Our first stop in Tennessee was Chattanooga. We arrived late in the afternoon, drove around a bit and finally found a nice little area to park the van. The thing about being 9+ feet tall is that you can’t fit in parking garages, so finding street parking or a lot to park in that isn’t metered is pretty clutch. We walked around and took advantage of some happy hour specials as we explored Downtown. We also caught a comedy show at The Honest Pint, an Irish pub with an old western feel. In the late 1800s, the building hosted the first Coca-Cola Bottling Company and its rumored that it was once a brothel. Either way, it’s a cozy place to share an honest pint during a heavy rain in a new city.
We spent the night parked on the street downtown which made for two somewhat unpleasant situations, one being the noise and shake of the busy road. Its not too bad but it does take some getting used to. The other situation is more of an issue for Kate than it is for Kyle. After a few beers, one may have to urinate more than usual and when you are in a city on a main street late at night, bathroom access isn’t always a thing. So while Kyle can be much more stealth about such things, Kate had to squat pretty much right out in the open. Lesson learned; pee before you leave the bar and try to park near bushes.
We’re not big fans of tourist attractions, organized tours, or any situation where we’re being told what to do. That said, Chattanooga’s “tourist attractions” Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain, and Rock City are worth checking out. We only did a tour through the cave to see Ruby Falls and that was very cool. From chatting with other people, the pass that includes all three attractions seems to be the best way to go.
Ruby Falls was discovered by Leo Lambert and a team of excavators in 1928. The 145-foot falls are 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN. The cave has many types of cave formations including stalactites and stalagmites, columns, drapery, and flowstone. Our tour guide did a great job of pointing out all the different formations and possessed more puns than any other human on earth, both of which made for a very enjoyable tour.
At the very end of the cave tour, there is a huge vertical shaft that makes way for Ruby Falls. They use colored lights and theatrical Lord of the Rings type music to amplify this natural wonder and to help it look rad in photos. The most fascinating thing about the waterfall is that they don’t know where the water comes from. Its fed by rain water and springs, but the specific source is unidentified. Maybe this is common for underground cavern waterfalls but it seemed pretty mysterious to us.
We made our way from Chattanooga to good ol Music City, U.S.A. — Nashville, TN. Neither of us had been to Nashville before and the size of the downtown area kind of took us by surprise. We had a hard time driving and parking in the heart of downtown. All of the lots are extremely expensive and have very small parking spaces. The parking garages are also too low for us and there was a ton of construction on the roads. We did learn, however, that locals (at least the ones we know) don’t pay meters in Nashville. So finding a free place to park on the outskirts of town for the day and either walking or riding bikes to places of interest was not a problem. (Disclaimer: don’t take our word on the free meters. We don’t want to be the cause of anyone getting a ticket).
As far as overnight parking, we did find a rather welcoming area on Music Circle East where a bunch of vans and RV’s were parked. There were no signs about parking, it was right next to a park, the street wasn’t particularly busy, and the van seemed to fit right in. So this is where we slept. We even used our generator at points to run the AC for the pup without issue.
Downtown Nashville is super touristy which, coming from Orlando, is kind of a turnoff for us. We did give it a walk through though, and found that it had a certain charm Orlando’s tourist traps seems to lack (music is much more charming than Mickey Mouse, after all). We did a little site seeing and hit up a couple bars, eventually making our way to the Johnny Cash Museum.
The museum has tons of one of a kind memorabilia and gave an intimate look into the lives of Johnny Cash, June Carter, and quite a few other performers from that era. Besides gold records and actual instruments used on famous recordings and performances spanning Johnny’s career, artifacts like Johnny’s grade school report card and love letters to his first wife Vivian and then to June are on display. Documents from his time in the military, hand written lyrics, and mint condition suits and gowns from performances are there to admire as well. There is even a reconstructed wall spanning a good portion of one side of the museum that was part of Johnny and June’s Hendersonville home before it burned down in 2007. Whether you’re a fan of Johnny Cash’s music or not, the museum offers a fascinating, vivid window into mid to late 20th century pop culture and an up close and personal look into the lives of Johnny and the people close to him.
While in town, we got to meet up with one of our good friends, Trè, who recently moved to Nashville from Orlando. Trè and Kyle are both talented musicians, so we quickly made our way Nashville’s friendliest vintage guitar store, Carters Vintage Guitars. Like a hands-on museum, Carter’s has an overwhelming inventory of rare, gorgeous, and outright bizarre stringed instruments and amplifiers — all on the floor ready to demo. We were honestly afraid to sneeze in the place for fear of getting a smudge on any of their beautiful pieces. But the staff there is super laid back and welcoming despite having a multi-million dollar inventory, much of it one of a kind.
After some guitar fondling, we walked over to Jackalope Brewing Co. for some tasty beers. We were fortunate enough to arrive just in time to catch the most delicious Thai street food pop-up, Pranom. Chef Dream is touring the US with his tasty vitals, so keep your eye out for him in a city near you.
Most of our time in Music City was spent in East Nashville, the more hip, close knit section of the city. We walked around the beautiful Shelby Park and went to the farmers market they have every Wednesday to shop for our dinner. Meatball was a big hit at the market. We even scored some free produce because of her. After some exploring, we cooked dinner in the park and spent the night there. For all you vanners, this was a another very quiet and safe place to park overnight.
During the week, we worked out of the coolest coffee shop in East Nashville, perhaps the coolest coffee shop in the south, or maybe even the world. This open air, vintage motorcycle loving, chocolate paring, fresh farm breakfast having shop has really mastered the art of the bean. Barista Parlor was so cool that Kate stole her napkin and wears it as a bandana everyday now.
One evening, we bar hopped a little in the East Nashville area. Our first stop was The Crying Wolf, where we got some over priced Fernet and a little attitude. We also caught a two piece rockabilly band called Brotherman while we were there that was loud and a little sloppy with a ton of heart. And man, did that singer have moves.
From there, we wandered into some other little dives that weren’t much to write home about. We were going to call it a night when all of the sudden on our walk back to the van we heard some jazzy grooves coming from somewhere in the distance. “Good music”, we thought, “NOT of the country OR rock persuasion, right in the heart of Tennessee?” (To be fair, Nashville cultivates all sorts of music. The menu was just a bit limited on the East side of town that night).
The sound pulled us into a place called The 5 Spot, which had a diverse crowd, friendly bartenders, and fantastic music. Dynamo plays the third Thursday of every month at The 5 Spot. If you can make it out to see them, make sure you bringing your dancing shoes. This jazz fusion, R&B, soul, funk band will not disappoint. Easily one of the tightest bands either of us have ever seen, especially in a room that size.
Nashville was all the cool we could have hoped for in Music City, land of broken dreams and cowboy hats. Now to the North we go!