At first, I was not too excited to visit Memphis. There’s no theme park there. Why would someone want to visit a place where there’s no theme park? What I found is that the history in Memphis is astonishing! Not only the history surrounding the shooting of Martin Luther King, but the music history surrounding the city with names such as Elvis Presley and BB King.
Our trip started with meeting our student group at the Rock and Soul Museum. We watched a very informative yet interesting 20 minute movie before entering the museum about the musical pioneers and legends of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds who overcame obstacles to create the musical sound that changed the world. After the movie, we were all handed audio equipment to use while browsing the museum. Throughout the museum we found juke boxes where we could put in a number and listen to some of the less-known music that was available. The students really loved listening to some of this music.
Then it was off to the Gibson Guitar Factory for a tour. Little did I know how much work and effort goes into making these musical instruments! I was very shocked to find out that every detail of the guitar is created by a person, not a machine. Sure they use machines to assist in the creation of the guitar, but just about everything that is done to the guitar is done by hand. Even the painting and finishing is done by hand. It was amazing to watch!
Following that tour, we went to visit the famous Sun Studios. I was a bit surprised at how small this studio was. However, thinking back to those times, this is all they really needed. Our guide told us stories of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others. We listened to some unusual recording sessions. We even got to take photos with the actual microphone used by Elvis Presley himself!
The next morning we went to visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. There we took an audio tour of the mansion just how it was when Elvis was alive. The décor of the home was stunning even know it is outdated today. During the audio tour we heard stories of Lisa Marie Presley remembering her father in certain parts of their home and in my mind I could picture the little girl running around, playing with her father. During the tour we also got to see the resting place of Elvis. Once you reach that point, you can feel the sadness around you. Elvis is buried next to his parents. I was surprised to learn that Elvis had a twin brother who was stillborn, Jesse Garon. His grave marker is also at this site.
Across the road, we entered the automobile museum and got a tour of two of Elvis’ airplanes. Developers are also building a “Heartbreak Hotel” just behind it. Time did not allow us to explore the hotel.
Next it was off to Stax Museum, located at the original site of Stax Records, I was wowed by the many artful, historic and cultural, interactive exhibits. We learned about the heritage of American soul music as it relates to the Memphis sound and its influences internationally. And for fun they feature a unique dress-up, instant photo booth that super-imposes guest images at several locations throughout the museum, including the Stax Museum's world famous marquee.
Now is where the tour struck my heartstrings. We went to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorriane Hotel. The museum had recently re-opened after some major renovations. As you are walking through the museum, you will find mini-movies showing real clips of news stories from those days. The lifelike sculptures of the people as you are walking through are breathtaking. You can see the fear and determination on their faces. As you arrive at the actual bus that was burned while the Freedom Riders were on their quest for equality, and you watch the short movie clip about this experience, you can feel the sadness in the room. Finally you reach the room where Martin Luther King was staying when he was shot. The room was reconstructed to show exactly how the room looked that day. A large wreath is hung on the balcony where he was shot. Across the street, you can get a view of the room from where the shot was taken. I could have spent many more hours in this museum.
Some of the other areas we visited in Memphis were Beale Street, where you can find inlaid gold music notes on the sidewalk of many of the great musicians from Memphis. Also on Beale Street we visited BB Kings Restaurant, the Hard Rock Café, and Blues City Café. As you walk along the street, you can hear the local Jazz and Blues Bands trying to make a name for themselves playing in the park or in one of the venues. Many of which had CD’s available for you to purchase to help them succeed.
In conclusion, Memphis ended up to be one of my favorite places to visit. It was also the favorite for the majority of the students that took this trip with us. They were enthralled by the music history and civil rights history that this town had to offer. I would highly recommend this trip!
The Windy City. Chi-Town. The Jewel of the Midwest. City by the lake. No matter what you call it, Chicago is a city that offers an experience like no other. Few cities in the world offer as many world-class museums, restaurants, landmarks, parks, sports stadiums, shopping, concert halls and famous neighborhoods. Arguably, maybe only Manhattan offers a more spectacular skyline but the views from the tops of Chicago's tallest buildings are some of the finest anywhere.
Stretching all along the lakefront of the sea-sized Lake Michigan, Lakeshore Drive is one of the most scenic drives in America which offers awesome views of the city as it changes from day to night.
There are so many "must-sees" in Chicago that a typical 4 day/3 night itinerary won't cover them all. So where to start? You could say it's all downtown (even though that's not totally accurate) but downtown is certainly the place for the lion's share of Chicago sightseeing. Why not start off with a city tour? There are many from which to choose offering just about any theme for a variety of tastes and interests; architecture, history, "gangster" history, food, fun, sports and the arts.
Chicago's architecture is a broad scope of over 100 years of different styles all in one place. From sleek, modern skyscrapers to some of the finest art deco and old world European, Chicago has it all. Like any American city its size, Chicago is very rich in history. From the great Chicago fire to Al Capone and the "untouchables", Chicago has certainly seen its share of major events. Few cities in America (or the world for that matter) offer as many different types of food and restaurants. Chicago is the birthplace of deep dish pizza, the Chicago hot dog, famous steaks and the list just goes on and on. Chicago is also home to many well-known sports teams from the Bears to the Bulls to the White Sox. Even if you aren’t able to catch a game in person, no trip is complete without a tour of the world famous home to the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field. The arts are also a very vital part of a trip to the city by the lake. The Chicago Symphony provides an extraordinary musical experience in a concert hall that rivals any of the famous halls in New York or London and Chicago is also home to numerous Broadway shows. And considered to be second only to the Louvre in Paris, The Arts Institute of Chicago boasts over 300,000 pieces of art including American treasures "American Gothic" and "Nighthawks".
The Arts Institute is just one of many outstanding museums in Chicago. The famous Museum campus is home to three stops on our must-see list; The Field Museum, home to some of the greatest natural history exhibits anywhere....and right next door sits the Shedd Aquarium, where visitors can experience the largest indoor aquarium in the world. At the end of the block is Adler Planetarium, America's first planetarium. From the front steps of this historic building, the views of the city skyline may be the best of all. Not to be outdone, just down the street is the Museum of Science and Industry, a museum which really does have everything!
After a day of enjoying exhibits and seeing spectacular displays, a great place to end the day and unwind is Navy Pier. Great restaurants, shops and attractions, it's another fantastic place to soak in all the glory of that downtown skyline.
Chicago is also home to many great parks from the enormous Lincoln Park (home of the famous zoo) to Grant Park (home of the enormous Buckingham Fountain) to the newest kid on the block, Millennium Park and its unusual art. The "Cloud Gate" sculpture (nicknamed the "Bean") is the highlight of this park and has now become one of the city's most famous landmarks. From the Willis Tower SkyDeck, you can spot all of these favorite sites from 103 stories up in the sky. And while you're still downtown, make sure you save some time for shopping the Magnificent Mile!
The suburbs also offer a wide variety of activities from parks and recreation to museums and education. And some of the best hotel accommodations can be found in the burbs, as well as Woodfield Mall, the world's first major indoor shopping mall and still one of the largest. Six Flags Great America is located in Gurnee and considered one of the best parks in Six Flags' prestigious chain.
Chicago is a city with many personalities, nicknames, history and….that skyline. It is always a pleasure to watch someone's reaction the first time they see it and even though it’s not just a skyline, no matter your interests, Chicago has something to offer everyone in your group. But it's so much more than just a fantastic skyline. It's not until you go inside that skyline that you see how incredible a trip to Chicago can be.