Outside Nashville: The Hermitage

Andrew Jackson was born fatherless and orphaned at 14.  He made his own way in the new America by taking chances and bending the rules.  He was courageous, independent and determined.  Do I sound like a fan?   

All I knew about Andrew Jackson going into The Hermitage was that he was horrible to Native Americans and he loved his wife Rachel.  I definitely wasn’t a fan.

Regardless, we ventured out of Nashville to “The Hermitage – Home of the People’s President.”

As a young man, Jackson lived in a boarding house in Nashville.  He was attracted to the proprietress’ daughter, Rachel.  Unfortunately Rachel was already married and trying to stay away from an abusive husband.  The attraction went both ways.  

Rachel and Andrew left town for a time in 1791.  When they returned, they reported that Rachel had been divorced and they had married.  However, there was no official record of the divorce or the marriage.  When Rachel finally obtained her divorce in 1793, she and Andrew were officially married the next year.  

The innuendo about their courtship and marriage caused much angst over the years.  Jackson fought a duel defending Rachel’s honor years later.

Having no credentials by birth, Andrew Jackson knew he wanted to be known and respected.  He earned that recognition in the military and was elected General of the Tennessee Militia.  He never asked his men for anything he didn’t do himself.  He earned the name Old Hickory.

Jackson gained acclaim for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.  If the city had fallen, there was fear the British could split the country from Canada in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.  It was one of the pivotal battles in the war.  (A treaty had been signed prior to the battle but was not yet ratified nor known to those involved in the battle.)

In defeating the British, Jackson restored the country’s dignity and confirmed that this fledgling  country was here to stay.   The acclaim raised his national profile and was a precursor to his rise into politics in Tennessee and to the US House and Senate.

He was an inspiration to those who wanted to believe that hard work and determination mattered more than a birthright to power and privilege.

Jackson was sharing time between Washington DC and his home outside Nashville, The Hermitage.   Following are pictures from inside the main house.

The story of the Jackson family and The Hermitage should also include the stories of 150 enslaved people. 

Our tour was called “In Their Footsteps – Lives of the Hermitage Enslaved”

Unfortunately, only a small portion of their stories are known.  One that is known is that of Hannah and her family. Hannah was purchased by Andrew Jackson in 1794. That bill of sale still exists.  Hannah had a daughter named Betty who was the enslaved cook for the Jacksons for many years.   

Betty had a son named Alfred who lived at The Hermitage longer than any other person, white or enslaved.  We’ll come back to Alfred at the end.

These foundations were the enslaved people’s homes and work spaces.  Archeological evidence suggests that the middle room was occupied by an enslaved seamstress named Gracie.

These bricks, on the main house complex, and made at The Hermitage show the fingerprints of the enslaved person who made them.

Like many of his era, Andrew Jackson never expressed any qualms about slavery.

During Andrew Jackson’s run for the presidency, his opponents brought up Rachel’s questionable marriage past almost 40 years after the fact.  When Jackson was elected, but before he took office, Rachel died.  Jackson always believed that the election nastiness related to Rachel’s past caused her death.

Deep in grief, Jackson was determined to fulfill the office to which he’d been elected.  He served from 1829 – 1837.  

The “Age of Jackson” brought about great change in the United States.  Some approved those changes and many did not.  Jackson expanded the powers of the presidency beyond those held by the six presidents who had preceded him.   He sought to restore power to “We the People” but the people didn’t include women, those trapped in slavery or Native Americans.

Andrew Jackson had a number of “firsts” as president:  He was the first to be from a state besides Massachusetts and Virginia, and the first from Tennessee. He was the first president to ride a train and be from immigrant parents.  He was the first president to be assaulted while in office and the first to face an assassination attempt.   He was the last president to have served in the Revolutionary War and the only one to have been a prisoner of war.  He was also the only president to have paid off the national debt.

Andrew Jackson believed strongly in state’s rights for many things but, when those rights came into conflict with the national interest – the national interest won.

His presidential record is varied and messy.  I am not trying to make this a comprehensive review of the Jackson presidency.  There is, perhaps, some good, and definitely some bad.  

Jackson’s lasting legacy for many is the forced removal of tribes from the southeastern United States.  Even though the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole were considered “civilized,” Jackson sought their removal to lands west of the Mississippi.  The Indian removal policy lasted beyond his presidency, but Jackson was the architect.  The ethnic cleansing and forced removal of approximately 60,000 native peoples, eventually known as the Trail of Tears, is on him.

After his presidency, Jackson returned to The Hermitage to live out his remaining years. 

He commissioned a Greek Revival Tomb to be his and Rachel’s place of rest.  

It sits near the family plot….

….and near Rachel’s gardens.

Her tombstone epitaph, written by Jackson himself, reflected his belief in her virtue and his love for her. Jackson’s tomb simply reads General Andrew Jackson. He always preferred to be called General rather than Mr. President.

And now, we revisit the third generation enslaved man, Alfred.  He chose to stay at The Hermitage after the Civil War and emancipation had freed him.  He worked for pay and was a tenant farmer. In 1889 The Hermitage Association took over the estate and hired Alfred as caretaker and guide.

Over the years, Alfred purchased Jackson family heirlooms and, late in his life, he traded those to The Hermitage Association for the ability to live out his days on site in “Alfred’s Cabin.”

When Alfred died, his funeral was held in the main house.  Alfred was buried near Andrew Jackson at his request.

I am glad we visited The Hermitage and learned about the people enslaved there and about Andrew and Rachel Jackson.

We learned a lot about the man, the soldier, the husband and the president.  I like Andrew Jackson the husband and can appreciate him as a soldier serving Tennessee and our country.  He was a man of his era and region – perhaps no better or worse than others – and he made his mark without benefit of noble birth. I can be a fan of most of that. 

My feelings about him as a president are less forgiving.   How about you? Fan or not?

Next up:  Another enslaved man turned tour guide in Mammoth Cave Kentucky.

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Outside Nashville: Belle Meade Plantation

Our first journey outside Nashville was to the Belle Meade Plantation. It sits on the Natchez Trace, a former Native American path connecting settlements.  

John Harding bought the site in 1807 and began developing a farm he called Belle Meade or “beautiful meadow.”

This was the first Harding cabin at Belle Meade.

One of his priorities was to establish a blacksmith shop, charging for and providing services for neighbors and travelers along the Natchez Trace.  Enslaved person, Ben, was Harding’s blacksmith for ten years until he escaped.  Ben was never found, despite Harding’s offer of a $20 reward.  Harding also had cattle and sheep in addition to a cotton gin, and a saw mill. By 1816, John Harding was boarding and breeding horses. 

After Harding’s death, his son William inherited Belle Meade.  William married and he and his wife Elizabeth had two daughters who survived to adulthood, Mary and Selene. 

Over the decades William Harding acquired additional property, eventually owning 5,400-acres.  He also held 136 enslaved people. 

In 1853 he expanded his fathers house into a much larger mansion. (We were able to tour the mansion but not take photos.)

During the Civil War, Harding donated money to the Confederacy and was made a Brigadier General.  He was captured by Union forces and imprisoned in the north.  He paid a $20,000 bond and signed an oath of allegiance to the United States.  Harding was released and confined to Belle Meade.

After the Civil War, Harding resumed horse racing and breeding operations, albeit with fewer workers. Of the 136 people he had enslaved, 72 chose to work for pay at Belle Meade. 

One of those who stayed was Bob Green.  Bob was an integral part of the horse training and breeding enterprise eventually enjoying international acclaim and respect.

Bob bought land off the plantation for a family home but they also used Harding’s original cabin as a residence. 

There is some sweet irony in a former slave, now a horse training and breeding deity, residing in the Harding cabin.

In 1868, Harding’s daughter Selene married William Jackson, also a former Confederate Brigadier General. The couple lived at Belle Meade

The Harding-Jackson children enjoyed a playhouse built in the 1870s.

While Selene managed the household, Jackson worked with his father-in-law in the horse business.  They, with Bob Green, developed Belle Meade into a nationally renowned thoroughbred farm. 

By 1875, Harding and Jackson’s focus on breeding led to annual yearling sales. 

They had many successful thoroughbred studs, including Bonnie Scotland and Enquirer, whose bloodlines long dominated racing in America. 

In 1881, Iroquois was the first American-bred horse to win the Epsom Derby in England.  Jackson attracted international attention when he bought the stallion in 1886.  Iroquois was the leading sire in the United States in 1892. 

Thoroughbred racing was very important in the social life of southerners and Tennessee was at the center of horse racing in the United States throughout the 1800s.   During that time Belle Meade was the premiere breeding farm in the country.  

The plantation carriage house was utilized by many visitors for yearling sales and other activities at Belle Meade.

At its height, Belle Meade boasted breeding thoroughbreds, the mansion, a gun club, spring house and hunting grounds. It featured a 500-acre deer park which held 200 deer, and smaller numbers of elk, bison and water buffalo.   

Baseball replaced horse racing as the top American sport, and the temperance movement campaigned against horse racing and its associated gambling.  When the Tennessee Legislature outlawed gambling, the focal point of horse racing in the United States shifted to Kentucky.

In 1903, both Jackson and his adult son, William Harding Jackson, died.  The plantation had massive debt. The trustees of the estate decided to sell Belle Meade in 1906. The company released the deer from the fenced park. 

In 1938, most of Belle Meade’s former acreage was incorporated into the independent city of Belle Meade, Tennessee. The mansion and 30 acres were preserved by five private owner families who lived in the home. In 1953 the State of Tennessee bought the mansion and a collection of outbuildings to ensure its preservation. 

Belle Meade Plantation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now owned by a preservation association.  It is operated as an attraction, museum and winery. 

In 2009, Belle Meade opened Tennessee’s first Winery. Their wines specialize in using native muscadine grapes. A tasting is included with your tour ticket.

Next post:  The Hermitage….Does Andrew Jackson have any redeeming qualities?

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Nashville: Studio B and the Country Music Hall of Fame

Elvis Presley recorded five records at Sun Records in Memphis before RCA bought his contract for $35,000. In January, 1956,  Elvis recorded his first song, Heartbreak Hotel, in Nashville.

Work on Studio B began that same year and began producing records in 1957.  It is the oldest, surviving music studio in Nashville.  Our guide told us the studio was not RCA property but was used by RCA artists. Other artists, like the Everly Brothers also recorded there but were not RCA signed.

During this time, Rock and Roll was siphoning off country music fans so producers softened the country twang and created the Nashville Sound.  Over 1000 hits were recorded in Studio B.

We saw this picture of a younger Connie Smith. We had enjoyed her performance the night before at the Opry.

Producers and musicians were creative.  Roy Orbison was the first to move behind the blanketed coat rack to isolate the voice from the music.  They were able to create two tracks and produced the reverb.

This picture shows Jim Reeves but I’m including it because it shows the blanket over the coat rack behind him.

This board shows music represented with a numbered chord system. Commonly used now, that system was invented at Studio B.

Skeeter Davis recorded her song The End of the World at Studio B.  It made history as the song was number one on all four music charts.  It was also the first to use over dubbing – meaning Skeeter was singing her own harmonies. 

Dolly Parton was an RCA artist who recorded at Studio B.  She was so nervous before her first session that she hit the brick building with her vehicle before going in. 

Trisha Yearwood was a Studio B tour guide before she made it big as a performer.

Studio B’s acoustic were very good but the real draw to record there was that Elvis recorded there.  He recorded at Studio B more than any other place.

In this photo Elvis is pictured wearing a tie.  That is because he came to record while in uniform during his military service.

This 45 record sleeve was unique in that Elvis’ song was being rushed into production but it did not yet have a title.  The eventual title was Stuck on You and it was on put on the record label itself.  This use of a sleeve opening large enough to see the title was a first.  Within 48 hours 1,000,000 records were pressed and shipped.

Elvis’ hit Are you Lonesome Tonight was recorded in total darkness while he stood at this microphone. 

Elvis played his own piano while recording the song Walk On.

The last songs Elvis recorded at Studio B were My Way and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  

Elvis wanted to record Dolly Parton’s song I will Always Love You but negotiations fell apart because Elvis’ manager, the Colonel, wanted them to receive half the royalties. Dolly refused.  She never gave up royalties on any of her 5000 plus songs. Whitney Houston and Dolly both recorded I Will Always Love You and she still made a lot of money with it – even without Elvis.

We explored the Music City Walk of Fame.

We enjoyed the story behind the architecture of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Beginning on the left, the radio antenna represents the broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry.  The circle stack below it represents 45, 78 and 33 RPM Records. The outward projections along the circle portion represent the song Will the Circle Be Unbroken as it would be on a player piano cylinder.  The main building has windows in the pattern of piano keys.

When we first entered we were able to enjoy a concert by Sister Strings. 

The top floor highlights Country Music’s origins into the 1960s. Included was a display about Bill Anderson, who we had seen at the Opry the night before.

Maybelle Carter’s husband spent $275 on this guitar.  It was a fortune at the time but also an investment in their future. It seemed to work out!

Bill Monroe’s mandolin is said to be the most famous in history.  Built in 1923, Bill found it in a Florida barbershop and purchased it in the mid 1940s.  A home intruder destroyed the mandolin in 1985 and Gibson Company painstakingly reconstructed the mandolin from 150 slivers of wood.

In a transition between floors we saw several walls of Gold and Platinum records (sales of 500,000 and 1,000,000 respectivly.)  There are 854 country albums displayed, all awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America. 

The main floor highlights the music and artists from 1960s to present.  Only one tenth of their holdings are on display at a given time. 

This display showed about a dozen first drafts of songs.

This is another example of the numbered chord system, developed in Nashville, but now used everywhere.

We learned how country music changed as Los Angeles came onto the music scene.  Musicians pushed the boundaries and created Country Rock in the late 60s and 70s.   

Linda Rondstadt was from Tucson and had an authentic Mexican aspect to her music.  The musicians who became The Eagles were her back up group. Several artist credited her with helping them.

We had seen Emmy Lou Harris the night before and she was highlighted as one of the artists who bridged between LA Country Rock and mainstream country.    Others were Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, and Martina McBride.

Country and Rock influenced each other.  Crossover stars included Glen Campbell, Lynn Anderson, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Barbara Mandrell.

Discovered while playing in a Nashville venue, Taylor Swift signed with RCA at age 14.  She started in country music and then had a decade of pop superstardom.  She has recently re-emphasized her country roots and sponsors the Taylor Swift Education Wing at the Country Music Hall of Fame. This “tour bus” allows people to record themselves.

The Country Music Association has elected Hall of Fame Members since 1961.  The plaques are placed like notes on a staff.

The room is round so all members are of equal importance. The words are once again from the Carter Family song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

The replica radio antenna we saw from the outside continues on the inside. We enjoyed our day learning about country music and the Nashville sound.  

Here are some additional random Nashville things:

This Christie Cookie company started in Nashville and has a site within the Bridgestone Arena, home of Nashville Predators NHL team.  The company provides the cookie dough for Hilton Double Tree Inns. 

The first seeing-eye dog school in the US began in Nashville in 1929. It moved soon after to New Jersey as land was donated for its use.

Some cross walks in Nashville actually cross through the intersection! We used this one. It felt odd!

The downtown city streets have cleaning crews everywhere.  

Nissan Stadium is where the NFL Tennessee Titans play.  It is easily accessible across vehicle and walking bridges from downtown.  A few days after we left Nashville most of the country went into a deep freeze.  On Sunday the mayor of Nashville asked the Titans to delay the start of their game by one hour to balance out power usage.  We felt bad for the people in the stands who had to sit out there in the cold for another hour!  We were told a new stadium is in the works for the Titans that includes a movable roof system.

Next up:  We venture out of Nashville. 

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Nashville: Grand Ole Opry Times Two

We had two Grand Ole Opry experiences: a back stage tour in the afternoon and a show in the evening. They were both great!

We arrived at the sixth location of the Grand Ole Opry. It has been in this location since 1974 and is likely permanent as they built and own the facility.

The Opry seats 4400 people, double the size of their fifth site, The Ryman Auditorium.  

Just inside the main entrance there are $90,000 worth of Gibson guitars overhead!

We began with a 30 minute video hosted by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood holograms.  It was interesting and very well done.

Our guide led us back stage and we saw where the house band warms up. They back up most acts.

These doors are where the performers enter.  

We entered Studio A where television programs like Hee-Haw were filmed.

This is a photograph of what the studio looked like set up for Hee-Haw.

Studio A is also where those invited to join the Opry have Induction Receptions.  We saw video clips of how very emotional it can be for artists to be invited to join the Opry.  The criteria seems somewhat subjective in that invitations are management decisions based on talent and commitment to the Opry.

Over the years there have been requirements for members to perform at a certain number of shows. It isn’t clear that any requirement remains but participation is expected.

The first members of the Opry were inducted in 1925. There have been 231 total members.

Blake Shelton was first to screw in his own name plate.  It has since become a tradition. Currently there are 71 living members of the Grand Ole Opry.   

Members can receive fan mail at the Opry.

Dolly Parton’s mailbox is number 163, but it is not required to know a specific mailbox number. Write to your favorite member at the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee and it should get to them.

There are 18 dressing rooms.  

There is usually a theme, or dedication to a former member.

We were able to see all of them.

This is the Opry family room where artists can gather together before or after performing.The dark horizontal metal bar under the TV shows the height of the 2010 flood waters.   

These cables looked important and impressive.  I don’t know what they do.

We were able to walk out onto the Opry stage. Approximately 6024 songs are performed during Opry shows each year.  

This circle was brought from the Ryman Auditorium. Stepping inside the circle and performing is an emotional rite of passage for a new artist.

We were able to step into the circle for a photo without having to perform! We did have to buy the photo.

While onstage we were able to see the first page of the line-up for our evening show.

Backstage we saw this large banner for Roy Acuff (1903–1992) – known as the “King of Country Music.”  Acuff began his career in the 1930s and gained fame as a singer and fiddler.  Hank Williams once said  “For drawing power in the south, it was Roy Acuff, then God.”  He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938  and, over years, became an Opry elder statesman. In 1962, Roy Acuff became the first living person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Grand Ole Opry built a house on the grounds for Roy Acuff in 1983 after his wife died. He lived in the home for nine years and was often working on projects back stage or making impromptu performances. The Acuff House is now an Opry Museum.

We saw a dress worn by Reba MacIntrye.

And another worn by Lorrie Morgan, designed by Bob Mackie.  There were some guy clothes too and some of them were pretty fancy!

Tammy Wynette had a Beanie Baby Collection and it is on display!

The backstage tour complete, we had a few hours to wait. Our parking spot was too precious to give up since we had tickets for the 7:00 Opry.

We had planned to walk over to the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It is the largest hotel in the US that isn’t Casino based. We were told by several people that it was a “must do” especially during the holidays because of their extensive decorations. Unfortunately, they were requiring tickets to one of their events to be able to enter the resort so we were out of luck. There was an adjacent mall so we had dinner and wandered. 

We went back for the show and found our seats.  We bought good seats because this may be a one time thing. We were six or seven rows back from the stage and slightly to the left.

At the time I purchased the tickets, the only artist listed to perform was Bill Anderson.  Over the intervening weeks I occasionally got online to see who else was in the show.  Not being familiar with country music at all, I was very glad when Emmy Lou Harris was listed.  At least she was someone I had heard of!  Randy is much better with country music than I am. We both learned from Ken Burns’ History of Country Music series, but what we don’t know is still far greater.

The Grand Ole Opry began 97 years ago and is the world’s longest running live radio show.  It began as a platform to sell insurance by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company.  It is credited with popularizing country music through its weekly Saturday night program.  In 1932, broadcaster WSM boosted its power to 50,000 watts and was (and can still be) heard in much of the eastern and central United States.  

Shows in the Grand Ole Opry take place several nights a week but Saturday Night shows are on the radio. It was interesting to see the interaction between the live show and the radio show.  The announcer fills both roles. The sponsors of the day were Dollar General and the Johnny Cash Museum.

The format is music for 60 minutes, a fifteen minute intermission, and then another 60 minutes of music. The show moves quickly with each performer singing or playing two to four songs.

The show began with a performance by the Opry Square Dancers with music by the Grand Ole Opry house band.

Connie Smith was the next performer.  She has been an Opry member for 50 years. We were close but it was usually easier to get a picture from the screen.

Bobby Osborne performed with his group The Rocky Top X-press.  Bobby, 86, has been an Opry member for 58 years. Appropriately, they performed their hit Rocky Top. Even I knew that song because of the University of Tennessee sports teams.

The big surprise of the night was Garth Brooks coming out to introduces his friend Mitch Rossell before his very first performance at the Grand Ole Opry. 

This was a really big deal for this performer, not only singing in “the circle” for the first time but the glowing introduction by Garth Brooks. His performance was outstanding.

Our next performance was by 38 year Opry member Lorrie Morgan. She was the one with the gorgeous dress in the museum. She had a little trouble with this dress and said she wouldn’t be wearing it again to perform.

Because we were close we could kind of see these dark clothed people giving us camera views from different angles. They were amazingly unobtrusive.

After the intermission we listened to Bill Anderson, a 62 year Opry member. He sang a bit and gave a full oration on Christmas.

The next performance was a comedian that most people seemed to enjoy very much. We did not. Usually I am the one with a stunted sense of humor, but Randy didn’t care for him either.

Our next performer was Holly Williams. Hank Williams senior was her grandfather and Hank Williams junior was her father. She performed with her husband.  They had a baby just ten weeks before.

Singer-songwriter Emmy Lou Harris is a crossover performer with Pop, Rock and Country hits.  She performed a couple songs solo.

Then she was joined by Gail Davies, a singer- songwriter and the first female producer of country music. Her father, a sibling and her son were or are country music performers.

During the Harris and Davies performances I was aware of a woman coming into the row behind us led by an usher. I just happened to turn and notice her because the people who were there previously left at intermission.  I noticed the woman had no jacket with her which was odd because it was very cold outside.  She seemed to belong there. Again, I don’t know country music but it was my impression that if I did, I might know who she was. At the end of the show I turned to get a quick picture to try and figure out who she was – but she was gone. She slipped out before the show finished adding to my impression that she was a country music performer coming in to watch Emmy Lou Harris and Gail Davies perform and slipped out before being noticed. 

We went to the Country Music Hall of Fame the next day. I turned a corner – and there she was in an exhibit for Alison Krauss! At least I think so!  I think the mystery woman behind us was Alison Krauss, Country Music Hall of Fame bluegrass singer and Grand Ole Opry member since she was 21 years old.  Cool!

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Nashville: Food Tour and Soul in Music City Trolley

We frequently try to begin our exploration of a new place with a food tour.  The guide usually provides some local history along with the tastes of the area.  Occasionally we’ll even go back to one of the places we visit. We did that this time.

Evan met us at the designated meeting point with the news that we were the only ones signed up for this mid December tour.

On our way to the first restaurant, he told us about Nashville’s rich history in Civil Rights.

John Lewis came to Nashville as a student of American Baptist College and later Fisk University.  He, with others, made Nashville the epicenter for racial rights in America.

The first Woolworth’s Sit-in happened in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 but sit-ins spread across the south.  John Lewis was part of the sit-in at the Nashville Woolworth’s.  It was his first arrest for civil disobedience – after he and others were beaten for sitting at the lunch counter.  

The Nashville Woolworth’s was recently re-opened as a theater. In keeping with the building’s history, their shows highlight inclusivity.

Even though Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat happened in Montgomery, Alabama, a street is named for her in Nashville. 

Our first taste of Nashville was Prince’s Chicken, the original rendition of Nashville’s “Hot Chicken.”  Mr. Prince was a philandering man in the 1930s.    His girlfriend tried to get some revenge by making his chicken way too hot with spice rubs and more spice in the oil.   He loved it and started selling it.  (This is the place we visited again.)

Over BBQ at Jack Cawthon’s we learned Nashville’s legal requirements for calling your establishment a Honky Tonk. You must serve cold beer, have a dance floor and have music the entire time you are open. There are 100 such establishments on Broadway in Nashville.

The bat man building seen behind Broadway is the AT&T building.  Its status as the tallest building in Nashville was at risk, so they added the bat ears. It maintains its tallest building status.

At Tootsie’s Orchid Honky Tonk, (the lavender building pictured above) a young Willie Nelson kept “drinking” his pay check.  To compensate, he set out the first tip jar.  That was very successful for him and now nearly all musicians in Nashville are paid only in tips.

The same Tootsie’s Orchid has an alley entrance near the back of the Ryman Auditorium. 

Being a church first, alcohol was not allowed at the Ryman Auditorium and these feet symbolize the quick trips across the alley for some liquid refreshment before or after performances.

We planned to go into Tootsies one afternoon for music and a meal but Randy was carrying our backpack and they do not let them in for security reasons – guns, bombs etc.  They don’t have the time to check bags so have banned them all along Broadway.

We took a peek down Printers Alley.  Nashville was once the country’s largest supplier of Bibles and religious books.

There was a devastating flood in Nashville and surrounding areas on May 1-2, 2010.   More than 13 inches of rain caused flooding from the Cumberland River and others.  The discoloration at the bottom of this building shows how deep the waters were. This building is several blocks from the river.

This mural depicts Music City Legends.  There is a patch of blond hair near Brad Paisley’s neck and right shoulder.  That was Taylor Swift’s hair before she was replaced by Paisley in late 2020.  That didn’t go over too well with Taylor’s fans! Our guide speculated she had gotten a little too popular.

You can tell by the way we are dressed that we were cold.  We were in and out of Nashville before the December deep freeze but we live in Phoenix – we are cold weather wimps.

Our next tasting spot was the Broadway Brewhouse for a Bushwhacker.  This frozen drink was first served in the US Virgin Islands, and also featured in Pensacola, Florida before eventually becoming a signature drink of Nashville.  We can recommend it!

Our last food stop was for America’s first candy bar – the Goo Goo Cluster.  It qualified as such because, beginning in 1912, it was the first bar with layered ingredients.

While waiting for our Soul of Music City Trolley Tour we had the opportunity to do a moonshine tasting.  Our experience with moonshine was limited and pretty awful so Randy was reluctant – but he followed me when I went forth!

They have 35 types of moonshine at the Ole Smokey Distillery.  We were able to sample an assortment of moonshine with a beer “palate cleanser.”

We started with Blue Flame – 128 proof.  It was like our other moonshine experiences – awful. Then we had a piece of moonshine soaked dill pickle.  It was actually pretty good.  Mango Habanero followed and then a couple others, gradually reducing the alcohol levels. Our favorite moonshine, and also the one with the least level of alcohol, was Butter Pecan at 35 percent.

We boarded our trolley for the Soul of Music City Tour.  Our ticket taker and tour guide sang their way through instructions and the tour. Everyone sings in Nashville!  Our bus driver, the gentlemen on the left, sang very little but contributed to the fun.   We saw some areas in town that we had seen earlier and also some new places away from the downtown core.

We learned that different areas of town “featured” different styles of music – country, rock, gospel, soul and bluegrass based on where the artists lived and congregated. The highest grossing music in Nashville is gospel.

In addition to being Music City, Nashville is also called the Athens of the South.  As such they have their own Parthenon!   

It is a full-scale replica of the original in Athens. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.

We were having a fine time in Nashville so far!  The next post will be about the Grand Ole Opry!

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Nashville: Unexpected Winter Holiday

We had “use it or lose it” credit on American Airlines with very tight time constraints. We decided to go to Nashville!  You know, spend money to save money. Our afternoon direct flight was uneventful and we were in our rental car by 5:30 pm.

We made it to our Airbnb, the Mint House at the Reserve.  The site is a former Federal Reserve building that has been reconfigured into apartments and event space. 

There is even an old vault!

Our lodgings in downtown Nashville were near the Tennessee State Capital.  It is reportedly haunted!  The initial architect, William Strickland, and a man hired to oversee the project,  Samuel Morgan, did not get along and were often heard screaming at each other. 

In 1854, Strickland passed away and his son took over as architect.  He designed a way for his father to be buried in the northeast corner of the capital. Morgan decided he wanted to be there as well and was buried in the southeast corner when he died in 1880.  Some believe the yelling continues!

After a quick dinner we walked to the Ryman Auditorium to see Smokey Robinson in concert.  

Smokey, 82 years old, gave an outstanding show! His voice is still perfect and there were a number of standing ovations.  His stories were entertaining and almost every song was familiar.

The Ryman Auditorium seats 2200 and ranks second in the world for acoustics.  Only the Mormon Tabernacle is said to be better.  

The Ryman Auditorium is named after Thomas Ryman, a steamboat captain and prominent businessman in the mid and late 1800s.

Ryman was part of the rough dock scene on the Cumberland River.   

After hearing Reverend Sam Jones, a traveling revival pastor,  Thomas Ryman became a believer. He built the Union Gospel Tabernacle so Jones would have a permanent place to preach when he was in Nashville.

Over time the building also hosted musical and civic events.  

Over decades the music events became primary. The church was renamed the Ryman Auditorium after Ryman’s death in 1904.  It is often referred to as the Mother Church of Country Music.

The Ryman Auditorium was the fifth home of the Grand Ole Opry as the radio show was staged there from 1943-1974.  

Statues outside the auditorium include Loretta Lynn and Bill Monroe.  We were told about Loretta Lynn’s controversial song in 1975, The Pill.   It was about the freedom a woman has having access to birth control pills. Her recording company originally refused to produce the song which ultimately made the song more famous than it might have otherwise been.

In 1945 Bill Monroe brought a music style to Nashville that was ultimately called Bluegrass.  

In 1954, nineteen year old Elvis Presley had a rough first performance at the Ryman Auditorium. He sang a rocked up version of Bill Monroe’s waltz “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”  The audience didn’t like the changes but Monroe did. Monroe incorporated some of Elvis’ changes into his own later performances of the song.  

Johnny Cash met June Carter for the first time at the Ryman.  They were both married to other people at the time.  Stories and personalities at the Ryman go on and on.  

We enjoyed the first night of our unexpected holiday in Nashville!

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Tour of Italy: The Epilogue

We loved this trip!  We especially loved it combined with our Holland American transatlantic cruise.  It was a great five weeks in April and May 2022.

This last (yes last!) post about our trip will mention some overall impressions, some random facts that didn’t go somewhere else, and some comparisons with how we live in the US.

In general, Italians seemed to dress better and smoke more than we see in the US.  This seemed true across the southern part of Spain as well.

Italy can be very loud.  The traffic is loud and the voices are loud.  I don’t usually like anything loud but, since I didn’t understand most of it, I was usually able to tune it out.

Some eating and drinking comparisons… There are three types of water available in Italy and they are in glass bottles.  There is sparkling, mineral and still water and you pay for whichever you choose in a restaurant.  After a few mishaps we definitely learned to ask for still water.  I don’t like carbonation and neither of us liked the mineral water.  It was usually easier just to drink wine!

No ice!?!? There usually is no ice in your drink unless you ask for it and then there is a small amount. Our tour guide said “Forget the ice machines, we don’t know what they are. Only in the Sheraton (an American company).”

Dinner starts late and takes forever!  That was hard for us as we prefer to eat our last meal early.  

We found that food temperatures were rarely hot or cold. Everything was somewhere in the middle.  The exception was pizza coming out of a 900 degree oven!  Pizza was very hot.

Our breakfasts were interesting.  We were usually served buffet style with eight or ten types of pastries or sweet bread available.  There were eggs and breakfast meat although it seemed those were for foreigners and not typically eaten by Italians.  We were usually offered canned fruit but rarely fresh.  We were sometimes given canned peas and carrots.  Someone in our group asked about the peas and carrots and were told that they knew Americans ate them for breakfast. Who knew? No one in our group has peas and carrots for breakfast.

Espresso was everywhere – for all meals and in-between meals. 

Our tour guide even brought us a portable espresso on the bus one day.  

In Tuscany we were served bread made without salt. It tastes even worse than it sounds. The reasons why they make bread without salt vary from the city-state of Pisa denying Tuscans salt in the 1100s to the pope in Rome putting a high tax on salt in the 1500s. Those reasons, and others, may all be true, but the end result is that the Tuscany and Umbria regions of Italy have, over centuries, made bread without salt. We thought it was really bad and mostly passed it aside.

We saw very little salt and pepper in restaurants across Italy.  

There are other things we didn’t see. In hotel rooms there are no washcloths. Travel sites online recommend you take your own washcloths if they are important to you. The hotel rooms also have no clocks.

What they do have is an endless array of faucet configurations!  I was always glad when Randy took a shower first so he could figure it out.  He probably felt the same if I went first. 

Now toilettes! Our tour guide always had comments about Americans and their “restrooms” – you don’t rest there!”   He would say  “Why do you want to see a man about a horse?  There aren’t any horses in there” or “We are going to stop for a fast pee-pee – No sitting down!” 

There are attitude differences about toilets way more than just words! There are few public toilets and you pay to use them. Usually that was 1-2 euros – approximately 1-2 dollars. Sometimes coins or bills were required and sometimes a credit card would work. They were always clean. You could buy something at a shop or restaurant and use their toilets but only if you were purchasing.

AND SOME WERE COED!  Americans can have trauma and legal battles over who goes in which restroom (oops – sorry Fabrizio) the Italians just share space. Usually there were separate sections for men and women but a shared hand washing space.  Occasionally there would actually be shared space for everything but those did not include open urinals.

One more toilet thing – there were almost no toilet seats in public restrooms.  In hotels there were some with and some without.

Thoughts on our tour itself: 

Italy has 58 UNESCO Heritage sites, more than any other country.  We visited at least ten. China is second with 56 and Germany has 51 UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Our guided tour was with Trafalgar. 

It was well done thanks to our driver Tonino (“little Toni”, on the left) and tour guide Fabrizio. 

Our guided tour was advantageous getting to the front of the line, or to a different line because Fabrizio had reserved things ahead of time. We wouldn’t have seen half or a third of what we saw in the same amount of time if we’d been doing it on our own.

We had 27 people on our tour and we worked well together. However, 27 seems like the maximum number we would ever be interested in joining again. 

As Trafalgar’s typical tour has about 50 people, we had extra space on the bus to stretch out if we wanted.  As much as we would recommend Trafalgar in so many ways, we will look for smaller guided tours going forward.

We also learned that traveling in May was great. We had mild weather and things weren’t as crowded as they are in the summer.  Fabrizio said he didn’t know why people come in the summer when it is hot and crowded. We’ll prioritize the shoulder seasons going forward as much as possible.

Thanks for coming along for our grand adventure!

As Fabrizio would say “Andiamo guys”  (Let’s go, guys) – to where-ever we’re off to next!

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Tour of Italy: Our Last Day

Our first stop on the last day of our Tour of Italy was at the Florence American Cemetery Memorial.  This is one of two American Cemeteries in Italy. The other is near Rome. 

Rome was liberated on June 5, 1944.  The Allies operated throughout Italy until all remaining German forces surrendered on May 2, 1945.

Italy donated the land for this cemetery but it is maintained and operated by the United States. It has an American caretaker.

There are 4402 memorials made from exquisite marble.

The names of 1409 persons missing in action are inscribed on these tablets. 

Our next stop was a treasure among the hill towns of Tuscany, San Gimignano.   High perches were important for security.

The town of San Gimignano was on the trade route in and out of Rome, to their benefit.

  When Rome fell, chaos ensued, and cities and towns around the region fortified. 

They operated as separate city states.

San Gimignano’s walls were placed in the 13th century.

This well in the center of town operated for more than 1000 years.

Our tour guide called San Gimignano the Manhattan of the past.  There were once 60 towers, now only eight towers remain. 

In the past people placed planks between buildings to move from one to the other.

In 1348, the plague decimated the town’s population by two-thirds. 

Florence, the regional bully,  took over and directed trade routes away from San Gimignano. 

The isolation was devastating to the economy then but has left San Gimignano less changed for tourism now. 

We had one last piece of “take away” Margherita Pizza and one more gelato from the best rated gelato shop in Tuscany – or maybe the world!

In the past San Gimignano had traded in leather and saffron and this shop offered a saffron flavored gelato.

We opted for our typical flavor choices instead!  

The rest of the day was spent traveling to Rome and settling into our hotel for our last night in Italy. We had flights out the next day.

We had a farewell dinner and ate a delicious risotto – another meal I should have been ordering all along!

Our British Airlines flight out of Rome the next morning was delayed so we “missed” our flight out of London.   While still in the air we learned we’d been re-booked on an American Airlines flight from London to Phoenix for the next day.

After landing in London we were given vouchers for transportation, hotel, meals at the hotel etc.  We were impressed and not annoyed – things happen especially with travel in the (mostly) post COVID world.   

Our impression changed when, after getting settled in our room, our phones started notifying us to board our British Airways flight to Phoenix.  Someone or something hadn’t taken into consideration that the plane we were supposed to take leaving London was also delayed.  We could have made it easily.

But done was done.  We had opted not to retrieve our luggage in London so had almost nothing.  It was cold and drizzly and we weren’t dressed to go out for Fish and Chips at a local pub.  We’d do that differently next time! Just buy a jacket and go!

However it had happened, we had a very pleasant premium economy flight from London straight into Phoenix the next day.  

Our combined trip of the Holland America Transatlantic Cruise and the Trafalgar Tour of Italy was terrific. After being gone for five weeks, it was good to be home.

Next post: The epilogue – our summary thoughts about our trip and details that didn’t make it in anywhere else.

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Tour of Italy: Florence – Covid Tests and David

There were two significant events on our minds as we arrived in Florence. Seeing Michelangelo’s David and taking the Covid test required for travel back into the US. In May 2022, testing positive meant quarantine in Florence. 

Our hotel room in Florence was the worst we had occupied in all of Italy.  It was very small and very gray.  It had a queen bed, TV and one chair.  Despite being new, or newly renovated, there were no electrical or USB outlets on either side of the bed.  There was one electrical outlet behind the TV and one in the bathroom.  Forget the CPAP, just having outlets to charge our phones, watch, camera and iPad was problematic. The idea of being stuck THERE for ten days was awful.

All 27 of us lined up for our Covid tests – Euros only,  exact change preferred.  Those of us with Euros helped those who had never exchanged currency.   The doctor was apparently annoyed at having to come to us because he inserted the swabs through the nasal cavity all the way to our brains.  We survived the medical assault and celebrated when we all passed!  I think our tour guide Fabrizio celebrated most because he was the one who would have had to arrange for our quarantine.

Now on to David… actually several Davids! The first David we saw was a replica at a park above Florence.  

The second David was a replica placed where the original sculpture stood (outside) for 360 years.   

The statue on the right is Hercules and Cacus.  The rich and powerful Medici family that ruled Florence from the 13th through 17th centuries used Hercules as a symbol of courage and strength.  Four popes came from their line.

The Medici family used art as currency and displayed their vast collection.  They were famous for patronage – paying commissions so artists could focus solely on their art.  The Medici family had a huge impact on the Italian Renaissance.  

We saw the real David in the Galleria Accademia.  David was commissioned not by the Medici family but by the Opera del Duomo.  David was to be part of the sculpture collection in the Florence Cathedral.

The block of marble Michelangelo was given for David had been rejected by two other sculptors as being of poor quality. Begun in 1501, Michelangelo took three years to create David, finishing when he was 26 years old.

When completed David was too heavy to go in the intended place along the roofline in the cathedral. He is 17 meters tall with oversized hands and feet because people were to have viewed him from below.

David’s left arm was broken a riot while it was still outside. It was later repaired.

His right shoulder is pitted from an acid wash used to clean the statue during the 18th century.

David’s left big toe was damaged by a person with a hammer in 1991.

At age 500, David was restored in 2003.  This time restorers took 18 months to remove dirt using only distilled water.  

We saw another Pieta but there is not full agreement on whether this was created by Michelangelo. The Galleria claims it is so in its signage.  We were told this Pieta was found in 1940 at a small church in Italy.

We saw the famous Michelangelo Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.  A second verified Michelangelo Pieta is in another Florence location and a third is in Milan.  This would be his fourth if correctly attributed.

While visiting the Galleria Accademia we saw many sculptures each with a story of its own.

Most artists began with plaster casts such as these women.  Careful observation shows measurement marks in preparation for sculpting in marble. Michelangelo did not use casts – he went straight to the marble in creating his works.

We saw so many sculptures all over Florence – inside and outside and everywhere between.  It became a bit overwhelming!

Churches on our Tour of Italy also became a bit overwhelming.  There were larger and fancier churches in Florence but we ended our day at the more modest Santa Croce Church.

Basilica de Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross) was begun in 1294 and consecrated in 1440.  It is the largest Franciscan church in the world.  The front facade was added later when Florence gained great importance. The architect was Jewish and included the Star of David.

This church was interesting to us, not because of interior beauty or opulence …

…although there was a bit of that… but because of the historical figures entombed there.

Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor and electrical engineer, known for inventing the wireless telegraph system and early radio. 

Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer. You know – Galileo!

Nicolavs Machiavelli – writer of “The Prince” and the owner of the Tuscany villa we enjoyed the night before. 

Gioachino Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, chamber music, piano pieces, and sacred music. 

Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist and creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor.

And of course, Michelangelo is here – but he wasn’t always.  On questionable terms with the Medici family, Michelangelo lived his last thirty years in Rome.  He died and was buried there.  The current leader of the Medici family conspired with Michelangelo’s nephew to steal Michelangelo’s body and return him to Florence. 

Santa Croce has evolved into a tomb of national glory with over 15,000 places of rest.  There were many other elaborate tombs but I have highlighted those whose names were familiar to us.

When reviewing Florence pictures (six months later) for writing this blog, I was surprised to see this meal picture but I remember it well.  We ate at a little sidewalk restaurant very near Santa Croce. Randy, as always, had pizza and I had a delicious carbonara.  I should have been ordering carbonara all along!

Next up: Our last full day in Italy!

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Tour of Italy: Pisa and Villa Machiavelli

Pisa was an important port on the Mediterranean in the 12th century. Construction on a bell tower began in 1173.  

Unfortunately, the land was marshy and the tower started leaning after the third floor was added.  We were told the architect ran away.

The bell tower sat abandoned for almost 200 years until it was completed in 1372.

As it was constructed the builders tried to modify dimensions to keep the tilt from getting worse.

In1990 people around the world gathered and performed surgical fixes on the tower, improving its tilt from 5.5 degrees to less than 4.

In the year 2000, engineers tried to reinforce the Leaning Tower of Pisa with ground support. 

On the grounds are a church, the bell tower and a baptistry.  

After exploring Pisa, we were given the opportunity to have lunch on our own.  By this time I was getting tired of pizza – no matter how good it was.  (Randy never did get tired of pizza.)  

On our own, we couldn’t be shamed for trying the Italian version of McDonalds.  We saw them everywhere – all over Italy!   We thought it would be interesting to compare what they have versus what we know.  Randy had a regular Big Mac and fries.  I had an Italian burger and fries.  Both were fine but we regretted our decision even while we were eating.  When in Italy, don’t eat at McDonalds!

With our visit to Pisa complete, we continued our travel through the Tuscany region of Italy.  Tuscany is named for the Etruscans, the people group who inhabited this area before the Romans.   The Etruscans were contemporaries of the ancient Greeks. Many Etruscan tombs remain in the region. Some are decorated with frescoes allowing people to learn about their civilization. 

We traveled to Villa Machiavelli for a tour, wine tasting and dinner.  Our experience began with a glass of their very own Bluemond Blue Bubbly!

The Villa was the home of Italian political philosopher and writer Niccolo Machiavelli.  He served as a diplomat for the principality of Florence in the early 1500s. 

He fell out of favor with the powerful Medeici family, was abused, and eventually exiled to his Villa.   

In an attempt to regain political favor, Machiavelli wrote his most famous work, The Prince, at this desk.  The effort failed to win over the Medici family but the writing has historic longevity.

Wine has been grown on these lands for over 500 years.  One of the primary grape varieties grown in Tuscany is sangiovese.  I hadn’t been fond of red wine prior to this trip but wine from sangiovese grapes is my new favorite. 

These are a few of the winery’s barrels. Wine is typically aged two to four years.

Chianti is one example of wine made in this area from sangiovese grapes.

We were able to try a variety of Villa Machiavelli wines under the Saraceni label.

Following our villa tour we had one of the most delicious dinners we had in Italy – while in one of the most scenic locations!

The truffle ravioli was among the best things I ate on our whole tour of Italy!  For those that might not know, truffles are mushrooms that grow underground.  Maybe the rich soil makes truffles better than mushrooms, about which I am generally ambivalent.

Although it may sound silly to those of you not on the bus with us, we had a joyous return back to our hotel and I want it written down for our memories.   Our tour guide Fabrizio started playing American songs over the bus speaker and we were all singing along – even doing arm motions with YMCA – a song I usually dislike!

Our bus driver Tonino (on the left pictured with Fabrizio) was getting into the groove turning the interior lights on and off with the music and even driving around a remote traffic circle twice for fun.  (His family owns the bus so he wasn’t putting his job at risk.)  It is a fun memory of a special night as we approached the end of our Tour of Italy.

Next up:  Florence!

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