Unexpected Nashville

19 Jan

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It is our last full day in Nashville, tomorrow we point the Jeep north toward home. We head out for the day and are greeted by bright sunshine and a clear blue sky, that’s more like it! We drive over to the Farmer’s Market on Rosa L Parks Blvd to get a taste of the real Nashville. Divided into three sections there is the Farm area, Market House and Flea Market. We start at the Farm area under two large covered sheds; heavy plastic hangs in the doorway, we push our way through and are greeted with the familiar scent created by the mingling of fresh fruits and vegetables. There is one center aisle, both sides are lined with vendors offering up brightly colored produce; apples and oranges are stacked in pretty arrangements, potatoes come in white, red and purple here, onions range in size from tiny to huge. Ranchers offer up ham and sausage, there’s fresh-baked bread, artisan cheeses and a whole stall stacked with pickled veggies, jam, jelly and local honey. Someone is making kettle corn and it smells delicious. The Market House is an enclosed space that is home to an international market, restaurants and a coffee cafe. This is the place to come if you are hungry and want to try Indian, Jamaican, Asian, French or Mexican cuisine. There is no shortage of sweets; cookies, cupcakes and cheesecake are readily available, grab a cup of coffee to go along with your selection. The Flea Market is open Fri-Sun, it is Winter and Christmas shopping is done for the year leaving a small number of vendors selling their wares. From handcrafted items like jewelry and pottery to home goods and clothing you never know what you will find on any given weekend.

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We drive a little further north to the historic Germantown neighborhood, as good as everything looked at the market, we could not pass up the opportunity to indulge in one of the best cupcakes we’ve ever tasted at The Cupcake Collection. We stopped in on our last visit to Nashville, I can still remember my first bite of their Sweet Lemonade cupcake…… which led to daily visits the entire time we were in town. The bakery is in a neighborhood home; the house itself is charming, painted a deep blue with white gingerbread trim, the large porch is inviting with a table and chairs. Inside there is a short line at the counter, we peer into the glass case, searching for that Sweet Lemonade, but it’s not there……So, today we are trying something new; Sweet Potato for Kris and Wedding Cake for me…..these truly are the best cupcakes…..ever…….We ate ours on the spot, then took a stroll around the neighborhood enjoying the warmth of the sun. The buildings here were constructed from the 1830’s to present day. Following the same fate as many historic neighborhoods, it went from vital and active to run-down and abandoned by the 1970’s. Locals rediscovered this forgotten gem, they moved in, opened businesses and viola, it has turned into a desirable place to live again. Cool restaurants and independent shops continue to pop up as does new housing.

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Next up, Marathon Village. Kris and I are fond of old industrial buildings, we especially like it when someone finds an adaptive reuse for them. Once upon a time in Nashville, Southern Motor Works built the Marathon Motor Car right here in this block of buildings. Where once 4 models of touring cars were assembled you will now find commercial spaces and studios, the best part is they kept the integrity of the building and celebrate its history as a manufacturing facility; original ads are blown up poster-size and hang on hallway walls. The structure is huge, now divided into small spaces each unit is a different shape and size, all sharing a common corridor. Currently home to Garage Coffee Company, a radio station, Corsair Artisan Distillery and Taproom, and a charming space called the Old Time Pickin’ Parlor, the businesses are thriving! Down the block a little way is the building where Marathon offices were, inside is a recreated showroom floor complete with Vintage Marathon Motor Cars, how cool!

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There’s one more shop that is getting a lot of attention: Antique Archaeology. If you like old stuff, are a channel surfer or watch the History Channel regularly, you will recognize the name from the American Pickers television show; this is the location of their Nashville shop. The place is crazy with people, a live band is playing Bluegrass music, a slew of iPhones take photographs of the place. The shop is much smaller than expected, antiques are everywhere from floor to ceiling, it’s hard to focus on one thing. I find myself turning sideways to walk between people, they have some fascinating pieces; old porcelain signs, Indian motorcycles. Light fixtures are hanging from rafters along with vintage bicycles, suitcases, auto-related items such as grills and name plates are scattered about. Folks stand in long lines to purchase t-shirts, hats and other souvenirs from the show. Time has gotten away from us, it will be a late lunch.

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The 12South district is booming, there’s a walkable main street area with a wonderful variety of shops and restaurants.  Urban Grub looked interesting, a funky modern exterior with an outdoor fireplace we decided to give it a try. A large dining room sits to the right, a cozy bar area to the left. The menu serves up contemporary fare; we ordered the Grubaletta sandwich, smoked pork, capicola, mortadella and a spicy tapenade, it was really flavorful. The Berries & Butternut Salad was huge! Mixed greens, berries, nuts goat cheese and a tiny butternut squash quesadilla, the jalapeno agave vinaigrette was delicious. When we were finished we visited shops up and down the street ending at Frothy Monkey for coffee and dessert. I find independent coffee shops in Nashville are much more likely to serve hot food along with coffee and sweets than places in the north. The place was packed, it smelled good, everything looked good too. We decided on a brownie warmed up and drizzled with chocolate sauce, we grabbed our drinks and settled into a booth; it was all excellent. Definitely a place we’ll come back to in the future. 

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And so we will end our trip to Music City with the Opryland Hotel, everyone knows the importance of a grand finale. Remember in the Wizard Of Oz, when Dorothy’s house slams to the ground? She comes walking out, looks around and says “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”. Well, that’s kind of what this is like. We enter the area called The Delta, a New Orleans-style village complete with two and three-story buildings trimmed in fanciful wrought iron. Giant Palm trees sprout from the ground, trunks decked out in colorful LED lights for the holidays. Wide walkways lead us through the ‘town’ lit by old fashioned light posts, Southern Oaks grow tall, leafy plants and flowers are everywhere, and then there’s the river. Yep, I said river, a quarter-mile long as a matter of fact, you can tour the river on a Delta flatboat, do it! I’d say the boats seat about 20 people, a guide points out interesting focal points as you glide by a waterfall and lots of lovely scenery. In the distance we see a gorgeous antebellum-style mansion, it’s 20,000 sq. ft. and yet it just sort of blends in. This area is what I would call the shopping district, and is it ever charming! There are tables and chairs scattered about the lanes, antique, southern-looking fountains dot the space. Shops run the gamut from exclusive ladies shops to T-shirt stores and Haagen Dazs ice cream to a coffee shop and casual eating spots.

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The larger of the two areas is The Cascades, a virtual tropical paradise. Narrow pathways lead us through thick vegetation several stories high, there are at least ten different waterfalls, nine acres of indoor gardens and more varieties of Poinsettias then I ever dreamed existed. The entire hotel is a glass-domed interior space that rises 15 stories high, white lights drape down from the top of the dome creating an incredible visual experience. This is the land of the water feature; pools with fountains pop up intermittently as we traverse the grounds, tiny streams line walkways, we walk behind a waterfall, it is stunning. As far as dining is concerned restaurants here are higher end. Check out the Falls Bar and Lounge, it’s like sitting on an island eating tapas and having cocktails. Walkways continue at several different levels, taking you from secluded tiny paths to more public spaces where towering Christmas trees draw the attention of every camera in the place, it is one beautiful sight after another, a pretend world where everyday the weather is perfect.

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Time to trade in the Music City for the Motor City, we’ll make the eight hour trek in the morning. Nashville is a fun, cool city with much to explore. Having gotten to know her a little better, we bid the city adieu……next time we’ll try something different, I hear they have some music….

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