Transportation Highlight. I crossed a time zone (East to Central, and back) for the first time ever in a vehicle! I am easily amused.
The atrium of the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville was betwinkled with 6.2 million lights, and it was spectacular. One could take a delta boat around the “canal” in the complex as well (we did not). It was all so festive, and there was a Chihuly sculpture in the lobby!
Though as a beggar (the overnight trip was business for Tony) I tend to not grouse about the “freebies.” However, everything else about our stay was less merry and bright. Parking was 32/40 USD for self/valet. The self-park seemed to be located back in Knoxville, so valet park it was. The room facing an exterior atrium was surprisingly ordinary; our window was locked shut on the inside and spider webby-dirty on the outside. Yuk. The complimentary Netflix streaming did not work. The shower head was terribly low; the towels were more antiseptic than cozy and no robes were provided. But the worst offense, to me, is that housekeeping banged on the door at 0830 to ask when we were checking out! Tony was long off to his meetings and I was laying out my day over a cup of tea so we were underway, but still.
Back to the story. To our reservation we added (on our own tab, of course) tickets to ICE!, a themed walkthrough at a frosty 9℉, with this year’s theme being the American holiday classic, A Christmas Story. An incredible 2 million pounds of ice was carved by a team of Chinese people; I guess they had carved the initial show a decade ago and somehow have been carving the changing show since. I can only wonder what they thought about carving the scene near the movie’s end when the family has to go out for Chinese because the hounds ate the Christmas turkey.
Dinner was surprisingly decent++ (and of course, expensive+) at the Jack Daniels restaurant within the resort. I always tend to think of restaurants in these kinds of places as mediocre, and was pleasantly surprised to find out I was judgmental on this occasion.
The shot: my first ever of Jack over a ginger ice cube for a holiday twist; and the chaser: a “Meat and Two” (it’s a Southern phrase, we’re learning) of a half-rack (meat) with green beans and mashed potatoes (two sides). The rib sauce was a little sweet for my taste (perhaps the whisky?), but all of the food was very good. Though, I did take an Aleve for a headache once back in the room, Tony teasing me that about not being able to hold my liquor. Then it was lights out.
The Continental European breakfasts that were nearly always included with our reservations in Austria and elsewhere in Europe are a thing of the past for us now, so it was to the Room Service Menu we turned. You know what that means. $21 for a flat bread with smoked salmon, capers, and a sprinkle of “Everything Bagel” seasoning for me; and $18 for an omelet for Tony. Though the breakfast was rather respectable it was definitely not $40-plus-surcharges respectable.
Having planned to return to Nashville after the New Year to see the Chinese lantern exhibit at the Zoo and tour the city a little more properly, I opted to online-purchase a ticket for the daytime backstage tour at the Opry for the first tour at 0930. ‘Convenience” fees for online ticket purchases irritate me enough, but in that Southern “more is better” style Opry tacks on an additional fee whether you choose an e-ticket or collect your ticket in person! Sigh.
As I walked up to Opry tour buses disgorged both a high school group and a group of pensioners. Which group would I be lumped in with?, I mused. The teens went into a separate building with their teachers, so my fate was sealed. Or so I thought. As I moved along through security and then to have my ticket scanned, the tour guide said to me, “I’m sorry, but this is a group tour. You are scheduled for the 0930 regular tour.”
The group entered the building and I was motioned to a waiting area. The time: 0927. Three minutes later a tour guide walked up and said with a laugh, “It’s just the two of us.” I HAD A VIP TOUR!
The tour included an extremely well-done intro film followed by exactly what was offered: a look backstage at the themed dressing rooms; the private performers entrance; and an opportunity to stand on the stage itself. All of this punctuated by historical notes of this institution of country music.
The Grand Ole Opry began at the Ryman; on that stage was a circle outlined on the wooden floor where performers would stand. When the Opry moved to this purpose-built location, the circle was cut out and brought to the new Opry, and is considered a treasured icon.
In keeping with our longstanding tradition of traveling and having some important site under scaffolding or closed for renovation, the circle is beneath the cardboard. Not because it is being restored, but because a Christmas play is currently performing during this Opry off-season and the circle is being protected. Seems about right for us.
All members of the Grand Ole Opry have a mailbox to receive fan mail. This post office, like the White House, are the only two in the U.S. where no street address is required for the mail to be delivered. (Box 134 belongs to Alan Jackson, who once worked as a mail delivery boy for the Grand Ole Opry.)
The seats in the Opry (capacity 4400) are shaped like pews in a nod to the Opry’s original building, the Ryman Theater, which was once a church. There are some original pews in the house, as well.
Once an Opry member, always an Opry member. Though, both Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were suspended for not living up to the membership rules of performing when being asked.
Gibson Guitars, manufactured in Nashville, donated more than $9000 worth of guitars to decorate the foyer of the theater.
The tour lasted a bit over an hour and then I went back to the hotel to collect our bag and the wagon, for I was heading out to Cheekwood before collecting Tony for the return drive. The sun was shining and the day was a glorious 60F, perfect for wandering the mansion and grounds of a grand estate.
Oooh, the drive to Cheekwood is pretty. Treed lanes and stately homes all decorated for Christmas. My GPS warned, “Your destination is located in an area with restricted access” but we had plenty of those messages in Austria as we sought out a castle ruin or somesuch for hiking or exploring and so I was unfazed.
Following my GPS I turned onto the Cheekwood property lane only to read, “Authorized Vehicles Only.” Oops. Just as I was about to turn around the security person at the gate came out and said, “Don’t worry, Ma’am. This is the old main entrance. I’ll bet your GPS sent you here?” and then he directed me to the proper entrance. Southern Hospitality.
Cheekwood Estates is magnificent.
About the only comparison I can make is to Hillwood Estate in D.C. The Cheek and Wood families came about their fortune in mercantile; and Cheek himself partnered with a member of the Neal family and the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company created a special blend marketed by Nashville’s then-best hotel, Maxwell House. It is lore that President Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed a cup of this coffee when in Nashville and declared it, “Good to the Last Drop” and the slogan was born. Now you know, too.
This absolutely stunning Morning Room caught my attention. If I crop out the fireplace I can just pretend it looks just like my Morning Room.
The Cheek Family was well traveled, having taken a year to travel around the world with their children in addition to their annual jaunts here and there. Daughter Huldah even made her debut at Buckingham Palace. But more interesting to me was that Huldah wore, on her wedding day, a veil made of lace worn by the last Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Empress Zita at her coronation in 1916. (For anyone tuning in for the first time, we lived in Vienna for the last seven years and learned our fair share about the Hapsburgs and their matters, so this was quite interesting to me.) Unfortunately neither docent I asked knew more about this matter.
In the formal dining room I spied Czech crystal on the table. I too have Czech crystal. Huldah and I have great taste.
I walked a couple of garden trails, and then from here the afternoon went administrative. I ducked into a café near the Vanderbilt campus and cleaned up photos for an hour or so until Tony’s meetings had finished; and then, on the sage advice of his morning Uber driver, ditched the idea of picking up some Nashville Hot Chicken from Prince’s in order to shave an hour off our commute east. According to the driver, over the last couple of years more than 100 people each day have been moving into the city; and the city bird has been nicknamed, “The Crane,” as in Construction Crane. I could entirely believe these words.
The Uber driver was indeed wise. Traffic leaving Nashville at 1600 in the afternoon on a random weekday totally sucked, and we lost more than an hour getting out of the city. There are outbound HOV lanes but the penalty for abusing the lane is a pale $50, and so the lanes rolled as slow as the interstate because of the violators. Add to this the time change of gaining an hour, we pulled into the drive a little before 2100. Four hours for a 2.5 hour drive. Nashville has a major transportation problem.
Cletus rolled his eyes at us when we walked into the home, naturally. I boiled some water for a quick pasta supper; and this little junket was over.