Spread out along the banks of the Cumberland River lies one of America’s legendary cities: Nashville TN. Probably the first few things that come to mind when you hear” Nashville”, are country music, cowboy hats, boots and the Grand Ole Opry. While all of these things are well represented, it only scratches the surface of this southern belle. Kris and I have been visiting the Music City since the late 1990’s, we have gotten to know her over time, as one does a friend, discovering the many facets that make up her personality. We had not been back since the devastating flood in May 2010, with the luxury of time to travel between the holidays we expanded our Midwest boundaries and headed south. The local snowfall had delayed our departure,we got out of town later than we had planned, which meant we had no choice but to take the freeway down, darn! While traffic moved at a good pace through Michigan and northern Ohio, in Cincinnati we were at a crawl, Louisville was no better, after a quick lunch stop it was back on I-65.
When we reached Bowling Green KY we took a well deserved break to visit the National Corvette Museum. This non-profit museum is dedicated solely to the Corvette nameplate; there are 70 Corvette models on display along with photos, movies, advertisements, models and all sorts of memorabilia. Exhibits are laid out in an easy to follow path, life-size dioramas portray era-correct settings; a large Mobil gas and service station features several beautiful models. I am fond of the older models, the dashboards are so cool, and I love all the chrome; how refreshing to see automobile interiors in bright colors instead of the grey, black or tan of today. One section tells us the history of the Corvette assembly plants from the early days of 1953 when the first 300 cars were built in Flint Michigan to the current plant located right across the road from the museum building; it is the only place in the world Corvette’s are built. Tours of the assembly plant are available Monday-Thursday.
There are engines with names like L88 and L84, race cars, convertibles and most interesting, concept cars; Chevrolet donated the 1-millionth Corvette to the museum. As we wind through the space we find ourselves in an unusual room that is home to the Corvette Hall of Fame, in it we find images of the likes of Harley Earl, the father of the Corvette, along with famed driver Dick Guldstrand, Larry Shinoda, Bill Mitchell and of course Zora-Arkus-Duntov among many others. The museum is a wonderful tribute to “America’s Sports Car”, and well worth a visit.
Finally arriving in Nashville, we quickly check into our room then immediately head to the village of Hillsboro for dinner and a movie. Hillsboro is one of those super quaint neighborhoods we often find bordering a big city. I read that it was a street car suburb as the trolley line went right down 21st Ave, which today is the main street. Comprised of a 4 block radius, the streets are lined with lovely boutiques, galleries, cafes, specialty stores and even an independent bookstore. You can do your banking, drop off your dry cleaning, eat lunch, pick up an espresso machine and have a local beer all on the same block. Homes were built between 1910 and 1940, they are soooo charming, we had to take a walk and get a closer look. Many are brick, and all have porches, windows are beveled glass, doors are ornate wood, the Arts and Crafts style is most prevalent. BothVanderbilt and Belmont Universities are within walking distance giving the neighborhood a lively, vibrant feel.
Zumi Sushi was our restaurant of choice, located on Belcourt it is just a short walk from the movie theater; we have eaten here before and the food has always been superb. The dining room was bustling, with the inclement weather, mainly cold and rain, nobody wanted to sit in the enclosed patio tonight. The menu has many Japanese favorites to choose from including Udon, edamame and bento boxes; we were here for the sushi! We started out with the avocado tempura, yum, and then chose a few specialty rolls; washed down with Zumi’s own mango sweet tea, the meal was delicious.
With just a few minutes before the movie was to start we walked over to the Belcourt Theatre, they were featuring the work of Alfred Hitchcock, showing 24 of his films in 23 days; we were seeing Vertigo tonight. The theatre itself is not one of the fancy ones with gobs of ornate plaster, chandeliers or an elegant lobby, instead paintings from local artists decorate the plain gray walls. Originally opened in 1925 as the Hillsboro Theatre it showed silent movies and sat 800 people. It’s biggest stint came in 1934-1936 when it was home to the Grand Ole Opry. Through the years it went through changes from film to a playhouse and then back to film again before finally closing down. In 1999 it re-opened as a non-profit cultural institution showing independent, documentary, world and classic cinema. The lobby is small but efficient, this is where tickets are sold along with an amazing concession counter. Here at the Belcourt you are not limited to popcorn, candy and soda pop, you can indulge in hot dogs, bratwurst and a full bar offering beer, wine and spirits. Having stuffed ourselves full of sushi, we filed into the auditorium and settled into our seats. The movie trailers began, we were happily surprised that they were vintage Hitchcock trailers, the man definitely had a flair for drama……By the time Vertigo came to an end we were completely exhausted, thankfully it was only a short drive to the hotel where we fell into bed and immediately to sleep. Tomorrow will be full of new adventures.
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.
Across the street stands another architecturally significant Nashville structure; formerly the main post office, it has been home to theFrist 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 theFarmer’s Market on Rosa L Parks Blvd to get a taste of the realNashville. 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.
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.
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!
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 theAmerican 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.
The 12South district is booming, there’s a walkable main street area with a wonderful variety of shops and restaurants. Urban Grublooked 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.
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.
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.
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….