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July 21st 2009
Published: September 21st 2009
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Tuesday, July 21

There were fond farewells to Ellie and Lou as we took off mid morning for the table top flat land around the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. I had a delightful reunion when Dena, Mandy’s nursery school teacher, met us near I-74 to give us a tour of the campus. The Illini Union was as beautiful as ever but I stopped at the university building most memorable to me, the Krannert Center for Performing Arts where, under the direction of Dr. Harold Decker I had joined the University of Illinois Oratorio Society in singing Daphnis and Chloe, The Creation and Beethoven’s 9th among many other wonderful pieces. Champaign-Urbana is the home of John Phillip Sousawho is celebrated most heartily on the Fourth of July. I remember Mandy struggling to ride her little two-wheeler with the big girls in the annual parade.

There had been many changes and much growth in Champaign-Urbana but as soon as we drove past the “big hill” and into Orchard Downs it was instant recognition. The old Married Student Housing had not changed much since 1981 (it was just as dumpy as ever). Prairie dogs still ducked for cover on the meadow behind the apartments but it was the old Orchard Downs Co-operative Nursery School (now Orchard Downs Pre-School ) that was the icing on the cake. We had not expected the school to be open but when we arrived we were invited inside by the new staff that just happened to be there. When Dena and I went inside we saw tiny chairs neatly stacked against the wall and toys in colorful little bins in bright yellow bookcases. I was pleased to see that the large middle room and kitchen were still being used for cooking classes! I had forgotten (but got a kick out of) the toddlers’ bathrooms with the tiny doll-sized toilets for these little tots. After thirty years of wear and tear the then state of the art wooden jungle gym had made way for a new fiberglass design. Progress. Of a sort.

Dena, with her remarkable memory, brought me up to date with what she knew of the families who had passed through her doors over the years reminding me of the good times we shared in this vibrant international community. We ended our “tour” driving by Crystal Lake Park where Mandy first learned to ice skate. Dena told us that the White Horse Inn had burned down and that Garcia’s (of the Flying Tomato Brothers) was not doing well and was up for sale. I had memories of these and other local companies advertising their businesses throwing Frisbees from their colorful hot air balloons that often landed near the school.

The sky was overcast as we headed south so I took very few photographs of the university. And with no light for shadows or highlights I photographed none of the endless expanses of flat soy and cornfields. Nary a tree stopped the eye all along route 57. Tired, we checked into a motel in the little town of Mt Vernon (after we heard the train and saw the skunks.) Note to self: always ask if there are train tracks nearby and don’t park next to the woods.

Wednesday, July 22 It was overcast and sprinkling when we left Mt Vernon, IL but it began to rain in earnest by the time we reached Paducah, KY. The beautiful Whitehaven Mansion (built in 1860 by Edward Anderson) was located at the Tourist Welcome Center in Paducah. Unfortunately tours did not begin until 1pm and since we arrived at 10:30am that was not a consideration. I do wish that all state visitors’ centers were as clean and beautiful as this was. There were even fresh flowers in the ladies’ rooms!

There were obvious geographic changes heading into Kentucky from Illinois. The flat empty land of the prairie began to thicken with trees until finally small hills raised the land making the endless horizon a memory. By the end of July I had expected steaming hot weather in the Midwest but the unusual weather patterns have brought cooler temperatures (although with them, rain).

When we pulled into Nashville we met a fellow Virginia Tech Alumni who gave us directions to the Arcade for lunch. The long interior of the Arcade is bustling with local shoppers patronizing restaurants and boutiques. We found the City Wraps Café to be just what we needed with wonderful fresh soups and veggie wraps. After lunch we got our bearings, exploring the history and architecture of Nashville ’s historic downtown.

The Country Music Hall of Fame was nearby so we

Note the scratch marks from the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison
dashed through the rain arriving just in time to get on the last bus of the day to tour the historic RCA Studio B where Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison and Charley Pride among many others had recorded their hit songs. (Our guide informed us that Charley Pride performed at the White House yesterday!) I had the chance to sit at Elvis’ favorite Steinway piano and plunk out some chords. As I played I noticed the many scratch marks on the inside cover of the keyboard from endless hours of pounding the ivories by incredibly talented fingers.

Back at the Country Music Hall of Fame we learned all about the history of country music, listened to selections from the earliest twangs to contemporary country and saw Elvis’ gold Cadillac with twenty coats of pearl white diamond dust paint, gold interior including a telephone and speakers, quite modern for its day.

Museum walls filled with platinum, gold and silver albums provided testimony to the success of this music industry. Before leaving we watched a video with historical country music clips from television and the movies. There were very funny and memorable moments in these cuts from Tennessee Ernie Ford’s show to the Beverly Hillbillies but there were some poignant moments too, especially Johnny Cash’s moving music montage.

I wanted to walk down Broadway and 2nd Avenue to hear the live music and photograph the unique signs and storefronts in this music city. Wonderful Country Music poured out of every door, some recorded but most live, and all with no cover charge. With neon lighted guitars, posters of legends like Dolly and Merle and statues of Elvis on the sidewalk, this lively historic district was like no other I had ever experienced. We listened in doorways and stopped at several bars but finally settled down with a beer and listened to a wonderful group called Barefoot Justice at the Second Fiddle on Broadway. Jacks Barbeque (also on Broadway) came highly recommended but we thought it did not live up to its legend, or maybe we just aren’t in love with barbeques.

We were eager to hear some bluegrass and heard that the Station Inn on 12th Ave was the place to go so after finding a room for the night we drove over to check this place out. This was obviously a local haunt reminding
Nashville Never SleepsNashville Never SleepsNashville Never Sleeps

The music keeps on rockin'...look carefully, the spotlight is on Elvis on top of the roof
us of Fogartyville in Bradenton , FL and although the quality of music was good, it was not bluegrass and was too old-time twangy for our taste so we left early and ended our evening of country music.

Thursday, July 23 The iconic Grand Ole Opry House, known as “country’s most famous stage”, has been featuring famous country western musicians and broadcasting country music on the radio since 1925. The Opry was moved in 1974 from the Ryman Auditorium (where most of the legendary musicians performed for 31 years from 1943 to 1974) to its present location east of Nashville off of Briley Street where contemporary artists like Vince Gill and Emmy Lou now perform. This epic building is next to a major shopping mall, IMAX and the enormous Opry Resort. There were no music performances on Wednesday night so we missed an opportunity to experience this amazing place and sadly I couldn’t persuade Dave to stay for Carrie Underwood on Saturday night. Tours of the Opry began later than we wanted to stay so we promised to come back to Nashville to spend several days taking the Nash Trash bus tour, a trip on the General Jackson Showboat, touring the backstage of the Opry, and experiencing great country western music on 2nd Ave, Broadway and at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center spans over an incredible 40 acres. Built like an enormous greenhouse, the twelve greenhouse roofs hover over running rivers (with real ducks and boat rides), cascading waterfalls and numerous bridges lined with lush tropical landscapes. Arbors and gazebos were strung with tiny twinkling lights providing a stunning location for weddings. We spent over an hour exploring the vast insides of the center before leaving for Chattanooga.

Chattanooga is a short two hours south of Nashville on 24 near the Georgia and Alabama borders making this area a great place for a week-long getaway in the Tennessee mountains. We found a convenient motel off I 24 near historic Lookout Mountain just outside of Chattanooga.

The Incline Railway on Lookout Mountain dates back to 1895 and is the world’s steepest passenger railway traveling at a stomach turning 72.7%!g(MISSING)rade on the uppermost tracks of the mile-long journey. Dave and I had been on a similar trolley up Victoria Peak in Hong Kong and the steep little train that travels
Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention CenterGaylord Opryland Resort and Convention CenterGaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center

This place just goes on forever!
from Lynton to Lynmouth in Devon, England but this train actually stopped at the steepest part of the track forcing most of the passengers to stumble and climb out of the cable car.

The famous Civil War “ Battle Above the Clouds” was fought in November of 1863 at the nearby Point Park. Eighty five historical acres surrounding the Incline Railway are now government owned preserving the relics and history of these important battles. Nearby a lighted diorama and battle map illuminates the famous Battles for Chattanooga that forever changed the outcome of the Confederate challenge during the Civil War. The following spring General Sherman used Chattanooga as his base of operations for his famous march to Atlanta and the sea. On our next trip we will have to make a point of immersing ourselves in the numerous battlefields and historical sites that abound from the Civil War era here in Chattanooga.

From the expansive view on Lookout Mountain we could see the Tennessee River Valley but haze obscured the more distant Smokey Mountains from our view. From this vantage point we were able to get our bearings for the next leg of our journey into Chattanooga along
Incline Railway in ChattanoogaIncline Railway in ChattanoogaIncline Railway in Chattanooga

The steepest passenger railway in the world
the Tennessee River. I had made reservations on the Southern Belle Dixieland Dinner Cruise departing at 7pm in Chattanooga so with an extra hour to fill we began a mini walking tour of Chattanooga ’s waterfront enjoying the blend of historic and modern art and architecture. This is a very carefully planned walkable and bike friendly river city with curvaceous walkways and numerous pedestrian bridges that serve to accent interesting sculpture and architecture in this very livable city.

Many signs along the river explained the history of the Cherokee Nation’s Trail of Tears. Cherokee Chief John Ross was a successful business man who established Ross’s Landing, a center for trade along the Tennessee River in 1816. He later attempted to help the Cherokees avoid their forced exodus from their own land. Brown’s Ferry Road was named after Cherokee leader John Brown, a prominent Cherokee leader. This road was the original route of removal for many groups of Cherokee Indians along the Trail of Tears. The city of Chattanooga has created a city park called The Passage. This park informs people about the culture of the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation. Along the river seven canons shoot water into
Trial of TearsTrial of TearsTrial of Tears

Chattanooga's history is marked by battles, forced exodus of their native peoples, river trade and Dixieland
the river symbolizing the tears shed on the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from this area.

I wasn’t expecting a terribly good meal on the dinner cruise because in my experience, tourist boat meals have been disappointing, but not tonight! We had an excellent meal with a charming young couple from Alabama as we sailed down the Tennessee River. Dixieland music was piped in during dinner and afterward a musical duo entertained us with music from the 40s thru the 60s. We slow danced in the soft twilit night as we drifted past the cliffs and forests edging the river. Moved by this wonderfully relaxing end to our long vacation, Dave and I did the touristy thing buying a classic memorabilia photo.

We returned to the dock around 9:30pm in time for a nice stroll through the beautifully lit city. The Walnut Street Bridge, spanning the Tennessee River, is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world and the perfect place to view the city at night while exercising our legs. To get there we passed many people strolling or riding bicycles with flashing lights showing us that this city was bustling at night as in day. The Delta Queen Riverboat, now a floating hotel, was docked on the far side of the river beside a park with festively lit gazebos. Live music was carried by a sweet evening breeze over the long wood planked bridge. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Friday, July 24 The Glen Miller Orchestra won the music industry’s first gold record for their song about the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The impressive 1909 Beaux Arts terminal served Chattanooga until the last train pulled out in 1970. The restored station, with its beautiful 85-foot dome, is now part of a 24 acre complex owned by the Holiday Inn Resort. The terminal, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, is in fine shape boasting one of the tallest non-supported arches in the world.

We had our breakfast in the lovely Gardens Restaurant. Resembling a 19th century greenhouse, this spacious dining room overlooked manicured formal Victorian style gardens that now cover most of the 14 train tracks that once served this station.

After breakfast we boarded the 1924 New Orleans ’ Trolley for a historical tour. This trolley is reminiscent of the trolleys that rolled over 55 miles of tracks in Chattanooga around the
Chattanooga's Magical EveningsChattanooga's Magical EveningsChattanooga's Magical Evenings

Bikeways, bridges and pathways line this lovely city, some like this one are lit from below
late 1800s. The Conductor was both entertaining and informative as the trolley rolled around the large complex. Chattanooga, he told us, was the Cherokee name for “rock coming to a point” referring to Lookout Mountain where on a good day you can reportedly see seven states from its peak. When the trolley reached the end of its line we were instructed to pull the wood slatted seats forward, reversing the seat in order to see where we were going on the return leg. The trolley rolled to a stop next to the Chattanooga Choo Choo where Dave climbed aboard the engine for a final photo.

There is so much to explore and experience in Chattanooga and we discovered it is an easy day’s 10 ½ hour drive from Sarasota so we promised to return soon to see sites like the 1,000’ below-ground Ruby Falls, the Hunter Museum of American Art, and delve into the rich Native American and Civil War history. And Dave can have his Moon Pies.

Our tax dollars were busy at work on the majority of the roads we traveled throughout the United States employing people with the stimulus package but it sure has caused Dave additional driving stress on our 8 ½ week journey. We had a good deal of rain and below normal temperatures on this year’s trip which was not a bad thing, especially when we heard about the stifling heat back home. It was not surprising to discover the lovely cool and even cold temperatures in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming but I was surprised to find that the temperatures were more than comfortable in the usually hot areas of Chicago, central Illinois, Nashville and Chattanooga this summer. But I was even more surprised that at 7pm the weather was very pleasant and not terribly humid in Gainesville, FL yet when we arrived in Sarasota at 11pm it was oppressively hot and humid. I will remember this when my friends up north are freezing under ice and snow while I am playing tennis in the sunshine. Ah, home sweet home.


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