The Retirees Celebrate 30 years – Nottingham, Cesi and Rome

We don’t often decide to embark on a journey with such speed and decision as on this occasion. We had barely returned from our Mississippi trip that was over 12 months in planning than we were off again to celebrate 30 years of marriage. In truth we had celebrated at year ten then forgotten about anniversaries often finding ourselves remembering on the day but with no other particular thought or preparation.

Over dinner on the American Queen outside of Memphis and after a bottle of wine I said words to the effect that we should celebrate this 30th year with a trip to Rome. I don’t know why. Why Rome? Why this particular year/milestone. But Kerry didn’t miss the slip (if it be a slip) and the planning began in earnest upon our return to Brisbane.

The final itinerary;

Travel to London overnight and then catch the National Express bus to Nottingham and catch up with Cilla and Bob and meet with Martin and Christine visit the Rotary Club of Nottingham members, visit St Mary of the Virgin church in Attenborough where we tended the gardens and graves.

Travel to East Midlands Airport for the flight to Rome by RyanAir landing at Ciampino Airport travel into Rome and overnight at the Dreamstation Hotel before catching a train at Terminii out to Terni then the taxi up to Cesi in the hills overlooking Terni to visit Roberto and whilst there to visit Splato, Portaria and Kerry to visit Purugia (I was resting my injured tendon and doing the washing).

Travel to Rome by train and find our accommodation at the Maittise B&B in Via Nationalize to enjoy 5 romantic days in a stinking hot and humid Rome,

Then travel back to Australia.

That’s it – two weeks and we return home. Most unusual for us to take such a short trip. So settle back whilst I take on the trip across the world and back again.


The Retirees visit Graceland

Memphis is best known for Elvis and his home “Graceland”. Graceland is a mansion on a 13.8-acre (5.6 ha) estate, that was owned by Elvis Presley. It is located at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard in the vast Whitehaven community, about 9 miles (14.5 km) from Downtown. It currently serves as a museum. It was opened to the public on June 7, 1982. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991, and declared a National Historic Landmark on March 27, 2006. Graceland is the second most-visited house in America with over 650,000 visitors a year; second only to the White House. It is also across Elvis Presley Dr from a “Disney” type park celebrating Elvis’s fame and life.

I found Graceland to be unsurprising and ordinary in many ways which I think describes the type of person Elvis appears to have been away from the fame. He maintained many of his childhood friends had great affection for his mother and father (Mum Dad and his Aunt are buried at Graceland) and whilst he spent big on toys he also seems to have been quietly philanthropic in many ways to the community of Memphis. However, it did have its moments with the Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass panels in the piano room and the (original?) Matisse on the wall and the Tiffany light shades in the pool room. I enjoyed the fact that the Mario Lanza album is on display in his den (Lanza was a poor immigrant Italian boy who made good singing opera and had a movie career singing opera in film – just like Presley sort of). Starting at the front door we entered into the sitting room and piano room then around to Mum and Dad’s bedroom (they lived with Elvis) then to the dining room kitchen (with carpet) downstair to the bar, the media room with its Mario Lansa album the pool room the Picasso(?) and the graveyard.

The park as opposed to his home is made up of various pavilions (some of which are only available on the VIP tour) each pavilion focusing on different aspects of his life (eg) his military service, his toys, his music etc. And each one having its own gift shop of course. You walk through the yard of the house through the cemetery then cross to the pavilions. We saw his cars his bikes his awards his fatigues then over to the planes. Although not in a pavilion you can visit Elvis’s two planes parked casually to one side of the other pavilions. Overall worth the visit.

Memphis is struggling to regain its economy with a number of buildings boarded up and the town centre seemingly on holiday all the time. But one of its highlights is the Peabody Hotel. There are a number of Peabody Hotels around the USA but none like the Memphis Peabody. The Peabody Memphis is a luxury hotel and is known for the “Peabody Ducks” that live on the hotel rooftop and make daily treks to the lobby where they swim around in a fountain in the main lobby. The Peabody is a member of Historic Hotels of America, a programme of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It also has as a tenant the clothier to dress Elvis whilst he was getting fame and throughout his life. We were told on our tour into Memphis that Elvis continued to use the same barber that he used before getting fame.

The Peabody has a roof top party at various time of the year on a Thursday night and we were there at the right time to visit the ducks in the duck palace on the roof (the ducks had been fed and gone to bed). The following day we took a walk along the Mississippi watching acrobatics by a couple of stunt planes.

Our trip has come to an end with an early start for the airport. Unable to get an Uber (4.30am) the hotel security guard offered to drive us to the airport (I suspect he does this regularly) but he took us on a different trip to what I had expected. When I commented that I had not seen any signs directing to the airport he commented that he doesn’t use the freeway because of the random drive by shootings that occur at night ever since the gangs had moved up from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. That may explain the downturn that Memphis appears to be stuck in. However, we left safely to enjoy a 12 hour layover in LA where we encountered complete disarray with our travel arrangements leaving us shuttling between terminal 2 and Tom Bradly terminal trying to determine where we caught our flight back home. All is well that ends well – we are home safely.

The Retirees visit Memphis and the King

Memphis, Queen of the delta – believe it or not the delta of the Mississippi commences up here. What we would ordinarily consider to be the delta at the river mouth is the creation of the last ice age filling in the opening existing prior to the ice.

We left the American Queen on a tour bus with the plan that the bus would drop us at our hotel. The first stop was the Tourist Information Centre. Elvis and B.B. King are big personalities in Memphis as borne out by the large statues in the Information Centre. During the tour our tour guide sang and played her guitar as she told the story of Elvis and B.B. King in Memphis. We visited an open air auditorium where Elvis used to play before becoming a household name. We saw the recording studio and other sights but all a bit weak. Nevertheless, it was a great introduction helping us to find all the things we would do in the next 5 days except our hotel.

After locating our hotel (which was under renovation – not amused) we took a walk in Main Street where the tram line runs and the tram occasionally does too . There were blokes in blue official looking shirts riding bikes around Main St and they were a mix of tourist information and Policing. A good idea actually. Walked down to Beale St (not a tram in sight) but there was nothing happening due to daylight being present. They follow the practice of keeping the heritage front of a building and whacking a new building behind. We spent the rest of the day doing very little of anything as did the rest of Memphis. Where is everybody?

The following day Kerry was very weary so she stayed in bed whilst I went to the National Civil Rights Museum just past Beale St on the tram line. Built around the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated it is a historical record of slavery and its origins and the struggle of African Americans to be recognised as equal in America. Photos were not permitted inside the museum but it is riveting in its explanation of the growth of the civil rights movement and the racial hatred on both sides of the colour divide. I was fascinated by what I did not know of this part of the American history. It reminded me of the statements my mother made about the American soldiers visiting Brisbane during W.W.2 and how the coloured soldiers weren’t allowed in just any pub they had one allocated on the west side of the Victoria Bridge I think it was the “Crown and Anchor” – long since disappeared from South Brisbane.

The museum is in two parts the first being the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was staying containing the history of the national civil rights movement including Dr King’s assassination and the second part in a building on the opposite side of the road being an old boarding house from which James Earl Ray fired the killing shot. this part details the assassination, the investigation, the capture, and the conspiracies around the assassination.

I spent the whole day at the museum and I was moved by the images and the history and the even-handed presentation of the events it dealt with.

As you enter Memphis across the Bridge from Arkansas you are met by a large metallic pyramid once the home of the local NBA basketball team “the Grizzlies” and now the home of Bass Pro Shop Megastore and the 100-room hotel known as the Big Cypress Lodge. The Pyramid contains 600,000 gallons of water features and the largest collection of waterfowl and hunting related equipment in the world. In addition to the retail store itself, Bass Pro at the Pyramid is home to an archery range, shooting range, and laser arcade. The building also includes an Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill with a bowling alley and a saltwater aquarium. The tallest freestanding elevator in America takes visitors to The Lookout at the Pyramid at the apex of the building, where they can take in the view on an indoor and outdoor observation deck or dine and drink at the “Sky High Catfish Cabin”, a restaurant, bar, and aquarium at the top of the building. See for your self – and you can buy any automatic rifle or hand gun just as though you were shopping in Target (no pun intended).

Upon entering we encountered the largest range of fishing rods and stuck in the middle an ag bike being raffled or you can buy it. the store is supposed to depict a Mississippi swampland with big buttress trees standing in sluggish waterways filled with strange creatures – fish and alligators. Of course you can buy your swamp boat just yonder in bayou. Then there are the aquariums huge tubs of water with fish over a foot long. Standing in the middle is the free standing elevator to the summit – its not free USD $10 per person for the journey the entrance to the Lodge/hotel is to all intents a hunting lodge. And what is a hunting trip without a concealable hand gun or an automatic Armalite.

The trip up the elevator was a little alarming watching as everything on all four sides fell away. That is part of the hunting lodge you can see but once at the top it was truly magnificent. Essentially a restaurant and bar but with an enormous aquarium stuck in the middle and a viewing platform outside. You can see down to the entrance into the pyramid, the bridge to Arkansas, the city centre and up and down the Mississippi including over to Mud Is (Yes a novel name).

That night we went back to Beale St where there was a restored American road car show and far too much daylight to go inside the restaurant. The B.B. King tribute restaurant is on the first floor overlooking the action in Beale St and Second Ave. After dinner we listened to a fabulous band playing B.B. King covers whilst sitting in the bar. emblazoned on the wall was the name of that guitar. We had the real thing in a set of CDs bought from the BB king Museum, so we resisted the stage hand selling the cover band’s CD. Out in the street there were people everywhere, but we are told it was not busy. Unfortunately, lots of people living on the streets and hustlers everywhere. There was a booze bike going around appearing to be powered by the persons seated drinking but on closer examination it is motorised with the peddles just for show. On the walk back to the hotel we went past the Orpheum Theatre. What a day.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Greenville, Indianola and BB King

After Vicksburg we sailed to Greenville and the launching point to visit Indainola the birth place of B.B. King. The boat landed against a huge levee bank emblazoned with a welcome message from the towns folk. We boarded the bus for the trip to Indianola, a little mid western town likely unchanged for 100 years.

Leaving the American Queen we travelled by bus to the museum outside of Indianola. We arrived in front of an old gin which has been transformed into a music hall with the museum to great man attached and his grave and tombstone beside it. Our visit commenced with Kerry posing in front of a monument to “Lucille” BB Kings guitar followed  by an ensemble of male gospel singers presenting some of BB’s tunes in the music hall from which we proceeded to the museum. The museum is superb. It is a mixture of pieces of the past brought together to follow Riley B King from birth to his death. The story is told by a mixture of story cards with static displays of related things photographs, recordings interviews and film clips. Married twice but without any children from those relationships King fathered 15 illegitimate children that he supported throughout his life. Of course, his estate is the subject of disputed claims. After his death in 2015 the decision was made to bury him at the museum. Presently it is exposed to rain hail and sunshine but there are plans to build a chapel around the tomb. No visit to B.B. King’s museum is complete without visiting Club Ebony in Indianola. This is a African American Club built after the 2nd World War which has seen the likes of B.B. King, Ray Charles, Count Basie and others start their careers. King purchased the club and returned each year till his death to play. Sadly, it looks like it needs a good deal of maintenance.

We returned to the boat and set sail immediately. We sat in the cool of the evening watching the river pass by and watched our boat overtake a river tug pushing 49 barges somewhere. These barges carry everything from crops to coal and chemicals and although they are slow compared to road transport these barges keep thousands of trucks from clogging the roads. The record for the number of barges stands at 82 and each barge represents 15+ semi-trailers. We were nearly at Memphis and this part of the river did not have the high levy banks which had covered the view of the river banks and the inhabitant almost from New Orleans.

Next morning, just as we were steaming to Memphis, we witnessed the lowering of the smoke stacks on the boat to allow us to pass under low power lines and bridge crossing the river. In parts of the river they even have to lower the wheel house. This is our sailing day (no ports of call) as we arrive in Memphis tomorrow morning.