Nashville hospitality

The Bat BuildingBusiness travel can have its perks. In a three month period, I’ve given trainings in 8 different cities. Being away from home that much is draining, but I’ve managed to take advantage of the opportunity to see some friends who I haven’t seen in a while.

When I realized that my trip to Nashville was a Monday-Tuesday trip during Dave’s winter break, I thought it would be a good getaway for us. I cashed in some United air miles and bought Dave a free ticket, and we flew to Nashville last Friday, January 19.

A friend of ours from Boston – Joyce – had moved to Nashville just a few months before, so we stayed with her over the weekend. Since she was new to town, she didn’t have a lot of “faves” or tips on what was good. On the flip side, though, she hadn’t yet become bored with taking out-of-town visitors to all the same touristy spots – at this point, she hadn’t yet visited many of them herself.

We got in late on Friday night so we just hung out at Joyce’s apartment – staying up too late catching up on each other’s lives. We slept in a bit on Saturday, but started off the day going through all the brochures, entertainment guides, etc. that Joyce had amassed in preparation for our trip. Dave quickly narrowed them down by tossing out anything that was out-of-state (though Kentucky isn’t a long drive, we figured we should focus during our first trip to Tennessee). We finally narrowed down our options, made a plan, had breakfast, then headed out.

First we thought we’d pick up some hockey tickets for that evening, so we headed downtown to the Gaylord Entertainment Center, fondly referred to ask the GEC, where the Predators play. There was basically no parking, so Joyce and I sent Dave to get the tix while we waited in the car. Unfortunately there weren’t any cheap seats left, so we had to bail on that idea.

Athena in Parthenon in NashvilleOur next stop was The Parthenon. Little did we know that Nashville was considered the “Athens of the South”. Of course, no Athens would be complete without some version of the Parthenon, which Nashville created for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition. Why don’t we do Expositions anymore? Some of the best tourist sites are the remnants of those things (check out Balboa Park in San Diego). In any case, this Parthenon has been through a lot, but remains standing, and inside is the best part: a full scale replica of the statue of Athena Parthenos. At 41′ 10″ tall, she is the largest indoor statue in the western world, and she is quite scary. I highly recommend it, especially if you can get 2-for-1 admission to the Parthenon from an Entertainment Book.

After getting our fill of new-old Greek culture, we drove around the corner to the local meat-and-three, a lunch counter on Elliston Place. It was a classic diner – with jukeboxes at each table (that don’t work anymore), a sassy-yet-advanced-in-years waitress, and a menu full of stuff that’s bad for you. I opted for meat-and-two (i.e., your pick of today’s meat options plus two sides), Dave braved the meat-and-three, and Joyce opted for a grilled cheese sandwich. That was the best, because she asked the waitress politely about a few of her choices for the meal, as in, “Does that come with fries?” And the waitress replied, “You get what you order.” Plain and simple!

Jack_Daniels_Distillery_13After lunch we got on the freeway and drove down to Lynchburg, TN, home of the finest whisky in the Americas: Jack Daniel’s. It’s well known that Lynchburg is a dry town, so you can’t actually buy a drink while there, nor can the distillery give samples at the end. There is one exception to liquor sales, which is that you can buy Jack Daniel’s in the store at the distillery. Since it’s the same stuff you get at your local liquor store, it’s hard to justify paying “gift shop” prices. Ironically, this is the only thing they actually sell at the distillery – you have to get your JD souvenirs at the shops in the heart of Lynchburg, which is a couple of blocks away.

We got there just in time to miss the cap for the tour that was about to begin, so we waited for about half an hour for the next tour, which turned out to be the last tour of the day. There were only 8 people in our group, which was nice, except that there was this really annoying girl that kept asking stupid questions. The tour itself was lovely, particularly the smells. Even when walking around outside, the smell of fermenting mash wafted through the air. When we were inside the distillery, in the room where the mash was being cooked, the smell created an instant contact high. Then, when we went to where the whiskey was being dripped through the charcoal, the tour guide opened the lids for us each to get a quick whiff – yummy! It made even Dave want a sample of Jack Daniel’s… which of course would have to wait until later.

After the tour we stopped by Lynchburg briefly to check out the gift shops, and then drove the hour-and-a-half back to Nashville. We stopped by Joyce’s house briefly, as well as the liquor store (would you believe that Joyce didn’t already have the JD in stock?!?), and also spent a few minutes with Luke, the Jack Russell Terrier that Joyce was dog-sitting for the weekend. Then, with a new coat of little white dog hairs covering us, we headed back downtown for dinner. We went to Logan’s Roadhouse, which is indeed a chain, but none of us had been there before and it was Southern enough. It was quite tasty. After dinner we went back to Joyce’s house. A friend of hers came over and hung out with us for a while as we all enjoyed the Jack Daniel’s that Joyce had bought – even Dave, who is not normally a whiskey drinker! I will make him a convert yet!

The next morning we got ourselves up and ready to make it to church on time. Actually, we were quite early to church, so we hung out in Starbucks for a while beforehand. The church Joyce is attending in a United Methodist Church that has recently been through a process of renewal and revisioning, and it seemed like a really good place. We enjoyed the service even though it was a traditional style.

We went home to change out of our church clothes, then had lunch in a bar near Joyce’s house. The sandwiches were yummy and the waitress seemed like she was not from Nashville at all. It was telling when she didn’t ask how we wanted to split the check, which is apparently a standard thing here. Then we drove down Music Row and also got a little tour of Joyce’s work, which was neat, since she works in “the biz”.

Opryland_18We had wanted to visit Andrew Jackson’s plantation, the Hermitage, but alas it was cold and rainy. So we headed for Opryland. It’s very hard to explain what Opryland is. Basically, it’s a resort – a very large hotel, with a conference center. Within this resort, which is all indoors, are several large areas that are heavily landscaped and also include some shops and restaurants. To be honest, I was expecting it to be rather cheesy and Disneyesque, so I was surprised when we entered the “Garden Conservatory” area. It was very lush with tropical plants, various levels of winding paths, and waterfalls. Circling the garden were the hotel rooms, each with a nice little New Orleans-style balcony and two chairs. We wandered the paths, enjoying a garden that we wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to visit on a day like that. The next area we went into was “Cascades”, which was more sparse in terms of foliage but featured a very large double waterfall as well as some dancing fountains. Finally we ended up in “The Delta” which was more dense in terms of shops & restaurants, and also included a Delta flatboat tour. We wandered around for a while, checking it all out, and ended up spending some time watching a fountain show for a while. Joyce really wanted to do the tour, but when we walked down there, we discovered it cost like $12! That was a deal-breaker. By this time we were all exhausted, so we headed out.

Before we could get on the highway, though, we realized that Cooter’s was right across the street – featuring the real “General Lee” from The Dukes of Hazzard. So of course we had to take advantage of this bit of Southern culture as well. That meant the theme song was stuck in my head for quite a while afterward…

When we got home we all just wanted to crash. Joyce had gotten free tickets to “Dancing with the Stars” – not the TV show taping, but the “victory tour” they do after the show has aired. None of us was particularly jazzed about going in the first place (none of us watches the show!) but after touring for two days straight, we had about zero motivation left. Plus the Patriots were in the playoffs, which was much more attractive to Dave and Joyce. So we got takeout from a YUMMY burger place called Fat Mo’s, and spent the rest of the evening vegging and watching football.

The next day was Monday, so Joyce had to work, as did I. Dave and I spent most of the morning figuring out how to get the rental car and how to get to the hotel. I spent the afternoon working, and we met up with Joyce for dinner. We headed downtown again, aiming for a B-B-Q place called Jack’s. We found a great spot right on Broadway, walked across the street (in the freezing cold, I might add!) only to find that Jack’s closes at 3 pm Monday-Wednesday! Very disappointing! We walked up and down Broadway once, passing all the honky-tonks, where I was not at ALL interested in eating dinner. We finally ended up at a brew pub that perfectly hit the spot.

All told, maybe we didn’t take advantage of all the sites in Nashville. Unfortunately, as non-lovers of Country music, that narrows down one’s options. However, we did have a lot of very good Southern food. And – happy ending! – I did get to go to Jack’s the next day. You just gotta know who to ask.

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