On Monday morning we were amazed that we could fill the hire-car up with petrol for $25! We drove a little way out to Gruhn’s Vintage Guitars where we marvelled at the pricey instruments. Since I could not afford upwards of $2000 for a resonator guitar, I chose the kids a selection of picks, stickers, gadgets and T-shirts instead.
We decided that the best way to tour Nashville was by trolley bus. The guide told us a bit about some of the city’s famous musicians and landmarks. We slightly regretted that we had not done the tour shortly after arrival so we had a better idea of where everything was. I now wish we had decided to visit Music Hall of Fame but we simply ran out of time. The trolley bus dropped us off at the Marathon Motor Works which was meant to be a collection of artisan boutiques and a junk store but we thought it was just a little naff.
Back on the trolley tour, our guide pointed out Taylor Swift’s 2-storey condo and Reba McIntyre’s personal recording studio with private helipad. We passed studios that had recorded artists including Elvis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.
We spent a little time in the tattoo shop, admiring the artwork and being a little surprised that a young couple favoured matching beer mug tattoos as their Nashville trip souvenir, rather than inked cowboy boots or a guitar.
We joined Ellen at the HardRock Cafe for delicious cocktails before heading to Rippy’s Ribs for the worst, most artificial margarita ever in a plastic cup. The food was pretty good and we had a great view overlooking “Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge”, a purple building that has hosted many rising stars over the years.
We had a last wander around Nashville then returned the car to the airport unscathed. Kay had a dramatic accident on the escalator with 2 suitcases and a backpack - it was one of those dreadful slow motion moments where you can’t believe what you are seeing. She toppled over backwards on the moving stairs until someone at the bottom had the sense to hit the emergency stop button. She reassured a policeman that she was fine, despite receiving a scraped arm and a bashed finger. We really should have taken an elevator to the next floor but for some reason just did not think it was necessary. That was a lesson learned the hard way!
We jumped into a shuttle bus at Chicago airport and listened in on the conversation between two passengers behind us. One was a no-nonsense woman from Alabama who had reluctantly left her two corgis at home to attend a conference. She quickly made her strong Republican views very clear and then we found out that she was a judge who made the decisions on whether people should be eligible for social security benefits. She declared that almost all cases were wholly undeserving then she went on to give two examples of ex soldiers with PDST who were clearly shirkers who could easily work for a living. I was astounded that she was so indiscreet inside a public vehicle. I wondered what a scoop it could have been if I was an undercover journalist…
The Acme Hotel on Ohio Street turned out to be very hip and it was ideally located a block away from Michigan Avenue. We ate at Pizzeria Uno, where they claim to have invented the Chicago deep pie pizza in 1943. The old fashioned restaurant was packed and the food was delicious. We even took leftover pizza back with us in a box in case we fancied eating it for breakfast.
We did the sensible thing on Wednesday and took an open-top bus tour of the city. It was a good job that we had jackets as it was pretty breezy on the top deck. We almost had to duck as we passed under some very low bridges and girders. The Chicago architecture was amazing - there were all sorts of styles and ages of buildings. The tour took us down to Lake Michigan, past the sports stadia, many museums and Navy Pier. We only had time to RUN around the Art Institute which houses one of the largest French Impressionist collections in the world.
We all agreed that Chicago has a very cool vibe and wished that we had arranged to stay and explore for a couple of days longer. The Cloud Gate sculpture, otherwise known as The Bean was incredible. It is a huge polished-mirror edifice in which you can take strange photos of the skyline and the tourists. A large Dick Blick art shop was nearby so we felt obliged to see what arty items we could add to our suitcases.
We took a very circuitous route around several blocks before supper, ending up almost where had started. “Eataly” is an enormous, chic Italian deli with several cafes and fresh produce counters inside. If we had stayed one night more I would have headed to “The Goat Tavern” which is apparently famous for its cheeseburgers and the infamous curse that a previous patron had placed upon The Chicago Cubs baseball team.
On our final morning in Chicago we waited for the shops to open so we could browse quickly in a 7-storey Macy’s and other high-end stores. It seemed that the shop assistants had been recruited according to their high level of campness;) A nice chap with stubble, painted eyebrows and lipstick assisted me in the cosmetics department.
We arrived at the airport in good time but despite having checked-in online, we had to join a ridiculously long queue for the bag drop. Are Lingus made no announcements or explanations and we stood in that line for almost 3 hours. Their computerised booking system had failed which meant that all of the boarding passes would need to be hand-written. They seemed to be incredibly inefficient. When we were really bored we started timing how long it took to deal with each customer. It could take anywhere between 7 to 17 minutes to sort each one out. At the security gate we were told to return to the booking desk since we did not have the correct boarding passes but after giving some stern Paddington stares, we were allowed to proceed. The passengers were loaded on board where we continued to wait ages before take-off. To add insult to injury, the captain informed us that cabin crew would start serving drinks but only water and fruit juice was free of charge. There were loud mutters that British Airways would not treat its travellers so scornfully.
There was further chaos at Dublin as Aer Lingus attempted to rearrange flights for everybody who had missed their connections. The journey home by train went smoothly although it was a struggle to stay awake. It was nice to be home and tell the kids about my adventures but I must admit that I missed my afternoon cocktail, my travel buddies and not having to do any chores. I gave myself the weekend to unpack, sort photos and update the blog but next week I need to make new lists to get back to real life, pay bills and meet deadlines…