Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Walkin' in Memphis

This week I visited Tallahassee, Florida and Memphis, Tennessee. I spent less than 36 hours in Tallahassee and was hoping to get to see at least one cool attraction while I was there but unfortunately the "Sunshine State" did not live up to its name. Severe thunderstorms left me confined to my hotel room and by the time the rain stopped at 4 am I was on my way to the airport again and off to Memphis. 

Memphis was another quick trip but thankfully the weather was great and I was able to walk around all day. The first thing I did was follow the Mighty Mississippi along Downtown Memphis and over to Beale Street for Barbecue, Blues, and great people watching. 

The picture below is of an interesting museum housed in A. Schwab's Five and Dime store on Beale Street. This is the first museum I've ever visited where I could also buy homemade jams and underwear all under the same roof.

Although A. Schwab's Museum was truly fascinating, it just wouldn't have been a satisfying trip to Memphis if I didn't get to see Graceland. Luckily, I had a couple hours to spare the next morning on my way to the airport. 

I have to admit was well worth the extra hustle. I absolutely loved it! 

There are 3 tours you can choose from. 

1. Graceland Elvis Entourage VIP Tour
  • an audio-guided tour of Graceland Mansion and grounds
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis' two custom airplanes
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis' Automobile Museum
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis in Hollywood Exhibit
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis Lives: The King and Pop Culture Exhibit
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis Presley: Fashion King Exhibit
  • a self-guided tour of '68 Special Exhibit
  • a special VIP Only exhibit at Graceland Mansion
  • Front of the Line Mansion Access
  • Special All Day Ticket
  • Keepsake Backstage Pass
2. Graceland Platinum Tour

  • an audio-guided tour of Graceland Mansion and grounds
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis' two custom airplanes
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis' Automobile Museum
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis in Hollywood Exhibit
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis Lives: The King and Pop Culture Exhibit
  • a self-guided tour of Elvis Presley: Fashion King Exhibit
  • a self-guided tour of '68 Special Exhibit
3. Graceland Mansion Tour

  • an audio presentation and tour of Graceland Mansion and grounds only
  • a self-guided tour of '68 Special Exhibit

If you only have an hour you can do tour #3 and just see the Mansion and still get the full experience. I had about 2 hours to spare so I took tour #2. The Graceland Platinum Tour. 

I usually prefer to have a live guide conducting the tour because I find audio tours to be dull but this audio tour was fantastic. It had Elvis' music playing in-between clips of information which really set the mood. Some parts were also narrated by Lisa Marie Presley. She spoke about memories she had of certain rooms in the mansion as you were walking through them which really brought them to life.

After touring the inside of the house, you're led to the backyard where you can tour the grounds, the office, and some of the other buildings which used to be the trophy room and racquetball court but are now showcasing exhibits of Elvis' gold records and other awards. The exhibit also showed a side of Elvis that many people don't know about. Rather than just displaying his trophy's, they also displayed an entire wall of checks that Elvis wrote to various charities. The display of gold records showed how many people he touched with his music but the display of checks showed how many people he touched with his charitable heart. 

In the backyard, are also the graves of Elvis and his family members. Everyone slowly walks through the meditation garden, pays their respects and this is where the mansion tour ends.


The rest of the exhibits were also self-guided tours so you can choose which order you see them and how long you spend in each one. My favorites were the Elvis Automobile Museum and the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II Jets.

The Elvis Automobile Museum displays all of Elvis' cars, motorcycles, Go-carts, and even his John Deere tractor.  The tour of the airplanes was definitely worth paying the extra money for the Platinum tour. You're allowed to board both airplanes and even walk through the Lisa Marie. 

Just like the Mansion, the planes have been left exactly as they were when Elvis was alive. I think I was expecting Graceland to be something like a Disney Land adventure but the whole tour was done very tastefully and with a lot of respect. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On the road again in Texas

San Antonio, Texas

Much like my trip, this blog will be short. With only a few hours to see the sights of San Antonio, I headed over to its main attraction, The Alamo. Admission is free and contrary to popular belief it is not open 24 hours a day. You can visit the Alamo 9:00 am-5:30 pm Monday-Saturday and 10:00 am-5:30 pm on Sunday. There are guided tours about every half hour. No need to sign up or wait on line. Just follow the crowd. In addition to the "Shrine" as it's called, there's a beautiful courtyard, the Long Barrack Museum, the Sales Museum (which is really a gift shop with some artifacts on display), and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library. It's pretty small and depending on how long you linger around the grounds, it should only take about an hour to see everything.
I learned on the tour that the Alamo is a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. It is considered hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty. Unfortunately, just right across the street from the hallowed ground is San Antonio's equivalent of the Vegas Strip. Neon lights, Ripley's Believe it or Not Haunted Adventure, Museum of oddities, and the Tomb Raider 3D ride aren't exactly the first things that come to mind when I think of a Shrine. I wonder what Colonel William Travis and Davy Crockett would think if they could see what it looks like now.

After my visit to the Alamo, I headed over to the Riverwalk. Winding around downtown San Antonio with shops and restaurants along the way, the Riverwalk was even prettier than I expected. It's a beautiful feature that sets San Antonio apart from other cities. There are boat tours that you can take but I opted to wander around on foot. My self-guided tour took me to Old San Antonio or "La Villita." Maybe it was because I visited on a weekday but it was kind of like a ghost town. There were a few artsy shops but mostly just stores selling the same touristy junk that every other store sells. It seemed deserted and there wasn't really anything to do so I went back to the Riverwalk and had lunch outside at a Mexican cafe and watched the ducks and pigeons fight for tortilla chips.

Had the weather been nicer, I really could have amused myself in San Antonio all day but the rain cut my visit short. I'm glad I got to see the Alamo and the Riverwalk because they are as crucial to the San Antonio experience as eating Tex-Mex and Barbeque.

I'm not sure where my next trip will be so check back in next week to find out!

Friday, April 9, 2010

On the Road AGAIN! North Carolina & Virginia

North Carolina & Virginia

I'm back on the road again with the wind in my hair and the gum on my shoe!

The first stop is Raleigh, North Carolina. This trip to North Carolina was almost exactly like the last one in that I got to see nothing but the job site and my hotel room. The only difference is that this time I went to Raleigh-Durham instead of Charlotte. 

My original flight was canceled so I had to take a much later flight which got me to my hotel in Raleigh around 10:30 pm. All I know about Raleigh is that it's the State Capital and I guess that's all that I will ever know because I was at work by 9am the next day and I left straight from there to drive to Virginia.

I learned a lot on my inter-state journey. For example: did you know that Donny Osmond has his own radio show?! I also discovered that drivers in that part of the country really enjoy tailgating. A good way to amuse yourself while driving alone for 4 hours is to watch someone who was tailgating you for several miles get pulled over 15 minutes later by a State Trooper for speeding.

Once again, my experience in Virginia was much like my experience in North Carolina. A lot of work and not much time to do anything else. If I had the time I would have liked to go see The Norfolk Naval Station, Nauticus, or The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Although, I do find it very hard to be indoors when the weather is so nice. Virginia has tons of outdoor activities that would have been nice to explore like Busch Gardens or Virginia Beach Ocean Breeze Water Park but since I only had about an hour of free time, I zipped over to beautiful Virginia Beach to enjoy the fantastic weather and watch the fighter jets and helicopters fly overhead.

Virginia is a wonderful place to vacation. It has tons of historical sites, museums, zoos, aquariums, and great beaches. Not to mention the people are unbelievably nice. But beware of getting lured in by their southern charm like I did...which brings me to my travel tip for this week!

Make sure that when you go to pick up your rental car and they tell you that they ran out of economy cars so they're going to give you a "FREE" upgrade that their definition of "FREE" is the same as yours. 

Also, when you tell them that you want to purchase the insurance, make sure it's just the BASIC insurance and you don't get charged for the deluxe package including roadside assistance and a helicopter ride if your car breaks down!

By following these simple tips you will avoid getting charged $490.71 for a 2-day car rental.

Hopefully, I'll have better luck next week when I'm back on the road in San Antonio...