Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nashville and Chattanooga

In all we spent 5 days in Nashville a big city and you all know that we don't usually visit cities. The building industry in Nashville is literally booming…the public buildings are modern and beautiful; a new convention center being constructed looks remarkably similar to the new part of San Jose Airport with an undulating roof, lots of metal and glass and its smack bang right in the center of town. The Ice Hockey arena is another beautiful building while the center for Performing Arts which we thought was going to be big is just a regular size building; the building that really took our fancy is the AT&T building locally known as Batman's building (photo to follow).

Our RV Park was very near the Grand Ole Opry and the Gaylord Hotel. On our first night we went to a tribute to Elvis in a local theatre where John Beardsley did a great job singing over 30 Elvis songs and changing costumes four times; John also gave us some history of Elvis's changing singing style as he progressed through his career. What amazes us most is how Elvis meshed Bible belt Gospel, jazz and country music into his own unique genre!
Next night we went to The Grand Ole Opry where Little Jimmy Dickens aged 92, opened the show…he sang and cracked jokes for 15 minutes, wonder will Mick Jagger be still around when he is 92?  What we had not realized is that the show is a live Radio & TV show. The commentator has a voice like our Tony, deep and resonating, he read the sponsors adds every 15 minutes after which a new group or solo artist entertained for the next 15 minutes – a delightful surprise for us was the appearance of a young Irish girl Lisa McHugh who sang one song – she met Gene Watson in London and he invited her to sing at the Grand Ole Opry; it must have been wonderful for her and hopefully for her career. In all we saw six different acts, all very talented and very different. Tom's favorite was a group called Night Riders in the Sky while Adele's was the last group 4 fantastic musicians called the McCoury Band

Next day we drove to a town called Franklin about 40 miles south of Nashville, another town that was not burned during the civil war, yet had many ferocious battles – in one 6 generals and 8,000 troops were killed in a few hours.  There is a large private cemetery near Carter House for Confederate soldiers.  As in all wars the men just slaughtered one another and the outcome is still not fully resolved as many in the South still think they were entitled to withdraw from the Union if they so wished. We had lunch in a Cajun restaurant called Papa Boudreau's on the recommendation of the local tourist office where we had a dish called Étouffée - absolutely yummy, the Chef came to our table to see if we liked our choice of food which started a half hour conversation about Cajun cuisine and music. There was music playing and we asked if they were singing English and he told us it was Cajun Music, we didn't understand a word! The chef was from New Orleans and he told us of his experience during Katrina - he left New Orleans and will never to go back, which says it all.
Our Nashville program included a desire to go to the Ryman Auditorium one night; Adele had looked online 3 weeks beforehand, when we got to Nashville we called into the Auditorium where they confirmed that there were no tickets available so we went to the movies and saw The Artist. On our last day we went into town to explore the city and its hotels, we dined at the Hard Rock Cafe which is nearly a museum in itself afterwards we went to the Nashville Symphony in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center a beautiful classical looking building that was recently built. We bought the tickets at the symphony center where they gave us great seats at a special visitor bargain price.  We saw Cho-Liang Lin play a concerto on his Stradivarius Violin.  All in all we enjoyed the city of Nashville which boasts a population of 1,500,000.

From Nashville we drove about a 100 miles to Chattanooga - a stop Toms choosing and Adele was not expecting much - it turned out to be a great stop with plenty of thing to do.  On day one we went on the Incline Railway that climbs Lookout Mountain - it claims a 73% grade at the top of the climb. While on Lookout Mountain we walked to Point Park a scene of one of the many battles for Chattanooga, in the park we met a ranger and when we remarked on the numbers killed in the Civil War he told us that Observers came from Europe and when they saw the way the battles were fought they threw their hands in the air and went home; they had never seen battles fought by so many untrained soldiers who had been issued weapons but not trained on how to use them. Point Park is an 8000 acre battlefield and the first to be made into a National Park on a par with Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Ruby Falls, called after the original owner's wife is in a cave under Lookout Mountain, was our next tour.  Descending by elevator for 260ft into the mountain one then walks along a narrow passage for about a mile into an enormous high cave with the water falling from the roof of the cave 200ft above - it is spectacular!

The following day we went to Rock City and strolled through its gardens of large boulders, squeezing between them, walking over them, under them (one was a 1000 ton rock balanced precariously on the edge of two boulders), over crevices that were deep, one so much so that one had to traverse a rope bridge. Adele made everyone wait until she could cross on her own - no shaky, shaky, for her! We had noticed on our way to Chattanooga numerous red barns with “Visit Rock City” painted in white on their roofs - this was an advertising brainchild (in the 1930’s) of the founder Garnet Carter still employed today. They are now a part of the tourist attraction of the area. Freida his wife had developed the walk through Rock City and planted its garden with many indigenous plants – most abundant were Rhododendrons and Azaleas.

In the afternoon we took a free shuttle tour of Chattanooga including a visit to the Chattanooga Hotel.  This hotel is the old railway station where they have kept as much of the original as possible, some of the bedrooms are in old railway carriages as are some of the restaurants; the lobby is the original, enormous station entrance much like Grand Central in NY -  we fell in love with the whole concept. We also learned that there was no Chattanooga ChooChoo train, the hit song immortalized by the Glenn Miller Band certainly placed Chattanooga on the map and the Hotel squeezes as much as it can on the theme.

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