Friday, February 4, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Tourist

Well here I sit...enjoying a cup of coffee from one of my most favorite Nashville hangout spots, Bongo Java.  But now I am here as a tourist, a visitor, and I am seeing my old stomping grounds through a completely different set of eyes.

My wife and I called the Nashville area (Franklin to be exact) home for over 11 years.  And, as many do when they live somewhere, we did not really appreciate the fact that many actually make plans to vacation here.  Travelers from all over the country and even the world view this area as a tourist destination.  For many...they want to come see the birthplace of country music.  Others come here to visit so many of the places that played such a significant role in our Country's history, i.e. the Civil War.

See...when you live here, you tend to become desensitized to the fact that this area is a huge draw for thousands of people from all walks of life and each has their own reason for wanting to vacation here.  What I am again seeing through my "touristy" eyes is that Nashville has its own energy, its own vibe.  If you think this area is simply a place for country music lovers, you are sorely mistaken.  Nashville has become one of more eclectic parts of the Country.  I know some native Tennesseans are not going to like this, but one of the things that makes Nashville so vibrant and fun is the fact that it is no longer made up of mostly native Tennesseans.  Folks from the east to the west coasts have now moved here and call this area home and I love that about Nashville. Sorry natives.

This area exploded a few years ago when people, like myself, discovered that it is a place that offers a good climate, decent employment opportunities, affordable housing, and a quality entertainment of all types.  It should go without saying that this is a music-lover's paradise.  But again...don't think it is simply for those who appreciate a little "twang" in their music.  Nashville oozes music from all genres including hip-hop, jazz, alternative, classical and of course blue grass and country.  What makes Nashville special is that someone can come here and visit a different local venue every night and enjoy some of the best music around with little to no cover charge.

But again...there is more here than just music.  If you love history and art, the Frist Center is a top-notch art museum located in the heart of downtown.  Or someone might appreciate the fact that they can visit an exact replica of the Parthenon and see ancient Greek artifacts and then understand why Nashville is called the "Athens of the South."

But some of the most interesting history that can be explored in this area is that related to the great Civil War.  You can tour some of the old plantations such as the Hermitage, the Carnton or the Belle Meade Plantation and battle sites such as the Battle of Franklin and get a real sense of what life was like during that turning point in our American History.

And let's not overlook the opportunities that abound here when it comes to professional sports.  It is home to SEC football, the NHL's Nashville Predators, the NFL's Tennessee Titans and a fun AAA baseball team which means you can see some form of professional sports no matter what time of the year you choose to visit.

And I have yet to even mention the beauty that is Tennessee.  This great area is surrounded by rolling hills and lots and lots of trees which again I took for granted when this was my permanent residence.

So with all of that is a list of some of my favorite eateries and areas that I have visited on this trip and I encourage you to consider these when you start planning your next visit to "Music City" or "Nashvegas" as many of us affectionately call it:

1) The Country Boy Restaurant.  This small, quaint cafe is located in historic Leiper's Fork which is about 35 minutes south of downtown Nashville.   I had visited this restaurant "back in the day" when it was just your local "greasy spoon" option with little to no character or ambience.  But it has gone through a revamping of sorts and is now a wonderful place to stop for food and even potentially for some "star gazing" since this small town is home to some very well-known country music stars (I won't mention any names...Judds *coughing with my hand to my mouth*).  Anyone can visit an IHOP or Cracker Barrell when on vacation, so forget those and give this true local establishment a try instead.

2) Chuy's of Nashville.  Ok, so it is not a Nashville original, but it has a great atmosphere that has become very popular with the locals.  Their version of Tex-Mex is fresh and flavorful and is located in the affluent area called Cool Springs (20 minutes south of dowtown Nashville).

3) Noshville.  No I did not misspell "Nashville."  Noshville is a local "New York Style" deli.  It is one of the iconic Nashville eateries that has been here forever and continues to bring the locals in everyday.  I recommend the location closest to Music Row so you can get a good feel of the original versus visiting one of their other, newer locations around the area.

4) Bongo Java.  Anyone can visit a Starbucks when they travel, but it takes some research into a destination to be able to find this Nashville gem.  It is located in "the village" close to Vanderbilt University.  If you want to see where creative people go to find some inspiration, make sure you visit this coffee house on your next visit.

5)  Sweet CeCe's.  No better way to end an evening than with a stop at this wonderful frozen yogurt shop in downtown Franklin.  Franklin should be one of the places you decide to visit when traveling to Nashville so a stop here is a no-brainer.  I love to find places that are local and not mega-franchises that someone can find in almost any city across the U.S. and this is one of those finds.

There you have it...5 places that hopefully will make it onto your travel agenda the next time you make plans to visit Nashville and the surrounding area.  I hope this article also helps you see that there are vacation spots right here in the U.S. that are more than just "drive-through" or "bathroom stop" spots on the road.  If you have never vacationed in Nashville before, I hope you will consider it soon, you will not be disappointed.

So until next time Nashville...