The Road Trip Branson to New Orleans
I’m doing this blog completely out of order of my trip, but it was so much fun that I really want to get it out there. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that somewhere along the line I decided this trip was also about finding coffee that could equal or better the coffee we get in Canberra, so the word ‘coffee’ will appear every now and again.
For those who may be a little jittery about travelling solo, but who want to find somewhere where they can feel completely safe, where no-one tells you not to go there, where the people are all friendly and helpful, you can go out at night and there is a lot of fun to be found – I FOUND IT! Go to BRANSON, MISSOURI. Yes, I know, most people answer that with ‘Where!?’ or ‘What’s in Missouri?’ or ‘Why’? Well let me tell you………and for ease I will leave it in my daily diary format as there is way too much information to impart.
Firstly I have to say that I was extremely lucky to have Alice with me on this trip. We are old friends from school in Sydney but she has lived in New York since 1968, we have only seen each other once in that time. When I was planning this trip and while we were organising dates for me to stay with her in NY I happened to mention the Branson to New Orleans trip I was planning and I happened to ask if she wanted to come along, she said yes and that changed my trip into a road trip as she also said she would drive – YAY! (I refuse to drive on the ‘other’ side of the road) So here it is, starting with Branson.
Branson has been reached! Two hops on United from NY through Chicago, a car from Springfield and here we are (there is an airport in Branson but that one wasn’t convenient for us). Settled into the motel, dinner at The Outback (as always a poor resemblance to anything even vaguely Aussie, but they do have some cool pictures on the walls and a plane hanging from the ceiling that no-one knows anything about and the steak was OK). Tomorrow we start exploring and our first show is booked for tomorrow evening. I like this town already, massive traffic though, but I guess to be expected in a place that is basically show town – everything is happening here.
26 October 2013.
I’m loving this Branson place already! My kind of town. We met a lovely couple from Illinois at breakfast who convinced us to go to Silver Dollar City (it wasn’t in the original plan because it sounded a bit too casino-ish, how wrong I was!) so off we went. Loved it! I’m not normally into theme parks butthis is part real part created and an awesome place to visit. Apparently it all started with so manypeople visiting the caverns in the area that they began providing other entertainment and it has become a massive place of colonial craftmanship, theatres and rides for kids of all ages (if you are into that sort of thing). They filmed 3 episodes of the Beverley Hillbillies here and Buddy Ebsen learned some lumber skills and helped build one of the log cabins. We spent most of the day there until we just had to leave for the show we were booked into. Had I known more about this Silver Dollar City I would have factored in some time for it, you could easily spend a couple of days there, even more perhaps . So put it in your list of ‘must sees’.
An awesome day was followed by an equally awesome evening. Yakov Smirnoff is a fantastic comedian and also an artist and professor of art as well as having a Masters in psychology (all achieved after migrating to the US) although he was an art teacher in Odessa Russia before migrating. You’d never believe that he arrived in the USA from Russia not knowing a word of English and here he is with his own theatre, has entertained Presidents, been in movies and 7 episodes of Night Court and painted the massive ‘America’s Heart’ after 9/11 which was on a damaged skyscraper at Ground Zero. A small version is behind him in the photo below, apparently he painted it with one stroke of the paintbrush for each victim.
The seats in the theatre have retractable tables attached so they serve dinner and the show continues with Yakov sitting in a similar seat having his dinner too, on stage, and having a conversation answering questions – so different and so very funny. He is a comedian worth seeing, no put downs, just extremely funny views on life the universe and everything. We are having so much fun, I can’t believe this place exists. more to come.
27 October 2013.
Another brilliant day in Branson, stumbled across a Gospel show by the Bacon family, what lovely voices and a terrific show, 3 generations of the family perform in the show (actually it’s 4 generations, for one song Granny came out and what a piano player she was! At 94!) , they do country as well in a different show. Loved the whole 2 hours. That was followed by the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede. When I saw that in the list of shows I just had to see it, I’ve always liked Dolly. Man! another brilliant show, terrific horsemanship, parades, stunts, races. A whole story woven around the settling of the west starting from the Indian peoples through to the whites and the south vs north. All done with great talent and humour. Wonderful 4 course dinner (including a whole rotisserie Cornish hen!). Piggy races, ostrich races a lot of audience participation and so it went on. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos so no photographic evidence of this awesomeness exists. Branson just keeps getting better and better.
28 October 2013
Another eventful day in Branson. I can’t believe this stay is almost at an end! (However, we still have the main reason for being here to go). Back to today though, woke up to a very foggy morning, so we didn’t get to see much as we drove around, we wanted to drive the scenic route. Finally got to explore Downtown though which is the older part of town down by Lake Taneycomo. Stacks of interesting shops to browse through, came across Waxy O’Shea’s Irish pub – wonderful food but the massive servings are incredible. Both lunch and dinner I ordered only entrees and in both cases I couldn’t eat it all. The best and softest calamari for lunch and terrific nachos for dinner. Thought I’d better try an Irish beer at dinner, Harp Lager, it arrived very cold with no head, just for a second I thought I was in Melbourne. By the time we’d had lunch the fog had cleared and the sun was shining happily, so it was off to the port for 2 hours on the Lake Queen for a cruise on Lake Taneycomo wow! The colours are just stunning, saw my first bald eagle. 2 of them were sitting in trees (some of us half suspected they were stuffed and planted there, till another tourist explained that they do just sit for hours sometimes) and later, on the way back there were a few flying around, what a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, chatting to some lovely fellow passengers, having a drink and watching some of the most stunning scenery go by.
29 October 2013.
Music, music, music and more music, my type of trip. Loving this town. Breakfast at the Uptown Diner, we walked in, paid our money and found that they have live performers at breakfast time, how awesome is that?! Today it was Georgina a very talented country singer. Breakfast in these parts is ‘interesting’ to say the least, I drew the line at grits, and a few other things after tasting them. While there we discovered that there was a George Strait tribute tonight, met the performers so we bought the tickets (so lucky, last tickets but one of the best tables!). Breakfast was followed by a visit to the wax museum, really just filling in time but we ended up having a heap of fun taking photos with a few Hollywoodians. That took us up to the show that was the whole reason for coming to Branson – Legends in Concert with DeanZ (current 2013 Ultimate Elvis winner).
I met Dean in Parkes (Australia) in January at the Elvis festival. He talked about Branson, I told him I would be in the US this year, he invited me to come to Branson and so here I am, so worth the trip. All the other performers in the Legends show are just wonderful too especially the singer doing Whitney Houston, she is incredible. The surprise was that Dean also does Buddy Holly in the show, however his Elvis is just amazing (some of us think he is a reincarnation not an impersonator) and he’s a really nice guy too. All the Legends change every 3-4 months except for Elvis, Dean performs every day, sometimes twice a day, for 11 months of the year in Branson – simply amazing. Then there is everything else we have found here, what a town! Back to the Uptown Diner Jackie B Goode’s cafe for the George Strait show, wow that was terrific! Gordie and Debbie are great singers, very talented and do an excellent job of George Strait’s music, (obviously they love his songs) dinner is included, the cafe was packed and a lot of fun was had by all- loved it. Sadly we move on tomorrow, but heck can’t stay here (even though it would be nice) but I hear Memphis calling. To see for yourself what happens in Branson have a look at the tourism site http://www.bransontourismcenter.com/shows
30 October 2013
Today was our last breakfast in Branson accompanied by Georgina and her lovely country voice. Then a couple of hundred miles later, mostly travelling through stunning tapestries of Autumn colour, we arrived at the Heartbreak Hotel Memphis! Can’t believe it! I am in Memphis and tomorrow we will be doing the Graceland etc tours – yee haa! Had dinner at the Blues City Cafe (cat fish and ribs) and discovered the local brew -really nice dark sparkling lager. A brief walk down Beale street and now for a rest, poor Alice must be exhausted seeing as she is doing all the driving. Ooh, so much to do tomorrow!
31 October 2013
I wonder if people working at Graceland ever get ‘Elvised’ out? Yes, you guessed it, today was Elvis day. We got the VIP tickets, so our own shuttle, no standing in line, that sort of thing. Wow! What a treat to go through Graceland, the adjacent buildings and the resting place of Elvis, his parents, and paternal grandmother. It’s a real time capsule, nothing has changed since Elvis lived there. Learned heaps, saw heaps and the piece de resistance was finding out that our shuttle driver Tommy went to school with Elvis, was friends with him and even got to go on some concert road trips with him, what a delight, I wish I could have spent more time with him to find out more information. He did, however point out which window was Elvis’s bedroom where he passed away. If we were to be here longer I’d be tempted to buy another ticket to get a chance to talk to this lovely guy. The Meditation Garden (the family resting place) is beautiful and serene and at 7.30every morning for an hour you can go in there for free (before the tourists start rolling in). I loved that Graceland has been kept as
it was when Elvis was there, and that they don’t allow anyone upstairs. Elvis never had visitors upstairs, only downstairs and they have respectfully maintained that rule. I think it would be very sad if people were ever allowed to traipse through his private living area, there is plenty to see on the ground floor. I was also thrilled to see that Gracelands itself hasn’t been allowed to be infiltrated with all the tourist necessities – that is all across the road, masses of souvenir shops, eateries and the 2 aeroplanes.
Graceland viewing over we found a Chinese/American buffet for dinner (not overly impressed) and then went back to the Rock n Roll cafe (where we’d had lunch) to check out the entertainment and have a drink. I wasn’t expecting what we got. The bill was for Buddy Holly , and yes the guy sang Buddy Holly numbers up until his break, then he came back and changed it up to a whole lot of other Rock n Roll numbers and a few awesome blues numbers – very impressive! So yet another eventful, amazing day on our musical road trip.
1 November 2013
What a treat today! Hopped on the shuttle from Heartbreak Hotel to Sun studios – the things I didn’t know about! Just a delight being shown around what is still a live studio, to stand where Elvis and his contemporaries stood and recorded – WOW! Went through the Rock n Soul museum, so much to see the mind boggles. In the evening took ourselves off to the Jerry Lee Lewis Honky Tonk and cafe. Double WOW! The band playing tonight was Jason James and the Jerry Lee Lewis Tribute Band. Ray, the bass player was from Jerry’s band, the drummer was simply amazing and Jason was indescribable! What a night! Rocked on with these guys for hours, met a few really nice people in the process. Seriously, the current generation thinks it has the creative, weird, ‘out there’ music cornered, but honestly without the 50’s none of this would have been possible. The 50’s started the musical revolution and listening to the wonderful musicians playing the music of the 50’s, the singers and bands, just proves it, what amazing musical ability and daring was needed to create that music! Loved every single minute of today, and if I hadn’t already had a bunch of respect for my era of music, I sure do have it now in spades. Love Memphis and Beale Street.
A walk along the mighty Mississippi was just what we needed after all the sight seeing, what a beautiful and huge river it is, no wonder so many songs have been written about it, just stunning.
Saturday 2 November 2013
And the beat goes on! and on! So, here we are in the land of John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnston, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc etc….. Yes it’s Clarksdale Mississippi. It’s a far cry from it’s hey day in the 20’s when it was booming and full of millionaires, it’s sadly struggle town now, but the music continues and the Delta blues are alive and well. It’s Hambone festival this weekend so we’ll go listen tomorrow as most of the shops and clubs will be closed (it being Sunday and all). We checked out a few arty shops, went to the Delta Blues Museum, had lunch at the Yazoo Place (finally a place that has real espresso AND proper burgers). Dinner at the Ground Zero Blues Club co-owned by THE Morgan Freeman. Cool place, food is basic, decor is indescribable (take a look at the photos!) it wasn’t planned that way but one day someone gave someone a marker and the rest is history, every square inch of every surface is signed by a guest, the music is awesome! The band tonight (Stan Street and the Hambone Blues Band) was exceptional – pity we are still exhausted from last nights effort at the Jerry Lee Lewis cafe, so only stayed for a couple of hours tonight but what we heard was amazing. So lets see what tomorrow brings!
3 November 2013.
Sunday is pretty dead in Clarksdale, so had to go searching for things to do – found the Blues and Rock Museum, owned by a Dutch guy and all of the contents are from his own personal collection, an amazing amount of stuff. Then it was off to have a look at the Shackup Inn, a place I originally wanted to stay but it was booked out, a bunch of plantation shacks that have been renovated on the inside. Followed that with a visit to the Riverside Hotel which used to be the hospital for Blacks where Bessie Smith died after a car accident. There was a story that a doctor who stopped to help at the scene didn’t want to have her blood in his brand new car so wouldn’t take her to the hospital, however, according to his diary there were other people to be attended to so he couldn’t leave the scene of the accident. We met a father and daughter staying there and they gave us a tour. Unfortunately the owner of the place passed away earlier this year, he apparently was a wealth of information on the original hospital and Clarksdale in general. The room where Bessie Smith died is there, the bed made up and her portrait is on the bed.
On the other side of the spectrum there is Cutrer Mansion, massive, beautiful place, an Italian Renaissance residence built in 1916 by Blanche Clark Cutrer and her husband. Blanche was the only only daughter of Clarksdale founder John Clark. She was married to John Wesley Cutrer (an attorney) The showplace residence was where the era’s cotton-wealthy “jet-setters” lived with Italian gardeners, French chefs and entertained lavishly with masked balls and house parties. It is believed to be Tennessee Williams’ “Belle Reve” – the lost ancestral home of Blanche and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. Today the mansion is the centrepiece of the Coahoma Higher Education Centre. It is one of the most magnificent of the homes of the ‘millionaire’ era of clarksdale. More time to be killed so we toddled off to Tunica (about halfway back to Memphis) to check out the casinos, massive amounts of poker machines, noisy, interesting for about 5 minutes, the last of the big spenders spent $5.00 for the sake of an active photo. Then it was the piece de resistance (after a ghastly quick snack at Wendy’s) we went to Red’s Blues Club, wow!!! Big A (the singer tonight) is nephew to Jack Johnson and is just awesome! It turned out there was a bunch of Aussie blues musos there from Melbourne and as often happens they joined in and we got a whole lot more music in a jam session- loving it! So, I have been to the Crossroads!
Tuesday 5 November 2013
Jackson petrol station;
Me: Can you tell me where the centre of Jackson is?
She: Hmmmm, no,don’t know – (asks the guy behind me).
He: Yeah, this is the centre.
OK, so there is nothing much in the ‘centre’ of Jackson. We found a mall across the road which had 4 food places, all awful and hardly any shops, everything was empty. So we gave up in despair and moved on, found a McDonalds on the way and gave in to fast food for lunch.
Now in New Orleans, went for a little wander on Bourbon Street, went to dinner at the Gumbo Shop on St Peter Street, very overated, can’t recommend it, very disappointing, but very popular. So back to the hotel for a couple of Hurricanes (wow, start with 4 different rums then add a few more things) a few of those and you’d be on your ear let alone in your own personal hurricane!
Wednesday 6 November 2013
OK, so I’m on my 3rd Hand Grenade! Heavens knows what’s in these things but they are darned strong! Blow your mind apart type of drink.
And I thought last night’s Hurricanes were strong! So here goes, I’ll try to edit as I go along. A tour of city and cemeteries today. A bit disapointing, the bus is a normal one so very difficult to see and take photos. (I do wish I’d done what I normally do and taken the double decker hop on hop off bus, you can see from those)
A lesson to be learned, when you find a way of seeing things that works, don’t deviate, Hop On Hop Off buses work.
The cemeteries, although interesting, are not much different to most Italian cemeteries, although for a different reason. In New Orleans the water table is so high that they can’t bury people in the normal way. So there are mauseleums and once a person is placed in there it can not be opened for 1 year and one day. To cover the fact that another member of the family may pass away before that year and a day is up there are spaces in the back wall that can be rented until such time as they can be moved into the mauseleum, a very complex system.
Dropped into WWOZ Radio station which streams their New Orleans Live All the Way program live to Canberra’s Artsound station but, unfortunately they were in the middle of a week long fund raising exercise so were really busy. Not to worry, at least I found them.
7 November 2013
Couple of great days in New Orleans. Although the bus tour was disappointing and the hand grenades wiped me out, exploring this place has been awesome. I did get to learn about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused (Queenslanders know about this) There is still about 40% of the city not liveable. The 9th ward got the worst and so many houses just left empty. There’s a long process for the people who were left homeless but they can return if they want and there is help but I guess some are just emotionally so devastated they aren’t dealing with it well or prefer to stay elsewhere, after all it has been a while. A walk around Frenchman Street uncovered all sorts of fascinating places. Night time we went to a Tropical Isles Bayou blues and were introduced to French Cajun music – rather cool. That’s where the Hand Grenades got me! But I did get a standing ovation for being from Australia! Today we went on a swamp tour, that was great cruising down the swamp and meeting wild pigs and raccoons and an ibis, no ‘gators unfortunately, it was too cold (but I did get to hold a baby alligator back in the office), loved that trip. Night time discovered the Funky Pirate bar Big Al Carson (he is really big man with a big voice) stuck around for a couple of sets and a few beers (Pirate’s blood ale) – nice night!!
Friday 8 November 2013
So the ‘supposed’ French here aren’t very good at making coffee either, had the bitterest shortest espresso in the biggest paper cup, followed by an equally bitter cappuccino – sigh!! Anyway the day improved, we drove out of town to visit one of the Creole sugar plantations (not a plantation any more). Really lovely place called Oak Alley named after the 28 oak trees (300 years old) that form the alley leading up to the house. It’s not Gone with the Wind though, apparently the Creoles didn’t go in for that style of ostentation although they did live the high life. The house is lovely but not huge, with as much original furniture as they have been able to track down. The place fell apart as the original family lost it after the Civil War and it only got restored in the 1920’s. Had lunch in their restaurant, a yummy chef’s special of eggplant layered with seafood and sampled all 3 juleps, very nice indeed. Back to Bourbon Street at night, dropping into a few clubs, found some nice jazz tonight played by Steamboat Willie. Oh boy that street really gets full of people, noisy everyone drinking (you are allowed to drink in public as long as the drink is in plastic, so everything is served in plastic). There is dancing, music, performers, buskers, people on balconies throwing mardi gras beads at the people on the ground, the odd parade goes by, all the souvenir shops are open and every bar has live music, mostly no cover charge but you have to buy a drink every set and then there are the interminable tips, that’s all the bands get for their playing. It really is colourful, but by 10pm half the people are seriously drunk and the bars are overflowing with people so it was time to leave – great day though, and tomorrow is another day.
Saturday 9th November
Well, this is hard to believe but this musical road trip is over!! we have been to some wonderful places and heard some great music
and musicians, a bunch of CDs are winging their way home as a result. Today was spent walking to places we hadn’t been yet and finding little corners of New Orleans. Dinner was a challenge, this place goes crazy on a Saturday, or rather more crazy. Drinking starts at lunchtime and the crowds just keep building until it becomes extremely difficult to get down the street, so finding dinner isn’t easy unless you have booked, we ended up at the Hard Rock and even that was a 30 minute wait. It sure was interesting watching the people, all the usual street performers were out and about but the new thing tonight were the wedding parades. Seems that the wedding parties walk to their venues police motorcycle in front followed by the bride and groom then all the guests waving white handkerchiefs – rather cool. Tomorrow it’s back in the air and moving on.
Sunday 10 November New Orleans
Yep, at an airport again, New Orleans Louis Armstrong, Alice has left for NY via Dallas and I’m waiting on my flight to Miami, on the road again, really looking forward to a beach!
And so it was farewell to an amazing experience and some really amazing towns – Farewell Branson, Memphis, Clarksdale and New Orleans, who knows one day I may return because you are all worth visiting again.
Fellow travellers and new travellers, consider any or all of these locations, so very much fun and essential if you are a music fan.
See you in my next blog, I may go back to following my European trail or I just might do Miami before going back – we’ll see. Whichever it is I hope to catch you n the travel trail.
Bye by for now from the Golden Oldie as the coffee quest continues.