Letters to Liona: Hello from Nashville!

Liona is my 9-year-old niece. She lives in rural Wisconsin where I grew up, and like a lot of starry-eyed country kids, she's fascinated by cities and dreams about traveling and seeing the world. I wanted to find a way to share my journey with Liona and give her a little snapshot of what life is like in different places, so I've decided to write her a letter each month. Thought you might enjoy following along, too.

Dear Liona,

I'm a few days late on this month's letter...but I figured you wouldn't mind. So: hello from Nashville!

The city of Nashville is in Tennessee, in a part of the country known as the "Deep South." Here you can see lots of rolling green hills and beautiful horse farms, you can hear people play the guitar or fiddle and sing every day of the week, and you can eat shrimp & grits and banana pudding for breakfast. Not a bad life, right?

Many people in Nashville have a great Southern accent and this polite-but-friendly way of speaking, which I can't really capture very well in a letter. Men call me "ma'am" or "miss" all the time here, and everyone says "y'all"...which is basically a fancy southern way of saying "you guys" or "all of you." I like it!

I'm happy to be staying here with my good friends Amanda and Josh, and their two little boys, Phinn and Theo. They're awesome, and also full of energy...so this is a pretty typical scene at their house. :)

So, are you ready to go explore Nashville with me?? Let's go!

The first thing you're going to need is a good pair of cowboy boots. You've got to have boots to look like a real Nashvillian!

Here are just a few pairs to choose from...

Got your boots? Great! 

Okay. So, one of the most important things about Nashville is that it's famous for really good music — especially country music. The city's nickname is "Music City." Lots of singers and musicians come to Nashville to practice their skills, try to land a record deal, and (sometimes, if they are very talented and lucky!) to become a star.

This is Broadway Street, a street downtown that's packed with a long line of places where you can go to listen to music.

These places are called honky tonks — they're bars where bands play live country music on a stage, and people come to listen and line dance (or, just to hang out and enjoy the music). They're open all day long, so you can come anytime you want and find live music! Because there are so many of them, the area is sometimes called "Honky Tonk Highway."

This honky tonk had a pretty nice crowd of people at around 2:00 in the afternoon. 

If you're not in the mood for country music, you can find other kinds of live music in Nashville too. You might even see Elvis...

...or, this purple-haired musician dude.

These posters are from a letterpress print shop called Hatch Show Print. They've been printing posters to advertise music shows for over 130 years(!) — since 1879.

Now, there's one final musical destination we have to go to: The Bluebird Cafe. The Bluebird Cafe is a small club in Nashville that's become a well-known spot for young and unknown singer-songwriters to get "discovered" and then get record deals.

Many famous country singers got their start at The Bluebird, including people like Garth Brooks and Kathy Mattea. Taylor Swift was discovered here when she was 15, and it launched her career!

I was lucky enough to get tickets to go and see a show at The Bluebird. It's a small space, and so the audience is right up close to the performers. It felt like being at a concert in someone's living room, and that was very cool!

All this time in Nashville makes me want to learn how to play the guitar.

Along with music, there are loads of other fun things to do in this city. We can go bowling at an old-style bowling alley...

...get some fancy coffee and doughnuts at Barista Parlor (I especially love the painting on the back wall — can you see the image of a ship at sea?)...

...and pick out flowers from a flower shop on wheels. 

Nashville has an interesting history, too — it played a significant role in the Civil War. 

I visited this house in Franklin, just south of the city, where one of the most terrible battles of the war took place in 1864. Over 10,000 American soldiers were killed or wounded in the five-hour battle. 

The Lotz house, as it's called (after the Lotz family who lived there), has now been turned into a museum. It shows what life in the American South was like at that time, and has on display bullets, cannonballs and other items that were recovered from the battlefield.

(Six months after the Battle of Franklin, the war ended and slavery was abolished in the whole country.)

Outside of the city, there's a lot of land to explore. Tennessee has some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Look! I was driving home and saw these two deer, a doe and her fawn...they were so curious, just looking at me. I stopped the car and we gazed at each other for a few minutes before I eased back onto the road and drove away. Then the two slowly turned and walked back into the woods — I think they were proud that they'd won the staring contest.

In other important news: it's peach season! These are the best peaches I've ever eaten, fresh off the tree.

I recommend eating at least two peaches per day for optimum joy and deliciousness. 

If you're still hungry after the peaches, here's a classic Nashville dinner: "hot chicken" (fried chicken with a spicy coating — you can choose your level of spice, from mild to flaming hot — it's delicious!), collard greens, and black-eyed pea salad. Yum.

We should probably have some biscuits while we're here, too. I like mine with butter and honey, or (surprise!) peach jam. 

How about one last adventure? It's...drumroll, please...a chocolate factory! 

(Here's Phinn, showing just how hyper and excited I felt at the idea of visiting a real chocolate factory.) 

At this chocolate factory, Olive & Sinclair, they stone-grind the cacao beans in this big roller contraption before adding sugar. Then they pour the chocolate into molds to make chocolate bars.


They cool and wrap the bars, then box them up, ready to be sold (and eaten!).

Um, I think it's time for a CHOCOLATE PARTY!

That was fun! Thanks for traveling around Nashville with me. Goodbye for now...I'll see you next month!