Archive for September, 2012

Nashville, Louisville & Columbus in Indiana

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

It’s Monday and bye to lush and green Tennessee.  Moving through the twisting hills of Kentucky, we hopped off the interstate to see a downtown landmark in Louisville, the genteel Brown Hotel.  Talk about Southern hospitality.  The doorman allowed us to park at the entrance during rush hour for 15 minutes of admiring the lobby and its multi-star restaurant.  The lobby was full of beautiful traditional furniture, mixed with antiques like the classic curved love seat and a round sofa with flowers and ferns in the center.  The staff was impressed that someone from Arizona would get off the freeway for a quick look at their hotel.  They were proud, and rightfully so.  The Brown is worth more than 15 minutes.  Someday I hope to return and enjoy it to the max.

I left Best Bud Bob in Columbus Tuesday morning, and I spent some hurried time with family in northeastern Ohio, my hometown state.  Two Ohio observations:  its roads were full of potholes or under heavy construction, and its fields of summer corn were pitifully dry. A shout-out to a high school friend now living in Mexico:  Karhnie, I said hello to your old house on Rt. 84 and sighed a little when I saw that the old junior high school is now an empty lot with grass. 

On to Indiana Thursday, where the land flattened, the freeway speed limit jumped to 70mph, and more fields sat sadly with dried-up corn.  I was excited to revisit Columbus, Indiana.  My first and only other visit was in the 70’s, one of those places I fell in love with after seeing one building.  If you’re scratching your head about Columbus, Indiana, you probably never heard that this town with 44,000 population has an amazing amount of buildings designed by world-famous architects.  It’s a must for architecture lovers.

Cummins Engine deserves huge credit for putting Columbus, IN on the map.  They hired the cream of architects:  Mies Van der Rohe, the Saarinens, and a bevy of talent from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  In the 70’s you could see the key buildings in a few hours by driving around town.  That building I fell in love with back then was the local daily newspaper…all glass and you could see the presses rolling.  For a journalist with ink in her blood, it was like a window into heaven.  

Today the newspaper building remains, but printing is done elsewhere.  Today the visitors’ center sells a map with a downtown walking tour and extended car tour to see 50 plus historical register buildings and structures that have won national and international awards.   What used to be a nondescript downtown crossroads is now full of galleries, interesting shops, and unique restaurants sprinkled among a host of architectural treasures,  I wasn’t the only only one walking, snapping photos and admiring — I heard Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Russian and every possible American accent.  And kudos to Columbus.  They offer a pack of 10 handy cards of key buildings, each with a color photo, short description, architect’s name, and date of completion.  You dial a local phone number, punch in the building’s ID number, and listen to brief comments — genius and totally easy.

I wrapped the day by driving up and down residential streets, with the windows down and the sun roof open, openly ogling one gorgeous home after another, in every style you could imagine:  mansions, brownstones, Tudor, ultra modern, Tara-style, shotgun, brick, stone, a feast of building styles.  No one minded that I braked for photo ops or a minute of sheer admiration; in fact, many locals waved, smiled, nodded hello, or gave me a thumbs-up.  My last stop was the recently restored 1900’s Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor for supper.  I sat at the 50-foot marble and mahogany bar in front of the original 1905 onyx soda fountain, savoring my homemade broccoli soup and an ice cream sundae I created on the spot.

I’m still in love with Columbus, Indiana.

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Friday, September 14th, 2012

Ok it’s techtime at the blog, Donna’s favorite.  Several people have said they cannot leave comments, so I think I have that fixed.  You hit the comment below the entry you want to comment on.  Once a person starts, you keep adding to it.  I have to approve them, we do have a number of crazies that have been on the site thus why no comments. So this will happen at the end of the day.   Here is the one I posted, you have to literally add a number to make the comment submit.

Comment gif

Nashville’s Treasures

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Nashville is fun, at least what we saw in a day and night.

It’s all about the music.  “The District” has every kind of music you could want.  Just walking down the street is like concert hopping.  It’s rowdy in a good way, and it was hopping — even on a Sunday evening.

One of its downtown gems is the original Grand Old Opry in Ryman Hall.  They say that only the Mormon Tabernacle has better acoustics — surpassing Carnegie Hall.  The building was built as a church, one of the first sites to have performances in the round.  It seats 2,000 on two levels and uses the original wooden seats.  The backstage tour takes you through the dressing rooms:  men’s, women’s, the headliner act, and the makeup room.  Along the way are cases with costumes, photos, mementos and plenty of history. The gift shop has unique stuff and a wealth of music on CD and DVD.  Our guide was an aspiring singer/songwriter, as perky and charming as a young Dolly Parton.  And if you’ve always wanted to make a record, just fork over $25 and sing your own CD.

Although the Ryman stages concerts and an annual Christmas series with the Rockettes, today’s Grand Old Opry is 20 minutes away in Gaylord Opryland Resort, a sprawling, hotel complex with over 2,000 rooms and 9 acres of spectacular indoor gardens.  It’s over the top like Vegas and ab fab with cascades, waterfalls, pools, exotic plants, and flower laden, green niches that make you want to run to the nearest garden center.

Here’s something impressive.  One of the largest downtown hotel parking lots gives free parking to the handicapped, with proper ID.  That’s the height of cool. 

Three cities in a row that make me want to return and explore:  Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville–probably way more to come.

Memphis Surprises

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Memphis is marvelous.  I didn’t know much about it before arriving Saturday.  I came to see Graceland and the duck parade at the Peabody Hotel.  Both were great fun, but what I didn’t expect was its vibrant downtown.

Graceland is all things Elvis — and if he is alive, he’s mega-rich from the tons of things for sale in the many, many shops.  The mansion is nice, not a Bill Gates super mansion, but there’s plenty to ooh about:  the living room with 3 TVs (each set to one of the 3 networks), the jungle family room, the mirrored glass bar, racquetball room, recording studio, a little building in the back yard for target practice.  Oh yeah, his jet and a stable of to-die-for cars were pretty nice, too. 

But the commercialism was really amazing.  I think Graceland beats Disney when it comes to organization and licensing merchandise.  Roped sections to buy tickets, timed mini-buses that whisk you from the ticket area to the mansion, audio earphones to guide you start to finish, and plenty of line standing.  After the mansion, numerous exhibits await:  his cars and other big toys with wheels, his planes, his costumes, a film of his 1968 comeback tour — and each finishes in a gift shop.  Hundreds of Elvis items to buy: lip balm, gold records, Christmas lights of his glowing face, cocktail napkins, dangling earrings that spell out Elvis vertically — you name it, you could buy it.  Three restaurants serve his favorite foods.  The fried peanut butter and banana sandwich was terrific.   

No doubt about his talent and charm.  He had the “it”factor in spades.  Long live The King.

If you’re wondering about the Peabody Hotel ducks, well, it’s one of those crazy wonderful things.  Every day for 70 some years, the gorgeous grande dame downtown hotel does the parade of ducks.  At 11 am the ducks leave their rooftop penthouse, ride to the lobby in a gilded (gilt!) elevator, and file across a special red carpet to a fountain in the center of the lobby.  They play and swim in the fountain until 5pm when the parade is repeated and they retreat to their home upstairs.  The hotel’s official Duckmaster, in full red tails regalia, announces the parade and supervises their care.  Gotta love it.

Then there’s Beale Street with its blocks of music bars and clubs…loud, crowded, drinking on the sidewalks and street closed to traffic until 3am, a nightly party.  The music draws you.   And ya gotta eat barbecue in Memphis.  We partook at the Blues City Cafe, and it was mighty fine ‘cue.

Memphis’ topper is the living, breathing downtown…fun restaurants, sidewalk cafes, clubs, mini-marts, dry cleaners, health clubs, elegant and funky home decor, commerce mixed with apartments, condos and artist studios, colorful  streetcars with wooden interiors restored to their full beauty, and people everywhere at 11pm.  I loved our late evening trolley ride around the city, as alive as New York City, amazing. 

Exciting to see such successful urban renewal.  Memphis is doing it just right.

Little Rock, Arkansas & the Clinton Presidential Library

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

I would go back to Little Rock happily.

The people were friendly and helpful.  I expected a city of blight, but it’s a city of successful downtown renovation.  Wonderful, old brick and stone buildings house eclectic restaurants, galleries, shops and offices.  The Clinton Presidential Library anchors the far end of what used to be a derelict warehouse district.  His modern, glass Library hangs over the Arkansas River, brilliantly cantilevered over the riverbank, encompassing old and new city, past and present, land and river.  

Inside the Library, Clinton’s life and presidency are presented both high and low tech.  Countless touch screens unfold the overview of his two terms…highlights, legislation, successes and struggles…mixed with letters from ordinary Americans, world leaders and famous figures…priceless gifts from heads of state, and tons of great photos.  All the facts and numbers are there–as well as the Clinton Family’s warmth, concern for their fellow man at home and abroad.

I loved the re-created cabinet room, each chair around the table labeled with the names of his Cabinet members.  I assumed the President sat at one end.  But no, he sat  in the middle, with the Secretary of State to his right, Secretary of Defense to his left, the Vice-President opposite. 

This building is an archive in overdrive, but its detail and vast information are easy to access and digest.  Way down the block is the gift shop, separated from the library on purpose.  Clinton chose the separation to draw others into the restoration effort.

It doesn’t matter whether you love, hate or ignore Bill Clinton.  This library takes advantage of the latest technology to tell the story of one president.  Impressive! 

On the way to Rt. 66

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

I have started the “appetizer” portion of the Route 66 adventure…Tucson to Ohio.

Thursday morning I waved goodbye to our adobe Rancho Mac and hubby Steve in Tucson.  In the passenger seat:  bestest bud, Bob.  We zoomed along Arizona’s freeway east through desert scrub…then New Mexico’s cactus and prairie grass.  9 1/2 hours later we hit the hotel pillows in Big Spring, Texas, and we lost 2 hours with the time change.  Too pooped to write.

Friday we repeated the long day/long drive…on to and through Dallas’ infamous “mixmaster” web of freeways, miles and miles of East Texas ranches, some with impressive stretches of fence and elaborate stone gates.  The prairie grass grew taller, giving way to scrubby bushes, then big trees of mesquite and pine.

Today in Texarkana, we crossed the Arkansas state line, the only American city with a federal building that sits in two states and has two zip codes.

We rolled into Little Rock at dusk Friday.  Who knew Little Rock has a too cool area with great restaurants, shops and atmosphere in a restored riverfront?  A revived downtown buzzing with people!  We relaxed with a home state beer and trendy, delish food in Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro.  A torrential storm blew through, downing tree limbs–and our downtown hotel’s cable TV and internet–so no blog due to Mother Nature.  Falling asleep, I marvel at how much there is to discover and enjoy in our vast and varied USA. 

Donna is off

Friday, September 7th, 2012

6 September 2012  — Thursday

Steve’s report on Donna’s take-off today:

Donna is up and at ’em at 6:06 this morning, taking off with friend Bob, who flew in from Columbus, Ohio two days ago.  They left at 7:10.

A little excitement getting going.  The Toyota Avalon wasn’t starting quite right, despite a thorough once-over by our trusted, longtime mechanic and a make-sure trip to Toyota’s service department.  We finally called Toyota’s service manager a week ago, and after 36 hours they found the problem.  They took a week to fix everything, complicated by the Labor Day holiday.  We picked up the car at 2pm, which blew the trial packing Donna had wanted to do over the weekend.  Talk about down to the wire!

Toyota replaced the fuel regulator, fuel filter and fuel pump.  To replace the pump, they remove the battery.  So yesterday when I came home at 4pm, the satellite radio didn’t work.  Three calls to Sirius but no luck.  So 90 minutes later, I finally find a paper that tells how to reset it — 45 days on the road and no tunes is not a good way to start.  I fixed the satellite radio, we packed the car and got a good night’s sleep.

The 66 Trip Blast-off this morning was a piece of cake.

Donna ready to go