I recently returned from a two-week vacation near the famous Music City, USA with my beautiful wife, who is a true GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). My experiences as a (gasp!) homosexual in the Bible Belt are the subject of next week’s post, but if you’re looking for fun in the sun and humidity, Nashville and the surrounding area offers tons of fun and quirky attractions and experiences for a memorable first, second, or thirty-seventh date.
It’s All Greek To Me
Not fans of country music? Into history? Luckily, Nashville has some! Actually, it has quite a lot. Fort Nashborough is on the banks of the Cumberland for a quick self-guided tour through the past, but one of Nashville’s most impressive landmarks is its Parthenon. The only full-scale replica of Greece’s Parthenon in the world sits in the middle of a sprawling public park. Originally built for the 1897 World’s Fair, back when Nashville was considered the Athens of the South, the Parthenon is accurate from the colossal gold-leafed statue of Athena down to the gryphons on the roof and the mosaics on the ceiling.
If that’s not cool enough (it’s pretty cool), the Parthenon and its surrounding park plays home to events like Shakespeare in the Park, concerts, and the occasional movie projected onto the side of the building itself. Bring a blanket and some popcorn and get ready to cuddle.
The Nashville area is steeped in Revolutionary and Civil War history. You don’t have to look far for reenactments, museums, restored homes, and other pieces of living history. If you’re willing to range, I recommend a daytrip up to nearby Franklin, KY to visit Octagon Hall, one of the only remaining octagonal houses in the country and slowly being restored to its Civil War glory. With plenty of mom-and-pop restaurants and beautiful old parks and buildings, Franklin can be an ideal date day.
But you are in Music City, USA, so there’s lots of shows and cowboy boots to be had . . .
The Grandest Showboat Afloat
If you’re looking for some of the best musical entertainment in the city, a unique piece of history, some gorgeous sight-seeing, and a delicious meal, take a cruise on the General Jackson, billed as the Grandest Showboat Afloat. A three-hundred-foot-long replica of the old steamships that used to trawl the rivers of the south, the General Jackson is still powered entirely by the huge paddle wheels of the classic riverboats. Starting on the outskirts of Nashville by the now-defunct Opryland, the cruise takes you up the Cumberland River for a while before turning and heading south again into the heart of Nashville. Between dinner and dessert, you can get a view of downtown Nashville and the skyline that is entirely unique. Usually they offer a couple different shows for different tastes, but I would recommend seeing the musical acts. They don’t shirk on the talent, and the gorgeous theatre has all the bells and whistles. Also, spend the extra $5 to take a tour of the pilot house before the show. Not only do you get to board the boat early and a discount at the gift shop, you get a lesson in the mechanics of the boat, the history of riverboats, and some stories about life afloat.
Just want the romantic cruise? Try the Music City Queen, a much, much smaller steamboat that does tours up and down the river without dinner and a show.
Following the devastating flooding of the Cumberland two years ago, the sprawling Opry Mills shopping complex has sat empty, waiting for repairs. It is slated to reopen late next year, but in the meantime check out the Opryland Hotel next door. Even though the first and second floors were almost entirely underwater two years ago, they have rebuilt the hotel back to its former glories. Take a slow romantic stroll through the indoor jungles of the stunning atriums, grab a bite to eat, or take a gondola tour. Yes, a gondola tour. Inside the hotel. Or, if you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll catch the official annual Nashville Star Trek Convention.
Just Some Good Ol’ Boys
And across from the Opryland Hotel, if you’re looking for a fun trip down memory lane is a very unique (and free to the public) museum:Cooter’s Place. Headquarters for “all things Hazzard”, you can stroll down the lovingly collected and preserved memorabilia and merchandise of Dukes past, everything from General Lee-shaped soap to record players to toy guitars to tents to Underoos. They have four of the original cars from the series on display, and for $10 you can sit in all of them while your date takes your picture. You aren’t allowed to slide into the General through the window, though. I asked.
If you’re still in the mood for some Nashville-flavoured cheese after a wander through Hazzard County, right next door is Willie Nelson and Friends General Store and Museum. For a small fee, you can take a peek into Willie’s personal collection of country music nostalgia.
Wastin’ Away Again
Nashville’s historic Broadway Street slopes down to the waterfront and is lined with bars, saloons, and hooscows of all size and description, including Jimmy Buffet’s infamous Margaritaville. There’s karaoke at Wanna B’s, drinks at Dick’s Last Resort, and memorabilia aplenty at the Hard Rock café. And if you wander down to the waterside around nine in the evening, you might be able to catch the General Jackson on her trip downriver.
Live from the Grand Ole Opry!
Last but not least, there is always the Opry. In the 1930s, the local classical radio began following up the grand old operas of Europe with the segment they called the Grand Ole Opry. Since then, it has grown into a cultural juggernaut that has launched the careers of a thousand voices. And it’s still being recorded three times a week at the Ole Opry House, which has also been rebuilt and renovated since the destructive flood. Tickets range from thirty to fifty dollars for a show, and everyone from Rascal Flatts to Alan Jackson to the Oak Ridge Boys to Kristin Chenoweth perform. You can check their site for the full schedule.