PHX: Two Tours in One Day!

We toured Chase Field in downtown Phoenix! 

The Arizona Diamondbacks were created through MLB expansion 25 years ago.  They came into the league at the same time as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The Diamondbacks were the youngest team ever to win a World Series Championship – after only four years in the league!

The stadium’s construction cost $354 million dollars and was first named Bank One Ballpark.  It had 48,500 seats, about the same as today.  Although only 25 years old,  it is the fourth oldest ball park in the National League.

In 2006, the name was changed to Chase Field. We met for our tour outside the main offices.

Our guide, Molly, began where most fans walk into the stadium. This area highlights things about Arizona.

She told us about ways the Diamondbacks contribute to Arizona. Funds are raised at every game with a 50-50 raffle. A ticket winner gets half the proceeds while the designated charitable group gets the other half. We have seen these amounts be in the $60,000 – $80,000 range many times. One time we saw the total go over $100,000!

The Diamondbacks also raise money for charities with the sale of authentic game worn gear.   

In conjunction with the local power company, the team develops and donates fields for Arizona youth and provides replica Diamondback team jerseys.

The stadium opened with a natural grass playing surface but has since transitioned away from it.  The current “grass” is made of organic coconut fibers.

The perimeter areas are made of a granite and plastic composite.  The infield is made from a mixture of sand and clay.

The change allowed for savings of 2,000,000 gallons of water and also created the ability to have other events at the stadium throughout the year. 

The roof opens or closes in 4.5 minutes.   We didn’t learn about it on the tour but the local news has told us that the roof needs repairs to the point where it is not operated when people are inside.   The roof position decision must be made before the game begins.  

The stadium air-conditioning system can cool the stadium in 2 hours.  Cooling is defined as 74 degrees at field level and 80 degrees on the 2nd level.  We often sit on the third level and it is still quite comfortable – especially if we strategically sit in the vicinity of the cooling vents.  The stadium is partially solar powered.

There is a 33 percent rise In the stadium’s third deck for good viewing – but the trek up can seem steep.

The video board measures 136 by 46 feet and there is 120 feet of video ribbon surrounding the field.  There are over 750 TVs in the stadium.

We have been to Chase Field numerous times but it was always crowded and we hadn’t known about the stadium museum named the 20th Anniversary Experience.  We weren’t able to go in on our tour because of off season construction. We will look for the World Series Trophy and World Series Ring on display there the next time we go to a game.

Chase Field is the only park with a pool!  A group event at the pool allows for 35 people, food, parking, towels to keep, and a lifeguard.  The cost begins at $7000 for a game but rises based on the opponent.  That means you Dodger and Cubs Fans.

There are 68 suites which hold 20 people each at an event cost of $2500. 

Food is included and guests have suite seating and stadium seating.

The Owner’s Suite has space for 34 guests.

We were unable to go into the Press Box because of work on an elevator. Disappointing but there was an advantage to going in the off season – We were able to go in the Diamondback’s locker room!

As we approached we saw the Diamondbacks’ Player Awards.

There are numerous tables surrounded by lockers. There were shower, spa and training areas that we were able to see but not photograph.

As we left the clubhouse, heading to the dug-out, we saw this interesting chart showing activities based on game times.

The dug-out!

Field view from the dug-out.

Randy mostly enjoys my love of baseball.

For bats and gloves…

Need a new pitcher? Call the bullpen.

It was an interesting tour that will increase our enjoyment of games at Chase Field. Perhaps we will look for other stadium tours as we travel.

Our second tour of the day was of The Phoenix Theatre.  We are frequent patrons of this downtown theatre and are always amazed at the quality of their productions.

While entering the theatre, you pass through the Steven Spielberg Hall of Mirrors. His debut movie was shown here when he was a young employee at the theatre. 

The Phoenix Theater began in 1920 and in 1923 the prominent Heard family donated their carriage house as the first building.  The Phoenix Public Library was also held at the site.

The main stage was built in the 1950s and seats just less than 400 people.

It works but is far from luxurious.  They are in the midst of a fundraising and building project.  We donated and got perks – including this tour!

Another perk was being invited to a Director’s Talk after a delightful performance of An American in Paris.

The artistic director and dialect coach talked specifically about the An American in Paris production and then the whole experience of shows moving from movie to stage or stage to movie.  They highlighted successes and failures of both. The dialect coach talked about the process of being specific with regional dialects.

Our tour guide, Kristen, told us a production gets three weeks of rehearsal.  This is the primary rehearsal space as the main stage is utilized for an ongoing production at the same time.

The numbering in the rehearsal space is matched on the stage so set crew and actors know where they, and things, will be.

The orchestra pit was once under the front of the main stage.  Many years ago it was deemed too small and the orchestra was moved to another space.  

Through a series of video cameras and screens, the music director can see the stage and the actors can see him.  It is amazing how well it works considering they are totally separate!

The theatre has 60 full time employees including directors, ticket staff, set designers, costumers, and prop people.  The actors are employed per show, not on a full time basis.

While visiting the costume shop, we learned that vodka can be used for a quick cleaning and deodorizing of costumes between shows. The lighting on stage utilizes 200 bulbs of 500 watts each. The theatre always feels cold to patrons but we understand the need to cool it down better now!

While waiting utilization on another show, costume pieces are stored by gender, type and era.  The racks look much like a goodwill emporium.

The prop shop also looks like a thrift store!  

These are the props and costume pieces used for the current production of An American in Paris. They are kept ready just off stage. I never looked too closely at the props or costumes during a production before but now I know to be amazed with what they do with marginal things!

There were two random bits of theater trivia we learned on our tour:

The Green Room we associate with guests or performers waiting to “go on” is from Marie Antoinette’s reign.  While hosting a lavish party, she put those marginal theater folks in a green tent so they would be less noticeable to her important guests. 

We also learned about the microphones and battery packs actors use while onstage.  The microphones aren’t terribly expensive and their periodic replacement is expected.  The battery packs are very expensive and condoms are used as a water proof or sweat proof barrier to protect them.  Our tour guide told a good story about someone who was new to the financial side of the theatre questioning the line item expense for so many condoms!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

PHX: Mystery Castle

Boyce Gully left his home and family in Washington State when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929.  His doctor recommended he move to a drier climate. Boyce left his wife, Frances, and their five year old daughter, Mary Lou, and did not tell them where he was going or that he was ill. He believed he was likely going to die.

While waiting for whatever would come, Gully acquired land in the desert south of Phoenix by filing a mining claim. 

To gain title he had to live on the land and do some actual mining. He did just enough mining to qualify for the land but it was never a priority. Gully was eventually deeded his 40 acres. The above photo shows remnants of his mining equipment.

Boyce and daughter Mary Lou had loved building sand castles together on the Washington Coast. She had once asked him to build her a real castle. He set about building a castle that couldn’t be washed away.

Boyce’ contact with Frances, and MaryLou was minimal over the years. He never did tell them he was ill or that he was building a castle.

Boyce obtained free materials (bricks) and rocks whenever and however he could. 

People gave him their excess or random items. He was creative in what he used as construction materials. 

He used downed telephone poles and wood from abandoned sites and rail cars.  

He used whatever he could find or gather. 

Old wheels became windows. 

These glass blocks are used dishes.  

The castle cost very little in dollars.

Eventually, there were eighteen rooms and thirteen fireplaces.

There is a courtyard made of stone and rejected construction bricks.

Looking through the Phoenix Window revealed the once small town of Phoenix. (Phoenix is a bit bigger now and doesn’t fit.)

Stairs go from the courtyard to the open upper level.

Following Boyce’ death in 1945, daughter Mary Lou and wife Frances learned they had a castle outside of Phoenix.  

They traveled to Arizona to claim it. 

Boyce left a trap door under the alligator with letters, documents and two $500 bills.

The castle was featured in Life magazine in 1948 and people made the trek seven miles south of Phoenix to see it.  

Mary Lou started giving tours for 25 cents per person. That included coffee and a donut provided by Frances. 

The women lived in a castle without water and power until Frances died in 1970.    

Mary Lou was able to obtain water and power to the main rooms later in the 1970s.    

She offered chapel services for weddings. It is still possible to be married at the Mystery Castle.

This collection of shoes once belonged to brides who married at the castle chapel. Mary Lou wrote the following poem: If the bride, Leaves one shoe, Then forever will, The groom be true.

The castle gained status over time – although no one seemed to know what the Emmy sign was about. A brief internet search on my part also yielded no answers.

It isn’t clear that Bill Clinton visited the Phoenix Mystery Castle, but he corresponded with Mary Lou.

Mary Lou lived in the castle her father built for her until 2010 when she passed away. 

Currently, tours are offered seasonally on a limited schedule.  The guides spoke about finding snakes in the castle during the summer months. Between the snakes and limited services, summer tours just aren’t viable. The price is $10 – cash only. We did not get Frances’ coffee and donuts but still enjoyed the tour very much.

The castle and grounds are on seven of Gully’s original 40 acre mining claim. 

Some of the remaining acreage was donated to Maricopa County as it was developing South Mountain Regional Park.  The view of Phoenix from the Dobbins Lookout window doesn’t quite hold all of Phoenix now either.

Next up: More of Phoenix – Two Tours in One Day!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Outside Nashville: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

When we travel, you can be sure I have done the research.  That includes hotels, things to do and places to eat.  The morning we headed to Mammoth Cave National Park, my research failed us.  All of my breakfast places were downtown, or south of the city.  We wanted a place that was generally north towards Kentucky.

Apple maps said Monell’s was close and had good reviews.  What a wonderful surprise it turned out to be!

Monell’s serves family style so you walk in and are seated at large tables with whomever happened to walk in just before or after you.

The bowls and platters started going around and our table mates were good to explain what we were eating when it wasn’t obvious.  We knew about grits but did not know a thing about corn pudding!  Yum!

We sat with a group of pastors from the campuses of Cross Point Church of Middle Tennessee. They were so pleasant, asking about our time in Nashville, and what people eat for breakfast in the southwest.   In a true act of southern hospitality, they bought our breakfast and created a very nice memory of our trip.  

Adequately nourished, we drove two hours to Mammoth Cave National Park.  There was no entrance fee, only a fee for tours.

I had reserved our cave tour ahead of time.  Because it was December, our options were limited and I chose the History Tour. Very likely it is what I would have chosen anyway.

We knew we would be walking two miles and going down and up 546 stairs.   We would be 310 ft below the surface at the lowest level 

Archeological evidence suggests the cave was used 4000 years ago by prehistoric man.  They scraped minerals at least ten miles into the cave.   (In 1935, a  prehistoric body was found.  It was taken out and analyzed, then returned.) 

After more than 2000 years, the cave was rediscovered in 1798.  Legend says that John Halges shot a black bear and the wounded animal led him into Mammoth Cave. 

Local men explored a bit and found mineral deposits. Saltpeter production begin shortly after and peaked during the War of 1812.  Saltpeter was mined by slaves and sent to Delaware to make gunpowder. 

Mining was discontinued after the war.

By 1816 people starting visiting the cave.  Local men and boys led the tours and those guides and visitors had to work a lot harder than we did! 

Tours stopped at The Bottomless Pit, one and a quarter miles into the cave.  

In 1838 three enslaved men were sent into the cave to be the guides.  They were Stephen Bishop, Mat Bransford and Nick Bransford.  The enslaved men were able to keep their tips.  (Years later Bishop’s grandson also guided tours.  The Branfords and their descendants were tour guides in the cave for over 100 years ending in 1939.)

Stephen Bishop was just 17 when he began leading white people into the cave. He later said he felt a sense of respect and authority guiding tours that he never felt above ground. 

Someone hired Bishop to take him beyond the bottomless pit, where no one else had been before.  They went another 25 feet.

Stephen Bishop explored many more miles within the cave over many years. He went down to the rivers and up to Mammoth Dome.   

Bishop was the first to discover the eyeless cavefish.  The enslaved guides sold the fish above ground and were able to keep the money. 

When Bishop found a lantern on the cave floor in an area he had never been, he knew an opening had been found from above. There are eleven natural entrances to the cave but the park service believes only one was ever used by humans.

Bishop, who called Mammoth Cave a “grand, gloomy, and peculiar place” was granted his freedom in 1856.

Steven Bishop  died in 1857 and is buried in the Old Guides Cemetery within the park.  

His headstone was donated by a park visitor 20 years after his death.  The stone had been intended for a union soldier, thus the military symbols.

Tuberculosis patients were brought into the cave in 1842-43 as a proposed cure for the disease.  This experiment was not successful but two tuberculin huts remain.  (The cave was also used for a mushroom farm,  for a famous sleep study, and as a shelter in the 1950s and 1960s.)

The river system above and within the cave was critical to forming Mammoth Cave.  The entire region sits upon more than 400 feet of layered, eroding, limestone. Over millions of years, subterranean streams have honeycombed the region with caves.

This kind of limestone topography is called Karst. The map shows Karst areas in green.

The cave system supports 130 species including northern and southern classes of eyeless cavefish.  Some species are specially adapted to live their entire lifespan in the cave while others come in and out.   

The site that became Mammoth Cave National Park was first commissioned by Congress in 1926.  The land previously was occupied by 600 farms, villages and independent cave operations.   Some people sold their properties willingly to the Park Service while others were acquired through eminent domain.

In 1933 four Civilian Conservation Corps camps were formed and park infrastructure was built.  The CCC also had the job of dismantling the former farm buildings.    They left three churches and 100 cemeteries.  (Verified descendants can still be buried in cemeteries within Mammoth Cave National Park).

The park was officially dedicated in 1941.

The 400 mile mark of explored and documented passageways in Mammoth Cave was achieved in 2012. Currently, there are 426 miles of passageways documented.  Many more hundreds of miles are presumed.  

The passageways are above and below each other turning and intertwining, like a plate of spaghetti.  It is the largest cave system known in the world.

As you can see, other known caves in the world aren’t even close to the size of Mammoth Cave.

Twelve miles of the cave are currently toured and six miles are paved.  Our tour was on a paved route.

Fat Man’s Misery is a section where the path is quite narrow. Tall Man’s Misery is a section where the “ceiling” is very low.  Even I had to duck a few times.

We saw writing on the walls and ceiling.  Writings or carvings that were done before 1941 are considered historical graffiti. After 1941 the same activity became a federal offense.

Someone put up a Christmas Tree in the cave while we were there in December 2022.

We had to go up ALL THESE STAIRS to exit the cave.  

To avoid the spread of of White Nose Syndrome, we had to walk through a solution to get infectious particles off our shoes as we left the cave. 

Those inclined to visit Mammoth Cave might visit other caves.  And we have! We visited both Wind Cave National Park and Jewell National Park (both in South Dakota) well before we started writing about our adventures.

Mammoth Cave is impressive in its size, and interesting in its history, but it is not the prettiest cave we’ve seen – at least not the part we saw on this tour.

If you are interested in a few of the other caves we visited, click on the links below. Our most recent visit to Carlsbad Caverns (and Roswell, NM) in 2021 is recorded in Below and Beyond.

To read about two southern Arizona caves, Colossal Cave and the pristine, highly protected Kartchner Caverns, read The Tale of Two Caves from 2018.

This is the last post from our Nashville trip. We planned to go to Tennessee twice in our RV days but never made it.  Years later we are finally able to add the Tennessee and Kentucky stickers!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments