Once we had made up our minds that we were going to postpone the East Coast leg of our trip for another time, Nashville became the first stop on our revised route. We had initially planned to go this way and then go back east through Kentucky and the Virginias to Maryland. Then we decided to cut out Nashville and Kentucky and just go to Asheville and back through North Carolina and do the East Coast. And THEN we decided on our current route going through Nashville, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and then back west. Phew. Deciding stuff can be hard to do.
Melissa’s friend Ted—who she hadn’t seen in over 10 years— along with his wife Sarah, graciously agreed to put us up for the night. It transpired that they had just said farewell to Sarah’s mother who had flown in from Chicago, and the week before that, Ted’s mum had visited from Canada. So it really was very obliging of them both to deal with yet more visitors, especially one from a distant past and one who they’d never met. We hung out with Ted, Sarah and their super-cute 2 year old, Kira for the afternoon and had a grand old time. Kira is the kind of child who seems to find deep amazement and joy in the most everyday things. When asked if she would like to go to the park, zoo or even grocery store, Kira responds with the kind of glee normally reserved for the unwrapping of a much anticipated new toy at a birthday party. Ted took us and Kira to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park which lies underneath Tennessee’s Capitol Building. It has a long granite wall engraved with various events in Tennessee’s history, from prehistory onwards. There is even a rather amusing prehistory quote which Ted pointed out sounds most fitting in a hillbilly-style accent (see photo below).
In the evening, Melissa and I visited The Station Inn, an old bluegrass bar in town. Arguably we should have gone to see some straight-up country, but the bluegrass played by a bunch of local old fellas was well worth the visit.
We ended up taking 5 rides with Uber’s rival, Lyft. The reason for this is that I had just signed up to get the single free ride offered to newbies with a promo code, to be shortly rewarded with $100 worth of rides over the Nashville area, split into 5 $20 chunks. So we got the 5 free rides and I still have my initial free ride to use later! Three of our drivers were on their first day driving for Lyft. It turned out that the company had a promo on the go for new drivers which was highly incentivized, so I guess we lucked out as Lyft were trying to pull together enough customers for the new drivers. A few of the drivers were old-time Nashville natives and they pretty much all had the same thing to say about the city. Over the past few years, the city has experienced a boom, due in part—or at least according to the combined wisdom of our drivers—to the TV show ‘Nashville’. There are lots of shiny new buildings being thrown up everywhere, and as is often the case, there were mixed feelings about this with the locals. Some neighborhoods has been cleaned up and improved but for many, the rent had shot up to become unaffordable. Nashville certainly felt like a big city and the traffic was particularly bad. I was glad not to be driving.
On the second day, we walked around East Nashville, which is the hip part of the city, to check out the stores and restaurants. We were en route to the all-vegan Khan’s Bakery and stumbled across a veggie joint called The Wild Cow. It looked fairly typical, but the storm clouds overhead were starting to look as threatening as our growing combined appetites. It turned out to be one of the best places we’ve eaten on the trip. The menu presented the usual offerings of handhelds and entrees, but the food was executed especially well. I had black bean tacos with a tomatillo salsa and a side of garlicky kale, and it was delicious—definitely on a par with the Austin tacos. Melissa had a tempeh sandwich with buffalo sauce, and it was also spot on. So often, eating in a restaurant can be a disappointing experience as the food hasn’t been prepared that well. Perhaps this is more an issue with veggie and vegan food. I’m not sure. But it was a welcome surprise to find a place by chance that impressed us so much. We stayed for tea (made by High Garden Tea who we had visited earlier that day and bought some tea from) and cake (made by Khan’s bakery). Neither of us have a particularly sweet tooth so often avoid cake, but the meal had been so good—and it was raining harder than it is any fun to be in outside—so we indulged. If you’re ever in Nashville, take a trip to The Wild Cow. It’s worth it!
The last stop on our trip was to Broadway. This is where country music lives for all to see in Nashville. It’s kind of like Bourbon or Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, where every storefront offers live music or some touristy fare, which in this case was largely cowboy boots. One store even offered 2 free pairs of boots for every pair purchased. In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. We visited Robert’s Western World, which had been recommended to us by Sarah, our host, and one of the Lyft drivers as they played older country music rather than current chart stuff. The band who were playing were great. We had been told the standard on Broadway was high as so many musicians and singers come to Nashville to try and make it in the industry. Even playing in these bars on Broadway for tips can be fiercely competitive. The band were only a four piece—drums, electric bass, a female singer who played acoustic guitar and a male singer and electric / slide guitarist. They were so well polished, you instantly got the impression they had played many a long show here and elsewhere. The sound was full and balanced and the guitarist was just amazing, switching fluidly between the horizontally-oriented lap slide guitar and the Fender Jazzmaster around his neck. I’m not a massive fan of country music on the whole but was mesmerized by their performance. Even though the street is super-touristy and tacky, it would be a crime to visit Nashville and skip it.