“nashvegas?”

I know I’m going to get shit for this; I’m completely prepared.

Raised in true southern fashion, if you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. I’ve waited to address our trip to Nashville, but couldn’t form the words in a nice way. So, I guess today is the day.

A 2-hour flight from Houston on my beloved United, albeit an Express jet (and a dumpy one at that, come on United!!)

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I was sent to Nashville to work for a conference. Given the fact I had never been there, AND that it was an all-expenses paid trip, I was fairly excited. It also helps when you have no particular reason to ever visit a city (unless it is a work event) and I was ultimately looking forward to a reprieve from the Houston heat.

We arrived at BNA, grabbed our Avis rental and were quickly on our way en route to The Gaylord Opryland by Marriott. I should have known… “Opryland???” Since our check-in time wasn’t until 3pm, we decided a stop on the (in)famous Broadway for lunch was a must.

The city scape was beautiful– skyscrapers against a river setting, hills and blue skies, and an AT&T building that was reminiscent of a Transformer. Soon the skyline transitioned into a full on session of people watching. I couldn’t take my eyes off the train wreck. Crosses bedazzled in rhinestones. Bikers lined up and revving their engines like they were truly something special. Men wearing sparkly belts and buckles. And of course, my favorite tag line, “NashVegas??” This is a joke, right? The main drag of Nashville was about 3 blocks long and had enough white trash to fill every trailer park across America. I was caught off guard. D was loving it. If this is “NashVegas” then we must certainly be on Fremont Street.

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After the shock set in (honestly, it never really wore off) and a little lunch of pimento cheese and deviled eggs at The Merchantile, it was time to head to the hotel and get situated.

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The Gaylord Opryland.

Loads of tour buses and fanny packs graced the entrance to The Gaylord Opryland. Hrmm. Maybe it’s just a special tour? Nope. It’s the Gaylord. From the air flying into Nashville, D was fairly confident the structure was a mall… little did he know, his weekend would be spent at that “mall.”IMG_5336IMG_5333

While the rooms were perfectly fine and clean, I just couldn’t shake the feel that we were on a Carnival Cruise. A cheap one. On land. In Tennessee. You get the picture. It was rough around the edges, just like the patrons intriguing tattoo selections. I immediately thought back to our game of cruise ship bingo from Santorini. Multiple cameras- check. Black socks and sandals- check. Tattoos of mom and various girlfriends names- check. Fanny packs- quadruple check. I’m in hotel hell. How long do I need to be here? IMG_5322 IMG_5332

Was I staying in the Conservatory? The Cascades or Delta hall? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? This place is so huge, it’s easy to see why people are wearing their best orthopedic shoes to get around. And to think, this  hotel is quite the Honeymoon destination among middle America newlyweds. Don’t believe me? Get on Instagram and check out the hashtags for the Gaylord Opryland. Oh and check out the amazing murals in this place…IMG_5321 IMG_5325IMG_5379

I knew immediately I needed to get out of there. Tunnel vision kicked in and all I saw were the exit signs spinning. Was I being hazed by my boss? Surely she doesn’t hate me this much. Over a glass of The Gaylord’s finest boxed wine, D and I decided to go downtown to have dinner. Let’s get off the boat and head into town– surely it’s more our style towards The Gooch. I mean the Gulch.

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As luck would have it, I Googled and found a little restaurant called The 404 Kitchen. With about 30 seats in the entire restaurant, the friendly hostess told us to head on down for a 8:30pm reservations, thanks to a last minute cancellation. The travel gods were most certainly smiling down upon me at that moment.

The Highlights.

Food. First, The 404 Kitchen in The Gulch area of Nashville. Situated in a converted shipping container, this teeny, tiny restaurant is easily missed walking down the street. You’d be a fool to not do everything in your power to get a reservation at this unique spot in Nashville. Foodies rejoice– a dinner option that doesn’t include fried chicken.IMG_5360IMG_5365

I still dream about the fresh pasta with Georgia peaches and pork in an heirloom tomato broth. I’m doing this dish a disservice with its description, but I am always thrilled by a pairing of unusual ingredients. D was equally impressed with his selection of crudo and pickled strawberries. And can I just say, their cornbread in a cast-iron skillet and fresh okra rocked our socks off. I still dream of them. In fact, I tried to recreate all of this and failed miserably. I’m typically pretty good at recreating dishes, but these were so simple and yet complex, all at the same time.

Pinewood Social. Was the food the driving point of this restaurant or the amazing ambiance? Brunch was a treat with great cocktails, D’s love of local craft beers and BOCCE. Love bocce? Head to Pinewood Social, and you’ll have an amazing meal AND bar games, including an entire retro bowling alley. Do not miss the grilled peach and buratta salad or the biscuits and gravy at brunch. IMG_5390 IMG_5392IMG_5405IMG_5399IMG_5407

After a little liquid courage, we made our way back to Broadway for a Sunday morning live music session. Surely “beer goggles” would help me overlook the seediness.

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Indeed, the mimosas helped and we ended up at Rippey’s Bar and Grill for the best live music session I’ve ever seen. D and I spent the next 4 hours foot-tappin’ and singing along with the local musicians.

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And I can say, you can just tell those who have the “it” factor and those who don’t. Little plug for Parker James Willingham.

These three places truly helped redeem Nashville for me. I think I just hadn’t thought through who the general demographic of this city would be. I know, I sound like a snob and if that’s the case, then so be it. If you read this blog and then head to NashVegas, you will likely not be as shocked as I was. Consider this a gift from me to you.

Happy travels!

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