Memphis Walk – Downtown to Mississippi

Following in the footsteps of last year’s Memphis Walk, in which we treked from the cobblestones at the Mississippi River to the first decent pub we encountered in Collierville, nearly crossing the county in 8 hours of walking, this year we decided to head south. On Saturday, Richie, Robert, and I took off from the cobblestones again, but this time, we headed south, beside the river and then turning inland, down historic Main Street, then down Highway 61 and eventually Elvis Presley Boulevard (Highway 51), ending up in Southaven, Mississippi.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Clear, dry, with lots of sunshine, the sky was a glorious blue bowl, cool in the morning but warming to nearly 70 by mid-afternoon, with a gentle northeastern breeze. After setting out at sunrise, the first few miles passed quickly, as we skirted the river along Riverside Drive and then bounced up bluff to intersect with a deserted Main Street and some coffee at Bluff City Coffee. Our eyes freshly opened, we continued down Main Street, past the Arcade Restaurant, to take a left at Carolina (past the Active Bolt and Screw Company – you’ve got to love that name) and then a right onto 3rd Street, better known as Highway 61.

Highway 61 (also known as the B.B. King Highway) is famous around the world as the road that brought famous delta bluesmen to Memphis and points north, eventually making blues known around the world. Today, a large part of Highway 61 doesn’t betray much of its properous past, but it is still a very interesting road, featuring a liquor store inside of a metal cage, some burned out restaurants, a massive tire dumping ground, teddy bears tied to a pole, the world-renowned Interstate BBQ (mmmm!), and Nonconnah Creek.

Looking for a more direct shot into Mississippi, we wandered through the industrial wasteland that is Brooks Road (before most of the seedy hotels begin), discovering a carriage house from 1891 that has been covered to a bar, a car dealership specializing in tiny, 3-wheeled work vehicles, a sign that randomly simply stated “Thank You,” and a body shop that looked like a converted strip club.

Taking a right and heading south on Highway 51, we quickly entered the home of the cult of Elvis, reaching an apex at the hallowed ground of Graceland, where we dodged tour vans and helped fans snap pictures of themselves at the front gate. Heading further down the road, we entered the surprising prosperous community of Whitehaven, where the busy retail trade resembled anything but a struggling economy. Nearing the edge of Memphis, houses became more recessed from the road, revealing the few remaining spots of agriculture and a kid riding a dirt bike next to an abandoned 98 cent store.

Southaven, Mississippi. was poorer than we imagined, but we still managed to see a few cool things, including a Delorean, a Vixen 21, and a Pacer, as well as a place offering “unclaimed furniture.” Taking a left at Goodman Road, we hiked on toward Interstate 55, searching for a place with a decent pint and a place to get off of our aching feet. After some milling around and directions from guys holding up an advertisement across an intersection and talking to each other on cell phones, we finally happened on the Fox and the House Pub and Restaurant, tucked away in a strip mall behind a larger strip mall, where we sipped Red Ale and watched Ole Miss lose to the #2 team in the nation, Alabama.

All in all, it was a fun and relatively short walk, only taking 5 and a half hours to walk from downtown Memphis to the Mississippi state line. For most of the walk, there were sidewalks, but every convenience for pedestrians basically dried up by the time we entered Southaven. Every person we met along the way, no matter which neighborhood, was friendly to us, and despite some concern about the possibility of encountering abandoned and wild dogs, we only saw 4 dogs the whole day, and each of them wanted nothing to do with us.

This is a walk I can highly recommend. If you live in Memphis and want to take a really interesting trip without really leaving home, you could do far worse than just picking a direction in the city and heading out with some friends. You will gain a completely new perspective, something you just can’t get from a car or a bike, and you might acquire a newer, broadened sense of community and place.

Click here to see more photos from the Memphis Walk South

General Travel

Spain and Morocco – May 2008 – Welcome to Gibraltar

I’ve been fascinated with Gibraltar for some time, and when the opportunity to visit popped up after our return to Spain via the ferry, we stashed our bags at a hostel near the ferry terminal and took a bus to La Línea de la Concepción and walked across the border to the British overseas territory. It was as fascinating as I had hoped.

Originally, we wanted to stay in Gibraltar, but we couldn’t find a hotel with any vacancies that we could afford, so we had to settle for a few short hours and a sunset meal. While we spoke the language, Gibraltar felt as different and interesting as Spain or Morocco had been – maybe even a little more.

For example, the runway in Gibraltar runs perpendicular to the main road (Winston Churchill Ave.) that enters the town from mainland Spain. There is literally a stoplight stops you from attempting to move across the runway when a jet is taking off or landing. Every bit of flat land in Gibraltar is used in some way.

Click here to see a map of where this picture was taken

General Travel

Spain and Morocco – May 2008 – Train vs. Sheep

On our way from Marrakesh to Fez on the train, everything rolled to a quick stop in the middle of nowhere. Outside our window was this sheepherder with his flock, and while you can’t tell from this photo, he was freaking out.

After some discussion in our cabin, we figured out that the train hit one of sheep while he was trying to cross the railroad tracks and the road. Apparently, livestock herders can demand immediate compensation from the railroad when things like this happen, and this guy really let loose and made sure that everyone know how upset he felt. Several folks from his small village came to join him and help with the “negotiations.”

More photos from this part of the trip can be seen here

General Travel

Spain and Morocco – May 2008 – Banos de Cerrato Stork Nest

Baños de Cerrato Stork Nest

On our way from Segovia to Becerril del Carpio to meet up with Christina’s parent, John and Harriet Ross, we stopped at a small town called Baños de Cerrato, located a few kilometers south of Palencia. Some of the sights mentioned in the Lonely Planet sounded interesting, particularly the chance to see the oldest church still standing in Spain, which was built by Visigoths way back in 661.

On our way out of town, I snapped a picture of this massive stork’s nest built above the bell tower of the town’s current church. These stork nests are all over Spain and Morocco, and they are considered good luck for the town where they are built, meaning they are very desired and protected. Interestingly, the storks in both countries don’t really play religious favorites as for where they build their nests. We saw them on church towers and mosque minerets alike. As long as it was the on the tallest structure around, the storks didn’t care.

I’m still not sure how they keep from being blown off, but I’ll leave that question to someone else and just enjoy the majesty of the balance of the entire structure.

Click here to get a map of where this photo was taken

General Travel

Spain and Morocco – May 2008 – Bilbao Guggenheim

In May 2008, Kath and I went on a wonderful trip to Spain and Morocco with Dave and Christina, and we had a wonderful time experiencing life in the small towns in northern Spain and contrasting that with the modern hustle-and-bustle of large Spanish and Moroccan towns.

Since we got back, I’ve been too busy to sit down and write about the experience, and I’m still too busy today. I’m hoping, thought, to start posting images from that trip, with a quick description of what we were doing, as a way to get down my thoughts before I forget many of the experiences. Undoubtedly, this will get very non-linear, so please excuse the jumping around.

Bilbao Guggenheim with Spider

The first photo was taking from a bridge (the Puente Principes de España) looking down on the Guggenheim. Kath and I had just toured the museum and were out getting a breath of fresh air. From here, you can see the side of the Guggenheim that faces the Nervion River, including the spider sculpture, called Maman (1999), and the walkway along the water, which gives you the sense of floating above the water. A storm was moving in, but we were able to make it across the bridge and back along the other side before it started drizzling.

As you can see, the Guggenheim building is simply stunning, covered in thin, shaped sheets of titanium. The way it reflects the sky and the colors around it gives you the sense of water, frozen but not ice, carved into wave-like shapes, at the same time functional and true to its surroundings.

Click here to see this location on a map