Thursday, January 19, 2017

Eating (and Drinking) Nashville

Hot chicken. Loveless cafe biscuits. Mas tacos. Any tacos, really. Meat and three. Goo Goo Clusters. Anything farm to table. Bourbon. These are a list of some of Nashville's most iconic foods - and well, one drink. And it would be an impressive feat to eat -and drink- your way through the city of Nashville. There's just too much food. Good food. Great food. But one could be happy trying. 

During my last trip to Nashville I took a food tour with Walk Eat Nashville which was a great place to start. During the rest of my week there I ate at some of the other places I have been wanting to get to. And it was only the tip of the iceberg. Have you been to any of these?

Wildhorse Saloon
Way back in the day, the Wildhorse Saloon was the setting for a country music dance show. Three stories tall and located in downtown Nashville, the Wildhorse is about as touristy as you can get. The first floor has the stage, dance floor and a coupla bars. The second and third overlook the dance floor and each have bars. It's been recently and though you can still take country line dancing lessons there, they are more known now for showcasing up and coming musical acts. We went there three times and each time we saw a different performer - and all were fantastic. And since we were staying downtown and I didn't think I'd make it to Hattie B.'s for the famous hot chicken, I decided to try the Wildhorse's hot chicken. Historically served with white bread, hot chicken is dipped in Louisiana hot sauce and coated with cayenne pepper amongst other ingredients. I'm about a 4 or 5 on the hot scale of 1 to 10 for heat in my food - and this chicken was way too hot for me. Mr. UR, however, liked it. I could only take a bite at a time and then have to drink alot of water. It was served with that famous southern vegetable, mac n cheese. The fried pickles we got as an appetizer were more my speed. I still would like to try the original Hattie B.'s someday but I may have to go to a lower level of heat!

Wildhorse Saloon's famous fried pickles

horses hanging from the ceiling

Jackalope Brewing Company
Like most cities in the US, Nashville has been coming on strong in the brewery scene. We made time to stop at one on our way back into downtown one day - the only day we went outside the city - which was Jackalope Brewing Company. Housed in what looks like a former office building in another life, Jackalope has tables and chairs, board games and is connected to a coffee shop for those that prefer to drink some java instead of hops. (There are pitchers of water around the brewery also for those that prefer that) Mr. UR had the red ale and I chose to abstain this time and go with some of that water. It was a Saturday afternoon so the place was buzzing and there was a food truck available outside if you were hungry. All in all, a pleasant experience.

Burger Republic
The neighborhood now known as The Gulch is a redeveloped area - it used to be parking lots and before that, the railroad terminal - that sits between Music Row and downtown. It's had fast and fierce development and now houses condos, restaurants, hotels and one of the cities most famous walls of street art. We headed there for lunch on Saturday to Burger Republic - known for their burgers, spiked shakes and tater tot fondue.  I was a bit anxious as I had heard that lines can reach out the door but we got there early enough and were pleasantly surprised at the lack of people there. It was a beautiful afternoon so we sat outside and enjoyed people watching with our food.  We had to order burgers, of course. Mr. UR went with the Tennessee burger - glazed with JD Honey Bourbon, JD smoked ketchup and Memphis BBQ sauce - and I went with the classic and fries. Both were good - fat and juicy. I'm not sure it would classify as the best burger I ever had but it was tasty. Note: Around the corner from Burger Republic is Biscuit Love, another restaurant with a cult following. I'm saving that one for next time.

heart attack on a plate

302 11th Ave S in the Gulch

Jeni's Ice Cream
Jeni Britton Bauer founded Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream in 2002 using whole ingredients and dairy from grass-fed cows. To say I was most excited for this stop on our visit to Nashville would be an understatement. Known for their unique flavors such as Juniper & Lemon Curd, Bangkok Peanut, Brambleberry Crisp and Churro, I couldn't wait to try some of them out. We visited the Hillsboro Village scoop shop (they are now located in Columbus, Charleston, Atlanta, Nashville, Cleveland, Chicago, LA and St. Louis)and after trying a few flavors - Wildberry Lavender and the seasonal Sweet Cream Biscuits and Peach Jam - I decided on two scoops of Darkest Chocolate and Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk on the advice of my scoop shop specialist. And it was the best. ice. cream. ever. I wouldn't hesitate to visit one again (they also sell sundaes, floats and Jeni's cookbooks. Ice cream is sold in flights of two to four scoops in cups and cones.)

Darkest Chocolate and Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk

Be prepared for a line at Jeni's

So there you have it. A small sampling of places to go and things you can eat in Nashville. Next time I'm gonna hit up Mas Tacos. Monell's. Pinewood Social. And The Farmhouse again. And well, Jeni's cause you cream.

Have you been to Nashville? If so, where did you eat?

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Photo Friday at Pierced Wonderings, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Albom Adventures and Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Great Sand Dunes National Park

It was really hard to believe as we were driving on Colorado 150- passing tumbleweeds and pretty much nothing in sight but open land - that we would be arriving at the tallest dunes in North America. When you finally start to see the dunes - and I didn't realize that's what they were until they were pointed out to me - you think it's a mirage. Or maybe just some bald, tan mountains. And when you finally come close enough to really see them, it's almost surreal.

According to the national park website, people have "known about, visited or lived near the Great Sand Dunes for a long, long time. About 11,000 years." Alarmed by the thought of the dunes being destroyed by gold mining or concrete making, area residents applied for the Great Sand Dunes to become a national monument in 1932 and it became a national park in 2002.

The sand dunes rise to a max height of 750 feet and were formed from sand and soil deposits of the Rio Grande River. As time passed, sand particles from the river and it's tributaries were picked up by the wind and deposited on the edge of the river valley. It's still happening and the dunes grow daily.

There is a $15 fee to enter the park and it is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. There is a visitor center to learn the history and nature of the dunes. (However, the visitor center is open from 9-5) And you can start your walk to the dunes from there and you can drive to a closer parking lot for a shorter trek.

Medano Creek flows between the parking lot and the dunes. It usually starts flowing in April, with peak flow in May and is usually dried up by June. When it's flowing, you can actually splash and play in it and there are even waves. We were there in late July, and it was just a trickle. But we still enjoyed squishing our toes in the mud and splashing in the little bit of water. There were a few groups of people with their beach chairs sitting in the sand - land locked Colorado's "beach".

You may explore any part of the dunes that you would like. There are no trails - just climbing and wandering in the sand. (There are a couple of trails off of the dunes where you can escape the summer heat) You may also go sandboarding, sledding or skiing anywhere on the dunes except near the vegetation. (Note: The website will tell you what works on the sand and what doesn't. The visitor center does not rent any sleds or sandboards but they can tell you where to rent or purchase them.) And Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the best places around  to stargaze and view the night sky. No light pollution around, that's for sure. In fact, there's not much around at all.

If you want to experience someplace really unique, totally off the beaten path, isolated, but fun, Great Sand Dunes might be your kind of place. Let me know if you go - I'd like to know your thoughts!

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Malaysian Meanders and the Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

California Road Trip: San Francisco to Monterey

Last summer I was scrolling through The Flight Deal (by the way, if you're not following them, you should. They list the best and latest fare deals to and from the US - check them out here) when I noticed a fare from Charleston, SC to San Francisco for $280. Charleston isn't the airport we fly out of normally but it is definitely within driving distance. And when I checked fares for the airport we normally fly out of, Charlotte, it was listed for about $480. When I mentioned it to Mr. UR in passing, he said "Let's do it! Book it!" So I did. And just like that we were headed to California for the first time in over 15 years. (The last time we were there our youngest was 6 and she is now 22)

Our flight into San Francisco landed mid-morning and though I had hoped to eat at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company on the water, we were both on East Coast time and starving. So we grabbed some fast food and started our drive down Highway 1. This was the first time for both of us to drive Highway 1 on the San Fran to Monterey portion. The fog was thick per usual in the city and the northern part of the drive. We did make it to Half Moon Bay and the brewing company for an afternoon drink - the weather was fantastic and the view was great. It's in a perfect spot with outdoor tables and seats to enjoy that view - and I think Mr. UR got an amber ale and I got a seasonal, pumpkin something-or-other. I was a happy girl.

After a leisurely break we were off and driving again. We stopped a few times to take in the views which were fantastic. The California coast sure does deliver!

We stopped in the quintessential surf town of Santa Cruz. It was my first time visiting here and even though we didn't take a walk on the boardwalk, I think I got a feel for it. We did stop at Natural Bridges State Beach and check out the surfers. It was extremely windy so I think that made for some great surfing!

We passed a few agricultural areas and the Sand City dunes which looked very interesting. But we were ready to get to our destination after a day of flying and driving that started way too early. Next stop: Monterey!

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Albom Adventures,  The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!