Greetings from Nashville, y’all!

imageOur last day in New Orleans started with breakfast at Pere Antojnette, which unfortunately we wouldn’t recommend as it was expensive and our rubbery omelettes were too long in the making!
We dashed over to catch the bus to the Swamp tour. Whilst waiting we talked to a tour guide, rough and ready, we were taken aback as he told us how he had been banned from going to Commanders Palace as he had broken the security guards arm after the guard touched his hat! “Don’t touch my hat, I’lll break your arm!”. The swamp tour was great, the swamp itself was quite different to my expectations, not dark and damp and smelly, it was beautiful and peaceful. Our Captain Nolan was informative, telling us about the ecology of swamps, the animals, about growing up in a Cajun community in the bayou. Cajuns came from Arcadia when they were expelled by the English, what a coincidence that Simon and I were in Arcadia in Nova Scotia earlier this summer. I had no idea that many of the Arcadians had ended up in New Orleans! The native people couldn’t pronounce Arcadians so they became known as Cajuns. The term Creole came from the Spanish word for the first born, so Creoles can be of any nationality born in New Orleans. The main difference in the cuisine is that Cajuns use a roux as their sauce base whilst Creoles use a tomato base, the end result being very different flavours! The highlight of the tour was holding a baby alligator, her tummy was so incredibly soft!
After that Cheryl went shopping, we all met for dinner at the Two Sisters courtyard, which was pretty average and expensive. Since Cheryl and I hadn’t been to Preservation Hall we joined the queue and were thrilled to get in and find spots right near the front, the band was great, we love the fun they had playing fabulous jazz! Whilst we were there Helen and Judy went for washing machine margaritas and astronauts! No astronauts tonight! They went to a bar where old rock n rollers were on stage, and the only drinks served were exploding hand grenade drinks, every glass from cocktail to shot glass was hand grenade shaped! Helen and Judy were home in bed when we got back!
Up early, too early to mention, Helen was up at 2.30, 3,30, 4.30 in anticipation of our early start! We were picked up by Marie from the “Christ is the only hope” cab service, and had a perfect journey apart from Helen who was stopped at every turn. Flew via Charlotte which was the most civilised of airports with white rocking chairs for waiting passengers!
Arrived to the best decorated Halloweeen house. It was a shame that Simon was away for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, staying with one of his fellow students, with no internet connection on the farm, The T, , he would have loved to see Jeff’s house on FaceTime. Then again perhaps it would have given him ideas for Halloween house decorating and I don’t think I’d want to live in a Halloween grotto for the month of October! Inside the house was spacious, luxurious and beautiful. We loved it! Such a contrast to our last accomodation where we were squeezed in on top of each other. We talked with Jeff our host who suggested that we should have dinner at Urban Grub and then go onto The Ryman, great suggestion! We had a delicious meal, beautiful crab for Cheryl, ribs for Judy, pork for Helen and smoked chicken for me and then rushed to The Ryman where we discovered that the time was an hour earlier than we thought it was! We lucked out with our tickets, in the front row of the balcony, the first act was Judah and the Lion, a fantastic band with so much energy, great songs and voices, we loved them. They were followed by Ben Rector who was obviously very well known as a boy done good from Nashville. Ben Rector was fabulous! great songs, romantic and sensitive, danceable and fun! we made friends with some beautiful young women who came and chatted to us at the start of the concert and were so excited that we were from Australia, were in Nashville. They came back to see us at the end to check that we had had a good time! As we went out from the concert and were making our way down Broadway a breathless beautiful young woman caught up with us asking us how we enjoyed the concert and telling us Y’all were such fun!  We were very touched that these all these lovely young women were so thrilled to meet us!

We got turned away from the Wild Horse Saloon where we planned to go boot scooting after the concert, Cheryl didn’t have any photographic ID with her! We couldn’t believe that we weren’t allowed in! Anyway, we went back to our beautiful house and the bottle of wine that Jeff left for us! Not a bad alternative after our early start!

Who would have thought that The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum would keep us engrossed for hours? It was fascinating and very well curated and we were all amazed at how many country and western songs we knew!  We saw Elvis Presley’s shiny Cadillac which was exactly as the guide book had put it, tacky as all get out! It is so very shiny because the paint contains ground-up pearls, diamonds and fish scales! The door handles and anything that would otherwise be silver coloured is gold plated! There was a great section featuring the session musicians who usually go unrecognised, each had a booth where you could play snatches of songs they had played on, together with quotes from the stars with whom they played. There is clearly so much respect for these musicians within the music industry which was great to see. We finished in the Country Muisc Hall of Fame itself, a rotunda which, says the brochure, inspires reverence for the deepest rots of the music and the highest aspirations of the membership. Well, we had a hard time not giggling as the bronze plaques honouring the members were so incredibly ugly and the artists unrecognisable, not quite the reverence that was expected!

Next stop, Belmont Mansion which Is set in the midst of Belmont Univeristy which has grown up around it. The house was built in 1853 and was unique in its design at the time. It was the first house in Nashville to have gas lighting and Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatam had a gas plant built in the grounds to provide the gas, as you do! Her first husband died unexpectedly after only seven years of marriage, leaving her a huge estate, each of her subsequent husbands had to sign an pre-nuptial agreement ensuring her money remained hers! She was a woman ahead of her time! The house houses an eclectic collection of her momentous from her Grand Tours of Europe from statues to dinner services. During the American Civil War ,Adelicia travelled to New Orleans, a much longer journey for her than the quick plane flight that we took, to retrieve her cotton harvest, getting both Confederate and Union generals to help her, she then sold it, illegally, to England, making herself an enormous amount of money, $500,000, at that time, It was a fascinating insight into the life and times of this remarkable and formidable woman, well worth doing.

Another thing that was well worth doing was going to the Wildhorse Saloon, if only for our new motto – let go of the reins! Also, for the boot scootin’! Cheryl wanted to be line dancing as her birthday rolled in, so at midnight she was up on the dance floor, joining in as if she had been born in Nashville! Not one of us was as adept at Cheryl but we all enjoyed the lesson that we had at 1am! It was fun, and mad, and made up for our disastrous meal at Husk earlier in the evening.

Cheryl’s birthday Brunch on Sunday at Kitchen Notes was fabulous, light fluffy omelettes, platters of fruit, endless cups of tea. We walked it off as we walked along the Walk of Fame where musicians from all genres of music are recognised for their contribution to music, it was a strange collection and the plaques were once again somewhat disappointing as we thought it would be hand or prints a la Hollywood, but no, only a plaque with a name. The walk to the river and the new pedestrian bridge was very pleasant in the blazing autumn sunshine, listening to the cheers roaring out of the football stadium on the other side of the river as we walked across, looking back across to the Nashville skyline. Time to move on, after saying goodbye to Jeff, the best Airbnb host ever!

Onto culture in Washington DC!

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New Orleans was a blast!

imageOur best laid plans were thwarted by a delay in Sydney but eventually we four girls on tour met up to enjoy the start of our holiday together! Cheryl and I arriving first at our Airbnb which was smaller than expected and so quirky but perfectly positioned just behind Bourbon Street, with a courtyard that was perfect for an end of the day wine and a quick snack before our evening exploits. As it turned out we were rarely there as we were out to explore as much as we could!

Cheryl and I explored once we had settled ourselves in. Whilst Bourbon Street is open all hours for drinking most restaurants close their kitchens at 10pm, much to our surprise, but then again it is all about the drinking in Bourbon Street! Bourbon Street was buzzing, music, of every genre, blasting out of the many bars which line the street, people wandering from bar to bar with drinks in hand, neon lights from one end to the other, getting tackier towards the business district where there are more strip joints than music bars. When our fellow travellers finally arrived we headed out to the only place with a kitchen still open and enjoyed a typically American burger at Yo Mama’s. Fortunately we had taken Michael and Emma’s advice and only ordered 2 entrees (mains). It remains a mystery to me why main courses are called entrees in the US and entrees, as we know them, are called appetisers! Too tired after all our travelling to enjoy Bourbon Street, the music and the cocktails we retired.
The sun was already blazing down by the time we got going on Tuesday. We wandered down to Jackson Square, booking ourselves onto the Natchez Steam Boat afternoon jazz cruise. We went on a guided walk of the French Quarter to get ourselves oriented and to hear some of the history of this fascinating city. The French Quarter is the “nose bleed” area of New Orleans, being a giddy 12 feet above sea level! Architecturally the buildings are so interesting, with shotgun and double shotguns houses and bigger houses with secret garden courtyards. A shotgun home is a modest single storey house with the hall going from the front door right through to the back and the rooms running into each other, so when all the doors are open you can fire a shotgun straight through the house! Yours, for a million dollars in the French quarter! The wrought iron work and the balconies are simply beautiful.
Onto the Natchez and a lazy afternoon cruise down the Mississippi, such a wide brown river, the third longest river in the world. The running commentary ceased only when the jazz band started to play! They were great and I know we would have been on the dance floor had Michael been with us! The Natchez was one of six steam powered stern wheelers plying the Mississippi, launched in 1975, of which there are only two remaining. Going into the steam room seeing the engine in action gave us a sense of times gone by, so hot, steamy and smelly though nothing like it must have been when engines were powered by coal.
Onto Frenchman Street in the evening, the true home of jazz now according to most people in New Orleans. The bands that had played up and down the street in the summer when Michael and Emma were there were nowhere to be seen, perhaps a combination of being Tuesday and no longer the summer. We had cocktails and went to Alfonsos for Italian with a hint of creole. Downstairs there was a one man jazz band we enjoyed and then danced to the next band, tried our luck at a few different bars on the way home, leaving as quickly as we could from the bar where we were the only people in the audience the performer didn’t know!
We went on the hip hop bus tour, as it became known because that’s what Cheryl called it after a glass or two! First bus of the day, more history and onto the Garden District on the American side of New Orleans, which was originally part of the Livaudals Plantation. Here the houses are much more grand, double storeyed, with high ceilings, Doric and Corinthian columned and set back from the road with their gardens on display, such a different feel to the French Quarter where the front doors open directly onto the street and the gardens are hidden from view. The modest houses in which the slaves lived are set back from the main houses and have the kitchens on the ground floor to save the big house should the kitchen set alight. Our guide said the slaves who lived in the city had a much better life than the slaves in the plantations. The fact that there were slaves is unimaginable to me and as for how they lived, simply terrible. We saw John Goodman’s house and that of Sandra Bullock, who adopted a little boy from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the house where Benjamin Button was filmed. We wandered through the Lafayette cemetery where numerous horror movies have been filmed, it is quite maudlin and sadly neglected. None of us was keen to do the ghost tour, too spooky in the city where voodoo still flourishes!
Lunch at the Commanders Palace had been recommended to us! Thank you Shelagh, though I think the 25c martinis were my undoing! We had a fabulous lunch, tastes of the south with a Creole Crab Cobb Salad and Pecan Coated Crispy Catfish, followed by a very unusual take on bread and butter pudding, a soufflé version, light and fluffy and delicious, with Whisky sauce!
We wove our way to the hip hop bus heading to Bourbon Street, Cheryl and I finished for the day. Judy and Helen, however, were in fighting form and went out to party further, arriving back in the wee small hours with tales of great jazz at Preservation Hall, great cocktails at Pat O’Briens, amongst other places, and meeting an astronaut who is hoping to be on the first flight to Mars in 2017! Rather alarming to think that it may be a one way journey if the technology to bring them home isn’t developed in the next ten years whilst they set up a colony on Mars in that time. He was rather dashing and Judy and Helen hope he won’t be stranded there!
Another day, another adventure but that’s enough for now! We are on our way to Nashville, boot scooting an’all! Looking forward to line dancing!