Category Archives: takemewithyou

Live Music in London: takemewithyou

Well A&N, you may need to depend on your son to scope out the best spots to hear live music in London. I just found out I’m way rusty – I was going to recommend The Marquee – where the Rolling Stones first played in the 1960’s and where I went in the 1980s – but it’s no longer on Wardour Street (in Soho, the same neighborhood as your hotel). It apparently moved several places – including briefly, Islington – before fading out in 2008. The other famous place in Soho is Ronnie Scott’s – for jazz – also near your hotel.

For other live music, I used to go to the Hammersmith Odeon (bigger shows) and Riverside studios (more avant-garde theatrical fare like Laurie Anderson.) Hammersmith in June seems to have an American line up – country (kenny rodgers, willie nelson) and chris brown and norah jones. Not your thing I know.

Be sure to get a copy of the latest Time Out for music and anything else going on in London.

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London (parks) – takemewithyou

Back to London after a brief detour to Dubuque yesterday. London doesn’t have to be expensive – when it comes to entertainment, I spend very little because like all great cities, all you really need to do is pick a neighborhood and wander. In London’s case, you can also pick a park and walk and sit and walk some more and sit some more. Beautiful gardens, long expansive lawns and people to watch who come from all over the world. (One time, when my kids were in grade school, we spent a few hours people-watching in Regent’s Park and became particularly fascinated by all the different types of veils we saw women wearing – full length, partial length, black, pale blue, yellow…)

So here’s my list of favorite parks on a day when daydreaming is a necessity:

– St. James Park – This is hands down my sentimental favorite. It’s a quick walk from Parliament where I used to work – and it’s right by Buckingham Palace and near Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden (and yes, A&N, Soho.)

– Kew (Royal Botanic) Gardens – This is a bit of an excursion, to southwest London but full of wonderful gardens and right on the Thames. It’s right by my friends F&R who live in Mortlake (near Richmond) – last spring we rode our bikes from Mortlake to Kew along a way-too-crowded footpath (my riding was further complicated by the fact that British people ride their bikes on “the wrong side” of the path, just as they drive on the “wrong side” of the road)

— Richmond Park – also a little out-of-the-way in southwest London. It’s bigger and wilder with more wild life (lots of wild deer) and a really cool almost hidden “ornamental woodland” garden called Isabella Plantation that London friends (who’d just discovered it themselves) were excited to show me  last May. Also cool – Pembroke Lodge and Gardens (for tea) and King Henry’s Mound – a spot where on a clear day you can see St. Paul’s Cathedral – 10 miles away in central London. Check out the excellent website for Richmond Park. There’s also some nice pubs along the river in Richmond and near Richmond Green.

Hyde Park – Bigger, busier than St. James. Diana’s playground is fun place to watch kids.

Hampstead Heath – in North London! and near Louis Patisserie in the village of Hampstead (which does feel like a very posh English village or suburb, not like part of bustling London)

– Regent’s Park – I don’t know this one as well as I should but it also has lovely gardens and a theater.

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London: takemewithyou

For the first-time visitor to London (soon to be my friends A and N), what would I recommend doing and seeing?  Here’s idea #1:

South London walk along Thames through South Bank and Bankside areas, between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge – about four miles: For MAP see: http://www.southbanklondon.com/page/map/  and http://www.visitlondon.com/areas/search?category=attractions&scale=0.237&px=532869&py=179965

There’s a wonderful pedestrian path that hugs the Thames that you can walk for miles, passing some of the city’s most famous and interesting attractions. On a sunny Saturday, this area is absolutely packed but you’ll see a broad cross-section of Londoners at play – not to mention people from all over the world.  Here’s what you’ll see along the way:

1) Start on the north side of the Thames at   Westminster – by the Houses of Parliament obviously an interesting place these day with the first coalition government in 70 years. Cross over the Westminster Bridge to the south bank and head east.

2)  You’ll walk past the London Eye (giant Ferris wheel/tourist attraction)

3) and the  Southbank  arts complex (Royal Festival hall and National Theatre et. al)

4) cool art deco Oxo building (good cafe/restaurant inside with great views)

5)  Tate Modern, which you should stop and visit. An art historian friend of mine in DM who visited the Tate Modern (not to be confused with the original Tate in another neighborhood) dubbed it her all-time favorite museum after her first visit there in April. There’s always something going on there – inside and out. Arty crowd, interesting exhibitions and great views of the riverfront and people-watching from the museum’s cafe.

6) In front of the Tate is what may always be known as “the wobbly bridge” – aka the Millennium Bridge, a suspension pedestrian bridge that had some early structural issues (wobbliness.) Now fixed.

7) Walking further beyond it you’ll come to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (a replica but looks like the real McCoy),

8) to you’ll come to the Borough Market – tucked under a railroad viaduct. It’s not right on the water so follow signs (I’d guess there are some) or ask around.  Foodie paradise. Open thursday, friday and sat. (Saturday is zoo-iest.) Southwark Cathedral is nearby and worth a visit.

9) next up: super strange glass pickle-shaped building that houses new City hall, best known as “the Gherkin”

10) Last stop is Tower Bridge which leads to the Tower of London – packed with tourists but well worth a visit, especially if you’re a history buff.

At this point you may want to rest your legs and take a boat on the Thames back to Westminster or beyond or the other direction to Greenwich. Or take the Tube back to wherever.

Must stop for now – getting seriously homesick for London.

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Clarksdale, Miss.: takemewithyou (where to eat)

And now the all-important where-to-eat suggestions for E. and friends who are taking a road trip to Clarksdale, Miss. (among other places):

– Madidi (www.madidiires.com) is a surprisingly fancy and sophisticated restaurant to find in a struggling Mississippi Delta town…until you remember that the Mississippi Delta is where actor Morgan Freeman (aka Nelson Mandela in his latest film) was raised – and still lives. He has pumped money into the area – including by bankrolling this restaurant.  The food, upscale Southern,  is very good but to be honest, I’d stick with some of the lower-key places, which seem more reflective of the “real” Clarksdale.

– Ground Zero – This isn’t really “real” – it’s another Morgan Freeman effort but it’s designed to look  gritty that it passes muster. Ground Zero is a blues club that also serves food.

– Hicks Tamales and BBQ Shop – Noah and I tried several times to pick up a hot tamale here at the drive-through window but the line was always too slow (not long, just slow.) Supposed to be good though.

– Abes BBQ – We did get take away pork (I think) sandwiches from this hole-in-the-wall and some BBQ sauce to take back to Iowa. Very good (and quite different from our usual Gates BBQ sauce)

– Delta Amusement Blues Cafe – This is a small downtown working-guys cafe, basic greasy spoon with some local character.

– Uncle Henry’s Place (www.unclehenrysplace.com) – This is a very strange Southern inn about a half-hour outside of Clarksdale in a really faded town (so to speak) called Dundee near “Moon Lake.” We went here because of its history – it was a hangout of William Faulkner’s and owned at various times by the family of Tennessee Williams and Conway Twitty. The food was  rich and  pricey Louisiana fare and it was empty when we ate there (we arrived kind of late) which gave it an even more strange, faded feel.

– Ramon’s – We never made it to this place, which looked pretty low-down, but it sounded intriguing (chicken livers with spaghetti!)  when I heard an NPR report on it by Jane and Michael Stern. The onion rings on the Sterns’ roadfood.com page for Ramon’s look amazing. (roadfood.com is another good source for food during your trip although be forewarned – some places will be not-so-pretty.)

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Memphis: takemewithyou (as promised)

Okay Emmylou, here’s what I’ve got for YOU – recommendations for Memphis based on our 2008 trip there!

We stayed at the Sleep Inn at Court Square  downtown – good location, clean, pleasant, reasonably priced ($125 for a double in 2008) right near the Mississippi and near the tracks for the funky old Main Street Trolley car that will take you to Beale Street and back for much less than the hassle of driving, parking, and returning possibly inebriated.

Things to do:

Walk or jog along the Mississippi Riverwalk.

Be sure to walk through the Peabody Hotel – this is the one where the ducks parade through the lavish lobby.

The Civil Rights Museum, located in the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. Give yourself plenty of time. (Oddly, when I was in Memphis with my dad in 1989, a woman was protesting outside the motel – she didn’t want it to become a museum. In 2008, a group was still out there protesting.)

We loved the STAX Museum of American Soul Music – complete with Isaac Haye’s real car (which, as I recall, had power blue fake fur upholstery).  This rough n’ tumble neighborhood reminded us of the one portrayed in “Hustle and Flow” – the very good movie filmed in Memphis (“It’s hard out here for a pimp” was its Oscar-winning song.) If you haven’t seen, do! There are several music museums in Memphis – this one struck us as the most interesting and authentic, located in the original STAX Record Co. building/neighborhood rather than glitzy downtown.

En route to the museum, we stopped for soul food at The Four Way (998 Mississippi Blvd.) an old neighborhood place. Great fried chicken, okra, lemon meringue pie etc.  Be careful with the hot sauce.

If you happen to be in Memphis on Sunday morning, DO NOT MISS   a visit to Rev. Al Green’s church (that would  be Gospel Legend Al Green.) He is often there singing – along with many other church members who are great singers and musicians. Alas, when we visited “Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle,” Al was off promoting his latest album but there was a several-piece band – horns, keyboard, drums, etc. – and one person after another got up to give wrenching testimony, some of it inevitably in the form of the most astonishing gospel singing. We were a little shy about entering at first but we were far from the only visitors – there were rows of us, mostly white folk, some from as far away as The Netherlands. Noah had to drag me out of the church after over an hour. I could have stayed all day.

Rev. Green’s church is not far from Graceland and if you haven’t been, you should go – it’s overpriced and tacky but truly an American experience. There’s a good BBQ joint across the street called  – i can’t remember the name. will look up.

Speaking of BBQ, we had some good ribs at  Blues City Cafe, I think,  on Beale Street. Beale Street is very touristy but it’s  fun and there’s as much free music outside in little pocket parks along the street as there is inside the clubs. Our choice of clubs was a bit skewed – since my priority was finding one that would  admit a 16-year-old kid  (which Noah was at the time…oddly the criteria wasn’t booze, it was smoking. If there was smoking, no kids allowed.)

Not all the Beale Street clubs are on Beale Street – we enjoyed local favorite Reba  Russellaround the block at Ground Zero, an offshoot of the club opened by Morgan Freeman (yes, that Morgan Freeman) in his hometown of Clarksdale, Ms, about two hours south of Memphis. (I’ll blog on that next!)

To find the best music, consider emailing this guy: wesley@rumboogie.com. Don’t know if  Wesley is still at the Rum Boogie club on Beale Street but  he was incredibly helpful, filling me in on all the musicians playing on Beale Street. (Unfortunately we couldn’t go to his club because…it had smoking.)

all this really makes me want to return to Memphis. takemewithyou!

Check out the 2005 NYTimes 36 hours memphis piece and the one last Sunday in NYT travel section on edgy Memphis….I was fine with touristy Memphis….

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The BIG WELL/Greensburg, Ks: Takemewithyou

Fate (or chance or destiny?) has taken me to some unexpected places, sometimes repeatedly, and one of them is Greensburg, Kansas – a small town (pop. 1000) in the state’s windy west that was almost blown off the map in 2007 by a brutal tornado that killed eleven people and destroyed most of the town. (An event that ironically put Greensburg on the map.)

In the past 23 years, I have driven through Greensburg oh, maybe, 23 times, during our annual trips to visit my in-laws who live about an hour west in the even smaller wind-swept town  of Wright, Ks. (pop. about 100) near Dodge City.  Until the tornado struck, one of my favorite parts of our Kansas trip was going through Greensburg,  driving under – if my memory serves me correctly – an almost hand-written sign blowing in the wind over State Highway 54 (US 400) that read: “BIG WELL.”   With an arrow pointing due south.

I did visit the Big Well (aka “the world’s largest hand-dug well”….32 feet wide and 109 feet deep) at least once and don’t remember it being that Big a Deal.  But that Big Sign – way cool! Something about its no-nonsense, no frills, bluntness struck me as classic Kansas. It is what it is.

But after the tornado – which blew the sign to God knows where –  the sign never reappeared.

So I was pleased to read in a front page Wall Street Journal story yesterday (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703906204575027323116293074.html) that the Big Well may soon be an even bigger  tourist attraction – as Greensburg continues its valiant efforts to recover from a tornado whose devastation – flattened buildings, chewed-up trees, piles of random rubble – I’ve seen firsthand.

Apparently Greensburg is emerging as an eco-tourism hotspot ( environmentalists including Leo DeCaprio are helping to resurrect Greensburg as a “green city” ….geddit?) – and the city has plans to develop a $3 million Big Well museum, contracting with big shot New York museum designers.

Good for them. I just hope they remember to string up that Big Sign again.  (And maintain some of that low-key, quirky, Kansas charm.)

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