Showing posts from March, 2015

The Parthenon, driving to the airport

Today we had to get up bright and early, pack our bags and leave our rental house... We had a great stay here, so we were sad to leave, but we had all morning for ourselves, so we hopped in the car and drove to Nashville's Centennial Park to see the Parthenon.

You read that correctly: Nashville has an exact, full size replica of the Athenian Parthenon. It was built in 1897 as a temporary feature of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, but it proved to be so popular with Nashvillians that they decided to rebuild it as a permanent building in the 1920s. It goes on, though: in 1990 they built a full-size statue of Athena inside the temple, like the original Parthenon had. It looks like they were really committed to being as historically accurate as it was possible back then: the sculptures were all made using plaster molds made directly from the original statues, which are in the British Museum of London. For those parts of the frieze that are missing, they based their design on desc…

The Hermitage, Franklin TN

It was a gloriously sunny day in Nashville today, all the better for daytripping! Our first point of order today was to get in the car and drive to the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's plantation only about 20 min east of Nashville.

Once on the grounds, they gave us the receiver for an audio tour and ushered us to a theatre. We saw a stocktastic video about the life of US President Andrew Jackson narrated by US President Martin Sheen (what? He is to me!). In stark contrast with Graceland, where Elvis' life was completely whitewashed -they don't even say how he died, just tell you the date- the Hermitage speaks about the controversies and deplorable things of Jackson's presidency a lot more openly and in-depth than I expected. Of course, they highlight his military victories, his temperament and his work securing rights for the common man, but also discuss how he had displaced thousands of Cherokee Indians in what became known as the Trail of Tears, his contempt towards suff…

Country Music Hall of Fame, Broadway, Not The Bluebird

It was a cold but sunny morning in Nashville today. We took our sweet time getting ready and left at around 11 o'clock, headed straight to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum! It's quite a mouthful, and also the best possible first contact with Music City!

The museum is in the heart of downtown, just two blocks south of Broadway (or Lower Broad; Nashville's Beale Street, in short), occupying a beautiful and dashing building. The windows look like the keys of a piano, and I believe the structure looks like a sol clef when seen from above! As many other museums around these parts, it's quite pricey, but at least you get a lot of bang for your buck.

The visit starts on the third floor with an extensive exhibit on the history of country music, with ancient films and recordings, and bios on all the stars of the time. They also have plenty of historical objects that belonged to those artists. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton... All of them!

The visit …

Stax Museum, road to Nashville, Grand Ole Opry

When I woke up this morning, it was snowing in Memphis!! Just barely, granted, but: bloody snow was falling from the bloody sky! All the Americans who told me the weather would be lovely this time of year: I hold you personally responsible! You know who you are (it's all of you).

Okay, it wasn't too bad in the end, there was no wind so in fact it felt less cold than yesterday. We had to pack our things and leave, but before saying goodbye to Memphis we wanted to make one last visit: the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, in South Memphis, on the former site of the Stax Records label.
Like the Civil Rights Museum, this visit also starts with a short video introducing what you're about to see, except this one looked like it was a VHS tape from the 90s that they just kept replaying. Not that the history of soul has changed since then, but a little update couldn't hurt...

I enjoyed the visit very much, especially because the museum strikes a very good balance between show…

The National Civil Rights Museum, Graceland

This morning we woke up to a freezing 4°C. Yikes!! Come to the South, they said! It'll be warm in Spring, they said!

So we wrapped ourselves in our warmest clothes and made our way against the cutting wind to the Peabody, downtown, just in time to see the marching ducklings! The hotel lobby was already pretty crowded when we arrived. It's a very silly thing to do, but it's also quick and harmless fun: shortly before 11h, the Duckmaster gives a very rehearsed introductory speech about the history of the ducklings, then rides up on the elevator and comes back down with the ducks, who dutifully march down a red carpet from the elevator to the fountain at the centre of the lobby.

The Peabody is only a couple of blocks up from Beale Street, which itself is only a few blocks up from the National Civil Rights Museum. It's really a very short walk, but it felt longer in the chilly wind!
The museum is based on the former Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot…

Road to Memphis, Beale Street

When we woke up today it was a cold, dark, rainy morning, and it's a bit unsettling to hear thunderstorms in the distance when you're in New Orleans! On the other hand, we took a moment to acknowledge how unbelievably lucky we were to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day yesterday: if we'd had this rain instead, we wouldn't have been able to enjoy the plantations the way we did. So we counted our blessings, packed up and left for Memphis, Tennessee.

The roadtrip took us about six hours total, and it couldn't be easier: it was just a matter of taking Interstate 55 and then riding on it towards the north, all across the state of Mississippi, and then across the border to Memphis.

Because the majority of the trip was just a very long, very wide, completely straight road with only light traffic, that left plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sight. Most of the beginning of the trip, in Louisiana, we drove over roads built over the water, surrounded by marshes and swamps. We only…

Oak Alley, Houmas House

Some time ago I decided that we couldn't leave the South without seeing at least one plantation, and what better phase of the trip to see plantations than New Orleans? There are quite a few to choose from: Destrehan, Laura, Nottoway, San Francisco... And then I saw pictures of Oak Alley, and I knew that was a place that I had to see.

We couldn't have been luckier with the weather, as the sun shone down on us as we walked to Canal Street to pick up our reserved rental car, which was a much more painless process than I expected. Then we hit the road following GPS instructions from my phone. I swear I'm not a paid spokesperson for a phone company, but seriously, an international data plan is the best investment you can make for your holidays abroad. I can't tell you how often I've had to use maps to find my way around and the Internet to check opening times.

Riding in a car above the swamps of Louisiana, listening to jazz on the radio, was quite an experience, and it …

The Presbytere, the Historic New Orleans Collection, Preservation Hall

Our third day in New Orleans and we're still the Only Europeans Left Alive in the whole state of Louisiana, or so we thought until we crossed some Italian guys today. Other than that, almost all tourists here are American, with a few Asian and Latin American representatives. It's an odd feeling when all the streets here have the Spanish coat of arms on the walls with their former Spanish names.

Today was all about the culture, now that the museums are open again. We began with the Historic New Orleans Collection, a two-floor museum about the history of the city. The ground floor is dedicated to US president Andrew Jackson, who gained fame as a general by winning the Battle of New Orleans against the British. The top floor has a room for each phase of Louisiana's history, starting with the French and Spanish colonial eras (turns out Louisiana was given by the French to the Spanish, then the Spanish gave it back after a few years, and then the French sold it to the US a mere…

Lee Circle, Riverwalk

Today I woke up half an hour later than yesterday! I'm gonna get over this jetlag just in time to get jetlag when I come back!

While doing research for the day's itinerary in the morning, I found out that ALL the museums in the French Quarter are closed on Mondays: the New Orleans Historic Collection, the Old US Mint, the 1850 House... So I had to shift the day's focus out of the old town and into the Western side of town.
Our first goal was to get to Lee Circle, a roundabout that has three museums right next to it: the Contemporary Arts Centre, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the WWII Museum. To get there from Treme we had to take a bus at Northern Rampart, so our day began by waiting at a bus stop on a crossroads while construction work was being done on the road, with forklifts and tractors and trash trucks drove left and right in front of us. The roads here are in a dreadful state, and that's true for the most central and touristy areas of the French Quarter a…

The French Quarter, the Steamboat Natchez

The wonders of jetlag: After having travelled for 22 hours yesterday, today I woke up at six in the morning lucid enough to perform surgery. It didn't help, of course, that right outside our house was a talented songbird that could effortlessly switch between the tunes of "backing forklift", "pedestrian crossing streetlight signal" and "burglar alarm". At least I slept like a rock; after failing to switch off the air conditioning last night I thought I may freeze to death while it was 20 degrees Celsius outside (why is there no degree symbol on the iOS keyboard? OMG found it it's on the zero) 20°C outside! But it wasn't that bad in the end. 

By the time we left the house, at 11h, I was bouncing off the walls, so I was super excited to start sightseeing! For our very first day in New Orleans, we decided to just walk around the French Quarter a bit. We just have to go down Ursulines St and in about a quarter of an hour we run into Bourbon St and …

Down in the Treme

It's the start of a new adventure! For this new edition of This Is A Lake, we're going on our very own tour of the South of the United States, and the first port of call is New Orleans!
The trip began, as all trips out of Paris must, with train troubles, when the RER B left me stranded in the middle of Southern Paris with no service until past Les Halles -I had to dash out into the street and find a metro station to take me to Gare du Nord...
After that, thankfully, things went smoothly and I could meet up with Mom at the airport. We embarked on a 9h flight to Atlanta, Georgia, which honestly didn't feel that long. Harstfield-Jackson airport seemed huge; just our Terminal B alone could give Orly Ouest a run for its money, and there are 5 more terminals in ATL! I was kind of amazed by all the fast-food chains that I've never seen anywhere else in the US. I thought all American airports carried the same multinationals, but I guess things are different in the South!
The next…