This bookstore may need no introduction to readers of novels. Ann Patchett and her husband own and operate a wonderful bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee called Parnassus Books. I was driving from Greensboro, AL to Louisville, KY and needed to break my journey. I’ve been here once before and I knew it would be a good place to stand around for awhile after driving for hours.
The children’s book section is especially good. The young woman who assisted me hand sold me two YA books I didn’t know I needed to read until I had a conversation with her! I’m reading Maggie Stiefvater’s thrilling The Scorpio Races now.
It was hard to get back in my car and continue my journey, yet at least I knew I had plenty to read. #MiddleAmericaTour
I feel much better about my propensity to buy too many books when I am traveling after hearing one fellow bibliophile call it patronizing the arts. Yes, I am a patron of the arts. And it is much easier to tuck a beautiful special edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield in your bag than a painting or sculpture!
My Auntie J and I volunteer to send postcards to potential voters to encourage them to be a good citizen. She found a box of The World’s Greatest Bookstores. There are 50 featured, and one is for Hatchard’s in London. I’d somehow never heard of it or been there.
I love Foyle’s in London. It is popular with television writers too and appears in the Netflix adaptation of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War is named for the bookstore. It didn’t rate a postcard though.
I have only been to a couple of the book shops featured: City Light Books in San Francisco, The Strand in New York City, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee and Powells Books in Portland (as often as possible). With bookstores in Goa, India and The Bookworm in China, I can’t commit to visit them all. One thing I can safely guarantee, I will always return with more books in my bag than when I left home.
My breath caught for a jagged second as I looked across the street at the Traveler’s Bookcase. Like the revelation of peanut butter and chocolate, my two passions are combined in one shop. Travel and books! Books and travel! Fantastic!
I love looking at unconventional formats in travel books. Natalie Campagno spent more than 30 minutes searching the shelves for irresistible maps and guides to share with me. I went a little nuts. I do not know when I will be back in Los Angeles so I indulged.This is the kind of tactile experience Amazon cannot replicate!
Most beautiful design goes to Love Goa by Fiona Caulfield. It comes in its own fabric jacket and is a joy to handle. Most clever book award goes to the Wildsam Field Guide, Detroit. I love my Nashville and this one is just as brilliant. The best new book imparting important information while feeling nostalgic: The New York Time 36 Hours USA & Canada Southwest and Rocky Mountains. I have already used this one to help plan an upcoming adventure with UK Sarah. Another trend that I am not wild about is the “curated guide” to shopping that is a snobby version of the Yellow Pages. They inevitably have to be so exclusive that they are not likely to include my passions. So eat.shop new england and San Francisco the hunt did not float my boat.
Also trending are stylized maps. These often offer a highly selective view of a city. When we think of Berlin is a guide/map with such a high concept geographic map that you could spend most of your time lost if you depended upon it. I will stick to the Railway City Map series. I love my map of Barcelona. It is practical and beautiful.
If you have ever read 84 Charing Cross Road then you know my fantasy: Natalie Compagno and I will become pen pals and I will ask her to look for original or obscure travel books and she will share things she thinks I will like. Only updated to 2015 I will not send $5 bills through the mail. Or send her eggs from Denmark.
If you are anywhere near Los Angeles you have to check out this bookstore because it is fantastic.
For more Travel Theme Fantastic posts: http://wheresmybackpack.com/2015/03/13/travel-theme-fantastic/.
I am trying to find superlatives to describe our dining experience at Husk. We arrived with a healthy appetite (thank goodness) after our walk through the cold from Tootsie’s on Broadway. We had a 7:15 reservation we made on Sunday.
The restaurant is in a converted mansion close to the Cumberland River. We passed the blackboard in the foyer listing all of the food and where it is sourced. The chef is committed to reinventing southern cuisine and eating local. We were seated downstairs and began to peruse our menus.
It was clear from the get-go: deciding what to eat was going to be a real challenge. We though we had it all figured out. Jessica will get the pork, Janet the beef; me the chicken and we would all share. (Chuck was always going to get the chicken.) Then the waitress told us about the specials and Janet and I both agreed to share a rib-eye steak. Somehow the waitress convinced us that we could not possibly be full if we shared a 26 ounce steak (the minimum size), so we ordered the next size available at 42 oz.
By this time we had our cocktails. I decided to join in and had a delicious drink called a Copperhead. It had some combination of rye whiskey and other good stuff. We started the meal with pork-tail sliders and chicken skins. OH MY GOD! We knew this was going to be an euphoric evening of eating.
It was truly amazing. The rib-eye was fantastic, as was the pork and chicken. The sides were creative and tasty—sweet potatoes with the pork, white potatoes and broccoli with the rib-eye. We were all so caught up in the conversation and sharing great food. It was wonderful.
I could not imagine finding an empty inch in my tummy for dessert and then I saw the menu. I have always wanted to try buttermilk pie. So I talked everyone into sharing a slice. It is custardy and delicious. It is a great option for a pie baker like me when there is not a good fruit option in season.
Some of us wanted to see the NCAA Championship Football Game and all of us needed to eat. We consulted our napkin of suggestions and decided to combine activities at Pinewood Social.
It is located in an industrial area on the Cumberland River that is gradually converting to more genteel uses. The former hanger or warehouse is so big they can provide a large restaurant, big bar and still offer six lanes of bowling in the back.
We sat in a booth with televisions visible in every direction. The cocktails were terrific and interesting. Nashville mixologists are having fun with bitters. There are also local brews and old favorites.
We started with the fried broccoli and it was amazing. I could have eaten that all night. It is simply broccoli—no breading—slightly crunchy with just the right amount of salt. I ordered the fried chicken and it came with fries and a terrific cole salw type salad with all kinds of yummy ingredients. The fried chicken was excellent just trending toward spicy hot.
At this point the ballgame was no longer capturing our attention and we decided to bowl. The party moved to a lane. An attendant fetched us some shoes (and we bought rabbit socks since some of us were wearing pumps). They give you an iPad for keeping score and the app makes it easy if you have forgotten how to bowl.
I am not much of a bowler. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times my score broke 100. The first 2 practice balls were gutter balls. Sometime mid game Jessica suggested aligning my thumb differently and voila! I started knocking down pins. My boss Chuck was well ahead so I wasn’t worried about my score. I was just having fun.
Then a small miracle occurred. In the last two frames I bowled 4 strikes in a row! And I won the game!
We bowled a second game so Chuck could make his comeback and my bowling went back to “normal”. The cocktails kept coming and we enjoyed ourselves knowing that our designated driver Jessica would see us safely back to the hotel.
You know it is a good place and a fun time when you all start planning how to open a similar place back home. We did not need a reservation for dinner or bowling, but it was a Monday night. Best to call ahead.
On the Southwest flight to Nashville I struck up a conversation with a local Nashvillian and asked “Where should we go?” She and her friends gave us lots of suggestions and I started writing them on this napkin. Then other passengers started chiming in. By the time we were finished we had more places to eat than meals to eat them.
With one southern boy in our party, we committed ourselves to eat as much southern food as possible in 48 hours. Kudos to Chuck. He managed to eat chicken at every single meal, even breakfast.
We arrived to the Hermitage Hotel late on Sunday night and felt peckish. It was 7:30 p.m. on our internal clocks. One of the recommendations was for the Capitol Grill at the Hermitage Hotel. Unfortunately its kitchen was already closed; fortunately we could order food at the Oak Bar. We kicked off our Nashville eating orgasma with divine deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese. Jessica also ordered the Brunswick Stew and let me taste. Yum. My colleagues raved about the cocktails. The waitress was very good with recommending drinks and provided quick cheerful service. Welcome to Nashville.
The next morning we all had breakfast on our own. I actually got up early and worked out in the gym! I ordered breakfast in my room: oatmeal with raisins (it is all about the pacing). It was the same high quality as the food served on my last morning at the Capitol Grill.
Our workshop was in Franklin and at lunchtime we sprinted to the Burger Up to get a table and eat in the hour break. We were all pleasantly surprised when we looked at the menu to find gourmet burgers, chicken and salads. You could eat healthy or go for truffle fries. The original Burger Up is in 12 South. We highly recommend it.
That evening some of us wanted to watch football and we needed to eat. We selected Pinewood Social and it was such an amazing experience it earned a dedicated blog post, as did our dinner the following evening at the restaurant Husk.
On our last full day together we looked at our napkin and realized that we had to go out to breakfast if we wanted to experience more of what Nashville had to offer. Plus people kept saying we should see downtown Franklin. So we got up early and went to Puckett’s General Store for breakfast. It was good food and generous portions. By this time though I could feel myself getting ready to wave the white flag.
Our speaker used Chick-fil-A as a marketing example during the workshop and we all looked at each other and said “lunch”. We all were looking for smaller portions while still delicious and with service in under an hour (with driving).
The next day my sister-in-law’s sister Gretchen and mom Chetty gave me a tour of Nashville. I still needed to try a “meat and 3 sides” so we went to Jack’s BBQ. I loved the flying pigs. The sides all looked like they might clog an artery so I selected turnip greens and cole slaw to go with my pork and cornbread platter. It was delicious but I was reaching “tilt”.
I also wanted to try local coffee. We stopped in 12 North at Frothy Monkey and I enjoyed an excellent latte.
On the last evening, I was too pooped to go out, so I ordered a salad from room service and carved off another hunk of rib-eye from the ginormous steak Janet and I shared at Husk. It was even more delicious cold.
I got recommendations for non-southern places too. Try Urban Grub in 12 South or Etch restaurant downtown (the only one anyone mentioned has vegetarian options). I Dream of Weenie for hotdogs.
My colleagues and I all agree—we would return to Nashville in a heartbeat and stay longer next time.
Okay, okay, you have full permission to go to Nashville and do nothing but eat and listen to music. You could easily focus on these two activities and have an unforgettable experience. In case you need to do something between meals to help you digest, here are a few ideas.
Go to the Men’s Room at the Hermitage Hotel
When we told people we were staying at the Hermitage Hotel, they’d say “Be sure to check out the Men’s Room. It’s famous.” So late one night we had Chuck check for occupants and when he gave us the all clear we went in. There is a blocked tunnel legislators used to go to and fro from the Capitol. The lavatory is beautiful and unique with green subway glass and art deco décor. Then my sister-in-law’s mom, Chetty, came to give me a tour of Nashville. First stop the Men’s Room, but from a slightly different perspective. Chetty sourced the glass for the bathroom and the lobby stained glass when the hotel was restored to its former glory.
Ride a bike along the Cumberland riverfront
Not so appealing in January–when I was there it was too cold. Nashville has a city bike program so you can rent, grab and go. The last mayor promoted building lots more trails and connecting greenways, plus there are new bike lanes on roads. Start your adventure near the Shelby Street Bridge and park by the Titans’ stadium. Bonus: get a great view of downtown Nashville
See the Parthenon
This replica was built for the USA Centennial celebration in 1876 and maintained by the citizens of Nashville. (They heard the other one was falling down.) It has an art gallery inside, check for hours.
Shop for books
My friends bought boots on Broadway at one of the 3 or 4 boot stores. I made a beeline for Parnassus Books. A citadel for independent bookstores and owned by author Ann Patchett, you can purchase all of her novels signed and request to have them personalized. Or you can discover a new author. We spent over an hour here (and I will not admit how much money. I spent) They ship to your home—one day soon it will be like the day the Scholastic books arrived in the classroom. Yippee.
Soak up some history
Nashville is rich in history: Native American, Natchez Trace, Trail of Tears, Daniel Boone, Civil War, Civil Rights, Country Music. Everyday we were there we overheard people talking about the war. At first we were not sure what war. Upon more careful eavesdropping we realized they were talking about the Civil War! (Let it go.) We made quick stops at Sunnyside antebellum plantation home and Travellers Rest where the Confederate generals were headquartered during the battle for Nashville.
If I had more time, I might have also taken in the Johnny Cash museum or the Country Music Hall of Fame. Or go shopping in Franklin or The Gulch. My list is based on recommendations from locals we met along the way and my sister-in-law’s family who hosted me one afternoon.
For more ideas check out the fun little guide Nashville: Wildsam Field Guides. Or watch the HBO Sonic Highways episode on Nashville.