When Marilyn and I decided to take a road trip there were a few choices. In the end, we decided to drive to New Orleans with numerous stops in between. On Monday May 31, 2016, we headed to the US via Buffalo – our first stop The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Soon after crossing the boarder, we realized it was Memorial Day in the States. All along our route, we experienced American patriotism with flags flying from every window and porch. At one stop (for an ice cream cone) we happened upon a parade of pick up trucks all adorned with American flags. We didn’t book any hotels/motels in advance so there was no urgency to be anywhere on a particular day. We also took advantage of discount coupons at the State Welcome Centres. Except for our two night stay in New Orleans, our motels cost on average between $50-$75 per night USD. This included a hot breakfast at each place we stayed and most had a pool and fitness room. We made it to Richfield Ohio on the first night which left us only a short drive from Cleveland and our first stop – The Rock and roll Hall of Fame. It was well worth the visit. What a great trip down memory lane.The next day we arrived in Louisville Kentucky for a tour of the Muhammad Ali Centre. This too was a great museum filled with information about Ali’s childhood, boxing career, humanitarian work, and his life overall. Needless to say, we were shocked to hear of Ali’s death just two days after our visit to his hometown. While driving through Kentucky, we came upon the numerous bourbon distilleries south of Elizabethtown. This is also the vicinity where Abraham Lincoln was born although he only lived in this area until he was 7 years old. We decided to stop for a tour of one of the bourbon distilleries and it turned out to be quite interesting. There are two reasons why bourbon is famous in this particular part of the south – spring water and lots of corn. Huge vats of bubbling yeast mixture are at the start of the brewing process. Once it has fermented, the bourbon is stored in barrels in huge house-like structures. These buildings contain up to 2500 barrels of bourbon. Whenever a barrel is removed from one side of the building, it is necessary to remove one from the other side as well. These building have been known to tip completely over sideways. In addition, there are lots of stories of fires destroying thousands of kegs of bourbon. Once a fire starts, it is almost impossible to put it out. Water spayed on bourbon merely creates flaming rivers which can spread to the next building.
Up to this point, our GPS had been extremely helpful in finding the back road sites. However, she started to go a bit crazy in Kentucky and eventually just died. Turns out she only had maps for Canada and bordering States. We were planning on buying a newer model anyway, so we decided to find a Best Buy (which would have been much easier with a GPS). As luck would have it, we saw a huge Best Buy sign just as we got near to Bowling Green Kentucky. Problem solved (temporarily as it turned out). This picture above was taken at Lost River Cave near Bowling Green, Kentucky. There are a lot of caves in this area but we chose to explore this one because you get on a boat and travel down a river inside the caves. There are a lot of stories about the caves so it turned out to be a history lesson as well as a great adventure.
Next stop…Nashville.I’m not much of a country music fan but Nashville is famous and live music is great no matter the genre. We took a tour backstage of the Grande Ole Opry which was quite interesting. In 2010 the Opry was flooded and it was interesting to learn about the damage done and the repair work required to get it opened again. After finding a motel, we enjoyed a swim in the outdoor pool before walking down to Broadway Street. This is where all the musicians and singers play in hopes of making it big. Every few feet there is another bar with live music. The street is packed with people and it has a great “party’ feel. We met some folks from Norway as well as a few Americans while making our rounds. There really isn’t any place like this in Canada but the US has a few cities where music is the major industry. These include Memphis, Austin, New Orleans, etc. The picture below is a view of Broadway in Nashville from a roof top bar. This particular place had three levels and a live band playing on each level. Keeping with the themes of ‘history’ and ‘music’ our trip took us to Memphis and a tour of Graceland. I’ve wanted to go to Graceland ever since Paul Simon released his Graceland album in the mid 80s. There really has never been another performer like Elvis. In truth, Graceland was smaller than I imagined although the house is set on a beautiful piece of land. The home is furnished much like Elvis left it and also serves as a museum to his accomplishments and awards. He too was a generous person supporting numerous worthy causes.
We took a number of back roads during our trip and one site we found was the Greenwood Plantation in Louisianna. Until the civil war, 750 slaves worked the cotton and sugarcane fields on this 12,000 acre plantation. This particular plantation has been used as a setting in 6 movies so now we have those to watch as well. After touring through this majestic home, we were able to wonder around the grounds. However, the tour guide suggested we keep an eye for snakes. “What kind of snakes?”, I asked. “Oh just about every poisonous snake you can imagine”, she replied. We didn’t walk all that much….took the car instead.
One more overnight stay and we were on our way to our final destination – New Orleans. Just one problem…our brand new GPS wouldn’t turn on in the morning. Once again we were looking for a Best Buy. Fortunately, we saw one right next to the highway on the outskirts of Baton Rouge. We got a hassle free exchange and continued on our way.
So far our accommodation had been inexpensive and gas prices were unbelievable. We filled up a couple of times for $2.00 per gallon….yup…per gallon. On our travels we heard the Astor Crowne Plaza hotel was a good place to stay in New Orleans and another couple who lived in New Orleans told us about Preservation Hall. The picture above is of the street in front of the Crowne Plaza hotel. There is no parking at the hotel so it is necessary to use the valet. However, it is a complete zoo on the street as people try to stop and unload their luggage. What was amazing is that nobody seemed to care that the street was jammed up in this way.
Our room was quite lovely but much more expensive than any other place we had stayed. It cost us $301 CND for the Saturday night and $207 CND for the Sunday night. Valet parking was $42 per day.
The hotel was indeed in a great location on the edge of the French Quarter. We actually walked around this and some other areas several times, taking in all the great music which was happening everywhere. To be honest though, Bourbon street was not our favourite. Although it is quite famous, it is dirty and smells. We much preferred Frenchmen’s street for music and food as it was much nicer. As I mentioned before, we heard about Preservation Hall and decided to check it out. We are so glad we did. In fact, we went back the next night as well. Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to “preserve, perpetuate, and protect,” traditional New Orleans Jazz. It’s a small venue and nothing fancy but the music was amazing.
They asked that no pictures be taken during the performance so the above picture was the best I could get. New Orleans is beautiful city and all the people working in the bars and restaurants were extremely friendly, happy, and helpful. Marilyn tried some of the local dishes but I didn’t have the courage to try foods named craw fish, gumbo, jambalaya, etc. Still, we ate well and enjoyed the uniqueness of southern and Cajun food. We took a bus tour of the city which took us to areas where the devastation from Hurricane Katrina was the worst. It is sad to think of how many lives changed due to the storm. The house pictured above is called a ‘double shotgun” home. The homes in this area of the city are often long and narrow due to the width of the yards. Since taxes were collected based on ‘frontage’, people chose to build this way. In these homes, one room leads into the next from the front to the back of the house. This home is a ‘double’ shotgun home because it has a wall down the middle and houses two families.
Although we drove a different route home, we didn’t really stop much on the return trip. We had entered the States through Buffalo and returned to Ontario via Detroit. We were gone for 10 days and traveled through 11 different States. We met some nice people along the way, heard a lot of great music, and learned a lot of history. Traveling in the US isn’t much different from being in Canada but there are certainly some differences when it comes to the southern states. Y’all cum back now!