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Fall 2017 : the South

 

In a few days, we are once again flying to the United States, this time for a long road-trip in the South from New Orleans to Miami. And still no boredom.

 

This is a region we do not know that well, apart from a one-week stay in Florida in 1996. We are interested in its troubled history, from the origin of Colonial times to the Civil War to the Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s and 60s, and its gradual, still ongoing according to some, emancipation from its old curses of slavery and discrimination.

 

Logically, music will be playing a large role in this trip, from jazz in New Orleans to Delta blues to rock in Memphis to country in Nashville. Nature won't be forgotten, with Louisiana bayous Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Everglades next to Miami and the stunning Keys road.

 

I'm not disclosing everything right now, mostly to save a few surprises. First, some activities are not yet booked. Others are not carved in stone and need to be arranged on location. And, last but no least, if I told everything right now, you would not be willing to follow us during our trip, and there would be no more surprises.

 

Here is our program at a glance.

 

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New Orleans

 

We will be landing at New Orleans and we will spend two days in this historically rich city. To be closer to the points of interest that we intend to visit, we chose a hotel just on the edge of the French Quarter, across the street from Louis Armstrong Park. The name by itself sounds promising !

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Paddle boat on the Mississippi

 

We also have the intention to have dinner on one of the paddle boats that cruise the Mississippi. From what we've been told, the sight of the brightly lit city at night makes the effort worthwhile.

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Oak Alley Plantation

 

We will then leave New Orleans westwards, on the road of bayous and plantations, much more scenic that Interstate 10. A few stops are logically scheduled along the way, including the inescapable and beautiful Oak Alley Plantation.

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Bayous in Louisiana

 

We have also scheduled a boat excursion in the middle of the bayous. Lanscapes are supposed to be both unexpected and gorgeous. Marie is hoping that animal life is not limited to mosquitoes, particularly voracious in this wet environment.

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Natchez Trace Parkway

 

We will then begin to drive up north. Avoiding the interstate, we will be following Natchez Trace Parkway, an old Native American trail that has been repurposed as a protected site.

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Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo

 

Natchez Trace Parkway ends in Tupelo, Elvis Presley's birthplace. We intend to visit the house where he was born, now turned into a museum.

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Graceland, the King's mansion, Memphis

 

"King Elvis lives on a boulevard that carries his name", sung french rock star Johnny Hallyday. Or rather used to live ... We have planned a thorough visit of the place, the mansion, the gardens, even the airplanes, on the tracks of the man who gave rock'n roll his voice, his face and his so typical hip movement.

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Beale Street, Memphis

 

A Saturday night in Memphis would not be complete without some music. We will probably pick our choice from the many bars on Beale Street, with a little blues, some blues, lots of blues. Because, in case you did not guess, all the music I love, it comes from there.

 

The next morning, Sunday, we plan to attend a gospel mass. We have booked a hotel pretty close on purpose.

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Nashville by night

 

Later that day, we will be in Nashville, the Mecca of country music. Once again, we are in for a night of music. It should not be hard to find downtown, with such a wide choice of bars. A visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame is also in our plans. We will need a lot of time to see all that !

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Jack Daniel's distillery, Lynchburg

 

Driving southward, in Lynchburg, we will visit Jack Daniel's distillery, whose products are to be tasted with moderation, as everyone knows.

 

We will then continue into Alabama.

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Civil Rights Institute, Birmigham

 

We will be beginning a loop of a few days dedicated to the struggle against discrimination and in favor of Civil Rights for all in the 1950s and 60s. Our first stop will be in Birmingham, the State capital.

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Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, AL

 

A deep dive in the history of Civil Rights in the South would not be complete without a stop at the highly iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the very place where pastor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March for Civil Rights began.

 

1963 was almost yesterday.

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Downtown Montgomery, AL

 

We will then cross (Sweet Home ...) Alabama again, to Montgomery, a city with its own interest for more than one reason (it too has its own place in the history of Civil Rights). We will spend the night there, before driving further up northeast to Georgia.

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CNN studios, Atlanta

 

There are so many points of interest in Atlanta that we could spend weeks there and still not see everything. We had to curtail our own ambitions.

 

We will begin with a visit of the studios of a well-known 24-hour information channel, whose founder and then-CEO, never short on self-promoting one-liners, once famously asserted that "If it's not on CNN, it did not happen". Humility, anyone ?

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Coca-Cola museum, Atlanta

 

Atlanta is also the world headquarters of a famous soda drink, with, quite expectedly, a museum, which we intend to visit. Well, something tells me there must be some kind of gift shop there as well.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. birthplace, Atlanta

 

In Atlanta, there is also the house where pastor Martin Luther King, Jr., who was slain in Memphis in 1968, was born. We hope to have enough time left to pay a visit, to learn a little more about his childhood and his life.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

We will then drive up north, to where Tennessee and North Carolina meet.

 

According to you, which is the most visited National Park in the United States ? Grand Canyon ? Yellowstone ? Yosemite ? Nope, that's Great Smoky Mountains, where we will be spending two days of nature, flora, wildlife and hiking.

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Deer, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

Situated in a quite wet mountain region, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is famous for its mind-boggling number of rivers, waterfalls and cascades. It also shelters a dense and diverse wildlife.

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Chimney Rock State Park

 

After Great Smoky Mountains, we will make a stop at Chimney Rock State Park, famous for its dramatic viewpoint of the whole valley underneath. Let's hope the weather allows us to enjoy it !

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NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte

 

As you may know, I am a great fan of everything that makes a lot of noise, has four wheels and a big V8 with a lot of juice. We will take advantage of being back in civilization to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, the museum dedicated to the famous US car racing series. I am eager to learn more about those monsters of power, as impressive as they may seem unsophisticated to us Europeans, theoretically keen on cutting-edge technology.

 

For the record, we have a stop in Charlotte on our flight to the States, and another one on our way back, but with too short a time to wander in town. We feel compelled to drive back there.

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Charlotte Motor Speedway

 

Perhaps we can save a little time for a short visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of the fastest tracks used by NASCAR. With such a packed schedule, it's far from granted, but I'm not giving up hope yet.

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Myrtle Beach

 

Leaving behind us the hubbub of Charlotte, we will enjoy a moment of quietness on the Atlantic coast at Myrtle Beach, a laid-back seashore city. In early October, we should not be too bothered by other visitors. We'll see.

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Fort Sumter, Charleston

 

Later, we will dive in history again with a visit of Fort Sumter in Charleston. This is where the Civil War began, when in April 1861 Confederate forces overran this fort previously occupied by Union troops. We expect to learn in much more detail what really happened in the early days of the most murderous conflict in the history of this country.

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Colonial mansion, Savannah

 

Still on the Atlantic coast, we will spend some time walking in downtown Savannah's old city and enjoy the outmoded charm of Colonial mansions.

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Saint Augustine, Florida

 

After visiting Kingsley Plantation outside Jacksonville, we will spend some time strolling in Saint Augustine, where we will spend the night.

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Daytona Beach

 

Driving south along the Atlantic coast, we will make a stop at Daytona Beach. We are supposed to already know the place since March 1996, except that, at the time, we barely left the car, thanks to the remnants of a tropical storm. We keep our fingers crossed, hoping for a better weather this time.

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Daytona International Speedway

 

Perhaps, but once again it's far from granted, shall we have enough time for a visit to the Daytona International Speedway, another NASCAR racetrack. We had been there too in 1996, but under a pouring rain. At the time, I had promised myself to come again someday.

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Manatees, Crystal River

 

Later, leaving aside Orlando, which we also already know, and not being that much interested in its many amusement parks, we will cross Florida coast to coast to Crystal River, to take a swim with manatees. Let's hope we come back with high quality pictures !

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Sanibel Island, Fort Myers

 

Unusually enough, we will then grant ourselves a day with exactly nothing on our schedule in Fort Myers. All along the coast, most notably on beautiful Sanibel Island, there are beaches admirably suited for doing nothing.

 

After all, we are on vacation.

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Everglades National Park

 

We will continue driving south to Everglades National Park, famous for its swamps, its lush plant life, its rich and diverse wildlife (alligators, birds ... mosquitoes !), and its extremely fragile ecosystems. This park consists of three separate, non-communicating sections, and we schedule two days to visit it.

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Florida Keys Highway

 

Following the Florida Keys Highway, which we also already know but badly want to see again, we will drive to Key West. This time, we hope that our photo camera will not break down. Let's also hope the GoPro is up to the challenge !

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Downtown Key West

 

Following Ernest Hemingway's traces, we will stroll for a while in downtown Key West. We will also sleep there, in a traditionally-styled hotel in the midst of a lush garden.

 

The next day, we will just have to drive Florida Keys Highway the other way, all the way down to Miami.

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Sands Key boat trip, Miami

 

With Croisière Privée Miami, a local organizer, we have booked a boat trip to Sands Key, an island that can only be reached by boat. We hence count on a preserved nature to take pictures of animal life, flora and landscapes. And we would likely enjoy some swimming in the sea.

 

The next day will be the day of our return. We will return our car and take our plane back from Fort Lauderdale.

 

This is our rather dense program of 26 days and almost 3,700 miles. We wholeheartedly hope that recent Hurricane Irma did not wreak too much havoc on Florida. Our first thoughts are with the region's inhabitants who, for the most part, have nowhere else to go.

 

As I am writing these words, we have reached D-4. Now, we're quite eager to leave !

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