1st-15th September 2017.
The South of the USA is one weird and wonderful place that in our eyes represents the real America. One of those road trips that intrigued us and we knew we couldn’t leave America without completing, especially with George’s taste in music.
We flew San Fran – Las Vegas – New Orleans which took around 6 hours in total including a 2 hour stop over in Las Vegas airport. There is no direct flight from San Fran – New Orleans. We flew with Frontier airlines which cost £250pp. Internal American flights are not cheap so book in advance and use sky scanner to find the best deal.
New Orleans or shall we say ‘New Awlins’ was high on the list of stops in the South due to its bustling bars full of live jazz bands. Jazz music originated here a long long time ago and they try to keep the spirit of the music alive in their daily culture.
We stayed 3 nights in a great Air BNB (£30pn including breakfast for two people) which is one of our favourites so far. Uber is a great, quick and easy way to travel in America. Public buses and trains are of course cheaper (but only slightly when there is more than one of you) but after dark locals recommend to travel by taxi as the South of USA has the highest crime rates due to its vast gang culture. An uber to the centre from our Air BNB cost $15 and to the airport around $25.
Things to do:
Bourbon street is the most famous for nightlife here. Lots of live music bars, eateries and clubs. It gets pretty crazy here as the night goes on so keep your wits about you whilst having lots of fun
Frenchman street, not far from Bourbon (it’s all very close just hop on a tram) is a more chilled out version which was more up our street. There seemed to be a lot more live jazz bands here creating a good vibe. You do have to pay to get into some of the bars but not all of them so shop around
French Quarter is the place to be during the day. The pretty Jackson square surrounded by back streets that look like they haven’t been touched since the old cowboy days and very much alive with music. It doesn’t matter which corner you turn you will discover another busking jazz band that you can’t help but stop and listen to… and maybe even have a dance! Some of the music we listened to on the streets was better than anything we saw in the bars. Lots of great eateries, art, shops, bars and a good market around here. St Louis Cathedral is a stunning building you cannot miss behind the square. Try not to invest in a horse and carriage ride, although they look authentic and may capture a great image the horses often collapse here due to poor conditions. The French Quarter is home to the Voodoo doll and viewed by many as a place of witchcraft so watch out and don’t be too scared when you see the walking Voodoo dolls on the streets. Here you must try the famous ‘beignets’ from Café Du Monde, a type of deep fried pastry covered in powdered sugar. If you don’t want to queue to sit down and pay a fortune simply queue at the back for some to take away for a fraction of the price. There is also cheaper yummy food options in the market
From the French Quarter cross over to the mighty Mississippi and have a stroll along the river watching the old steam boats pull in
After our first stop we traveled the South by hire car which we collected in New Orleans Airport from Auto Europe. 4 days hire cost us £146. Again we had problems with the hire. On the arrival to the airport they tried to charge us a hidden fee of an extra £110, after arguing and refusing to pay they dropped the charge. It’s safe to say that by this point we were sick of vehicle hire companies!
Through our road trip in the South we thought the best and safest option would be to stay in hotels. Our maximum budget per night was $50 and this worked really well, sometimes even spending $30-$40. The hotels were often basic but clean and just what we needed including breakfast and even facilities such as a pool and gym. Simply use booking.com and agoda to find the best deals at that time. Try and book ahead although walk in deals are also possible.
The musical road trip:
Natchez 1 night hotel.
Our visit to Natchez was planned around visiting the famous plantations in the area. As you have to pay to see each one we chose the one recommended by the locals; Longwood House which was around a ten minute drive from our hotel. It costs $17pp which includes a guided tour around the house. It was a great taste of this dark history America holds.
We felt our guide had a rose tinted view on slavery as we had conducted a lot of research on this subject but it was still interesting to see how the American people choose to remember their history. Apart from the plantations and a stunning sunset over the Mississippi River there isn’t much to see in Natchez. Plenty of places to eat of an evening from fast food to diners to restaurants.
Clarksdale 1 night hotel.
This is probably the most unlikely town for tourists to stop in but thanks to George’s music knowledge we knew it’s rich musical history. The main reason people would stop here is due to Morgan Freeman’s bar; Ground Zero.
Being born in Clarksdale and seeing the poverty that has now hit his hometown, Morgan Freeman started this blues bar to bring tourism, money and hope back to the people. You can often catch him having a beer here with musical friends. Eat and drink here but note it’s shut on a Monday.
Many legends of music were born in Clarksdale starting their music careers in this unlikely town. The likes of Sam Cooke, Eka Turner and Muddy Waters once walked these poverty struck streets not knowing the future they had ahead of them. Soul and blues music was mostly played here during its peak and still is now but this was actually the place where the first rock and roll song was written. Ike Turner sat in the Riverside hotel one night and created the song ‘Rocket 88’, check it out. You can visit the hotel which is now abandoned but hasn’t been touched since history was made.
There are a few museums in the town which explain the journey of the music and are filled with great pieces of history. Some are free and some you have to pay just have a wander and you will stumble past them. You can even walk the music trail through Clarksdale which includes interesting stops such as the baptist church where Sam Cooke first sang. There is a very high crime rate here so you have to be sensible and are advised by locals not to walk around at night; drive even if it’s round the corner. To put it into perspective there was a shooting outside of our hotel the night we were there. Not many food choices here apart from fast food and diners. The Bluesberry Café was a favourite for the live music, food and drinks.
Memphis 2 nights Air BNB £40pn – great location lovely clean and quiet family home.
Of course Memphis is all about Elvis Presley right? You would think so, but once you step out of his home in Graceland Elvis isn’t present in Memphis much at all. As you wander up and down Beale Street of an evening listening to the live music spilling out on to the streets, you won’t hear Elvis songs but more blues and rock and roll.
However, Graceland is a must see. It costs $58pp which includes a full audio guided tour of his home and private aeroplanes.
Other things to see in Memphis include the assassination point of Martin Luther King at the Motel Lorraine. This is great to see as it is untouched, there is also an interesting museum attached which you can pay to visit.
Tennessee is all about the BBQ food so while you are in Memphis be sure to indulge. We ate at Central BBQ and it was good! A little like fast food though in and out but pretty cheap. The Sun studios are really cool to visit. This is where the likes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recorded their best music.
There is a studio tour here but we just had a peak inside and took some photographs as you have to pay for the tour. There is a lot to see in Memphis we recommend 2 nights here.
Memphis 1 night Air BNB £54pn – disaster!
Unfortunately we didn’t actually get to visit the heart of Nashville as we had a bad experience with our Air BNB here. Although it had good reviews it was in a very unsafe part of town. This was our first bad Air BNB experience. On arrival to the house we knew we had to leave and this left us spending our time looking for accommodation instead of exploring Nashville. As we were dropping the car back to the airport that day and couldn’t find any accommodation in town we opted for a motel at the airport. Always check the area you are staying in before hand. Our plan for Nashville was to wander the city streets as it is being regarded in America as the new New York City. Emerge ourselves in the coffee shops by seeking out cool cafes, and listen to live country music in the home of Johnny Cash.
It was time to drop the car off.
Atlanta 6 nights Air BNB £30pn – not the cleanest or tidiest place but good room, great friendly host and great location.
The Megasbus cost $11pp and took around 5 hours. Atlanta was a little crazy for us! All through our trip in the South news of Hurricane Irma was being reported everywhere but we never thought it would touch us, as it was due to hit Florida. The problem was no one knew when. As the storm got closer they predicted it hitting as far as Georgia due to its power. This eventually happened to be scheduled for when we arrived in Atlanta. There was no way of escaping it so we had to stay put and wait. On arrival into Atlanta on a coach from Nashville (which was an experience in itself, not for the faint hearted) it was like a scene out of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ as cars were bumper to bumper on the motorway for up to 20 hours escaping Irma’s path following evacuation. We originally planned 2 nights in Atlanta and then planned to pick up a car at Atlanta airport and visit the seaside towns of Charleston and Savannah. These two towns appealed to us due to their pretty harbour side views with lines of piers, perfect sunsets and delicious seafood. We were not able to travel from Atlanta until the storm passed as everywhere was boarded up throughout the state of Georgia. The storm came after a few days waiting and the coast was hit pretty bad so traveling to Charleston and Savannah was not possible and we stayed in Atlanta until our flight out of there. We managed to cancel the hire car. Our Air BNB host put us up for longer which was very kind even sleeping on the sofa during the storm when other guests arrived. Thankfully Atlanta is a very cool city to be stuck in! As the capital city of the South you are never short of things to do and see.
Things to do in Atlanta:
Look out for film scenes you may recognise from the likes of Stranger Things and Walking Dead. A lot of filming is now performed here to look as if it is New York
Cycle or walk the belt line. We cycled in the sunshine and it took about 45 minutes. Stop and see the city views, artwork and buskers all the way along. We even found a little festival here in September that we ended spending the whole evening at. There are bike here stalls here it cost about $20pp for half a day
Explore the botanical gardens which are situated in the great Piedmont Park. The park is free but you have to pay to enter the gardens. The park offers a great view of the city sky line
Relax in the Olympic park
Little Five Points is a great place to hang out day or night as the ‘hipster’ area of town
Watch a Braves or Falcons match (the new Mercedes Benz stadium is good to see)
The High Museum of Art is a great visit. You will need to purchase tickets upon entry
CNN centre, Coco Cola, Aquarium are great to see but of course tickets will cost you. Look on Groupon for package deals
French Quarter in New Orleans
The Southern accent
The music tour in Clarksdale
Understanding how the ‘real America’ works
Don’t take public transport after dark. Uber or Lyft taxis are so cheap in America just hit the app and you will have a ride in no time
Always research the area you are staying in before arriving
Embrace the local live music and have a boogie
Take time to learn of the history here, there is plenty of it
Try a Chick Fillet (vegans, veggies and GF options and so good)
With love from the globe,
Isabelle & George x
Currently in Bali.