Sunday 6 December 2015

USA Travel Review - Memphis Part 2

The current Duckmaster

The duck parade at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis is world famous even though most people have probably never heard of it. It all stemmed from two gentlemen who had a duck (a live one) to use as a decoy when they went duck hunting, and accidentally left it in the hotel, and when they remembered, they decided to put it in the hotel's fountain and beat a hasty retreat. When the hotel manager found out he was horrified, expecting to hear complaints from guests, but instead they loved the ducks and asked for them to stay.

There was a hotel porter who had previously been an animal trainer with the Ringling Brothers circus and offered to try and train the ducks; the hotel manager said if he could, he could have a job as Duckmaster as long as he liked. And he held that position for about 30 years!

Today the hotel is on its 4th Duckmaster and twice a day, at 11 and 5pm sharp, you can witness the duck parade. The ducks come down in the lift and parade - to music - along a red carpet into the fountain. At 5pm they get out and go into the lift (the Duckmaster presses the button) and go to sleep on the roof of the hotel!

While we were in Memphis I really wanted to see this and it's worth me giving a few tips for anyone else who is interested as logistically it's not the most straightforward. The hotel is centrally located and easy to get to (we went by Uber); you do need to get there at least 40 minutes if not an hour in advance. We took some seats on comfy chairs in the lobby bar off to one side of the fountain, but what we didn't know is that they rope off the aisle where the ducks walk, and if you are seated, you are not allowed to stand up and move closer! So even though my fiancé and future mother-in-law had a good view when they sat down, by the time the parade started, people were sitting in other chairs in front of them and totally blocking their view.

People waiting to see the ducks

As soon as I saw the rope going up I thought I'd keep an eye on it and go and stand in the section where they allowed people; five minutes later I turned around again and it was full! I went and stood behind someone and realised I couldn't see but may as well stay there; luckily after ten minutes of waiting it became clear this lady wasn't sure what everyone was waiting for and didn't want to be there that long so she excused her way out of the crowd, leaving me at the front by the red ropes. Children are allowed and actually encouraged to sit on the floor in front of the rope so they have a great view.
Ducks in the Peabody fountain

I read on Trip Advisor that you can also sit on the mezzanine level to watch but I would caution against that. We went back in the afternoon - my camera didn't work in the morning and I was so disappointed I didn't get photos, as we weren't far from the hotel we went back in the afternoon! That time, my MIL sat up on the mezzanine and could see the fountain, but the rest of the parade route was obscured by the ceiling that she was facing so she could only see the very beginning. Really the best thing to do, if you can bear it, is get there early and the minute they put the red rope up, go and stand next to it - and maybe take a magazine or your guide book so you have something to do for the next half hour or so!
The hotel also has a small museum - it's where Elvis signed his RCA contract - and a duck themed gift shop, which is expensive but cute. It's definitely worth trying to see the duck parade if you are in Memphis!

Our next stop was the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, which is walking distance from the Peabody. It has a really interesting collection, ranging from the original lyrics to Heartbreak Hotel and Elvis' guitar to a mink coat owned by Isaac Hayes.

By now we'd built up quite an appetite so walked along the famous Beale Street - once voted the most iconic street in America by USA Today.

Beale Street, Memphis

It's full of Blues clubs, restaurants and quirky shops. We had lunch at Miss Polly's Soul City Café, as I had seen it recommended on Trip Advisor.

Chicken and waffles

I had chicken and waffles with a side of mac and cheese, which was lovely (and chicken does go with waffles, bizarrely- it's not a combination I've ever seen before in the UK!). It was only $9.99 for a chicken breast and leg, buttered waffle and one side item which was pretty cheap. My mother in law had fried green tomatoes and sweet potato fries, which she really enjoyed, but the portions were huge!

Fried green tomatoes
We then took a taxi to the Stax Museum. I'd never heard of the Stax record label before but I did know of many of their artists, including Isaac Hayes. The museum is on the site of the original recording studio which you can enter as well as look at various types of memorabilia and listen to records.

After a bit of a break back in our hotel in the Harbor Town area of Memphis, we went across the road (literally, a few feet from the hotel) to Tug's. My mother in law had been there before when she stayed at this hotel a few years back (the reason we were there again as she turned 60 this year) and she recommended it.

My MIL's salad

The food was OK but the dishes I ordered weren't quite how I had pictured- I had gumbo, which was not quite as I expected (more like a French onion soup in appearance, but very fishy in taste) but quite nice, and I couldn't resist a side of fries with cheese and bacon - they normally do this so much better in the US than the UK - but in this case the fries came with grated cheese and not the cheese sauce I had hoped for.

Cheesy fries
This is gumbo, apparently

My fiancé's burger

Next it's off to Natchez on the Mississippi followed by New Orleans!

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