Wednesday 18 November 2015

Travel Reviews: Lynchburg and Nashville, Tennessee

After leaving Atlanta we headed to Nashville. I'd spotted that Lynchburg was just a short half hour detour on the route we were planning to drive through Tennessee, and thanks to certain black and white posters in the tube I knew exactly what Lynchburg Tennessee was famous for: Jack Daniels!

We had to wait nearly an hour for the next available free guided tour; there are a few exhibits to look at in the entrance hall where you wait, plus free water and lemonade which is nice but the gift shop is a few minutes away in the centre of Lynchburg. There’s also nowhere to buy food or snacks at the distillery (again you need to go into Lynchburg) which we didn’t think we had time to do in the 50 minutes before our tour but as it was around lunchtime we were getting pretty hungry!
There are signs warning that the tour has over 100 steps so my mother in law decided not to do it, but I don’t think it would have been that bad – it’s not like all 100 steps are in one go. You walk down to the spring where the water for the distillery comes from, you see where they smoke charcoal for the barrels, you go up some steps into a warehouse where they mash the rye and down some steps the other side and so on. It’s interesting to learn about and see (and smell!) the process and while I wouldn't make a point of choosing this as my destination if you are in the area it is worth a visit.

The B&B is very pretty from the outside but the first thing I noticed was an awful lot of steps going up to the front door! It's a nicely decorated ‘period’ house and they have put together a whole folder and selection of leaflets about things to do. There is even a section in the folder about where the stars of the TV show Nashville have been seen eating and drinking!

I’ve mentioned before how high some of the beds in the B&Bs we stayed at were – this one actually provided a little set of steps to climb up into bed, which my fiancé didn’t need to use but I did! It was actually quite fun though my mother in law wasn’t as keen on the idea.

We had eggs benedict for breakfast in the morning which was gorgeous, and got to know our fellow guests around the breakfast table, which is one of the reasons I like staying in B&Bs. On the second day, we had pancakes with a choice of sausage or bacon, which was also very good. We were even given a goody bag as a parting gift with a postcard of the B&B, a Nashville fridge magnet, a lip balm and pen, which was a lovely touch.
We bought tickets for the Grand Ole Opry online well in advance, but the catch is that you don’t know who will be performing. They are guaranteed to be good – this isn’t amateur hour – and that’s part of the fun I guess. The acts are named sometimes a few weeks in advance but with most of the names only being revealed a few days before the performance. We got very excited a week before when it was announced Aubrey Peeples (Layla Grant from the Nashville TV show) would be performing the night we were there, but a few days later we were disappointed to see she had been switched to the next night.
Even so we were very impressed by the performers we saw – the range of styles and the amount of talent. We saw Ray Scott, Ralph Stanley (still performing at the age of 88), Mike Snider, Carly Pearce, Green River Ordinance, Bobby Osborne and the Rocket Top X-Press, Elizabeth Cook, The Whites, Connie Smith, William Michael Morgan in his first Grand Ole Opry performance and the Rhett Walker Band.
We were taking this trip for my mother in law’s 60th birthday and I saw on the Grand Ole Opry website that they had a ‘celebration package’ which I bought for her as a surprise.  The best part about the celebration package is that you get your name and what you are celebrating printed in the programme; on this night there were about a dozen names and my mother in law’s was at the top of the list. She couldn’t believe it when she saw it there!
The show was brilliant, each act only did a couple of songs so there is real variety. I would definitely recommend getting tickets if you can!
We hadn’t had time to go for dinner before the show at the Grand Ole Opry, but as we’d had  late lunch we weren’t too hungry. After the show however we wanted to get some food, and found the concession stands in the theatre were shut. The Grand Ole Opry is part of a big retail park with shops and a mall so we went into the mall, only to be told by the security guard that all the places to eat had already closed (it was about 10pm on a Saturday night). I was surprised – I would have thought people leaving the show would want to go for a drink and maybe something to eat, but the entire place was  dead- unless I was missing something, everyone seemed to be getting in their cars and driving home. We don’t know Nashville at all, and weren’t keen on driving around at night (on the wrong side of the road for us) in a hire car we had only just picked up so we went into the only place in the mall that was open – the cinema! I never buy snacks at the cinema normally as they are so expensive and this was no different; we shared a small pizza, some mozzarella sticks and some onion rings which cost $30 including one drink.
We only spent about 2 hours here, probably because we hadn’t heard of most of the people in the exhibits! It was really interesting and a good mix of pictures, costumes, guitars and so on, but there is only so much time you can linger over a display cabinet when you’ve never heard of the person. There was a good mix of old and new, from country music legends to Taylor Swift, and at the end you see the room where people are inducted into the hall of fame and each have a plaque on the wall, so it’s more than just a museum.

cheese curds
We were looking for somewhere for lunch and with live music and this place was near the Country Music Hall of Fame which we’d just left, and we could see a couple of empty tables (places in Nashville get really busy especially on the weekend!). We watched an amazing singer/guitarist called Carlton Anderson – check him out!

buffalo wings
 This is more of a bar than a restaurant really, and you order food and pay at the bar, though it is waitress service as you would expect. I was quite excited by the amount of ‘Southern’ food on the menu – this was one of our first meals out on this trip. But we didn’t realise the portions would be so big! My mother in law ordered cheese curds, as we didn’t have a clue what they were but thought we couldn’t go wrong with cheese. We found them to be a lot like mini mozzarella sticks and delicious though I’m sure not very healthy! They were listed under the starter section of the menu so we thought they would be a small portion but instead we received a huge basket that was easily enough for two or three people to share as a starter or side, or one person as a main course. But my mother in law had also ordered a side of tater tots, which again turned up in a huge basket that would have fed at least two people.
cheesy fries
My fiancé had chicken tenders and fries – again a huge portion. I wanted to try some barbecue food as I read that’s what Nashville is known for, so had the buffalo wings with barbecue sauce. I normally avoid chicken wings at home because they are more bone than meat and I don’t like eating the skin, but these were so much better than I expected – plenty of meat and the sauce was fantastic. I had some cheesy fries with it – I’ve written before about my love of proper American cheesy fries, where they are covered in a cheese sauce rather than melted Cheddar that has then gone hard again which seems to be the way they are done in England. And these were really, really good – I dread to think how many calories I had during this meal but it was worth it! It was also very good value, we paid a little over $50 for all three of us.
 We had booked our Studio B tour as part of a package with the ticket to the Country Music Hall of Fame; you are told a time for the tour and have to be at the entrance to the museum at that time as you get on a minibus. It takes you about a ten minute drive away to the studio, where Elvis recorded more than 260 songs. There seemed to be a bit of friendly rivalry between Studio B and Sun Studios in Memphis, which we also visited; Elvis was “discovered” and recorded his first singles at Sun but did most of his work at RCA. So while Elvis is sometimes more associated with Memphis, he actually did most of his recording in Nashville.

Either way it was an interesting tour – a small studio but the guide has plenty to talk about first in the entrance hall (plenty of other stars recorded here too) and then you enter the studio itself where you are encouraged to sit at a piano and take photos – it was only after we had done that that the guide told us it was Elvis’ piano! You can also see the spot that is marked where he stood to sing. Definitely worth a visit if you are an Elvis fan but don’t expect there to be a whole load of memorabilia herethe tour only takes one hour - go to the Country Music Hall of Fame itself for that.
Nashville in the evening appears to be hen and stag party (or bachelor and bachelorette party) central. We saw so many groups, often riding on a ‘pedal tavern’ (basically a bar crawl on wheels) and the bars and restaurants were absolutely packed in the evening, even on a Sunday night. We hadn’t made a reservation and went in a few places but couldn’t get a table so were beginning to get a bit worried. We hadn’t really done any research into any areas outside the city centre as we had assumed there would be no problem finding somewhere for dinner but obviously that wasn’t the case! So we ended up in the Hard Rock Café – not our first choice as it’s a chain that you can go to pretty much anywhere in the world but by this point we just needed food!
I had a BBQ cheese and bacon burger which was very good though the bun felt apart and I had to use a knife and fork. I also had the chocolate cherry alcoholic milkshake though it was disappointing and not that nice; I only had it because my two companions ordered dessert. Their Oreo cheesecake and apple cobbler looked very nice but I didn’t want the extra calories

Service was excellent as we have come to expect in the US but the bill including a 20% tip came to almost $100 – we paid about half that and had much better food at the Swinging Doors Saloon at lunchtime.
Coming next: Memphis, including review of Graceland

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