Nashville Y’all

Another update … spent a week in a great airbnb in Music Row Nashville. Great location and free parking. This was our third visit to Nashville and it will not be our last. You can probably look through this blog and find earlier comments and pictures. Why do we keep going back – well, it’s my kind of town. Laid back, relaxed, great food, new things to discover, plenty of beer and all types of music – country and western (and other stuff too).

It’s pretty easy to get around, driving, uber, free bus in certain places and there is plenty to see and do. But don’t get stuck downtown where the honky tonks and people are – get out into the neighbourhoods such as East Nashville and Germantown, and make sure you visit the Vanderbilt area (walking from where we stayed), Music Row which is where all the music is made, and the Gulch which has some great places, including Lucchese boots where Jim was tempted but didn’t want to lay out about $1000 for a pair of boots – but I did get a great shirt with pearl buttons. Caroline, well she bought some more boots.

We hit the honky tonks for one night to catch a guy we have seen before – Joshua Hadley – great show. The honky tonks are great fun, cheap beer and music – and busy. Broadway is a party place where you walk the streets going from bar to bar and when a beer costs about $5 you can’t go wrong.

Also caught some music at Station Inn, which is one of THE places you should visit. It’s old and very original. Great band whose name escapes me but the fill-in guitarist for the night is blind and he was amazing.

We had some great food – three highlights: Hattie B’s hot chicken – how can chicken taste so good; Husk, which is more the fine dining and a top rated restaurant and also very good; and a new BBQ (for us at least) Martin’s and this was damn good BBQ, well worth the half hour or so in the queue.

Jim also had a few bucket lists in Nashville – cut a single at Third Man Records (Jack White’s label) and got on stage (for a photo) at the Ryman.

We also managed to catch up with a few work associates who were in Nashville for the special olympics torch run conference – this meet up also included getting into a free BBQ, drinks and music – great free night.

Nashville has not seen the last of me.

Meet me in St Louis

Easy drive from Chicago to St Louis and pulled up at our boutique hotel in the Delmar Loop area of St Louis (or University City as it is known) the Moonrise Hotel. This really was a great hotel with friendly staff, free parking out the back, a super rooftop bar, and easy walking to lots of restaurants and the park.

It was an easy drive downtown, which we did one day to catch a ride to the top of the St Louis arch. To get to the top you ride in these tiny pods – about 4 minutes ride up and 3 to get down. Reminded me of an alien pod. But the view up the top was really good, even if it was a little overcast. You have to do a bit of stretching to see out the windows as they are not large but there was plenty of viewing space and time as only so many can catch the train (8 pods at a time) every ten minutes. In a while this will be a nice spot as at the moment they are doing a few works – maybe have to catch it again another day.

Also in St Louis Jim was off to a conference with the International Association of Canine Professionals. Very good conference with some great speakers. Very friendly – for people and dogs. No special blogs on this but I will no doubt attend another year. Also picked up some great videos and other equipment – dog training is an expensive business/hobby – and Hank is still a rat-bag so he’ll be made to watch the videos.

We had a great meal at a new restaurant and highly rated Mexican – Nixta. The food here was truly exceptional. Only thing that spoilt the evening the food came out too quick.

Something that really could have spoilt that evening if we did not have an excellent Uber driver were some protests that started after a police officer was acquitted of murdering a black driver after a chase. The roads we needed to travel were blocked but she got onto Facebook and with a bit of local knowledge guided us through the back streets (which we would never have achieved) and to our restaurant door.

The protests continued and even came out to the area where we were staying – didn’t see any problems apart from a a bit of yelling at a service station and graffiti on the footpath – one shop had a few avoid this store because they are racists painted outside – not sure what the problem was there; and there were a few ‘black lives matter – blue lives murder’ chalked onto the footpath. But really, if it wasn’t for that and the very high police presence you probably wouldn’t have known when we were out – but we also didn’t stay out late either.

A good burger and St Louis specialty – toasted ravioli (deep fried ravioli – at Blueberry Hill, which was a great spot with good meals, cold beer, music and even a darts room – can’t go wrong there. Chuck Berry used to play there quite a bit and his statue is across the road. We also had some pretty good BBQ at Salt & Smoke.

St Louis is on Route 66 and if travelling that way you should stop and explore the neighbourhoods. We didn’t get as much exploring done due to Jim at the conference (which is why we were there in the first place and this was about 20 minutes from where we were staying) and the protests. A few people said they were disruptive even to the extent that U2 cancelled a concert because the police and security could not guarantee a presence.

Good stop and more exploring next time and make sure you grab something from Ted Drewe’s frozen custard.

Goodbye Chicago – on to St Louis

Finally moved on from Chicago – well a week ago, and drove on to St Louis where I attended a dog trainers conference with International Association of Canine Professionals. More about St Louis but I better finish up with a Chicago summary and a few more pictures.

Really nice city to visit and easy to get around as it is a grid with a river and lakes. Saw no trouble but plenty of shopping and things to do. We made the visit up to the 103rd floor of the tallest building in the world – the Willis Tower – great views although Jim was not a fan of standing on nothing.

We stayed in a good area close to great food and shopping. Everyone was friendly and helpful and food was pretty good too. Chicago is an airport hub so if you travel to the States and you are wondering what else to do apart from New York and the West Coast, then go that little bit inland to Chicago. Our only issues were dumb-ass taxi drivers from the airport that don’t know how to or don’t want to use credit card (take cash if catching a taxi), and unfortunately our car was not ready but not really their fault at Avis as people were taking the cars to get home from the hurricanes (there was a lot of sport in town our weekend and people needed to get home).

Loved our trip to Wrigley Field and we went for a walk to an area where there is reclaimed railroad now known as the 606 walk – there’s a few pictures from that area. Subway was very simple, fast and not crowded. Our trip to the theatre to see Hamilton was a great night, and a definite highlight (although not planned to be as long as it was) was a tour and several beers at Lagunita Brewery – we have now visited both their breweries. Some photos of that trip included.

 

Jim’s shopping highlight was at North Face where you can buy a jacket for less than $200 that costs almost $500 in Australia (I checked) – even with exchange rate it’s still a bargain.

Another part of our visit was down at Navy Pier – go there because you should, do anything there if you feel like it – we just went for the walk. And talking about walking I do like that you don’t need to press the traffic light, they work automatically for pedestrians, who didn’t seem to care much anyway about waiting for the walk. No pictures of this one but the quick way they fix roads was amazing, there was an intersection just up from our hotel that required some work, like I’m talking major re-pavement. Was everything blocked, reduced lanes, low speed limit, take months to do – no, traffic kept going by someone just moving a couple of watches hats around to block a lane as needed and work was done in three days. I’d like to see that in Melbourne.

And after picking up our car we were off – just remember which door to get in and to stay on the right, and indicators are on the left stem. A nice Kia Optima which so far has been very good – filled it once – $30.

Take me out to the Ballgame

Have now left Chicago and settling in at St Louis for a dog trainers conference – and beer and BBQ and beer. Will post some more pics of Chicago and maybe some stories but for this one we had a sporting choice of either a Chicago Bears game (that’s NFL football) or a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Whilst an invitation to tailgating at Soldier Field (that’s where hey play the football) sounded good and was tempting, the opportunity to see the current world series champions at the most famous baseball stadium – built in 1917 and rarely touched since – won us over.

Easy train ride, grabbed some tickets at the gate and not from a scalper – lucky it was not a sell-out (just) – and soaked up the atmosphere … and yes, there was atmosphere. A bit like grand final day here and this was the third game of the three game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (of which we saw maybe three fans out of about 40,000).

We were up the top but still great viewing and a great view across the pitch and an outside beer and hot dog patio that had good city views. And yes, it was old but still kind of comfortable. Great game and you got to know the crowd favourites and the drug cheat from the Brewers who was always booed. Had to have the hot dog and beer – no nacho hats. A really fun day (although it got quite cold in the shade) and the first time I’d seen baseball live – not cheap but that’s because you are paying for the stadium and team – you can watch the other Chicago team, the White Sox for a hell of a lot less – but why?

The Cubs lost (they also lost the series) but who cared – apart from the 40,000 cubs fans, the three Brewers fans, and me and Caroline.

Just some old buildings

One of the special things about Chicago is that it is a bit of an architect’s dream location. There are so many styles and innovations, such as how to avoid buildings falling down in string winds and how to build a sky-scaper above the railway line. There are also some great condominiums and apartments and if you want to knock something down to build along the river, then you have to build a river walk for the people.

There are many different tours along the river, we took the one that is associated with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. We were not disappointed and nor did we have to wear a cardboard hat that other cruises gave their passengers. I would put this down as a should do if you ever visit the windy city (which it hasn’t really been, except for a few pockets as we came in for landing).

But one of the best parts of this tour, I didn’t have to walk – just sit, look, listen and drink a beer. Cheers!

Now that’s a good idea

Totally refreshed and ready for a day on the Magnificent Mile – not for Jim but for Caro’s shopping. First stop was Nike as Caroline was planning to buy shoes first day to replace the pair she did not bring. Nice area around here with great shopping but what caught my eye were these statues of painted dogs everywhere. Turns out they are there in support of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and there are 102 of them painted by various sponsors – known as K9’s for Cops. Labor Day they will be auctioned off and removed. It was special to be here during this time to catch these one-offs – made you feel kind of proud.

 

USA … again

Okay, so we’re off on another trip… and to the USA … again. Why do you ask – well, why not. We always find it enjoyable, interesting and lots of relaxing things to do. Relaxing if you call BBQ, beer, music and sights relaxing. We already have a few places booked – for instance Chicago we are booked in to see Hamilton; St Louis Jim has another conference and dinner booked for one night; Nashville we are going to Pilgrimage festival and dinner booked at Husk; Charlotte tickets booked for Jason Isbell. See, everything just falls into place.

LAX

So all good fun must come to an end and these are the last few days of our USA 2015 vacation. We’ve had a lot of fun, new adventures, great food and drink, and ticked off a few more of the USA mainland States (still plenty more to go). And when flying back to Australia the choices of airport are limited and like everyone else, Los Angeles is generally the port of entry and egress.

Now, the first time we came to Los Angeles (many years back) we stayed a night in Santa Monica (very nice but getting bigger) and then where most travel agencies send you – Hollywood. You’d think Hollywood would be nice but it’s pretty much the pits and it put us off LA (and this is not an uncommon effect on people). Our later travels we came in via San Francisco or Dallas with a transfer only at LAX. But last trip we stayed a few days in LA with a car and away from Hollywood and really liked it. I never got around to blogging about that trip but it was good and we saw plenty and didn’t bother with Hollywood. So we decided on a few days this trip also. Again, away from Hollywood and not far from where we stayed last time – this time we were in Fairfax St straight opposite the Farmers Market and Grove Shopping Centre (upper class shopping with many films shot there – truly a nice experience). Our Hotel was probably our favourite – The Farmer’s Daughter – and we highly recommend this hotel and location. Great rooms, champagne on arrival, cookies and turn-down each night, perfect location, good restaurant (Tart) on site, friendly staff and a whiskey hour every night.

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Predators

Another four nights in Nashville, this time we stayed around the corner from our first Nashville stop (Aloft) at Embassy Suites. If you’re ever looking for hotels, Embassy Suites have larger rooms (suites, i.e. a bedroom and lounge), this one had microwave and fridge but best of all they have complimentary breakfast and cooked to order omelettes (and fried eggs and waffles) plus heaps of other breakfast goodies. I enjoy breakfast in America but having complimentary can be a money and time saver (most of our hotels on the down-leg had this option). The other thing you should look for is parking as this can be quite expensive (here was a cheaper option of $18 a night to self-park).

breakfast breakfast 2
However, this time around this hotel was also very busy. It is at the Vanderbilt University end of town (about half hour walk from Broadway and other such stuff) and they were playing football that weekend, there was also ice hockey (we went), the Titans were playing (American football) and conferences and it was weekend and Nashville is mad on a weekend. But the location for this hotel is a winner, they also have a free shuttle that will take you downtown or other places and we made use of that to get to the ice hockey.

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KFC

Left Lexington, continuing along the Bourbon Trail for a shorter drive than usual to Louisville. This gave us the chance to call into Jim Beam distillery for some ockerising, well not really but the lovely lady in the on-site Fred’s Smokehouse (BBQ) said they have a lot of Australians at Jim Beam – who would have thought. Lovely premises, large collection of merchandise (which I could not resist buying at least something – pretty much what I did at all the distilleries we visited). Didn’t do the tour but I’m sure it was a good one. Something I forgot to mention in the last post was that our rental Buick (great car) got doored by some guy who was as big as four of me (and that’s big) but he was very apologetic – didn’t matter as I always fork out those extra dollars to get the rental fully insured. There’s been a dint in most of the ones I’ve picked up on our various journeys but never a problem – and no, I have never put them there, honest.

And so we ventured to Louisville and once again to the rear entrance of the hotel – why, why, why Ms TomTom? Right in downtown and a short walk to most of the action. First action was to the KFC Yum! Stadium – or at least a bar across the road for a bite to eat and a few beers and bourbon. It was college basketball night so it was pretty busy but once that started the bar crowd left us to dine. There are a few bars and others in this vicinity and Louisville is kind of divided into several main streets – we were just to the edge but everything was walkable from where we were. Not that many homeless or pan-handlers (beggars) except for one crazy who was ranting and I was quite pleased we got to the lights before he did. I did like one of Lousiville’s strategies to stop (discourage) begging is that at many of the traffic light poles there was a collection box for the poor – good idea. Couldn’t imagine this in Melbourne, they’d all be stolen.

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