In the home of the Delta Blues

Memphis is not a pretty city. It’s gritty, with roads lined by fast food restaurants. It rains a lot, suddenly and biblically. Billboards declare that ‘Elvis lives!’ every mile or so.

I went to a gospel church service on Sunday morning (when in the South, right?) and the music gave me shivers. Gospel is loud and in your face – it’s not a spectator activity. Everyone was clapping and ‘Yes, Lord!’ -ing. People danced and stomped and it made me laugh with delight. I’m so glad I got to see this.

Graceland was a necessary stop, of course. Elvis’ s house is smaller than you might expect, and the decoration really is something.  The tour gave quite a good overview of his background and career, as well as plenty of opportunities to listen to his music.

Then there was barbeque. I went to Central BBQ first, and ate ribs so delicious that I could hardly walk back. Double J’s was even better.

I’ve also been binge – reading more of the Little House sequels and pretending I’m a settler. It’s quite comforting.

I couldn’t leave Memphis without two more stops; the national civil rights museum, which was incredible and important, and to hear some blues music live.

Getting downtown took a bike ride – I’m actually quite scared of American roads so this was a challenge. Luckily when I got lost, five men gathered round to set me on the right road (sign placement is ridiculously poor, so it’s often difficult to tell which street is which).

Photos to come.

It ain’t all fun and games

I’m not taking a very long holiday. Sometimes, travelling is hard. And sometimes, I’m exhausted.

I’ve been on the road for over four months and every day is new. That’s exciting,  but it also means I need a map to go anywhere.

My head is full of calculations;  time differences and currency conversions, budgets and street names and people’s names. I might not be speaking a different language anymore, but I still need to remember to use American vocabulary in order to be understood.

This isn’t a complaint.

I love travelling and am a firm believer that it’s not the easy things which are the most fulfilling. But I wanted to be honest, and honestly, I could sleep for a week.

The sheer amount of planning I need to do (at least if I want a place to stay in the next city) is huge and constant.

Sometimes homesickness takes me by surprise.

Perhaps it’s why I read so much, or actually look forward to long hours of solitude on buses. (I can’t remember the last time I was bored).

An important question

Are the houses of New Orleans more interesting, beautiful and strange than the houses of San Francisco?

It’s a tough question.

I took it slowly in this famous city; wandering through the French Quarter and Garden District, meandering down Magazine Street.

I love the way the names of the streets are written on the pavement (because the signs keep blowing away…), I love the accent and I love  hearing music everywhere.

I tried as much cajun and creole cooking as my taste buds allowed and got up close and personal with alligators in the swamp. I stayed at a Tibetan compound and saw a live talk show, and met some really wonderful people.

New Orleans still seems a strange place and it’s certainly different from the rest of the US I’ve seen so far. A liking for bourbon won’t bring me back, but the intrigue might…

A taste of Texas

Texas was never in my original plan. But enough people encouraged me to stop in Austin (it’s nothing like the rest of the State! It’s a bubble of liberalism in conservative heartland!) and it was a good halfway point between Arizona and Louisiana,  so I decided to pay a visit.

I’m so glad I did. Austin was wonderful. The shops and restaurants were cool and quirky, there was live music every night and they even have a gorgeous park to hang out in. The city might even make it onto my top cities list!

In the heat of my first day I braved the bus system (very cheap) to go visit the local swimming hole – the cold water was delicious. South Congress was my favourite neighbourhood, but watching a brass band and eating lobster from a food truck was pretty amazing too.

A lot of what made my time here so good was the people I spent it with. My Couchsurfing host John was incredible, with detailed information on what to do, see and eat, as well as great stories to share.

The other surfers at his house were also very cool  and it was nice to have some company exploring the city.

It was nothing like I had pictured Texas to be (guns, cacti and prejudice) and I’m really glad to be proved wrong. Obviously the state is huge and there will probably be parts where that picture does fit – but it’s so good to know Austin definitely breaks the stereotypes.

Month four: into the States

So this month I finally made it to the USA! I’m having an incredible time, and still have so much to see! I’m going to have to come back, there’s already a list of things and states I’ll visit in the future.

Places visited: Mexico (Oaxaca, Mexico City), California (Los Angeles,  San Francisco,  Yosemite), Nevada (Las Vegas), Arizona (Flagstaff, Tucson)

Modes of transport: Plane, metro, train, megabus, greyhound, taxi, car

Best things: Cycling around Oaxaca, Orange County, Berkeley, floating down the Merced river in Yosemite (actually all of Yosemite – it’s making the Best of the Whole Trip list), seeing the Grand Canyon

Worst things: First few days in Mexico. It says something that the worst I’ve experienced since coming to the USA is sore legs from too much walking and getting lost a couple of times!

Books read: The Friday Night Knitting Club, Black and Blue, Dune 2, The Gunslinger, Addition, The Corrections

Best thing I brought: finally used my spork, so it’ll have to be that

Things I’ve bought: Another T-shirt (but it’s really cool! From a local artist in Oaxaca), yellow pencil skirt from a thrift store, books (too many books, it’s starting to really weigh my backpack down), new toothbrush, shampoo, suncream, tablet (I gave in, it’s so hard to find internet here!), headphones. It’s a lot this month, hopefully I’ll have got over being able to buy nice things again soon.

What I should have brought: more travel wash! It hardly exists in the US

Injuries and illness: my first cold of the trip, cracked feet

American shops/restaurants/ diners visited: Safeway (!), Walgreens, Popeyes, Panda Express, Chicken and Waffles, Goodwill, Barneys, Macy’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Dairy Queen, Forever 21, In N Out, Target

Coming up in month five: music capital of the world, New Orleans, Mississippi and Tennessee.