– 3,800km –
The Great American Road Trip continues with us leaving Dallas and Texas where we knew that we were over halfway through our trip and leaving the great American West behind. It was a sad time but knew that some amazing places were still ahead to explore. Texas is a fantastic State and we were grateful for the outreaching hospitality from our friends and everyone we met along the way. The cities are fun places and as visitors we fortunately saw some of the best that America has to offer. Our road trip continuing, we drove across the Texas / Arkansas border eager to reach Nashville in a few days time. Music city awaited us and we were massively excited.
Our first stop along the way was in Little Rock after a quick drive through the beautiful Hot Springs National Park. We were coming in to early Autumn and so were beginning to see the leaves turn a beautiful gold in colour. This place must be really special in deep fall season. Hot Springs National Park is the smallest national park in the States, yet true to form, stunning. The landscape is lined with lakes and tree lines that make for stunning photography. There are also fantastic drives to be had in Arkansas where being behind the wheel of an automobile or motorbike is without equal. The town of Hot Springs itself is a small quaint town with a large tourist population. As the name suggests there are natural baths and spas where you can take a relaxing break from the wheel and soak up the goodness that nature provides. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop for long but our snapshot view certainly left us intrigued to see this place again and spend some time exploring the national park.
– 4,000km –
Our overnight stay in Little Rock was brief as we were aiming to get to Nashville as soon as possible. Tennessee, famous for its music sees the city of Memphis on our route, the birthplace of Elvis Presley and Memphis blues music. In modern music, it’s worth saying that Justin Timberlake was born here. Although we did not stay overnight in the city, we made time to do a tour of the iconic Sun Studios. Sun Studios (featured image) is music encapsulated. Arguably the birthplace of rock n’ roll, artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Costello all played and recorded here throughout the 50s and 60s. The tour takes the visitor through history with a perfectly preserved studio space, where you can see where so much great music was created. The room is untouched, true to how it was and standing there looking at the walls and the instruments feels very special. A lot of modern culture is how it is because of this very room.
Over in downtown, Memphis we visited Beale Street, where you can find rows of bars, music playing inside and bikers outside parading their Harley’s. If you’re a real fan of Elvis Presley then make sure you drive out of town to Graceland, Elvis’ home. Well really you should visit even if you’re not a huge fan – it’s a tribute to music. If you’re looking for a place to stop and get your head down whilst in Memphis, then visit the Peabody Hotel. Besides from being a great hotel in Memphis, fun little touches really characterise this place, such as their Duck Master. A man that leads a troupe of ducks through the hotel everyday. Yes, that really happens.
– 4,350km –
Arriving in Nashville it was pouring with rain which is always a downer on the mood, but the city made sure that downturn was short lived. We checked in at the Marriott Renaissance Nashville Hotel, a tall building situated downtown and a short walk away from the main street, Broadway. Broadway or as it’s otherwise known as, Honky Tonk Highway, is a playground, packed with bars and restaurants, with live music coming through the wall throughout the day and night. If live music is for you, you’ll love Nashville. There are over 150 live music venues around the city, most without cover charges. You simply pay the bands for tips. The whole vibe of the town is to have a good time and party with music at the centre of it all. The town is great also for shopping for records, and all associated with music and thrift stores, harking back to Nashville’s more industrial heritage.
Nashville is the home of country music so it’s only right that we visited The Grand Ole Opry to see a show. This place has a huge part to play in the growth of popular music and still to this day it continues to be the centre of country music, showcasing huge names every week. It proudly boasts to be ‘The Show that made Country Music famous’. It is an operating broadcaster too, putting out the three live performances a week on to the airwaves. It was a little odd to see an on stage performance broken up in places so that adverts could be read out in real time to the airways. The Opry is in a massive complex called Opry land that also sees a huge shopping mall, yes we spent some serious time here and the hotel The Gaylord. It’s slightly out of town, but if you’re here for a show and some shopping the Gaylord is your choice. It was a shame that we also did not get to experience the Ryman Auditorium, but we’ll be back. The Ryman, where the Opry was held for 40 years has also seen everyone that’s huge in country music play here and is really an institution in the industry. Situated just behind Honky Tonk Highway it’s perfectly located for some dinner, music and then a late night bar kind of evening.
The Sunday that we’re in town, the Tennessee Titans, Nashville’s NFL team are playing and so the bars are extra busy with football fans. Always good to kick the afternoon off with a beer, some football and a lively vibe. That evening we saw country rock bands storm the stages and blow the roofs off the bars. It seems that in Nashville everyone is a musician or at the very least an aspiring one. Driving around Nashville you can easily see why this is Music City. The vibe of the city is very prevalent and with attractions such as the Johnny Cash museum, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Hatch Show Print to keep you occupied your ears and eyes definitely won’t be disappointed. The Cash museum, whilst small is a lesson in the enigma of Johnny. A man that saw his turbulent life generate a vast catalogue of records and the museum tells an in-depth story of his life. His famous incarceration is played out here also with memorabilia such as his uniform he had to wear on the inside and letters that he wrote to loved ones. We were fans before, but after visiting you feel a little closer to the lyrics in his songs.
Then it was on to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In a brand new impressive building right in the centre of town, it makes a statement that this is really what Nashville is about. An advertisement and homage to musical icons both past and present and the story of country music from its roots to its modern rock inspired sounds. The museum tour is an absolute must see and is both informative and interacting. You can even record your own song before you depart. Before we left the building we had a quick tour of Hatch Show Print, the company where music show posters were and still are printed in the traditional sense of block lettering, rollers and layering of ink. On the walls you can see huge posters of concerts in days gone by and the guides takes you through both Nashville history and the process of rolling a print, with the chance for you to do your own print and take away. A little bit of Nashville history to take away and put on your wall at home.
Feeling hungry, we’d heard about Hattie B’s, a Nashville chicken joint that you absolutely must set aside some time for. You’ll have to queue – we waited nearly an hour, but when the sun is shining who cares. The quick basket case style chicken has generated its own buzz and it’s delicious. Choose your spice levels, side dishes and drinks and you’re away. Chicken Heaven – perhaps I chose my spice level a little too high though on reflection. We drove around the suburbs of the city for a time after lunch, with no particular agenda except to explore. The city has a very different feel to a lot of other USA cities. The low rise buildings in most areas give it an almost village feel that appears to be, on the face at least, far friendlier and welcome than the large corporate driven cities. There’s real character here in design follows an American industrial theme. For a boutique accommodation why not look at Urban Cowboy B&B. A real fun and excellently designed place to hang out and stay if you’re in town. If antiques, vintage memorabilia and décor are your thing then spend a morning rustling through the Flea Market at the Nashville Fairgrounds. The area is huge and you’re sure to find something to pick up for your house here. Make sure you check the dates of when the markets are on and be prepared to spend hours going through the vintage wares in numerous massive sheds and stalls.
Just before we left Nashville there was one thing left on our list that we hadn’t done. The Bluebird Café. A small café that has seen countless acts in their early days play here and has become even more popular through the TV show Nashville. Again, we had to queue as it’s seriously small and cosy so only a few people get in for each show, but when we were in we knew that we were at a special place. The evening pans out with two shows at an early and later setting and you queue for one of those. The inside is full of small tables and chairs and when you sit down and order your food and drink you feel a little as though you’re in someone’s front room. Except there’s several amps, a microphone and a couple of guitars almost at your feet. We’d highly recommend this. It’s an intimiate gig and the performers fully engaged with the audience. We received signed CDs when we left and who knows that may be something very special in the future. If history is anything to go by, there’s certainly a good chance of them rising to superstardom from this joint.
– 4,750km –
On route to Atlanta we stopped off at Chattanooga to visit Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls on the Tennessee – Georgia boundary. Unless you have all day it’s better to either summit the peak and see the outstanding vistas or go inside the mountain to see the impressive 145 foot underground waterfall. It has also been named In the Top 10 most impressive cave waterfalls in the world, so you’re sure to not be disappointed. Make sure you’re not claustrophobic however, as it’s a little tight down there – the waterfall is over 1,000 feet below Lookout Mountain. We decided on the waterfall option and after purchasing your ticket you descend in to the mountain down a lift. The lift cleverly has one side translucent so you can see the rock face whizzing past you until the lift stops and you step out into the winding tunnels on route to the cascading water. We’ll leave much of the description of this place to your imagination until you visit, but they don’t categorise a waterfall in the Top 10 in the World for nothing.
The road to Atlanta is beautiful one, taking you over some great vista where you can see forests sprawling out from the freeway. We love driving, especially here in the USA and what’s fantastic about a road trip such as this is the diverse wildlife and nature that makes up your journey.
Atlanta is a huge city and it helps to do a little research before hand to ensure you know what attractions to check out whilst you’re there. Our visit was brief and so we wanted to really capture a snapshot of the city from our base at Twelve Atlantic Station apartments. This was the first tiem on our trip that we decided on an apartment rather than a hotel and the space gives you a little sense of home, where you can do some cooking if you wish and catch up on some road trip clothes washing if needed. Relaxing done, we were keen to get out and see what Atlanta had to offer. Being a huge city we asked the concierge for some help. He suggested the Georgia Aquarium and downtown areas. So off we headed, not to second doubt a local’s knowledge. We wandered amongst the fishes at the world’s largest aquarium which would be brilliant if you have small children with you on your visit. Next door is Coca Cola World and Centennial Olympic Park. The upmarket area of Buckhead is great for a summer’s lunch and some top notch shopping, with a huge mall in the area. In fact our stay in Atlanta was characterized by a lot of shopping and eating. We also visited a quaint little tea shop, Tipple + Rose to have a spot of afternoon tea, something that’s seldom experienced in the USA. Tipple + Rose have a vast selection of teas that have been expertly curated and the interior décor is very chic. Make sure you head here to pick us some tea and drinking accessories! Their small store is an eclectic paradise of little gifts, where you can also choose your own selection of loose-leaf teas. If you have time when visiting the city make sure you visit Swan House the mansion featured in the Hunger Games movies and also Stone Mountain a huge quartz dome that overlooks the city and which you can climb for some romantic sunset evenings.
When it was time to leave Atlanta we felt almost as though we’d barely arrived. We checked out of our apartment and got back behind the wheel, leaving Atlanta towards Florida, eager to get a taste of the sunshine state. We made a quick pit stop in the town of Valdosta, Georgia for some sleep before waking early and heading over the state boundary. Unlike many other state boundaries where the transition is minimal, you almost immediately notice that you are entering Florida, where the landscape turns to lush vegetation and swampland. We were excited about the last leg of our epic journey although we had a long 7 hour drive to Marco Island ahead of us.
The Great American Road Trip continues soon with Part 4….
If you missed part 2, catch up here.