I am a transplant to Wisconsin and sometimes I just can’t believe my good fortune at having landed here. This beautiful state’s location in the heart of the country puts me within easy driving distance of countless exciting destinations which, for a travel junkie such as myself, is bliss.
In one day’s drive I could be in Winnipeg, Chicago, Minneapolis, St Louis, Lexington, Cincinnati, Cleveland and innumerable other cities spread across more than a dozen states and two countries! That doesn’t even take into consideration the bounty of amazing things there are to see and do right here in the dairy state.
A few weeks ago my family and I decided to hit the road for our inaugural road trip of the year. We headed south this time, down I-90. Destination: Nashville, Tennessee. Twelve hours, four pits stops and enough snack food to induce a sugar coma later, we found ourselves in the country music capital itself. Every city has something new and interesting to offer; a unique twist on entertainment or food to enjoy.
There is something about changing regions, however, which is really exciting. As we crept further south, the accents grew stronger and I could swear the butter content in our food rose higher. I wasn’t complaining though, somebody has to keep those Wisconsin dairy farms in business!
The first stop on our southern adventure was the world famous Parthenon.
Ok, maybe the second most famous Parthenon. Nashville’s version of the Grecian icon is an exact replica of the original Parthenon (considerably more than a day’s drive away) at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Set atop a vibrant green lawn, Tennessee’s brilliantly white monument is awe inspiring. Inside stands a 42-foot tall sculpture of the Goddess Athena. Standing at the base of her guilded pedestal, we eavesdropped on a tour and discovered that the replica was actually built for Nashville’s 1897 Centennial Exposition.
Just across the grassy park from the Parthenon, we discovered a true Nashville gem by the name of “Hog Heaven.” I’ve always said that you can’t tell a good book by its cover but you can tell a great eatery by its front door. The more dilapidated the Chinese restaurant, or near collapse the Hawaiian food truck, the more authentic the food. In this case, there was no front door at all, so I knew we were in for a treat. Admittedly, the line winding out the front and around the corner was a pretty good indicator too.
This place was southern barbeque at its best. Their specialty: pulled pork or chicken soaked in their signature barbeque sauce, served with barbequed baked beans, and Voodoo chips—sweet, spicy and satisfying.
Food is an integral part of any culture, so when I travel I always make a concerted effort to patronize local eateries rather than national chains. Nashville did not fail to deliver and has no shortage of delectable offerings. During our time there I happily Pac-Manned my way through hearty helpings of spicy cooked greens, hush puppies, biscuits and some fried green tomatoes so sweet and tangy it made me want to harvest all my tomato plants in July.
My husband has been a die-hard Titan’s fan since they were the Oilers, so of course a trip to Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without a pilgrimage to the Titan’s stadium. We either timed it right or southern hospitality is alive and well, because the office manager opened the doors and escorted us in to see the field, no questions asked.
After touring the stadium and stocking up on enough Titans gear to get us booed out of Green Bay, we headed across the river to downtown Nashville. This historic area is an excellent place to find great food, local music and enough cowboy boots to outfit a Texas wedding. Of course there is also plenty of the usual tourist entertainment, which somehow always seems to involve half a dozen guys with milk crates, boom boxes and full body spray paint. Some things simply transcend cultural boundaries, I suppose.
When you think of Nashville, one thing comes to mind: the Grand Old Opry. For me it was this and Dollywood, but apparently the latter is not, sadly, in Nashville after all (future road trip destination? I think so!)
In 2010 The Grand Old Opry suffered an event tragic enough to write a country music song about, when it flooded and was evacuated of all its historic treasures. The museum is still closed today, almost two years later. Fortunately, they continue to hold concerts by some of the biggest names in music and during business hours you can even take a backstage tour.
For some reason, the drive home is always considerably longer. It defies the usual rules of time, and minutes seem to stretch into hours. Everyone is tired and the only thing waiting at the end of the day is endless unpacking and mountains of laundry. Luckily for us, we discovered something that made the trip home just as interesting as the vacation itself. Since I have a real affinity for strange and unique roadside attractions, I was delighted to discover Metropolis, IL.
Does that name ring any bells? When I hear it, I’m instantly eight years old again, wearing my mom’s half-damp kitchen towel tied around my neck and leaping from couch to couch in my underwear. It had a similar effect on my parents’ generation and is currently doing the same for my sons. Metropolis: home of Superman.
Illinois’ Metropolis is somewhat smaller and less criminally inclined than I had imagined (much to the relief of my son who refused to get out of the car until we determined that there were no “bad guys” around).
We snapped a family picture with the larger-than-life Superman before heading across the street to the comic book store and nearby museum. Apparently every second weekend in June, Metropolis hosts a Superman Celebration complete with costumed attendees and celebrities from Smallville and the Superman films. I’m already getting ideas for my next road trip. I just hope I can find a clean dish towel…