Tag Archives: Trips

2011 California Vacation

I went on a trip to the California wine country and I found America. I wasn’t looking for her by any means. I wasn’t interested in finding picturesque landscapes that would make pretty post cards, but I found them and in a very American way: in a car and just driving.

As soon as we landed in San Fransisco International, we scrambled to get the rental car and we just went. My wife and I drove almost 100 miles away from the city and then took the whole route back on the iconic Route 1 coastal highway. There are miles of unmolested landscape and ocean. Mountains, fields, and for huge stretches, no people… it was fantastic. We stopped and stretched our legs, checked out some scenic stops and then we kept moving on. We had some authentic Mexican food at little road stop and then we continued to Napa for the night (and got snagged in a few hours of iconic American traffic).

The next morning we headed off to Sonoma for a private tour of MacMurray Ranch. This ranch was owned by Fred MacMurray, star of “My Three Sons”. The scope of this place blew my mind. It is 1100 acres of fields and mountains. The Gallo family purchased the property in the late 1990s after MacMurray died and converted it into a vineyard. Fred’s family is still involved with the property which is a nice touch.

The idea of holding that much property is astounding to me (not in a critical way). Past generations seemed to understand that you can’t over manage the land. Fred MacMurray left hundreds of acres alone (Gallo actually has a policy about that as well which is very cool). After we toured the ranch, we were taken down the road to see one of Gallo’s other non-public vineyards that was massive. I am going to do an actual write up about these places for Drinking Made Easy, but for the sake of this post, just walk away with the idea of land as far as the eye can see with mountains, trees, and in some cases grapes. I think I understand the imperial-land-grabbing-blood-lust of our forefathers.

The primary reason we went to California was to see Ryan Adams. I covered that already (read here). The show was great and the venue was small and intimate. It was a perfect night.

The next day we headed to San Francisco. We spent most of the day walking around the city without an objective. We went to China Town and Little Italy. We ate a nice dinner recommended to us by one of the local bakery owners (Michelangelo’s if you need to know). By the time we finished it was dark, so we took a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.

Tuesday morning we found ourselves on Golden Gate Bridge. We walked across as far as we could but didn’t get to the end because it was closed. We spent some time in the Golden Gate Park, walking up and down hills before it was time for lunch. We wanted to do Dim Sum. We went to an authentic dim sum place. Too authentic. I was excited when we walked in and saw only Asian people – I knew this place was the real deal. But then I noticed no menu and servers walking around with carts. Nobody really spoke English and I didn’t know what I was ordering. I managed to get my hands on some beef soup during the 30 minutes we were in there (one bowl), before we decided to split (paying was also interesting, I don’t think I was supposed to get up and pay myself – oh well). We ended up back in Little Italy which was not the plan at all, but we had a nice lunch at the Stinking Rose and we were served by Count Dracula, who was very nice (no I will not explain any further).

We walked around the city some more to burn off lunch and then went back to the hotel to clean up. I booked dinner reservations at “The House of Prime Rib” and decided that I needed to get in an extra run to burn off what I knew we going to be a calorie fest in the evening. I managed to get the gym completely empty and it overlooked the city in a small panoramic room. It was dusk and I was able to overlook the city which is a nice way to spend time on a treadmill.

Dinner was completely insane. This place served only one thing: Prime Rib. Salad, two sides. That’s it. It was perfect. Going back to my ghosts of America, this place was a call back to another time. Martinis and red meat. Baked potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Classic.

In the morning, we found a nice little place (Honey, Honey) to get a simple breakfast and got ready for our flights home. Of course the flights were delayed and we ended up in Vegas, but that is all part of travel in the modern age. It is hard to get mad when you look down and see hundreds of miles of untouched landscapes and realize that there is still room to grow.

Tagged , , , ,

A Trip to Acadia National Park (Maine) – 2011

( #Maine, #Acadia )

For the last 7 months I have been keeping a secret from my wife. A vacation. Logistically I had to tell her when we were going so she could ask for the week off, but no other details. As for the location, my cousin and I planned the trip after I complained about two failed attempts to visit Maine over the last five years. Over the months, we figured out the details and played out the surprise last Friday for hilarious effect (right before we left I told my wife we were going to the Jersey shore much to her disappointment).

The drive to Maine (and specifically Acadia) was long, about 12 hours from Philadelphia. We ended up stopping on the way up, but the next day was smooth sailing. When we got to the house we rented, we were all really happy. It was directly on the bay which gave us daily access to kayaking (which we did). The homeowners had the house perfectly stocked with the things you would need and I would highly recommend staying there (but book early!).

We spent the majority of our time (while not kayaking) in Acadia. So here is a quick rundown of the things we did (in case there is an interest in repeating it).

Ship Harbor Nature Trail:

This was a really easy nice trail that lead to a rocky beach which offered extra challenge because we ditched the trail and just followed the rocks. When playing on wet rocks, you always have to watch your footing. I definitely had concerns about breaking my face open a few times on this trip, but then I would see my cousin’s 10-year-old son sailing over the rocks and I just went with it.

After the trail, we went to Jordon Pond which has a popular restaurant. This place is a bit of an overpriced tourist trap but they offer popovers which are like biscuit muffins that I didn’t see anywhere else. They were worth the trip alone (just order some soup and a bunch of them).

The Bowl/Beehive Trails:

While most of this trip was spend on some kind of trail (and they honestly started to blur together in hindsight), one that will stick out is the Bowl/Beehive. I actually picked the bowl trail out as an activity because it was said to be a little more difficult and had a nice view (I was craving a difficult trail). When we got there, my cousin’s son wanted to do the beehive trail. All I saw was a sign that warned of using mettle rungs and I was out. Somehow my extremely cautious cousin agreed to go on the beehive with his son while we went through the bowl trail. While the bowl was strenuous, the beehive was dangerous:

When we connected with my cousin, he was shaking and really regretted going through it. He said once you hit the tough spots, there is no going back so you have to move forward. Anybody thinking about doing it, take that warning.

Thunder Hole:

Thunder Hole is a rocky section of the park that has a small underground cave system that makes a rumbling noise when the tide comes in. While interesting, the “hole” is one of the most popular spots in the park and there were a ton of people hanging around. The masses ruined it just because the nice part of being at the park is you don’t have to be surrounded by people since there are so many options.

Several people ignored the gates and got close to the water. A few people die each year by rouge waves coming in and sucking people off the rocks. I saw quite a few parents letting their kids go to the edge and it totally bugged me out, I was glad to leave.

After Thunder Hole we went to Hunter’s Beach. It is a small stone beach and nobody was there. The current makes an awesome sound as it sucks in the rocks with each wave pulling back. Easily a favorite find.

Dining:

My cousin and I cooked almost every night. I am not a seafood guy (please don’t start) but everybody else was. My cousin’s wife managed to find a guy (by following signs) named Rat that had fresh lobsters and clams. My cousin said Rat’s clams were the best he ever had in his life and I believed him. Rat didn’t have 2+ lb lobsters on the day everyone wanted to cook them, so he called a lobster-man buddy and got us what we needed.

The cool thing about Rat is that we just found him, nothing was planned. He was the typical Maine accent and lived on this crazy farm. If it was the end of the world, I would have no doubt that good old Rat would be breathing easy in his house in the middle of nowhere.

We found a gem of a place in Southwest Harbor. It is called Quiet Side Cafe. My cousin and I were walking down the street looking for supplies for dinner when we spotted a blueberry pie cooling on a side window. Like a cartoon we were drawn inside and had a great meal and met some really nice people (I ordered Pizza – in Maine – and they knocked it out of the park). Owner Frances Reed was incredibly welcoming and the place had a great vibe. You must go there if you are in the area.

All of the other restaurants were fine. Order fish. My cousins said they never had a bad meal when it came to the fish. I didn’t have any bad meals myself, but nothing to blog about either 😉

Closing Thoughts:

With the weather never breaking 80 degrees (and sometimes getting close to going under 50 at night), Maine it my kind of summer vacation. I did what I wanted, wasn’t on a schedule, and got to romp around in a truly magnificent place for a week. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the mosquitoes – they were merciless, but that still didn’t prevent us from going outside and having a good time.

I would absolutely recommend this trip to friends and any families that don’t want to do the typical Disney boxed vacation – you can be the master of your own destiny.

Tagged , , , ,

Nashville: 2010

( #Nashville, #ThirdMan, #Hermitage )

Last week I spent a lovely weekend in Nashville. This was my 2nd trip to the city, my first was documented right here. This time we traveled with friends (Rob and Lisa) to see an Avett Brothers concert. We ended up repeating a few things and doing some new stuff. Here is the breakdown.

[Bellmead Plantation]
Website: http://www.bellemeadeplantation.com/

I knew our friend Lisa would really enjoy the Bellemead (which we visited last year). There didn’t seem to be much damage from the floods and overall was a good experience, but I am not going to re-hash.

[Cheekwood Gardens]
Website: http://www.cheekwood.org/

We also visited Cheekwood Gardens again to check out the new Chihuly glass exhibits. Last time we were there, we had to rush because they were closing, this time we walked around on a great sunny day.

The grounds were beautiful and worth checking out, but the Chihuly glasswork was “meh”. If you see one, you have seen them all.

[Bars]
Our first night in Nashville we went around the downtown area popping into as many bars as we could to take in all the bands. Most bands did mixes of country and pop tunes to appease the tourists like me. My friend Rob is a huge nerd for country music, so he really enjoyed himself.

All of the bars are essentially laid out the same in the downtown area – stage by the door, long narrow room, bar close to the stage. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

[Loveless Cafe]
Website: http://www.lovelesscafe.com/

The next morning, we were all planning on going to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast (another repeat), but the line was around the corner, so we opted for the Loveless Cafe. Allison had found about this place and the famous “Biscuit Lady.” I didn’t think we would have the time to go, but I was pleased that the Pantry was packed because the Loveless was excellent.

We opted to get a sit down all you can eat of breakfast meats, fruits, and of course biscuits. I won’t lie – I ate way too many of the famous biscuits and felt sick for most of the day, but screw it, it was worth it. The cafe is a little commercial, but if that’s what it takes for them to say in business, so be it.

[Third Man Records]
Website: http://www.thirdmanrecords.com

I wasn’t going to Nashville without checking out Jack White’s music store. As we approached, they were setting up the front for a private Halloween party (which sounded like an awesome time from the news I read last week).

Third Man Records was much smaller than I had expected, but it was charming and I am glad it is doing business. I pick up some interesting vinyl while there, which I will review at another time.

[The Hermitage]
Website: http://www.thehermitage.com

Our friend Lisa wanted to check out the historic home of Andrew Jackson. The grounds were spectacular and the staff was friendly. Touring the house and the garden was educational and very interesting.

As I mentioned in my 2009 Epilogue, Nashville struggles with their past as a Southern state with slave history. They use soft super politically correct terms to refer to slaves and they try to make it seem that the slaves lives weren’t so bad. The Hermitage tour incorporate the slaves like they were friendly characters from a book. While it is good that their stories are a main part of the tour, it seems to make their experience less harsh.

[Avetts/Ryman]

We closed out our time in Nashville with an excellent concert (that I already reviewed here). The Ryman was an excellent place to see a show.

[Conclusion]

We packed in a lot of activities for 2 days, and like any good town, Nashville had me wanting more when I left. Looking forward to the next trip to the city of music, where I might just keep driving to Memphis too.

Tagged , ,

Chicago – Days 3 and 4

Our last full day in Chicago found us scrambling to get in as much as possible; the city is truly packed with things to do and 3 night were not enough to take it all in. The weather for the duration of our trip has been outstanding – I could not have asked for better bluer days and with those clearskies in mind, my top priority on Friday was to find my way on the water. I had read a lot about the famous Chicago river boat tours and was eager to be a tourist for one of these educational jaunts down the river…

Before we could get to the river, Allison and I had to visit the Chicago Center of Tourism right on Chicago & Michigan Streets. As I mentioned on my Day 2 summary, they have a booth that sells half priced tickets, we snagged seats for the High Fidelity play at 8 PM and we wanted to see Chicago comedy at Second City; thankfully they had tickets to “Stud Turkel’s Not Working” at 11 PM. Now that we had plans for the evening, we ventured down Michigan towards the river tours.

When we arrived, most of the tours were sold out. The “most famous boat tour” – the Architecture tour – was sold out until Saturday, but there was another company running a similar tour for $5 bucks less (and 30 minutes longer). We went for it not expecting great things, but it turned out the extra 30 minutes were for a boat ride on Lake Michigan itself – it was a PERFECT day for a boat ride and we had seats right in the front. The tour was educational – ORDERED CHAOS FACT: Chicago has wider “sofa shaped” buildings instead of the “wedding cake” (famous in New York) because there was more land available. The reason they do the cut outs was because when the buildings were put up, not every section had electricity so they needed more windows to let the light in.

After a great tour we caught a cab (the first time we used one the whole trip) to the Museum of Science and Industry. I had been fascinated with this building since reading Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City”. The Museum was built as the centerpiece of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and it has withstood the Chicago winters to become a premier attraction in the city. The complex is massive – big enough to easily contain an entire train, a Nazi U-Boat, a full sized Boeing 747 and several un-used space vehicles. For Philadelphians , the Museum feels like a much bigger version of the Franklin institute. We arrived at 3:00 and were informed after waiting in line for 20 minutes that the museum was closing at 4:00 PM. We still paid full price and ran around like lunatics. This is a great place to take a kid, not so much for adults (but there were several attractions closed for renovations or due to it being late in the day). I wouldn’t mind giving the Museum of Science another go – but I will wait until I have kids who can really appreciate it.

Coming out of the museum, some drama occurred: I wanted to check out the grounds since it was on the site of the former World’s Fair. After walking around and taking pictures, we decided to skip the bus and take a taxi back and we hopped into the nearest one. As we were leaving, another taxi blocked our path. It seems that the taxi drivers expect customers to walk to the front of the line (which is a city block, maybe two) and take the taxi in the front. At first I was going to comply not wanting to break a social norm, but as another taxi driver demand my wife get out of taxi, I started to tell the other driver blocking our way to fuck off. This empowered our driver to hop the curb and get around them. Our taxi driver was a nice guy and we spent the rest of the trip discussed the Chicago climate.

Back at the hotel, I researched places to eat near second city and decided on Adobe Grill which was right next door to the second city theaters. A quick cab ride (it was a $6.00 fare) over to Wells Street and we were quickly seated. Before I knew it, our server was presenting us with delicious margaritas and had a girl come out and make guacamole right at our table – excellent. I took the waiter’s suggestion had a sampler of their lamb and marinated beef for dinner. The meat was cooked perfectly and the portions were just the right size. Allison and I ended the meal with a tres leches desert which was a nice way to cleanse the palate.

We went next door and waited for High Fidelity to open. While we were waiting, we heard and saw a man on his cell phone talking about the play’s finances (or lack there of). We saw the actors coming into the theater (you could just tell they were actors) and we both were amazed how late they were coming in. 20 minutes before the show was supposed to start and they open the doors and a crowd finally shows up (there were probably 30 people in total). My thoughts on the play? Here is my review:

*** High Fidelity: The Musical – Route 66 Production Company ***

Official Web Site: High Fidelity – The Musical: Chicago

When I purchased tickets for the show, I didn’t realize it was a musical; I thought it was a play – I hate musicals. The subject matter is near and dear to my heart, but I was getting bad feelings when I overheard the lead’s phone conversation about bouncing checks. Regardless, I cleared my head and went into the show with an open mind.

What I liked:
1. They managed to change the plot to make most of the story occur in the music shop. This worked out well and the minor differences were enough to make it feel different.
2. The two actors playing Dick and Barry (the Jack Black role) were excellent. The guy playing Barry was doing an impression of Jack Black but it was a good one and the guy who played Dick was a good singer and guitar player.
3. The stage set up – it worked out well for a small theater
4. The gentlemen playing Ian made me laugh, but my wife hated him – he seemed like he was having a lot of fun.

What I didn’t like:
1. The lead actor – every time he repeated a Cusack line from the movie it made you realize how much of a poor man’s John Cusack he was. In all honestly, this guy had all of the charm of a date rapist. The dude playing Dick would have been much better in the lead.
2. The songs – some were okay, most were not. A particular gripe – the song “Laura”
3. Most of the women in the play were not so good – the one exception was the girl playing Allison Ashmore/Ana Moss (duel role) – she had a good voice and seemed to be more natural.
4. The length: The play was longer than the movie – about 2 hours.

When the show was over, I was glad to get the fuck out of there. But my escape wasn’t very far because our next show was just a floor below…

*** Second City Players: Stud Turkel’s Not Working ***

I knew nothing about the show, the people in it, or who Stud Turkel was before seeing the performance and that was just fine. Stud Turkel was a real person – he was a Chicago humorist and radio star that passed away a few years ago; the show had nothing to do with him, they just named it after one of his books because the theme of the show was about the Chicago lifestyle, but it easily could have fit into any urban setting (not much was lost in translation to this tourist).

The show was a mix of sketches and improve with the audience and it was hilarious. The cast was excellent as they made funny and acute commentary on local and national affairs. I didn’t recognize any of the staff, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I saw any of these actors onSNL in a year or two. I could go into greater details, but I wouldn’t want to give the jokes or the improve surprises away should you happen to be in Chicago and catch the show. Just take my word for it, it is worth going to see.

*** End Reviews ***

By the time the shows were done, it was 1 AM and Allison and I had to be at the airport by 8 AM to catch our flights home. So back to the hotel for packing and a few hours sleep.

When the morning came, we grabbed our stuff, checked out of the Avenue Hotel, walked a few blocks to Chicago & State to catch the red line. We got off a Roosevelt to catch the orange line back to mid-way. It took 40 minutes but I don’t think a cab would have been much faster.

The luggage check-in lines were huge, but thankfully they moved quickly. We managed to get through check-in and security in about an hour and got to the gate with an hour to spare. I watched Drillbit Taylor as we waited for the plane and one of the little boys in the movie reminded me of my godfather’s son Antonio, but that has been happening a lot lately. The flight was without incident and I am now home to finish this post.

I am going to summarize my thoughts on Chicago tomorrow, but I will end this post by saying Chicago is one hell of a town and I can’t wait to go back. Thanks for reading, here are the last of the pictures I took (most are from the boat tour).

Tagged , ,

Nashville: Epilogue

I was going to type this last word about Nashville in the airport or on the plane but then opted against it because it was such a douche-bag writer cliche. I got home an hour ago, and I had to throw out some old food and pick up trash the wind blew on my front door. Now that I am settled, I can do a little more writing.

I said my peace about Nashville as a town in my post yesterday. I wanted to talk a little bit about the people today. Nashville is a very friendly town. The second we arrived, police officers stopped to make sure we knew where we were going and to suggest places to see, most of the bartenders and waiters were friendly and helpful, it was very pleasant.

For the single guys, there are a massive amount of pretty girls in this town (Hi Nate). The number of women strolling around the downtown area was staggering. A guy (like Nate) could really clean up. They weren’t just pretty, they were friendly and outgoing (REMEMBER THIS NATE). The guys all sort of looked like normal frat dudes, but friendlier.

I noticed plenty of smokers which made me a sad but I guess that is just a part of rural (and rural-metro) living. I didn’t see many of the cliches that you would expect from the South: no strong accents, nobody fit the “redneck” stereotype, people didn’t seem any dumber there than here (with one exception which we will get to in the next paragraph). One odd thing I did notice, for such a small city, I don’t think people like to walk too much (sounds like Nate’s version of Heaven).

Our hotel staff was very nice, but they didn’t seem all that bright as a group. When we arrived, I asked our clerk for visitation suggestions, and they were okay but that was about all he knew. I asked about restaurants and he had no idea what I was talking about (famous places in the area). Any time we asked if something was in walking distance the answer was no, but we walked it anyway and it was no more than 8 blocks. I mentioned the situation with the taxi service that they recommended which I choose not to blame them for, but if you know your guests are going to rely on taxi service and going to be shelling out 80 bucks round trip to get somewhere, you might want to suggest renting a car. When I saw new people checking in and asking the same questions and the clerk suggesting people go to SUBWAY around to corner for lunch, I finally had to step in. Nice people but they could help the tourism industry out by just knowing theirsurroundings. But we figured out their limitations pretty quickly and forged our own path so no harm, no foul.

Getting to the airport was no problem this morning and dropping off the car was a breeze. Nashville didn’t piss on me on our way out and I appreciated that. Nashville is absolutely a city we would visit again… hopefully we can take some friends and share in the fun.

PS: As always read the blog at it’s origin point: Joey’s Blog

Tagged , ,

Nashville Blog: Day 03

Welcome back true be-loggers! Today is my last full day in Nashville (we are leaving tomorrow at 7 AM), my plan is to post the bulk of my thoughts today and perhaps offer a little epilogue tomorrow when we get home. We packed in alot today, so lets get to it. If you are just joining the blog this week and are wondering what I am talking about, here is PART 01 and here is PART 02. Let’s begin:

[The Big Bang]

I left you yesterday with Allison and I preparing to go to The Big Band Dueling Piano Bar in downtown Nashville. We were meeting up with my mom’s friend’s daughter (who moved to Nashville three weeks ago) and her (maybe) boyfriend (didn’t get a clarification and we didn’t ask). I realized late in the day yesterday that Big Bang was a chain which usually makes me less inclined to visit, but Allison used to frequent a dueling piano bar in Baltimore when she was in college and I thought she would like it. I wasn’t sure if the place served food which is why I was doing research online before we left. I didn’t get a clear answer but reviews mentioned dinner so I thought we were good to go. When we got there, the place was empty so we settled out on their deck facing Broadway and took in the mayhem below. Our dinner partners informed us that they didn’t drink alcohol which in turn, made me feel like an alcoholic asshole, but I got over that quickly and ordered some drinks (in fact, I was drinking when they found us at the bar next door… here’s to first impressions!)

As for the dueling pianos… it was fantastic. The players were talented and funny – one dude was BLIND and played awesome. The crowd started to shuffle in and it was clear that this was a bar for drunk girls to go to. I was one of the few men there. NATE IF YOU ARE READING THIS – YOU NEED TO GO TO NASHVILLE. I will make a quick note for anyone going to Big Bang, the food was terrible. Everything was deep fried and in nugget form. After a solid 4 hours we started to look for another place. At first I got the impression we were going to get into a car and go to a coffee house near Vanderbilt which I put the stop to – it was close to midnight, I was looking to wind the night down, not head off in a car and start up again (plus the prospect of being in a place that didn’t serve booze turned me off at the time – I wanted a final nite-cap). “Maybe Boyfriend” took this in stride and lead us down an alley into a respectfully dirty looking dive bar. I was into it until I walked in and smelled the smoke. You don’t realize how much smoke sucks until you are away from it. It didn’t help that “Maybe Boyfriend” enjoyed the cancer sticks and this bar allowed him to partake in his one vice right in front of my face. Add to the situation that we were immediately next to the stage and this crazy loud yet pretty awesome band was blowing my face off. I hung in for three songs and cut out. I felt bad to leave our company, but I had to get the hell out of there.

While walking back we mentioned that we were sort of hungry but sort of not, I suggested a pizza. We ordered from a place called New York Pizza (I know, I know…). It took them 40 minutes to get the pizza over and I almost vomited when I tasted it. They just dumped Italian style seasonings all over it, it had to be a total FU job, because there is no way this was an accident. It was that bad. So if you are in Nashville stay away from:

New York Pizza
2215 Elliston Place
Nashville, TN 37203
WORST PIZZA I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE

I brushed my teeth and went to bed wondering what I did to piss those people off…

[Hatch Show Print]

Website: Hatchshowprint.com

Over the last few days, we have heard about this awesome printing place that did all of the original posters for the Grand Ole Opry and the artists when they were on tour. The big draw is that this place still operates with wood block printing press which looks awesome. Allison and I took a walk this morning to buy some posters and check out the operation. Of course it decided to rain but we were not deterred.

The press was right on Broadway and looked like it was there for a 100 years because it probably was (or damn close). We picked up some posters and got some ideas to use the service in the future 🙂

[WhiteCastle?]

On our way to check out the “True South”, we came across a WhiteCastle. Ever since Harold and Kumor, we have wanted to go to a real WC and New Jersey doesn’t have one (yes the movie said Cherry Hill had a WhiteCastle, they don’t) Even though we knew we were eating lunch, we HAD to eat a real WhiteCastle slider.

I gotta say… The frozen burgers you can get at the store are just as good if not better and the fries suck.

I don’t know what they put in those microwavable frozen burgers to make them taste so good, but having had the “real” thing, my mind is blown.

[Bellemead Plantation]

Even though the rain was coming down, Allison and I wanted to do things outdoors today (because we didn’t have much of a choice). We read about Bellemead Plantation and decided it would be a nice place to spend the day. After a short drive, we were on the Plantation. We heard there was a restaurant on site and we hoped we could get a seat because we really haven’t had anything but bar food or BBQ since we got there. We managed to get a seat with 20 minutes left to spare on lunch seatings. I am so glad we were able to eat there. We had a great southern lunch: Biscuits, Fried Green Tomatoes, home-made cheese and fresh ham sandwich, Buttermilk Fried Chicken (we split all of this and the portions were not out of control thankfully) and we topped it off with a boysenberry tart with fresh ice-cream.

After a heavy lunch we were glad to be able to do a walking tour of the plantation. We signed up for a guided tour and got an educational 45 minute walk-through of the main mansion by an informative older woman named Anna. The Bellemead Plantation was the premiere horse breeding farm in the United States until the 1950’s. Almost every championship horse since 1870 can trace it’s bloodline to the first stud at Bellemead (which was one of five prize horses given to the US by Europe). We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the house, but if you have ever seen antique furniture from the late 1800’s you have see what is going on.

Once the house tour was done, we were free to roam the grounds which were massive and beautiful. Yes this plantation was host to slavery and I think it might have partook in what I call ‘the revisionist history” that I have seen in Nashville in regards to its involvement in slavery, but we will get to that later. In regards to the plantation and slavery they took pride in mentioning that their slaves were educated since the house hosted so many US and foreign dignitaries. The one remaining slave hut looked downright lovely, but the other five I saw in the pictures seemed to be missing…

Regardless, the Bellemead Plantation was educational, beautiful, and a great way to spend a few hours in Nashville.

[Cheekwood Gardens]

Five minutes down the road from Bellemead, Cheeckwood Gardens resides. If Bellemead was a beautiful girl, this place was the hottest woman on the planet. We arrived at 4 PM and were told we only had a half hour before it closed, so we were rushing through the several garden areas until we reached what is now called the Cheekwood Museum of Art. This massive, beautiful mansion was built on what became the Maxwell House Coffee Fortune. The home and the lands were eventually given over to the state to become a fine arts center. You have to see this place to believe it – the fact that anyone called it home is insane. I have see huge houses before, but nothing like this.

On the way out we checked out more of the gardens. I made a point to see the Japanese garden which didn’t look very Japanese to me. Regardless, this place was incredible.

[Passing Thoughts on Nashville]

My opinion of Nashville is that it is a city in transition. It is struggling to come to terms with it’s past involvement with slavery (they are softening up the exhibits to slavery, making it seem less harsh, they name streets after Rosa Parks and MLK) while trying to be this clean-cut family friendly country music haven. Even the music scene is shifting as more “mainstream” artists are moving into town and putting their stamp on the future. I think Nashville has the potential and will become much more. But as new sources of interest and income flood the city, it also had an odd influx of poverty.

In the three days I have been here, I have never seen so many homeless people. I am no stranger to the homeless, I do live near and work in Philadelphia, but homeless people are everywhere and there are two very distinct classes. It is clear that the arts community is bringing in a younger, artistic class of homeless that probably pass through for a while doing their music thing (or following a music scene) they reminded me very much of “Phish Heads” or “Dead Heads” (people who follow jam bands around). On every level I viewed these people as harmless and part of the Bohemian vibe the town was generating. But there was another plentiful group of angry older males who were obviously abusing drugs or alcohol. They were on every corner and sleeping in every nook; Did they bother us? No. But the sheer number had me concerned and curious. “Maybe Boyfriend” told me at the Big Band that Nashville is a big train hub and these men ride the rails to whatever their final destination is. My guess is the number of churches in Nashville means there are quite a bit of soup kitchens that will feed them which makes them stay a little longer.

In order for Nashville to become a truly great city, they need to address the homeless situation (and I don’t mean making them disappear NYC style). I hope these people get the help they need to get off the streets for good but they don’t crack down to the point where the artistic hippie vibe gets crushed.

Overall, Nashville has been a great city and I look forward to the next time we can visit (hopefully with Nate who can take advantage of the copious amounts of friendly girls in this town).

[Conclusion]

We are going to finish off our night with a nice dinner (hopefully) and then check out a few bars and finish the night at Big Bang. We have to be up at 4:30 AM to go home, so it will be an early night. Thanks for reading this week – but remember if you aren’t reading at my blog, you are not getting the full experience. Speaking of which… here are some pictures:

Tagged , ,

Nashville Blog: Day 02

Welcome back true be-loggers. I am not going to waste space and bullshit, lets get right into part two (If you didn’t read part one, you can do it here:

[Bluebird Cafe]

To finish off the story of day one, Allison and I took a nap and then ventured to the Bluebird Cafe. The cafe is semi-famous in the music scene as a variety of musical veterans, newcomers, song-writers, famous, and non-famous artists come to try out new material and collaborate with friends. My friend Amber deLaurentis had played there last summer when she did a mini-tour of the area last summer and I made a mental note to check it out and I was sure glad I did.

The place was MUCH smaller than I had expected and the musicians basically sit in the center of the room in a circle and play. I guess there was a bit of a comedy theme last night as musicians Kacey Jones, Bill Floweree, Jesse Goldberg and Jon Mark Stone busted out some very funny jams (it was a unique take on the whole bastard/bitch husband/wife combo). The menu at the Bluebird had asurprising amount of greek influenced dishes which I did not expect, but as I roamed around today, I noticed more similarities. While the menu may have had greek influence, I am going to be honest and say that the meal was not mind blowing. It was solid, but nothing crazy, but honestly, we weren’t there for the food.

After the two hour set, I had to call the taxi to come and get us and they were very prompt, so I didn’t get a chance to chat with the performers (who apparently stay after to try to sell CDs and bullshit with the crowd – most of whom they already know). The taxi brings me to a little Nashville Travel Tip: Rent a car if you visit. The taxi cost $35.00 one way. Add the $25.00 to get from the airport to the hotel and you are at $100.00 for one day. To compare, we rented a car for the rest of the trip for $120.00 total (including insurance). After getting raped so badly by the taxi service, I went back to the hotel and fell asleep.

[Pancake Pantry]

After I got up this morning, worked out, and showered, Allison and I decided we needed to get a rental car. After we walked a couple of blocks to the rental place we decided to do lunch at the Pancake Pantry. I have been reading about this place for weeks, and I will admit I was concerned that it was going to be all hype. I am happy to report that the food was outstanding. I got sweet potato pancakes and Allison got blueberry. We split an order of “The Grill Cook’s Medley” which washash browns, ham, peppers, eggs, and all kinds of goodness.

Fully stuffed, we walked around Vanderbilt University campus shops, bought some books, and then hopped back into the car to go see…

[The Grand Ole’ Opry]

Thanks to the Blackberry’s GPS system we easily figured out how to get to the Opry Building. One thing about Nashville, you have to take exits to stay on the highway you are on, which is annoying and confusing. That being said, we got there without issue. Before going into the Opry, I had heard Gibson Guitars had an outlet store in the plaza. Well, I was sad to discover it wasn’t an outlet so much as it was their “Premire Retail Location”… bottom line – I wasn’t saving any money if I wanted to buy a guitar, but I could get free, tax free shipping (which I can do any time). So after wasting time on some excellent 6-strings and watching a mandolin being built, we headed to the Opry. We decided to do another tour against better judgement, but had to kill about 15 minutes, so we took a free tour of the museum. It was pretty good for what it was, and you got an idea of the history involved with the production.

Fifteen minutes later, we started our tour. Similar to the Ryman we looked at alot of freaking dressing rooms, but in this tour we got to see one of the Opry acts practicing for tonight’s show and also seeing some of the minor stars going into the building. Overall I got a better vibe from this tour and it was easy to see that there is a community element. One thing I don’t like is that the tour guides make it seem like big stars like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson come in and hang out with everybody, and you know that isn’t happening, but I guess it makes people think they can run into them at one of the several gift shops.

I don’t mean to sound negative, as I actually liked tour and would recommend it, but it sure seems like there are alot of malls, shops, and “retail outlets” swarming around Nashville’s history.

[Conclusion]

Ok, I have to get ready to go to “The Big Bang” dueling piano bar… more to come on that later. Check out some pictures!

Tagged , ,

Nashville Blog: Day 01: Part One

Today starts a series of live blogs in Nashville, TN. We had to get up at 4 AM to get to the airport within “the appropriate amount of time” and I am a little tired, but that didn’t stop us from hitting the ground running. We arrived in Nashville at 8:30 AM (local time) and easily secured a cab to our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, but the hotel staff was happy to suggest places to kill time, so here is the run down so far:

[The Capital Building]

A few blocks from our hotel, the Tennessee State Capitol Building offered us a chance to kill 35 minutes. The Tennessee Capital building is one of the oldest still in operation today. When we entered, we were greeted by a very friendly state trooper who was quite excited to meet a real “Jersey Italian”. The thing that stands out about the building is that it is all stone. ALL STONE. From what I heard from the educational children’s tours, there was a massive stone quarry that was used to create most of the historic buildings.

The other “big feature” is that a few people are buried at the site: Samuel Morgan (Chairman of the Building Commission) and William Strickland (the architect). Besides that, the building has too many oil paintings of long dead historical figures and very slippery floors. The building itself is awesome, the stuff inside, not so much.

Moving On…

[The Free Library]

Right across the street from the Capital Building is the Free Library. We didn’t go inside, but the exterior courtyard was awesome (check out the pictures below).

[The Ryman]

One of my “must-see” places was the Ryman Auditorium. Home of the famous “Grand Ole Opry” during it’s peak, the Ryman now hosts tons of contemporary artists. I was a little shocked when we walked in and was told the walking tour would cost $14.00 per person: it’s basically a converted church. We opted for the tour anyway and it was conducted by a gentlemen named Bill who might have taken his job a little too seriously. Bill first took us to the “Johnny & June Cash Dress Room”. The room was built in 2003 and Johnny never used it… He proceeded to take a revisionist’s approach to Nashville’s treatment to the Man in Black (saying how Nashville eventually opened their arms to Johnny again, which wasn’t true as stated by the man himself in “Cash” by Johnny Cash) when I corrected him, he got flush and shot me a look, I think I was on his shit list for the rest of the tour.

We saw more dressing rooms that were named after people who never used them and eventually we got to see the stage. I will admit I thought it was awesome to see it from that view, but the tour was a total rip off.

[Jack’s BBQ]

We exited the Ryman and Allison noticed a BBQ place, we walked down the famous Ryman alley and entered a room that smelled of charcoal and pork. We ordered up some BBQ pork and Beef Brisket sandwiches. Very good, not mind blowing, but there is a strip of BBQ joints to go….

Okay, I am taking a nap. That’s all for now!!!!

Tagged , ,

Honeymoon: San Francisco

Howdy true be-loggers! I decided to lump all of San Fran into one blog because we did a lot of touristy things and nothing crazy happened, so this will be “by the books” for those that follow and for Allison and I to remember…

Saturday

We drove into the city, dumped off the rental car, walked around the city, ate lunch at a super-tourist trap seafood place right under the bay bridge. Our hotel room was finally ready (our room had the best view of the bay) and we checked in and rested a little while. I read about a walking tour of the city that was conducted by a lady in a “vampire character” (LINK: SF Vampire Tour). It got a lot of good reviews and I wrote down the number before we left, so I called the lady and booked the tour. We walked to the Nob Hill area – which from our hotel was ALL UP HILL. We ate dinner at the Nob Hill Cafe (LINK: Nobhillcafe.com) which was really good and then we went on our tour. I should note that the temperature got super cold and Allison and I had to find a place to buy a sweatshirt, which we did at the Fairmont gift shop. Next time I got to San Francisco – I am staying at the Fairmont – it is the classiest hotel ever.

NOTE FOR LISA AUSTIN – They filmed the grand stairwell scene in Gone with the Wind here…

The tour was cool and we learned a little bit about San Fran History and about the buildings. We learned alot about some of the wackos that have emerged from San Fran as well. Only in California.

Sunday

Sunday was our first full day in the city and we did the cultural thing. We want to the Museum of Asian Arts and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). The Asian Arts was awesome, MOMA was a huge bore. We then upped the tourist ante by going to Coit Tower. Coit has the best view of the city and to go up the tower you of course need to pay, which is kind of a rip-off since it is a 5 minute thing to do, alas the life of a tourist. We got back to the hotel and researched some places to go for dinner and decided to go to the Thirsty Bear (Link: Thirstybear.com). I really liked this place, good food, good beer, good service. They had a modern Spanish thing going on complete with Spanish dancers and guitar players, but it wasn’t too flashy and we got a seat in the back so we could talk. A good night

Pictures from San Fran Days 1 and 2

Monday

Monday we bit the bullet and did “The Rock”. We went to Alcatraz and I will admit it was pretty cool. There really isn’t much to say that the pictures won’t show you. Although I will say that I didn’t realize that Alcatraz was only used a federal prison for 29 years and JFK was the guy to shut the doors down before he became president. The general rap was the building was falling apart and it was an ecological nightmare, so the doors were closed. The lady from the vampire tour said it was haunted as all hell, so take that for what you will.

Pictures from “The Rock”

Allison and I then went to North Beach (which is the little Italy section). We had a nice lunch at a place called Calzones. We walked around looking for gift to take home but everything look touristy so we bolted. I made reservations to a place called The Cliffhouse for dinner (Link: CliffHouse). It had the best view I have ever had for dinner. The food was good, but it wasn’t outstanding and you definitely pay for the view, but it was worth it.

Tuesday

We were at a bit of a loss for what to do on Tuesday. We didn’t want to go to the Golden Gate. We had seen it from the Alcatraz tour and I just didn’t care to walk over a bridge. Allison and I were hell bent on finding some nice things to bring home as gifts and I will make this short – we failed miserably. Defeated, we went to the best “Mexican Restaurant” in the city. It was called Mexico DF ( Mexico DF). Food was good but very small portions but the drinks were very strong.

We were aimless all day and looking forward to going home. We walked around alot, got nothing accomplished. For dinner, I had read about a place that had an indoor pirate ship (it was at the Fairmont too!) so we went to the Tonga Room (sorry, no website). This place was awesome. We just did happy hour in there and they had a little dinner buffet that we snacked on. I can’t say too much – you guys will have to see it for yourself. We then went to a place called the Four Ovens which was across the street that Allison read about. Food was good, but the service was SLOOOOW. We then went back to the hotel and went to bed early.

Wednesday

We woke up, ate breakfast, went to the airport, listened to a baby scream for several hours on the plane, and I got home a few hours ago and started writing this blog 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Tagged , , , ,

Honeymoon: Days 3 and 4

Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days, the urge to write wasn’t with me and as I read the previous days blogs, I was like… eh. I like to stylize my writing a bit more, but my heart is not in it because everyone in California has been so nice and lets face it, I am usually a mean bastard when I blog. But for the sake of my own memories, let me get this stuff written down as quickly as possible.

On Thursday, Allison’s dad had made reservations to the Sterling Vineyard. I wasn’t too exited about that as we had a bottle for dinner the night before and I didn’t like it. Before we went to the vineyard, Allison suggested we stop at a state park that was on the way, and I was all for it it. We got there and started on a trail… we did about an hour of walking before I realized we were totally unprepared for a hike – no water, not the right shoes or clothes (in case we ran into poison ivy or lots of mosquitoes) and most importantly, we didn’t have a map and the trails were not that clear. So we turned back and headed to Sterling a little early. The grounds at Sterling were not as manicured as the other vineyards, but the natural beauty surrounding us made up for it. The cool thing about Sterling is that you get to take a gondola to the main vineyard and that is awesome and you get to see a great view. We did the tour and I will say that the wine was the best of the three vineyards we visited. I don’t like white, but the stuff they gave us was OUTSTANDING. We hit the gift shop, got a few bottles and went on our way. We stopped at a few cool houses that looked like castles and then went back to the hotel.

For dinner we ate at a place called Cuvee near our hotel. So far the best dinner since we got there. Allison had braised beef in a red wine sauce and I had pork shoulder in a sauce. (I am just writing that down so I can read this next year and try to remember what it tastes like).

We then went to bed and rested for day 4….

Pictures of Day 3:

Yesterday, Allison and I didn’t have any appointments so we decided to go to Muir Woods and Sausalito. We had a great ride over and when we got to Muir Woods I decided we should do a 5 mile loop with a great view of San Francisco. This loop was 3.5 miles uphill and then 1.5 down. For a guy that does an hour of cardio a day and lifts weights, this was HARD. Poor Allison was cursing me the entire time but she kept up. Once we got to the top and we saw the Pacific ocean we were like, lets get the hell out of here. The way down in some ways was worse, very hard to keep your footing, but when it was done… I was glad we did it.

After our little adventure we were hungry, so we headed into Sausalito for lunch. Pretty town, totally a tourist trap. We found a resteraunt right on the bay. Of course it was seafood (I don’t eat seafood), but I managed to get a ceasar salad. One funny part was when a european couple sitting behind us stiffed the waitress on a tip and she came out and totally called them out on it. It made us laugh. Nice meal on the water and an overall great day.

The ride home took hours because of traffic which sucked. We ordered in last night from the hotel and watched a terrible movie. Went to sleep early because today we leave for San Francisco.

Talk to you guys soon!

Day 4 Pictures:

Tagged , , , ,