The final Greyhound bus ride was a very easy one. The bus seemed to be only going from Kansas City to St Louis, an early afternoon start coupled with just over four hours on the bus made it a breeze by comparison to some of the journeys I had taken. The ice and frost had all gone too, so although not warm at least it wasn’t freezing anymore. This bus journey was most definitely the only incident free journey of them all, no babies, no convicts, no teeth brushing, no people being left behind. It was almost a delight.
Arriving at the bus station in St Louis I was met by Brenda, Peggy and Jake, Peggy’s partner, and whisked off for dinner at a location near to where they live. It was just about a year since we had seen each other and there was an awful lot of family stuff to catch up on. The most important thing for me was to have some quality time with both Brenda and Peggy, because last years visit was under very sad circumstances and there was no real time to get to know the girls.
I have talked before about how important family is to me, before my trip here last year, I was in St Louis only once, and it was a very long time ago, when my cousins were quite young and I spent a most of my time with Ásgeir, the eldest of my cousins, who showed me all around St Louis and took me into the iconic Gateway Arch and water skiing. Sadly we lost him in 2006. The four younger cousins don’t even remember my visit. Last year when I was here I didn’t meet Emil, as he was working on a cruise ship and as I mentioned when in LA during the first part of my adventure, we lost him too. So it seems we were never destined to meet as adults.
So a great evening out and back home for another glass of wine or two and off to bed. But I must here mention the dogs, two boxers, very amiable, a boy and a girl. I think after all the dogs I have met on my travels both domestic and wild, I can honestly say that I have got over my fear of dogs.
The following day Peggy and Jake had to go and visit Jake’s recently widowed mother and Brenda had the day off work, so we went for a walk. We went to a park called the Cliff Cave park on the banks of the Mississippi River. We elected to do the short circuit rather than the long circuit, which would probably have been too muddy, but we did the circuit a couple of times to get 4 kms in. Once home we had a lovely dinner cooked by Peggy.
The next day Brenda was working so Peggy, Jake and I went to see the Civil War museum which is very near to where they live. It was absolutely fascinating, my knowledge of the Civil was only extends as far as ‘Gone with the Wind’, an epic book and film starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It’s a must see movie with the famous line, ‘Quite frankly my dear I don’t give a damn’. The Museum is in one of the buildings that formed Jefferson Barracks, which was a very important U S Army installation from 1826 to 1946 during which soldiers where brough here to train and be prepared to be sent to all the major wars until the end of the Second World War. Many of the buildings have now been sold off. This building and at least one other was bought and turned into a museum. There is a great park nearby with a good walking trail. Also nearby is the JB Cemetery where every soldier who has served in the US Army is entitled to be buried. More of that later. There are a number of films on as part of the exhibition, and I watched each one of them. For the first time ever I understood how the country was split over slavery and how eventually slavery was abolished after the war and a number of changes in the law. What surprised me more than anything else was that the stories of soldiers coming from Kansas to kill the men in St Louis and steal from their houses and often burn down their houses. It got to the stage that once a rumour started that they were on their way the whole population of a village or town would simply flee leaving everything behind them. After the war was over, this practice continued, by some of the historically well known outlaws like Jesse James and Bloody Bill. A really worthwhile place to visit if you are ever in the vicinity. We all really enjoyed it.
After the museum we had lunch in a local pub, even my salad was too big a portion, and then walked it off on the trail in the park by the museum. The sun was far more prominent this day, the day before had been quite cold, there were lots of walkers out. We did a couple of circuits to get to 4Km which included a wander down to the good old Mississippi to look at some very famous gates which had been moved there from the Old Arsenal. I was really pleased with this walk because we did each KM in less than 11 minutes. That’s what happens when you have a good pacemaker with you, doesn’t it Peggy. I had been doing the odd sub 11 minute Km, but this was a consistent performance. I have come along way since I’m started walking in Utah.
Back home Peggy made us a delicious chicken curry, not just any old chicken curry, this was to a recipe that both of our Mothers used. I think I have it in my Icelandic cookbook, and I am definitely going to have to start making it. I had forgotten just how good it is.
The following day Brenda wasn’t working so we went back to the Jefferson Barracks park and did that walk again, this time we were lucky enough to see some deer, not just in the wooded area but at one point almost in the open. They are obviously used to humans being around that they are not particularly phased by them.
Brenda and I also went to visit my cousin Ásgeir’s grave in the Jefferson Barracks Cemetery. I was staggered by the size of the cemetery as we drove past it the day before. being in the area we had seen a number of funerals en route to the cemetery and whilst we were there that day there were at least two funerals happening. Anyone who served in any capacity in any war has the right to be buried there and it costs the family nothing. There is a huge deference to serving soldiers in the USA, for example when you get on a plane, they are allowed to board earlier than economy passengers. Then you see the size of this cemetery, I found it quite overwhelming. You go to a computer terminal and enter the name of the person you are looking for and it give you a print out with a map and and the location letter and number of the grave. So we did this and then set off, but the place is so big and the writing on the map so tiny that it’s a real challenge, but we got there in the end. Getting out though was a completely different matter, I think we went around in circles at least twice. It was very funny. Brenda was saying why aren’t there any exit signs? Quite right too, onlly when you start to be in the proximity of the exit do you find signs.
Brenda and I had also booked to go and have our hair done together on her day off, which was fun. It was a very old fashioned salon and her usual man wasn’t around, so we had two ladies and we had quite a laugh. They did a really good job and I felt quite glamorous once again. That night we went out for dinner to a local place and I made the mistake of having the Monday special which was grilled prawns. I almost asked are they breaded, but decided it wasn’t in the description so I was sure it would be ok. They were breaded, such a disappointment, I just don’t understand why they have to bread everything, anyway moving swiftly on.
The following day Peggy had the day off and we had a very lazy morning and in the afternoon we went to the Nail Salon for a manicure and pedicure. So now I was feeling much better about myself I have to say. We went out for dinner again that night to a place a bit further out, and we three ladies all chose a spaghetti and seafood dish, which was absolutely delicious. I think it was the only meal I had eaten in the US where I actually managed to eat the lot, it was simply too good to leave.
Then it was over, I had a very early start the following day, 5:30 the taxi driver from across the road was coming to pick me up to take me to the airport for my flight to Philadelphia. The whistle stop tour was over as the next destination was my final stop and I was going to be there for over two weeks. In retrospect I think I should have taken a month for these four stops, to do them real justice, but the timetable was the timetable, I could have easily stayed another month in Bali too, and I didn’t do the North of Australia. Maybe I should have gone for a year.... oh well it is what it is. Thanks for having me ladies and Jake, it’s been great to spend a bit of quality time together. Hope to see you in the not too distant future.
Early start for my last long bus ride to Kansas City, where I am going to stay with my long lost cousin Örn Fry. Until last year when we met under such sad circumstances, we hadn’t seen each other for far to many years to record here. I remember my sister Helga and I playing with him and his older brother Ásgeir as children in my Auntie Anna’s house in Reykjavik. I think I was about six at the time. Sadly both Ásgeir and Helga are no longer with us to help corroborate this and Örn has no memory of this. So it is great to be able to spend a little quality time together and start get to know each other. They were probably a little older than they are in the photograph below. The second photograph is that of the five cousins together last Feb, Peggy, Elisabet, Me, Brenda and Örn.
Once again my bus wasn’t too full and I had to change after about an hour. Whilst waiting for the second bus in Little Rock I noticed we had two ex convicts in the waiting room together with a correctional facility officer, waiting to be boarded onto the bus. Both were ill prepared for the cold that was going to meet us later on that day, one wearing a short sleeve t shirt and the other a long sleeved cotton shirt. Both holding a brown paper bag which I presumed was holding their meagre belongings.
This time it wasn’t a Greyhound bus, and it wasn’t properly announced, I just noticed people had suddenly moved towards a door, so I followed and found that it was my bus. When I boarded I saw a very small child, just over a year old in his baby chair on the front seat. It turned out it was the drivers baby. All was well for a while, then the little boy started to get really distressed. He wouldn’t stop crying and one of the women on the bus tried to help, but couldn’t soothe him. Eventually the driver took him on his knee and that quietened him, and he continued to drive like that for some time. Another woman then offered to put him back in his seat and as she did he started crying again. So back to his father he goes. After the next stop he was settled into his seat and was as good as gold for the rest of the day. I am sure I don’t have to tell you all the things which were going through my mind during that trip. It transpired he had asked for the time off as he had no child care that day, but they couldn’t give him the time off so he brought the baby. There were two legs to the drivers journey Kansas City to Little Rock and back, with the baby. Nightmare.
Anyway I arrived into Kansas City and snow, yes snow. I was hoping that by the time I did my return journey across the USA spring would have sprung so to speak, little did I know what an awful winter this was going to be for so many. Whilst I was lucky enough to be in the sun for most of it I am still not happy that I am having to put up with this. Fortunately I have enough bits and pieces to keep myself reasonably warm, including an Icelandic wool hat, and a waterproof jacket, so I am able to layer up, but I only have trainers and sandals. Doesn’t look like I will be able to dress up much if the weather carries on like this. I’ll be wearing jeans and jeans of and jeans. Oh well.
I few photos of the journey, difficult to take through the bus window, but you get the idea. The lorries, or should I say trucks are very very long. There was quite a lot of water on the way, it looked like fields were waterlogged.
Örn was outside waiting for me and he whisked me away in his chariot, stopping off for a bite on the way. When we got home his lovely wife Janie was there waiting for us. We spent a lovely evening chatting over a glass of wine or two, and then to bed. The following day we braved the ice and went for a drive and Örn took me to see the plane he is building, clever man. It’s called a Legal Eagle and he has manufactured the majority of the components. He still has to make the wings, but he has everything else. He has also learned to fly, even though he hates heights, must run in the family, I am looking forward to seeing the final product and hearing about his flying escapades. It turns out that Örn is a very good car mechanic and actually pretty good at working on anything mechanical as well, I would class him as an engineer. Of course our Uncle in Iceland is the same, Aðalsteinn has been rebuilding and fixing American classic cars for years and has a whole workshop full of them. Must run in the family, that and Bass playing... but that’s another story. The photograph below gives you an idea of what he is building and going to fly in, clever and brave man.
Janie was out at work, but when she got home she made us a great steak dinner, and we had another great evening together. These times connecting with my family are so precious to me, I just can’t tell you how much, having suffered so many losses over the last few years as a family and being spread so far apart, it is time to close these gaps.
The following day we had a busy morning sorting one or two things out and chatting and then Janie was home early, so we had lunch and then we all went to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. I had been missing my art fixes, the last one was in Perth, so it was much needed.
It’s a huge museum and has some interesting shuttlecocks in the grounds, huge shuttlecocks plus a couple of great sculptures of crowds of people on outside too and a great sort of water feature, looks like a big lake. There were a couple of special exhibitions on, the one we made it into was the Picasso, which not only showcased some of his work, but also some of his own art collection which had been an influence on his work. There were a lot of African pieces, it was curated in a way demonstrated the influences, so an African piece by a Picasso. His range of work is huge, I have see some really different art works whilst travelling, from beautiful sketches, amazing sculptures, classic work and some of the works he is better know for. This particular exhibition is only being shown at this gallery in the states and in France I think, so I was really lucky to see it.
Some of the Picasso below
Another special mention will have to go to a beautiful wood carving which took a year to restore, we were all a little spell bound by it, it was very intricate, I can’t imagine how long that took to make.
Some other photos of some of the pieces I liked. There was a wonderful collection of American Indian artefacts as well.
It was a wonderful gallery, a real joy to visit, next stop dinner, I was being treated to a BBQ dinner, something I had not yet experienced on my travels. After some support I chose some ribs, delicious.
The following day I was moving on, on this whistle stop tour, to Saint Louis to see my other two cousins, Brenda and Peggy. For a change it wasn’t an eight am start, so I had the morning to repack, or should I say reorganise my now messy suitcase after all these quick stops it needed sorting out. Spending the last few hours with Örn and Janie and then off to the bus station. Thanks both of you for such a good visit. Hope to see you in Iceland or England or even both ! I am sure I will be back too. I want to see you flying in that plane. The ice had finally gone, so a short and easy trip back into town and we said our goodbyes, and I boarded my very last Greyhound bus. See you in St Louis, wait a minute isn’t that the name of a film.
Tennessee is such a wonderful name, I don’t know why, it just sort of rolls off the tongue. My journey to Memphis was by Greyhound bus, and after my earlier experiences on the bus, I really was not looking forward to it, but I am very much in countdown mode now, only three more bus journeys to go, after this one, one long one and a very short one, so I keep telling myself I can cope.
I got to the bus station by Uber, I had managed to grab a quick bite at the hotel, and then was whisked away in my chariot, saying goodbye to the lovely city of New Orleans. I just wished I had had more time to really get to know it better. Maybe one day I will come back, who knows. I got to the bus station in good time to get my bag tagged etc, and got in the queue. The first part of the journey was to Baton Rouge, and only about an hour and a half so not too bad, and the bus was quite full, but I got myself settled in and before very long was in the waiting room at Baton Rouge waiting for my connection. The next bus was virtually empty, what a difference it makes when the bus isn’t crammed full of people.
However it was a little scary getting onto the second bus, I had noticed two police officers standing near the ticket office, and just before boarding I noticed one of them had put blue plastic gloves on! As we boarded they approached the queue and were watching everyone. Once aboard they too boarded the bus and reminded everyone that it was a federal offence to carry any weapons on a bus and also mentioned that drugs were also forbidden. Then they said they wanted to search our bags and interview us and we might need to provide identification. Good job I am a good girl. My bags were both searched and all was good. I did find the whole thing a little disconcerting, it was as though they had had some sort of tip off, but no one was arrested or turfed off the bus.
After that excitement the journey was mainly uneventful. Just quite long. I arrived at Memphis and my host had offered to pick me up at the station, which was extremely kind. A great lady called Heidi, who loves travelling and has a very old VW Camper. Her house was fab, very eclectic and my room was extremely comfortable. I was starving so we ordered chinese food and sat chatting in the kitchen for an hour or so. One of those times when you just click. Fairly early night as tomorrow’s plan was Graceland and possibly the civil rights museum which was highly recommended. Then going to Beale Street for some blues with Heidi in the evening.
Arriving at Graceland was a bit strange, all the local businesses were named after Graceland, which was quite amusing and then we pulled into the entrance way, which is actually across the road from the house which is Graceland, although you don’t realise that at the time. His two planes are right there at the entrance and of course you can to pay to see them, but I had been advised not to bother with the planes.
So I make my way to the main entrance, and pay my fee to get in, and then we are all shepherded into a little cinema to watch a film. From there they move us outside to catch a little bus across the road to Graceland itself, and we are given headsets and iPads to hang around our necks. Very chic! NOT. They also took out photographs and later tried to charge almost 40 dollars, no thank you. It was horrid. We were instructed on what to do with the iPads, but to be honest they were a bit of a pain, whilst they gave you a commentary, they often moved on to the next room before you were able to so I was constantly forward and back to get to where I needed to be, the iPad that is not the house. Although there were not many of us on the bus, there was a VIP tour being taken around and of course we were not allowed to be near them, so it was a bit painful looking around the house. The grounds were easier though. The house was a bit of a mish mash of styles, and of course quite outdated, given that Elvis died in 1977 and in some places it was most definitely over the top.
It is quite a big house, but not as big as people imagine it is going to be, the front entrance is into quite a nice hallway, and there are some customised stained glass pieces in the window around the door.
From there you can look into a number of rooms. The main living room leads onto a music room with a white grand piano, the decor is all white, black and gold with some more stained glass between the main living room and the music room. An elegant room, but a little dated.
Then you can look into Elvis parents bedroom which is downstairs, with some of his mothers clothes hanging behind glass in the wardrobe. A very simple but elegant room. The staircase is cordoned off as upstairs is still used by the family.
The next room is the dining room which they say is still used by the family. It has a television and Elvis used to watch the television when eating his dinner. Every room has a television set. Again another quite elegant room, but this does look less dated. There are photographs everywhere of the family. They talk a lot about how happy he was here with his family, but don’t talk about what happened later, did he still continue to live there when he had divorced from Priscilla. The marriage was only short lived, about six years, after an eight year courtship. From the dining room you get a glimpse of the kitchen which was very big, and in constant use by all accounts.
Then we are led downstairs but only a small number of people are allowed at a time, down there are the Den and the Billiards room. The den again is all white and gold, and the Billiards room has fabric ruched covering all the walls and the ceiling.
Back upstairs now to get a glimpse of the jungle room with a green shag pile carpet, and the furniture is pretty way out too.
After that we are led outside, firstly into the offices and then past the paddock where the horses are and then into a gallery with some paper memorabilia. Then out past the swimming pool into the remembrance area, where much to my surprise Elvis is buried with his mother, father and grandmother. Apparently they had to move him from where he was because of all the fans
We were then bussed back across the road, and I had paid for the full experience, so was allowed into another area. This was made up of a number of rooms, firstly all his cars, and a film running of him in his films with some of the cars which were on display.
Another area had all his costumes, mainly from the later years when he used to wear the one piece outfits.
There was also an area related to his time in the army, and a whole setting of Sun records. By the time I got there I had started to fade a little, it would have been good to have seats in each area because it was set up well with a film running of what happened in each room, but I couldn’t stand and watch each of those, even though I would have liked too. I finally made it out of there and into the cafe set up like a 60s place, for lunch and to rest my weary feet.
The place was really quite empty, but I had come early in the morning, but still I was surprised by how few people seemed to be there. The other thing that I really struck me about the visit was that there was no talk of the bad times, only the good. I think his story should be told in full, they way they talk about the marriage and everything it’s as though it went on forever. As we all know he died of some sort of drug overdose, and was addicted to prescription drugs. My Uber driver on the way back to my Air BNB said he went to school with the daughter of the doctor who gave him his drugs, small world. My question is why are we not telling the world of the addiction, in this day and age when the drug scene is much bigger and we are losing so many young people especially in America, why aren’t we telling these stories as they were instead of sugar coating the reality. That doesn’t mean I was not glad to go and see the place, but I just feel we should be telling people particularly our young people the truth and not just idolising those who have been lost to drug abuse. I felt myself coming away with more questions because it was a long time ago and I couldn’t remember. I do have one more thing to say though, he was such a good looking young man!
I decided that the civil rights museum would be too much, so had a rest and caught up with a bit of writing. That evening Heidi and I went out to Beale Street, she is a big blues fan and chose to live in Memphis partly because of that. Unfortunately for us it was some sort of public holiday so none of the usual bands were on, so we finally found somewhere to listen to a set having walked the length and back of Beale Street. I had another early start the next day, so back to the house and in bed at a reasonable hour.
I arrived into New Orleans airport about 18:30, the stopover in Austin was long enough to find a yoghurt and banana and briefly hear the band that was playing in one of the bars there, a common occurrence in this airport I heard. I had very little distance to get to my gate, and was sitting quietly, as I am sure you all know I do, when a woman sat next to me and said she loved my pink hat. I was at this point still carrying it about by hand, it now resides in my suitcase when I travel. So I was telling her where I had been and it turns out she is a bit of a traveller for work, running seminars for the Church of Scientology. Interesting, I had a momentary panic that she was going to try and convert me but then it was time to board.
As I mentioned earlier I spotted a sign for a shuttle service to the French District and it was half the cost of an Uber. So I bought my single ticket and trudged outside to find it. When we were all aboard the driver took us into the city and once we reached the French Quarter told us a few facts about the place. I was about the third person to be dropped off and my hotel was made up of a number of houses on both sides of the streets. When registering the receptionist told me I had been upgraded to a suite, that was a first on my travels. My suite was across the road, through a little gate, my own front door was in a little alleyway which opened out into a sweet courtyard just beyond my door. The rooms were all named after famous musicians. Mine was Professor Longhair, he was Henry Rolland “Roy” Byrd a New Orleans Blues singer and pianist. Once in the door there was a set of stairs and at the top a beautiful large room with a seating area on one side and the other side was the bedroom. There was an enormous bathroom with a bath with jacuzzi and a shower.
I was quite hungry by now, but it was a getting on in the evening so rather than look on the internet or just go wandering off I went back to reception to ask where I could get some good simple food. She told me about a place called the Clover Grill which was about two blocks away. So I followed her directions but when I got there I saw a hamburger joint and that was the last thing I wanted to eat. It was on Bourbon Street which was alive with people wandering around drinks in hand, I started to wander down there in the hope I would find a little restaurant but soon realised it was all bars, one guy asked me twice if I would like to buy him a drink, I said no thanks, I am ok thanks, and made my way back to the Grill, took a deep breath, went inside and sat at the counter. I ordered a burger with mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, mayo but no cheese or chips, and a cranberry juice. Yes I did say cranberry juice, there was no alcohol available. The burger was absolutely delicious, probably the best burger I have every had in my life. I admittedly don’t eat many so I am probably not that good a judge, but I enjoyed every mouthful.
Back to my suite and hoping for a decent nights sleep. The 14 hour time change really wasn’t helping me at all. I had a pretty broken night to be honest, I was really all over the place, but I got up early for breakfast, and tasted my first biscuits, which are really scones. But I passed on the grits which looked quite bland. Then back to my shelter and I was just so tired that I had to just rest. Finally about two pm I ventured out, I found the Armstrong park which I had seen on the bus coming in and had a wander around there. It wasn’t an enormous place, but quite a few nice statues and sculptures.
Then I made my way down Bourbon Street which is one long party, with bars in almost every building and everyone wandering down the street with drinks in their hands, no glass is the rule, so they give you plastics in the bars and people move from one bar to another. I was stopped by a man who gave me a ticket for walking down Bourbon Street without a drink. I pleaded clemency on the basis of jet lag... to no avail. The objective was to sell me something to support youngsters with issues, which was fine by me, we had a great chat, and he said it’s not often he gets the opportunity to talk to someone like me who is travelling. I moved on and found a place for some lunch, sitting outside in the sunshine, lovely salad, followed by a naughty pudding, very nice too. Then I took a walk down to the Mississippi, I was thinking about doing a jazz boat excursion, if I could easily find the office or the quay where it went from, which I couldn’t. I did only have two days, and decided to just make the most of the on shore entertainment. I had booked an evening ghost and ghouls walking tour, but spent the afternoon wandering around the bars of Bourbon Street listening to music. I spent quite a while in one bar where there was a live band, very enjoyable I have to say, although not jazz or blues which I was really hoping for. I finally found a place with some jazz and was there for a while. Then I made my way back to my hotel to get changed ready for my walking tour.