Sunday, February 27, 2011

Nashville with some Locals

I'm lucky in that I have friends who live all over the world, and of course plenty of them live in amazing places here in the States--Orlando, Chicago, Boston and of course name just a few.

So back in 2009 when I found myself with a couple extra vacation days that wouldn't carry over, I asked around and my good friend Katherine and her boyfriend Ron said they would be happy to have me visit. At this point I hadn't been to Nashville in nearly 10 years, so I jumped at the chance for a second experience with Music City!

Now, I was only in Nashville for two nights...and it was December. It pretty much poured the entire time I was there, but we made the best of it! Upon my arrival Katherine and Ron surprised me--as a birthday present, they were taking me to Zanie's to see Rob Schneider! We arrived a little late and didn't have the greatest seats, but Zanie's is a pretty intimate little club so that wasn't a big deal. Rob Schneider was a lot more amusing in person than I would have assumed and after the show we even got to meet and take pictures with him, which was really neat.

Waterfront decorated for Christmas
After the show we went down to the Broadway area for drinks. Hard Rock Cafe had just re-opened after a major overhaul, so we checked that out and stopped at Hooters as well before calling it a [somewhat] early night.

As I already mentioned, unfortunately the weather was terrible and because of that the next day was a fairly lazy one. We eventually dragged ourselves downtown, though, to check out the Country Music Hall of Fame and do some souvenir shopping on Broadway.

Country Music Hall of Fame
The Country Music Hall of Fame was actually a lot more interesting than I had expected, and in fact because we didn't arrive until about two hours before it closed we ended up having to rush through or outright skip a few of the exhibits. I will say that if you're one of those people who is anti-country-music, this probably isn't your kind of place...but I'm glad that I checked it out and I definitely suggest it to those who want to really see Nashville's country music side ;o)

After the Country Music Hall of Fame we tried to hit up Broadway for some shopping, food and drinks, but again the rain was just not helping things. Needless to say, I may not return to Nashville in December of all months, but what can you do? After braving the torrential downpours for a little while we made our way to the Opry Mills Mall. Unfortunately the mall was hit pretty hard by Nashville's floods last year and has yet to re-open...sad, because I really wanted to check it out again/spend some more time there on our upcoming Nashville trip! I guess I'll just have to stick to the dozens of other Nashville sites that I've yet to see...because even after two trips there I still don't feel as if I've really gotten a taste for this town :o)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Brown Street Club

A couple of weeks ago we spent an evening at The Brown Street Club in downtown Greenville. This restaurant is conveniently located on Brown Street ;o) and we've wanted to check it out for months and months. They offer live music (usually jazz or jazz composite) most nights of the week...with no cover charge. Of course there is a two drink minimum and the drinks aren't exactly inexpensive...but I can now officially say that checking out Brown Street is more than worth it.

However. Although our meal wasn't awful and the wine list selection was large and varied, I can't say that I was significantly impressed with the menu as a whole and I'll start with the wine: $34 for a bottle of Chateau St. Michele Riesling is highway robbery. Of course I expect to pay far more for a bottle of wine at a restaurant than when I'm buying it at a grocery store, but having eaten at some very high-end restaurants (both in Greenville and elsewhere) I can still say that this is the first time I saw this particular type of wine for more than $28. a $6 difference doesn't sound like a lot but personally I believe that it is, especially if one would usually already be paying over twice the grocery store price for that bottle of wine.

As for the food, my main issue is that the selection and the dishes simply weren't inspired. With this restaurant being close to the price range of American Grocery, Devereaux's, and Northampton Wines, if you're looking for a menu with a wide range and some truly delicious food I'd say eat at one of those three restaurants and leave The Brown Street Club for entertainment purposes.

I wasn't in the mood for steak or chicken, so in the end I decided on a pasta dish. Unfortunately, said pasta dish is served with olives and I'm not a huge olives fan; when I ordered the pasta sans olives the waiter convinced me that if I didn't care for olives I may not care for this dish. I took his advice and instead settled on two appetizers--the Shrimp Bruschetta and the Pimiento Cheese Plate. Steve ordered a trout dish. The trout was pretty tasty and I was pleased with the Pimiento Cheese Plate but the Shrimp Bruschetta were barely passable. I am a big bruschetta fan and I expect the toppings to be fresh; however, the dish I was served at Brown Street was slathered in a thick sauce that was extremely garlicky. And coming from a huge garlic lover, for me to say that there was too much garlic in something is not really a good thing. I just felt as if they were trying to hide the flavor of the shrimp or something along those lines, because again, bruschetta is expected to have a more fresh taste about it, no?

As a whole, I can say that we will absolutely return to the Brown Street Club to check out the cocktail menu and the music...possibly even on a regular basis. But when it comes to food, I do feel that there are better menu selections and better tastes to be had (and at lower prices) in our fine city.
The Brown Street Club on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adding a state to my map!

After visiting Michigan for a wedding this weekend, I have only two things to say: Never again (at least not in February) and I'm glad I had a really good reason to go there, because otherwise I doubt I ever would have done so ;o) More info to come!

(And hey, at least I'm now at 34/50 states! That's 68% of the country right there, folks.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Travel Bucket List: Less Pressing Locales

Recently I decided to post a few different lists of the places I really want to visit during my lifetime. The lists will be as follows:

  1. Main Must-Sees
  2. Less Pressing Locals
  3. Specific Sights
  4. Revisits!
In this entry I'm going to list my "Less Pressing Locales". Basically, these are places I'd absolutely love to visit, but they aren't quite as high on the list as my Main Must-Sees . Because let's face facts, sometimes you just have to prioritize. It's unfortunately very likely that I won't get to see every place in the world that I want to see...but y'all know I'm going to try!

Therefore, without further ado (and these are really in no specific order):
  • Japan - Namely Tokyo and Tokyo Disneyland.
  • China - The Great Wall of China? The Terra Cotta Warriors? Real Chinese food? Yes please! And of course we can't forget Hong Kong and yes, Hong Kong Disneyland.
  • New Zealand - I honestly had no desire until I saw Lord of the Rings. Whatever.
  • Kenya - Safari, please.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo - Yes, this is because of a book. Congo by Michael Crichton. Deal with it.
  • Morocco - One word: Casablanca.
  • Chile - I really want to go skiing here, especially because their ski season/winter is our summer :o)
  • Turks & Caicos - I read an article about these islands in...I want to say late 2002. I've wanted to go ever since.
  • Croatia - The more I see about this country, the more I want to go! Maybe a cruise or a Contiki trip, we'll see.
  • Norway - Mainly for the Fjords, but this is a place I could tack on easily if I do get to Sweden, which is on my Main Must-Sees list.
  • Russia - Russian history intrigues me. And I did a report on the Trans-Siberian railroad in middle school. So.
  • Greece - This should probably be on my Must-Sees list, but I had to drop off a few places.
  • Turkey - Like Croatia, the more I hear about Turkey the more I want to visit!
  • India - I think this one should be self-explanatory, and it's up there with Greece on places that should be a Must-See but was unfortunately dropped off because that list was already far too long.
  • The United Arab Emirates - Pretty much because of Dubai.
  • And just so I don't jinx anything, I'm going to say Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary. Because I want to visit all three and have plans to do so this summer :o)
Phew, that list is even longer than my Must-Sees! Ah well, that's what you get for having the travel bug, I guess!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hotel Review: McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge

Although our room at the McKinley Princess was clean and we had a great experience at one of the restaurants (Twenty Three Twenty), let me caution anyone who is staying here as part of a Princess cruise tour in hopes of seeing McKinley that that very likely will not happen. I wish I had been informed of the fact that only about 30% of the people who stay at this lodge get to see the mountain when I was booking my trip, because in that case I would not have wasted a night here. There is nothing to do at this lodge other than eat, drink, go to the gift shop, and walk the surrounding nature trails. As it was about 40 degrees and raining the entire time we were there, we did not even get to do the latter.

That said, I was also severely disappointed in the fitness facility, which included a very small room equipped with one treadmill and two stationary bikes, one of which was broken.

I would caution anyone booking a Princess Cruise Tour to think very hard about whether they want to stay at this particular lodge and/or how long they want to stay here. As a general note, this lodge is also not aging well and for what you pay for a Princess Cruise Tour I feel their facilities should be far superior to this.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Greenville Drive Hot Stove Event

On Wednesday February 2, the Greenville Drive held a free event for fans in the Peace Center's Huguenot Mill Loft. They dubbed it the "Hot Stove Event" and used it to introduce "The Year of the Fan". There was a table with Drive merchandise--including a peek at what's new in the Drive Team Store this year--and plenty of free food and drinks. Reedy Rip'it and other Drive streetmosphere characters were available for photo opportunities and two Red Sox players were there to sign autographs.

Unfortunately, being a working woman meant that I wasn't able to arrive until about 6:20 when the event actually started at 5:30; therefore, I missed the autograph signing as by this time they were running the discussion panel. However, there was still some great free food and drinks to be had as the Drive showcased some new options fans will have to choose from at Fluor Field. The usual hot dogs were available, but other choices included turkey legs, pulled pork, mozzarella sticks and a dessert bar with some great ice cream toppings and cotton candy. As for the drinks--of course there was soda and water, but they were offering up free beer and wine as well! Can't argue with that :)

The discussion panel consisted of Mike Hazen, the Director of Player Development for the Boston Red Sox; Ben Crockett, Boston's Assistant Director of Player Development; Greenville Drive Manager Billy McMillon; Josh Reddick, former Drive player and current Red Sox Outfielder; and Madison Younginer, former Mauldin High School student and current Red Sox Pitcher. After explaining some changes to Fluor--namely bigger and better TV's in the suites, as well as LCD screens replacing the menu boards at the concessions stands, the aforementioned different food options, etc. Billy McMillon also spoke at length regarding his hopes for the Drive's 2011 season.

Although I wasn't in attendance for the entire evening, they closed with a question and answer session and fans were encouraged to ask anything of the panelists. All in all, this event spoke volumes regarding the Drive's renewed goal to put the fans first and give them an amazing sixth season at Fluor Field. I know that I for one can't wait for April 7th!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Off-Season in Charleston

Charleston's Waterfront Park
Technically, my second trip to Charleston was the same time of year as my first trip--during the Christmas season. However, on this particular weekend we didn't do any Christmas-themed activities and therefore made our trip a regular old off-season one. Although it was a weekend, we got a slightly decent deal on a room at the Renaissance Marriott in the historic district--because it was off season.

The unfortunate thing about this particular weekend was the weather. Two years prior when I visited Charleston in December, we were blessed with sunny, 60+ degree days--not so on this trip. It rained basically the entire weekend, and it was chilly. Of course, that's what we get for visiting during a time of year when the weather is questionable, I suppose.

Because this was Steve's first trip to Charleston--and because we didn't arrive until late Friday night and had to return home Sunday afternoon--we basically just spent Saturday exploring the city on foot. We saw all the major sites--The Old Slave Mart, Rainbow Row, the Battery and of course the Market. It being the Christmas season, I do have to admit that we spent quite a bit of time shopping for gifts for family members and only gave up doing so when it was time for our late lunch at Magnolia's.
Rainbow Row

Although some would probably scoff at the fact that we ate at one of the city's more "touristy" restaurants, this meal wasn't overpriced and was worth every penny. Every bite of food we ingested was outstanding, and they make a mean Mint Julep--their secret is to make them with Wild Turkey American Honey rather than straight bourbon ;o) The service was also exceptional, and that's saying something, because even though we ate outside of what are considered regular "lunch hours", and even though it was in fact "off season", it was a Saturday and the restaurant was quite busy.

The Battery
That evening we had planned on celebrating my birthday with a Lesesne Tour Company Pub Tour, which was also a great experience. When the tour was over, our guide Becca (a Lesesne herself) gave us some nearby bar suggestions and we ended up dropping by a few different places--namely The Brick, a somewhat rowdy pub-style bar with live music, and Squeeze, a slightly quieter martini bar. We rounded out the evening with a stop at Wild Wing Cafe for a late-night snack before heading back to the hotel--and to bed.

At Magnolia's for lunch
Before checking out of the hotel, we received a tip on a great little coffee shop from one of the front desk agents and grabbed our Sunday breakfast there. City Lights Coffee is located on Market, less than a block from King, and their croissants and lattes were absolutely delicious. Far better than ye olde Starbucks ;o)

We had one last stop on our itinerary before heading back home on Sunday, that being the Hunley Confederate Submarine housed in North Charleston. Many tout this as one of Charleston's major must-sees, and of course I can understand why--she was the first combat submarine to sink an enemy warship--but I think that her current situation leaves a lot to be desired, and unless you know for a fact that you won't be returning to Charleston within a couple years from now, I suggest leaving a Hunley stop for a future visit.

Just a beautiful Charleston street
Basically, the submarine is currently located in a pretty bad area of Charleston and they are still working on it--photographs aren't allowed and the information given at this time is sparse and conjectural. The tour itself runs $12 for an adult ticket, and while I was happy to know that my money was going to further the restoration of the Hunley I think the ticket price is a bit high for what you get. The sub is supposed to be moved to a permanent location in a new Charleston museum, I'm guessing sometime in 2012 or 2013, and again, if you are planning a trip to Charleston after that time I just suggest waiting until then to see the Hunley. However, I also can't press enough that they always need donations and you can give by going to the Friends of the Hunley website.

For such a short visit, especially one that was punctuated with weather, we used our time wisely by seeing the biggest and best sites and catching some great shopping. If you only have time to spend a couple days in a city, I always suggest skimming some guides before you go and just taking your day or two there to explore the city. Doing this allows you to at least check out some must-sees and determine whether or not you will return to a place in the future.
Apparently I can't fit through the Hunley manhole. Or at least not through the reproduction's manhole.