Today's adventure started early in the morning - earlier than I think we expected. The fact that we are in Central Time has worked to our benefit. Breakfast - a meal that I would not otherwise remark upon - was interesting. They had a waffle iron at the hotel breakfast, and beside of it was a rather large dispenser that slowly oozes batter if you press the appropriate button. Well, I had a hankering for a waffle (there wasn't much else besides it, to be honest), so I made one.
As it turns out, the waffle might cook in its iron casing, but you can't very well get it out once it's in there. My mom had to come over with a few prongs to help me coerce the apparently shy waffle out of its shell. Then I ate it.
My dad had done a little research and found out that the home of President Andrew Jackson, called "The Hermitage," was just outside of Nashville, right on our way in. It's over 1,000 acres of land, the prime focus of which was the mansion - which, we were informed, had been built, added onto, burned, and then completely rebuilt again. It was re-completed just a few weeks before Jackson's second term was up and he came home to it. (In ... 1837, I believe it was, he became the only president to pay off the national debt. Later in the same year there was an assassination attempt on his life, which provided a kind of irony.)
We were provided with these dorky headsets, and we occasionally punched in a number corresponding to a particular sign. Soon we realized that the voice of the lady in our ears was not telling us much more knowledge than that which could be gained by reading the signs.
When we got to the house, we could barely hear our tour guide over the wheezing, scratching, incessant cough of another tour guide, who loudly informed one of her co-workers that yes, she already had a Ricola in her mouth, and that no, he didn't need water, her water bottle was inside. Once inside, we were shown around the house, where - among other interesting tidbits - that Jackson was a lawyer who specialized in helping old Revolutionary War veterans settle land disputes, as the government had often given them land in lieu of money for their service. Often, he was paid in land as well, and he eventually got thousands and thousands of acres of land across various southern states, so he got his start in the real estate business.
Jackson was also an avid reader to make up for his lack of education (he only completed the fourth grade). He subscribed to newspapers all over the United States, and found them to be such a valuable resource that he'd never, ever throw one away, instead choosing to have them bound in thick tomes that must have been quite a production to lift. Aside from the newspapers, he had a personal library of over 700 books, many of which are still in his library room. There were also bells on the outside of the house, which were attached to springs, which were in turn controlled from controls in various rooms of the house. The dining room was also ornate, with a floor covering that looked like linoleum. Jackson himself didn't sit at the head of the table, preferring to sit somewhere in the middle "so I could have two ladies on either side." (Jackson's wife died a few months prior to his inauguration.) Jackson also began the tradition of sitting next to the incoming president on the ride to the inauguration.
Outside, on the Hermitage grounds, the garden and surrounding buildings (mostly where slaves worked and slept) were bypassed by us, as most of what they would say would be things that we already would have known from visiting other historical sights. I wouldn't have minded poking around a bit more, but time was marching on and the grounds were swarming with hordes upon hordes of school kiddies.
We then properly headed into Nashville. The Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, weren't in town, but we didn't know when we'd ever be back, so we wanted to see if the shop was open so we could get a pennant for the basement collection. The front-office lady, who was very nice, explained that the person who ran the shop was out having lunch at the moment. We were going to stay in Nashville for a little while longer before heading on down to Memphis, so we headed back on out.
There were four or five different local places to eat at, and eventually - deciding that we wanted Greek - went to a place called Athens Family Restaurant, where the gyros came with tangy tzatziki sauce and bits of my mom's lamb kept flopping out of her blatantly overstuffed pita. The fries came with feta cheese on top, which, given the meal, was decidedly better than ketchup. While they served things that could be found at pretty much any Greek place, they did it well.
Next, we went back to the Sounds ballpark, in the hope that we'd be able to get into the shop and get a pennant. The front office lady was as surprised as was probably possible for her when she realized that, though lunch hour was most definitely over, there was no one to help us. A few minutes later, a fellow showed up and led us through the empty stadium to the shop - all for six dollars. (Tennessee residents, I have found, are very nice folks. I can't count how many times the residents have, en masse, been cordial in ways that I'm not used to seeing.)
Directly next to Herchel Greer Stadium was a place called Fort Negley, which defended Nashville during the Civil War. Nashville was the second-most fortified city during the war, second only to Washington, D.C. We walked around it a bit and took a number of pictures, remarking on its advantageous location on a large hill. The man who met us in the building was a former NC resident, so we talked for a bit about how much it's changed and grown over the past decades.
After having walked along the asphalt and gravel trail completely around (and on top of) the remains of Fort Negley, we hopped back in our car. Memphis was in our sights. (To alleviate any potential hotel issues, we'd been able to book one yesterday.)
Side note: Tennessee has some strange geography. Its eastern mountains gradually morph into hills, which in turn gradually morph into rolling terrain, which gradually flatten out. I was driving along a particularly empty section of highway when our trip odometer showed that we'd gone 600 miles so far. That is, at the most, just one-tenth of the total distance that we'll be going. Aside from Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson, and Memphis, the state is campestral countryside that looks as if it belongs in a painting instead of real life. Metropolitan areas are aberrations.
I drove all the way into Memphis, eventually making in to Neely's Barbecue, the original restaurant owned by the now-famous-for-being-on-Food-Network couple of Pat and Gina Neely. The building was bought from a place called "Ireland's" and some of the interior design is still somewhat reminiscent of a pub. The smell of cooking barbecue fills your nostrils as you walk in, intensifying as you adjourn into a dimly lighted area. A picture of the Neelys, with Guy Fieri making an inane face as usual, is one of the most eye-catching, mostly due to Fieri's ridiculous two-tone hair. Another picture has them with the cast of the Today Show.
The actual dining area looked as if it had been used quite a bit - gashes in the booths were covered with strips of duct tape, and there was what appeared to be barbecue sauce ... on the ceiling. Whether this was a product of a kid's saucy hands wilding catapulting dollops of delicious sauce up into the air, or the result of a particularly hungry person exploding, we didn't ask. All in all, it didn't look neglected as much as it looked like it has been really popular for a really long time. If the food was as good as the batch served to us, then I can see why. I ordered juicy, buttery ribs whose meat was literally falling off of the bone. I'm not sure how I kept it on the bone in order to eat it - I think I used the bone as a sort of makeshift utensil. My mom got the pulled pork, slathered with delicious, mouthwatering, ever-so-slightly-spicy barbecue sauce. My dad got the beef brisket, which was only slightly less tender than my ribs but still delightful. Our meals got shared, which is why I can relate what the other meals were like. (I was just surprised that they were willing to give up such delicious food for sampling benefit.)
I really cannot describe how good it was. It was easily the best barbecue and ribs I have ever had. It'll be hard to get excited about lesser versions of barbecue again ... though I remember that my mom has a Neely's cookbook. Of course, we heard they had dessert there, so we couldn't pass up the prospect of pecan pie.
Oh, man, that pecan pie. Going there just for the pie would be totally acceptable in my mind. The pie was just melt-in-your mouth delicious - a warm, delightful little slice of gelatinized heaven underneath a layer of pecan. My mom loved it so much that she took a picture of the decimated slice that we had so hungrily descended upon with our forks.
Tomorrow, we'll visit something that we didn't know was in Memphis at this time: something called the World Barbecue Championship, where competitors from all 50 states and 8 foreign countries come to pit their pits and pork against each other. While, for food safety reasons, visitors cannot eat the competitor's barbecue, you can sample previous winner's fare as well as do some "people's choice" voting. I guess we'll figure it out when we get there. After that, we'll at least get to Fort Smith, and possibly Oklahoma City.