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Travel Talk – Memphis offers something for every taste (Feb. 4, 2015 issue)

In 4-H more than 10 years ago, my brother learned that the drive to Memphis could take as long as a drive to Canada. I have also heard a lot of people fret about the dangers of inner- city Memphis. If you drive from Erwin to Memphis, it does take about eight hours and it is true that there are parts of Memphis that are best avoided.
However, this city in the opposite corner of Tennessee has a lot to offer. Memphis culture differs from that of East Tennessee, especially in its soul and blues roots, and the music reflects the rich and, sometimes difficult, history of this bustling city on the Mississippi River.
When most people think of Memphis attractions and music, they think of Graceland. While the home of Elvis is probably worth a visit for Elvis fans, I have never been. Instead, one of my favorite attractions in Memphis is the newly renovated National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is attached to the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
The front of the museum still looks like the hotel. The room where he was staying and the balcony where he was shot have been restored to remind visitors of the blow the Civil Rights movement was dealt that fateful day. While the struggle for civil rights in our country is not an easy topic for most people, this museum brings the fight to life.
There are interactive exhibits that allow you to hear the first hand testimony of men and women who were on Freedom Ride or who integrated formerly segregated schools. Visitors walk through the history, starting with the years of slavery and quickly coming forward to the movement of the 60s and 70s. The museum not only covers the major issues and events of the Civil Rights movement but shows its lasting influence.
The museum has a section that talks about recent protests movements, such as the Arab Spring, and displays how these movements drew on Dr. King’s nonviolent movement. The Civil Rights Museum educates while leaving a powerful impression.
After you’ve had your fill of education, it may be time to enjoy the livelier side of Memphis. It’s fun to start by the Mississippi River. You can walk along Mud Island, an island in the middle of the vast river that has developed a quasi-beach feel. From there, head to Beale Street. Beale Street is the center for Memphis blues, barbecue, and nightlife. Most of the street is pedestrian only. It’s a fun place to wander by both day and night. If you go at night, especially if there is an event in the Fed Ex Forum, be prepared for a crowd and for traffic.
Beale Street is also close to the Peabody Hotel where you can spy the loved ducks who “march” twice a day to the fountain in the middle of the lobby where they enjoy splashing around all day.
All visitors to Memphis must sample Memphis barbecue at least once. While you can find delicious barbecue at most Memphis restaurants, there are some that are certainly better than others. The Rendezvous is the most well-known of these restaurants, though it has also increased its prices since it rocketed to barbecue fame. Local favorites include Central BBQ (known for its ribs) and the BBQ Shop (known for its barbecue spaghetti).
If somehow you’re not too full of delicious food, consider having dessert at another Memphis tradition, Jerry’s Sno Cones which will change your expectations for snow cones. Another ice cream option is La Michoacana which offers a variety of Mexican ice cream. Lastly, another Memphis dessert tradition is Gibson’s doughnuts. This became a Memphis favorite not only because of the impressive selection but also because you can get a half-dozen for a dollar after 11 p.m.
If you’re not a barbecue or Elvis fan, the trendier side of Memphis can be found in Midtown. Midtown has a quasi-European feel to it in its architecture but the area is quite unique. Here, you can find many shops and restaurants. Some of the most well-known restaurants include Bosco’s and Huey’s.
Another great option is the Beauty Shop. As the name suggests, this was a beauty shop turned into a hip restaurant. Brunch is a, justifiably, popular option. While I highly recommend trying it, I also recommend making a reservation in advance. Brunch is cheaper but only available on Sundays.
Memphis is an excellent trip for music-lovers and food-lovers. You may also want to check out the month-long festival of Memphis in May. There is a music festival one weekend and a barbecue festival another weekend. Regardless, Memphis has a lot to offer any time of year, and it’s worth the drive to check out the other side of our state.