DEEP SOUTH: 5 States in 14 Days

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It’s been a few years now since I’ve visited the USA, however it is here that I had one of my most memorable travels – a road trip of the Deep South. We were able to cover Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee in under two weeks (one of these states were slightly cheated as you’ll find out later in the post!) Road trips are an amazing way to cover a number of places in a short amount of time – because lets face it, travelling to the US from the UK is pricey, so you might as well use your time wisely! Obviously first you need a good driver who’s willing to cover long distances and is pretty good with direction. We also did a road trip in California, one state over two weeks, and so it really depends on where you’re going and how much you can cover in the time you have.

In this post I mainly focus on Tennessee, as that is where we spent most of our trip. All hotels, museums and other recommendations are linked so just look out for the blue words!

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TENNESSEE

We flew into Atlanta, Georgia, and drove straight to Chattanooga in Tennessee (just over a two-hour drive). Here we stayed at a brilliant hotel, Chattanooga Choo Choo, with rooms inside the famous Terminal Station and actual train carriages! From this area we did a six-hour round trip on the Tennessee Valley Railroad, with a two-hour stop off in Chickamauga, known for the ‘Battle of Chickamauga’ in the American Civil War. Both the hotel and the train ride are top recommendations from me, especially as you love quirky places to stay and great history! We also had a fantastic tour guide on the train which made all the difference and his knowledge seemed never-ending. There is also a great incline railway offering amazing views. A top food recommendation is Urban Stack in Chattanooga – I am yet to taste a burger better than the one I had here so definitely worth a visit.

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MEMPHIS

1.GRACELAND

Whilst focusing on Tennessee, we visited my favourite city of the trip – Memphis. There is SO much to see in Memphis that I think you could do it as one trip. First of all Graceland – probably the most famous of our visits. As the former home of Elvis Presley, this is such an exciting and beautiful day out. Not only is it decked out exactly how Elvis had it, but it is also packed full of original records, costumes and a beautiful burial garden. Whether you’re an Elvis fan or not, this is one of my top recommendations of the trip.

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2. CENTRAL MEMPHIS

Beale Street is of course another top destination in Downtown Memphis. Most well-known for its history, especially in Blues music, this is the main hub of the city where you can go to Blues clubs and restaurants for the best live music. Our personal favourite was BB King’s Blues Club: this is popular with tourists and in high demand, so make sure you book in advance! Another quirky destination is the Peabody Hotel – a ‘legendary 12-story hotel famed for its resident flock of ducks’. Yes that’s right, ducks. Every morning these ducks walk out of the lift and through the lobby to their fountain for the day, and when evening comes they perform again, this time heading up to their home on the top floor. This is both hilarious and unbelievably cute. You don’t need to book at the hotel, just head in and get a drink in their lobby bar. You can also go up to the roof and get an amazing view over Memphis. However, be aware that this can be super busy so just get there early for a good view of the famous ducks! And if it’s within your budget, I would definitely recommend staying here as it’s classic, beautiful and right in the centre of town.

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The Mississippi River runs through Memphis so be sure to get on one of the boat rides here. As I said earlier, we did kind of cheat one of the states on our trip, as we reached ARKANSAS by boat along the river! This was a great day out, with the best views from the rooftop seats of the boat.

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3. SUN STUDIOS AND STAX MUSEUM

Now onto some top recommendations for music fans: Sun Studios and Stax Studios. Both are in Memphis and can be done in one day. I’d definitely recommend doing both if you’re a fan of music, as you get to see where different artists and styles of music were recorded in history. Sun Studios is known for being the ‘birthplace of Rock N’ Roll and home to the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Stax Museum is located in the former Stax Studios, home to American Soul music, with previous recording artists including Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding. There’s also footage of non-Stax artists including Aretha Franklin an Marvin Gaye. The staff here were also so helpful and friendly.

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4.NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM

Now onto my number one recommendation of the whole trip – the National Civil Rights Museum. I can easily say that this was the most incredible museum I’ve ever been to. It’s located within the Lorraine Motel, the place of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. I don’t have many words to describe this place other than breathtaking, earth shattering and emotional. I don’t think you can fully understand the impact of this museum until you have been there and there is something about it that has never left my heart. If you are ever in Memphis, or anywhere near, please go here! You will learn so much and be so greatly impacted to continue the movement that these people began.

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NASHVILLE

1. GRAND OLE OPRY

After watching Nashville on TV and also being a country music fan this was a dream come true! The Grand Ole Opry is just such an amazing venue. On the tour you get to go backstage and see who stayed in the gorgeous dressing rooms, including Dolly Parton. Then of course you get to go on the famous stage and pretend you’re a country star yourself, something I enjoyed far too much. Again, this is a great place for those who love music and those who don’t!

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2. DOWNTOWN NASHVILLE 

Like Memphis, Downtown Nashville is the hub of the city with great live music, shops and bars – most of these can be found on Music Row, well-known for its great entertainment. You can also see the famous AT&T building from the city centre! Personal favourites were Betty Boots and Ernest Tubb Record shop.

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ALABAMA

We stayed in Montgomery, Alabama. This is one of the most famous cities for the Civil Rights Movement, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King Jr. preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. For us this was a really important place to visit for these reasons, and the wealth of history and culture here is unbelievable. Our two top destinations here were the Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum. At this museum you can see the exact location where Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus, and the museum itself is informative, moving and breathtaking – a must see!

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We also stopped in Birmingham, Alabama to see the memorial to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing – this is definitely worth stopping by if you decide to road trip.

MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi was stopped by shortly on our road trip to see Elvis’ childhood home in Tupelo. This is worth stopping by even if it’s just to get a great picture by the memorial, as my parents show below!

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GEORGIA

ATLANTA

And finally lovely Georgia! Sadly we only had time to see Atlanta in Georgia as we returned to fly home. This is a great city that I would have loved to spend more time in, however we did go to one big attraction and that was the World of Coca-Cola. This is absolutely brilliant and I loved every part of it. On a guided museum tour you get to see the history of Coca-Cola in a fun interactive setting – this even includes tasting some of the crazy drinks flavours Coca-Cola produce for the world, some of which are not very appetising! This is a fun, easy and family friendly day out which was a highlight on our trip. It’s approximately two hours long so easy to fill a day before flying too. Such a fun museum and actually really interesting too.

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So that’s our trip! Our days were also filled with general city exploring and driving but these are the overall highlights! It’s such an incredible trip to do. I would recommend if taking children to wait till they’re in their teens so that they can fully appreciate the history and culture. But overall, if you’re fans of music and history this is most definitely the trip for you!! Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments, or by filling in a contact form below.

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HAVANA, CUBA

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 My family and I visited the most beautiful, inspiring and memorable city we have ever been to – Havana, Cuba. It exceeded our expectations by such a great amount and I never stop thinking about returning. Not only was the scenery amazing but the people had such a great impact on me, people who have close to nothing gave so much love to all of our family.

I haven’t had a chance to properly share my photos before and these are so special to me so I hope you enjoy them! I’ve included some tips and things that we did on our trip. All destinations are linked with their tripadvisor page for more info. My top 5 tips are listed at the end of the post so keep reading for those!

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So I had no idea that there is a forest in Havana! We were taken here as part of a car tour we did with two brilliant guides. This place is beautiful and you forget you’re in a city. However it is also a place of magic and spirit where many take voodoo dolls or perform sacrifices. Although this sounds scary, you’re unlikely to see any of this taking place, however I would highly recommend going with a guide, who will explain the history and beliefs around the forest! I took some of my favourite pictures here.

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This incredible building can be seen in the Plaza de la Revolucion. Famous for being the destination of Fidel Castro’s rallies, this square is an must see destination. The Jose Marti Memorial is a huge tower which dominates the square and from which you can get an amazing view of the government buildings – one of which is pictured above.

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The above photo is taken outside the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This is probably the most famous hotel in Havana as it is often used by celebrities and political figures on their visits including a recent visit from Obama! You can come here even if you’re not booked in and look at their room with celebrity photos or sit outside and have a cocktail! The outdoor bar overlooks the Malecon, the perfect spot for a drink at sunset – which is made even better by the live band willing to serenade you if you wish!

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The amazing Malecon pictured above. A popular walkway with an amazing view, one side of the city and the other of the sea!

My number one recommendation is go out and meet the locals! Don’t be afraid to go into the backstreets of Old Havana – everyone we met was so friendly and that is what made the trip so special to us. The above photo is of a lovely couple we met whilst walking around who insisted on taking us to see an original member of the Buenavista Social Club perform in a bar, something so special that we wouldn’t have found on our own! Old Havana is beautiful and fascinating and is where we spent a lot of our time. You’ll find markets, churches, restaurants and local people who want to talk to you and make you feel at home.

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If you’re looking for a good beach there’s beautiful ones about 30mins – 1hr out of the city. For us, we didn’t find it necessary to hire a car in the city as taxis are so cheap and you can hail them pretty much anywhere. We actually found a wonderful driver at our hotel – El Presidente – who was called Gustavo and so we used him for the rest of our trip! He is pictured below and is one of the best people we have ever met so thank you to Gustavo for making our trip so special.

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Go and watch the baseball! The Estadio Latinamericano is home to the Industriales and watching this was one of our best experiences of the trip: the stadium was packed and it was an amazing game with such an excited crowd. They actually have a seating area for tourists, as tourists pay more for tickets, and there is a great view from there. However, we decided to sit with the local people of Havana and this is something I’d recommend doing if you want to get the full experience of a Havana baseball match.

Finally my 5 top tips:

1. Pack all your toiletries and necessities before you go. Unlike other countries, you will not be able to buy these easily in Havana so you must bring them with you, especially things like sun cream and after-sun.

2. Immerse yourself in the city! In my opinion it’s essential to get out and meet the real people of Havana. By doing this it made Havana our most special and unforgettable trip to date!

3. Bring extra toiletries. We left extras for the cleaner of our room who we had befriended over our trip. She was so appreciative and she didn’t have access to our products over there, so it’s a nice gesture if you can pack some extras!

4. Don’t be afraid to use local taxis. All the local taxis in Havana are old traditional cars which you can usually see in pictures online. Although these cars have an overwhelming smell of petrol, it’s really fun to ride around in them, support the locals and meet some really lovely drivers!

5. Go and see some more of Cuba. We stayed in Havana for the duration of our trip but were still able to drive out to beaches, or get the train to smaller towns which were beautiful. If you have lots of time explore the rest of the country!

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Eléna Continue reading “HAVANA, CUBA”

DUBLIN : Budget-friendly long weekend

I want to tell you guys how I did a pocket friendly long weekend in one of my favourite cities in the world – Dublin.

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We booked this out of school holiday time which is always a money saver if you are able to do it! Our flights were booked with Ryanair which I find offer amazing discounts when booking in advance however make sure to use sites such as Kayak and Expedia to find the best deal for your time and airport. Dublin is such an easy trip from the U.K. only around 50mins on the plane. Also with a bus from the airport for €7 it’s easy to get right into the city within about 30mins.

We booked with Hotel St. George,  which cost us around £90 for one room over two nights – a great price for Dublin especially as we could divide it between the two of us. The hotel exceeded my expectations – Dublin is an expensive city to visit and so for this price I didn’t expect much. However the Hotel St. George is lovely and quiet with cosy, well decorated, clean rooms including room service, free tea and coffee, TV, WiFi and toiletries. The staff are super friendly and are there to help with any problems, including printing of boarding cards should you need it. The one downside is that breakfast isn’t included, however you can pay £10 per day for this which isn’t a bad price. We opted to go to Bewley’s instead, which I’ll go on to later in the post!

Dublin is an absolutely fantastic destination for culture and history and also for its great nightlife including live music sessions at many of the Pubs throughout Temple Bar and beyond.

Now onto our trip and how you can make this a pocket friendly getaway!

Things to do in the day:

As the no.1 tourist attraction in Dublin, we thought it was only right to go the Guinness Storehouse! For any Guinness fans out there this is well worth the visit, however for €17, it is quite a pricey attraction. However this does include a free pint, poured by yourself, that you can drink in their Sky Bar with a fantastic view of Dublin. I would recommend checking out what time sunset is and booking your tour about an hour before, this way you can view the sunset over the city! Definitely book online to ensure availability and a good price – https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en.

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Dublin has a wealth of history to explore. For those interested in the history and culture of Ireland I would recommend visiting GPO Witness History and Kilmainham Gaol. First of all GPO Witness History is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Built within the General Post Office, occupied in the Easter Rising of 1916 , this is an incredible historic venue as well as a highly interactive and informative museum. As with all of my recommendations ensure to book online in advance to save money! Kilmainham Gaol is a budget friendly day out: tickets online for the jail tour are only 8 euro for adults and €4 for students, and the museum is FREE! Another incredible historic visit – sadly the tours of the jail were booked out however that is definitely on my list for the next time I visit! However the free museum is not worth missing, it’s brilliantly detailed, with raw, harrowing accounts of the jail when it was open. It is however a bit out of town, but just catch the bus from the centre which will only cost you under €3!

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Food, drink and night-life:

Now I won’t lie to you, Dublin is a huge tourist destination and therefore food and drink in the centre are pricey! Temple bar is definitely worth visiting to experience great pubs and live music, however to make your visit pocket friendly I would say find restaurants and pubs a bit outside of this central area for better prices! On our first night we went to The Lott’s Cafe Bar, a good restaurant for reasonably priced Irish food. Not an incredible eat but perfect if you want some wholesome food in your belly. One great find I found in Temple Bar was Pho Ta, a tiny little gem serving great Vietnamese food at an affordable price! Definitely a great spot for Lunch or dinner if you’re looking for something tasty and pocket friendly. My no.1 recommendation for food is Bewley’s. We went here for breakfast twice. Although it is slightly more pricey than other cafe options, it is so worth it for the great quality food and impeccable service you receive! Eat beautifully crafted food by a cosy fire and see the cooks make fresh pastries downstairs – the perfect breakfast location. And finally, for the a great evening atmosphere there are plenty of bars with live music sessions in the centre. Dublin has an amazing night-life which you shouldn’t miss.

no.1 tip: buy a packet of taytos

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If you live in the UK or elsewhere around the world, Dublin is great for a short break. You can definitely save money by using the sites I recommended and booking in ADVANCE! All the places I visited are linked throughout the post. Dublin is so rich in it’s history and culture that you can spend days walking around the city completely free of charge and still have an incredible trip. Top recommendations: Trinity College, O’Connell Street, Temple Bar and the docks.

Let me know if you’ve visited Dublin, have any recommendations, or any questions down below in the comments! Make sure to subscribe on WordPress or via email using the links in my sidebar if you like my posts!

Eléna 

MARRAKECH

 I kicked off my 2018 travels with 4 nights in Marrakech! We landed during the most amazing sunset and already I could tell this was going to be quite the adventure. We stayed in the RED Hotel Marrakech which was the perfect place to relax after our busy days out, especially with the poolside bar from day to night.

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Our first day was spent at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, The Jardin Majorelle – Yves Saint Laurent museum. Queues are long to get in so I would suggest planning to get their a bit before your preferred time, or booking tickets in advance. However, it is so worth the wait to see inside such an incredible building, containing some of the best clothing from Yves Saint Laurent over the years, as well as brilliant artwork, sketches and architecture. A great cultural visit if you’re interested in art, history and most importantly fashion! Furthermore make sure you take a break in the outdoor cafe ‘Le Studio’ for an iced tea before heading on to the gardens.

The Jarden Majorelle (Majorelle Garden) is certainly not worth missing! Created by French artist Jacques Majorelle the garden contains a maze of plants, palm trees, cacti, and a stunning villa painted with vibrant blues and yellows – keep your camera to hand for the great photo opportunities! The garden was restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge and is now a hugely popular public attraction and well worth a visit.

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After breakfast, the morning of our second day was spent at the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa market! We had visited a night before however going at the time of evening prayers was definitely too crazy for us! However during the day this is a wonderful market to visit. Be prepared to haggle your way to better prices and look at lots of different stalls before making a final decision. We were lucky to find a lovely man who took us to watch the dyeing process of fabrics for scarfs, using all natural dye there on site. You will most likely get lost here, it seems like the stalls and alleyways are endless, but eventually you will find your way out. Make sure to stop off and get some freshly squeezed orange juice – only 30p.

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A great destination to visit is Le Grande Cafe de la Poste. This is an incredible historic cafe set up in the old post office of Marrakech. The interior architecture is beautiful, very low lit and calm, perfect for a midday coffee or a special dinner. I would recommend going for dinner, the food is gorgeous and you are seated in the top floor of the post office with comfy sofas, a burning fire and great views of Marrakech. It is a bit more pricey than other restaurants in the city however it’s well worth the money, and still cheaper than what you would pay back in the UK. 

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And finally, a very special moment of our trip was a camel ride! This was out of the city in a rural area, and we were able to watch the sunset over the palm trees during our ride! It was a very surreal and scary experience, one I would not recommend if you’re scared of heights. However it was also so incredible to travel around the countryside with these amazing animals. One concern I had was with treatment of animals in tourist attractions, as bought to attention in the media with Thai elephant rides. However all I could see was a very positive environment in which the camels took part in two 1hr rides a day, and the rest of the time were relaxing. If you would like info on who we booked through then let me know!

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So overall an amazing trip to Marrakech. We did this in four days, and I would say this is the right amount of time for this city, with more time I would say explore the rest of Morocco such as Casa Blanca. My one recommendation is to just immerse yourself in the culture! It is so brilliantly different to our culture in the UK so enjoy it – walk around the streets, go to the markets, talk to locals and explore every part of the city. Also, there are plenty of rooftop bars and great restaurants to visit if you want to capture the beautiful African sunset.

Eléna