I've always wanted to have a minireunion in Nashville with my college girlfriends.
I imagined hanging out at honky-tonk bars like the famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, listening to country music and meandering along Music Row. Instead, I found myself in Tennessee's capital city with my 90-year-old mom and my sister.
Was it a drag? Far from it. The three nights we spent here turned out to be lots of fun as we experienced the different personalities of this Southern city, from its eclectic foodie culture to its rich history. My mom is very mobile and has the spunk of a 65-year-old. Still, I took plenty of precautions, did some preplanning and focused on a few major sites. We needed to pace ourselves — and leave time for naps and coffee breaks.
We stayed at a hotel close to some key attractions but away from busy downtown bars. And we tried to avoid noisy restaurants as my mom is hearing-impaired. We also found a friendly cabdriver who took us from place to place. Better to have my mom use her energy visiting tourist spots rather than tiring herself out getting around. We also chose fall for a visit rather than summer so we didn't have to deal with sweltering heat. And we went during the week, not a weekend, to avoid bachelorette parties — which have become a huge trend in Nashville — and other celebrations.
Here are some highlights.
I wanted to stay within walking distance of places like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the historic Ryman Auditorium. I also wanted a hotel with lots of amenities for my mom. So I booked a room at the Hermitage, a five-star, century-old hotel in downtown. Our September rate was a good one: two queen beds, $349, and we split it three ways. The Hermitage staff was extremely gracious, went out of their way to book dinner reservations and even got us great seats at the Grand Ole Opry.
I wanted us to try different types of restaurants. Our first meal was lunch at Puckett's, a few blocks from our hotel. It had a quaint general-store feel and offered tasty traditional Southern food like pulled pork and macaroni and cheese — and it was cheap, $40 for the three of us. But the highlight of our culinary adventures was the Standard at the Smith House, a townhouse built in the 1840s. The restaurant serves more upscale Southern fare — I had blackened sea bass with mashed potatoes and caramelized corn. And we shared an order of grits.
You can find music in Nashville anywhere, anytime. But I didn't want to tire out my mom. So we focused on getting tickets to an evening concert at the Grand Ole Opry, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It was delightful, featuring a lineup of performers like Montgomery Gentry and Old Dominion. But make sure to arrange for a cab or a car service to pick you up after if you are not driving. The line for a cab is long. For the winter season that began Nov. 1, Opry concerts are held at the Ryman Auditorium, which some fans think is an even better venue.
From country music to the Civil War, Nashville has a lot of history. But we had to be selective. A must-see: the Country Music Hall of Fame, which features a vast collection of video clips, instruments and costumes from stars across the decades. From Roy Rogers, who started his career as an old-timey yodeling cowboy, to Taylor Swift, a Nashville darling before she became a pop megastar, the museum takes you from its folk roots to its contemporary glitz.
Another hot attraction: the backstage tour of the Ryman Auditorium, nicknamed "the mother church of country music" because of its origins as a church and as home of the Grand Ole Opry show from 1943 to 1974.
Then there's the Hermitage plantation, a 25-minute drive from downtown. President Andrew Jackson owned the property from 1804 until his death there in 1845. On our final day, we visited the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library, which features videos and displays of highlights of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Of course, it would have been great to visit the historic Belle Meade plantation, too, and honky-tonk bars like Tootsie's. But I'm saving that for another trip. I want to go with my girlfriends, but my mom wants to go back, too.