Time flies. It really does. This has been a very stressful and fun year, with both ups and downs.
Winter was coloured by our season tickets to the Royal Opera House in Stockholm. We went to a lot of different performances, and had such a good time. We would have extended it, but we had to save money because of Linda’s work that got her all the way to Tennessee for three weeks. We combined this trip with a vacation of our own, but my, how expensive a vacation like that can be.
Spring went quickly by, but we savoured it as much as we could. We went on hikes in a Nature Reserve, since we’d planned for hikes in the US during the upcoming summer.
Summer came, and our trip was upon us. Linda left for Memphis, TN, and worked there for three weeks. I joined her after those three weeks were up, and we shared our two week vacation. After some delays (I had to fly from Chicago, IL to Denver, CO instead of straight from Chicago to Memphis, TN due to a cancelled flight) I was faced with the awesome heat that is the Memphis summer. At 1 AM (when I arrived) it was 36 degrees Celsius outside. We picked up our rental car the day after, and started our journey, which looked like this:
- Memphis, TN (two nights)
- Gatlinburg, TN (and the Great Smoky Mountains, three nights)
- Nashville, TN (for two nights)
- New Orleans, LA (our longest top, four nights)
- St. Louis, MO (only a overnight stop)
- Chicago, IL (two nights)
Our start in Memphis was cut short somewhat, as I arrived too late to enjoy the city on arrival. Very unfortunate, since we feel that we must go back sooner or later. We started our holiday on the hectic side, with multiple visits and meetings planned for our very first day.
Graceland, where we started out after getting the rental car and fetching my delayed luggage, was very nice, but since I’m not very interested in the King I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. It was still a very impressive museum and cultural heritage site, and he must have lived a good life in his very pretty home. The Pyramid was once built as a sports arena, and the name and shape was an homage to the namesake city of Memphis in Egypt. Today it’s a massive fishing shop and wildlife themed hotel, with a restaurant in the top, accessible via a lift in the centre of the building. Great views and a very cool looking bar! We went by there, just to get the feel of the city, and view the beautiful location of the Pyramid, just on the bank of the Mississippi River. We spent the evening on Beale Street, where we met up a couple of Linda’s new found friends for drinks and dinner. I could never imagine that a restaurant with plastic tablecloths, fluorescent lighting and no wine list would serve such a nice dinner as they did, but I suppose the company we had was the strongest experience increase factor here. S&B, you guys are truly awesome company, thanks for putting up with me even though I was tired and jet lagged.
We started out early the next day and went via a Kroger for breakfast (best sandwiches ever!) and started driving east. What struck me the most, with this first leg of our trip, was two things: how well the motor way goes when trucks go the same speed as the personal cars and how very green Tennessee is! It was the beginning of July, and the temperatures were above 35 degrees centigrade every day, but it was still lush with greenery everywhere. Also, I couldn’t help to notice the vast numbers of raptors circling in the air. The road east became less and less purposed for large volumes of traffic, and in the end it was just small, country roads (we suspect Google misled us, but the view made it worth it). Typical american architecture and rolling wooden hills.
We arrived in Gatlinburg early enough so that we had time to stroll up and down Parkway, and found a very nice restaurant (Calhoun’s). It was a bit cooler up in the mountains compared to the flat land we’d just left. We had our first day of hiking the day after, and I just have to say: WOW! Dense, vibrant woods, beautiful scenery with hills as far as the eye could see, and total silence. We met very few people on the Appalachian trail, but more when we arrived at the look-out points (Charlies bunion and the Jumpoff). We saw a whole lot of different wild animals, such as white tailed deer and different swallowtail butterflies.
We did a shorter hike the day after (on the fourth of July) to the more crowded Clingmans Dome, with a nice afternoon walk along the river in the town. The celebratory day ended with a great fireworks show, and a couple of hours in the local pinball museum.
When leaving Gatlingburg for Nashville, we took a few detours: we stopped in Ripleys Aquarium (still in Gatlinburg), we passed Dollywood (though we never stopped) and stopped at the Burgess Falls. The waterfalls were beautiful, and the nature around it was too, but the heat was cooking me thoroughly. Nashville didn’t impress me all that much, it was a very noisy city. The live music that was available in every open bar on Broadway were rather distracting from the city’s other features. We had a couple of really good musical encounters in the city, for instance in Musicians Hall of Fame, where a lone singer sat with his guitar and played when we entered. We’ve since added him to our Spotify list.
After that, we travelled south, expecting to see less and less vegetation, but no – instead it remained. The type of trees changed, however, from broad leaf trees to conifers. The density remained the same. It was just when we passed the I10 bridge over Lake Pontchartrain that we noticed a strong change in vegetation. We arrived in our little B&B in Maringy, a district in a walking distance from the French Quarter. The sun shone, it was a very warm and humid afternoon, the area felt quiet and calm. The perfect stop after the loud and obtrusive Nashville. I just have to remark on the colours! The whole city was vibrant, and it felt like the sun agreed – every colour seemed enhanced by the colourful rays. The city was very relaxing, even though the temperature pushed past 39 degrees, until…Barry.
Barry was a hurricane that formed in the gulf outside of New Orleans. On our second to last day in Louisiana, we woke up early because of the storms – lightning struck every second, the wind was howling and the rain poured down. An emergency broadcast for “Flash flood alert” was pushed to our phones, and shortly thereafter another one came for “Tornado warning”. We evacuated to the downstairs kitchen, were we sat alone for an hour before deciding that we had to move our car. The car was already experiencing water up to the chassis, so I put on my swimwear and went out and successfully moved the car to the pavement a bit higher up the street. After that the rain stopped, and we decided to pack our bags and to be on stand-by to evacuate the city one day earlier than planned. When we were packed and ready, the water level started to sink on the street outside, and we took our chance, ignoring the warnings from the NWS. We made it a couple of city blocks before traffic caught up to us, and we were standing still. A distance that had taken us 15 minutes the day before, took us 2 hours on this day. Fortunately, we found out that most citizens wanted to travel west on the I10 (which we also had planned). This made us take a detour of about an hour, going north east instead. Once on the Interstate, there was almost no traffic at all, and we cleared the bad weather and made our way north. We’d planned to go the entire way to St. Louis the day after, but we weren’t sure if we’d make it this day, since the weather had delayed us. Linda’s resilience made us try, and I sure am thankful about that today. We had to drive through hellish downpour and lightning storms (not Barry though, just regular Arkansas summer storms). Thankfully, this was the last we saw of bad weather, even though Barry menacingly stared at us in the rear view mirror.
We made it to St. Louis, albeit late. We checked in, and asked if there was a bar open, which it was: for an additional 20 minutes. We hurried our bags up to the room, and ran back down to order ourselves a tincture of chemical relaxant. Our bartender were super polite, and talked happily about the city and the surrounding states, while we drank ourselves less tense from the bad weather.
The next day we stood before a problem which we hadn’t anticipated, we were in a city which we hadn’t researched. We found one thing out that I didn’t know before: it was possible to go up into the Gateway Arch. So up we went, after a short promise that we weren’t claustrophobic nor afraid of heights. It was a very special experience, and the construction itself was truly remarkable. The city was quiet and very clean, we felt safe to walk about freely. We read that the inner city of St. Louis don’t have that many inhabitants, but the greater St. Louis is one of the biggest cities around. That felt in accordance with our opinion, there weren’t that many people who didn’t work on the streets, and because of that there weren’t that many shops. A waiter told us that when he talks about “going to the city” he meant Chicago, which was still 4 hours in car from St. Louis. By dinnertime that night we were both starving, and looked around the neighbourhood around the Hotel for a restaurant, and accidentally found ourselves in a drag show restaurant. Food was great, and so was the performance. A very weird but interesting evening.
We left early the next day on our way to Chicago, only with the small detour on Route 66. Small but beautiful roads through maize fields and farm houses. Eventually we got to Chicago and…gridlock. Took us way too long and made us way too irritable just getting to our hotel. Parking was so bad that we ended up leaving our rental car at the agency and then walking with our luggage the 500 m to the hotel, located just on the waterfront. It felt much longer, I promise.
We went straight to Grant Park, since there was a food festival when we got there. We tasted a lot of different foods and drank some weird drinks that I hope I don’t have to try again, but all in all it was a great experience. The next day we ate a relaxing breakfast in a small french restaurant near Grant Park (first decent coffee I got in the US!) and walked by Lake Michigan to the Field Museum. That museum deserved a lot longer visit than we had time for, and impressed us deeply. After that, we got the best burgers from the entire trip, headed back to the hotel and a fresh change of clothes before getting a drink and a spontaneous dinner on the 95th floor in “The Signature Room” restaurant in John Hancock Center. We only planned for a drink there, but we were exhausted and tired, and the mood there was excellent, so we took a chance and got a table with a view over the setting sun and the skyline of Chicago. A magic end to our superb road trip.
The autumn has also been hectic, but there seems to be light in the end of the tunnel. I’ve travelled to Japan for the first time ever, which in itself is a story for another time, but needless to say, that was very interesting.
Today’s photo: A view over the Great Smoky Mountains from the Appalachian Trail.