Graceland, barbecue, Beale Street, and the blues… That covers Memphis, right?

I was looking for a quick weekend trip to somewhere I hadn’t been before, and Memphis won out as the best option. (And it may have helped that it’s right on the border of both Arkansas and Mississippi, two of the five states I had left to visit, too.)

So, for those of you who have yet to visit Memphis, what should you check out (and what can you skip)?

We got in late on Friday night, and after debating whether to just go to bed or to check out Beale Street, we made the right choice and made a quick trip to Beale Street. Maybe it’s not fair to compare, though it reminded me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, just a smaller and calmer version. Everyone was strolling down the street with beers and other large, sugar-filled drinks, and music everywhere. We enjoyed the ribs, gumbo, and friendly service at Blues City Cafe.

Beale Street (and wouldn't you love to know what prompted the "No Reptiles" rule?)

Beale Street (and wouldn’t you love to know what prompted the “No Reptiles” rule?)

The following morning we checked out Alcenia’s. Definitely would not have found this place had it not been recommended in the NYTimes “36 Hours in Memphis” column, and almost kept driving, thinking it was closed when we first found it. The first clue that you’re in for a unique experience is the “Ghetto Aid,” extra sweet Kool-Aid on the menu. From there, for $10 each, we had a combination of fried chicken, sausage, waffles, biscuits, eggs, grits, rice, and fried green tomatoes. Maybe it’s because we live in DC, where brunch is far from a $10 affair, and aren’t used to good southern food, but we were  blown away by all of it. I can’t imagine finding other sausage or fried green tomatoes that can live up to the standards set by Alcenia’s.

Alcenia's.  Yum!

Alcenia’s. Yum!

Fortunately, we had the self-control to only eat about half of our breakfasts from Alcenia’s so we could check out Graceland rather than having to nap off breakfast. As for Graceland…wow, just wow. If you despise tourist traps, tacky 60’s and 70’s decor, mobs of tourists taking pictures of practically each blade of grass, you’ll want to avoid Graceland at all cost. Though if you’re willing to embrace the crazy that was Elvis, you’ll want to take that drive down Elvis Presley Blvd. Warning: tickets start at $30 and go up to $70, so this isn’t a decision to take lightly (see here for a coupon if you want to feel a little better about your decision-and do print it before you get there!)

Some first impressions of Graceland.

Some first impressions of Graceland.

I didn’t know much about Elvis, so to me seeing Graceland was basically getting a first-hand view of the the lifestyles of the very rich and very famous during the 60’s and 70’s. The 15-seat couch, “jungle room”, mirrored ceilings, and fabric covered walls of the house were all fantastic. You also get to tour his private planes, and check out his whole fleet of cars, including the pink Cadillac.

Does it make you want to redecorate?

Does it make you want to redecorate?

We’d seen enough of Beale Street the night before, so we decided to check out a few different restaurants and bars on Saturday night. We started at The Cove, which had a fantastic pirate ship bar and similarly great cocktail list, though it got a little smokey for our taste after a little while.

From there we checked out Mollie Fontaine Lounge, a gorgeous Victorian mansion-turned-bar. There was a DJ on the ground floor, comfy couches and chairs on the second floor, and a quiet patio with lanterns hung from the trees. You can tour various mansions in the area, though it was great to have an opportunity to settle in, check out the gorgeous decor, and have a drink.

Mollie Fontaine's (these pictures don't do justice to how pretty is really is)

Mollie Fontaine’s (these pictures don’t do justice to how pretty is really is)

My final goal for Memphis was to see the world-famous Peabody Ducks. As soon as I heard that one of the nicest hotels in Memphis literally rolls out a red carpet twice a day to let ducks march through the lobby and swim in their marble fountain, I knew I had to see it. I’ll even admit that it took two tries to get this right (we tried to sneak in right before 5 when the ducks marched out on Saturday, but it was too crowded to see anything).

After being so close to the ducks, but not actually seeing anything on Saturday, we got to the Peabody shortly after 10 on Sunday morning to stake out a good spot for the 11 a.m. march. The “Duckmaster” was already holding court, taking pictures with guests, and making announcements about the history of the hotel and the tradition of the ducks. We couldn’t have been more lucky than to get seats at the bar for coffee (with duck stirrers, of course), which gave us the perfect view.

As promised, shortly before 11, as the crowd grew, the hotel rolled out the red carpet, the elevator door opened, and 4 ducks sprinted through the lobby, up the fountain steps, and into the Fountain. Definitely the most fun and random thing I’ve seen a hotel do!

Peabody ducks...quack, quack.

Never expected ducks to run down a red carpet so quickly that it would be hard to get a good picture!

In some ways, Memphis was what I expected-all the major expectations were met, though the city had so much character. Everyone was so friendly, and (other than Graceland), it wasn’t as touristy as I was expecting.  I wish we had had a little more time to do even more barbecue sampling, to check out more neighborhoods,  go to the zoo, and check out more of the other random attractions we kept happening upon (bet you didn’t know that Memphis has the 6th largest pyramid in the world!)

**PS. You’ll most likely want to skip the Mississippi River Museum and Mud Island. Basically, just imagine the worst field trip you ever went on and assume it’s something like that…

Our guest blogger Melinda is back with part two of her blog about our trip to San Francisco.  Enjoy!

With a goal to eat our way through San Francisco, we had to rally after our dim sum food hangover and decided an afternoon of shopping was just the cure we needed.  After a quick walk from Yank Sing down Market Street with diversions at Anthropologie and The Gap, we boarded the 45 Muni Bus and rode like locals to the boutiques on Union Street in Cow Hollow.  The jewelry at Mingle won us over at reasonable prices and both Stephanie and I walked out with lovely necklaces.

We worked up a proper hunger and headed down to the Mission for a flavorful experience at Limon Restaurant.  The ceviche, yucca fries and seco de castillas (beef short ribs) won our hearts and stomachs.  We split 5 plates amongst the 3 of us and racked up a bill about $75.  We left fully satisfied and I filed it away as a solid choice to give guests a taste of Latin flavor in the Mission.

Monday was Disneyland day from beginning to end.  We never stepped foot in the theme park, but we got our fill between a visit to the Google campus and an exploration of the Walt Disney Family Museum.  Our trip to Google involved a guided tour by my main man featuring the crazy good free cafeterias, fresh squeezed juice bar, slides, meeting bikes and playing amongst the operating system statues.  You can’t walk around without an escort, but if you know someone or know someone who knows someone, take advantage of seeing the magic that is Google.

Testing out the slide at Google.

Testing out the meeting bike at Google.

Stephanie poses at Google.

 

As if we didn’t eat enough at Google, we stopped by In & Out Burger on the way back to the city for good measure.  Maybe it was because we were full or maybe because only Stephanie was an In & Out virgin, but we decided it wasn’t worth all the hype.

The Walt Disney Family Museum on the other hand exceeded my expectations.  I’m not a Disney fanatic myself, but I figured I’d tag along.  We utilized our AAA membership to get $5 off the $20 admissions ticket.  The museum boasted several interactive exhibits, tons of original drawings, several movie clips and a model version of Disney’s dream community.  The Disney family owns and operates the museum, putting in a lot of their own time and money.  It’s very well curated and worth the steep price even without the discount.

The bench where Walt Disney came up with the concept for Disney World.

From Peter Pan to Smuggler’s Cove, we moved on to decidedly adult libations.  The notoriously packed and award winning rum bar delivered the one two punch for happy hour.  Our secret was going on a Monday for happy hour to score seats.  The building is barely marked and we walked past it before back tracking and looking more carefully for the address.  It was well worth the hunt though and I personally recommend the drink named after a red head (the rum made me forget the specifics).

At Smuggles Cove

Indian Ice Cream. Yum.

We laid low that night, taking advantage of one of the hundreds of delivery options (ah, the joys of city living!) before the girls headed home.  They may not have left their hearts here, but I think little pieces of their stomachs remain and I conjure their help as I continue to nosh my way from bay to breakers.

 

 

Here at Magical Mystery Tours we’re very excited to be helping Nikki, Bobbin, and Jennine plan their first trip abroad!  They’re going to London!  They mentioned that they were eager to try some good food in London. While the MMT team has spent some time in London, we thought that this was a question best handled by MMT friend and customer Allison (find her online here and here).  She studied abroad in London, has been back multiple times, and may possibly be Chelsea Football Club’s most enthusiastic fan on this side of the Atlantic.  She’s also quite opinionated about food!  Here’s what she had to say:
-If you get food at a pub, you don’t tip anything.  If you get food at a restaurant you leave a small tip if the service is good.  I’d recommend picking a pub near your hotel/not right in the center of town.  If you go to a bar in a place like Piccadilly Circus there won’t be a single British person in the whole place. It’s all tourists. But if you get a little further out, you’ll be with locals in a much more chill environment. -Pubs close at 11pm, so plan accordingly.  If you want to go out after that you need a club or a late night bar.

-Other than fish and chips, British food isn’t that good, so I’d recommend sticking to international cuisine to the extent you like it.  London is such an international city that if you see a Italian or Lebanese or Indian restaurant, it’s probably authentic and good.  I’m too much of a picky eater for it, but they say that London has the best Indian food in the world.

-In my experience, amazing fish and chips don’t come from a pub or restaurant.  You’ll see (especially as you move away from touristy areas) little tiny restaurants that only sell fish and chips.  Go there.  It’s like a takeout/fast food type set up where they only have a counter and a few stools for people to sit on.  The fish and chips from such places will knock the socks off any pub or restaurant. Locals love these places.

-I didn’t eat out a lot because I had a kitchen in my apartment, but when I did I was partial to Wagamama.  It’s a noodle-bar and they have locations all over the city:
-Here are some more places recommended by my old boss from London.  High-end, traditional: Rules in Covent Garden; Porters in Covent Garden; Boisdale in Belgravia.

-If you’re in the Trafalgar Square area around lunch time, the Chando Pub has pretty tasty food for a pub.

-Also near Trafalgar Square is a restaurant called The Texas Embassy (it’s where the embassy used to be when Texas was independent). It’s not any better Tex Mex than you’ll find in America, but I appreciate the ridiculousness of going to a Tex Mex place in England. It was very popular among all the American students. (Note from Denise: yes, it was fun, but I question their definition of “guacamole”)

-Most Londoners will be in/out for lunch as they are eager to get on with business. As such, you’ll see a lot of places like Pret-a-Manger that sell mostly pre-made sandwiches that you can just grab and go. Most people enjoy them. And the food is cheap, reliable, and they have a ton of locations so it tends to be very convenient for the tourist on the go.

-Candy bars. The assortment is totally different than what you’ll find in America, complete with flavors like honeycomb that we don’t get. Stop by a convenient store or (better) a grocery store and grab a variety to snack on while you do touristy things. Must tries include a Yorkie Bar and an mint-chocolate Aero bar. Also, “smarties” are not the same crappy American candy — they are like an M&M but with a thicker shell and they are delicious. (Note from Denise: I’m the last person to recommend a McDonald’s, but in London they use usesCadbury chocolate in their Flurries!  At Easter they even have Cadbury Egg flurries!)

-Fun British Drinks to Try: A snake-bit is half beer (pick a lighter color one like Fosters or Carling), half dry cider (Strongbow or Blackthorn), and a splash of black currant syrup.  A cider black is a dry cider with a splash of black currant syrup. Most pubs will also have a lime syrup that goes well with Stella Artois (think Corona with a lime, but different). Proper pubs will feature at least one real cask ale. It will be served warm, have a strong flavor, and generally be different from any beer you’ll find in America. It’s worth a try. Mixed drinks will be measured out exactly and their version of a shot is smaller than the American measurement. Lesson: order a double if mixed drinks are your thing, otherwise you’ll be disappointed in how weak the drink is.

-You should also try a traditional afternoon British tea!  If you want to combine it with some touristy activities, you can a decently priced tea on at the Court Restaurant one of the upper floors of the British Museum.  Be sure to try to scones with clotted cream or some of their other cakes and pastries!  The Ritz-Carelton also has a great tea, but it will be a bit more pricey.

Ok, MMT readers.  It’s your turn now.  Have you been to London?  What else do you think Nikki, Jennine, and Bob should try?