Tennessee Treasures by Heather Davis

As a writer based in Chicago for the last seven years, I have come to love the energy and excitement of big city life. But amidst the hustle and bustle, I often find myself longing for the soothing scenery, hometown hospitality, and simple pleasures of another place-- my home state of Tennessee. As a Chattanooga native, I carry with me the wonder of mist-covered mountains and wide, winding rivers; the comfort of small towns and friendly folk; the sound of blues and bluegrass on a sultry summer evening.

The Volunteer State has seen many changes since I first headed to the Windy City, and each time I return home I am surprised at just how many new things there are to see and do. Still, it is in the old tried-and-true treasures that one finds the genuine spirit of Tennessee. >From the lively and colorful river towns in the western region to middle Tennessees thriving cities and rolling pasturelands, and on to the rich history, Appalachian charm, and aweinspiring scenery of the east, this southern gem continues to win the hearts of all who come here. Be it old or new, you are sure to leave Tennessee with memories that will last a lifetime. West Tennessee Travel along the western regions Mississippi River banks to Memphis, and you will soon discover that this vibrant town is alive and breathing with a soulful fever that just will not break. As a traveler, you do not so much observe this city as you experience it the seducing sounds of the blues flowing like honey from corner clubs; the sweet, tangy smoke of age-old barbeque pits; the warm, inviting breeze gliding in from the water; the hazy glow of neon against a night sky.

This is the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock n Roll, and once you have been here, you will be hard pressed to get it out of your veins. Strolling along world-famous Beale Street in the evening, it is easy to understand why this three-block stretch of Memphis road has been a legend for more than half a century. Used as the headquarters for General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, the street finally saw its heyday in the 1920s when it boomed with nightclubs, gambling, theaters, and late-night restaurants. Albeit somewhat tamer these days, the famed street still pulses with over twenty live music clubs, restaurants, and shops.

Stop in BB Kings Blues Club to taste some of the legends favorite dishes, such as world-championship gumbo. Meanwhile, enjoy some of the citys best live music, with regular performances by such greats as Ruby Wilson (the Queen of Beale Street) and, on occasion, Mr. King himself. And do not miss Elvis Presleys Memphis, a restaurant and entertainment facility that serves up his mothers recipes as well as some of his own favorite dishes. 901-526-0110, www. Of course, you can not get too much of The King. A trip to Memphis is not complete without a tour of Graceland, where you'll explore his magnificent mansion, the meditation garden and cemetery, and yes his famous pink Cadillac. Be sure to wander through the Heartbreak Hotel, as its fun and fanciful style makes for interesting sightseeing and photo opportunities. 800-238-2000, www. Next, take a guided tour of Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first album and forever changed American music by blending blues and country into a new rock n roll groove. 800-441-6249, Finish off with lunch at Arcade Restaurant, an old Elvis haunt that has starred in eleven films and has become a favorite downtown landmark.

901-526-5757. Tracing the history of Memphis does not stop with its music, however. There may not be a more moving home of history than the National Civil Rights Museum, which opened in 1991 at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Dr. King's motel room is viewable just as he left it, while halls of exhibits chronicle the civil rights movement.

901-521-9699, For an exotic experience, visit the Memphis Zoos newest exhibit, China. A world-class giant panda facility is home to Ya Ya and Le Le, one of only nine pairs of pandas outside China.

Pagodas, traditional Chinese water gardens, and China-native trees and plants make this a beautiful area to explore while viewing white-naped cranes, Asian small-clawed otters, and pheasants. A traditional teahouse holds a custom-crafted carousel of endangered animals, as well as a gift shop and ethnic food court. 800-290-6041,

This article is sposnored by: www.grouptraveldirect .

By: Rajinder Dogra

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