Friday, June 28, 2024

High Five for Nashville

Well, that was simultaneously a whirlwind trip and two of the longest weeks ever. 

Lengthy and photo-heavy post ahead...

This year and for the first time, Hallie was ready to try a true, away-from-home ballet summer intensive. While she was accepted to quite a few schools, a previously-scheduled family trip in the middle of July (which would have fallen in the middle of a four- or five-week intensive) limited her options to intensives she could complete prior to that trip. All of these intensives were a little shorter than she would have preferred, but she was still excited to give one of them a try. 

We chose Nashville Ballet's summer intensive for a number of reasons, including that it worked with our timing and length issues mentioned above. Additionally, we had heard good things about the school, Hallie's local/regular ballet instructors felt like the program would be a good fit for her, getting there would be a trek but a driveable one (rather than having to fly), and we had family in the area. Now that her time with Nashville Ballet has come to an end, I think Hallie would consider this summer intensive a success, both in terms of the ballet training and the experience as a whole. She also has a much better feel now for what she's capable of and what she's looking for when it comes to future intensives. 

Hallie wasn't quite ready to stay in the dorms without a friend or at least an acquaintance (she went knowing no one at all), so we decided I would stay in a hotel and shuttle her back and forth each morning and evening. This choice of course came with positives and negatives, and like the summer intensive itself, gave her a better feel for what she's capable of and what she'll look for next summer.

Hallie danced all day every weekday and for half a day on Saturday, so she didn't have quite as much time to see and do Nashville as I did. That said, I didn't see and do as much of Nashville as some people would have given my schedule...I guess I wanted to see "enough," but I also didn't want to spend every day fighting crowds or dealing with complicated parking or accidentally finding myself in questionable neighborhoods or spend a ton of money (summer intensives already cost a ton of money). She and I both fit in quite a bit anyway though, and here are our high five highlights!



Spending Time with Family

All four of us (Tom and Will were in Nashville with Hallie and me for two days at the start of the intensive) were excited to spent an evening with Tom's brother, Grant, and his girlfriend, Kayla. Grant is an amazing cook and baker, and getting to share a completely made-from-scratch meal (served on dinnerware Grant - also a potter - made himself) with them was such a treat. 

After rounds of disc golf, Grant also took Tom, Will, and me downtown to see his pottery studio (check him out at Grant Ferris Tableware) and Broadway. I was happy to experience that area of downtown, but didn't feel like I needed to visit it again or take Hallie there during our stay.

The original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

The following week, Hallie and I had dinner with "Aunt" Stacey (my SIL's forever best friend who my kids have known and called Aunt Stacey since they were little) and her boyfriend, Larry. We visited their new house, played with their sweet kitties, and ate at a fabulous neighborhood joint with a quirky vibe and delicious food...and the company was even better than the restaurant. 

I completely forgot to take a picture with Stacey and Larry, but we did, however, remember to take pictures with the cats. 😂


Pounding the Pavement

I did a lot of walking (to the point that the athletic shoes I brought died and I had to purchase a new pair at the outlet mall), which is in my opinion the best way to see and get to know a community. Nashville Ballet is in a residential area, so every morning I dropped Hallie off, parked my car, and started walking in a different direction than the day before. I had NO IDEA how hilly Nashville is, and my legs - and lungs - took a few days to adjust. I walked through so many neighborhoods, visiting farmers markets, shopping garage sales, popping into shops and markets, and sometimes getting a little bit lost. 

The pics below do not convey how insanely steep these hills are - some were steep that I had to put my head down and "power through," rather than just walking like a normal person. I felt like I was traversing San Francisco's terrain on the daily.

One of my lovely reprieves from the hills.

Hallie and I - and then Tom, Will, and I, the following day - walked quite a ways around Centennial Park, a pretty well-known tourist stop thanks to its (exact size and detail) replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. 

I also ventured downtown one afternoon, but at that point in the day it felt entirely too hot and humid to enjoy walking around, so I limited my pavement pounding to the area in and around the State Capitol. 


Being a Tourist

Our favorite touristy outings were to Madame Tussaud's (country themed) Wax Museum at Opry Mills (where the Grand Ole Opry is currently located), the Nashville Zoo, and the Nashville Farmer's Market. 

Neither of us had ever been to a wax museum before, and it took us a few minutes to feel comfortable enough around the statues to take pictures with them; most of the statues look incredibly real, and walking through the museum felt kind of like walking through a haunted house - we were both expecting the statues to suddenly "come alive" to scare us. 

Tim McGraw looked SO real. 

We love zoos, and as a result they tend to be at the top of our "must do" lists when we travel. Nashville Zoo housed its animals in impressive enclosures, and its spaces for humans were designed to feel lush and natural. Additionally, it had probably the most impressive children's area of any zoo I've visited in the last decade; if Will had been with us, I know he and Hallie would have least until they got kicked out for being far too old and big for children's areas. 😭 I appreciated the zoo's focus on conversation and education, and we LOVED getting to "meet" the many babies recently born through the zoo's successful breeding programs.

Doesn't he look like he's smiling?

I wanted to be friends with this guy. I didn't
get the impression that he felt the same way.

She's never met a petting zoo animal she didn't like.

So hot... tired.

The bear enclosure was breathtaking in person - it
reminded me of what "paradise" would look like.


...and babies!!!

Apparently it's fairly rare for a mama tiger to give
birth to three healthy cubs and for all three to survive.

They were SO cute.

The tiger enclosure was also expansive and beautiful. 

Hallie and Mandi

Another mama...

...and her babies!

The Nashville Farmers' Market is an impressive, permanent, daily, year-round establishment that includes two covered, open-air pavilions as well as a massive garden center, a "culinary incubation center," and an indoor "international food hall" that houses more than 25 restaurants and shops. Hallie and I were a little overwhelmed (and a little hot), but we managed to find what we really wanted: fresh peaches and a giant soft pretzel.


Connecting with Hallie

Hallie and I spent A LOT of time together these last two weeks, and out of those 43,715 hours, I especially appreciated - even though they weren't all that exciting - the quiet evenings we spent at our hotel. We went swimming in the hotel pool, and in our room, we read books, watched movies and Friends, played cards, and even played a homemade board game she created during a stint of boredom. I'll always remember this adventure with her, and I hope she'll always remember this adventure with me. 

4A - So many hours in the car has translated to Hallie becoming a MUCH better navigator than she was before this trip.

4B - I'm proud to report that we only got into one actual argument - about quarters 😂 - the entire time we were together. 



We ate well. Probably too well. (At least for dinner, that is. Hallie ate the hotel's continental breakfast and had lunch at Nashville Ballet, while I had hotel coffee for breakfast and usually cobbled together lunch from our in-room stash of fruits and snacks.) We visited a few familiar establishments - I prefer a mix of familiar and local/new/unique when I travel - like Starbucks, Auntie Anne's Pretzels, Panera, and Chuy's, as well as couple of restaurants that aren't unique to Nashville but aren't available to us in College Station, like Trader Joe's, Red Robin, and The Cheesecake Factory.

We also visited quite a few Nashville originals, like Dozen, Tennfold Brewing, Hattie B's Hot Chicken, The Picnic Tap, 8th & Roast, Redheaded Stranger, Tailgate Brewery, Star Bagel Café, Five Daughters Bakery, and Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee. I think my favorites food/drink-wise were my salad from Dozen, crunchwrap from Redheaded Stranger, bagel from Star Bagel Café, and almond milk latté from Thousand Hills, and my favorites atmosphere-wise were Redheaded Stranger and Thousand Hills. There were a couple of places we didn't make it to - Mas Tacos, Goo Goo Chocolate Co., and Legendary Milkshake Bar - so those will stay on my list for our next visit!


Thanks, Nashville, for a great trip and fantastic experience with my girl.

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