I was determined to visit Memphis, Tennessee to pay a wee homage to Elvis. My Mum had been to Graceland earlier the same year and was waxing lyrical about it. For fans like myself it’s a good pit stop, and – more importantly – I actually really liked Memphis! I didn’t have high expectations about the place, but was lucky enough to combine a good welcoming hostel with a fun small crowd, and enough music history to blow anyone’s mind.
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
GRACELAND | it would be rude to be in Memphis, Tennessee and not visit The King’s home! I loved Graceland despite the $28 price tag, and it’s fascinating having a nosey around his house. You only see downstairs and the tour skims over a lot of detail – just why did he get so fat and turn from handsome to spangled Vegas jumpsuits? – but it is humbling to be in the former home of such a musical legend (read: big fan).
SUN STUDIO | I loved this teeny tiny little place that is a real snippet of history, famous as the birthplace of rock and roll as well as launching Elvis’ career. It was opened in 1950 by Sam Phillips, and the next year recorded the first rock and roll single ‘Rocket 88′ by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, with Ike Turner on keyboard. It’s seen all sorts pass through its doors – from Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King, to Johnny Cash, Elvis, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis to name a few.
COOPER YOUNG | a great little hipster area of Memphis, given away by tell-tale signs of yoga and juice bars, and an Urban Outfitters around the corner. It’s good to see thriving areas of the city, as the reality is that much of Memphis is still getting a tough gig and there are significantly more dodgy neighbourhoods.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
STAX RECORD MUSEUM | provides yet more interesting music history. There’s a whole 20 minute intro video, no tourist crowds, and Isaac Hayes’ pimpin’ custom Cadillac on show. Myself and a hostel buddy hired bikes to get there from Cooper Young and were told, ‘whatever you do, don’t stop!’ as supposedly East Macklemore has big gang issues. Jeezus.
RENDEVOUS | a downtown institution known for great BBQ. It was very tasty, but a little on the pricey side for pork ribs. Also check out: Arcade Restaurant – Elvis’ favourite, which was shut when I visited. Apparently his fave spot is a booth right at the back.
HIRE BIKES | in the absence of the essential American automotive, it was fun to get back on a bike for a day and adventure around Memphis. The bus system is pretty good too, so don’t be put off by distances. Also check out: Pilgrim House hostel, which lent us the bikes, and is like a cosy home-away-from-home.
3 THINGS TO STAY CLEAR:
BEALE STREET | it’s going to be on any to-do list, and the history is of course fascinating. But I think for me I’d become a little seen-one-neon-sign-seen-them-all by this stage of my trip! I prefer the main street in Nashville, and of course there’s Bourbon in NOLA and Sixth in Austen.
GETTING LOST | with our bikes, we cycled from STAX to downtown and got totally lost in the back roads of these big industrial estates in an attempt to avoid the super highway. Luckily it was annoying lost, rather than dangerous-sketchy lost. Make sure you take a good map and know where you’re going.
WATERFRONT | sure, check it out, but the Mississippi is just not that pretty or got any real appeal. I’d say focus your trip to Memphis on soaking up the music and the history, then soaking up the alcohol in the bars on Beale Street. I was a bit socialising-ed out by Memphis, so only did the former!
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM | unfortunately we’d missed the fairly limited opening hours of this place, which is shut on Tuesdays. Such a shame as I really wanted to learn more about the events around Martin Luther King’s tragic death.
AND KNOW THIS: Tennessee’s nickname the ‘Volunteer State’ was earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, especially during the Battle of New Orleans.
–> –> –> Other stop The Lone Star State | Nashville, Tennessee –> –> –> (post coming soon)