Like millions of others, I’m a huge Elvis fan. So when Pauli told me he was getting married in New Orleans, I immediately thought of combining my trip with a visit to Memphis (Pauli and I met in India, he’s the other guy on the camel!, and there was no way I was missing his wedding). My limited knowledge of American geography told me the cities were not too far away and I was chuffed to learn it was in fact only an eight hour Amtrak train ride – closer than I had even thought.
First up on the itinerary was of course a visit to Graceland and though I had researched opening times, I wasn’t taking any chances and thinking there may be huge queues, arrived almost an hour before the ticket counter opened. I was wrong! I milled about until the diner started serving and ordered a toasted peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast, the King’s favourite, while I excitedly waited for the counter to open.
I had read that there were various packages available but when the lady at the counter asked which one I wanted to buy, I said simply ‘Ma,am I would like to see everything please’. Right, the VIP premium package for you she replied and we were good to go!
Graceland is the property on which Elvis lived but the ‘Graceland experience’ includes not just his house but various museums and exhibitions situated across the street. A shuttle bus takes you over the road to the 1st stop of the tour, which is property itself. You can tour the entire downstairs area of the house as well as a few other rooms on the property, including the former games room, his dad’s office and the record room, and walk to the cemetery that is situated behind the house.
Having listened to his music for many years and read so much about him, you feel as if you know him somehow and walking through where he lived was was quite surreal. He certainly had wonderful taste and enjoyed spending his money.
Walking through the record room, with its long corridor of framed #1 record hits, you realise just how influential and successful Elvis was while the former games room is packed with heaps of wonderful memorabilia. The final stop is the cemetery and standing by his grave in steady rain brought tears.
Back at the centre, my ticket included access to all exhibits; including ones on Tupelo, where Elvis was born and grew up, and Hawaii, where he spent many holidays and recorded a number of hits. I also visited the car museum, Elvis was an avid car collector, and toured his two planes, one of which he names after his daughter. Every exhibit has its own themed curio shop while Elvis is played across a loud system. It’s a little tacky in some sense and clearly hugely over-commercialised but regardless, it’s was an incredibly moving experience and wonderful morning.
From Graceland, free shuttles depart to Sun Studios in downtown Memphis. Sun was the ‘birthplace’ of many famous musicians, including Elvis himself, Johnny Cash, BB King, Roy Orbison … the list goes on. The tour is fascinating and insightful and you end in the original recording studio where it all began for so many artists and where rock ‘n roll was introduced to the world.
Aside from the music, including many musical museums I didn’t unfortunately have the time to visit, the city is awash with history. During the 1960s, the city was at the centre of civil right issues and it’s famously the city where Martin Luther King Jr as assassinated on 4 April 1968. In town to support a city sanitation workers’ strike, he was shot on the balcony of his motel room. The Lorraine Motel is now the home of the US Civil Rights Museum but unfortunately it was closed when I was in town.
One of my favourite aspects of travelling is trying different foods and I had read great things about Memphis styled ribs. On recommendation from my Sun Studios guide, I ate at Central BBQ , which was just across the street from the museum, and as the picture suggests, the ribs were delicious!
After dinner I walked to the famous Beale Street and though it had a number of tacky souvenir shops and felt a little jaded, every bar I walked into had fantastic live music.
Finally, everyone I met from the Uber drivers to all the bar staff was so incredibly sweet while their amazing accent brings such a smile to my face. I would have loved to spend more time in this city and I hope some day to head back.
Accommodation – the only hostel in town was the Pilgirm House Hostel.
Transport – train tickets can be booked on Amtrak’s website here.
Getting Around – there are local buses but as I had very limited time, I caught Uber’s and found them to be affordable and readily available.