The Hirschhaut Travelogues: An All-American Vacation

Posted on: August 24, 2012

Hello and welcome back, my reader (or readers?  On a good day…).  Maybe no one is reading this, but that is all right.  Runners run for the runner’s high, artists paint when they’re inspired to, and I write when the spirit moves me, to quote William Faulkner, whether there’s a reader on the other end or not.

Today I’m experimenting with travel writing, and trying not to sound like a fourth grade essay prompt, “What I Did Over My Summer Vacation.”  We are back from an amazing 10-day-long trip to the South (Tennessee and Little Rock) and Los Angeles, and I’m just trying to process the memory of all the new sights we experienced, before we fall back into everyday life.

The most transformative experiences come from stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and that’s exactly what we did.  We visited five cities that were new to me, and I purposely didn’t research anything or read travel reviews before arriving because I wanted to come free of preconceived notions.  Every day of traveling was like a new world in itself.

So I present, another condensed list of highlights: Ten Things To Do and See In Tennessee.  (In no particular order.)

(And a disclaimer: I do not own these photos.)

  • Take a hydrofoil cruise down the Chattanooga River Gorge.  You will never regret a bit of eco-tourism.  And when you have the choice to see Lookout Mountain (the mountain that borders TN and GA) from your air-conditioned seats or to watch from atop the boat, with binoculars for bird-watching, choose the adventurous path.  I’m glad we did.

  Chattanooga Aquarium, which runs the river cruises.

  • Hike the Smoky Mountains in central Tennessee, en route to Nashville.  There’s no reception in the mountains, and it will feel so refreshing to disconnect for an hour or two.  Beware of black bears on a bear alert day.  When you decide to go hiking, choose a trail that safely pushes you out of your comfort zone.  We chose the ½-mile-uphill trail to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, and were treated to the view of miles and miles of woods before another torrential Southern downpour rolled in.  I am grateful to the people who cheered us on while we were climbing – “You’re almost there!” – and proud that we paid it forward.  There’s another philosophy for life: Always try to make another person’s journey a little easier.

  • If you like country music, love it, or even just listen occasionally, then visit the Country Music Hall of Fame in the heart of Nashville.  I’ve grown to like country music in the last year because the lyrics are so universal, so what better place to experience it than in the city where country music was born?  The museum takes you chronologically through the recent history of country music, from the sixties to the young stars of today, from Patsy Cline’s wardrobe to Taylor Swift’s, and reminds the country fans of today that their genre of music has a rich history, and is a key part of America’s history too.
  • Speaking of country music, go attend a concert at the Grand Ole Opry.  It will be the most fun concert you ever attend: intimate and informal, big enough to attract top performers but also a place to showcase gems like Little Jimmy Dickens, a feisty 92-year-old singer.  Also, watch for concert greeters who need to fill the front row for the show taping, and offer you front-row seats!  Yes, this happened, and I sat five feet away from my current favorite country ensemble, The Band Perry!

  • When in Memphis, put on your blue suede shoes and go to Graceland.  You will want to sing, dance, and you will leave inspired by the fact that Elvis Presley was not only the most iconic rock star of his generation, but a humanitarian and a regular man whose daughter grew up playing on the same swing-set that I once had in my backyard.  (True story.)  We were there the week before the 35th anniversary of his death, which added to the experience.  And another little-known fact: Elvis AARON Presley was part Jewish!  In related news, the Jewish-American coolness rating just gained a few more points.


  • Also in Memphis: If you need something to restore your faith in how far our country has come, visit the US Civil Rights Museum.  The museum is hauntingly built around the actual motel balcony where MLK Jr. was assassinated.  It will show you the darkness of history, but ultimately inspire you to take the continued work of the civil rights movement into your own hands.

  • Cheat on your diet with Southern cooking.  It’s inevitably going to happen sometime, so would you rather indulge on ordinary fries at your local fast food chain, or on the warm biscuits and grits at a famous little restaurant where they treat you like family?  (Love the Southern hospitality.)  This time we stopped at the Loveless Café just outside of Nashville, famous for their biscuits.  We were not disappointed.
  • Pick up some new knowledge along the way.  Did you know that Tennessee is called the Volunteer State because it was part of neither the North nor the South during the Civil War, and people volunteered to fight with the North?  Neither did I, until this trip.
  • Accept and appreciate that that cowboy boots and Stetsons will never go out of style in Nashville.  (See, Stetsons ARE cool.  Someone will get the reference.)

I think we visited this exact store.

  • Here’s another fact — Nashville has its own Parthenon, in the middle of the city, complete with a 42-foot-tall statue of Athena.  You have to see it to believe it.

  • And last but not least, if you’re ever in Little Rock, visit the Clinton Presidential Library.  I guarantee it will inspire you to see the continuing humanitarian work of a president in all of our lifetimes.  Another fact – The Clintons actually live on the top floor of the library when they are in Arkansas!

The greatest lesson of this vacation is that an insightful and memorable trip can happen ANYWHERE in the world – it doesn’t always require leaving the country, and there is just so much to be explored even within our own country.  There is so much variety within America alone, and I was reminded of that.

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!”

And how do we top a trip like this?  We ended on the happiest possible note, with the arrival of our new baby cousin Ellie Violet while we stopped for some family time in LA!  I still marvel at the fact that there is a new person in the world this week.  And she is named Violet for our beloved Grandma Ibi (Violet), who died at this time of year four years ago.  Now the circle of life is complete.


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