The Parthenon (Nashville, TN)

When I was in high school, I took Latin as a language instead of Spanish and French. During that class, I remember making a replica of the Parthenon out of dowel rods and wood. Of course my dad helped me, and our combined perfectionism and hours of sawing and gluing got me an A+. Ever since, I wanted to visit the monument. I later discovered there was a replica in the US after attending an athletic competition in the complex across the street. We could never visit it though because it would be closed by the time we finished.

I knew when I was in town during the road trip that I would have a chance before heading out of Nashville. So, I got there just as it was opening. That would later turn out to be smart, because as I was leaving, there were over two buses worth of people waiting to go inside.

As I arrived, there were morning workouts going on around the building. On the front steps was a personal trainer motivating a woman to continue with exercises on the stairs. On the side were some people having a yoga class. I decided to start with the outside of the building because it is a pretty massive structure. The columns are large, but the intricacy of the sculptures at the top are very impressive. The doors are massive and protected by their own iron fence.

 

 

You actually start the tour underneath the structure. When you walk in, there is a front desk where you buy tickets, and a small gift shop. You walk up a ramp where there are pictures of the history of the building’s construction. It puts into perspective the scale it took to replicate it. Then, surprisingly, you enter a room with paintings. I didn’t really look at the significance of the relationship to why the paintings were chosen to be displayed here, but they were beautiful. It was a nice surprise.

As you continued through, there comes a point where you go upstairs onto the same level as where you first started outside. And then you see it, because is it the main feature of the site: a giant gold statue of Athena. She is enormous and a spectacle. If you have Snapchat, I will admit I did a face swap with the face on the shield, and it was priceless. The shield she holds is painted on both sides.

 

After you continue through her room, you find a smaller room where the sculptures from the top of the building outside are featured. It explains how they created them, and it was pretty cool so see up close to understand their size.

And that’s the whole building. Hopefully I didn’t miss anything because I was on a time constraint, but I think the art and Athena were worth the $6 ticket. I highly recommend visiting, and it can take as little as an hour and up to 3 hours to really take it all in. If I had more time, I would have liked to bring a lunch and enjoy it outside on the grass next to the monument.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville, TN was the last stop on my cross-country road trip in August 2016. I know there is a ton of fun stuff to do in Nashville, but this was one of my primary destinations. I parked in an underground garage across the street. It was pretty close, but I’m sure you could find less expensive parking nearby.

As I walked in the entrance, I really had no idea where to begin. It’s sort of a giant lobby area, and there are two stores off of it with a walkway between them that leads to other areas of the building (which I’ll get to at the end). Luckily there was an information desk who was able to point me in the right direction.

To buy tickets on site, you head to the back corner of the room. The line was short, however, I was not prepared to purchase a ticket (I probably should have done more research). When I stepped up to buy my ticket, I just said, “One please.” She printed the ticket, I paid, and walked away. However, I had no idea where I was supposed to go at that point. There was a small line to an elevator, and I eventually figured out that was where I was supposed to be. Before we all get inside this large elevator, and I realize everybody around me has headphones on. When you buy a ticket, get the one with the self-guided audio tour, and you get something similar to what I experienced at Graceland.

As the elevator is almost full, a lady pops her head in and says, “You want to go to the third floor to begin the tour. It starts at the Taylor Swift Educational Center.” We all kind of laugh under our breath because this is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Taylor Swift is still pretty young. We’re all expecting things from the 1940s and Elvis era.

Then as the door opens, you can’t miss it. The Taylor Swift Educational center is full of people. So I try to see what the big deal is. There are a few workers inside directing people and answering questions. While I’m waiting in line, the young girl in front of me turns in a paper and says, “I finished the scavenger hunt.” The woman working there replies, “Which prize would you like?” and opens a giant cabinet filled with memorabilia. The girl grabs something and wanders off, and I’m next in line.

So I ask the woman, “Why the Taylor Swift Educational Center?” She explains that Taylor donated a ton of money to the Hall of Fame to create an interactive place with classrooms for field trips or tours to gather and learn more about country music. It’s pretty incredible that such a young musical artist appreciates the genre that much to try to grow awareness about its history and gain new appreciation from kids who may not yet understand it.

As I’m going through the room, there’s a display case with dresses she has worn on tour and one of the guitars she played on stage. There’s a lot of stations set up for kids to do crafts and drawings. And then I find it, the scavenger hunt. I grab one from among the display of informational sheets. On both the front and back is a list of different things to find throughout the entire tour of the building. I’m glad I took one because this is what helped me look at and read every single display in the building. Some of them were actually tough to find. And yes, there is an accountability factor to some of it that proves you actually saw these things.

As you navigate through the displays you see everything you could imagine and want from a historical standpoint. There are typewriters that were used to write lyrics, sheets of lyrics, guitars played by certain famous artists, boots and outfits worn that were iconic, things seen in music videos, even a tour bus. There was quite the variety. As you go through the tour, it literally takes you from the beginnings of country music all the way to current artists. I wouldn’t say it’s dominated by Taylor Swift, but it starts with her Center and ends with her tour bus. If you put forward the amount of money she did to the Hall of Fame, you would deserve that too. The cool thing about the tour bus is it teaches you the process of making an album and the different jobs that go into it. You can also step inside a recording studio and actually record yourself singing. When I went, there was a girl inside one who was pretty good, and a bachelorette party shout-singing in another.

At the end of the three floor tour, I went to turn in my scavenger hunt, but the room was closed. On the door was a sign that said I could turn in the scavenger hunt to the information desk in the lobby. I felt a little odd as an adult turning this in, but the prize options were pretty awesome. In line with the entire experience, I opted for the Taylor Swift book that outlined her Red album and tour. There were DVDs featuring people I had never heard of, lanyards, and other random trinkets, but I ended up giving the book to a friend for her birthday because she is a huge T. Swift fan.

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So, like I said in the beginning, I was in the giant lobby again. I did enjoy the stores. I bought a shirt to commemorate my visit. When I did, they gave me a coupon for the Hatch Print Shop and directed me down the walkway. If they hadn’t told me about it, I would not have found it or known to go look at it. I recommend taking a look. It’s one of the few places that still uses a working letterpress to create designs and art for posters, shirts, and more. I liked it so much, I now follow them on Instagram. I did buy a poster from the $5 pile that was for a 4th of July event a few years ago. They have a whole wall of cute sayings printed in various fonts and designs that are super cheap and chic. Think Newsies the movie, when they decide to print their own newspaper, but with color and cooler concepts.

By the time I finished going through the Hall of Fame, two stores, and Hatch Show Print, the building was closing. Hopefully that explains that you’ll definitely get your monies worth in time, but also in entertainment. In summary: get the audio tour, do the scavenger hunt, and explore the stores in the building.

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Memphis, TN and Graceland

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Memphis, TN was another stop on my cross-country road trip in August 2016. The primary reason for the stop: Graceland. I was never a diehard Elvis fan. My college roommate loved the King so much, she named her first dog after him. It wasn’t until after the trip to his home that he gained a new, committed fan from me.

When I arrived in Memphis, I actually had a hotel on this part of the trip. Only one of two on my 17 day journey. I asked the front desk where I could get good, real Memphis barbecue. He and the guy standing next to me both said The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison. It was less than 5 minutes from my hotel, and it was exactly what I was looking for. I got a sweet tea, half rack of ribs, coleslaw, collard greens, and toast. The only way it could have gotten more southern was with some homemade mac’n’cheese, but I could not have eaten that much. I didn’t even finish the plate I had.

 


The next morning I was ready to head to the home of The King. You do have to pay for parking, but it is a secured lot. The surrounding area seems like it hasn’t been updated in a while, which was odd considering how many people visit the attraction. It’s a completely different landscape than what you see and feel on Elvis’ property.

You walk through the parking lot and head to the main building where you buy tickets. There are a few options, but if you’re going to be there, go for it. That’s if you have enough time. My ticket included access to the airplanes, cars, and property. It was worth it in my opinion, especially if you plan to have enough time. I spent between 4-5 hours there that day just looking at everything and then had to get back to my road trip right after.

So, start with the property. You have to wait in line for the shuttle because his house is actually across the street. You get an iPad guided tour, featuring John Stamos as the narrator (think Full House). When you get to the house, they talk to you about the grounds and rules, and then in you go. It immediately starts once you enter the front door. There is a living room to the right and it has one of his pianos in the background. You really only have to listen to the iPad, but if you look at it, there are things you can press on to get more information about items in the room.

You continue through the entire house like this. The only restricted area is the upstairs. Nobody is allowed up there, and on occasion, Lisa Marie Presley will come stay in the house up there. You see rooms where he recorded music, areas built filled with film memorabilia, an entire hallway lined with hit record achievements, a racquetball court that was converted to display numerous performance costumes and awards, and room covered entirely of folded fabric. However the most surreal moment comes at the end of the grounds tour. You actually stand in front of his grave. His family is buried together, but to know that he is right there in front of you is pretty crazy. Fans from all over the world bring posters and flowers to place there. I personally had no idea that was part of the tour, so I was a little shocked. The impact he has had one the world as a musician, actor, and person hits you.

From there, you hop back on the shuttle and can wander a few gift shops. The next closest attraction are his cars. You’ll see a gift shop, but you enter the doors on the left. The amount of vehicles is impressive since there are others at different museums as well. If he drove it in a movie, it’s there. If he owned it for personal use around Graceland, it was there. Again, it’s kind of surreal looking at these items and thinking at one point Elvis was sitting inside of it with his family. It’s like you could feel his spirit in the room.

You’ll wander through more shops on your way to the airplanes. The smaller of the two was what you would expect of a private jet (pictured below). It has enough room for 9 passengers, and was probably used for quick trips. The larger of the two is named the Lisa Marie. Inside you’ll find a gold sink in the bathroom, a dining room, a meeting area complete with two phones and a stereo system for music, a bedroom, and a vanity. When you reach the bedroom, it’s nothing impressive, but you again realize that Elvis himself slept 1 foot in front of where you’re standing.


The thing that stuck with me the most was actually Elvis’ motto: Taking Care of Business with a lightening symbol (TCB). You see the moniker in his house, on his airplanes, and even on his grave. That’s how much it meant to him. That is what helped him manage the celebrity and business side of his life. He worked very hard for what he had, which is very respectable.

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I would definitely recommend visiting Graceland. Is it a bucket list item? Maybe not, but it was very inspiring. While it could seem lavish to some, it also puts into perspective the expectations he may have been feeling throughout his career and life, while honoring his work.

Jekyll Island and Brunswick, GA

Each year, due to my job, I know I have a two week period off in August. In the beginning of 2016 I made plans to do a solo, cross-country road trip. The plan was to stay with friends along the way to help make it more financially feasible. I started by leaving Charlotte, NC, where I was living at the time. Then I went home to see family in Mt. Pleasant, SC. The next stop was originally in Jacksonville, FL, but the person I was going to stay with moved. So I looked to the internet to find a solution.

Only from having seen pictures, I knew there were a few beaches on the southeast coast of the US that had trees growing out of the sand. After a Google search, I discovered Jekyll Island, GA. That was the starting point of my research.

The other thing that drew me to the area was the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Brunswick, GA. I thought I was going to sign up for a night walk on the beach where you help usher newly hatched sea turtles to the their life in the Atlantic. Due to poor planning on my part, that didn’t happen. So if you plan ahead enough, I still highly recommend you contact them and set one up.

Looking back at the process of setting things up, I also believe I was lucky to have acquired the best AirBnb I have stayed in so far (and it happened to be my first ever). If you are in this area of Georgia, search the site for “Sunset Cottage aka, Little House.” You get the entire place, and to me the price is lower than it should be for what you get. It is literally a whole house, but what’s special are the decorations. Gloria put great thought into how unique and eclectic the place feels. That’s why out of over 200 ratings, she has 5 stars.

The only reason I could see people being weary of it is the outside location. The entire place surrounded by a high fence, and you don’t realize you’re blocks from a shipyard type area. There is a sketchy looking gas station across the street, but don’t let that deter you. Remember, I was a single, young female on this trip, and I felt and was safe the entire time.

I checked in quickly without having to meet the host, unloaded my car, and then it immediately started pouring. By the time I had taken in the entire cottage indoor experience, the rain stopped, and the sun actually made a reappearance. I hopped back in my car and headed to Jekyll Island. Even the drive there was picture worthy, and only took about 10-15 minutes.

Know before you go, it actually costs money to get onto the island. It was only $5, which is completely worth it. Once you drive through the marsh land, you come to a resort-like shopping center. There is a nice hotel, which I’m glad I stopped in to ask for directions to the “beach with the trees on it.” Without the help from concierge, I would have probably never found it myself.

So for those of you who decide you want to go on this adventure, once you hit the fancy shopping center, turn left. Continue down the road for a while. You’ll see the beach on the passenger side, and it is beautiful. Once you start to hit an area filled with homes and trees, keep going until you see little dirt areas on the side of the road where you can pull off and park. Once you’ve done that, you have to walk through short paths of trees to reach the beach. Where I was, once you actually got to the beach, there were a bunch of rocks. Keep walking left down the beach. Trust me, it’s all worth the search.

Then you see them. Giant trees sticking up out of the sand. Some fallen over, some just roots, and some completely upright reaching toward the sky. I don’t know if it was because of the recent rainfall or if it was due to tides, but there were pools of water around each of the bases of the trees. These were filled with fish and crabs and insects that clearly thrive on these structures.

There were a bunch of people on the beach with me, but I can imagine on a sunnier or busier weekend it may be packed. Luckily, I was able to capture some images uninterrupted by people (see below). When you look at them, wonder. Think about how these trees are still here. Think about how few people have seen them. Think about the fact that you’re on a beach with giant trees sticking up out of the sand.

I left the beach feeling closer to nature. I know that sounds kind of hippyish, but it’s true. Most days I go through the same routine of home, work, errands, and home. This place was a great reminder that moments exist where you should stop, look, and take it all in. You don’t need music. You don’t need to talk. You can just stand there and be a part of it.

On the way back to my AirBnb, immediately after you drive through the exit of Jekyll Island, there is an observation tower on the right. Again, somehow I had perfect timing, and I managed to be there during sunset. There’s a beautiful view of the marshes and the Sydney Lanier Bridge (runs over the Brunswick River).

I continued back to my AirBnb and ate leftover Pad Thai from Basil (got it in Mt. Pleasant before I headed to Georgia). I wish I could give you restaurant recommendations, but I didn’t eat in the area. It looked like there were a few good ones in the shopping center on Jekyll Island. And I’m sure you could ask Gloria for a few when you book the reservation for the stay.

The next morning I woke up, packed up, and headed out. I did get Starbucks before heading to the next destination. So at least you know there is a Starbucks (if you’re in need).

My overall experience was this was a location I would have never thought to come to. Who says, “I can’t wait to go to Brunswick, GA!” Not many. It’s usually Hilton Head or a major city in Florida. Put this on your list of places to see. It could easily become one of your favorite weekend getaways if you live in the southeast.

Waterfront Park, Easy Bay Street, and The Battery

 

I grew up in Mt. Pleasant, SC, which is a suburb of Charleston. When you say Mt. Pleasant, most people don’t know where that is unless you’re from the Carolinas. But when you say Charleston, people recognize it because the city has received numerous acclaims such as Best City in the World by Travel and Leisure.

While I know a lot of people in the area, I still loved going by myself downtown and seeing the more renowned areas. No matter what city you’re in, the key to acting like a tourist but not looking like one is confidence. Seem like you know where you are and what you’re doing. It also helps to dress the part.

And while you may be thinking, but you’re from there so you’re not a tourist, keep in mind I’m Asian. So a lot of the times on these journeys, I fall into the stereotype of automatically looking like a tourist, even when I could be doing something as simple as taking a photograph.

Anyway, on this particular day, I parked in a garage off of East Bay Street and started at Waterfront Park. If you decide to go, and it’s a hot day in any month besides December through February, consider bringing a swim suit or change of clothes. The first thing you’ll see is a fountain with kids running through it. Don’t be afraid to act like a kid. Just make sure your electronics are safe, which could be difficult if you go alone. But it can be done if you bring a bag and keep an eye on it while you’re playing.

A few steps away, consider yourself lucky if you can find a swinging bench open on the pier. As you continue down, there is an attraction that was new to me, a ferry boat ride to Mt. Pleasant. I didn’t take it, but it’s good to know it’s available.

Then you can’t miss the iconic Pineapple Fountain. Many a prom and wedding pictures have been taken there. Some people go in the fountain. I personally wouldn’t, but that’s just me.

As I strolled through the park, I chose to walk under the trees. There are a lot of sitting areas to enjoy the shade, as well as a long stretch of grass to picnic or play frisbee on. The park is never empty, and that’s the nice part. Even though I adventure alone, I’m never lonely. And if you ever feel like you are in downtown Chucktown, look for the girls selling Charleston Ice. They’re all very nice, helpful, and give out free samples. I always go with mango.

You’ll have to cut through some side streets to get back on East Bay Street. Even on those random alleys, each house is unique and upholds the southern charm that Charleston is known for. Whether it’s a simple doorway, wrought iron gate, or a window planter box, they’re usually primed for photography perfection.

As you continue down East Bay, you’ll run alongside the iconic Rainbow Row. The houses are pastel colors, and sometimes in paintings, they’re what’s being depicted to represent Hurricane Hugo. While I appreciate the landmark, there are so many great things to see and do around Charleston.

You’ll start to see the ocean, and the wall of the Battery. You’ll come upon statues, cannons, and oak trees. That is when you’ve reached Battery park. Once when I took my friends from college there, a bird pooped on my shoulder. There’s a gazebo in the center where my brother got his prom pictures taken his junior year. It’s also the middle part of the Turkey Day Run during which is held on Thanksgiving. This day, I was looking for nothing in particular. Just wandering to wander.

By the time I was finished taking everything in, it was time to go home. These are only a sliver of things to do on the Charleston Peninsula, but they are a must. I suggest going on foot, but if you do get tired, try a bike taxi. Those guys are awesome, and you can catch a slight breeze to cool off from the humidity. I don’t recommend the horse and carriage rides, even though they’re also an iconic image of Charleston. It’s a beautiful, friendly city with unlimited photo opportunities. You can find something down every street and cobblestone alley.