Soon after the Chicago Marathon, we started our southward trek, stopping for a lovely 8 day break in Charlestown, Indiana, before returning to one of our favorite cities, Nashville.
Charlestown State Park
Charlestown is located in Indiana, about thirty minutes northeast of Louisville, Kentucky. When I originally booked the campground, our expectation was that we would use it as a home base for exploring Louisville. After our first visit had been a bit of a fail (due to bad weather and illness), we wanted to come back and try again. But, as you know, we were pretty burned out by mid-October and it turned out that Charlestown ticked all the boxes for remedying that problem. The park is beautiful, spacious, quiet, and green, and during the time we were there, it was sparsely populated making it an ideal place to catch up on our R&R. In fact, we only left the park twice the whole time we were there: Once to get provisions at the store, and once to get lunch in Louisville (I mean, we were tired, not stupid. Of course we would summon the energy to go downtown for supremely delicious, super spicy, hot chicken. Duh…)
The rest of the time we enjoyed having LOTS of space…. YAY!!!!
We went biking and took the dog out for long walks…. Wooooooo!!!
and Kevin broke out the smoker…. (Dixie says: “OH HELLS YEAH!!!”)
In the end, for the second time, we failed to explore Louisville, but, such is life. Turns out we actually learned some lessons from all that craziness this summer and we are working hard to not make the same mistakes.
Plus, as an added bonus of spending more time at the campground and less time running around, we got to meet some RVers parked nearby. Michelle and Rick used to full time, but now have a home base in Indiana. We spent many hours chatting with them about all kinds of RV related stuff, plus we learned all about flying private planes since Rick is a pilot. Super interesting stuff. I failed to take a picture, but just imagine 2 very nice people inviting us over for dinner, drinks, and multiple campfire chat sessions. Thanks guys!
Finally, we joined a ranger led tour of historic Rose Island which is part of the state park.
Rose Island was an amusement park back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Visitors, often looking for respite from the heat, humidity, and pollution of Louisville, would arrive by ferry from Louisville or a suspension bridge from Charlestown, and spend the day with family and friends on the island – which wasn’t actually an island, but rather a peninsula. There was also a hotel and cabins for people who wanted to spend more than a day.
There was an amusement park, a small zoo, a large swimming pool, a Ferris wheel, a dance hall, and other attractions for visitors. During its heyday, it attracted 135,000 people per year. Unfortunately, in 1937, the area suffered a devastating flood. At one point, the entire park was under ten feet of water. Given that the Great Depression had already significantly reduced attendance, the owners decided to abandon the massively damaged park.
Since then, it is said that the park has been “reclaimed by nature,” though, it was not quite what we expected. It turns out that during World War II, the U.S. Army used the area that would later become Charlestown State Park as a munitions base. As part of the war effort, they collected a lot of the scrap materials that were left at the old amusement park. Therefore, there isn’t much left to see. At this point, there are a handful of foundations, some rock walls, and the perimeter of the very large swimming pool (the pool has been permanently filled in).
Don’t get me wrong, it was still a worthwhile experience; it just wasn’t what we expected. When we heard “an amusement park reclaimed by nature,” we expected to see dilapidated buildings and old rides peeking out from thick layers of vegetation. The reality, while interesting, was much different than that. The ranger did a great job of explaining how things looked and what visiting the park was like nearly one hundred years ago. It’s certainly a worthwhile tour to take if you find yourself in the area.
When we last visited Nashville, we vowed to return and I booked our stay almost immediately. We absolutely loved our first visit to this city that celebrates a kind of music we didn’t even know we liked. It is a beautiful, interesting, walkable, lively, FUN town. Happily, we enjoyed this visit just as much as our last and, even better, this time we stayed at an awesome Army Corps of Engineers campground located just outside the city.
Not only was the campground lovely, our actual site was probably the best we’ve ever had. It was ENORMOUS, and completely surrounded by trees.
The Grand Ole Opry, Second Edition
For the second time, we spent an evening at the Grand Ole Opry and, for the second time, we saw Kelsea Ballerini and Easton Corbin perform.
Other performers this time included Trisha Yearwood, LANCO (a brand new group), Runaway June (another brand new group), and Chip Esten (who is on the tv show “Nashville.”
Then there were some surprise guest performers who weren’t listed on the original schedule. As the emcee started talking about “our next guest….” and it became clear that next guest was female, I was hoping it would be someone that I knew. And yes, I do know female country singers other than Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. There’s Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, and that’s all I know. But that’s like four which is pretty good, I think!!!!
Anyway, I was really hoping for Dolly, but then the announcer was like “Please welcome to the stage Ms. Brenda Lee!!”
And everyone started clapping and “oohing” and “ahhing”, and Kevin and I looked at each other like “Who the hell is Brenda Lee?”
Well, when we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame a couple days later we were enlightened.
Turns out we were in the presence of country royalty, but, as per the usual, we had no clue. Anyway, for someone who stands just 4’9″ tall, she has a HUGE personality and was absolutely hilarious. We thoroughly enjoyed watching her, even if we didn’t know who she was at the time.
Also, if the above picture of the Opry stage looks familiar and you’ve been reading this blog since the last time we were in Nashville, you might recognize that we were sitting in about the same seats for both shows. Both times I bought the tickets about 3 weeks before the show (which is typically before the full line-up is even announced) and both times the only available seats were way up in the back. My sense is tickets are scooped up by second hand ticket brokers, so if you want “better” seats, you have to pay 3 or 4 times as much to these scalpers. However, given how small the theater is, and given how great the acoustics are, we’d suggest paying the entirely reasonable price of $48.00 per ticket for the “cheap seats” and going with that. The experience is just as good.
The Country Music Hall of Fame
There are a bunch of different museums that tell the story of country music in Nashville. You can tour the new Opry building, the old Opry building (the Ryman Auditorium), the Johnny Cash Museum, or the Country Music Hall of Fame (among others.) We decided to go to the Hall of Fame because it seemed like it would provide the best overall overview of the history of Country music. While we can’t say it’s better than any of these other ones, we were very happy with our decision.
The museum is expansive and really well organized, guiding visitors through the history of the genre and tying up several loose ends from other places we’ve visited this year – particularly Memphis. It is endlessly fascinating, at least to us, to learn about the intersection of different types of music and different musicians.
(Click on the collage for individual pictures and captions…)
The museum also had this utterly ridiculous car, the property of honky tonk singer Webb Pierce…
While in Nashville we also spent some time downtown at the strip of bars and restaurants known for their live music. Not surprisingly, we’ve found that during the day, the crowds are older and the entertainment a bit more subdued. In the evenings and weekends, it turns into a total shitshow, but it’s fun.
When we were here last time, Robert’s Western World was recommended to us as one of the original Honky Tonks that still acted like one. ie – the food and booze are cheap and the music is excellent. We didn’t make it there last time, but we spent a good deal of time there during this visit, and we absolutely agree with the recommendation.
Some of the other places along the strip are tourist traps that, while fun, are not necessarily what you expect from the famous Nashville music scene. The whole point of honky tonks was cheap dive bars that offered great music. At the point a “dive bar” is charging $7.00 for a Bud Light, something is not quite right.
Same went for the music. While some bars, like Roberts, feature up and coming musicians playing original songs and paying homage to legendary artists, others feature rock and pop cover groups with varying degrees of talent. One of the most famous bars on the strip is Tootsies. Historically, it was known for hosting some of the biggest names in country, but when we were there, it felt like any college bar. On the top level, we came across a cover band with a lead singer who went all Coyote Ugly and got right up on top of the bar for her set (apparently “the stage” was too boring for such things.) We felt bad for the poor tourists sitting at the bar. They came in thinking they might see the next great country artist, and instead got stuck awkwardly staring at the shins of a woman wearing a half shirt with dollar bills sticking out of her jeans.
I am, clearly, getting too old for this shit.
Sooooooooo, back to Robert’s we went!
I mean, to be fair, we may have just gone to Tootsie’s on an off day. I would definitely be willing to give it another shot, but in the meantime, we learned from some locals that there are a ton of other live music venues a bit away from the downtown tourist district (particularly in the area known as “Music Row,” which is next to Vanderbuilt) that are considered a bit more authentic. When we return, we’ll prioritize visiting those.
Random Parking Tip
One great piece of information we received that we wanted to pass along involves parking downtown. Like most cities, parking in Nashville can be hard to come by and quite expensive. However, we learned you can park for free in a lot right near the Titans’ stadium, which is right over a pedestrian bridge from the downtown area. The lot – Known at “LOT R” – is right behind Cumberland Park, south of the stadium.
It took us about 10 minutes to walk from Lot R over the bridge, and from there, you can get to many of the biggest attractions, or jump in a cab.
Obviously this won’t work when the Titans are playing, and sometimes the lot is used for other events, but on a random weekday, you can often park for free and then meander over the bridge.
After 11 days in Nashville, we headed south through Alabama and are currently enjoying a lengthy visit to lovely Gulf Shores. Since it’s unlikely that I will publish anything again before Thanksgiving, (Seriously – did you realize it’s Thanksgiving already? What. The. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun times! Man, time flies…), we wanted to wish you all a happy and safe turkey day!!!
See you on the other side of the holiday!!
Where we stayed:
Charlestown State Park, Charlestown, Indiana
Seven Points Campground, Hermitage, Tennessee