for the ten minutes or so it took in the blazing heat.

You are given iPads for the audio tour which you hang around your neck and plug headphones in to. I’ve never seen this at a museum before and it’s great – the ipad lets you zoom in and explore things you maybe can’t quite see in each room (as you generally get to stand in the entrance of each room rather than getting to go right in). Finally you get to visit the graves of Elvis and some of his family members.
Graceland was not as big or ‘bling’ as I expected, aside from the cars and planes. You have to pay extra to see the planes and we didn’t bother but the car collection is really cool. It’s a shame the famous pink Cadillac wasn’t there – ironically at the time it was in an exhibition in London (where we are from!).

We didn’t do the archive as it was 2pm and we were hungry. There is a grill restaurant, burger bar and ice cream parlour on site, and we went to the diner. It looked really cute decorated in 50s style with jukeboxes, though the food is definitely fast food – you order and pay at counter then wait for your food and take it on a tray to your table yourself. We each had a cheeseburger, fries and drink which came to 10 dollars each – the food was fine but nothing special. It was all part of the experience though. And make sure you check out the gift shops – there are several and all have slightly different things but on the whole they sell the same stuff. I bought an Elvis cookery book and spent quite a long time choosing the perfect keyring!

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