Keeping Things Weird and Cool
By Kathy Chin Leong
Nashville, Tennessee is Music City. Portland, Oregon’s tagline is Keep Portland Weird. But sometimes you have to mix things up. And yes, while Nashville’s slogan is obvious, the city also caters to the restless traveler in all of us. Certainly, Nashville brandishes its share of weirdness – in a good way. Quirky landmarks, battle-scarred mansions, untamed eateries, and surprising shops throws the unsuspecting visitor a wondrous curveball. Spending your next vacay in Nashville? Get ready for a wonder attack!
First of all, there’s the Big Lady. Inside the city’s Centennial Park, looking up at the thirty-seven-foot statue of the Goddess Athena created by sculptor Alan LeQuire in 1990 is bound to give you a crick in your neck. Made of fiberglass, aluminum, and steel, the replica of the original in Greece is the tallest indoor statue in the Western world, requiring eight years of artist’s life to make her come to life. Word has it that authorities are considering using drones to clean the tall, tunic-clad goddess.
Goddess Athena is housed inside The Parthenon, the full-sized reproduction of the Greek Parthenon. No kidding, folks. Walking among the white pillars, you feel so very tiny. According to the back story, this identical twin building was built in 1897 and designed by Confederate veteran William Crawford for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The building has four fine art galleries including a rotating exhibit of American art. Take a docent tour to get your bearings.
Another landmark, The Grand Ole Opry is one of a kind, and yes, this 4,372-seat auditorium is indeed grand. Regular variety shows air on the radio as a honey-tongued announcer introduces each live act. Comedians, dancers, music groups, and soloists entertain seated audiences from around the globe. Some performers are established while others are up-and-coming. It is worth booking a behind-the-scenes tour to appreciate The Grand Ole Opry’s role in American history. Walk through the various green waiting rooms for celebrities and gaze at rare photos of stars before their prime. Understand what made the place so special since its inception in 1925. The family-friendly shows are a slice of Americana that still warm the heart. The location is Tennessee’s #1 attraction.
For roaring entertainment, explore the wild side of Nashville at the Nashville Zoo. Since opening its doors in 1991, the zoo has grown from a small, private operation to an accredited facility with over 2,700 animals, colorful exhibits, nicely-paved walkways, and bench seating for folks who need to rest between animal sightings. While here, you will have the opportunity to visit its new, state-of-the-art animal hospital, a 20,000-square-foot facility seldom offered at U.S. zoos. The hospital features a wall of glass windows so the public can witness the technicians and vets working on every type of zoo critter from giant rhinos to newborn flamingos. This is the place where budding animal doctors will be inspired.
The zoo makes use of its space with events throughout the year. From November 15 to December 30, it will host Zoolumination. This is a jaw-dropping Chinese lantern festival where 500 giant custom silk lanterns come to life in the guise of animals and holiday characters. The incredible show-stopper is the 200-foot-long dragon. Chinese acrobats and entertainers will also perform nightly.
When you go to Nashville, you can add your newfound favorites to this list of unusual and quirky places. As long as Nashvillians willing to share their stories, set up new adventures, and sing new songs, this city will never cease to surprise and inspire.