Sunday, November 27, 2011

Travel stories: Memphis - Taking care of business!

I think it's about time I tell you a story from our second road trip, a journey that was to take us from the megalopolis that is New York to the heart of the deep south, and finally end up on the sunny beaches of Florida. It was a summer of extreme weather with great heat waves in New York city and tropical storms coming in from the Mexican gulf and had us dodging hurricanes by constantly re-plotting our travel route. It was also to be our first encounter with the American south, a destination which holds almost mythological features in the minds of europeans.

We had started out in New York and then travelled by plane to Nashville.  There we picked up a rental car and took a detour to lynchburg & the Jack Daniels distillery before ending up in Memphis. 

Memphis is the largest city in the state of Tennessee and a cultural melting pot that within a few miles has seen the birth of both blues & rock n roll. It is also perhaps most famous for it's uncrowned king, an 18 year old kid that one day walked into legendary sun studios in Memphis to record two songs as a birthday present for his mother and would proceed to become the greatest artist that the world has seen, Elvis Presley.

An occasion that made Memphis extra special for us was that this was gonna be the place where we would celebrate our first anniversary. Exactly one year earlier we had gotten married in Vegas in Elvis style so what better place to celebrate our wedding day than the Heartbreak hotel overlooking Elvis beloved home Graceland! Our room was huge with our own living room and two TV-sets airing Elvis movies around the clock! We arrived at a friday so Memphis was booming with activity as we took the shuttle down to famous Beale street. Beale street is the heart of the Memphis nightlife and has seen giants from the jazz & blues scene such as Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong and B.B King the latter which has his own club located here. A pleasant surprise for us was that every weekend they seal of Beal street from cars and allow you to buy a beer from any bar and bring it out on the street with you. It was fantastic to wander around in this vibrant crowd absorbing all the culture and history that has left it's imprint in every single building. 

We ended up on a bar called Blues City Café where we caught a great live band on stage. Rockabilly kids in Hillbilly Casino  served up a steaming rocking show that made us drift into the warm summer night. In no way could this first meeting with Memphis started off any better! I ended my night with the southern specialty fried green tomatoes in a nearby fast food joint.

The next day it was finally time for the main event, our tour of Graceland! Graceland is the home that Elvis bought for his family when his growing fame and the gathering of fans outside his house that followed started bothering the neighbors too much. He started looking for something more suitable and ended up buying Graceland that at the time was located several miles outside Memphis. Here he started renovating the mansion with his in my taste wonderful kitschy style and brought his friend and family to stay here with him. This is also the place where he died in 1977 with his long abuse of medications as the probable cause of death. He is also buried here alongside his much loved parents.

A tour bus picked us up and brought us into the well guarded grounds. A well formed line took us through the front the door into the main building. Everything ran quite smooth and it felt like you had plenty of time to see what you wanted without to much people in the way. Out of respect for the family the upper floor where Elvis was found dead that sad day is closed for the public eye. I find this tasteful since we came to honor an artist for what he did in life and not to satisfy any morbid curiosity. The tour continues on outside to the garden where Elvis lies buried and it was quite moving to glare upon his tomb. 
There are plenty of other Elvis themed tours in the vicinity of Graceland. We went to see his private jets, the car museum and the collection of Elvis jump suits. Even if you are not a huge Elvis fan I think you would enjoy Graceland. There is so much to see that not only commemorates his life but the whole era in which he lived.

After a whole day of sight-seeing we went back to the hotel to relax by the heart shaped pool for awhile.  As this was also our anniversary, of course we had some celebration planned. After relaxing back at the room and having a cocktail in the hotel bar we were ready to hit Beale street again. This time we ventured further down to try and find something a little less crowded. We had dinner at the hard rock cafe, perhaps not the most romantic setting you might think but in the context we were in it seemed quite fitting. After that we went exploring and ended up seeing an awesome blues trio in some shabby bar, and even though I'm sure that the locals would disagree this felt much more like the "real thing".  We hit a few more places before returning to the hotel after another perfect day!

Next morning we slept in a bit but then it was time to continue our journey in Elvis footsteps. Sun studios is the legendary studio that not only recorded some of the kings best tunes but also artists such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis & Roy Orbison(one of my dads old favorites). The studio is today a museum and they have really made a great job to give it the feeling of how it would have looked back then. Standing outside you could easily imagine what it would have been like when young go getters like Elvis would have come walking in guitar in hand hoping to be the next star. One of the most touching experiences was to hear the old recordings standing on the same spot where the artists would have been recording them. They still have an X on the floor marking the exact place where Elvis among others had stood.

 Our stay in Memphis was supposed to have ended here since we were heading down to New Orleans, however hurricane Gustav or Ike if I remember it correctly put a stop to that. And maybe that was lucky. For some reason the fact that we could not visit New Orleans or Key West on our second trip to the states left us with a yearning to come back and we so have for the last 5 years. We ended up staying 3 extra nights in the Heartbreak Hotel which cut a big hole in our budget but it doesn't matter since it was fantastic. I so do recommend everyone with an opportunity to go here. Myself I can't wait to go back!


  1. Kul att läsa en så lång och utförlig berättelse om er resa. Kan tänka mig att det var häftigt på Graceland Tänk att Elvis fortfarande är så stor. The King

    Kram pappa

  2. Vad kul att få läsa om eran road trip till Memphis. Vi var ju också upp till Memphis fast det var i slutet på januari då det var Martin Luther King helg. Tyvärr var vädret rätt kass då vi var där. Men jag känner igen gågatan i Memphis, Beale Street. Är Memphis alltså större stad än Nashville? Vi var förbi Graceland men gick faktiskt inte in. Kände inte att vi var tillräckligt hard core Elvis fan för detta. Men kanske borde vi gått in iallafall. Coolt att ni fick fira eran första bröllopsdag på just Heart Break Hotel. Sun Studios var vi också förbi. Det är coolt att denna lilla studio finns kvar och är så väl bevarad. Key West kom ni väl till vid ett annat tillfälle senare? Har ni varit i New Orleans?
    Jättekul att läsa om de platser ni besökt och se fotona.
    Har du någon ny resa på G?

  3. @ Desiree, Känslan av Memphis jämfört med Nashville var att det var större. Nashville har sin stora gata med alla musikbarer sedan kändes det mest som suburbs. Graceland är något för alla tror jag. Det är en orgie i kitsch och alla med ett intresse i design måste se det, bl a jungleroom klätt från golv till tak i grön päls! Ja, vi tog oss till slut till New Orleans året efter vilket jag ska skriva om framöver. Ny resa är på G & så fort jag har tid så ska jag svara på ditt senaste mejl(haft fullt upp med plugg o skola)med detaljer. Vore kul att höra din input på den om det är några tips på ställen du har!

  4. Vill bara onska dig en riktigt god jul David och ett gott nytt ar. Ma 2012 bjuda pa manga underbara road trips :-)

  5. Memphis is one of the best holiday place in Tennessee. Nice to read a story of the 18 years child which creates a history for sung song for her mother and after that he is the famous singer in the Tennessee.