It took us most of the day to drive from Memphis to Nashville.  We arrived to discover that the NFL professional draft had just started – Nashville is the base this year.  Well – that wasn’t part of the plan!  Crowds of 300,000 are expected over the next few days, creating pressure on facilities and hotel prices to double.  Very glad we booked this trip up over a year ago!

We checked into our hotel and the very helpful concierge there sorted out all the restaurant reservations for the next couple of days for us – a ‘must do’ in view of how busy the city was.

Dinner – Etch – 303 Demonbreun St.  – www.etchrestaruant.com.  An upscale restaurant offering creative menus that were absolutely delicious.  It is made with Belle Meade bourbon, smoked simple and bitters and garnished with an orange wedge and a cherry. .  The roasted cauliflower just has to be tried.  The smoked Old Fashioned cocktail is also highly recommended.

Nashville has a very upmarket feel to it.  It is a booming city with a rising population that is growing fast.  On our first full day here, we took a tour with Stephanie Layne – a local singer/songwriter.  Despite the crowds in the city, our driver (grand-daughter of an ex manager of the Grand Ole Opry, interestingly) managed to negotiate the throbbing streets (at least – those that weren’t closed off!) very efficiently.  In a 3 hour tour, we learned so much about the city, its history and the music business as a whole.  The grand finale was staged in the centre of the National Carillon Bells in Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.  If you stand on the spot in the middle, the acoustics work to really amplify your voice, so it was a great place for Stephanie to perform two of her songs for us.  Very special – very memorable – nothing beats the real warmth of a live music performance, especially when it is sung just for you in such an atmospheric location.  We were SO lucky to have it to ourselves that day.  The bells chime on the quarter hour, half hour and on the hour – Stephanie had a bit of competition at the end of her performance, which made us all laugh.  The tour was organised through Sweet Magnolia Tours.  It was my best tour of the trip.

We stopped off at The Parthenon en route – the world’s only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon.  The ornate structure originated as a plaster pavilion in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.  It is a structure which sums up what Nashville is all about for me.  Apart from the music, the “Athens of the South” is home to several prestigious educational institutions, hospitals and healthcare companies – a centre of learning and democracy.  Today it serves as an art gallery and home to a gold-gilded towering statue of Athena, the largest sculpture in the Western World.   Amazing that the statue of Victory she holds in her hand is 4 cubits high – the same as the average human being!

The afternoon passed quickly away visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Although there are some interesting exhibits here, it isn’t really a very exciting tour in my view.  The audio guide for an extra $5 didn’t really add much.  The museum is confusingly laid out in places and it is hard to pick up all the numbers on the route.  It is worth a trip if you are a real country music fan and want to stand and admire all the the gold records in the Hall of Fame though.

Dinner:  Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse 300 4th Avenue North.   Very attentive service, smart decor (if a little glitzy), but the food was very expensive for what was really a basic steak and fries.  There are better, more wallet friendly options.  Give it a miss.

Learning the lingo:  “Meat and three” – Meat and a choice of three vegetables.  Unbelievably enough, Mac ‘n cheese is counted as a vegetable here?!  The best place to try this is apparently Pucketts – 500 Church Street at the intersection with 5th.

Souvenir I am glad I bought:  My first pair of cowboy boots – from Broadway,  I never realised that boots could have soles that actually make your feet rock – they really make you want to dance along to the beat!

Glad I packed: Denim jeans.  What else do you wear with a pair of cowgirl boots!

What’s on my Playlist:  It has to be Dolly Parton – you just have to love her.

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