Wednesday, April 18, 2018

5 Fun Things to Do in Nashville

Nashville has gone from guitars, cadillacs and country music to a city of foodies, symphony orchestras and rooftop bars. Country has become oh, so cool. If you're interested in jumping on the Nashville bandwagon and going for a visit, here are 5 things you can do in a weekend visit.

1. Go Honky Tonkin on Broadway
Broadway is the main thoroughfare in Nashville and what started as hole in the wall dives for talent to be discovered in, has now become big business. You can still visit Tootsie's Orchid Lounge or Legends but  you can also honky tonk - that is, go hear live music while enjoying adult refreshments - at Honky Tonk Central, Acme Feed & Seed or Rippy's, all 3 story entertainment venues. And the Bluebird Cafe, not located on Broadway, is the hot ticket of the moment if you really want to hear some unknown talent. But make your reservations online early - or be prepared to wait in line for hours.

Read more about Honky Tonkin on Broadway here

2. Visit Belle Meade Plantation
Belle Meade Plantation started out as a log cabin with 250 acres and grew to be a thoroughbred horse farm with it's famous Greek Revival Mansion. You can visit and tour the mansion and grounds - topped off with a wine tasting - and learn the history of this farm that has served as the bloodlines for many of racing's most illustrious horses. And if you want to make a full day of it, you can eat at the on-grounds restaurant.

Read more about Belle Meade Plantation here

3. Take a Nashville Food Tour
Nashville's food scene is hot, hot, hot right now and you can take a walking food tour to taste some of it's farm-to-table and locally sourced dishes. I chose WalkEatNashville  which was a fantastic 3 hour walking tour of the downtown Nashville area - they also tour East Nashville and Midtown - that visited such restaurants as Husk, Bakersfield, the Goo Goo Shop & Dessert Bar and my personal favorite, The Farm House. I enjoyed this tour so much that I now seek out food tours in any cities I visit. 
Willie Nelson watches over the kitchen at Husk

Short rib tacos at Bakersfield

4. View The Parthenon
Due to it's many universities and being the first Southern city to establish a public school system, Nashville was known as the Athens of the South by the 1850's. This nickname was already well known when the Tennessee Centennial Exposition was held in 1897 and the world's only full-scale replica of the Parthenon was built. Still there today, you can visit the urban Centennial Park and the Parthenon including it's famous Athena statue. You can walk around the building and it's grounds or pay to visit the interior museum which also serves as Nashville's art museum (entrance fee for the museum is $6 per adult or $4 per child or senior)

5. Tour one of Nashville's unique neighborhoods
Like most cities, Nashville is host to many unique neighborhoods. 12 South houses bungalows, vintage guitar stores and the "I Love Nashville" mural made famous on instagram. If you want hip, head to Hillsboro Village - close to Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities - for street art, cocktail bars and hip eateries. Germantown includes the Nashville Farmers Market, former warehouses that are now boutiques and restaurants in Victorian period buildings. The Gulch - a former area of parking lots and railroad lines- has been transformed into a LEED certified neighborhood housing such famous restaurants as Burger Republic, Biscuit Love, The Station Inn and that famous WhatLiftsYou Wings mural. (From personal experience, I highly suggest Jeni's Ice Cream if you're in the Hillsboro neighborhood. Get a flight of ice cream including some of their unique flavors such as Bangkok Peanut or Brambleberry Crisp)

Jeni's Ice Cream in Hillsboro Village

The Gulch

How about you? Have you been to Nashville? What would you recommend doing there?

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Exploring Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The island of Puerto Rico was decimated by Hurricane Maria, a hurricane with Category 5 winds, in September 2017 causing some 90 billion dollars in damage. Over 6  months after the hurricane, 16% of the island is still without power. The city of Yabucoa, where Maria made landfall, is still reeling from the storm and still looks as if it hit yesterday. But the people of Puerto Rico are a resilient lot and they are up and running for business. The best way you can help is to visit and bring your tourism dollars. 

Mr. UR's college roommate lives in Puerto Rico. We visited him about 5 years ago and  decided it was time for another visit. We invited our kids to come along and our oldest daughter took us up on the invitation. She brought a friend and we spent a few days in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital and most populous city, and then headed out to the northwest corner of the island in Rincon. We spent a day exploring the delightful Old San Juan with it's fort, colorful buildings and blue cobblestones. 

We started with lunch and I was on a mission to try  mallorca. Mallorca is a soft, eggy bread typically served for breakfast. We had already eaten breakfast, so we decided to try it for lunch. We headed to Cafeteria Mallorca- a coffee shop known for what else? Their mallorcas, served as an egg, swiss and cheese sandwich on mallorca bread and dusted with powdered sugar. This old school coffee shop is extremely popular - if you see a table, grab it - and the prices are fantastic. My mallorca did not disappoint. In fact, I think I could've eaten two. You just can't go wrong with the sweet and salty mixture. Our waiter twisted our arm and recommended the flan de queso - a cheesecake baked custard with caramel sauce - and a special cake with bits of coconut and whipped frosting. A delicious lunch. I highly recommend trying a mallorca while you're in Puerto Rico.

One of the main attractions in Old San Juan is  El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the famous citadel with picturesque views on the water. It's part of the San Juan National Historic Site - also including the San Juan Gate and El Castillo de San Cristobal -  and is run by the US National Park Service. The 400 year old fort, with it's strategic location,  was the first place that sailors from Europe would reach with fresh water, food and supplies and it served as protection from invading colonies. It also served as a stepping stone for the Spanish to conquer other parts of the Americas with their jewels and gold. Visitors can walk the fort and take in the views along with taking a self-guided tour.
Photo credit: JC

Photo credit: JC

We enjoyed walking the city and popping our heads into some of the shops.We stopped into the very impressive Catedral de San Juan - or the Cathedral of San Juan - built in 1540 which is the oldest Cathedral in the United States and the second oldest cathedral in the Americas. Many come to the cathedral to visit the tomb of Ponce de Leon - that notorious searcher of youth and the first governor of Puerto Rico.  And we enjoyed some refreshments - and some air conditioning. Then it was time to go - we were off to kayak the bio luminescent bay at La Parguera!

Fancy a panama hat? Or a margarita?

Photo credit: JC

Photo credit: JC

 Old San Juan is a charismatic and colorful city and I enjoy my visit each time I'm there. 
Photo credit: JC

How about you? Have you been to Old San Juan? Better yet, have you tried mallorca?

Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global, Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The WEekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

California Road Trip: Point Reyes National Seashore

When our three kids were in elementary school - so many years ago - we did a northern California road trip. One of the places we visited for a day was Point Reyes National Seashore. I remembered it as one of my  most favorite places I've ever been. It was windswept - oh, so windy! - and beautiful. We took a walk to one of the cliffs that had a bench overlooking the ocean and sat for awhile, walked on the beach, visited the lighthouse and sat stopped on the road in our car for a traffic jam - of cows. Lots of cows. So on our return road trip I wanted to return to Point Reyes. But I wasn't quite sure that I really did. Going back to someplace you've truly enjoyed doesn't always work out.Sometimes expectations aren't met - and sometimes they are. It's a gamble. In the end, I decided to include it in our itinerary. And so, on the last day of our California Road Trip, we made the drive from Sonoma to Point Reyes.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a protected coastline in Northern California located about 30 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 1. It includes some 70,000 acres with a visitor center, lighthouse, beaches, farms (who have been grandfathered in), and a famous Cypress Tree tunnel. The original inhabitants were the Coast Miwok Indians, Sir Francis Drake supposedly landed here in 1579 and a wireless telegraph station was put here in 1914 by Marconi. It's quite a place to visit and if you haven't been, I highly suggest it. 

We started our visit, per usual, at the best place to start, The Bear Valley Visitor Center. There are exhibits on marine life within the park, a gift shop, restrooms and on weekends, ranger led programs. There are picnic tables outside and we enjoyed a picnic lunch along with quite a few other people. Also, located off the parking lot here is the Earthquake Trail which is a short paved loop along the San Andreas Fault - this is where the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate separate and in 1906, Point Reyes actually moved 20 feet northwest.
Electric car charging station

He's not real - it's an exhibit in the Visitor Center
I had forgotten how incredibly huge Point Reyes is.( If you go, you definitely need a car.) So now we started our driving to get to the lighthouse and the beaches. Beautiful scenery - farms with lots of cows - and coastline views. We had a little trouble finding a parking spot - it was a weekend after all - but found one and started the incredibly windy walk to the Lighthouse and Lighthouse Visitor Center, which is smaller than the Bear Valley one. You walk on a paved path passing some bent-over-windswept-trees and the housing for the park rangers. We also spotted some park residents - deer on the cliffs munching their lunch. 

The Rangers quarters
The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 to help ships traveling between San Francisco Bay and points north. It was retired from service in 1975 when  the National Park Service took over it's care. There are fantastic views from the lighthouse - including whales, though I've never seen one there on either of my visits. Be prepared for high winds, the closest gas station is 20 miles away and there isn't any food once you pass Inverness, 35 miles away.  And if you want to go down to the lighthouse and climb back up - it's not for the physically challenged - there are 308 steps. But there are restrooms, a small museum and gift shop and those "I can see forever from here" views. Most would say it was worth it.
The museum

Whale bones

A little salt spray on my lens

Next we headed around the bend to Drakes Bay, the supposed site of Sir Francis Drake's landing and the spot where a Spanish galleon sunk in 1595. There we saw more deer and some elephant seals - from afar -sunning themselves on the beach.

Now it was time for a beach walk. Point Reyes has some of the prettiest beaches around. If you're a beach lover, you just can't beat the simply stunning scenery - and both times I've been here - the sound and spray of the crashing waves. I could sit there and listen and watch all day!

But we had some friends in the city to visit. First though, a snack at the cool little place that is Saltwater Oyster Depot. Located in Inverness, on the beautiful Tomales Bay, Saltwater is "a straight-up sustainable oyster bar & restaurant with locally harvested mollusks & regional wines." I loved this place. It's a bit pricey - face it,  you are in Marin County on Tomales Bay - but it fits it's environment so perfectly. We enjoyed a drink at the bar. Then, sadly, our trip was almost over. We visited friends for dinner at their place in the city and it was time for our red-eye home. 

Was I content with my return visit? Was it still as magical?Definitely. Yes. It was a bit different type of visit - there were no kids with us, we visited a few places we hadn't before and didn't visit a few we had, saw more wildlife than our first visit and was able to see a little more of the surrounding area. I still think Point Reyes is one of my most favorite places I've been. Though I still haven't made it to the Cypress Tree tunnel. Darn! Guess I'll just have to go back.

How about you? Have you been to Point Reyes? Or have you ever returned somewhere you really loved? How did it turn out?

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