My trip through the South a couple of weeks ago led me through several of the most important cities of the region, all of them located by water. Friends have asked me which one I liked best…it’s hard to say because they’re all so unique. There is definitely something about these places, something shaped by the flow of the rivers, the people who first settled on the banks or shores and all the stories that have flowed through history until now. My impressions are quick, not based on long stays, postcard impressions of cities, some seen for the first time, one of them much loved already. I had the advantage of seeing them all in two weeks, so my thoughts are fresh for each of them.

The first day, we drove to Memphis, crossing the mighty Mississippi to enter the city. I’d been there a couple of times before, but just passing through, not long enough to even have an impression. This time, we started at Mud Island, a peninsula with an incredibly creative scale model of the Mississippi River that you can walk along or in, seeing all the twists and turns, changing depths, and cities along its banks. There is also a museum with a history of the river that gives a good overview. Mud Island is a nice way to spend a few hours in a beautiful river park. You can think of Tom Cruise running through the tram in “The Firm” as you cross over to the park.


I had seen the ducks at The Peabody, so we headed down to Beale Street, famous for barbecue and blues. We lucked into the last two days of Elvis Week, where fans come from around the world to pay homage on the anniversary of his death, the 36th this year. I don’t know how crowded it is normally, but it was a festive mood on this Friday night. Beale is bright lights and music in the air from the restaurants. Two small boys danced in the streets, then asked for money. We found a place to eat with delicious barbecue and a great guitar player, one who had worked this street for many years. He smiled and did his thing while we ate fried green tomatoes, ribs and pulled pork. It was nice and easy. When we left, the streets were lighting up and the action was just beginning. There was a party going on and I want to come again…

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This was my favorite neon sign of the night.

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Our travels took us to some smaller river cities with their own charm. Paducah, Kentucky is an important stop on the Mississippi and is working to populate their historic district. Owensboro, Kentucky is on the Green River and has one of the most beautiful river parks I’ve seen next to their historic district. We found it by accident while off the highway looking for breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Our next city stop was Nashville. This was really a stopover, partially due to curiosity after watching the views shown in the television show. It was Sunday night and there was definitely a party atmosphere on Broadway.


We had driven around, very impressed by the city, and stopped to walk and find a place to eat. There were restaurants everywhere, mostly chains which we wanted to avoid. There was also a cover charge to eat when there was music. We found the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.


and walked up and down the street taking in the music coming from every bar along the way. My impression was that this really is music city with the happening street backed by the skyscrapers indicating the industries that thrive there.


Nashville is cool, a fun place to visit and a beautiful city. We never did find a place to eat, settling for homemade ice cream at an old parlor on the edge of Broadway.

The next major city was Charleston, historic Charleston on the Atlantic coast. It was as beautiful as I imagined with a far larger historic area that is alive and thriving. There were the homes on Rainbow Row…


…and elegant mansions in Battery Park…



You can easily picture life in this city from Revolutionary times through the Civil War to now. Their historic preservation efforts are exceptional and well rewarded.

The City Market was fun to browse through the classy souvenirs…regional food, beautiful books, paintings, the ladies of the islands with their sweetgrass baskets, along with t-shirts and other fun things to remember your stay.


We took the carriage ride around the historic area, a great way to get an overview of the history and the city. In the evening we walked to the pier, where there were porch swings and benches to watch the ships come in and the sailboats go by.



Walking back to the hotel through the twilight streets, there was a quiet calm. Any parties in this city must have been private and inside on this particular evening. Charleston seems the most gentile of the cities we visited. It wasn’t formal particularly, as ladies wore cool cottons and linens with hats to shade their faces from the sun and heat. It wasn’t as hot or as humid as it could have been, lucky for us.

The next day, I toured the last remaining Slave Market Museum, a small but sobering visit. Among the others there was an older African American woman and her daughter. She was just sitting in front of one of the displays. I had great respect for what her thoughts may have been. The man at the desk had told me it was pretty brutal, as it was.

Slave Market

My memories of Charleston as a city are lovely. The food we ate was great, although we didn’t try any of the fancier restaurants. We took the trip around the bay, toured the city and I went to one of the plantations outside of town. Our two days leave me with visions of beautiful gardens, flowers and well-kept homes.



I love the Charleston Hat Man, a painting that was uncovered and said to be painted in 1892 to advertise the haberdashery inside. There are 16 hats that make up the man.


I love the steeples…



and the alleys…


Dueler's Alley

Broad Street and Meeting Street…

Broad Street


Charleston is everything you ever imagined about Southern charm.

Our next stop was Savannah and we arrived late in the afternoon, in time to find a hotel and meet people for dinner by the river. This was a change from Charleston. The riverfront was busy with tourists and partygoers. I noticed that one of the popular t-shirts for sale was of all the pubs in town. There were batchelor party and batchelorette party groups one night. This was an old port town and the riverfront area is where they goods were purchased by brokers. Although you have to walk down steep ancient stairs and walk on cobblestone and old brick streets, it is a city that introduced itself to us as a fun place to be.



The next day, we were treated to a trip to Tybee Island, a stop at Ft. Pulaski, a boat ride along the coastal waterways with lunch at a small Jimmy Buffet-like restaurant, and a return visit to Bonaventure Cemetery before it closed. The cemetery was made famous by the novel and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” and it lived up to its mysteriously beautiful reputation.

Bonaventure Cemetery

We visited the graves of Johnny Mercer and his family and left before we got locked in for the night. Our hosts said they picnic and ride bikes there and have been to a Halloween event. I was beginning to see why the tour companies offered ghost tours of Savannah. With the pirates and specters of the cemetery, there was an edginess to the city.

Our tour of the city showed us the lovely homes built around 22 squares. Historic Preservation finally came in the 1950s or much would have been lost. There were homes from all eras with a large Victorian area.



I left Savannah with mixed thoughts. I had thought it would be more like Charleston, but it has its own flavor and vibes. It’s a little darker, a little more mysterious when you see them both together. It’s a place to keep exploring, for sure!

Our final city was New Orleans. I have been to New Orleans many times. My in-laws lived there for a long time and we visited in different seasons, went to the World’s Fair, Mardi Gras, and always loved it. My kids grew up knowing this city. I hadn’t returned since Hurricane Katrina, so I was anxious to see how it looked.

I have found out since I had been there that my great-great-great-grandfather brought his family to live in New Orleans. He was a physician and died while treating people during a Yellow Fever plague. Maybe there is some DNA in me that makes me love this place. There is nothing like New Orleans. I loved all the other cities we’d visited, but New Orleans is just its own self. Some people don’t like the smell, but it’s just part of the place to me.

When we hit Jackson Square on a perfect day,

New Orleans

and headed for Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee, I felt like I’d come home.


I like the musicians, the artists, and the street performers.

Street Performer - NOLA

I like the architecture,


the home where Tennessee Williams wrote “Streetcar Named Desire,”


Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street, a place that intrigued my son from the time he was about eight years old,


and I like the mixture of all the exotic cultures, French, Spanish, Italian, Creole, Cajun, American Indian and European Americans, that blend to make this city and influence its food, its music, and its vibe.

I guess I have a favorite city of the South. New Orleans won my heart a long time ago as the most unique of all our cities. But, I’m so glad to welcome Memphis, Nashville, Charleston and Savannah into my places of the heart. They are all unique and interesting and are important parts of what makes this country such an incredible mix of regional voices and tastes. I have more to say about my trip to the South and all the beautiful things I experienced. I hope you get to head in that direction in your lifetime…