About Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.
She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.
Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.
Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett
Travel the back roads between American Highways 49 and 61 in search of Lost Superstitions and the spirits of Sam Cooke, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and wind up in Clarksdale Mississippi, the home of the Delta Blues. I covered unique “stays” in this charming southern city (and the photos are fabulous), one of which includes the Shack Up Inn, which has a restaurant called Rust Restaurant – yes, really. That will give you an idea of the ambiance of this oh so not luxurious but oh so authentic place.
In a city that has a restaurant called Rust, you might be wondering what kind of food is served there or anywhere in Clarksdale for that matter, a place music lovers flock to for things like the Juke Joint Festival and authentic blues at RED’s, not for its food. Clarksdale is surrounded by original cotton plantations, so you’d assume there’d be plenty of home grown cooking and southern fare and well, you are right for the most part…..with a twist. We quickly learned that Clarksdale seems to have a lot of surprises and twists!!
Two restaurants foodies should know about are Yazoo Pass on Yazoo Street and Oxbow on 3rd Street, both in downtown Clarksdale, which btw, is only an hour or so from Memphis Tennessee for those who have an inkling to take an easy side trip when in Memphis.
During our ever so delicious dinner at Yazoo Pass, we mainly opted for seafood, which we paired with a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They offer a delicious seared Ahi Tuna with shaved cucumber, lemon vinaigrette, hummus, wasabi cream and ginger beer sauce, Maple Glazed Salmon which is made with garlic and ginger infused jasmine rice, roasted asparagus and a maple vinaigrette and an exquisite Pan Seared Snapper made with garlic sautéed spinach, brown rice, with a garlic tomato reduction. You’ll notice the southern influence, but on the healthier and lighter side, even with the chef’s tasty sauces, whose nickname is Doc. He was apparently named after Dr. Julius Irving who once played for the Philly 76′ers.
More classically southern choices include a Chicken Basket, which are three hand battered jumbo tenders & pomme frites with a dipping sauce of your choice, Stuffed Shrimp with Lump crab, sautéed mushrooms and bread crumbs, broiled to perfection and the Hot Onion Soufflé Dip which is made with sun-dried tomato relish and homemade bruschetta (Yum!). Also worth mentioning are their Fish Tacos made with blackened snapper, sweet pepper pico and lime creme and their Crab Cakes served with fresh peppers and chives.
Since it is the south, they do have crunchy Pickle Frites and a variety of potato chips varieties but they also offer soups and plenty of healthy salads, including a fabulous baby spinach salad with shaved fresh pears, shredded parmesan, toasted nuts, balsamic vinaigrette and a wedge salad with grape tomatoes, crumbled bacon, grated egg, pimiento cheese croutons and house bleu cheese.
If you want to go for meat, they have filets and ribeyes, which you can get with classic Rustic Mash (love the name), roasted asparagus and mushrooms. They even have sandwiches on the menu as well, such as kaiser rolls, sour dough melted cheese and burgers with crunchy fried red onions and Worcestershire aioli. And, because you’re in the south, go for some real homemade down southern cookin’ regardless of what you order — in other words, don’t forget to order a side of mashed potatoes.
Ambiance at Yazoo Pass, is a mixture of rustic (earthy colors and a massive brick wall facing you as you enter), healthy (salad bar is integral to their menu) and modern. The staff is incredibly friendly and the service top notch! (Thanks to Blake, our waiter for making us feel at home)
The restaurant got started via a unique joint mission. In 2011, a local attorney named John Cocke saw a need for a place that Teach for America folks could come in have coffee and use the Internet. At the same time, Meri Tenhet, a trained chef, was looking for the opportunity to open a bakery and restaurant.
Together, they opened Yazoo Pass Espresso Bistro the weekend after Thanksgiving of 2011. For the first couple of years we were only open for breakfast and lunch but they have grown. Even with a deep fryer in the kitchen today, they proudly tout that they use the best ingredients they can get their hands on, including rice bran oil. Two thumbs up!
207 Yazoo Street
Clarksdale, MS 38614
The Oxbow is tucked away along 3rd Street in the center of town! By tucked away, I don’t mean that it’s off the beaten path, but it doesn’t have a loud or big sign calling you to its entrance. When we arrived in Clarksdale, it was raining, so we ran from our car to get warm and dry at the Oxbow, planning to fill up our hungry tummies with some old fashioned southern fare.
The place is funky and I’d add, rustic in its design and ambiance, completely decorated with salvaged industrial materials repurposed for art and function. While Oxbow might be about as casual as it gets, wooden picnic tables and all, don’t let that fool you – the food is out of this world! They even have a chalkboard of specials with their Twitter handle prominently displayed, so they’re not behind the times either.
The food experience is so fabulous largely to the talents of chef and owner Hayden Hall, who traveled around and studied culinary arts elsewhere before returning home to bring all that he learned to his hometown. A native of Clarksdale, he runs the restaurant with his wife Erica, their joint passion for food shining through from every dish. We got to hang with Hayden briefly while we were there, and he made sure to soup up a few things for us we hadn’t planned to order, just for fun and hell, why not be surprised by the chef?
It had been years since I had been to Taos and it was for a wedding at the time, the experience full of energy, an energizing dinner and cocktail party and a boat load of fun. If I recall, it was early Spring and I had discovered a few gems on the outskirt of Taos that I had hoped to return to one day and of course, the names of those gems were captured on an old laptop, never to be restored.
For some reason, my mystical illusion of experiencing Taos had to be the gems I had hoped to return to and without those names, it was, well, left up to pure accident of where I’d end up staying and what I’d end up doing, with a little help from the local tourism board of course.
In my mind’s eye were those golden gems however, and not finding them again would somehow make my Taos experience inferior. Hog wash I heard my grandmother saying as I contemplated such a ridiculous thought, and a way of thinking I rarely have, particularly as a long time traveler. Isn’t everything a new discovery and….doesn’t everything happen for a reason? I decided to return to my normal mantra while traveling which focuses on “trust”, a hunger for discovery and being present and once I did, everything quickly fell in place.
Before we hit the ski resort itself, we ended up staying at a charming B&B in town and had arrived just as the flickering snowflakes were at their strongest. While I was dead set on exploring the spiritual side of Taos, as well as it’s foodie and art scene, there was no doubt I was going to ski — after all, it was January and we were greeted with the first snow fall since we left New York more than a couple of weeks prior. And, snow it did, for three straight days.
In and around Taos is beautiful, no, it’s breathtaking — nothing more, nothing less!! Below is the road we took to head out of town one day for a scenic drive.
Only a mere mile or so outside of Taos, you reach Taos Pueblo itself. Below is inside, so you can get an idea of what to expect. Taos Pueblo is an ancient pueblo belonging to a Tewa-
And, how’s this for the stunning views you get from Taos Pueblo on a cold winter day?
On the road to the Taos ski resort…
By the time we had started climbing the windy road that led to the ski resort, we realized our car’s wasn’t made for the slippery conditions, something a four wheel drive could have handled easily. Thanks to Adriana, a local who is also instrumental in promoting local tourism, we made our way up and down the mountain with ease in her truck, both for an annual wine tasting event they do every year and to ski.
We also stayed at the Snakedance Condos to get a flavor for the lodging on the mountain and had a scrumptious meal at the traditional Bavarian gem at the top (be sure to read my foodie write up on the restaurant). Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the visibility on the day I was planning to ski couldn’t have been worse.
The downside of course was that I didn’t get those stunning landscape and mountain views that Taos is so known for on a clear day. The other downside was that it was hard to see, especially with dark tinted goggles, the only ones I had access to that day.
I wasn’t the only one who had a tough time with visibility that day – you’ll notice that because of the weather conditions, I opted to leave my Canon 7D in a dry warm place, rather than cart it around on the slopes. The result is that every shot on the mountain was taken with my iPhone with snow flurries between the view and the camera and the granularity and blurriness of the shots unfortunately reflect that. Despite not being able to produce the best photography on the slopes, you’ll get an idea at just how white and fluffy it was on that January day.
There were times I couldn’t see a thing in front of me, so ended up hooking up with a Brit who was there for the week for several runs, just so I had a bright jacket to follow down the mountain. It was either that, I thought, or end up on some random side of the mountain covered in snow.
The truth is, that despite the poor visibility, my lack of stellar equipment for the day, how utterly exhausted I was from the recent long drives and that it took me forever to get my pass sorted because of that fatigue, I had a blast! I mean, I really had a blast. As tired and blind as I was, there was something truly magical about being on the mountain in such chaotic conditions.
I had to rely on my other senses to get me through and rather than use my sight as my mainstay, I felt the motion of my curves and turns, I felt the snow fall on my face, blocking my view and all and I felt the sensation of Taos in January in the midst of fresh fallen snow and thought yes…..this is bliss, pure bliss!
Useful Resources and Info:
- Dreamcatcher B&B in the center of Taos: http://www.weblogtheworld.com/?p=196189 and www.dreamcatcherbb.com.
- Snakedance Condos at the top of the mountain: www.snakedancecondos.com/
- The Bavarian Restaurant at the top of the mountain: www.thebavarian.net/
- Taos Pueblo or Pueblo de Taos: http://www.weblogtheworld.com/?p=196254 and http://www.taospueblo.com/
- Taos Winter Wine Festival: http://www.taoswinterwinefest.com
- The Taos Ski Resort: https://www.skitaos.org/
Most foodies may think of Nashville over Memphis when it comes to award-winning chefs and renowned southern dishes and restaurants you’ll want to write home about. While Nashville is no doubt a serious foodie city given its size, the number of celebrities who live there and pass through, Memphis has its fair share of great restaurants worth noting (and adding to your must-eat-at-list) for your next trip to Tennessee. Be sure to read our write-up on the foodie guide to Nashville for our latest picks and take notes on our recommended choices for Memphis below.
Let’s start with the incredibly surprising and delicious Eighty 3 Restaurant in the Madison Hotel, where we stayed while we toured Memphis. Below, find a Max Hussey gem, the latest chef at Eighty 3 — the spicy ahi tuna wonton with avocado, sesame, chili, scallions and red onion.
Other great seafood specialties include the Louisiana crab cake, shrimp beignets with shrimp/pepper jelly, lump crab and shrimp ceviche, his seafood gumbo (crawfish, shrimp, okra, scallop, lobster, rice, clam and seafood stock with creole seasonings), shrimp and grits, and roasted salmon with green tomato pepper ragu, stone ground grits, sweet sun drops and a cilantro glaze. Yum!
At eighty3, Max uses free-style because, he says, “it gets you out of cooking the same menu every night and repeat guests get to try new things.” What was so refreshing about his menu, that while it does have a southern flare, it wasn’t heavy and laden with all the ingredients you love but that tends to add too many unnecessary calories and cholesterol.
Worth noting since it was so unusual (and over-the-top delicious) was their smoked bacon wrapped dates. How could you pass these up?
There’s also a crab and shrimp ceviche with sweet potato, corn and chili pepper water, shrimp beignets with pepper jelly and a Louisiana crab cake, clearly from his New Orleans days, which is served with carrot slaw (MAN, I love Southern slaws), dressed mixed greens and aioli, Also worth noting is the chicken lettuce wraps, which he does with a hoisin glazed chicken, sauté mushrooms, water chestnut, roasted peanuts and cilantro lime in a crispy iceberg lettuce cup.
Eighty 3 Restaurant
83 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN 38103
Lafayette’s, which also has legendary live music in Memphis regularly, was also a real treat thanks to the culinary craftsmanship of Chef Jody Moyt. Be sure to read our write-up of Barbara Blue‘s performance as well as our culinary experience there in mid-January.
The menu includes such southern influenced dishes as po-boys, shrimp and grits, baked oysters, wood-fired pizzas and made-from-scratch desserts. The dishes (and the drinks) far exceeded our expectations. A combination of out-of-this-world food and music make Lafayette’s a must-visit venue for your Memphis agenda.
Lafayette’s Music Room
2119 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
Then, there’s the legendary Arcade Restaurant, which is really more of a diner, but the very same diner where Elvis Presley was known to order his infamous grilled peanut butter and banana concoction — there’s even an Elvis booth in the back dedicated to him.
In existence since 1919, Arcade is Memphis’ oldest cafe serving breakfast and lunch. Speros Zepatos founded the diner in 1919 after immigrating from Cephalonia, Greece. Situated at the corner of South Main Street and G.E. Patterson, the original building was a small, one story, wood framed building. Food was actualy cooked on potbelly stoves.
In 1925, Speros tore down the wood structure and built the Arcade Building in a Greek revival style, complete with retail stores to signify the “Arcade” name. His son, Harry Zepatos, took the Arcade to a new level in the 1950′s, who made the cafe into the fifties diner that still sits there today. Iconic are the boomerang now faded table top designs, the neon signage, and original storefront motif.
Apparently scenes from Mystery Train, Great Balls of Fire, The Client, The Firm, 21 Grams, Elizabethtown, Walk the Line, and My Blueberry Nights, just to name a few, have all been filmed in this restaurant.
In oh so charming diner style, they serve dishes up from the somewhat open kitchen — everything from burgers, grits and other southern fare to pancakes, sausage and scrambled eggs.
They also have a massive choice of salads — from cobb and fried chicken to chef, turkey club, taco and Greek variations. They even have pizza on the menu as well as more traditional classics like country fried steak and eggs redneck with hash browns.
The Elvis sandwich….fried peanut butter, banana and bacon. Yup, I had it exactly as Elvis ate it in his “hey-day” and didn’t even pay for it later.
540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103
For those who have been to a BB Kings Blues Club, you know that for the most part, they’re all fun and play great blues music regardless of where they are in the world. It was particularly interesting to visit a BB Kings in the Blues Capital of the world, where live music every night was a notch above the rest of the country and then some. While a popular haunt and perhaps a little touristy, it’s also classically authentic and the musicians are about as down-to-earth as it gets.
It surprised me that the food was quite good as well since we largely went there for the music and the vibe! We secured a table upstairs so it was a little further away from the speakers, yet still had great views of the band. We decided to go for all things fried and southern, as well as order some of the most outlandish sounding cocktails they had on the menu.
Entrees included dishes like their Lip Smacking Ribs, grilled salmon, southern fried catfish, pork chops, filet mignon, glazed ribeye, brisket, meatloaf, shrimp and grits (of course – it’s Tennessee), gumbo (their recipe is smoked chicken, Andouille sausage, crawfish, okra, peppers, onions, and tomatoes), beer chili, crawfish poppers, fried green tomatoes (YUM – see below), black-eyed pea hummus, Memphis wings, nachos and sausage and cheese platters. The venue may be more about the music than the food but the southern style options truly brought it home!!
We tried a few southern appetizers and main course dishes…and of course, we always order at least one salad.
Because its BB Kings, you can get a celebration glass which I haven’t done in years, but we opted to – hell, it was only $2.00 more.
They have a Motown Margarita, a drink called Love on the Delta (pearl red berry vodka, peach schnapps, raspberry liqueur, orange, pineapple and cranberry juices), a Southern Hurricane, which is Southern Comfort, Dark Rum, orange juice, sweet & sour and pineapple juice, topped with 151 rum, and two really great named drinks: the Lucille (Malibu Coconut Rum, Blue Curacao, mixed with orange and pineapple juices) and a Juke Joint (pearl vodka, peach schnapps, melon liquor, sour apple liquor and blue curacao mixed with orange and pineapple juices). Oh yeah baby, bring on the blues!
As for the on-stage bands. Let’s just say we danced all night long!!
BB King Blues Club
143 Beale Street
Memphis, TN 38103
We were then introduced to a famous RIB joint called Charlie Vergos RENDEZVOUS Ribs. Located in an alley across the street from The Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis, Rendezvous is an unassuming restaurant between Holiday Inn Select and Benchmark Hotels.
The Rendezvous has been serving ribs in a downtown Memphis alley since 1948 and has been owned and operated by the Vergos family for three generations. The ambiance is very casual, with picnic-table-LIKE tables with tons of photos and memoirs over the years of the owners with various celebrities who have stopped in during various visits including names like Bill and Hillary Clinton. Think red checkered table cloths and baskets full of fried food and bread with chicken and beef on the way.
Robert Junior waited on us, not to be confused with his dad Robert Senior. Perhaps a whole lot younger than “Senior,” he’s been waiting tables with the Vergos family since 1981 and still looks like a young pup! He had many a historical story to share about the establishment and it’s history. Together with a number of other long time waiters (Percy, who has been on board since 1971), Geno (also since 1971), Albert (since 1973), and Jack (since 1965), they have kept Rendezvous alive with vigor and personality.
The restaurant has been around since 1948, when original owner Charlie Vergos discovered a coal chute and shortly thereafter, started a legend. The coal chute gave him a vent for his talent over a grill and allowed him to expand from ham and cheese sandwiches to ribs. Today, the place is a Ribs Joint legend in Memphis and on average, several thousand people head to Rendezvous Ribs on a Saturday night to sink their teeth into what makes Memphis…..Memphis.
You can order a variety of “Ribs” options but given that we were newcomers, we let Robert Junior order away on our behalf. And so, we went with a beef brisket choice, lamb riblets and pork shoulder, as well as red beans and rice on the side — and plenty of pickles. We had to get a side of slaw of course, as well as potato salad and peppers. All of it was oh so delicious and oh so good! Robert also brought out a sausage and pickle platter before we got to “go” with our main courses as well. (always served with saltines of course)
The deliciously traditional potato salad with paprika.
Two thumbs up and definitely worth a stop, as traditional and classic as it may be. All the waiters are fabulous and have been there for donkey’s years, so you can’t go wrong regardless of who you end up with — ask about the history, order the slaw and oh yeah, go for a pitcher of beer – perhaps the Ghost River or the Wiseacre.
You can also purchase their famous seasoning in a 4.5 ounce jar, their BBQ sauce and their Rendezvous seasoned popcorn on-site. What else is cool is that regardless of where you are in the continental USA, you can order their ribs online at www.hogsfly.com or via phone 888.HOGS-FLY.
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous Ribs
52 South Second Street
Memphis, TN 38104
Suggested Lunch venues in Memphis include the following:
- Trolley Stop Market @TrolleyStopMkt on 704 Madison Avenue
- Gus’s Fried Chicken on 310 South Front Street
- LUNCHBOX eats @LUNCHBOXeats at 288 South 4th Street
- South of Beale @southofbeale on 361 South Main Street
- Central BBQ @CentralBBQ on 147 East Butler Avenue
- The Majestic Grille @MajesticGrille on 145 South Main Street
Also, you should check out Overton Square aka @overtonsquare on “social.” It is a relatively new theater and entertainment district in Midtown Memphis, which is only about a 10 minute drive from downtown and we didn’t find parking to be a problem.
Check out their boutique shopping options in the afternoon and then stay in the area for food and drinks. There are some great restaurants in the square and music venues (Lafayette’s is a combo of both). Both Boscos aka @BoscosSquared on Twitter and Local Gastropub aka @localgastropub, have Happy Hour Specials.
Disclosure: we were hosted by a chunk of venues above during our stay, however all opinions here are entirely my own.
We also had an opportunity to meet executive chef Max Hussey, who just came to Memphis from San Francisco, so we were able to chat about the food scene in the city where I hang my hat more than anywhere else when I’m not on an airplane or driving across the grand United States.
A southerner at heart, he weaves in influences from New Orleans and Boston, and most recently, as mentioned above, San Francisco where he put his Memphis-style spin on Bananas Foster as executive chef at the award-winning Southpaw BBQ, the Southern-inspired restaurant on Mission Street.
At eighty3, Max uses free-style because, he says, “it gets you out of cooking the same menu every night and repeat guests get to try new things.” What was so refreshing about his menu, that while it does have a southern flare, it wasn’t heavy and laden with all the ingredients you love but that tends to add too many unnecessary calories and cholesterol.
The salad selection was extensive and included a butter lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, red onion, panko and gorgonzola, a simple but delicious Caesar with parmesan artisan croutons, anchovies and cherry tomatoes, a wedge salad with beef tenderloin tips, bacon, onions, tomato, gorgonzola and onion tangles, a cherry bomb salad with kale chips, stuffed crispy peppadew peppers, tomato, red onion, carrots and a honey basil vinaigrette, a blackened ahi tuna salad with mixed greens, tomato, red onions and a citrus wonton and the eighty 3 chopped salad with is served with a champagne vinaigrette, apple, avocado, onion, bacon, corn, tomatoes and gorgonzola. Yum!!
For a little more traditional southern style, there’s the signature skillet cornbread on the menu served with a delicious honey-jalapeño butter and fall-off-the-bone pork wings with bang bang sauce and onion tangles. Our favorite? Truth be told, it wasn’t a low calorie option at all, but the “to-die-for” smoked bacon wrapped dates are a must try.
Spicy ahi tuna wonton with avocado, sesame, chili, scallions and red onion.
When you think of Arkansas as an avid traveler, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t luxury spa treatments. Since we were already planning to spend time in Hot Springs Arkansas, which has a rich historical past and boasts an entire drag dedicated to thermal water bathhouses and spas, we learned about the Mountain Harbor Resort and Turtle Cove Spa from locals, roughly an hour and a half leisurely drive away.
For nature lovers who also like to dip their toe in luxury from time-to-time, this is the perfect oasis to spend time on your alone for pure relaxation, as a romantic getaway or with your family — they cater to all three.
The spa itself sits on one side of the massive property and is surrounded by luscious forest and a gigantic lake where you can boat or swim. It has its own parking and entrance area, which is a lovely blend of rustic and luxury combined. Depending on the season, you could be greeted with flowering trees as well, as you walk through its welcoming entryway that is coated with green ivy.
Here, they have thought of everything to make you relax — from the serene sitting room that is loaded with peaceful reads, Buddha quotes and calming rocks, to the gift shop and the outside porch and patio which delivers stunning views of the lake below. You can sit on the outdoor terrace and meditate to the lake’s tranquility while breathing in the clean Arkansas mountain air.
It was pure heaven. Remember that Ouachita National Forest covers 1.8 million acres in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma, which is vast and glorious, with plenty of natural surroundings for hikes, camping or a stay at a luxurious resort. Mountain Harbor Resort makes such a perfect choice as it is remotely shut off, so much so you feel as you’re days away from urban life, not hours.
To get to the resort and spa, you need to drive down a long dirt road off the main drag and it’s easy to get lost if you don’t pay attention to the turns and curves or if it’s your first time. It’s also worth noting that Turtle Cove Spa offers Lake Ouachita’s only lakeside spa experience. Surrounded by the crystal-infused waters of Lake Ouachita, the wide array of spa treatments include massages, facials, body treatments, crystal energy work and holistic therapies, spa pedicures and manicures, and a full-service salon.
I was surprised to get a therapist who was so savvy about skin and body work – I left feeling not just rejuvenated but smarter about healing and self care than when I walked in and I’ve been to many a’ spa over the years. Because of its natural location, you not only feel renewed from the treatment itself but have a unique opportunity to reconnect with nature, which only accelerates and deepens your connection with yourself and the earth around you. They offer great romantic packages as well as options for groups (think weddings, reunions or family retreats).
Staying at the lodge is a natural oasis all in itself. Their rustic lodge area with lake view cabins, lake side guest rooms and economy houses seems to have drawn families for decades – I learned through a little digging that some families have been returning to the resort for their summer vacations for four or five generations.
You can choose a guestroom, cabana, suite, or more rustic cottage and opt for more basic amenities or something a little more exclusive. And, either way you turn, the views are stunning and the nature bountiful.
The restaurant, swimming pool, wading pool, courtyard area, playground, laundromat, office, launching ramp and marina are all within walking distance and it’s worth noting that as remote as it is, wireless internet is available in all of their Lodge units, the restaurant and public areas.
For those of you who grew up around mountain lakes rather than the ocean like I did, you’ll feel at home right away. And, that Arkansas sky gets mighty beautiful at night as well.
Two thumbs up! We would definitely return – our own regret is that we didn’t have more time to explore the area, take long hikes and just sit and gaze at the lake for days on end.
Mountain Harbor Resort
994 Mountain Harbor Road
Mt Ida, AR 71957
Note: we were hosted during our stay but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Photo credits: unless otherwise noted by the watermark, photos are courtesy of Harbor Mountain Resort and Turtle Cove Spa – all others Renee Blodgett.
On the other side of town from the infamous Beale Street in Memphis lies Sun Studio on 706 Union Avenue, the same studio where Elvis regularly hung his hat and recorded tunes at the beginning of his career.
It has been said that “if music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem and Sun Studio its most holy shrine.” As a tourist spot, it’s incredibly unpretentious — in fact, it looks as it has remained untouched for the most part since the 1950′s, and that’s just inside.
Of course, as you walk through the studio, it’s not just the recording studio itself that is awe-inspiring and authentic but they have a number of historical guitars, microphones and original records on display to marvel at….and it’s not just Elvis of course.
There were original recordings by Johnny Cash (see my Johnny Cash Museum write-up including a special video interview and tons of photos), Elvis and others. It was of course Elvis who changed what Memphis meant to the world and to the rock-and-roll industry as well as gospel and country.
In 1954, an unknown Elvis Presley, grabbed a mic and sang his heart out making Sun the most famous recording studio in the world. Below is the original mike he used at Sun Studio.
The impressive guided tour starts at the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll where you will experience outtakes from recording sessions and hear the real story of the studio that launched the careers of not only Elvis Presley, but other greats as noted above Johnny Cash, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and many others that signed with the Sun label.
The area itself looks and feels like a working class section of Memphis and while mostly urban brick buildings, many run down with graffiti on its exterior, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were in parts of the hometown where I grew up in upstate New York.
What I loved about the area and the studio is just how raw and authentic it was — it wasn’t as if they were trying to paint a sugar coated story to glorify and glamify what it was, making it about as pure as it gets as a recording studio. In fact, at night, it is still used to record songs by up and coming artists today.
I personally got to wind back the clock a bit – they give you an opportunity to touch the original mike that Elvis used when he first walked through the doors in the 1950′s and well, even sing into it if you’d like. Pianos and guitars surround you in the original studio as do photos of musical greats who have inspired all of us at some juncture of our lives regardless of our age.
The entrance to the Sun Studio “museum” and studio itself is a retro diner with red and silver bar stools and tables from the 50′s and 60′s. Behind the counter sits a chalkboard of daily specials, original Coca-Cola signs, posters, retro ketchup and mustard bottles and old fashioned coffee cups.
Adjacent to Union is Sam Phillips Avenue, a sign at the corner says so, named appropriately after the infamous Sam Phillips who started the studio to capture the raw talent of Beale Street at the time and others who rolled in from other parts of the country to record there later on as the studio took off. Two thumbs up! If you love music and history, then this is a must stop on your travel agenda for Tennessee.
Below is a short video clip I shot during the tour – it will give you a flavor of the place. Enjoy!
Driving through America’s middle allows you to take several routes, the classic Route 66 being one of those. Given that it was winter, we geared our journey a little further south than we otherwise might knowing that I wanted to hit Arkansas on the way. Why? I have always been intrigued by Arkansas and figured it would be a blend of midwest and southern hospitality, which frankly was a fairly accurate experience of our time there.
I learned about Hot Springs not from online research, but from looking at an old fashioned map we got from AAA. My priority was finding foodie hot spots or places that focused on wellness and Hot Springs fell into the latter category. The town is known for its traditional hot springs bath houses, Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, being the oldest known one in the city and where we stayed for a few days while in Hot Springs.
The Arlington is also the largest hotel in Arkansas with almost 500 rooms and suites. In existence since 1875, think old classic style buried deep in history, with chandeliers in the lobby and hotel rooms, a baby grand piano in the dining room and live entertainment on some nights of the week. They have hosted hundreds of grand balls and social events over the years, attracting politicians, dignitaries, actors, gangsters and entertainment and sports legends.
You can choose from standard rooms and suites to Mineral Water Rooms, which offer a king or two double beds and a bathtub with hot springs mineral water piped directly into a tub and a shower. Apparently our suite had mineral water piped into the bathroom pipes as well, but the tub was a bit too small for a romantic hot soak, so we opted to use the outdoor pools and hot tub instead.
Below is the bedroom portion of a suite, so you can get an idea of its oh so classic and historical style — it is separated by doors on both sides which leads to a full dining room and living room. Note that the suites face the main drag and it doesn’t appear that they have modern soundproof windows so if you’re a light sleeper, you may want to take that into consideration and request a room in the back of the hotel instead.
Below is the living room/dining room area of our suite, so spacious that it is perfect for family travel. (Above, taken from hotel website)
The hotel’s original wooden structure was three stories high and boasted 120 guest rooms, making it the largest in the state in that era. Gas lights illuminated the spacious rooms and there was a grand court between the structures’ two wings. Colonial porches ran the full length of the building to Hot Springs Mountain. In the late 1880s, some 100 rooms, a new dining room with electric lights, and another parlor were added.
The original building was razed to make way for a new 300-room Spanish Renaissance structure in 1893. At that time, the Arlington was referred to as “the most elegant and complete hotel in America” in Charles Cutter’s 1892 Guide Book. Designed in three sections, but with five levels, they had a spacious veranda with arcades running the full length of the hotel.
Photographs and records in the 1894 and 1896 Cutter’s Guide show a rotunda, grand ornamental oak stairway circling a beautiful glass dome, the lobby, a pink parlor, and grand ballroom. The building however, like so many others at the time, was destroyed by fire in April 1923.
This Arlington, as its counterparts, was designed with bathers and vacationers in mind and had 560 rooms. The Crystal Ballroom, Venetian Room and lobby were part of the 1924 structure. Adjacent to the lobby are the Writing Room (now a Starbucks), Card Room (now called the Magnolia Room) and a Board Room for meetings. The Music Room for the Arlington Orchestra’s performances opened onto the Venetian Room and lobby. The Arlington included an in-house bath house with open, bright separate accommodations for men and women, and 50 rooms had thermal mineral waters piped in. All of these facilities, except the Music Room, are still in use.
I had a massage as part of my Hydrotherapy package, which includes a thermal mineral water whirlpool bath in a traditional old fashioned bathtub.
They fill it with hot thermal water and there you soak for about a half an hour, after which you spray yourself down and lie on a massage-like table – several in a large room – with white small white towels wrapped around you until you’re ready for a follow on spa treatment.
Their spa is less about luxury and more about healing. Still in use are its old tubs and you can see water stains on the tiles from years and years of use. There’s something very raw and authentic about it.
The towels are small as is the locker room area and while the massage rooms are also very basic in design, their therapists have solid experience.
Since I said I was okay with firm and strong, the woman who worked on me did precisely that. Originally from Russia, I left my treatment feeling a tad sore, but by the next day as the toxins moved through me, I felt like a million bucks as my body began to alkalize and equalize. Some deep tissue work was a godsend after our long drive the day before. They also have a mountainside twin-level heated pools and covered hot tub.
Above, taken from their website.
The lobby is equally decadent but also charming, and the service is top notch.
The outside is old historic but elegant. (photo from hotel website)
Above shot – photo credit: www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.
Outside the front door is the National Park’s famed Bathhouse Row and a grand stroll through history and beauty, with tons of art galleries and shops en route. Across the street are museums, antique galleries, unique restaurants and live entertainment, and for golf buffs, you can book a tee time at the championship courses at Hot Springs Country Club. A few other bathhouses on the main drag worth mentioning include the following:
- Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs
- Lamar Bathhouse
- Buckstaff Bathhouse (in operation since 1912.)
- Ozark Bathhouse
- Quapaw Bathhouse
- Fordyce Bathhouse
- Maurice Bathhouse
- Hale Bathhouse
More information can be found here: http://www.arkansas.com/blog/post/spa-time-in-hot-springs/
Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
239 Central Avenue
Hot Springs, AR 71901
Note: we were hosted by the hotel, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
While we didn’t plan to stay and explore Amarillo, Texas, we did use it as a stay over on our cross America trip, which we heavily hashtagged #WBTWxAmerica if you want to check out some of our social media posts (Twitter and Instagram). Amarillo is a known stop over when driving through the center of the country because it’s a major city between Oklahoma and New Mexico.
In downtown Amarillo, the old Fisk Building has been renovated into a Marriott and still retains its historic Gothic Revival exterior. Inside, of course, all the modern amenities have been added that you’d expect from a Marriott. We opted for the Marriott because was told by a long time local that it’s a great downtown location and also has safe and secure parking off-site. It also appeared to be a popular hotel for professional athletes as we could assess from signs in the lobby.
The rooms themselves are fairly standard although you can get rooms with views and/or balconies, which we did, despite it being a bit too cool in the evening to sit outside in January.
All contemporary in style, their 107 rooms and suites are brightly lit and decorated in vibrant colors. Because they have suites as well, it makes for a good option for family travel as well. Included are 42 inch TV’s, free wifi, a hotel fitness center and The Bistro, a restaurant on the ground floor, where you can grab a bite in the evening or breakfast in the morning.
The main lobby area is also incredibly modern and I’d say, “happily decorated.” Nearby the hotel, you can access some of Amarillo’s local attractions like the Amarillo Civic Center and Cadillac Ranch just moments away from the hotel. Family attraction options include the Ross Rogers Golf Course and the Wonderland Amusement Park.
Marriott Courtyard Amarillo Downtown
724 South Polk Street
Amarillo, TX 79101
Note: we were hosted by the hotel but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.
I typically don’t gravitate to the top tourist attractions when I land at a destination – largely, it’s not the tourist attraction per se that attracts me to the place, but there may be something about it or the people from a place I’m interested in finding out more about.
You can’t go to Memphis Tennessee and not take in at least something connecting to Elvis Presley, especially if you love Rock-and-Roll and the blues. I of course, am a fan of both and have always loved Elvis songs. That said, I heard mixed things about Graceland so was somewhat hesitant about visiting, however I had to see it – after all, how did Priscilla decorate the house after all? I had to know and had to see, kitch 1960′s, 1970′s and all.
Truth be told, it was a bit like people described – the size of the place is daunting since Graceland has become much much more than the home Elvis once lived in. After parking in a large lot, you then have to hop a shuttle bus to the beginning of the guided tour, which walks you through the main house itself. Luckily it was off-season so while we were not alone, we had time to leisurely walk through and marvel at the colors, decor style and design of time and it was, as you can imagine, insatiably over-the-top. Below is one angle of the living room, one I found palatable.
I also really liked the dining room — apparently Priscilla still visits from time-to-time and was told they dine here on occasion.
As you go through the estate, you begin to realize the grandness of it, as well as the fact that you’re walking through the most famous rock ‘n’ roll residence in the world. Some of the rooms are oh so very retro……and colorful. The room with the monkey and the yellow glittery pillows had me at hello.
This room was a little dizzying but I suppose incredibly chic at the time.
After going through several rooms, you step outside of the home, which doesn’t look particularly ostentatious at first glance.
But as you continue meandering through the property, you realize that the Graceland experience includes much much more than just his residence. Today, the Graceland experience takes you back in time to his mansion, the added Elvis’ Automobile Museum, the Live from Vegas Exhibit and Elvis’ Hawaii: Concerts, Movies and More Exhibit. How many of you remember his Hawaii phase?
The museum portion has his recording collections, much of the clothing he wore on and off stage (mostly on-stage), his shoes and more. It’s a maze of all things Elvis – whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard not to be impressed by the volume of what this man created and the impact he had on his fans, the music industry and on society as a whole.
Outside, you pass a peaceful serenity pond – surrounding it, are gravestones adorned with tons of flowers and hearts in various colors.
It is here that you are reminded just how religious Elvis was….while fans know this from his gospel music (his favorite to sing and record), others may not realize how much religion and gospel was at his core.
Elvis Presley died at Graceland on August 16, 1977. His will appointed his father, Vernon Presley, who had long handled Elvis’ personal, non-career business affairs, as executor and trustee. The beneficiaries were Elvis’ grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley; his father, Vernon Presley; and his only child, Lisa Marie Presley. The will provided that Vernon Presley could, at his discretion, provide funds to other family members as needed. Vernon Presley died in 1979. Minnie Mae Presley died in 1980. This left Lisa Marie Presley as the sole heir to the estate. Elvis’ will stated that her inheritance was to be held in trust for her until her twenty-fifth birthday, February 1, 1993.
Vernon Presley’s will brought about the appointment of three co-executors/co-trustees to succeed him. They were: the National Bank of Commerce in Memphis, which was the bank Elvis and Vernon had done business with; Joseph Hanks, who had been Elvis and Vernon’s accountant for a number of years; and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, who had divorced Elvis in 1973, but had continued a close friendship with him and was Lisa’s legal guardian. Joseph Hanks retired from his post in 1990.
Upon Lisa Presley’s twenty-fifth birthday in 1993, the trust automatically dissolved and Lisa chose to form a new trust, The Elvis Presley Trust, to continue the successful management of the estate, with Priscilla Presley and the National Bank of Commerce continuing to serve as co-trustees.
In 1998, as Lisa Marie Presley’s role in the management grew, Priscilla Presley chose to redirect her efforts by moving to an advisory position, continuing her close involvement and support while focusing more time on her own ever-expanding individual pursuits as a successful actress and businessperson.
One important development for the Graceland visitor experience was the addition of Elvis’ Lisa Marie jet and Hound Dog II JetStar planes, which Elvis’ father had sold in 1978. They were brought back home to Memphis in a joint venture with the current owners and opened for onboard tours in 1984. Another major development was the opening of the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum in Graceland Plaza in 1989.
Since opening to the public in 1982, Graceland has hosted millions of visitors from every state in the union and nearly every country of the world. Prior to Graceland’s opening, there was minimal tourism trade in Memphis. Graceland quickly became the cornerstone of the industry for the city and the region. The Memphis tourism industry has expanded greatly with the development of attractions such as the FedEx Forum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (see our write up on the very impressive soul music museum), and the National Civil Rights Museum, which is also a must visit.
In 2006, Graceland was designated a National Historic Landmark.
We were there towards the end of the afternoon and as the light changed around the property, so did the mood – there was a sense of serenity and peace that came with the sun’s after glow soothingly making its way through the bare winter trees.
While it may indeed be an extremely over-visited tourist attraction in Memphis, it sheds so much light on the history of Elvis, how he lived, what he accomplished and how this was instrumental in rock-and-roll as we know it today, it’s definitely worth a visit – my recommendation to take it all in without the crowds is to visit off-season like we did (January-February is a good choice), or give them a call and ask when is a quieter time of year or day to visit to avoid long lines.
3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard
Memphis, TN 38116