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The South Trip #2: Alabama

14 Aug

After some fun in Nashville, we began on road trip through the very tip of the Southern US by driving into (and then out of) Alabama. If we hadn’t been in a rush to get to our next stop, I think we would have visited this interesting place: the UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE CENTER (link) – I had heard about it from travel blogs and Yelp, but unfortunately it was a little out of the way for us.

It was something like a 2.5 hour drive from where we were in Nashville to Birmingham, which I had visited briefly the year before and knew already where I wanted to eat: Urban Standard.

URBAN STANDARD (link) – I remember really liking the salad I had here on my previous visit, so we stopped by again. The vibe is super cool with a lot of interesting tables/chairs/light fixtures, plus a really vegetarian/vegan friendly menu. Somehow our orders got lost and while it wasn’t that big of a deal, the manager(?) was *super* apologetic and came by numerous times to apologize, update us, bring us free pastries while we waited, and then offered us free drinks too. A nice customer service gesture, definitely. I had a SERIOUSLY AWESOME vegetable gumbo (and a kind of too-spicy mexican hot chocolate cookie), B liked his cubano and strawberry cupcake, and we were on our way.

CHURCH STREET COFFEE & BOOKS (link) – I had visited a different bookstore when I had last come, so this time, drove out a little further (through a really nice residential area) to this cute little neighborhood of Mountain Brook. This cafe/bookstore is pretty small, but they had a really good selection of new/used books (paperback and hardcover) plus an anniversary sale going on (buy any hardcover, get another free or half off – I think?). Ended up buying GIRL ON THE TRAIN since they had it, and I was running low on vacation reading materials. BUT! To be completely honest, I had bookmarked this spot because of their so-called “breakup cookie” – which was huge, rich, chocolatey, and perfect for the drive down to Montgomery. Two thumbs up.

It was another hour and a half or so down to Montgomery, where we took a quick spin around the ALABAMA STATE CAPITOL (link) and the DEXTER AVE KING MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH (link). Would have liked to take a tour at the church, but wasn’t an option the day we were there, plus it started humid drizzling/raining and you know that means we’re sticking near the A/C as much as possible… we also drove by the FIRST WHITE HOUSE OF THE CONFEDERACY (link) which was timely in a strange way, given all the protests around the flag.

And that was it! Not too much more planned in Alabama, and we had wanted to maximize our time in Nashville with friends, and then at our next stop – the seriously to-die-for beautiful Destin, Florida. Even thinking about it makes me want to fly out there right now and soak up the beach…

The South Trip #2: Nashville, Tennessee

14 Aug

On our quest to visit all 50 states, earlier this summer we took five days to visit some friends who had recently moved to Nashville and road trip through a few other nearby Southern states (Alabama, the tip of Florida, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana).

My interest in Nashville was piqued by ABC’s show starring the amazing Tami Taylor (I mean, Connie Britton) (#texasforever), plus, lots of history (particularly around the music industry). We spent about a day and a half exploring the city so here are some of the highlights… and the things we *didn’t* do but had looked into!

EAT/DRINK
*THE PHARMACY (link) – First meal in Nashville and it was pretty solid. Burgers, fries, lots of beers (and shakes/malts/sodas) on tap, really fun atmosphere with a huge patio – reminds me a lot of Austin. I think it gets crowded — we came at a weird hour (like 3 or 4pm on a Saturday) and no wait to sit at the bar.
*PRINCE’S HOT CHICKEN SHACK (link) – Late night “snack” after watching a show at the Grand Ole Opry. The chicken itself I did not try (vegetarian!) but when they say spicy, they REALLY MEAN IT – so be careful how hot you go! The coleslaw/fries/sides were all great. Note that the neighborhood feels a little sketchy at night, and you have to wait quite a while for your food, so just keep that in mind and don’t be dumb!
*LAS PALETAS GOURMET POPSICLES (link) – Was so looking forward to this, especially given how hot and humid it was while we were there. They have a lot of different kinds, some of which change seasonally. I really liked my plum popsicle, but I heard the +cream ones were better.
*CRACKER BARREL (link) – Our friends really like Cracker Barrel and we had never been, so we went and had a really good meal. The store itself is a lot of fun – SO many distracting toys and contraptions and things to buy (I can probably find something to buy almost anyone as a gift there) and while the wait was pretty long, the food came out pretty quickly and it was yummy – particularly the biscuits.
*SUSHI O SUSHI (link) – For our last meal, wanted to stay close to home so Went to a nearby Japanese (owned by Korean) restaurant (funny how these exist everywhere!). The service was friendly, the food was pretty good (not any better or worse than other Korean-owned-Japanese restaurants we’ve been to). I had a teriyaki veggie plate which was huge but yummy, and I also really liked their miso soup, which is a pretty good barometer of quality.

Places we didn’t get to try…
*HATTIE B’S CHICKEN (link)
*BISCUIT LOVE BRUNCH (link)
*TOOTSIE’S ORCHID LOUNGE (link)
*LOVELESS CAFE (link)

SEE/DO
*GRAND OLE OPRY HOUSE (link) – Even though we’re not really country music fans, I felt like we had to do *something* authentic while in Nashville, and watching a show at the Grand Ole Opry was it. There was a show the night we got in, and once they announced the performers (usually a week before or so), I was happy to see I recognized two names: Clare Bowen who plays Scarlett on the Nashville TV show, and Vince Gill, who married Amy Grant (of CCM fame). The format is really interesting and they covered a large variety of types of country music, and I ended up having a lot of fun. It definitely got more fun as the night went on, and we did some country music Spotifying the rest of the weekend based on the songs/artists we had liked. Would recommend it! (Note: parking is pretty difficult so plan for that)
*THE PARTHENON (link) – Had to see this lifesize replica of the Parthenon… funny because a friend was actually at the real Parthenon at the same time so her pictures showed up on Facebook and … well, this does look similar, if not much newer and cleaner! Mostly took pictures, didn’t bother with the inside/downstairs museum.
*HATCH SHOW PRINT (link) – I thought this was pretty cool, and if we had timed it better, could have done a tour of the actual press/printing operations. We bought a couple of prints for the gallery wall i one day will put up…
*PARNASSUS BOOKS (link) – And can’t skip at least one independent bookstore while in Nashville! There weren’t any author events while we were in town, but really liked the selection (so much good YA!) and actually had a lot of fun reading the press pieces they had put up on the walls about the origin of the bookstore and how significant it was for the city (Ann Pratchett co-founded it when she realized the entire city was going to be without an independent bookstore)
*BLUEBIRD CAFE (link) – Didn’t have time to wait in line for a show (they do first come first serve seating for some of them) so just took a picture – but the Nashville fan inside of me was happy we could stop by! It definitely looks different – more like part of a strip mall — than what I had expected though.

Places we didn’t get to try…
*COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME (link) – Right next to Hatch Show Print, but didn’t make the time… I did hear they had a Taylor Swift exhibit I would have loved to see!
*RYMAN AUDITORIUM (link)
*TENNESSEE STATE CAPITOL (link)
*OLIVE & SINCLAIR CHOCOLATE (link) – Chocolate factory tours!! The timing didn’t work out (they have limited slots) but hear it’s interesting and delicious.
LOGISTICS
*NASHVILLE AIRPORT (BNA) (link) – Love any city that Southwest flies into, and I greatly appreciate when you don’t have to take a shuttle or tram or vehicle of any kind to get to the rental cars – it’s just a covered walkway away.
*HERTZ (link) – Good enough. Not every company will let you do one-way rentals, so I usually book through Costco, then will track via Autoslash to see if I can get a better deal. Ended up with Hertz, and while we didn’t have any problems, they didn’t really have a selection of cars, which is always a nice option

From Nashville, we drove in and through Alabama, so more next!

Portland

16 Jun

Portland is one of my absolute favorite cities, and while I think it’s partially because I spend more time there for business than any other city, I think it’s not unfounded.

One of my (and the world’s) favorite bloggers Joanna Goddard is planning a trip there soon and I figured, might as well put my list of things to do online so instead of forwarding an email around (as I’ve been doing for the past couple years), I can share it more easily.

So a few caveats: I don’t have kids, I rarely leave Portland proper, I’m a vegetarian so most of these restaurants have a veggie option, and I’m not a huge nature fan (hiking, etc). That being said, there are still SO many cool things to do, eat, and drink in Portland.

Restaurants

  • Nong’s Khao Man Gai (food cart or full location- note hours/menus vary)
  • Food Carts (PDX is known for their food carts – which are kind of like LA’s food trucks but permanent, and often clustered together to take up entire blocks. Some favorites: Dump Truck, Brunch Box, Small Pharaoh)
  • Screen Door (sit-down, SO GOOD, Cajun/Southern, no reservations)
  • Pine State Biscuits (breakfast/brunch)
  • Andina (tapas, downtown, great sangria)
  • Veritable Quandry (my favorite “nice” restaurants in Downtown –
  • Pok Pok (thai) – not life changing (like Lotus of Siam in Vegas), but really really good
  • Mother’s – homey food, great service, nice location in downtown
  • Luc Luc (vietnamese, downtown)
  • Blossoming Lotus (tons of clean, veggie options)
  • Haven’t been, but heard good things: Tasty n Sons/Tasty n Alder for brunch or any time, and Ken’s Artisan Bakery, a little further outside of the city (good if you’re driving from the Bay)

Snacks/Etc

  • Voodoo donuts is a tourist institution, and a great example of “Keep Portland Weird” – open 24 hours, more touristy, but note that I think the donuts are just okay…
  • Blue Star Donuts more fancy, more pricey, BUT SO GOOD! (Note they sell out most days, so go early!)
  • Salt & Straw ice cream, 3 locations – the best. Flavors I LOVE: Olive Oil, Honey Lavender, Pear Blue Cheese
  • Everywhere good should have Stumptown Coffee
  • Lots of breweries if you like beer – like Deschutes (and there are others outside of downtown if you have a car)
  • Happy Hour is big in PDX like Seattle – both at normal HH times and late night — Portland City Grill has a BEAUTIFUL view at night (Saucebox is popular too)
To Do/See
  • Powells (must do, biggest new/used bookstore in the world) – if you love books/reading/browsing, it’s a great way to kill a few hours between meals
  • Multnomah Falls (~30 minutes east) – you can hike or opt to just take in the view
  • International Rose Garden
  • Japanese Garden
  • Portland movie theaters are really interesting — many have bars/restaurants and are adults-only, plus are cheap (like Bagdad, or Living Room Theaters)
  • Portland Aerial Tram
  • Go shopping! No sales tax in Portland (learning to calculate gratuity without tax as a reference is pretty jarring)

And I know I’m missing things too — so let me know! I already bookmarked these fountains that Joanna posted about this morning… good thing I’m heading back up there next month. Woo!

Unintentional Blog Break & Visiting the 50 States

10 Sep

While it wasn’t intentional, I ended up taking a bit of a blogging break, or a hiatus, if you prefer fancier diction. 

(Caveat: Funny timing given powerhouse home/lifestyle bloggers Young House Love just announced they’re taking a much-needed break from blogging too)

Blogging started to become more of a chore and responsibility (to myself, not to all 3 of my readers) and I kept adding to the “to blog” list without actually blogging… and we all know what happens when a To Do list gets longer and longer… it becomes even less motivating to get anything done.

So that being said, a random blog comment (thanks Lily!) on an old post brought back fond memories of blogging (distance makes the heart grow fonder and all that) so here I am.

That being said, I’m not really sure what I’m going to post about.

  • I don’t know if I’ll ever restart my “What I’m Reading” posts because a) I don’t always want to say something about the books I’ve read b) I really don’t think I’m a good writer, much less book reviewer and c) I meticulously log and rate the books I read on Goodreads. That being said, I haven’t stopped taking pictures of the books I’ve read, so there’s that.
  • I also don’t know if I’ll want to pick up my Voice recaps, especially since I haven’t been able to really enjoy the show in a season or two.
  • And… I really did like doing my monthly personal updates, but those were some of the posts that took the most energy (makes sense, right? More in = more out) so we’ll see.

We just got back from a vacation, so I figured I could write a tiny bit about our travels. We’re trying to visit all 50 states together (so states we visited separately before we got married don’t count) and it’s been super fun seeing new things, driving through totally different parts of the country, and visiting friends who’ve moved all over the place. If you ever need recommendations for mini-trips to states/cities we’ve been to, feel free to shoot me a note!

  • Labor Day trip: Charleston (SC) -> Charlotte (NC) -> Atlanta (GA)
  • And just to fun, other states we’ve visited/trips we’ve done:
    • One state visits: Portland (OR), Seattle (WA), Salt Lake City (UT), Denver (CO)
    • Las Vegas (NV) -> Sedona -> Phoenix (AZ)
    • Ann Arbor (MI) -> Indiana -> Chicago (IL) -> Madison (WI) -> Rochester (MN)
    • Louisville (KY) -> St Louis (MO) -> Kansas City (KS) -> Tulsa (OK) -> Little Rock (AR)
    • New Orleans (LA) -> Houston -> Austin -> Dallas (TX)
  • So including our home state of California, we’ve visited 22 states so far.
  • States left: New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, the “North” (Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa), and all of the Northeast. Quite a bit!

We have a couple other small trips planned for the rest of 2014, but all to states we’ve been to before, so 22/50 might be where we end 2014 on. Not bad…and there’s always next year!