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2024: The Deep South

1. From Atlanta to Nashville

We had originally expected to be cruising down the Mississippi to New Orleans on an old paddle-steamer, but the company that owned it had gone bankrupt so we sought another way to travel to the Deep South of the USA. Soon we were booked on a tour with Great Rail Journeys, which would take us across Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana to  Texas.

Arriving late in the evening in Atlanta, we settled down for a night in the airport hotel while we attempted to reset ourselves onto American time. The next morning we had an immediate reminder to think about the recent history of the South as we visited the Martin Luther King centre, a place of moving stories and beautiful tributes to this brave man and his family..


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The tomb of Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta
The memorial centre has a beautiful water feature and a lovely rose garden

Soon it was lunchtime and we were taken to the old Sears building (Sears Roebuck being one of the most famous names in American retailing history) which has oddly now been renamed as the Ponce City Market; it turned out that Ponce is the name of the district where it is situated.


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The old Sears building, built as a huge retail centre
Now renamed but still a huge retail centre
A delicious plate of shrimp tacos for lunch
This original electrical panel was still in use until 2013
A wonderful old Gardner engine was displayed in the lobby

We had a most enjoyable stroll around the market, stopping for a simply delicious meal of shrimp tacos before rejoining our coach for the journey to Chattanooga - a city made famous by the 1941 song 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'. It is unfortunately no longer possible to travel to Chattanooga by train, but it still has one amazing railway in operation. This is the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, an incredible funicular where the two cars counterbalance each other from the opposite ends of a mile of cable which passes around a motorised pulley at  the top of the mountain. This incredible railway, which opened in 1895, is one of the steepest in the world and offers amazing views for those passengers who have the courage to keep their eyes open. This photo shows the train at its upper-level station.


Incline Railway


Lookout Mountain played a very important role in the American Civil War, and several crucial battles were fought around Chattanooga, as this effectively marks the boundary between the mountains of the north and the plains of the south. There is a superb little exhibition centre near the upper railway station, with a digital panoramic display that tells the story using a large model of the area with model soldiers and multiple lights.

After the return descent to the lower level, we entered Chattanooga itself and checked into our hotel before strolling up to the famous railway station which was once one of the main hubs of the north-south railroad system but is now just a museum area. We had a good meal, and a few drinks, in one of the bars there before catching the free shuttle bus back to the hotel area.


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The famous 'Terminus' railway station
An old train in the Choo-Choo museum area

The next morning we were soon on the move again, for a visit to the Jack Daniel's distillery. Our tour there was extremely interesting, and the guide was simply superb (or was our opinion swayed by the free drink of a JD and Coke smoothie to drink as we strolled through the grounds). The history was fascinating: Jack Daniel came to work on a nearby farm as a boy before the Civil War, and became fascinated by the workings of their still which was operated by one of the slaves. After the war he took over the farm and the still, employing the former slave who was now a free man as his master distiller, and it remained a family concern from then onwards.

One of the main features of Jack Daniel's whisky, ever since its earliest beginnings, is the use of charcoal to filter out those chemicals which can cause a hangover. Clearly this feature needs me to do some extensive testing - and to help with such experiments the distillery has a comprehensive shop. First however, we had a whisky-tasting session in which our guide taught us the best way to appreciate the taste of the different elements of the drink, together with a comparison of 6 different varieties; what a thoroughly enjoyable way to round off the tour!


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Jack Daniel who founded the distillery
Debbie has decided she wants to be his best friend ...
... because she rather liked the drink he gave her


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It all starts with this natural spring flowing from a cave
We entered the tasting room ...
... to sample a half-dozen different varieties of whisky
The shop had an even greater range of whiskies available

After lunch in nearby Lynchburg - where there were also many souvenir shops - we continued our journey onwards to Nashville, which is famed for its country music and is known around the world as Music City.  Probably its most famous venue is the Grand Ole Opry, which has been running continuously as a radio and stage show since 1924, and for our first evening in Nashville we had excellent seats there. The whole atmosphere of the venue was wonderful, and the superb performances (well, by all except one of the artists) made for a fabulous evening's entertainment.


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Outside the Grand Ole Opry
Such an iconic venue
An excellent view of the stage
The performances were fantastic

The next morning we had a guided tour around Nashville. We visited their Bicentennial park, which has a 200ft granite map of Tennessee, and then their Centennial Park (100 years older, would you believe?) which has retained one of its prime exhibits - an accurate reconstruction of how the Parthenon in Athens would look if it were to be fully restored. We also stopped by the old Marathon motor-works which manufactured its own cars here from 1910-1914; there was a small museum containing a few of these amazing vehicles. While we were there we could not resist going into a small distillery which offered free tasting of their Moonshine whisky - yes we tasted some and yes we bought some Moonshine (this meant we now had 3 glass bottles to pack safely into our suitcases and take home).


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The Parthenon in Nashville's Centennial Park
One of the Marathon cars in their museum
There's a distillery in the old Marathon motor-works ...
... where we bought some moonshine

There was a fascinating building in Nashville: the local headquarters of AT&T is commonly known as the Batman Building (the picture below makes this obvious) and provides a most useful directional pointer whilst walking in the city. We also walked through a small park which had flagstones dedicated to some of its famous singers; Debbie was quick to find two of her favourites amongst them.


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The Batman Building
Debbie is looking for her favourites
She has found Elvis Presley ...
... and now she has found Johnny Cash

Our tour of Music City continued with a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. No doubt it is fascinating if you are a big fan of country music but, although we do like country music it is not our favourite so we do not know a great deal about its artists and we found the exhibits to be particularly uninformative in this respect.


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Country music stars love their big cars ...
... note the guns, cow horns, and the saddle
Elvis had his Cadillac gold-plated, although in fact ...
... it just looks sparkly white because of the way it was done
A few of the gold discs that are displayed on the walls

In contrast, the following day we walked over to the Musicians Hall of fame; here the exhibition was both informative and fascinating, and whereas we had planned to spend just an hour there in fact we were there for over 3 hours.


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Some of the great names who have played at the Auditorium next to the Musicians Hall of Fame
Nashville made us feel very welcome
The 'Million Dollar Quartet' of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash at their first session


Nipper sits on the piano in the Hall of Fame
We loved this representation of Nashville, showing the city skyline on the outline of a record
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I loved this display of equipment from Edison to iPod. So much of it (except the oldest) brought back such great memories

We also had a superbly interesting private guided tour of the RCA Studio B, which is where many big stars such as Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton recorded most of their material; Elvis, for example, so loved the studio that when RCA built a bigger, modern studio next door he refused to go there - insisting that his favourite piano be brought back to the old studio for him every time.


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Where it all started in Nashville - RCA Victor studio, also known as the RCA studio B
An incredible number of hit records were recorded here
The original recording equipment
Inside the actual studio - with Elvis's favourite piano

Our exploration of Nashville included finding a wonderful street food market for lunch, and a couple of visits to Broadway. What an amazing experience that is! A busy city main-street in which every shop, every building, has been turned into a bar known as a Honky-Tonk. In every one of these there is a different band playing loudly, all day long and late into the night, often just inside the open windows (after all, it is rather hot there!) so that wherever you stand you are assaulted by at least half a dozen different sources of music at the same time. Somehow it all fits together like a giant party for hundreds of people. When you find a Honky-Tonk that you like you just go inside and listen to the music; if you fancy a drink you just take a seat; and if you are hungry you sit at a table and have a wonderful meal; we did all of these things. It is a positively wonderful mind-blowing experience.

Finally after 3 wonderful days exploring Nashville in an ever-present atmosphere of country music, it was time for us to board our coach again and head towards Memphis



A reminder of the dark side to Nashville's history



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