Tuesday, July 7, 2015

You're the Only Ten I See

I love Tennessee. If I were planning to move outside of Michigan, Tennessee would be at the top of my list. It has great cities, mountains, and SEC football. Check, check and check. Heading to Tennessee seemed an obvious choice when trying to find a place where my parents (in WV) and sister and family (in VA) could meet us for a vacation. 

I went to Nashville for the first time in 2010 to present at a conference. My love for Tennessee had me worried that I'd visit Nashville and be hooked. On my first visit I wasn't able to get a good feel for the city, and I wasn't extremely impressed.

On this trip we stayed outside of town near Gallatin (northeast of Nashville).  We rented a house on the Cumberland River, a serene spot just outside of town.
Enjoying a rainy morning on the porch
The week was filled with relaxing, trips into Nashville, southern food and a few hard, hilly runs. On our first morning I went for a quick run near our rental house. It was SO hilly. I love running hills, and I got my fill of them in the Tennessee countryside. Later that morning we visited the Tennessee Capitol Building because my husband and I are political nerds who are intent on visiting every state capitol building. Tennessee's was a little disappointing, but it's another box checked on the way to 50. (We've seen 14 together and several more separately...we've got work to do). 

Lunch at 417 Union followed the capitol tour. I had a pulled pork hash that was delicious, but the best part was the southern biscuits and sweet tea. In our first vacation with our son we quickly realized that traveling with a 6 month old is way different than traveling without. The day in downtown Nashville was interrupted by nap time. We made up for our short day later by visiting Top Hog for barbeque. It was incredible, and the sweet tea served in mason jars was amazing.

On our second full day we headed back to Nashville after our son's morning nap to have lunch at Merchant's on Nashville's infamous Broadway. It was awesome. We had cocktails (Pimm's Cup for me), duck fat tator tots and I had mac 'n cheese (I'm a connoisseur of fine mac 'n cheese). Merchant's mac 'n cheese was among the best I've had; I credit the scallions. 

I love exploring city neighborhoods, and we headed to Hillsboro Village near Vanderbilt University. It was a charming area with shops, restaurants and frozen yogurt (a perfect follow up to lunchtime pasta). I found myself warming to Nashville.

The President was visiting Nashville on Wednesday, and we decided it was best to stay close to Gallatin. I headed out for another very hilly run, and I was joined by dozens of cows as I ran past sprawling farm fields. My cow friends helped push me through a hard run. I may have stopped once and talked to one particularly cute cow. Don't judge me.

Gallatin is an extremely charming town. We checked out quaint local stores before having lunch at Swaney Swift's. I indulged in a dessert known as the "couch potato": ice cream, peanut butter sauce and potato chips. It sounds weird and kind of is, but it was also kind of awesome. The texture was impeccable. After lunch we discovered the Amberleaf Marketplace, an indoor collection of artisanal goodies. It was such a cool space.

We were back in Nashville the next day for my favorite day of the trip. We decided to wander down Broadway Street and found ourselves in the Swingin' Doors Saloon. It was quiet just before lunchtime, and I decided it was a great idea to have a baby in a bar as we ordered cocktails and fried pickles. The musician on the stage, Jimmy Charles, was awesome. As we walked in he asked what our son wanted to hear, and he played Country Roads immediately for this West Virginian. His music was fantastic. The staff (bartender extraordinaire Dana Marie) was awesome. We were there for several hours drinking and enjoying the music and atmosphere. Thankfully my baby carrier helped Will nap.

New Jimmy Charles fans
A sleepy honky tonk baby
The infamous Ryman Auditorium beckoned, and we headed there after hanging out at the Swingin' Door. Ryman is an incredible space. My only regret is that we didn't see a show there. What a great, intimate venue.



Ryman!
Toward the end of the week we visited more Nashville neighborhoods by checking out East Nashville. We had a late brunch at Marche Artisan Foods. From the pomegranate mimosa to the insanely good grits, it was everything I expected from East Nashville and more.

On our final day of vacation my sister joined me to head back into the city early for the Music City 10k. While I've been raving about the great food and fun we had on vacation, I haven't talked about the fact that I was struggling with my health all week. I am severely anemic, and my doctor asked me to take liquid iron. I had looked for it in several pharmacies and couldn't find it, so I did the smart thing and ignored it. 

At the start of the race I was feeling lightheaded, but I thought it would be fine. At mile two of the race I had to sit on a curb with my head between my knees to keep from passing out. The race was humid and hilly, and normally that's my jam. This time though I knew the smart thing was to stop after the 5k, and I did while being extremely disappointed in myself. The bonus is I got a medal for the race even with the 5k. 

Pre-race in Printer's Alley
We had lunch at charming Monell's, a family style restaurant in Gallatin. The food was...indescribable. Heaping portions of fried chicken, chicken 'n dumplings, green beans, salads, cinnamon apples, corn pudding, meatloaf, biscuits and cornbread. We topped it off with sweet tea and cherry cobbler. The best part was the inexpensive all-inclusive price. I left there feeling like I couldn't breathe and knowing if I lived in Tennessee I'd gain 20 pounds.

We had family from Alabama come up to visit in the afternoon, and we had dinner on the sprawling patio at AweDaddy's on the marina. My last southern meal of catfish and hushpuppies was the best way to cap off the week. Southern cuisine and I are in love.

I could've eaten 47 of these hushpuppies
A week in Tennessee was just what I needed to regroup. Quality time with family, incredible food, challenging runs and exploring another city. Coming back to the real world is always shocking, but it's good to get back into life's routine. My waistline is also slightly relieved to have less southern food. Okay...I can't even say that with a straight face. I miss biscuits and sweet tea. Until we meet again, southern goodness.            

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