Tag Archives: Nashville

Southern Roadtrip – Nashville

When we first arrived in the States and people asked me which American cities I wanted to visit, Nashville was always in my top three. I love live music, I’d got quite into the ABC show ‘Nashville’ which had encouraged me to explore country music, and it just seemed like Nashville would be a cool place to visit.

I chose Midtown as our base for the two nights we would be there. Nashville’s official tourist website advertised the area as full of bars and places to catch live music, as well as being the home of the famous music row, where the recording studios can be found.

Because R had to work we were flying in from different places and meeting at the hotel. I arrived first and so had some time to wander around and check out some bars/restaurants for later. As I walked around Midtown in the afternoon sunshine I was thoroughly glad we’d chosen to stay there. Midtown’s bars and restaurants are clustered around a square of about three or four blocks, so it’s a pretty compact area. Most of the restaurants had outside space, or open frontage, and people were hanging out and generally enjoying themselves. At the end of these streets is Vanderbilt University, which is a beautiful, very green campus. And then there was music row. Not really a row at all, but a few blocks of cute, suburban-looking houses that you wouldn’t know were recording studios except for the signs. It’s a lovely, and peaceful part of Midtown.

Of course, when evening falls, it’s a different story. Nashville is a party-town, and Midtown, with its compact area of bars, restaurants, and reasonably priced chain hotels is a hot spot for bachelor and bachelorette parties – especially, we discovered, on Memorial Day weekend. From very early in the evening there were groups of young people on the streets, looking for a good time. I found a space at the bar of a place called the Corner Pub, which it turned out was usually a college bar, but was quieter that night because school was out. Immediately a couple of things struck me. First, people here were out to get very drunk, and second, you can smoke in bars in Nashville. I’d forgotten how cigarette smoke just completely puts you off eating anything – even though I knew the wings and pickle chips would taste amazing with my laguintas and bourbon, I just couldn’t get over the smell of the cigarette smoke.

But it was a fun bar. For the first time in my life a waitress came over with a shot and told me it was from ‘that guy over there’. I had no idea what to do! As I sat, trying to work it out, I observed as they embarked on a mission to get drunk – they and the rest of the bar. The bar staff decided that every time they rang a bell, certain shots would be on offer, and that’s how I ended up with an untasted jaegermeister sitting in front of me for the rest of the evening. Eventually the guy who’d sent it to me came over and made conversation, so I was able to thank him and explain that I was waiting for my husband. But I think he was probably too drunk to really understand. It was in this bar that I learnt the American rhyme for drinking order: ‘Liquor before beer, in the clear; beer before liquor never sicker.’ Which seemed to me to be the opposite of the English version I was brought up with: ‘Beer before wine, you’ll feel fine; wine before beer, you’ll feel queer’? But that’s all by the by.

When R arrived the evening started properly – we found food and then live music at a great place called The Row, which we discovered the next day also did really great brunch. That evening it was really good, old-fashioned country – the singer, Heidi Jean sang her own songs but also things like the Dixie Chicks to a very appreciative audience.

The next day we set out to see the rest of Nashville. Although it was certainly an experience, we weren’t that struck by Honky Tonk Alley in downtown. Very touristy, it’s just a street of bars with bands and shops selling boots and hats. It didn’t feel at all authentic, and in fact reminded us of Blackpool. We did enjoy the Johnny Cash museum though. It’s a really amazing collection of items owned by Cash, and especially tells the story of his fan club. It also showcases Cash’s art work, and has a video recording of Cash reciting Ragged Old Flag, which was cool. One thing I was slightly disappointed by was that the museum didn’t really explain what place Nashville had in Cash’s story – whereas an article in the hotel’s guide book had done an excellent job of this. But a good alternative context was provided by an exhibition on Cash’s contemporaries like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. Most excitingly we saw Perkins’s actual blue suede shoes!

Later in the afternoon we caught a bit of Nashville’s live music festival at Centennial Park.

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This was just perfect. Music, beer and ice cream in the sunshine. Getting the beer was a bit of a performance – we had to queue for the police to see our IDs, then we had to queue to buy tickets, and then we could queue to exchange these for actual beer. But I think this all added to the experience.

We had time between the festival and dinner, so we stopped into a bar for sliders and beer – and got free Koozies!

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Koozies – keeps your beer cool and your hand cozy. These are from Slider House in Nashville.

While at first we found this bar unusually quiet, a guy with a guitar soon arrived on stage and started singing some Johnny Cash.

Then it was time to try Nashville’s speciality of Hot Chicken (more on this another time!) and hit the hay. We had a long day’s drive ahead of us!

Read on: Southern Road Trip – Atlan’a

Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food:

East Coast Adventures – Southern Road Trip

I’m just back from the road trip that I mentioned R and I were planning when I first started this series of travel posts. I’m not sure how accurate it is to term it an East Coast adventure now, as we didn’t drive to Nashville from DC via Kentucky as we had originally thought we might – it turned out that R had to work the Friday and I had to be back for Tuesday evening. But we did at least drive eastwards from Nashville to the coast and back to DC, so maybe it still fits here.

We some amazing experiences. We heard live country music in Nashville, experienced the Southern Mount Rushmore, and swam in the ocean off South Carolina. The food was excellent too – we ate a lot of chicken (you really can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want…) and some seriously authentic South Carolina barbecue.

I’ll cover each of our destinations separately, but I thought it would be helpful to give a bit of an overview of our trip and what we learnt about American road trips – especially short ones. So here are eight things I learnt:

1. America is big.

Only in America, I thought, would the GPS system’s instruction to ‘continue for 134 miles’ sound reasonable, normal, run-of-the-mill even. The main thing I took away from this trip was a greater appreciation for just how huge the US is. Driving from Nashville to Atlanta, Atlanta towards Charleston, and from just south of Myrtle Beach back to DC totaled up to over 1000 miles. This area looked far smaller on the map! I think I was partly misled by the fact that Sherman’s army marched a route a little like ours from Atlanta – I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to cover those distances on foot.

2. Driving takes a long time (and)

3. It’s difficult to have a great time in cities when you only have a short amount of time

Following on from my first realization, I now understand how much time road trips require. It would certainly have been possible to drive from Atlanta to Charleston in a day, but we worked out that, on our schedule, we wouldn’t arrive there until 5pm and, as we had to be back in DC the next day, we would only have the evening to experience what I’m sure is a very interesting city. In the end we prioritized regional experiences over slap-dash attempts to ‘do’ cities in a couple of hours, and I’m thoroughly glad that we did. For a start, if you don’t know a city and have had to choose rather randomly where to stay, you can end up not having a great time and feeling like all the action is taking place somewhere else… This happened to us to a certain extent in the downtown areas of Nashville and Atlanta; luckily though, we had some time to find the fun in Nashville as we were there for two nights and I had done quite a bit of research. More on this soon.

4. Driving is boring

Especially on the interstate, which also requires high levels of concentration and can cause stress. Getting off the interstate is far more interesting, especially if you go through little towns, but even this gets old after 5 hours. Luckily we like country music and there were plenty of stations we could cycle through that were all playing the same songs – eventually we were able to sing along. Only in South Carolina did we have trouble finding country stations amongst all the religious channels… Next time I’m going to take my own CDs or invest in some kind of adapter so I can play MP3s off my phone.

5. The Interstate is anonymous

Bill Bryson bemoans this in Lost Continent – especially mourning the demise of Route 66:

It was only two lanes wide […] hopelessly inadequate for people in motor homes, and every fifty miles or so it would pass through a little town where you might encounter a stop sign or a traffic light […] So they buried it under the desert and built a new superhighway that shoots across the landscape like a four-lane laser and doesn’t stop for anything, even mountains.

Certainly, the interstate will get you from city to city quickly, but I think there’s a distinct possibility that if you traveled the whole of the States on just the interstate, you would get the impression that America was all the same, and that Americans only ate in chain burger and chicken joints. Some stretches are nice, tree-lined and cutting through farmland, but others are four lanes on each side, with those motor homes fighting lorries for the middle lanes, forcing others to undertake, and nothing else to look at except clustered billboards for McDonalds, Fairfield Inns, Taco Bell, etc.

We tried, where possible, to get off the interstate and really enjoyed taking those back roads through little towns. In Georgia we stopped at a traffic light in one of these towns and saw people sitting on rocking chairs outside the local store, and in South Carolina we stopped outside the old courthouse in Saluda to find some lunch. I’m sure that if it hadn’t been Memorial Day we would have found somewhere local to eat, but unfortunately everywhere apart from the gas-station branch of Subway was closed…

6. Navigating using only an iphone is high risk

Googlemaps is great. It has revolutionized travel for me. No matter where I am in the world I can use it to find my way around a city, find restaurant recommendations, and navigate a road trip. Where once I would have needed multiple road atlases, guide books and print outs, I now only need the iphone. However, at certain crucial points in the journey this system almost let me down. For example, in order to save battery I would close the app when we had over a certain number of miles on one road and switch it back on when I guessed we were getting close to a more complicated bit. All fine in theory, but often I’d switch on the phone and realize I had no reception. Even with two phones it was annoyingly often the case that one would have no signal, while the other one might have signal but would be almost out of battery. I think in future I’ll still use the iphone, but possibly bring some kind of hard-copy backup – and I’m definitely going to invest in an iphone charger like this one.

7. Use a good car

As with all things, you need the right tool for the job. If you attempt a road trip in a rental car, pay what you need to to get a car that you know and will be comfortable in. 1100 miles in a Chrysler 200 is not fun for either driver or passenger. Also, the higher price vehicles might be more likely to have USB ports for your phone and MP3 player…

8. Travel with someone you really like

The driver is at times going to get irritable, and the navigator is going to call out turns too late and be annoyed when the driver misses the exit. But if you know and like each other then you can usually find the right thing to say – a shared joke or a well-timed observation – to get you back on track. I really enjoyed even our longest drives together on this trip – even, in some strange way, the hellish drive back into DC, when the lorries were hogging the middle lane and the whole thing came to a standstill, and we had to come up with a contingency plan to return the rental car when six I clock came and went and our branch of Enterprise closed…

Anyway, we survived our first American road trip. We even survived our journey along the back roads of Georgia and South Carolina, where friends anticipated we might have tense exchanges with law enforcement officers starting with something like ‘You folks ain’t from around here…’. And while our road trip didn’t have the most romantic of returns, the fact that we’re willing to try it all again is perhaps proof of the strength of our marriage!

Read onSouthern Road Trip – Nashville

Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food: