Nashville, Tennessee

Between Georgia and Nashville, we went a bit out of the way to visit Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Country ham is pretty salty, but we’ve learned to like it. Our quick visit to the Benton’s shop was great. It’s a no-frills place, stuffed with smoked and aged meat. Brian got a Tennessee souvenir.

We spent a week in Nashville, staying at the KOA on the east side of Nashville near the Opryland Hotel. It was pretty easy to get into Downtown Nashville, about 15 minutes away. Thanks to a tip from fellow travelers, we parked near the Titans Stadium (in lot R) and walked across the pedestrian bridge to get to downtown. We loved this! In addition to free parking (which we always love), walking across the bridge was fun and had great views of the city!

We aren’t big country music fans, but when in Nashville! We bought tickets to the Grand Ole Opry. Until planning our visit, we actually didn’t realize that the Grand Ole Opry is a show rather than a venue, that’s how much we know about country music. The Grand Ole Opry is the longest running radio show in America (since 1925), and is essentially a country music variety show, with each band performing two or three songs.

The Opry performs at the Opry House three times a week, but in the winter it moves to the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman Auditorium was built as a church in 1892 and called the Union Gospel Tabernacle. From 1943 to 1974, the Opry was performed at the Ryman Auditorium, which became known as “the mother church of country music”.

We thought it was fun to see the Opry in its historic theatre, but church pews aren’t the comfiest concert seats. The balcony was sold out by the time we bought tickets, and it comes way down over the floor seats, somewhat blocking the view.

The performers the night we went to the Opry included Old Crow Medicine Show, and a bunch of other singers we’d never heard of. The show was honoring the 25th year of Marty Stuart’s membership in the Grand Ole Opry, so he performed and brought many guests to perform with him, including his wife Connie Smith, who is also a country music singer. My favorite guest that he brought was his mother, who came out and played the guitar with him for a song.

We didn’t visit the Opry House, but we did stop next door at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center to check out the Christmas decorations. There is a fountain there, and Brian was watching it while I was in the bathroom. When I came out, he swore that it went really high. We watched it for probably half an hour, and I thought he was making it up, but eventually it did shoot high into the air!

Because we aren’t country music fans, we skipped the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, but we did go into the building it is in to visit and tour Hatch Show Print, which is a historic letterpress poster shop. It has been around since 1879, producing posters to advertise the many country music shows in the city. It was previously located on Broadway, but moved to the Country Music Hall of Fame when their building was renovated, since they are now owned by the museum.

We got to Hatch Show Print just before the last tour of the day. I anxiously asked if there were tickets available, and yes, yes there were. In fact, we were the only ones on the tour! I guess 3 pm on a Tuesday isn’t the most popular time. They also seemed a little surprised we were interested, asking “So… are you guys artists?” Nope, we just like to see how things are made.

The first part of the tour was a description of the printing process, near the presses, which were in use at the time. A guy was running off posters that looked like a calendar, and a woman was carving a vintage car and trailer, free-hand. They showed us some of the old letters, still in use (they don’t add any new letters to the collection, the worn/distressed look comes about honestly), and deconstructed a poster into its components and described how it was printed.

The second part of the tour took place in their design studio, where they went through the history of Hatch Show Print, and we got to add the final color to a souvenir print. We enjoyed the tour, and really enjoyed shopping at the store!

For another live-music Nashville experience, we went to a Honky Tonk on Broadway. We went to Robert’s Western World, with the thought that we would try a few different places on the block, but we liked Robert’s so much we stayed all night. We went on a Thursday, and it was busy, but this street was crazy on the weekend!

We also saw my second cousin, Sharon, and met her husband Steve and kids. They had us over to their house for a delicious dinner, and came over to see our trailer too! It was so nice to connect with family that I hadn’t seen in too long!

Day 432 | Mile 45,201

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Visiting Family in Gainesville, Georgia

The day after Thanksgiving we headed to Gainesville, Georgia to see my cousins Don and Diane, and their family. We parked the trailer in their driveway, and stayed in their beautiful house. Our bedroom for the weekend was about four times the size of our trailer!

On Saturday the whole family came over (Don and Diane’s kids and grandkids), we put on our red and black for the Georgia Bulldogs, and watched college football. The girls went out to get manicures and pedicures to celebrate my cousin Kelly’s new baby, coming soon!

Afterward Don grilled steaks and we ate a delicious meal.

We even got to pretend we had pets, hanging out with Eli and Remy. It only bothered me a little that they seemed to prefer Brian!

The next day Don and Diane took us around Atlanta to see the sights. We first went to Stone Mountain, which is an 825 foot tall exposed granite mountain near Atlanta. It was once a quarry, now the state of Georgia owns it. There are a lot of attractions, including a skyline ride up to the top of the mountain, nature trails, a lake, laser light show, and this time of year there’s a toboggan ride on fake snow.

We took the skyline ride to the top, where there was a great view of Atlanta. The stone is all potholed and it feels like walking on the moon.

Oh, and there’s also a huge confederate monument carved into the side of the mountain. Started in the 1920s, it changed hands and sculptors over time until the state of Georgia bought the land and it was completed in 1970. The original sculptor (Gutzon Borglum) went on to sculpt Mount Rushmore, but his work on this carving was removed by the next sculptor. It’s the largest relief carving in the world.

Afterward we drove around downtown Atlanta, and ate at the Varsity, a Georgia institution. The grilled pimento cheese sandwich was great!

We had a great time seeing my cousins, and it was so nice of Don and Diane to have us in their home and show us around!

Day 424| Mile 44,674

Happy Thanksgiving!

The last few days that we were in South Carolina, we got ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. This is the first Thanksgiving that we weren’t in Michigan with our families, so we planned to cook a big dinner for the two of us.

We weren’t exactly sure how it would work to cook such a big meal in the trailer. The three things we did that helped are 1) cooked the turkey outside, 2) used disposable pans for sides, and 3) started cooking the day before, making turkey stock, croutons, and mashed squash and sweet potatoes.

Because we didn’t have to worry about anyone else liking the food, we used extra mushrooms in the stuffing and green bean casserole.

Brian stuffed the turkey, and cooked it over the fire, using the rotisserie attachment to his campfire grill. He made a geeky tin foil housing to go over it to keep the heat in, so it cooked more like it was in an oven. It actually cooked faster than we expected, (about 4 hours, comparable to an oven), so at the last minute we decided to skip the potatoes, and didn’t miss them (potatoes are just a way to eat gravy, and there’s stuffing for that!).

The turkey turned out great, just a little smoky. Brian and I both prefer dark meat, so we each got a leg.

Our small oven doesn’t cook very evenly, so we decided not to make a pie, and made pumpkin mousse parfaits instead. We used an immersion blender instead of a whisk or mixer to whip the cream, which worked, but didn’t get it very fluffy (we put reddi-whip on top!). Still tasted good though!

Our campsite at Sesquicentennial State Park was nice and big. The park was busy over the weekend, we didn’t realize that camping is a big thing over Thanksgiving. We ate outside, and by the time we finished the sun had gone down.

The only thing missing from our Thanksgiving was family, so the next day we packed up and headed to Georgia to see my cousins.