Category Archives: USA

The Music City of Nashville

Nashville Music City

Downtown Nashville

Nashville is a big-hearted friendly southern USA city dedicated to music

The heartbeat of Nashville is an area where 2nd Avenue dissects Broadway, just a stone’s throw from the Cumberland River. This is Music City and it doesn’t disappoint.

Band after band can be found in bar after bar belting out their own live songs and the enjoyment goes on day and night. For the price of a beer, you can listen to one of the numerous bands that head to the city in search of recognition.

If you don’t like the band you can head for another bar until you the find music you like. It’s not all country music either. You can find rock and roll, blues, crooners, honky tonk. Take your pick. On 2nd Avenue, B.B. King’s blues club and restaurant is a famous venue.

Nice thing about downtown is that It’s not hyped up and over-commercialised and I hope it never will be. By day, there’s a casual and friendly family atmosphere which is totally enjoyable. By night it becomes even livelier as revellers flock in to bar hop and enjoy everything from retro-disco to line-dance hootenanny.

Broadway in downtown Nashville

Broadway, downtown Nashville

This downtown Nashville area, known as the District, is within walking distance of most of the venues and centres that have made this small city famous.

Between 2nd and 5th avenues lie the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium and the Johnny Cash Museum, the state capitol building, the Tennessee State Museum, the Tennessee Centre for the Performing Arts, the Tennessee Convention Centre.

One thing about walking in the USA, many Americans consider any distance more than two blocks away to require a taxi. My hotel was between 25th and 26th Avenue so the hotel staff were just about imploring me to use shuttle or taxi.

But, after establishing it was safe to walk this area, I walked it and was rewarded with some great views of the Nashville skyline and a wander in to Music Row, on 16th and 17th, which houses famous old recording studios currently the subject of a battle for their conservation.

But for one thing, Nashville would be like any other party city throughout the world. That one thing is genuine grass roots music. The city’s love for it makes it a special place. I can’t think of any other city I have visited that compares with it. Maybe New Orleans, but New Orleans has an edge to it and you have to be careful where you go. Not so in Nashville.

When I was there, Paul McCartney was playing the Bridgestone Arena and I was lucky enough to take in his show. As I left towards midnight, after watching this great British musician perform non-stop for three hours showcasing 39 songs, the band in the bar across the road was playing a rousing version of Hey Jude. Nashville was buzzing.

Set on a bluff by the Cumberland River and surrounded by farmland, Nashville attracts millions of visitors each year, most coming for the country music.

Its other Mecca is The Grand Ole Opry which is 12 miles away from the city’s downtown area. The weekly country music stage concert presents the biggest stars of that genre. Founded in 1925 by George D. Hay it is also among the longest-running radio broadcasts in history.

Georgia On My Mind – visit the American Deep South for a real holiday experience

atlanta georgia usa

Atlanta skyline at night

Hotbed of history

THE southern state of Georgia, USA, has so much to offer the visitor that it is difficult to absorb everything in just one trip. I can’t wait to go back there after taking in the capital city of Atlanta and then enjoying  a  motoring trip down to its Atlantic coastline some 300 miles or so south.

 Georgia is a hotbed of American history, culture and diversity. It is also beautifully scenic in many different ways and has as much to offer, if not more, than its neighbour Florida where British families flock in their droves every year.

 The peach state, as it is nicknamed,  offers a wonderful outdoors of mountains, lakes and an Atlantic coastline which perfectly complements as a continuation of Florida’s with some enchanting islands thrown in.

 The dark days of the American Civil War have left a tourist trail all over the state particularly in Atlanta which was sacked by General William Sherman in 1864 and spawned Gone with the Wind via writer Margaret Mitchell in 1936.

 Because of all its contrasts, Georgia is perfect for an exciting family holiday and it is well geared for visitors. A fleet of hotel shuttle buses serve its busy main airport in Atlanta and it’s relatively easy to arrive at the airport from the UK and get quickly to a hotel to get your head down before journeying on.

 The downtown area of the city offers a great family attraction, the world’s largest aquarium which     includes more than eight million gallons of fresh and marine water and more than 100,000 animals from 500 species, including beluga whales.

 Next door is the World of Coke tourist attraction. The Coca Cola company has its headquarters in Atlanta as does CNN. Then there is the Centennial Olympic Park, a permanent reminder of the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta and a big venue for events and celebrations.

The rebels remembered

History is never far away in Georgia and Atlanta is home of the Martin Luther King Jnr. National Historic site. Just 15 miles east of downtown Atlanta is Stone Mountain, the world’s largest free-standing piece of exposed granite, depicting the three rebel figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis, which sits in Georgia’s largest campground and is its most visited attraction.

 Though the city has much to offer, the rest of Georgia has more. One of the best ways to enjoy it is to hire a car and head north towards the mountains or south for the coast.

 I headed south with friends following the interstate highways to the palm trees, beaches and islands of the state’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline where Americans flock to take their leisure in just the same fashion as Europeans head for the Mediterranean. Henry Ford was once a winter resident.

 It is simply a run-on from the wonderful beaches of Florida with lush golf courses and venues galore for visitors. Huge oak trees covered in Spanish moss form distinct overhead canopies to remind you that you are in the deep south of the USA.

 The names of some of these venues have you excited before you get there, for instance the Okefenokee Swamp or the Altamaha River kayak and canoe trail. Okefenokee    means “land of the trembling earth’’ in Seminole  Altamaha is a name derived from a Native American chief.

The 312 miles from Atlanta to our destination of St Simon’s Island is a comfortable journey of about five and a half hours via interstate highways 75 and 16 and 95. It is one of the famous Golden Isles that grace this corner of Georgia’s coast, renowned for their climate, beaches and gorgeous sunsets, and has plenty to offer in the way of golf courses, quaint shops and fine restaurants.

An hour’s drive up the road was the historic city of Savannah, where Georgia was founded in 1733 by settlers from Britain led by Sir James Oglethorpe.

It takes a leap of imagination for a British visitor, used to seeing much older historic buildings, to understand the importance of Savannah, which houses one of the country’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts and attracts millions of visitors, but it is undoubtedly a charming city, full of examples of 18th and 19th century prevailing architectural styles in America and offering guided tours by foot, trolley bus and even riverboat.

Georgia was able to flourish unhindered by the warfare that marked the beginnings of many early American colonies because of the friendship between Oglethorpe and the local native Indians. The last of the thirteen original British colonies on the eastern side of the New World was named after England’s King George II in 1733 under the terms of the charter granted by the king.

Black civil rights and displaced Native Americans

From quiet beginnings the state’s development went on to directly encompass just about every major issue you associate with the United States of America – displaced Native American settlements, Civil War, and the black civil rights movement to name the most important.

Atlanta had a hard time in the Civil War. The Union’s General William Sherman ordered it to be burnt to the ground. Savannah was spared and presented to President Abraham Lincoln as a gift.

Georgia  now makes the most of this episode of its history. The Civil War’s impact on the state was greater than any other event in its history with 11,000 Georgians killed and more than 100,000 total casualties. It boasts a Civil War tourist trail made up of a plethora of battlefields, cemeteries, arsenals, and museums.

As well as Atlanta Metro and the Georgia coast, the state has six other distinct areas to offer tourists – Historic High Country and North East Mountains, Historic Heartland and Classic South, Presidential Pathways, Plantation Trace and Magnolia Midlands.

Historic High Country showcases a one-time Confederate stronghold at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and offers a chance to ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

The Trail of Tears – the name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from south eastern parts of the United States  following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 – can also be followed here as much of the area was part of the Cherokee Nation. The 15 forts built during their removal can still be seen.

As well as peaches, Georgia is famous for its peanut and pecan production and cotton and tobacco still form part of the state’s agricultural industry which  plays a major role in its economy, contributing billions of dollars annually.

The state also offers  great shopping in sophisticated malls and bargain outlet centres.

Chattanooga – a great American city that deserves a better transportation system

Chattanooga and Tennessee River

Chattanooga – the Tennessee River and the Delta Queen

No choo choo train, just taxi drivers and car hire companies await you at Chattanooga airport

Chattanooga has so much to offer the visitor to the USA  – a small friendly city sitting on the Tennessee River surrounded by mountains.

But independent travellers be warned. The concept of an integrated transport system with buses and trains serving its visitors is just not on its blueprint for the future.

I feel sorry for the backpacker, touring America on a budget, who arrives at the city’s Greyhound bus station. He will be greeted by a taxi driver who tells him the only way to get anywhere is by paying his premium fares. The same applies at the nearby airport where a fleet of taxi drivers wait to charge you a minimum ten dollars to the nearest localities, 18 to downtown and 40 to Lookout Mountain, a popular beauty spot a few miles away.

When I inquired with airport staff how to get to downtown I ended up talking to a girl on the car hire desk  who wanted me to hire a car and seemed to think I was mad to want to use buses. She told me I might not like the kind of people who would be using the buses. I began to think I was in a zombie movie.

CARTA – the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority – runs the bus services as well as a free downtown shuttle bus service. It also owns and operates the historic Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, which ascends from the St. Elmo neighbourhood to the town of Lookout Mountain,

But CARTA provides no bus links between the airport, the Greyhound bus station and the mountain and I could see no information at the airport about local buses. I knew from a previous visit, when I just passed through the city, that Brainerd was near the airport so I took a taxi. To take me just over a mile, the driver wanted to charge me 12 dollars. When I pointed out the airport sign said the fare was 10, he said it was out of date but agreed to charge me 10

I later found some information on Wikipedia which I will pass on for the benefit of visitors. To get downtown from Greyhound walk a couple blocks to Van Ness Rd and Lee Highway and catch the inbound CARTA route 4 bus to downtown. Last stop is at Market Street and West 4th Ave.

This is the bus service I eventually used during my stay in the city. It charges 1.50 dollars per trip no matter what journey you take. It’s a lot better than handing over handfuls of dollars to taxi drivers. I do hate cities that leave it to taxi drivers to provide the transport welcome to their visitors. Having made my complaint, I will have to move on and write about Chattanooga. It is a beautiful city well worth a visit. But my advice is to visit by car if you want to enjoy it to the full.

Downtown is very easy to walk around and very friendly and there is also the free electric shuttle for those who don’t want to walk. The riverside, with its charming riverboats and river trips, is  beautiful and for families, the Tennessee Aquarium is popular. It claims to be the top aquarium in the USA for overall satisfaction.

Chattanooga is brimming in both Native American and Civil War history. In 1838 Cherokee parties left from Ross’s Landing on its riverfront for the West on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

During the Civil War, the mountains, ridges, river and rail systems made it a strategic battleground . In May, 1864, General William T. Sherman received orders to “cut the south in half’’ and left Chattanooga with over 120,000 troops for the historic march to Atlanta and Savannah. Top Civil War attractions are the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, and the Battles for Chattanooga Museum.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo is no longer a train station but a historic building housing a very impressive hotel.  Worth a look inside to appreciate the grandeur of its former railway age. And then there’s Lookout Mountain, six miles from downtown, which offers a scenic and historic incline railway ride up to the top where there are many points of Civil War interest.

But if you want to take everything in, remember to hire a car!

Chattanooga river view

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Chattanooga and the Southern Belle

Another Chattanooga river view featuring the Southern Belle riverboat