This is a testament to how many amazing things you can see in 48 hours. We started in Georgia, and ended in Indiana 48 hours later – but it was Tennessee and Kentucky that we learned to love.
We started in Tennessee. We left Cloudland Canyon nice and early and went to the town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, population 361. This small town is home to Jack Daniels. Every ingredient to the famous drink is grown in this township. Most of their 400 employees live there, or in the neighbouring communities. The community has been all things Jack since the 1800s. We took the tour, but unfortunately could not do the tasting, as the county to which Lynchburg belongs has been a dry county since 1909. That’s right, you cannot sell alcohol, by bottle or glass – even at the distillery. For a while they couldn’t even produce it. In 1995 they got a permit to sell signature bottles from one gift shop on the property (by act of congress!) — but still, no taste tests. JD grows it’s own rye, barley and corn in the county and the water comes from an underground spring that runs over limestone. The tour was very interesting and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Definitely a must see in Tennesse.
From there we headed into Nashville. We spent a couple hours at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which was so underwhelming compared to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, though still interesting in its own right. I did take a tour of RCA Studio B – where Elvis recorded over half of his songs. Even played his piano – which was such a great experience. All current music is built on the foundations of the things that came before. Elvis is one of those greats that saw music differently. After we finished at the fall of fame, we went on a drive to see all the other recording studios in the area – there were so many! They all post banners outside of their current number one songs. Seems the vast majority of hits are recording in an 8 block radius. While I definitly enjoy country music, I’m sure those that are bigger fans would have picked up a dozen little gems in this area that I knew nothing about.
We then went to the Parthenon. Yes. An identical copy of the Grecian version. It was originally built of wood and metal back in the late 1800s for expo, and those from Nashville loved it so much they rebuilt it with stone. Recently they have added the statue of Athena. Seems a rather random juxtaposition – a southern country down such as Nashville with the Greek architecture of ancient civilizations. I can’t quite make sense of the two together. It felt a little more like a cheap trick than authentic Nashville.
After some brisket and beans at a famous Nashville barbecue (in the South BBQ is a style of food, not an event or object), we headed to the campsite to set up and escape the heat in the pool. We also did laundry while enjoying a game of chess on a giant chessboard. While it’s often cheaper to opt for a state park, with minimum amenities (and often we are more than happy to enjoy the more rustic camping experience), on an extended road trip (especially one in the hot hot south), it’s great to have perks like laundry (which is needed given the heat and therefore sweat that comes with it) and a pool to cool down in (which is the only thing holding my sanity together some days). After the sun set we went back into the downtown core to Honkey-Tonk Row – a long street with neon lights and country bars. We walked down the street and listened to dozens of bands from the curb, before finally going inside “Tootsies,” a club that was recommended to us by my tour guide on my RCA tour. The musicians were independently talented, but didn’t play as a cohesive unit – making them sound slightly terrible. Ray loved the experience but my music snobbery was a little more demanding ;-). I love live music, but it has to be GOOD. And in tune. I’m picky like that.
The following morning we finally caved and had breakfast at the Waffle House. We had been driving past these multiple times a day for about a week, and felt it was time we figured out what it was all about. We’d noticed a trend in the south of cafeteria style restaurants and bbqs. Get in line. Get your food. Sit down. The style of Memphis Blues or Five Guys, for those from my neck of the woods (if you have eaten there). We now better understand the vibe of those restaurants and are likely to enjoy them more in the future (not that we are looking to eat out any time soon! Looking forward to having my full-sized kitchen back when we get home). Needless to say, it’s exactly what you would expect from a southern diner specializing in waffles – typical greasy spoon, full of locals and that waitress who has been working there for 20 years, and has a scrunchie in her hair and a slightly-too-blue eyeshadow indicating she’s still stuck a bit in the 80’s, as she rocks her highwaisted apron and slides sugar down the counter to the trucker drinking bad coffee. But then again, I had bacon, waffles and OJ for $6. So I’ll take it.
We finally headed into Kentucky. This is the 19th state (and counting) we visited on our tour-de-america, and oddly enough, it was one of the ones I was most excited about (Don’t know why). We were travelling North, but apparently, forward a time zone – just for the day! Now we only stayed on the west side of the state – but it exceeded all expectations. Strangely, it wasn’t any one place that I loved, but the entire feel of the place. The streets were charming, the people so welcoming, the smiles so genuine. We drove the scenic route to Loretto, past Lincoln’s birth home, through rolling fields of corn and beautiful lawns, farms and brick homes. It was small town USA and it was a beauty and peaceful, and one of my favorite drives of the trip. We went to Maker’s Mark to tour a Bourbon factory. In case you are wondering the difference between American Whisky and Bourbon, they include the same base ingredients, but Whisky is run and dripped through 10 feet of charcoal and bourbon isn’t. Also, bourbon is only bourbon if it is distilled in Kentucky. The tour was very cool! Also, when you buy a bottle you get to dip it/seal it in wax yourself (350 degree red wax) – Ray enjoyed this part.
We then headed to Louisville (or louvule, as they say it). We took the advice of the ranger from Yellowstone and went to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Tour. It was so cool to see how the bats are made and their relevance to MLB. Ray also found a bat he really wants, and will order at some time in the near future. We then checked out Churchill Downs – it’s HUGE!! I thought more the size of Fraser downs in Cloverdale. I was very very song wrong. Think that. Times 10. And a really beautiful building (not that I really understand or am at all interested in horse racing).
And, of course, we had some Kentucky Fried Chicken…..in Kentucky! Tastes the same. But the novelty was fun. Though, as per the true KFC experience, it always seems like a good idea until 5 minutes after you finish it.
And that was it – time to move on – so we jumped time zones and states again, this time to our temporary shelter in Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest, for a few hours sleep before heading on to Missouri.