Day 21: Sunday to Shenandoah Valley

“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river” – except we aren’t in West Virginia, we’re in Virginia.

or was today’s theme song

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy”

The sun is shining again as we continue north into Virginia and into the Shenandoah Valley in the Appalachian Mountains. As the day progressed the snow began to melt, but Blue Ridge Parkway was still closed. We tried. We failed.

We got as far as the sign. Around the next bend the road was closed. 🙁

During the morning we headed for Roanoke, a large town near the Parkway. They had less snow than further south, so we thought it was worth a try. No. We continued up the valley to Lexington, an old university and military town, before continuing further to Staunton, another historic town in the valley. The homes and other buildings in these towns are stunning.

A real Frat house, just like in the movies!

Dinner was at Beyer St Bistro in downtown Staunton. Again, another great eatery. Good food (and too much of it) at a good price.

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Day 20: Saturday to Winston Salem

Plan A is no longer a plan. The east coast, and many places far from the east coast are in the midst of their worst December storm for many years. They name the storms here, just like we name cyclones. This is Benji. The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for its full length and it’s snowing virtually everywhere. The snow extends from San Antonio, Texas, north east through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina and further north through Virginia to Washington and New York. Huge. Depending on the weather station you tune in to it’s the most snow many places have had since 1985 or 1973. Reports vary.

Plan B: Google ‘historic towns of North Carolina’. The result lists many towns we couldn’t get to, but one sounded interesting. Bethania, NC, just out of Winston-Salem. OK. Let’s go. The day started dry, but quickly the rain began. Just as Carol takes over the driving the rain turns to sleet, then to snow. This is Carol’s first driving in snow – ever. As we continue the snow gets heavier. Then heavier.

As we arrive in Bethania we realise we’ve arrived in the place where all the Christmas card scenes you ever seen are photographed. Simply stunning.

After checking in to our accommodation we headed in to Winston-Salem downtown to find dinner. Based on only the name of the restaurant we headed to ‘Sweet Potato’. If you’re ever in Winston-Salem you must go to Sweet Potato. Best meal I’ve had. When I looked it up later, it’s #2 of 516 restaurants in the city.

So, after a disappointing start to the day, it’s been one of the best days so far.

 

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Day 19: Friday in Savannah and Charleston

The rain continues, sometimes getting quite heavy. We started the day with a walk through the historic district of Savannah, then on to the Savannah historical museum.

This is the exact spot Forrest Gump was filmed. Looks like they removed part of the garden to make a bus stop!

We then headed to Charleston, South Carolina in atrocious weather. A look around Charleston downtown – very impressive, but difficult to get photos before checking in to our ‘suite’. Due to a stuff up in the booking (the room we were sent to was still occupied!) we ended up in a huge suite. Luxury. Time to do some washing and maybe find the Walmart Supacenter which is nearby. Our first Walmart. Exciting!

Our next move may be thwarted by the weather. We were due to head up into the Blue Ridge Mountains tomorrow, but according to the Citizen Times in Asheville “Friday’s dumper is now expected to drop up to 10 inches in some places by Saturday morning and could go down in history as one of the big ones, National Weather Service staff are now saying. It is certainly a significant storm. It is too early to say, but the snowfall amounts might put the event in the top 10 for regional blizzards.” Great. We’ll wait and see what tomorrow brings.

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Day 18: Thursday in Savannah

Another cold, rainy day. Savannah, Georgia. Wow! Such a beautiful town. It’s the town where the opening scene from Forrest Gump was filmed – the scene with the feather.

So much history, including cotton and slavery, and significant in the War of Independence. Interestingly, the locals call it the Revolutionary War.

And we’re now on the east coast! Coast to coast.

After arriving in town and checking in with the tourist information centre, we did a trolley bus tour of the town. Very informative, but not many photos today because of the rain.

Tried ‘grits’ for the first time. And last.

 

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Day 17: Wednesday into Alabama

A cold, grey, wet day as we begin to head north. Top temperature: 46F (about 8C). Quite a change since yesterday, which we heard was the hottest recorded December day EVER in New Orleans.

Our target for the day was Montgomery, site of much civil rights activism in the ’50s. We arrived, had a look around and decided to continue on for an hour or so. Montgomery is the state capital of Alabama and has some great civic buildings.

We did manage to sneak an extra state into the count by cutting through the very corner of Florida. Does it still count if our feet didn’t touch the ground?

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Day 16: Tuesday in New Orleans

Big day, with lots of photos to tell the story. The day started with croissants and coffee at the patisserie next door to the French Market Inn where we’re staying, followed by a stroll around the French Quarter.

Bourbon Street

Oldest restaurant in New Orleans. 1840.

Courtyard of the French Market Inn. Our accommodation in the French Quarter

We wanted to see something about Katrina, so we hit the Museum of Louisianna which had a Huricane Katrina exhibit, as well as a Mardy Gras exhibit.

We then headed south for a Swamp airboat tour. Wow! Lots of ‘gators, which is unusual for this time of year. And those spooky trees!

Shortly after we returned from the swamp a northerly change hit (think southerly, but from the wrong direction. The temperature dropped from 83 degrees to around the mid 50s. That’s about 28C  to 12C in just a few hours. The forecast max tomorrow is about 52 (11C).

After a cajun & creole dinner Carol hit the shops while I got busy with the camera.    

Arty!

 

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Day 15: Monday in Vicksburg and New Orleans

Today started with a drive around Vicksburg, a Mississippi River and civil war town north of New Orleans. The old houses, huge mural wall and a massive riverboat were highlights.

 

And then a real highlight occured. We met David. David is a self proclaimed redneck. He comes from over yonder swamp country and was married just over yonder on the second floor. He taught us to do the redneck Christmas greeting and wanted to take us ‘fowr wheelin’ cos he had the day off work. He took photos of us and had us immidiately on his facebook feed. I’m sure he was just as fascinated by us as we were with him. If I saw him cat-fishin’ or catchin’ ‘gators on late night Aussie TV I wouldn’t be surprised.

We then visited the Vicksburg battle and seige civil war site. This covers a huge area and is a detailed drive through the battlefield, with over 1000 monuments to those involved. The battle fronts, trenches and lots of other details are all marked out. Really interesting.

It was then time to continue south to New Orleans. Approaching NO we were on a road that hovered above the swamp for miles, and miles. And miles. It seemed like we would never see solid ground again.

Arriving in New Orleans was as hectic as expected. Once checked in to our inn in the French Quarter, we set off to explore. Another crazy music street, offering a bigger range of music styles than either Memphis or Nashville. Jazz, Blues, Country, Rock and everything in between.

We even managed to get a jazz band to play Waltzing Matilda (after a few false starts) in a bar/restaurant on Bourbon Street. Very Cool. See the video here [starting at about 1:12].

 

 

 

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Day 14: Sunday heading south

A big change of pace today. Leaving Nashville we headed for the Natchez Trace Parkway. As we left Nashville we headed through an area that was clearly the domain of the rich and famous. I’m sure we would have passed Keith and Nicole’s house.

Not Keith and Nicole’s house, but i’m sure theirs was in the neighbourhood.

We then got onto the Natchez Trace Parkway (thanks for the recommendation Richard), one of the most amazing road I’ve seen. Not spectacular, but amazing in other ways. This road is a two lane road (uncommon in itself around these parts) that runs 715km from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. It has no shops or service stations, no bill boards, to major intersections and all commercial traffic is banned. A natural corridore has been maintained for at least a few hundred metres either side of the road in most places along its length. The speed limit is 80km/h 50mph for most of it’s length. It is a world away from the high speed, multi-lane roads that we have been travelling on. It is also one of the most relaxing driving experiences you will ever have.

Visit Site

Late in the afternoon we arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi where we booked into the Waterview Casino for the night. After a short drive around downtown to get our bearings we opted for dinner at the Casino Restaurant. Good move. Beautiful restaurant with great food (Blackened catfish with Cajun fries and hushpuppies y’all) and friendly staff.

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Day 13: Saturday in Nashville

We arrived in downtown Nashville just after their Christmas street parade had finished and before a hockey match that night. The place was heaving. We had a wander to get our bearings, then hit the main street, Broadway and had lunch in ‘Crazy Town’. Very appropriate. This is a crazy town. Very bar, every restaurant had at least one band playing. Some had a band on every floor.

We then headed for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. We realised quickly that we’re not much into country music, especially old country music. Lots of interesting displays and again, you could spend hours reading everything, but we limited ourselves this time.

With the town overrun with hockey fans, bars and restaurants overcrowded and us slowing down, we decided to exit the rat race and head to our accommodation early, after our late night last night.

Little Things We’ve Noticed – Part 5 or 6 or something.

  • Drive through ATMs. As it should be. Why would you want to find a parking spot, park, walk to the ATM, walk back to the car, find your keys…. (I could go on!) when you can simply drive up and away you go.
  • Most bars in Nashville didn’t let you take your gun in. Damn.
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Day 12: Friday in Memphis

“We’re goin’ to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee” was the soundtrack as we headed out for a big day around Memphis.

First stop, Graceland. None of us are particularly Elvis fans, but this was one of the ‘must-do-while-in-Memphis’ attractions. So glad we did. While the house itself was much smaller than I was expecting, the property as a whole was amazing. Lots of information that I’m sure Elvis fans know, but i didn’t. He was one of twins. The other twin was stillborn. He rode horses. He  had very nice planes – with gold plated seatbelts!

Next stop was ‘The National Civil Rights Museum’ at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. You could spend days here. It traced the full history of black people in America, from slaves, through to the current day. It’s not often that you feel a museum as well as see it and hear it. At one point you go to almost the exact spot that MLK was shot, on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. His room has been preserved exactly as it was. Very special moment.

We then headed for Sun Studios, where Elvis made his first ever recording and all his recordings for the next 18 months. The tour there was fascinating. Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and U2 have all recorded there, in a tiny studio above a cafe. The microphone they all used is still there!

Carol and the kids at ‘the microphone’.

We then headed into town only to discover that an NBA Basketball match, Memphis Grizzlies Vs San Antonio Spurs was on tonight. So we had to go! Great experience, especially when the score got close (which didn’t happen much – the locals were totally outclassed) and during the time-out entertainment and half time entertainment.

Last stop for the day was ‘Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs’ for a traditional dinner of ribs. Finally, after a big day, back to the room , ready to move on tomorrow.

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