You Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

So today, on Day 4 of my Nashville trip, I am actually going to blog about Nashville. I know, crazy! KG is still at her conference until tomorrow afternoon so I had the day to myself to explore. It was serene to wake up and know I didn’t need to rush to the airport to sit on standby, only to have my flight cancelled. Instead I showered, got ready slowly and casually wandered around my top-rate hotel. Nashville is already so much better than Denver.

Here’s a great tip for anyone staying at the Opryland Hotel: the Wildhorse Shuttle. You can get either a 1-day or 3-day pass that allows you unlimited transportation between downtown and the resort. You see, the majority of Nashville’s Things to See can be found around Downtown in the western part of the city. The Opry & Opryland however are about a 20 minute drive east of this central location. It would be super inconvenient if not for the shuttle. I purchased the pass and hoped on a bus to the Ryman Auditorium (one of 2 downtown stops, along with the Wildhorse Saloon).

Once downtown there are several areas you can walk to. Today I set out to explore the Capitol Area. As you might guess, this encompasses the blocks surrounding the Tennessee State Capitol Building. I love these old government building but know that there are many places KG would rather go, so it made it an ideal location for me to spend my solo time. I wandered around the Capitol and nearby Legislative Plaza enjoying the architecture.
Lunch came from a food truck I happened upon on the street. I was hungry and how could anyone resist something called Bacon Nation?! I had a Supreme BLT that was LOADED with bacon, although I was tempted by the Heart Attack on a Bun (a 50% beef / 50% bacon burger sandwiched between 2 bacon grilled cheese sandwiches) and the Tennessee Taco (where the taco shell was actually weaved out of bacon).
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After lunch I visited the Tennessee State Museum. I LOVE museums. I get to a new place and one of the first questions I ask the internet is what museums there are & are they even a little bit worth seeing. My pal the internet told me this one was. The TSM chronologically told the story of Tennessee’s people from its early native tribes through the Civil War era. When you first decend the stairs it looks a bit run down, but people give this place a chance. The further you get into it the better the displays get and the more in depth information you get. I mean there are plenty of artifacts from early times, but they aren’t displayed in the most eye-catching fashion. Future exhibits have dioramas and fun stories and videos to better catch the attention of the visitor. Some of the highlights for me were:
The Dugout Canoe – It was an actual dugout canoe used by the native tribes of Tennessee. It was found on a lake bottom and was one of only 2 to ever be found in decent condition in the state. It just amazes me how it is carved out of one long log and is still expertly crafted, even at 35+ feet long.
The Printing Press – This display didn’t provide much information but was artistically displayed…plus I find printing presses fascinating. I think it’s my favorite piece of historical technology…which I now realize might be a weird thing to have a favorite of…
I took a break to watch the Battle of Kings Mountain film. It told of how the British were forced out of Tennessee, then systematically North Carolina, and victory inspired rebellion & the creation of the USA as an independent nation. It could have been a bit over zealous in the battles importance, but I got to sit in a rocking chair while watching it, so it makes my list of favorite parts 🙂
I paid particular attention to the section on Tennessean Presidents. There have been three US Presidents born in this great state: James K Polk, Andrew Johnson & Andrew Jackson. Jackson seemed like a particularly kick-ass guy. He had a talent for dueling…like with pistons at 40 paces kind of dueling. Anytime he felt his or his wife’s honor was threatened he would challenge his opponent to a duel. This hurt his political career when he actually killed a man, Charles Dickinson, in 1806. Luckily he was also a great General and his military victories won back people’s favor. In 1829 he became America’s 7th President.
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When I left the museum it was raining. It didn’t take long for that rain to turn into hail and I considered going to catch the bus home. Then I emerge onto Broadway and the super-tourist in me changed my mind. Bars, honkytonks, restaurants and western shops lined this main strip. I walked one side, then the other, ignoring the cold & damp. You could hear the live music escaping through open doors and that seemed like a way better idea then going back to the hotel. I picked a fun bar and found a table with a good view of the stage. I sat down, ordered a locally brewed beer (Yazoo Hefeweizen…delicious!) and pulled out my iPad. That’s when the magic happened. Just as I got settled in the handsome performer strummed his guitar and crooned out my all-time favorite tune The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. It was such a perfect Nashville moment that I also started to cry. Denver was totally worth it for this 🙂
This afternoon’s haunt was Rippy’s on Broadway & 5th. Not the most hidden-away gem, I mean it’s literally across the street from the Bridgestone Arena, but just because tourists can find it doesn’t mean its bad. Mixed in with the country music decor & neon beer signs are nascar hoods & memorabilia and I suddenly remember how much I love the South. As an Alberta girl born-and-raised these are kinda my people. The small stage in the corner housed three singers seated in a row, all with guitars. They cycled through, each taking turns singing a song while the others backed them up when they could. There was the country boy with a sexy western shirt, strong jaw and who loved the classics. A cute, little, blonde girl with the right amount of twang and a wide variety of country tunes. And an edgier girl with a smokey tone and a tendency to apply original pacing to hit pop songs. They were so good. It still blows my mind that people of this talent level riddle the bar scene in this town. How can so many good singers live in such a tight space. Do I automatically become better by just being exposed to them? Perhaps it is like an air-born virus that I can catch if I stick around long enough? Or something in the water? Seriously, if you know let me in not he secret…I need all the help I can get. My album is selling at all 😉
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While I blogged (Can I talk about blogging in a blog post? Does that like break the 4th wall or something?) I got so caught up in the variety of music that I realized I missed the next shuttle. Oh well, I guess I’ll try the Yazoo Pale Ale and keep listening 🙂 These 3 singers could really do it all. I heard some Patsy Cline, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Bruno Mars and Owl City. The one girl did a really cool country version of Lorde’s Royals. They also each threw in a few original songs that left me wanting their album(s). I have a bad feeling that I’m going to want to do this every time we see someone play this week. Oh well, my engineers salary can help support these struggling artists a bit.

At one point three members of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks came in doing a pre-game scavenger hunt…? Is this a thing? Because if it is that’s pretty cool. I like the idea of hockey teams getting to explore the cities they visit and doing fun things together before their games. But why am I always so inclined to think people are lying when they make claims like “I’m on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks” or “I work for NASA”? Oh yeah, it’s probably because I love making up stories to random strangers when I’m traveling. “Why yes, I am competing at these World Figure Skating Championships I am going to.” Or “What am I doing? Oh I’m a travel blogger.” I don’t know why I want to compulsively lie about things that don’t matter to people I don’t know but I think it’s so fun. Anyways, they got on stage to lip-sync a song. They got a girl to do a body shot off one of them. They created quite an entertaining ruckus.

When she’d finished her sessions (which you can read about over here) KG hopped on the shuttle and joined me downtown. We headed for supper at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. We really wanted live music while we ate but were not yet pumped up enough for a full band. This was one of the only places that were still in “just a guy and his guitar” mode at this point in the evening. KG had chicken fajitas that tasted like they’d been cooked in coconut oil…nice touch Jimmy. I had a jerk chick burger that was the perfect amount of spicy & juicy. In the end wastin’ away in Margaritaville was a quality choice.
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With food in our bellies we were ready for something a bit more high energy. Rather than limiting ourselves to only one location for the evening we engaged in to self-guided bar crawl of Broadway. We had one drink in three different bars, each selected by walking down the street & turning into wherever had acts that sounded enticing.

The first bar was called Honky Tonk Central. Its decor was lacking but the staff was friendly & the selection of local beers was commendable. For music they seemed to have an ever changing rotation of singers & musicians. Eventually you started to recognize people as they bounced from microphone to guitar to backup singer, etc. it provided a nice variety & ensured each requested cover was performed by the ideal artists, but was also a bit disjointed. You weren’t able to settle into the groove of one or two people because genres, styles and voices kept jarring you in new directions.

Stop #2 was Second Fiddle. This is a more intimate bar decorated with a music theme (radios, cellos, etc hanging on the walls). I was a bit disturbed by the radio – alcohol – alcohol – microwave – knives – nacho cheese machine – alcohol set up behind the bar, but not enough for it to ruin the atmosphere. The music was good at the time, although forgettable in the long run. They also cycled many people in on stage, so that eventually we we’re let wondering if we were the only people in the place not in the band.
Last but definitely not least was the Whiskey Bent Saloon. As we went by the bouncer suggested, “You should come on here…this guy (points to random guy) is playing right away.” “Ok.” Apparently we aren’t hard to convince. It worked out well because I loved this bar. It had exactly the feel we were looking for…being both energized but also chill and worn-in but also classy. The classic country setting was modernized with mellow blue lighting and the crowd was enthused but not obnoxiously rowdy. And to add to the fun it was All Original Music Night. Most bands/singers you see here are performing 95% covers (often requested from the audience…accompanied by a tip because tips are how they get paid) and 5% original material (that is on a cd available for purchase). This is entertaining because you can sing along and bop to the familiar beats, however if their original material is quality I want to hear what an artist can do on their own. How else will I know what sets them apart from everyone else and how they fit into today’s music industry? Oh god, reality singing shows have ruined me…. The first act had rock star hair, a rough tone and endless amounts of soul…and I do not remember any part of his name. He was our favorite we’d seen so far, but when the 2nd act took to the stage he wiped everything else from our minds. Spencer Mulder sounded as if he was already an established country star. His songs resonated with you personally, stuck with you like you’d heard them a thousand times and lulled you into the most calm sense of happiness. Basically we loved him and began fangirling along with a group of ladies who were also attending KG’s conference. FYI Event people are fun. These ladies had to be 15+ years older than us so we felt our fangirl behavior was allowed. We immediately searched iTunes for Spencer’s music but were sad to find he only had 2 albums that were several years old. Don’t worry though! He is releasing a 4 song EP on his website very soon…keep watch for it! We watched with nervous anticipation as the last act set-up. How could they be as entertaining as Spencer? The band was called The Timothy Chance Band and was headed by the dude who had been hosting the event up until now. He wore a perplexing outfit of too-long dress pants, half unbuttoned shirt, silver chains, sweat bands on his arms, and backwards ball cap. Homeless or Hippie? Trick Question! He is neither; he is actually a country rapper. How did I not know country hip-hop is a thing??? This is something I am going to be so into…I love non threatening rap music…like white British rappers. Basically I’m the least hard core person ever. There guys killed it. The band jammed out. Tim rocked the stage. And the crowd went wild. We went wild. Our new friends (Michele with one L, Michelle with 2 L’s and Jill with 2 L’s from Pennsylvania) went wild. It was insanely entertaining…partially insane due to this new genre. I’ve read that it’s becoming more main stream though; Tim even had a theme song for Nascar this season! So keep your ears open for this guy!
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Love & Luck,
Kris

Now this is my kind of Mall

Day 3 of Washington DC began with a metro ride to the National Mall. I was ready for the Smithsonian Museum tour….not an actual tour, just me wandering about on my own 🙂 I started in the south-east corner of the Mall. Here is the American Indian Museum. I didn’t have time to explore the exhibits, but the building itself is an architectural wonder. Some aboriginal cultures believe that evil hides in corners so the structure was designed with no right angles. As you can see the exterior is all soft curves, and the interior is much the same.
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If you travel around the Mall clockwise, which I did, next comes the National Air & Space Museum. I’m sure you don’t want to hear any more about that place after the last post. If I’m being honest I actually swung back inside as I went by. I pretended that I finished my day while finishing at the Air & Space Museum but in reality the 5 hours I got in yesterday (due to the museum’s late summer hours) was not enough. I started my day with another 2 hours of space exploration. But you’ve already heard about that so let’s move on to the rest of my day and more Smithsonian fun!

Next comes the Hirshhorn Gallery. This museum houses post-war era contemporary & modern art. Joseph H Hirshhorn originally donated the base collection in the 60’s, but obviously art is continuously being added or it could hardly be considered modern!
The building itself is a giant circle, like a donut! I love donuts. It’s architecturally interesting and very convenient for viewing the work. I like that you don’t have to weave through rooms and try to plot out the best path to make sure you see everything…or is that just me that always wants to draw out a plan on my museum map? I much prefer the logical arrangement of things in one big circle; one lap for the inside, one lap for the outside, and on to the next floor.
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Before going in I admired the exterior works of art. First there is the Sculpture Garden. I know what you’re thinking, “But Kristin, didn’t you go to the Sculpture Garden yesterday?” Yes, and no…that was for the National Gallery, which you might recall is not part of the Smithsonian museum group. This garden is full of modern pieces, such as a glass & mirror room that is very disorienting to stand inside. My favourite was Alexander Calder’s Sky Hooks. I think it’s the perfect name, both to befit the piece and inspire the imagination. There was also this great never-ending spiral staircase.
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The first thing I saw when getting off the escalator within the building was Peter Coffin’s Designs for Colby Poster Company. This consists of 80 3-color lithographs that are so simple, yet kind of overwhelming when all place together in one long line. The photo below isn’t even half of the collection.
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I was excited to see an original Andy Warhol (called Flowers) as my limited knowledge of artists actually encompasses him. My favourite were the installation pieces though. You can’t get photos that do them justice, but they are very effective in person. Ann Hamilton’s Palimpsest provides an interesting commentary on memory loss. A room is plaster with handwritten notes on yellowing paper. They each say something different, personal memories of over a hundred people. A fan makes the flutter and wave as if the memories are fleeting. In the center of the room is a glass terrarium with snails munching on heads of cabbage, symbolizing the brain’s deterioration.

The Smithsonian has a number of other smaller galleries. Being as art-inept as I am I dedicated my limited time to other institutions, but will definitely check out the African Art, Ripley (International Art) and Freer/Sackler (Asian Art) Galleries next time.

At the center of the mall is the Smithsonian Castle. What a breathtaking building!
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Aside from my desire to sit and stare, the Castle is a quick visit. Inside is simply a visitor center and cafeteria. I picked up a sandwich here and enjoyed the AC along with a mix of tourists & Smithsonian employees. I had the urge to steal someone’s ID badge and go on an adventure but behaved myself and headed back out to the Mall instead. On the way out I was able to pay my respects to Mr. James Smithsonian, who has his final resting place in an alcove by the main entrance.

Directly across from the Castle is the Natural History Museum. My biggest regret of this trip is that I did not have time to visit it. It’s supposed to be spectacular and I am prepares to make another trip to DC just to get to visit it & the Smithsonian Zoo.
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Running through the center of the Mall are long stretches of grass. During the day I watched Day Camp groups frolic and snack and walk in orderly hand-holding lines in these areas. Then in the evening I was surprised to emerge from a museum and find groups of adults spaced out along the grass playing different sports. Coming from a city with a smaller population and an abundance of sport complexes I had never really thought through how a big city would make room for rec sport leagues. This is how DC dealt with the space issue. I’m not a big softball fan, but I think I would enjoy it more if running to first base provided a view of the Capitol Building and running home had you heading for the Washington Monument.
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My last stop on the Mall was the American History Museum, but lets give that one it’s own post!

Love & Luck,
Kris

It looks like a couple of lawn chairs strapped to the frame of a Chevy truck.

Back to Washington!
We last left off on DC Day 2 at the American Art Museum & Portrait Gallery and I teased that some Air & Space was coming next. I left the art gallery in the late afternoon feeling like I could have spent the rest of the day there, but there was too much to see & too little time to be devoting whole days to one museum.
The Gallery is one of the Smithsonian institutions that are not on the National Mall. It`s actually located about 1km north, so only a short walk away. On my way to the next museum on my list I stopped for a late lunch. It is so easy to lose track of time when you’re wrapped up in how much there is to see that it`s suddenly 2pm and you haven’t eaten anything. I was very excited to come across a Pret a Manger. Justine & I had frequented their establishments in London and beyond during our Europe trip (like this day) and I found their food the perfect quick meal. I munched on a wrap & chai tea and contemplated where my next stop should be.
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It seemed logical to go straight to the place I most wanted to see. That way I would be sure not to miss it. My path from Pret to the National Air & Space Museum took me through the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. The National Gallery is not a Smithsonian owned museum, however it does sit on the Mall and is also free to visit. 20130806-211351.jpg
It was a really lovely day out, bright sunny and hot. Maybe a little too hot. Actually, definitely a little too hot. I was happy to take a walk outside though, as I knew I was heading to another wonderfully air-conditioned building at the other end. The National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden offered a wide variety of styles. Here are my favorites: the giant spider thing, a replica of an old Paris Metro entrance (this made me so nostalgic that it almost physically hurt…if you wanna read about my time in Paris you can click here…or here…or here…or here…), The crazy metal tree you can see behind the metro stop and this house.
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The last is literally called House I and was created by American artist Roy Lichtenstein. What was really eye catching about it (and that doesn’t translate into a photo) is that the house is actually a “V” shape and appears to dramatically change proportions as you walk by it. Very cool, very clever!

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The Air & Space Museum started out as simply the National Air Museum in 1946. After the space race of the 50’s & 60’s the Space part of it was added. Walking into the building it’s like “BAM! Check out all of this stuff!” I was barely even in the door and already my camera was out and I was snapping photos of planes, rockets & the Gemini IV space capsule. I was so overwhelmed that I missed the moon rock the first time by. My piece of advice for entering this museum: Don’t miss the moon rock! I lucky figured it out and doubled back later because no one wants to miss the opportunity to touch an actual piece of the moon!
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Feeling a little over stimulated I decided to grab a map and plan a route. Little did I know that the museum had the world’s most helpful staff! The elderly gentleman behind the counter inquired into my area of interest (all of it!) and time commitment (as long as it took!) then pulled out his red pen & a map and plotted a course that best suited my needs.
My museum expert had me starting on the second floor at the beginning: the Wright Brothers. In the center of this room stood the actual 1903 Wright Flyer, aka the first plane to every accomplish powered flight! After casually flying from Edmonton to DC it’s incredible to see where it all started, and only just over 100 years ago!
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Continuing clockwise around the upper floor I watched airplanes progress from a new discovery to a war-time necessity. Air travel first gained popularity as a sport in the 1930’s. Legends were made as pilots pushed each other to travel further and faster. Amelia Earhart flew her Lockhead 5B Vega clear across the Atlantic and then North America, being the first woman to do each. Many others had a more tragic fate. One display featured the slightly morbid game of Success, Rescued or Dead, where you read of pilots and their attempted flights and had to guess the results. Airplane development & production really took off though at the outbreak of the Second World War. The minor involvement of air travel during WWI had proved immensely useful and all nations were determined to seize this advantage. The German found the most success and by the end of WWII the Allies were so eager to capture examples of these advanced aircrafts that they instituted Operation LUSTY (LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY). The flyable planes were flown to Europe and then transported overseas to the US to be studied.
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Continuing downstairs the museum delved into the progression of commercial air travel. The early advertisements made the journey look awfully glamorous, but the reality was somewhat less so. A one-way ticket across the country cost $338 in 1929. At that time a Ford Model A cost merely $525…can you imagine if you could buy a car with the price of round-trip airfare!?! If you could afford to board the plane the ride was not the luxurious ride we experience today. I know what you’re thinking: Luxurious? Do you call being jammed into a middle seat between a smelly man and an obese woman while listening to screaming babies and having to pay for a lackluster meal luxurious? Well in comparison it is! The noise of a early commercial jet in take off was 120dB in the cabin…that’s 10dB louder than front row ay a rock concert…it’s also only 10dB lower than the threshold of pain. But I am sad I am too young to have ever seen flight attendants dressed in these get-ups:
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One of the most interesting things I saw all day was a video mapping the flights of all planes flying over the USA in one day. At peak times there can be upwards of 5000 planes in the air. And then it showed the air traffic on 9/11. 5000 planes in the air, then within minutes every one of them grounded. It’s amazing they could have that kind of control…although I also find it amazing that with that many planes in the air at once they aren’t constantly crashing into each other.
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Moving on I entered the Space half of the museum. I find planes plenty interesting, but they are nothing compared to spaceships!
The Space Race Gallery features a Skylab Orbital Workshop. Here you can see an example of an orbiting astronaut’s quarters. They are the opposite of roomy. In this Gallery you will also find the Missile Pit. Um, can you say coolest name ever?
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Travelling through the space exhibits there was many interesting and educational things to see. I learned about the early sky mapping, examined space ship design models, followed the space race timeline and saw an actual Apollo Lunar Module. This last one was set up to recreate a moon landing and I could almost feel the weightlessness of the astronauts as they took their first step into the great unknown.
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My favourite area was Apollo to the Moon where each of the American space flights were documented and displayed. The gallery of actual equipment blew my mind. “Oh that’s just a actual space suit worn by an actual Apollo astronaut as he walked on the actual moon. No big deal.” Huge deal! The Lunar Rover was really fascinating. I’m amazed that scientists were able to create a vehicle that would operate on the low gravity, air-less surface of moon… Although the guys next to me seemed to be less impressed. The one guy took one look and said: I don’t know…It just looks like a couple of lawn chairs strapped to the frame of an old Chevy track.”
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Oh, and I also saw Scott Hamilton skate the universe…???…
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And with that I wrap up this post…more on some of the other Smithsonian’s to come…but until then:
To Infinity & Beyond!

Love, Luck & Lightyears,
Kris