Friday, August 9, 2019

Visiting Nashville: The Grand Ole Opry

On my way to work as a travel agent in my early twenties, I seemed to drive through a black hole of radio stations. My only choices in music were classical, oldies and country. I'd switch between the three but more often than not, I'd land on the country station. I hadn't been a country fan before but now it was becoming my genre of choice. Fast forward several years and I started attending country concerts and then, Fan Fair in Nashville. My mom and I attended this country music festival for several years and it was always a good time. An extremely hot, but fun, time. We met many nice people over the years and enjoyed all that Nashville has to offer. Including a visit to the show that made country music famous, The Grand Ole Opry.  As my mom got older, the heat and the walking got to be too much for her so we stopped attending. But we both still enjoy listening to country music.

Fast forward to now and my mom is 91. Her health is fantastic - especially for someone who is 91 - and she still really enjoys going to live shows. Last week I took her to see the Grand Ole Opry and we took a side detour to see a show on the General Jackson Showboat on the Cumberland River. 

The Grand Ole Opry
Most people don't know that the Grand Ole Opry is an actual radio show and is broadcast weekly through 650 AM WSM on your radio dial. What started as The WSM Barn Dance in 1925 is now Nashville's Number One Attraction, combining the acts of old with today's favorite country artists. People come from all over the world to see and hear the show live - the man who kindly took our photo was visiting with his wife from France. 

The show we saw included: old timer Whisperin Bill Anderson, Christian singer Zach Williams, Bluegrass Band Dailey & Vincent, country singer Cam, the iconic Charlie Daniels Band ( a definite crowd favorite), newcomer Scooter Brown Band and the headliner, Little Big Town. The Opry always presents a good mix of old and new music and never ceases to be entertaining. Even if you're not a country music fan, I think you'll like the Opry!

The General Jackson Showboat
We boarded the General Jackson Showboat for the lunchtime show entitled A Taste of Tennessee which included a buffet lunch, show and cruise down the Cumberland River. Launched in 1985 and named after the first steamboat on the Cumberland, the General Jackson is one of the largest showboats ever built. When you board, you are given your table number and then you can pass through the buffet line. The hour long show, which highlights the music of Tennessee including Elvis Presley songs, rhythm and blues, country and bluegrass, starts shortly after. The boat continues along the river until it reaches the city of Nashville where you can view the skyline of the city. On the return trip, you can purchase a drink and enjoy the serenity of the Cumberland. 

There are several other shows on the General Jackson including dinner and Christmas shows. Prices and times vary  (you can get a great skyline view of the city on the dinner cruise)In all, it's an enjoyable experience - the food was good, the scenery was nice and the show was entertaining. I might suggest going sometime other than the hot, humid Tennessee summertime but other than that it made for an enjoyable afternoon.

How about you? Have you been to the Grand Ole Opry? Or on the General Jackson Showboat?

Linking up with: My Corner of the World at Photographing New Zealand and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Charlottesville, Virginia: Mountains, Wineries & Monticello

Charlottesville, Virginia is a treasure trove of weekend fun. There's it's beautiful setting in the Blue Ridge Mountains, lots of farm-to-table restaurants, dozens of wineries, the University of Virginia, the downtown pedestrian mall and Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello. We recently spent a long weekend there. Here's how we spent our time.

Downtown Pedestrian Mall
The Downtown Pedestrian Mall is one of the longest in the United States and also one of the most successful. There are several restaurants - Red Pump Kitchen, The Whiskey Jar, and The Nook, where we ate a delicious brunch on the patio - shops - make sure to check out the Bookstore and it's back patio garden - along with a concert pavilion at the end. These aren't your usual chain shops either - there's a candy store, two book shops, and a Ten Thousand Villages store. You can also visit the Memorial to Heather Heyer and the 19 other victims of the 2017 White Nationalist Rally.

Unfortunately, it was pouring rain when we were there so we cut our visit short. But I'm sure it would be a fine place to stroll on a sunny day and pop into a few shops ending with a drink or meal. (Unfortunately, the downside to the mall is parking can be a bit of a problem and there have been complaints of panhandlers)

Monticello was the plantation home of our 3rd President - Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson inherited the land that Monticello is on from his father and spent years designing and building it. After a few years of building using enslaved labor, indentured servants and paid laborers, Jefferson's wife died and he began serving as Minister of the US to France. There he became influenced by French architecture, particularly their use of light, and made plans to redesign Monticello. It was completed in 1809 though Jefferson continued to change it up to his death in 1826.

Today you can visit Monticello and tour the grounds and house. Starting at the Visitor Center,where you purchase your timed entry ticket, you can watch a film about Jefferson, and view various interactive exhibits about the plantation. Here you pick up the shuttle bus that drives you to the top of the mountain to visit the house.(You may also choose to walk up or walk down) You take an interesting tour of the house giving you insight into not only the house but also the man who designed it that lasts for about 45 minutes (No photos are allowed of the interior) You can also take tours of the gardens or learn about slavery at the plantation.

 The topic of slavery is very much at the forefront of Monticello currently as the room of Sally Hemmings, a slave and mother of Jefferson's children, was recently uncovered and excavated. In the past, the topic of slavery might have been swept under the rug but I believe that the foundation at Monticello now knows they cannot ignore it.

Thomas Jefferson was such an interesting and complex man who accomplished many things in his lifetime. You can easily spend an entire day visiting Monticello and learning all about him and his life. We spent about 3 hours here - which is the minimum recommended - and I could have spent more. Don't miss it if you visit the Charlottesville area.

There are more than 35 wineries within a 30 mile radius of Charlottesville. Surprised? I know many have that reaction as they don't know that Virginia is not only for lovers, but wine lovers also. And those 35 wineries are known as the Monticello Wine Trail - Thomas Jefferson was one of the first vine growers in Virginia. 
We hit up five wineries - most in the rain - and enjoyed the uniqueness, and wines, of each. I'll cover them individually in future, along with some of the places that we ate. For now, here's a few photos of some Monticello Wine Trail winery visits.

Apples are king in the Blue Ridge Mountains around Charlottesville and there are several cideries you can visit to enjoy a pint of cider. We visited two - Albemarle Ciderworks and Bold Rock Ciders - for a refreshing flight.

Albemarle Ciderworks
Albemarle Ciderworks started by growing apples. They grow some 200 varieties of apples including heirloom and more recent types. You can visit their  tasting room and outdoor patio in North Garden, Virginia to enjoy a glass or flight of cider, listen to live music or try some of their food options. We tried a flight and listened to some jazz on a very rainy afternoon.

Bold Rock Hard Cider
Bold Rock is the nation's largest independently owned cider company. In 2010, a farmer in Virginia called a cider maker in New Zealand asking if they could make cider together. And Bold Rock was born. Crushed and crafted in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bold Rock has five locations in Virginia and North Carolina.

We visited their Carter Mountain location- it's official name is the Tap Room at Carter Mountain Orchard - and deemed it the best views of the trip. We tried a flight at the outdoor picnic tables taking in the scenic views and even sat through a few sprinkles, too. 

How about you? Have you been to Charlottesville?

Linking up with: My Corner of the World at Photographing New Zealand!

Friday, July 19, 2019

What To Do on a Rainy Day in Sydney: High Tea at the QVB

Our first day in Sydney happened to be a rainy one. In fact, it was so rainy that we woke to thunderstorms and the some of the train stations flooded. And friends and family inquired to see if we were ok. Needless to say we had planned to walk the city and that plan included sunny weather. What to do now? Our daughter, who we were visiting, came up with the great alternative plan of visiting the QVB - the Queen Victoria Building - and partaking in High Tea.

Now I'd never had High Tea or been to the QVB so I loved this idea! The decision was made for the two of us to have tea and for Mr. UR to find a place for a pint - he had no interest in having tea. 

Though it was walkable, we took a taxi (see thunderstorms above) and had a walkabout around the QVB first. The Queen Victoria Building was designed by the famed architect George McRae and was intended to be a marketplace. It was built between 1893 -1898 and is in the Victorian Arcade style with 3 stories. It fell into disrepair and was later restored and is on the NSW State Historic Register. It houses shops and restaurants and is connected to the Railway Station on the lowest, underground level. In short, it is quite something to see.

We were there at Christmas time and the incredibly large Christmas tree in the middle was a quite popular sight. There was even a photo shoot going on in front of it. 

Another popular sight is the Royal Clock which displays scenes of British royalty with mini trumpeters playing on the hour. 

We didn't do much shopping - though it did have a shop dedicated entirely to miniature military figures which I have never seen before - but we did enjoy our tea. We purchased it for two and were each given our pick of tea and then some finger sandwiches, scones with jam, macaroons, mini cheesecakes and a few cakes. It was delicious, though pricey, and served as a very late lunch for us, also. And, of course, Mr. UR found his beer. All were happy!

How about you? Have you been to the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney? 

Linking up with: My Corner of the World at Photographing New Zealand!