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Day One: Go West, Young Woman! (Pigeon Forge to Memphis)

There was a time after the birth of our first child when finances were too tight to vacation. This period of time helped me relate uniquely to Fantine in Les Miserables when she sang about tigers eating her dreams in the night. Four years later, we had finally saved enough to take a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Vacationing again after so long made us remember how much we love to travel. We vowed to never go without a vacation again.


The year after our Pacific Highway adventure, we took another trip across the country to Seattle and cruised to Alaska. We began to debate where to go next when–surprise!–we found out we were expecting another baby. As any mother knows, having a baby is exactly like taking a vacation. Except not at all. Last summer our son was born and, instead of visiting new locations and eating out, we went for days without sleep and ate freezer burnt casseroles. It was a magical time.

After a long, dreary winter that felt like it might never end, we were ready to travel again. And after such an adventurous, life-altering year, there was only one place to go–we needed to embrace our manifest destiny and head west.


After riding in the car peacefully and happily for hours, our baby decided to sing us the song of his people for an hour in the night. We fortified ourselves with coffee and a healthy breakfast (read: doughnuts) and set forth to start our journey. We began from my parents’ house outside of Pigeon Forge, both because it was convenient and because my parents are joining us for the journey. (It sounded like a good idea to them before they realized the baby is in a screaming phase. He sounds like one of the ringwraiths from The Lord of the Rings. It’s the worst sound in the world  adorable.)

The first thing you should know before we begin is that food is the first thing. Vacation for our family is basically an opportunity to eat food in different locations. Keeping with tradition, we diverted almost immediately in search of gourmet Popsicles. Not only are 2500 people moving to Nashville per week, but it’s home to a booming food scene. Were these gourmet Popsicles worth getting off the interstate and waiting fifteen minutes for the store to open?



Yes, yes they were.

Refreshed and energized, we again headed west on the Music Highway toward Memphis. When in Memphis, there’s really only one thing to do, one famous thing that people from all over the world come to pay homage to. Of course I mean BBQ.


I forgot to take a picture of our food because hungry. But it was good. (Side note: trying to find the best BBQ in Memphis is apparently like trying to pick a good doctor. Everyone has an opinion based on personal preference. Then you’re always left wondering if there’s something better out there. If you choose this one, and I think that you should, go early because the lines get long and the seating area crowded.)

In addition to BBQ, Memphis is also known for some guy who used to sing some songs. I don’t know much about him because I’m very, very young. (The closer you get to 40, the more you have to reiterate this point. Young, very, very young.) But he seemed like a good guy, so we though we would give his house a try.


Do you need to be a die-hard fan to go to Graceland when it’s 97 degrees with one thousand percent humidity? No, but it might help you to not complain about the long lines and masses of people everywhere. The house itself is smaller than you might think. The actual mansion tour is about an hour long, maybe less. What takes forever is buying tickets and boarding the shuttle to the house. (Parking and tickets are across the street from the actual mansion.) As a bonus, we scored a free ticket because my husband is a teacher and teachers are always getting kickbacks and payola like that. It’s why people envy them–for the massive job perks. (Side note to fellow teachers: If you are planning to go, contact Graceland and reserve your ticket at least 14 days in advance.)

I dare you to go to Graceland and not leave feeling a little bit sad, even if, like me, you’re way, way, way too young to remember Elvis personally. Maybe it’s because you realize he died too young and was a talent wasted by poor choices. Or maybe it’s because the last thing you see before you board the shuttle is Elvis’s grave. I guess we’ll never know.

For posterity, here’s Elvis’s kitchen.


I think he and I could have had some good talks about food. Possibly while eating something fried.

At this point I must insert what a pleasant surprise Memphis has turned out to be. Before our arrival, I had heard rumors that it was basically the armpit of Tennessee, but that’s not true! There are stately homes and old, gracious buildings everywhere. It’s clean and friendly and there’s FOOD. We passed so many restaurants that I would love to try, if only we had the time.

Time, always our enemy when road tripping, prevented us from exploring Beale Street. We drove by and took a picture. Part of it is closed off like Times Square.


After a long day of driving, there’s nothing better than heading back to your hotel. But first, dessert!


Muddy’s Bake Shop is a pretty famous joint here in Memphis. (It is not named for Muddy Waters. I know because my husband asked.) The banana pudding was divine. I grudgingly split it with my daughter because she’s at that age where you actually have to give her treats. (My baby is still blissfully clueless of what he’s missing out on. I’d like to stretch that for as long as possible.)

It was a long, fun day from east to west in Tennessee. Tomorrow we’ll have new adventures in Arkansas. (Arkansas, really? We’ll see.)


About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

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