NASHVILLE: Not Just Music City

14 Jan

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We awoke to a chilly Nashville morning, refreshed after a (much-needed) good night’s sleep. We were staying at the historic Union Station Hotel, this place is gorgeous! Downstairs the lobby stood vacant making it perfect for picture-taking. When you enter the lobby your eyes are immediately drawn to the spectacular 65-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, made of 128 pieces of “luminous prism” stained glass, it is stunning. The lobby itself is 3 stories high, there are large limestone fireplaces at each end on the main level, on the second level bas-relief panels on each end depict transportation; a steam locomotive on one end, the other a horse-drawn chariot. Down the length of the east and west walls a series of ten limestone arches stand tall, decorated with angels of commerce they each hold a symbol of an item coming from Tennessee; wheat, books, whiskey, etc. Decorated in shades of yellow, gold and terracotta the large space has a warmth and coziness to it, divided into several seating areas the furniture is comfy and encourages one to linger and look about. It is Christmas time, a large decorated tree stands in one area, garlands are draped over wrought iron railings that surround the balcony levels. Outside it looks like a castle, chunky limestone and tall towers. The architectural design of the building is Richardson Romanesque, the interior is dressed up in Art Nouveau style; from the patterns inlaid on the glossy marble floors to the free-standing pieces of furniture, sconces, light fixtures and railing designs, the styles blend beautifully. The train station opened  in 1900 as part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, one of the most unusual features at the time were the two alligator ponds on the track level, gee, wonder why that didn’t last…..By 1979 the building was abandoned, in 1986 it was resurrected and turned into a hotel, an amazing $11 million renovation was completed in 2007. Check this place out, book a room, or just stop in for a drink.

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Across the street stands another architecturally significant Nashville structure;  formerly the main post office, it has been home to the Frist Center For The Visual Arts since 2001. Originally opened in 1934 it screams Art Deco. The exterior is a simple streamline design in white Georgia marble with a little Minnesota granite, but inside it’s an entirely different story. When we walk inside my eyes look from walls to ceiling to floor, all of it ornate. The main lobby is long and narrow, on the ceiling a linear design in black, white and silver runs the length of each wall. The design continues through the center, aluminum and white glass fixtures hang from square black medallions. Walls and floors are marble, a greyish-tan with black marble accents. Incredibly detailed aluminum grillwork pieces cover the upper portions of the walls, each one contains an icon such as an airplane, locomotive, book press, a hammer and anvil are just some of the 20 represented. Everywhere I look I marvel, it is elegant, magnificent. Hard to imagine it was built during the depression. The huge sorting rooms had high ceilings, perfect for turning into galleries. This is a non-collecting museum, so the 24,000 sq ft of gallery space changes exhibits about every 8 weeks. The Center features local, state and regional artists along with major US and international exhibits. By coincidence they were featuring German Expressionism from the DIA collection. It was kind of fun seeing “our” paintings hang in another museum. This is another building you shouldn’t miss.

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For lunch we drove back to the historic Belmont-Hillsboro area, there are lots of cute little places to choose from. Lured in by the promise of good Mexican food we chose Chago’s Cantina. Our waitress was very friendly and guided us through the menu. We picked two house specialties; the carnita stuffed plantain: they take a plantain, split it down the middle and grill it till it’s all warm and caramelized, they pile on  flavorful, tender shredded pork and then top it off with a honey and chili glaze, yum! Our other item was the Chago Roll: grilled peppers, onions, guacamole and rice wrapped up in a wonderful carne asada. They slice it up like a sushi roll, place it on a bed of black beans and drizzle poblano cream on top, delicious! Good choice by us.

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We weren’t far from Centennial Park and the Parthenon, so we went there next. Back in 1897 Nashville hosted the Grand Centennial Exposition, a 100th anniversary celebration of Tennessee’s statehood (actually 101 years, but that’s another story…). Nicknamed the “Athens of the South” because of the number of learning institutions, they used that as the inspiration for the exposition’s theme. The centerpiece, of course, was the full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Originally built as a temporary exhibit, its popularity influenced the decision to leave it standing; the only problem was the materials used were not intended to withstand the elements for an extended period of time. Beginning in 1920 the city began the long process of rebuilding the structure with permanent materials; today it is the world’s only full-size replica of the Greek Parthenon, it is really something to see! The exterior pediment reliefs were created from direct casts of the originals, just incredible. Inside make your way to the upper level, the most mind-blowing feature is the 42′ tall statue of the Goddess Athena. I for one can say I’ve never seen anything like it. There she stands a wonder in gold; a statue of Nike (victory) in one hand and her shield in the other; look closely and you’ll see a serpent slithered up against her shield. The creation of Allen LeQuire, Athena was put in place in 1990 and has been adorned (and photographed) by multitudes of people ever since. Athena is the largest indoor statue in the western hemisphere.The rest of the floor is also a replica of the original building; the 7-ton bronze entrance doors are impressive and the largest of their kind in the world. Back on the lower level the art gallery exhibits its permanent collection, 63 paintings of 19th and 20th century American artists from the James M Cowan collection. Along with other temporary exhibits this area functions as an art museum. This is certainly a one-of-a-kind attraction.

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We took a drive across the Cumberland River to one of Nashville’s oldest neighborhoods, East Nashville. Populated with Victorian-style homes, the area is undergoing a resurgence. We strolled down the lanes taking in the charming, colorful houses, many of them newly painted. There are a couple of business districts just a short walk away for residents, making it a very appealing place to call home. Shops, restaurants and galleries are all the independent sort; Five Points Collaborative is a collective of 8 tiny modular (168-320 sq ft) store spaces that sell everything from beads to apparel. We took our time going in and out of antique shops, galleries and vintage stores; items are eclectic, fun and unique, I bought a pair of earrings made from old bottle caps. When dinner time rolled around we went straight to Far East Nashville on Fatherland Street for Vietnamese. We eat here whenever we are in town, the food is always fabulous. Unfortunately for you our hunger got the best of us and we ate our entire meal before we realized Kris had not shot any pics of the meal…..oops. You’ll just have to trust us on this one, the food tastes as good as it looks! That’s all for today, can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

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