As a winner of our 2015 Travel Writing Scholarship, Evelyn traveled to the U.S. to explore this confounding and captivating melting pot.
Valencia Street and Mission Street, running parallel to each other, will best show you San Francisco's conflict with itself. Valencia seems to cater to the modern middle-class hipster generation. Minimalist art galleries, couture coffee houses and strange niche stores – including Paxton Gate (a taxidermy store) and a 'pirate supply store' (826 Valencia). Cross over to Mission and the scenery changes rapidly. Preachers screaming into megaphones on street corners, dollar bazaars, brothel fronts and abandoned theatres. The gentrification of San Francisco has produced a certain paradox. In which would-be screenplay writers can craft urban grit stories at a local indie coffee house on Valencia, whilst remaining unaware that one block over, on Mission, live the people for whom these stories are in fact a reality.
Beale Street was one of the most important stomping grounds for African-American culture, (originally closed to white people), which spawned music that still influences the world today. A recent monetary investment in the neon district has brought the old favourites back to life. Between the voodoo knick-knack stores and old swinging diners, you’ll find soul music is a life source here. World famous live music bars, such as BB Kings, show that in a time of racial tension in America, music unites all. Over the years it has become an eclectic area, with Irish pubs springing up and hidden beer gardens. It’s even host to the Coyote Ugly bar, made famous by the 2000 cult film of the same name. Beale Street is essentially a music history pub crawl. Bring your dancing shoes, start the drinking early and plan for one hell of a hangover.
With a sprawling sky-line and gentrified spins on dive bar culture, Nashville could easily be described as the polished edition of Memphis. Downtown Nashville boasts glorified southerner culture, but out towards the university district you’ll find million dollar mansions, up-market interior décor stores and bohemian art sectors. A 15 minute car drive may well take you from a rodeo themed strip club to an independent, organic, micro-brewery serving, hippy café. Nashville appears to suffer the same identity crisis as San Francisco. But it’s a beautiful identity crisis to experience. In order to get around it’s best to drive or take cabs, public transport is only good if you are planning to explore downtown and nowhere else. Drink in the dim dive bars, but eat in the hipster bistros, in order to get the best out of both Nashville cultures. If possible, give yourself a minimum of 3 or 4 days in Nashville, and try to explore a different sector each day. It will feel like exploring several different cities in one place.