Written by Diane Webster.
I learned something on my trip to Nashville – I’m a country girl at heart! I wasn’t prepared to fall in love with Tennessee – but I have to tell you, unless you have a heart of stone, it’s hard not to love the Southern charms of Nashville.
First impressions mean a lot, and our hotel, the Gaylord Opryland, certainly made a good one. Even if you don’t stay there, you really should see it. Aside from Las Vegas, it’s the largest hotel in the world. The Atrium is stunning, and the gardens, waterfalls, and river under the dome are a sight to behold. You don’t have to be a gardener to appreciate the amazing assortment of plants – many in sizes and colors I had never seen before. We stopped for a drink at the revolving Cascades Terrace Lounge and by the time we finished our drink, we had done a slow circle that allowed us to relax and take in the incredible landscape – it’s like being in a real land of OZ!
There is almost a whole town under the Atrium with lots to entertain you: great restaurants, many shops, usually a live (and very good) band, and Miss Devine (a human vine). As you can guess by the number of celebrity services you see around the hotel and grounds, many famous people stay here. While I was strolling through gardens, I walked past Mikey Teutul (of American Chopper), and when I was at the spa, they told me that they just had Paula Deen (from the Food Channel) and her husband Michael in for a manicure and pedicure. It was like being in Hollywood – and we hadn’t even been to downtown yet!
As much as I enjoyed the Opryland, I was really hooked when we made a trip to downtown Nashville. Did you know that more than half the music in the United States — not just country, but ALL music, is recorded in Nashville? The history here is as rich as the characters that created it. Within a few blocks, you’ll come across a staggering number of famous recording studios, each one favored by a different assortment of artists. It’s easy to feel the hope of would-be stars with so many opportunities within their reach. And, if you want to check out the candidates for stardom, pop into any one of the many honky-tonks. They may not be fancy, but they have great bands. Elvis and many others got their start in these very bars. Just the week before we were there, Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson got married on stage at local honky-tonk, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Everyone in the bar at the time was invited to the celebration. Is this a cool town or what?!
When in Nashville, you should pay your respects to the famous Ryman Theater, “The Mother Church of Country Music” and the start of it all. Its colorful history includes being the first home of the Grand Ole Opry. Talk about a place filled with memories! You’re welcome to go right on stage and wander at will throughout the hallowed halls which have interesting memorabilia and a nice video clip explaining the history. The acoustics here are said to be second only to the Mormon Tabernacle, surpassing even Carnegie Hall! While the Grand Old Opry (the longest running radio show in history) has moved its permanent location, the Ryman has thankfully been restored and is again being used for performances.
We also went to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful museum – very creative in its layout and displays. I have to admit I didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about country music, but I learned a lot and I loved the museum. There are gowns, guitars and memorabilia from the very beginning of Country Music to present day. It also has Elvis’s gold Cadillac (which he drove to the museum himself). Another favorite attraction is Webb Pierce’s 1962 Pontiac Bonneville–complete with steer horns, a western saddle console, and lots of chrome plated guns and silver dollar inlays.
Nashville is called the Athens of the south because of its abundance of Arts, Education and Medicine. There is the stunning Vanderbilt College; an amazing assortment of medical centers; and wonderful sculptures and architecture throughout the city. There is even a Parthenon – with a 42-foot statue of Athena – just as in ancient Greece! The building (which is now one of the city’s art museums) and the Athena statue are both full-scale replicas of the originals.
One night we ate at the New Orleans Manor. The original manor was designed by the same architect that did the Nashville Parthenon. Rebuild after a fire in 1929, the mansion served as an important center of social events for many years. For the last 30 years it’s been leased by a family who dishes up “The Seafood Feast” – a buffet with many house specialties and my favorite, great crab legs. Waiters also bring other just-cooked dishes around to the tables like fried mushrooms and frog legs and Oysters Rockefeller. Douglas Wright, one of the current proprietors, was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the interesting building and explain its construction and history.
Nashville has dinning choices for every palate and budget. And, while you can easily find the same foods you have at home, it’s fun to sample some of the local fare like, fried green tomatoes at BB King’s; or Deep Fried Pickles at Wildhorse Saloon. Had our timing been right, the Wildhorse regularly has dance lessons there too. I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Krystal Burgers (which is like a fried version of White Castles). When I told our guide we didn’t have Krystal Burgers at home, he gasp “How do ya live?!” According to him, everyone, including officially declared state treasure, Dolly Parton, loves Krystal Burgers. I didn’t dare mention that I was a vegetarian.
I love old architecture, so it’s little wonder that Nashville would win me over. Many of the buildings in downtown Nashville are well over a hundred years old. Some shops not only look old, but they still do things the old fashioned way. One of my favorites was the amazing Hatch Show Print shop. Stepping into this shop is like stepping into the past where wooden typesetting blocks, roller inked screens and manual presses produce posters just as they were done many years ago. The shop is favored by some of today’s stars who appreciate the unique quality they get by having their show posters done here.
There is also the historic The Hermitage Hotel, the State Capital and much more all within a short ride. You can see a great deal within a nice walking distance, or you can catch a horse and buggy ride or take a bus tour which is a great way to get the lay of the land and learn a lot of interesting facts along the way.
It’s true that there is definitely something warm and appealing about Southern hospitality. We found it everywhere and loved it. Add a fascinating city with a rich history and wonderful entertainment and I think you’ll fall in love with Nashville too.
Diane, Classic Travel’s President Joy Thrun’s sister, retired from the State of Michigan where she worked in the area of information technology and served on the original e-Michigan team that launched the Michigan.gov website. Travel is a family passion and, like her parents and siblings, Diane has delighted in traveling the world. She has enjoyed Hawaii, Alaska, and many destinations throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. She has also had the pleasure of traveling to China, Japan, France, Spain, Italy, England, Monaco, and Malta.