Howdy, and welcome back!
We are safely returned from our Southern roadtrip, and I’ll be reporting in five parts:
Part 1: Nashville, Day 1
First of all, credit where credit is due: The inspiration for this road trip came from this article in Travel & Leisure. The opportunity to explore not one, but two of the country’s most up-and-coming cities was too good to pass up, and the stunning scenery in between wouldn’t hurt.
Stu having driven down the previous day (what can I say – he decided he wanted to drive his own car, not a “boring” rental), he picked me up at the airport on Saturday morning, and off we went on our adventures. We had some time to kill before our walking tour started, and decided to check out the Parthenon. Back in 1897, Nashville wanted to be know as “the Athens of the South” really badly, and to drive home the point, this exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens was erected. It is now used as an art museum. Having each paid our $6 to get in, we found that the art on the lower floor was somewhat eclectic, to put it politely. The real attraction for me was the 41-foot-10-inch tall statue of Athena Parthenos on the upper level. This statue was created in 1990 and was closely modeled on descriptions of the original statue in ancient Greece. The sheer size is impressive, and she doesn’t look like you usually imagine Greek statues. This may be because of the gold leaf, but also due to her commanding presence and sense of fierceness.
We moved on to explore two other attractions of this capital city of country music: Cowboy boots and guitars. Much to my disgust, it turned out that my high insteps are incompatible with cowboy boots, but that didn’t stop me from acquiring a real stetson! Afterwards, we stopped into Carter’s Vintage Guitars, where Stu drooled over the huge array of string instruments, but walked away empty-handed given the small size of our trunk and the large size of his existing collection.
After all that excitement, we were ready for our walking tour. We met our guide, Ryan, at the tourist information office, which is right off of Broadway. By this point – 1pm on a Saturday – downtown Nashville was hopping. Live music was throbbing out of every honky-tonk, the sun was shining, and everyone had a drink in their hand. The “party beer bike tours” (you know, the ones where you pay to pedal around a giant bike with 10 other people and get to drink beer at the same time) were in full swing.
I had found Ryan and the Really Entertaining Tours through TripAdvisor. Honestly, there were a couple of walking tours with good ratings, and his just happened to work best from a timing and availability perspective. At $20 per person, he turned out to be a great choice and I’d recommend him to anyone looking for a way to get to know Nashville quickly from the ground up. We hit all the key spots in the downtown area, and Ryan made the entire 1.5 hour tour hugely entertaining, from pointing out the silver dollars in the floor of the Hard Rock Cafe, to the ‘yoga studio’ on the top floor, to how to pronounce ‘Demonbreun’ properly. I was particularly tickled (as an honorary Yankee) to hear his description of moving from Chicago to Nashville as a 10-year-old, and finding that his two-syllable name – Ry-an – had been shrunk to a single syllable – Rahn.
Having reached the end of the walking tour, we were starving, and, on Ryan’s recommendation, made our way over to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint , where we proceeded to eat the best brisket either of us had ever had – so tender! I was also fascinated by their huge selection of BBQ sauces, some of which I’d never come across. I may have to try making some Alabama BBQ sauce sometime soon – it’s mayonnaise-based, with added tanginess from vinegar and horseradish. Am I the only one whose mouth is watering right now?
Stuffed to the gills with meat and carbs, we finally dragged our weary bones to our hotel.
While researching where to stay in Nashville, the Hutton Hotel had popped up repeatedly as being a boutique hotel with a modern flair that’s been achieving very high traveler ratings. I decided it was walkable, and booked us in for two nights. It wasn’t until our second day that I realized the error of my assumptions: I had spied something on the map called ‘music row’ and assumed that that was where the action was. As it turns out, this is where a lot of music publishers and recording studios were located (and some still are). There are a few bars, but it’s nothing compared to those few blocks of Broadway where every building is a honky-tonk. We gamely walked nevertheless, but were grateful when we remembered the free downtown shuttle that the Hutton provides. (Disclaimer: What Stu and I consider walkable most other people would probably consider a death march – it was about 2 miles from downtown to the hotel.)
With no plans for Saturday night, we consulted the concierge about somewhere to go for live music. Stu, being concerned for my delicate ears, suggested somewhere that wasn’t so loud, and she recommended The Listening Room Cafe. We nabbed ourselves two of the three remaining tickets for the 8:30pm show ($10 each) and went for a quick disco nap before grabbing the shuttle back into town.
In short, we hugely enjoyed The Listening Room. The artists who perform here write the hits for the big Country stars (i.e. Jason Aldean, anyone?), so you get to hear their versions of past and future hits in an acoustic setting. As someone who thinks of Country music as being largely twangy and plaintive, I had a hard time distinguishing what I was hearing from coffee house-type acoustic music. But leaving pigeon holes aside, we had a great evening and enjoyed the music.