When my children were born, no doubt I was no different to any other mum in dreaming ahead about what their futures would be. I assumed that one day I would have not only them but also a possible brood of grandchildren around me, all enjoying the golden sands and gentle life of the Algarve. So much for dreams! My babies born to an idyllic life in Portugal upped sticks and moved to England.
I currently have my original three children plus two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law and seven grandchildren all in different locations in the UK but none around me and, of course, as I am only one, I am expected to make the journey over to the country I deserted many years ago, because they don’t want to travel to Portugal but instead take holidays somewhere they haven’t been.
Do you know the feeling?
Well, last year on a visit to see my daughter I announced that I was fed up with always coming to the UK and also wished to see somewhere I hadn’t seen and ‘how about taking a holiday together in America?’.
I had all the details for a trip around the musical high spots, taking in Memphis, New Orleans and Nashville – 10 days away with hotels included for a very reasonable price. Happily she agreed. My charming son-in-law released his wife to her mother whilst he took over the care of their son and heir.
In October, we set off from Heathrow airport on a Virgin flight to Atlanta, joined the coach along with a large group of other music fans that was eventually going to take us over 2000 miles on our stay but, for now, just transferred us to the first of our six hotels.
After a comfortable night, we set off from Alabama along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans, which is where our excitement really began when we climbed aboard a River Boat and, with cocktail glasses in hand, listened to live jazz. Then on to a dinner of spicy Creole cuisine (not quite to my taste but enjoyed enormously by my daughter.)
With two nights to spend in New Orleans, we were able to wander the streets teeming with happy people, music coming out of every doorway and buskers in all the streets. We also took in a daytime trip to the nearby swamplands boarding a flat boat down river. We saw alligators sunbathing and any number of little critters coming down to find out what we were. All the time there was a running commentary from our guide and, after showing us how to hold it properly, we even got to hold a baby alligator.
After New Orleans, we headed for Tupelo in Mississippi, stopping at the house where Elvis Presley was born and lived with his parents for the first three years of his life before they were kicked out for non payment of the loan – all two rooms of it, amazing.
We drove on and settled in our next hotel. The nightlife called once more, with more music in Beale Street.
The next day we went to Sun Studios, where all the great singers recorded their albums from Elvis to Roy Orbison to Johnny Cash and BB King, then on to Graceland, the Home of the King.
Basically, this was where the majority of our fellow passengers wanted to be and we knew by then they could all sing his every song. I might add they were all suitably dressed for the occasion with flared skirts on pretty dresses with bobby socks and pony tails.
It was all I had expected. Commercial in every aspect, with their own hotel under construction and due to open this year. It would be easy to spend a small fortune there in all the extras, but it was interesting to see the actual house, which was surprisingly small and very much a home, although not every home has its own cemetary.
Apparently, too many people tried to remove Elvis from his previous resting place so they decided to uproot him themselves along with Mom and Pop so one can do homage to the family on the premises as you finish the tour.
Thousands go through in patient orderly fashion each day and the money just pours in.
On our sixth day, we went through the woods and farmlands of Tennessee on to the home of country music in Nashville. Now this was where I really wanted to be.
Many of our fellow passengers dived off to buy their obligatory country boots – three pairs for $200 – then discovered where to line dance. Sophie and I just wandered from bar to bar wallowing in the many soloists and bands doing their thing and enjoying the great selection of food available.
Our seventh day was Johnny Cash day and we must have spent hours in the museum watching his films, reading about his life, listening to his music and also enjoying many of the songs of other artists of the same era.
Our final day took us on the long journey back to Atlanta stopping to take in Chattanooga and, of course, that choo choo train and the lovely and functioning hotel you go through to the station.
Finally, we set off on the final leg of our journey and the long night flight back to the UK.
I returned to my home exhausted and happy to be back in the slow lane of the Algarve but wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything.
The most special part was being alone with my daughter, something we haven’t had since before she married and it was all very precious.
By Jenny Grainer
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Jenny Grainer arrived in the Algarve to live, work and raise a family in 1964. She is a freelance writer and her book ‘Portugal and the Algarve Now and Then’ is now in its 3rd printing.