Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tennessee Roadtrip!

Sun Studio, Memphis
Earlier this year, my friend and I were talking about how much fun she had the last time she went to Nashville and how much she wanted to go again. Since I had never been to Tennessee, I jumped on the opportunity and we started to plan a trip together.  During our brainstorming sessions, we decided to see both Nashville and Memphis so that she could see a new place and I could see both in one go. The plan was set... a trip from Thursday - Monday starting in Nashville and driving cross state to Memphis for the second half. 


Me @ Honky Tonk Row
Our flight left Boston bright and early and had us landing in Nashville in time for lunch.  Since we couldn't check in yet, we grabbed a few brochures from the Sheraton hotel and sat down to eat at Demos', a place she remembered had a long line on a previous trip.  While eating my huge chili cheese potato, we planned out the next few days.  This is a bit usual for me as I usually plan everything very far in advance, but my mind has been elsewhere for the last few months and so we were incredibly spontaneous this trip!  It all worked out in the end, so I have no complaints.  From the restaurant, we made our way to the Country Music Hall of Fame.  For the next few hours, I learned all about the history of country music and toured exhibits featuring lots of famous names.  In my opinion, this is a must-do when you are in Nashville.  Even if you don't love country music, there is enough to look at to keep anyone's attention.

After a few side trips into the various shops lining the street on honky tonk row, we made our way back to the hotel to check-in, make reservations for the next day with the concierge desk, and freshen up before a night out.  When I think Nashville, the first thing that comes to mind is country music and lots of dancing!  With a little convincing, I managed to get my friend on board with the idea of line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon.  Even though the huge venue was sparsely populated for Thursday night, we had a great time attending the dance lessons and practicing our new steps.  We even managed to try some of their famous fried pickles (average) and some hushpuppies (delicious!).  A few hours later, the bar closed up early and we made our way (with a group of new friends of course!) down the street to the next honky tonk. Some of our favorites of the night include The Second Fiddle and Whiskey Bent.   The music was live and loud and the crowd was fun!  Almost every honky tonk we walked by had live country music blasting all night long; and there were no covers!  It was amazing!
The Hermitage House, Home of Andrew Jackson
Early the next morning, we met our Grayline tour bus in front of the lobby for a Historic Nashville Tour.  Our first choice was to go behind the scenes at the Opry, but because the Rockettes were setting up for their Christmas Spectacular, the Opry was moved to the Ryman and the tour wasn't offered that day. The historic tour included two stops, The Hermitage House and Belle Meade Plantation, as well as a stop for lunch at a locally owned buffet.  The Hermitage is the home of former president, Andrew Jackson.  He and his family lived in that house for multiple generations before they couldn't afford to keep it any longer and it was turned into a museum by the state.  The tour was guided with hand offs to different guides responsible for different parts of the home.  After the tour, we were free to roam the grounds and walk through where the slave cabins once were, including Alfred's cabin.  Possibly my favorite part of the tour was the field of Belted Galloway cows.  They were so cute and furry, though Kathleen would not let me jump the fence to pet them. 

Nashville music fun!
Before Belle Meade, we stopped at the supposedly delicious local buffet, the Hermitage House Smorgasbord.  For only $10, you can eat as much as you want from a selection of tasteless, and unappealing food.  Everything I took literally had no flavor at all.  Somehow they even managed to remove all flavor from the ranch dressing at the salad bar.  For being in the south, I was severely disappointed.  I can't recommend this stop for anyone looking for flavor.  If you have a dull palate, or maybe some severe dietary restrictions, go right ahead and indulge.

Fortunately, my spirits picked back up at Belle Meade Plantation.  Belle Meade is a beautiful mansion/winery that was decorated for Christmas throughout the ages.  Each room showed Christmas decorations from a different decade.  The tour guide was wonderful and very engaging, and the tour was just long enough to see a lot, but not get bored.  After the tour, we went out to the winery for a wine tasting.  If you know me, you know I love wine..  I purchased a sparkling Riesling that is sitting in my kitchen waiting for the right occasion!  They also had a beautiful gift shop with all sorts of southern paraphernalia.  I could have spent a while here shopping, but we were on a schedule.  The ride back to the hotel was short and in no time we were back in our room getting ready for another night out and a quick dinner at Puckett's where I had the most delicious pulled pork quesadilla.

What is a trip to Nashville without going to the Grand Ole Opry?  As I mentioned before, there was a lot of spontaneity to this trip, so we secured our tickets the night before the event.  We were very lucky to attend the Opry at the Ryman theater, instead of Opryland.  The theater was beautifully intimate and there was a big lineup of both older and young and up and coming country music acts.  Listening to a radio show being broadcasted live was an experience you don't typically get in this age.  It was a fun way to spend the night, and I came away with a new poster and a new band to like, Old Crow Medicine Show!  After the show, we returned to honky tonk row and listened to some more of the live music I was starting to love in Nashville.

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash!"
Because of some hiccups with the room, we were offered a free breakfast on Saturday morning from the hotel's buffet.  This breakfast ended up being one of the better meals of our trip.  I am a sucker for biscuits and sausage gravy, and both we in abundance.  Along with a side of buttery grits, I was in heaven!  After eating, we packed our bags and made some last stops before leaving the city and starting on our TN road trip.  Aside from shopping, and picking up yummy pralines for the rest of the trip, we also stopped at the Johnny Cash museum.  If you love Johnny, or just are interested in his story, the museum is a fun little stop and a nice way to kill an hour or two.  If you're not very interested in him specifically, you can pass on this "museum".  The gift shop is fun to checkout though. 

Inside Opryland!

By early afternoon, we had picked up our rental car from the airport and after a pit stop at Opry Mills just so I could see the huge development, we were on our way to Memphis.  The 3+ hour ride was easy and quick.  When we were planning this trip, we both agreed to stop over in Arkansas so that we could cross that state off of our bucket list.  Fortunately, West Memphis, Arkansas is about 10 minutes away from Memphis, TN.  The first thing we came to on the road was a truck stop.  I don't know about you, but truck stops scream authenticity to me!  We stopped for a short while and perused the small shop.  Arkansas = check!


Memphis BBQ!
By late that afternoon, we rolled into Memphis.  Our path of rolling must not have been the best because we were quickly driving through some scary parts of town.  That was not the best first impression of this Blues City.  We eventually made our way onto the strip and found our Westin hotel near the FedEx Forum.  The location was very close to the bars and restaurants, but only a block in the wrong direction, and I wouldn't be walking outside at night.  I quickly noticed that Memphis was much smaller than Nashville and that maybe we should have allocated our time a bit differently spending another day in Nashville instead.  That night, I convinced my friend to go get barbeque for dinner at Rendezvous.  A short walk from the hotel, we were able to find it quickly and get immediately seated.  Rendezvous is well known for dry rub bbq.  I ordered a small order of ribs and proceeded to stuff my face with the delicious food.  The ribs were actually in a tie with the slaw for what was most delicious on my plate.  After dinner, we walked down the main road looking for a bar and some music.  Quickly realizing that our pickings were slim, we handed over our cover charge at on open air venue, Silky O'Sullivans, and listened to a cover band play many genres of music, with the exception of country.  This was very bizarre to me, but it was a theme of Memphis, no country music.  No boots, no hats, no nothing...  Because Memphis is a big college town, the bars cater to a younger crowd; not at all the same as Nashville.

Inside Graceland
The package we booked at the Westin included breakfast each morning.  Breakfast was plated and served in the hotel restaurant.  Sadly, the Westin is trying to be healthy, and did not offer any traditional southern fare.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I expected.  After breakfast, we dropped off our rental car and headed out to Graceland to have an Elvis experience!  Upon arrival, we purchased our middle-tier tickets (so that we could see the airplanes too) and hopped on a shuttle.  The van basically took us across the street.  I found this odd as we could have walked there faster. The Graceland mansion itself was beautifully set up on a small hill.  The tour was self guided and we were all given a pair of headphones to listen in to an audio tour.  While the audio was helpful, it makes it hard to experience the tour with a friend.  We were often on different parts of the audio and listening made it hard to talk to each other.  We spent about an hour in the home and on the grounds.  I found the burial plots in the meditation garden very calming and a nice touch for visitors who come to Graceland to honor Elvis.  After the tour of the house, we got back on the shuttle and crossed the street back to the crazy tourist plaza.  The plaza contained shops, restaurants, and additional "museums", or more appropriately, exhibits, highlighting different things.  There was an automobile museum, a museum focusing on Las Vegas costumes, etc. etc.  One of the more interesting exhibits was for Elvis's airplanes.  Not just anyone owns multiple airplanes for their personal use.   That was impressive! 

Burial Plot of Elvis Presley
From Graceland, we caught a bus to Sun Studio.  Sun studio is well known for recording some lesser known artists, such as Jerry Lee Louis and Johnny Cash.  Elvis also was there for a short while.  Though the studio was small, the tour was wonderful!  Artists still record at Sun Studio today, so it was nice to be able to touch things and not worry about being extra careful.  There is also a cute little café that serves soda in glass bottles and little snacks if you're getting hungry.  Don't pass on this tour, even though it doesn't seem all that exciting.  It was one of the highlights of my trip.  After about an hour, we got back on the shuttle and made our way to the Rock N' Soul museum.  We did not actually go into that museum, but it was right next to our hotel, so we had a free ride home.  We had a few hours after the busy tour day to decompress in the room and chill out.  After a short while, I went down to the hotel bar to have a drink and mingle with the locals.  I quickly found out it was
Lorraine Motel
Memphis's restaurant week, and wherever we went that night, we'd have limited dining options. 

The last two days, we heard here and there, that we should check out BB Kings.  We decided to listen and walked down to main street to the other end (about 1.5 blocks away - a long street, I know).  We were seated in a half booth that was arranged in stadium style seating around a big stage.  I ordered a cocktail and waited for the music to begin.  Approximately 45 minute later, the musicians got their act together enough to start playing and we were treated to live music while eating dinner.  The food was average, but the atmosphere was fun.  I'm glad we decided to come here and check it out.  After dinner, we decided to make our way elsewhere to find some pecan pie and more music.  As we walked down the street asking each bouncer if they served pie, we found a winner!  We were serenaded by a group of old men resembling the cast of duck dynasty while eating our dessert.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Our last day in Memphis, we ate another healthy breakfast in the hotel restaurant and walked down the street to the Civil Rights Museum.  We contemplated going there the night before, but quickly realized we made the right decision to wait until daylight.  The short walk was questionable through some run down parts of town.  The museum was nice, though small, and focused mostly on the investigation of the death of MLK Jr.  With admission to the museum, we were also able to walk over to the Loraine Motel and stand on the balcony where he was shot.  This museum is a nice side stop in Memphis and even though it is off the beaten path, it is a nice place to see.

Gus's Fried Chicken!
Before leaving for the airport, I had to get in one last taste of southern cooking at Gus's Fried Chicken.  If you know me, I am not one who really enjoys gnawing meat off of bones, but I do believe in experiencing local flavors.  I ordered the fried chicken fingers plate with baked beans and potato salad.  I don't know how, but Gus managed to keep the chicken incredibly juicy and crispy at the same time.  Everything was delicious and I fully appreciated the souvenir soda glass to take home.  One last run with pie left us happy and full on our flight back to Boston.  Gus's is a must do if you like fried chicken and are in the area.  It's a must do even if you don't really like fried chicken, it's that good! 

All in all, I would love to go back to Nashville for round two, but would skip out on Memphis.  Once is more than enough for me.

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