Holidays and Other Excursions

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USA – Deep South – 5

Preserved Railway line Nashville

Preserved Railway line Nashville

Thursday 2.11.23

We have a free day today as far as Great Rail are concerned so we can take it easier.  So our first stop is breakfast – Pancake Pantry – which is just a couple of blocks from the hotel.  It is obviously popular – we are in a small queue, hopefully for not too long.  There are a couple in front of us and when the serving staff emerge they want a table for 6 – which is annoying as we do as well.  However not all 6 people are present, so when the next server emerges we volunteer ourselves to take the table.  An excellent outcome and it is followed by an excellent breakfast, Jackie had been looking forward to pancakes for a few days!

We then walk to the city centre and I go up on the John Siegenthaler Passenger Bridge which passes not only over the river but also over the tracks of the former Tennessee Central Railroad (now CSX) on the far side of the river, but on this side of the river is a station from which the Tennessee Central Railway Museum runs services on Saturdays – so no operations today!

Travellers in Nashville

Travellers in Nashville

Alongside the Country Music Nashville also has an impressive concert hall in the Nashville Symphony Schermerhorn Symphony Center which we pass – with some nice adjacent statutary.

Jackie and I opt for a quiet afternoon – these holidays can be quite tiring and we tend to sleep badly when we changes beds so we retire to our hotel room for a rest this afternoon.

Having braved Broadway Street last night we decide on a different experience tonight and dine at the Four Seasons Hotel.  The best bit was that as we were leaving one of the staff enquired as to our next destination – Memphis and gave us a recommendation for a local restaurant!

USA – Deep South – 4

Nashville

Nashville

Wednesday 1.11.23

Today we are going to see Nashville itself.  We take a drive alongside the Cumberland River and see the older parts of the city although it is currently one of the fastest growing places in the USA as the local authorities have gone out of their way to attract businesses into the area.  Settlements in the area commenced in 1689 however the first permanent construction did not come until 1779 with the establishment of Fort Nashborough and by 1806 was incorporated as a city becoming the county seat.  By 1843 it was the state capital of Tennessee.  Our tour enables us to see the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry for a long period before relocation and from time to time since,  We also pass the Woolworth Theatre which was a key location during the sit-in civil rights protests in 1960 which led to the desegregation of such facilities.

The prime attraction is Broadway Street where many of the outlets are honky-tonk bars serving music and food to the visitors and we will return here later.  Honky-tonk is regarded both as a style of bar and music dating back to ragtime possibly deriving from poorly maintained pianos.  Or possibly to pianos made by the Tonk brothers.  The linked article does not seem to support the name really relating to prostitution – but who really knows?  The most famous is Tootsies and our party enters – with me in the rear.  I am stopped by the doorman who is unwilling to let me in with my Canon camera.  And around here you do not argue with a doorman!  So I do not get to see the inside!

However our main stopping point this morning is the Country Music Hall of Fame, a modern building telling the story of country music over the last 100 years and paying homage to the many famous names which have graced the country music scene over those years.

Lunch proves slightly difficult and we end up in a food court where none of the food on offer actually appeals and the noise levels are off the scale, so that I can hardly hear what is happening.  In my view best avoided.

RCA Studio B

RCA Studio B

Our visit this afternoon is to RCA Studio B which was one of the major recording locations through the country music years.  It was built in 1957 and was the origin of the “Nashville sound” initially under Chet Atkins who was the RCA Musical Director in Nashville.  A later larger studio became Studio A and the original became Studio B.  Elvis Presley recorded over 240 tracks here whilst Dolly Parton was allegedly so nervous on her first session that she accidentally collided with the building when parking her first new car!

The studio is now primarily a history lesson and tourist site but some recordings are still undertaken although it appears pretty low tech compared with the inside of a modern studio and maybe that is the appeal.

Earlier in the day as we progressed along Broadway Street we had identified a likely looking spot for dinner, where we go in the evening.  Their attitude to low alcohol beer and service means that I cannot recommend it.

 

 

 

USA – Deep South – 3

Jack Daniels - new best friend

Jack Daniels – new best friend

Tuesday 31.10.23

Coach travel today as we move on.  We head in a north-westerly direction through the southern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains.  Only now do I realise that when we visited New England in the Fall some years ago we were also on the same mountain range – but much further north than we are today.  The weather remains slightly grey but it is now mainly dry.

Our first destination today is the Jack Daniels distillery on the edge of Lynchburg.  We have a guided tour of the distillery and are shown the processes.  Plus the secret of Tennessee whiskey  is that it must be filtered through maple charcoal using the Lincoln County Process and then aged in charred barrels.  And with any distillery tour at the end there has to be a tasting of the product – which might not quite be Scotch – but is definitely fit for consumption.

The associated museum tells how Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniels worked with Nathan “Nearest” Green who has now been given the title of the Master Distiller – an enslaved man who taught Jack the trade.  The other major supply is the quality of the water which has been filtered through the adjacent hillsides and provides a very pure water supply.  Alongside this Daniels cultivated a particular image in the clothes he wore –  particularly a long black overcoat and a stylish square bottle.  He was obviously keen on a brand image – and I wonder where Sandemans got the idea of a man in black when “inventing” that in 1928!  We both remarked on the likeness having not long since been in Portugal!

Lynchburg provides lunch and the opportunity to wander around “small town” USA – a small square, a few shops and a couple of places to eat.  In deference to the tourist trade there are some other shops.

Onward to Nashville and the home of Country Music.  Entertainment this evening at the Grand Ole Opry which since 1974 has been sited about 9 miles away from the town centre in a purpose built 4000 seat theatre.  Whilst the place is not completely full most of the seats are taken and dining is a case of buying some food – pizza – and drink and then eating before the performance commences.  Eight acts appear this evening:

Rhonda Vincent, Bill Anderson, Brian Bates, Steven Curtis Chapman, East Nash Grass, Jim Lauderdale, Dylan Schneider, Stephen Wilson Jr.  East Nash Grass were making their first appearance on this stage – and were an interesting change from the others most of whom appear fairly regularly I suspect.  Country music is not to everyone’s taste however but we have now been here and seen it.

USA – Deep South – 2

Martin Luther King Memorial

Martin Luther King Memorial

Monday 30.10.23

Today is spent in Atlanta first with a city tour.  Prime destinations are connected to Martin Luther King whose father was a minister at the Ebenezer Baptist Church which remains much as it was, although no longer used as such.  A new Church has been built across the road adjacent to the Martin Luther King Centre which opens as we arrive and we can wander around the displays telling his story and view the exhibits on display.

The Church across the road is our next stop and we are able to join a 30 minute discourse on King and his family and the events of the sixties around the development of the civil rights movement before and after Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat on a bus in December 1956 and the consequent steps taken when the buses were boycotted and the actions taken to enable travel to be maintained.

We then decide to visit the World of Coca Cola and I think it is fair to say that we are unimpressed – my advice is do not bother.

We are then on our first road journey – to Chattanooga.  Just outside the town is the Incline Railway on Lookout Mountain.  This is the first railway related activity of the trip and from the top there is a view over Chattanooga.  The weather is not the best today so photos of the view are not impressive.  It is approximately a mile from bottom to top and the power is two 100hp winches which take about 15 minutes to lift the car up the Incline.  The original line opened in 1887 and closed in 1899 after a new line (and the one still in use) opened in 1895.   It has been electrically operated since 1911 and the current cars fate from 2020 with one car of an earlier design being on display near the lower station.

Lookout Mountain Railroad

Lookout Mountain Railroad

Whilst on the viewing platform I can hear the horn of a main line train and looking out it is possible to see the locomotives at the head of an absolutely massive freight train which seems to stretch into the far distance.  It is impossible to accurately count the number of wagons and almost certainly there are further locomotives in the centre and at the rear of the train.  Another similar train is passing in the other direction

Being a Monday the dining options this evening are a little limited.  Some investigation had thrown up Bridgeman’s Chophouse inside The Reads Hotel which is a short walk from our hotel.  A cold and wet evening mars out walk but the warm welcome we receive in the restaurant allied with the excellent meal immediately puts things to rights.  Warmly recommended.  And we encounter an amusing quirk of local arrangements.  As we are a group of six, not all drinking I should note, it makes sense to order at least one bottle of wine.  Other drinks turn up rapidly but we later deduce that to access an entire bottle a manager has to arrange for it to be released from a hidden store where all bottles of wine are held captive deep within some cellar or similar.

The hotel has an interesting history and has been restored in recent years and looks magnificent honouring the Jazz era.  In 1932 Winston Churchill stayed whilst on a lecture tour and apparently slammed his suite door in the face of a journalist which made headline news.  The following day he gave the interview but announced that “Prohibition is a bad thing” – in hindsight one might wonder if that underpinned his bad humour the previous day!

 

USA Deep South – 1

Coca Cola HQ Atlanta

Coca Cola HQ Atlanta

Sunday 29.10.23

We have only been at home less than two weeks and we are away again.  Jackie started looking at this holiday as a trip for the “girls” but I was unhappy at missing out on a trip around the music towns of the south and also convince the participants to adopt the Great Rail Journeys holiday – Tracks of the Deep South – 2023 version.  The tour has been running for a number of years and little bits change every so often so the current version for 2024 is already different and no doubt it will change again – indeed one of the highlights for me has now been dropped!

We have been on a number of Great Rail holidays over the years – the itineraries are always strong in hitting the desired highlights and in most cases the tour guide looks after the participants very well and ensures that it all seems to go smoothly – I have no doubt that under the surface the guide is paddling very hard – but our leader on this tour ends up ensuring everything is smooth.

Phil meets us at the bag drop at Heathrow and we and the other travellers all seem to appear at the same time.  It is a daytime flight to Atlanta with BA so when we find our departure is from Terminal 3 it is a bit of a surprise.  Some time later I remember why.  The Coca Cola HQ is based in Atlanta and to enable easy connection for their executives they have agreed with BA that there is a direct connection from T3 for those arriving there and heading to Atlanta – that must be some corporate account!

It is mid afternoon departure and an evening arrival in Atlanta so making for a long day and by the time luggage has been collected and we have reached the hotel I am sure everyone is pretty tired.

Sardinia 18.10.23

Swing unit for Golfo Aranci at Olbia

Wednesday 18.10.23

Our journey today is going to be lengthy.  In rail terms we are going to go to the north of the island – first on the long journey to Olbia and then on the remaining line to Golfo Aranci on the coast.

Leaving Cagliari the train is well laden for the first half of the journey and the existence of this part of the railway system is very definitely needed unlike the thinner loadings on some of our earlier trips.  Our route threads through the island touching the west coast at Oristano before turning east and then north east.

The train then revisits some locations through which we have previously passed – Macomer  first.  At Macomer the narrow gauge lines from Bosa Nova and to Nuoro meet and terminate in a separate station across the way where we were a week or so ago.  Then further north at Ozieri-Chilivani we repass the destination of our ill-fated excursion from Sassari – this time in the same station as that was also a standard gauge train.

The first part of the journey is across the fairly flat plains of southern Sardinia which were no doubt inundated in the tsunami mentioned previously and then after Macomer the unit starts having to apply real power to climb the hills and the speed drops at times.  We move into the more elevated areas in the centre of the island, again with some wonderful views, before we drop down again to sea level at the end of the journey.

Olbia is a terminus and the train goes no further.  After checking our next train is waiting at another platform and we actually walk across the tracks – just like all the other travellers.  The services are much less heavily used  and we have a nice run through the countryside to the final destination.

Isola di Figarolo

At Golfo Aranci there is a coach ready and waiting and after a brief photo stop of Isola di Figarolo we are whisked to the airport – and in plenty of time as the check in desks are not yet checking in!

However they do, we eventually board and fly home.

 

Sardinia 17.10.23

Dotto train Cagliari

Tuesday 17.10.23

On the original schedule for this holiday we were due to fly home today.  However the relevant flight has been changed (on Tuesdays) to depart much earlier in the day so it would be a very difficult flight to catch.  We therefore opted to have an additional night in Cagliari which in retrospect was not the best possible solution as tomorrow turns into a very long day.

We should have requested the original train service to the north today and then a hotel stay somewhere appropriate and that would have split the travelling in two making it easier.

However with this free day we walk down to the station to catch the Dotto train I spotted earlier and use this to take us up to the castello area and then to descend back to the starting point so that Jackie has an opportunity to see some of the sights which she did not see as she did not take part in the guided tour.  This one is more colourful than some of the others as can be seen above.

Once she is back at the hotel I decide to go in search of the trams which we saw briefly at San Gottardo when we arrived from the north and the online information implies that they currently run to Republicca which looks like it is walkable and hopefully not too uneven.  I head in the right direction noting that it is largely downhill – which is fine now but may not be later on!  There is a large construction project in progress to extend the metro system from that current terminus into the town centre adjacent to the main station – it has been ongoing some years and there have been various delays, not least covid and financial aspects.

Cagliari metro line

I reach my destination and there are lots of people around – and even some tracks around the back but no obvious station entrance and some very rusty looking rails.  I later discover that the metro is not running here and instead there is a replacement bus service – which I do not fancy – it is very hot again today and I walk back by a marginally different route to the hotel.  I am sure the exercise did me good!

Dinner in the marina area again – at what I later find is one of the longer standing restaurants.  Initially not particularly welcomed as we are the first and obviously very early diners but as the staff turn up and they get going it is far more friendly.

Sardinia 16.10.23

Cagliari Station locomotive

Monday 16.10.23

We head down the hill and along to the main station where we are going to travel on a couple of lines which head westward out of Cagliari.   When I say “we” today I am referring to the tour group party as Jackie has decided on a rest day in the hotel.

At Cagliari station there is a steam locomotive 744003 – class 744.  Class construction took place in 1927 and part of the class was assigned to Sardinia when the line they were working on the mainland in Italy was electrified.  They were mixed traffic locos used until withdrawal in the 1970’s.  There is one other similar loco in a museum in Pistoia on the mainland.  It seems unlikely that either will return to steam.

As we leave the station there is evidence along the lineside that electrification is coming – although it looks like it will be some time yet.  The train is well used and particularly at the airport station there are decent numbers waiting to go into the town centre on the other platform.  The line to the northern part of the island is just beyond Deciomomannu station whilst our line branches off to the left and heads westwards.

There is another junction station at Villamassargia-Domusnovas where the line effectively splits into two.  Nothing much happens here for most of each hour, but then when the hourly service arrives from Cagliari, two other trains arrive from each terminus – one at Carbonia-Serbariu and the other at Iglesias – which is where we are heading.  The hourly service we are using goes to Iglesias, and the train which has arrived from there is going to Cagliari.  The third train will return to Carbonia-Serbariu.  An hour later the train from Cagliari will go onwards to Carbonia-Serbariu but again there will be a connection to and from Iglesias using the unit on which we are travelling.

Iglesias

Iglesias is a pretty town and I undertake a wander around as they have decorated one of the thoroughfares with umbrellas and there is a small square.  I find a small side street for lunch – and it is lunchtime as the entire town, apart from the restaurants, seems to have closed up!

Some of us then take the opportunity of using the interconnection mentioned earlier and visit Carbonia-Serbariu but we merely reach the terminus and then take the return working – which goes through to Cagliari.  I can see evidence of mine wheels in the distance as we enter and leave the station and I believe they mark a coal mine museum indicating the economic history of Carbonia – although there may be a clue in the name!

 

Sardinia 15.10.23

Our Green Train at Laconi

Sunday 15.10.23

Today is a little odd as we use the coach for a return to Mandas where yesterday we caught a service train south.  Today we head in the opposite direction using one of the Green Train services to see more of the scenic beauty in the centre of the island.

An early arrival enables another quick visit to the same convenient coffee shop as used yesterday.  On this journey it is noticeable that just about all of the coach journey travelling times are significantly over-estimated.

Transport today is also a throwback as we have a diesel loco and coaches.  We are heading north from Mandas to Laconi.  The line originally ran through some very rural areas ending in Sorgono; I have found a review of a trip reaching there in 2012 but there is no indication that any services now cover the line north of Laconi on a regular basis.

Part of the journey is alongside a reservoir and we see some very attractive scenery passing by as the line inevitably twists and turns along the hillsides to find their way between the sparse settlements.

Chiesa San Sebastiano at Isili

Other participants are not just taking the train trip but are going on a further excursion but our tour operator only booked the train – this may vary on future such tours.  Looking at the Green Train excursions being outlined for 2024 it seems that they do not normally just offer the train – but it forms part of a larger offering on most of the services.

We return to Cagliari by coach – it is a lot faster by road than it was by rail!  Once back in the capital we have a cultural excursion to the archaeological site at Nora which was originally a local settlement and then a Phoenician settlement.   Later still Punic and eventually Roman which of course sits on the top of the others.  Given its location at the southern end of Sardinia it became a major trading place as it was easily reached from all directions across the Mediterranean.

Roman Mosaics at Nora

As with many Roman sites there mosaics so implying it was a major site in the first century and predates Cagliari by a long time.  We can see that it was highly compact settlement and yet there is a small amphitheatre and other communal facilities, so the population must have been in need of such resources.  However much of the adjacent land is still used by the army and has yet to be excavated so may extend over a much greater area as well as there being a further extension which has now fallen below sea level as this end of the island is sinking into the sea.

We return to Cagliari for dinner.

 

 

Sardinia 14.10.23

ARST Railcar @ Mandas

Saturday 14.10.23

Having used the golf buggy to reach the coach at the top of the hill we depart and head initially south and then turn inland through some more wild and rugged countryside winding around and over some magnificent hills on our way to Mandas – which is where the junction of the line to Arbatax branches off from the line which runs south to Cagliari and also runs northwards.

South of Mandas towards Cagliari there is a pretty regular service run by ARST usually using the same units we have already enjoyed on the west of the island and one or two services (I think for school traffic mainly) that run to a couple of stations north of Mandas on weekdays only.  We arrive in plenty of time and so go in search of a coffee at a nearby establishment which is also popular with the locals and is soon found by many of our fellow travellers.

There are still one or two services provided by older railcars (one was seen earlier in the holiday on the line from Sorso to Sassari) and today one has been found for our journey to Cagliari.  So no air conditioning today!  It is pictured above!

Metro at San Gottardo

Our journey terminates at San Gottardo in the north east area of Cagliari.  The line continues onwards as part of the metro system but our coach is here to convey us to our hotel in the town centre.  The trams use the same gauge and indeed run a little way further out of Cagliari on the line we have used on our inward journey.  The depot is here at San Gottardo.

Our hotel is based in the City Centre near to the main run of restaurants and not far from what is known as the Marina area although there is now a main road between the area and the waterfront.

Elephant Gate Cagliari

Our coach takes us first to the far side of the city and we have views both out to sea and then back across the city to the Castello area.  Having had a distant view the coach then returns to the city to drop us very close to the top of the city which is the Castello district.  This was  originally the location of a  Pisan castle and it represented a change as the main city had previously been elsewhere.

The Aragonese eventually defeated the Pisans and took control of Sardinia.  We walk slowly down the hill from the Castle area past the Royal Palace and the Cathedral – there is a service in progress so we cannot take a look.  We wind back and forth – others seem to know where we are, I will admit to being confused.  We pass through the Elephant Gate and we eventually emerge adjacent to the Bastion de St Remy having walked all the way down the hill and avoided the large number of steps.  I noted a number of restaurants on the way but it is clear that they are uphill!  From here it is a further short walk down more of the hill to the hotel.

The adjacent Marina district is just behind the main street of Cagliari and it contains numerous restaurants so we wander down there for our dinner.

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