Friday, July 24, 2009


I finally have the time to report back from my trip with the girls. A roadtrip is always an exciting adventure but many of my American friends in particular were surprised by our choice of destination. As neither particular fans of country music or fried food, a drive through Virginia and Tennessee seemed like an odd choice but not one that I regret. It is a well known fact that New York is unique, almost an anomaly, but it became even more obvious to us as we progressed further South and we very much felt like we were visiting a different country altogether.

But first, there were two instrumental players on the trip. Starting with "Chad", as we had ironically named our beautiful convertible car. Chad drove very much like a tank but the trip would not have been the same without him. Having the roof down all the time, with the music blaring out (we evolved an amusing car dance routine to the Black Eyed Peas "Boom Boom Pow" which kept coming up on the radio) and the wind blowing in our hair added an invaluable thrill and fun element as well as guaranteeing a suntan. And how else would we have been able to dry our bikinis after a swim but by hanging them at the back of our seats and let the wind do its job!?
The second, but no less valuable character, was my beloved Iphone. We shunned traditional paper maps and relied on Google Maps to tell us exactly where we were, how to get to our destination and how long it would take. The Starbucks locator app was also a lifesaver, especially in the mornings - you can take a girl out of New York ...

It is difficult to pick out memories from such a diverse trip, filled with so many new experiences ... Enjoying a huge pile of steaming hot whole spice rubbed crabs at Obryki's on our quick pit stop in Baltimore. Staying in our first motel in Virginia which looked like it belonged to a horror movie film set. Driving through the verdant gentle hills of the Shenandoah valley. Arriving in Pigeon Forge Tennessee to find that instead of being the quaint village I had pictured it to be, it was essentially a miniature version of Las Vegas - minus the casinos but packed with themed restaurants and tacky souvenir shops. Staying in a secluded log cabin for a couple of days at the foot of the Smoky Mountains, complete with rustic decor, fireplaces and a huge terrace overlooking the forest with an outdoor jacuzzi and a barbecue. Falling in love with s'mores (a wonderful American bbq/camping tradition I had never had before) which consists of letting a marshmallow brown over the fire before squeezing it between two Graham crackers and a piece of Hershey dark chocolate.

Our short stay in the Smoky Mountains was also the more adventurous part of our trip as we went river tubing (a normally relaxing affair except for the part where Marie nearly drowned!) and also ziplined through the forest, which despite being a much tamer version of the ziplining I did in Costa Rica, was still a lung bursting experience. We even visited Dollyworld purely out of comedy value - we were disappointed to find no statue of Dolly Parton there which ruined our plan of having our picture taken groping her considerable assets although Marie and Libs improvised with a life-size picture of her instead!

Nashville's heart beats to the sound of country music, which I expected, but what I didn't was how much a party town it is. After a brief attempt at line dancing (which is much harder than it looks) at the Wild Horse, we spent our two evenings there crawling honky tonk joints. Bustling dive bars and a very friendly atmosphere where the backdrop to rugged looking singers in cowboy hats and boots belting out country music classics, one of which includes probably one of the best chorus line in music history: "save a horse, ride a cowboy". While I cannot possibly divulge whether we did save a horse while we were there, let's just say that if you are a girl looking for fun then Nashville is the place to be!

Memphis offered a stark contrast to Nashville, firstly by its size but also because of its state of derelict - lovely residential areas seemed to be lost in between long stretches of desolated buildings and boarded up houses, giving it a definite unsafe edge. I wanted to look beyond appearances but as we were making our way to a supposedly great soul food restaurant in the outskirts of town and drove past policemen handcuffing a group of teenagers in the street, I agreed with the rest of the girls that we should lock the car doors and head back downtown! But despite this, we very much loved Memphis. We stayed at the Peabody Hotel on our first night and watched its famous ducks march to the pond in the morning. We hit Beale Street and listened and danced to live music. We had the best ribs in town and a side a slaw at Rendez Vous. We visited Sun Studios, where a young and unknown Elvis walked in one day to record a song for his mum ... very much feeling the weight of history in this tiny place where not only Elvis but also Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and BB King's talents, amongst many others, were first spotted. No visit to Memphis is complete without seeing Graceland of course, which is surprisingly not as ostentatious as one would imagine and feels more like a museum dedicated to interior design circa 1970 (not a good year for interior designing, that's for sure). A tour of the National Civil Rights museum was an eye-opening and emotional end to our trip as we learnt, much to our horror, that some of the last segregation laws were only abolished in the South in the late sixties ...

Throughout the trip, I was fascinated by some of the cultural differences we encountered. Small ones like people saying hello to us in the streets, strangers striking up conversations easily or the fact that every single waiter was shocked that we wanted to split our bill four ways (it appears people pay for their own share in the South). But also larger ones like the prevalence of religion everywhere we went. The church to inhabitants ratio was staggeringly high and it appeared that professing your religion with car stickers was mandatory, my favourite ones reading "Jesus loves", "God knows", "Keep Christ in Christmas" and the guilt-inducing "If you feel ignored, guess how God feels now". I also chuckled at all the self-proclaimed "Christian stores", selling anything from books to furniture, all approved by God himself I presume ...