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Day 1: Memphis
Arrive in Memphis, home of the Blues and the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Check into your hotel, then make your way to Beale Street, where live music pours out onto the sidewalks from such landmark clubs as BB King’s, Rum Boogie and the Blues City Cafe.
Day 2: Memphis
Follow in the steps of the King this morning with a tour of Elvis’ Graceland mansion. In addition to the house, you’ll see Elvis’ collection of automobiles and tour his private planes. Afterwards, visit the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll at the legendary Sun Studio, where not only Elvis made his early records, but also Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, BB King, and many others. Return to Beale Street for a walking tour of the musical highlights, then visit the Gibson Guitar Factory to see how the instruments are made.
Day 3: Memphis
Start fresh this morning at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for an excellent overview of the Memphis revolution in American popular music. Soul fans will also want to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, dedicated to Stax Records and the artists who recorded here, such as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and the Staple Singers. Memphis is also home to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in 1968. The exhibits are comprehensive, visit them now, or just make a stop to reflect on the history made here and return at the end of your tour.
Day 4: Memphis - Clarksdale (110 m / 175 km)
Depart this morning for the Mississippi Delta on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Cross the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas, and visit the Delta Cultural Center, where most weekdays you can watch a live blues broadcast of King Biscuit Time, America’s longest-running daily radio show. See where Muddy Waters was discovered on your way to Clarksdale, the blues capital of the Delta. Visit the Delta Blues Museum, then check the calendar for live music and dinner this evening at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club.
Day 5: Clarksdale - Greenwood (220 m / 350 km)
Depart this morning for the blues murals at the old Tutwiler train depot, where WC Handy first heard the music before he became the “Father of the Blues”. Pass by the prison at Parchman where many musicians spent some time, then stop at Dockery Plantation, regarded as the Birthplace of Blues. Visit the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in his hometown of Indianola, and in Greenwood, follow the legend of Robert Johnson, said to have sold his soul to the devil so he could play the way he did, with a visit to his three (!) graves.
Day 6: Greenwood - Natchez (200 m / 320 km)
Continue down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg at the southern end of the Delta, where a National Military Park commemorates a decisive Civil War battle. Arrive in Natchez this afternoon, one of America’s richest cities before the Civil War, and still one of its prettiest. Visit the elegant Southern mansions and enjoy the river views high above the Mississippi, have some hot tamales at Fat Mama’s, then go riverside for an evening of music or casino entertainment.
Day 7: Natchez - New Orleans (225 m / 360 km)
Cross into Louisiana this morning to see the capital buildings in Baton Rouge, then follow the Mississippi River to Oak Alley Plantation, famous for the 300 year-old trees that line the approach to the majestic Greek Revival mansion. Tour the house, then continue to nearby Laura Plantation, still with the original slave cabins. Arrive in New Orleans, then make your way to the French Quarter for a first taste of the restaurants and nightlife in and around Bourbon Street. Stop at Preservation Hall for traditional jazz, the Maison Bourbon for Dixieland stylings, or one of the many other music venues in the Big Easy.
Day 8: New Orleans
Begin the morning in the heart of the French Quarter, with a stop at Cafe du Monde or a Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. Make your way to Congo Square, influential in the development of jazz, as it was the only place in New Orleans where slaves could officially sing, dance, and keep alive their African and Caribbean traditions. Appropriately, a self-guided jazz walking tour begins here, part of the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. This evening, rest your tired feet during a jazz dinner cruise on the Steamboat Natchez.
Day 9: New Orleans
Today, hop on the St Charles Avenue Streetcar to explore the leafy streets and opulent mansions of the Garden District, then learn more about New Orleans’ unique culture at the Voodoo Museum and the Mardi Gras exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum. Afterwards, shop for crafts and curiosities in the French Market, then rest up for an evening at one of New Orleans’ upscale venues, or in the edgier clubs along Frenchmen Street.
Day 10: New Orleans - Mobile (150 m / 240 km)
It’s an easy drive today, so sleep in if you’ve had a late night, then depart for the Gulf Coast beaches that Coastal Living magazine calls “one of the 10 best water-view drives in America”. Relax at any one of the miles and miles of beaches on your way to Mobile, the original capital of French Louisiana until it was moved to Biloxi, then New Orleans. If you can get away from the beach in time, visit Fort Conde, a reconstruction of the original French fort, then see why Mobile has a reputation for good times and live music in the neighboring historic district.
Day 11: Mobile - Montgomery (220 m / 350 km)
Begin the morning with a drive to Selma, where televised pictures of police attacking protesters shocked the world, leading to new laws protecting voters’ rights. Follow the Selma to Montgomery Trail to Montgomery, where, ten years earlier, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Lasting over a year, the boycott was the first major protest of the modern Civil Rights era, led by the then unknown Martin Luther King, Jr. Learn more at the Rosa Parks Museum, then visit Dr King’s home, the Dexter Avenue Parsonage, still with its original furniture.
Day 12: Montgomery - Birmingham (100 m / 160 km)
Montgomery was also home to country musician Hank Williams; stop at the Hank Williams Museum to see his baby blue Cadillac, cowboy suits and musical memorabilia. Continue on to Birmingham, another center of the Civil Rights movement, where protesters were thrown across Kelly Ingram Park by high pressure fire hoses. Visit the Civil Rights Institute, where life-size sculptures vividly recreate life under segregation and the dramatic struggle for freedom.
Day 13: Birmingham - Memphis (315 m / 505 km)
Depart this morning for The Shoals, the four sister cities famous for the “Muscle Shoals Sound”, a mix of soul, gospel, blues and rock typified by such songs as ‘Respect’ (Aretha Franklin), ‘I’ll Take You There’ (The Staple Singers), and ‘Brown Sugar’ (The Rolling Stones). Learn more at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, then begin a scenic drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway to Tupelo and the Elvis Presley Birthplace, where you can visit his boyhood home, and stop at the Tupelo Hardware store where he bought his first guitar (and yes, they still sell them). Return to Memphis for dinner and a final night on the town.
Day 14: Departure
A last chance in Memphis to see the National Civil Rights Museum after breakfast at the nearby Arcade, Memphis’ oldest restaurant, and a walk around the shops and galleries on nearby Main Street. Otherwise, visit one of Memphis’ other attractions, or just relax while you get ready for your return flight home.
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