Most Inspirational Moment
It has to be day 8 on the itinerary, which I named “Super Saturday”: the day we left Clarksdale for Memphis, going down to the Crossroads at Clarksdale where legend has it Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil for the gift of music; spending 4 hours at Graceland visiting Elvis’ house and the extensive collection of memorabilia on display in the adjacent museums; an emotional visit to the historic Sun Studios to see exactly where Elvis made his first recordings; a meal of dry-rubbed ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous restaurant, a favourite of Elvis’; a walk along bustling Beale Street in the evening before dropping into The Blues City Cafe to hear real Delta blues played by Blind Mississippi Morris, then riding the trolley car back to the hotel. Days don’t get any better than that!
Thoughts on Group Leader
Invariably one of things that makes an Exodus trip such a memorable experience is the quality of its group leaders, and this trip was no exception. I must confess one or two within the group wondered if Lana Haugberg would be up to the job: relative young, petite in stature, she would be working solo as both driver and guide throughout the long trip. But any initial doubts were soon dispelled: word got round that she had just completed an ultra race in which she ran 120 miles in 24 hours, and we also learned that she is a very experienced driver, having taken television film crews across America. In the course of the trip, Lana drove 1500+ miles as well as giving us detailed information about all locations and sites visited. Lana explained all options on offer, particularly for the free days, and made herself available to support individual choices. She was careful to advise on personal safety and ensure everyone knew the safest options for transport. Nothing was too much trouble, and Lana did everything within her power to make the trip run smoothly and to give us the best possible experience. A few examples: she had put together a Spotify playlist of music appropriate to each destination and leg of the itinerary; she purchased a folding step to facilitate access in and out of the minibus, which had a high drop; and while the group was enjoying a self-guided walking tour of Natchez, she checked everyone into the hotel, unloaded the luggage and took the bags to our individual rooms so that we could all go straight there to rest after a long day on the road. She was always cheerful, attentive and responsive, able to engage with everyone in our group, and always good company.
Advice for Potential Travellers
* the itinerary may change due to circumstances: embrace the options your group leader gives you. On our trip the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham was closed, so we took a detour to Montgomery to visit the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace & Justice, a very moving exhibition. It was not possible to book the Lynchburg option for the final day due to possible departure flight logistics, but our group leader came up with a pleasantly surprising alternative. * there will be plenty of opportunities to do your own thing at the different cities visited. * be prepare to be shocked by the amount of single-use plastics, particularly in hotels, and a lack of recycling facilities - maybe take your own travel cutlery. * try the local food and drink: have a Hurricane in NOLA, eat beignets, gumbo, jambalaya, and catfish (delicious!) there; try dry rubbed ribs in Memphis, or southern fried chicken; drink Jack Daniels in Tennessee. But there are plenty of alternatives if you fancy a change. * beware American sized portions: consider sharing with another person. Many portions are more than enough for two. * there are some long days on the road, but frequently broken up with comfort breaks and lunch stops at a variety of interesting places. Bring your own playlists and ear buds, if you like to chill out to your personal music along the way.
* there are plenty of opportunities to hear live music for little or no cost. Apart from a $5 per person cover charge to enter B B King’s Blues Club in Memphis, all the other live music we heard in New Orleans, Natchez, Memphis and Nashville was free - but please do place some dollars in the artists’ tips buckets. * the hotel accommodation is not high end (more 2 star in quality) but is functional with clean rooms, comfortable beds and good showers. Breakfasts were rather basic, often self-service, but adequate and offering a reasonable choice. * the excursions outside the itinerary gave us some of the most interesting and memorable moments: stops at Dockery Farm, and the Hopson Commissary (Clarksdale), Lorraine Motel (Memphis), Centennial Park (Nashville) … * … and be prepared for a few surprises along the way!