Monday, April 30, 2018

Paso Robles, California - Part 1

If there is one California bias I would admit to, it’s that my home state makes the best wine in the world. Yes, the French make a great product…so do the Italians, Australians, South Americans, and even a few other states…but the grapes of this state just taste so much better to me. If you doubt this, try a glass of J. Phelps Insignia - especially if you can get someone else to pay for it - and let me know.

The wine terrain of California ranges from cool to blisteringly hot, extremely well developed to almost non-existent, from a Disney-like atmosphere to a shack in some guy’s backyard but the vintners here almost all have a lot of passion for their work and put it all on the line and in the bottle.

Watch the Video!

Grazing around the wine chatter online and in print, a lot of talk about the next big “thing” in California wine is the Paso Robles area, sitting south of the Monterey wine country and just north of the San Luis Obispo area.  Mornings here are cool, with clouds and fog wandering over from the nearby Cayucos coast, turning hot and sunny in the afternoon.

The two main growing areas here are pretty neatly cleaved by the 101 freeway between the cooler west side vineyards and the sun drenched east side wineries.

With Tim away for another session at camp, Letty and I decide to head up here for a few days of wining, dining, hiking, and beaching.

The afternoon is aging fast as we cross the hills from McFarland, through the James Dean Memorial Junction, and then right to our hotel. This time, we’re staying at the Best Western Black Oak, just on the other side of the 101.

The hotel has a few accessible rooms with king or queen sized beds and your choice of roll-in or bathtub bathrooms. We’re here without Tim and the wheelchair, so we opt for a deluxe king size room on the second floor.  This room is different from the standard king room mainly because there is a recliner in the room.

It’s a nice room with a comfortable bed and includes such amenities as a refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, hair dryer, flat-screen TV, wireless or hard-wired Internet, and a nice selection of toiletries. 

Outside is a nice pool area with a lot of plants and shady areas, a kids playground, a picnic area with barbecues, and a diner attached to the hotel. Guests can get a $5 coupon for Margie’s Diner at the front desk.

Since we’re celebrating my birthday also, the management thoughtfully left a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses in the fridge.

In the morning, a drive over to Spring Street takes us to Springside Restaurant. In this converted old house, we sight by a bright window overlooking their flower garden. Breakfast is omelets and pancakes…Letty had spinach and cheese while I had linguisa and cheese. The pancakes were a perfect mix of slightly crunchy outer layer with a fluffy interior, covered with melted butter. It was delectable.

Tummies full, loaded with protein and carbs, we head over to Larry Moore Park. From here, trails wind over to the Salinas River in the shadow of the freeway. Today, the river is more of a creek with most of its water flowing underground. We hike across two dry channels before reaching the water where dozens of small frogs hop around.

We spend a few minutes playing catch and release with the amphibians before moving on. Back on the bank of the channel, we turn to bird watching and catch sight of a thrasher and a flycatcher. A few more trails lead into shady groves of trees with loads of wild anise growing underneath.

A few hundred calories and a couple of miles later, we’re back in the car heading off to the hotel.

Be sure to stay around for part two of our time in Paso Robles coming very soon.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Cocktail Hour - Wine: Pinot Noir

Today is supposed to reach 90 degrees so we'll keep it light with a bottle of wine.  This afternoon, we'll be enjoying a 2008 Redwood Vineyards Pinot Noir.  Redwood is a Sonoma winery but the grapes are from Lodi and the Sacramento River Delta.  Rated 88 points, it has hints of rasberries, cherry, and a nice oak finish.  Click on the picture above to see it large and the clarity of this wine.

Not that we've had a lot of Pinot Noir the last year, maybe a half dozen bottles total, but this is the best we've had recently.  It's delicious and can be had for around $12.  Paul's Wine of the Month Club has it for $6.99 for members.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Tennessee Touring: The Gaylord Expedition and Wrapup

You wouldn't think so, but there's a hotel in Nashville that is a tourist destination unto itself. Really.

It's so popular that other hotels in the area run shuttles to it just so their guests can go and see it for themselves.

The Gaylord Opryland sits on 40 acres of land. Almost 30 of those are covered by the massive building itself. It is the largest non-casino hotel in America outside of Las Vegas. There are just under 3,000 rooms, a navigable indoor river, three massive atriums, the studios of one of the most powerful radio stations in the country (WSM), 17 restaurants and bars, a golf course, and 600,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Musick family decided to tackle the Gaylord one day and, it might not have quite been "a three hour cruise...," it did turn into a three hour adventure just to make it through the incredible amount of lobby and atrium space here during the frigid Thanksgiving week while getting lost at seemingly every turn.

Did they ever make it back out alive? (SPOILER HINT: I am typing this...)

Watch our last Tennessee video as we hunt for food, hack through jungle, brave the frigid wilds of the Cumberland valley, all while trying to find our way's "The Gaylord Expedition."

Watch the Video!

After you've watched that, you may want to browse through the collection of reports and videos that make up our complete, Grand Tennessee Tour, by clicking on the links below...

On the Elvis Trail - Day Trip to Tupelo

Dining and Drinking in Memphis

Memphis - Martin and Elvis

On the Elvis Trail - From End to The End

Welcome to Nashville

Daytrip to Franklin

Nashville - The One With The Music...

Nashville - The Hall of Fame and Studio B

The Cocktail Hour: Beale Street Pub Crawl

...and that's a wrap for the Grand Tennessee Tour. Hope to see you back for our next new adventure soon.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Eco Friendy Travel Tips for Earth Day

We love to travel and you probably do, too, or otherwise why would you be here?  It broadens the mind, breaks down prejudices and bigotry, and promotes learning about other cultures. Besides, it's a lot of fun.

It does take a bit of mechanical energy and carbon releasing to get to our destinations, however, so it's a good idea to incorporate some environmentally friendly habits to help mitigate that along the way.

Fly direct when possible - Take offs are the biggest fuel burners in airplanes. With today's airline schedules, it's harder to secure that nonstop flight but take one if you can. It's also a lot easier on you if you don't have to change planes, especially if you're a wheelchair traveler.

Travel close to home - Great treasures lie within 500 miles of just about everybody.  Take some time to enjoy them and burn less fuel than you would on that overseas journey. Plus, when you take your car, you don't have to pack quite as light as you do on a plane...and you don't have to go through the TSA grope to get in the passenger seat.

Recycle those towels - Hang up your shower towel to dry after your shower if it's not too grungy. A lot of hotels these days will only change what you leave on the floor. Save some water and energy.

Live in a destination - Instead of seeing 8 European capitals in 7 days, try living in the South of France for a week or rent an apartment in New York...become a temporary resident. It's what we try to do and makes for our best vacations when we get to know the neighbors and the city.

Go off the beaten track - We've all seen those destinations called paradise that end up being miles of endless hotel towers. Find a nice place where the tourists aren't flocking too and don't contribute to the 'let's build another hotel' mentality.

Use public transportation - Much friendlier on the environment that renting a car or taking a taxi. Plus, you get the added benefit of seeing the locals behaving like locals do and will save a lot of money.

Walk - Many cities and towns are more inviting when you see them on foot.

Eat fewer meals - In addition to helping to eliminate indigestion, it keeps you more energetic and helps your stamina for all that siteseeing you're doing. We eat one good meal in the morning and a nice dinner while skipping lunch. It saves us money, keeps us going, gives us more time, and we don't miss that midday meal at all.

Eat local - Eat the local cuisine when you can. Skip the imported food, made to give you the same option you can get at home, and try what the local farmers make. It's different and delicious.

Turn off your A/C and electronics - Why cool an empty house? Turn off and unplug things like TVs and chargers but leave a radio and some lights on to make the house look like it's inhabited (no need to give up security to be a little more green).

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tennessee Touring: The Hall of Fame and Studio B

Winding down our adventure in Music City and the home of the Delta Blues, we're left with one must-see from Tim's list, the Country Music Hall of Fame.

We could have also spent the evening out at the Loveless Cafe barn to see the Music City Roots TV show but, at this point, we'd seen eleven acts in different concerts and clubs along the way plus had a CD shoved into our hands as we walked Nashville's streets by a unknown artist trying to get known (turned out to be a compilations of Christmas songs and the singer sounded like an animated chipmunk).

It's Letty's turn to have a bad day with whatever virus we picked up in Tupelo. She bravely soldiers on but you can tell she's not feeling the love today.

Thirty degrees with a snowy rain is not particularly inviting either but at least there is reasonably priced indoor parking half a block from the Hall.

It's warm inside and the Hall has an instutitional smell (like a library or school) that is not sitting well with my sick wife. We get our tickets, enhanced with a tour of RCA's historic Studio B, and head on in.

Another audio tour, another hour or so of helping Tim punch the right numbers to match whatever display he's sitting in front of

It's interesting to a get to see Nudie's sewing machine, Elvis's "solid gold" Cadillac, Webb Pierce's silver dollar and gun car (Buck Owen's had a duplicate of this car, now hanging over the bar at the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield), many musical instruments, outfits, and gold records.

My favorite exhibit, though I do not think it's permanent, was the Bakersfield Sound exhibition. Probably because I'm biased towards that city but it weaves a great history of the two men who dominated it...Merle Haggard and Owens...and the intricate, weirdly intersecting family histories they had together.

Other less familiar names like Homer Joy along with notables such as Dwight Yoakam are also put into the context they have with that California oil city.

We check out all the plaques in the actual Hall...a big rotunda at the end of the tour...then head back into the lobby to wait for the bus to take us to Studio B.

A ten minute ride (yes, the buses are wheelchair accessible) and we're at the back door of the famous studio. While it's mostly retired today (Studio A next door is it's current replacement), some artists still like to make special arrangements to use it, such as Marty Stuart on his Ghost Train album.

Elvis recorded over 200 of his songs here, more than any other studio.

The tour starts off in a small lobby and it's significance is explained to us as well as a listing of some of the top artists who have recorded there.  At the end, we are ushered into the studio itself as we hear some more tales...

The lights are different colors so that they could be used to set the mood; Elvis liked to record at three in the morning; the room is perfectly acoustical, there is no echo at all, a special reverb box had to be built into the wall to accomodate those who wanted it.

We're allowed to sit at Elvis' piano...but not play it...and then we're off.

Nice addition to the Elvis Trail but still not as awesome as Sun Studio was back in Memphis.

The bus driver tying Tim down in the bus tells me an elderly gentleman who has just parked nearby is Harrold Bradley. 

Harrold and his brother, Owen, opened up Nashville's first recording studio in 1954, starting the industry that Nashville now thrives on.

My wife wonders what the driver told me, so I tell her. Soon the word spreads to the tour guide who announces it to the bus. A couple of women sitting in front of us excitedly chirp up "finally, we saw someone famous here!"

After hanging with Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Ranger Doug and meeting Leon Rhodes, Anita Stapleton and seeing all the stars at the Opry, I'm thinking "if that's the only famous person you've seen on your trip, you ain't been trying hard enough..."

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tennessee Touring: Nashville - The One With The Music...

The day trip to Franklin for brunch was just what I needed to fight the blues of the first day in Nashville.  Our theme for this trip is music, so now we'll jump in with both feet.

It's 7:00pm and we're at a non-descript office park south of downtown. Looking for a place to park, we see a guy in an empty lot waving frantically at us to park.

Watch the Video!

"You going to the Jumpers' show?"


"That'll be five dollars, park right over there.  Y'all have a good time, OK?"

Mightly friendly but what comes next is a bit disturbing. Another guy working the lot pulls up and doesn't shut his door quick enough for the first guy's liking. Pretty soon, guy number one is yelling at guy number two. Then both are yelling, then guy one tells guy two he's fired, then pushing and shoving, then a truce is reached and I guess guy number two is still working.

"Sorry about that, he's just a bad apple.  Y'all enjoy the show," guy number one tells us.

Okay, then.

At the other end of the building is 3rd and Lindsley, a small nightclub that you blink and miss.  We're here to see the Time Jumpers, a band made of of some of Nashville's biggest names that like to get together each Monday night here, play music together, drink beer, and just have a good time.

If' you're there, you get to hang with them and have a good time, too.

It's low-key and casual. We're treated to the sight of Vince Gill...a Country Music Hall of Famer and multi-Grammy winner...on stage setting up his own gear. No roadies tonight.

Singer of Riders in the Sky, Ranger Doug Green steps by our table and has a little chat. He poses for the picture above and tells us Dawn Sears...wife of the band's leader, Kenny Sears and one of the best female vocalists anywhere...will not be there tonight because she is starting round two of her chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer.

It's a shame it's happening to such a great singer. (Note - sadly, Dawn lost her battle to cancer in 2014 - Ed)

I get a CD for Letty so she can get to work getting signatures. Tim and I had met Billy Thomas, Vince Gill's regular drummer, before. He didn't remember me but it came in handy to get him to start the signature fest.

Letty went to work for the rest of the band, me filling in when I could get one easy, and got Sears, Vince Gill, Andy Reese, and Paul of the best steel guitar players around.

It's truly an all-start cast and when the swinging starts at 9:00, the place gets rockin'.

Kenny Sears, the leader and head fiddle player, is celebrating a birthday tonight as is Gill's wife, Amy Grant. A cake is cut for Kenny and Amy takes to the stage to belt out a song before giving way to Gill's daughter Jennifer, who also has a great set of those Gill pipes.

At the end of the show, a few band members scoot out the back very quickly but the remainder settle in at the bar. Ranger Doug had sung "Put Another Candle on Your Birthday Cake" for Kenny and Amy, which was Sheriff John's song when I was a kid.

I went up to him at the bar and thanked him for singing that as it reminded me of those childhood memories. He told me he grew up in Costa Mesa, then sang another Sheriff John song for me at the bar.  

It's another day in downtown Nashville in the morning as we battle the bitter cold (34 and dropping) at Broadway Brewhouse. Just a place we wandered past, really, but it turned out they make a very good gumbo.

The hot stew, warm dining room, and cool beer seemed to be just what we needed.

After, we head up the street to the Ryman Auditorium for a tour.  The Ryman is the historic home of the Grand Ole Opry, our country's longest running radio show.

Although they moved the Opry to a new theater east of town, most people really consider this its proper home. The folks who run it must have taken it a bit to heart. Now, the show moves back to the old and renovated Ryman each fall and winter.

Inside, we see a short video, see some exhibits of costumes and musical instruments, take a souvenir photo, and see the snow starting to fall outside.

Tim is not doing well in the cold. He has a thick jacket, gloves, and a hat but only a thin pair of pants as the bottom layer. Back to the hotel to warm up and, while he's doing  that, I run over to a nearby sporting goods store to get him some long Johns, which help out quite a bit.

Now, it's back to the Ryman for the show. Tonight, we're attending the Grand Ole Opry with seats in the third row.  It's one of three wheelchair spots on the bottom. There are a few more up in the balcony.

The show is great with eight acts doing three numbers each. John Conlee, Katie Armiger, Sundy Best, Riders in the Sky (there's Ranger Doug again!), Chris Janson, Bill Anderson, Marshall Chapman, and...the evening's headliner...Craig Morgan, who is celebrating five years as a member of the Opry tonight.

Great show! First timers Sundy Best, a duo from Kentucky, brought the house down with their music earning them a standing ovation on their first try.

In the morning, a forty minute drive takes us to the far, western side of the city and the Loveless Cafe. 

Famous for their biscuits, everybody tells you that you cannot leave Nashville without trying it. Yes you can, actually.  

The Loveless is really good, is home to another classic Nashville music show ("Music City Roots", taped each Wednesday night in the barn out back), and has great service.

Food is good but not so good as to overcome the forty minute drive each way and the two hour wait once we got there.

If you can get in quick before all the tour buses hit, maybe it might be ok.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

PLACES THAT DON'T SUCK: The Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee

NOTE: This is one of our occasional, VERY occasional posts on places that are huge tourist draws but manage not to suck at the same time.

It's synonymous with Country music. If there wasn't already a Country Music Hall of Fame, being a member here would count just as much. Everybody in the music business strives to play on this stage.

Now, the Grand Ole Opry show is enough of a draw but what makes it special is the winter version when it returns to its roots in downtown Nashville as opposed to the modern auditorium that's attached to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to the east, over the Cumberland River.

In the cold months, the Opry returns to its original home...the Ryman Auditorium, just a block north of Broadway in downtown Nashville.

The Ryman has its roots as a church so it's not a stretch to see why this is called the "mother church of Country Music."  These are hallowed halls for many.

While there are standalone concerts at the Ryman throughout the year, it's the Opry that made it famous. The Opry is what people want to come to see.

The Opry is not the building, the Opry is a radio show put on before a live audience. It's old and has been on the air in pretty much the same format for over 90 years. That is the longest running radio show in the United States.

People come to be enterained by a half-dozen or so entertainers...some well known, others just starting to make their mark in the business. Entertainers come here because it is the most important stage they can play.

That formula right there...people thrilled for the chance to be here to see the show and entertainers who consider playing here the highest honor they can aspire the main reason this place doesn't suck.

The pricing is moderate, the staff wonderfully friendly, as are your seatmates on the pews that make up the seating area for this place.  The show is very entertaining and you'll wonder where the time went when you're done.

Wheelchair accessible seating is available at all levels and price points. Management also enforces that those seats only go to those who need it so someone won't sucker you out of those front row, prime spots.

Most people would say this is the biggest must-see attraction in Nashville. Most people are right. There is nothing bigger or better on the Nashville scene to brag about when you get back to your friends back home.

For more things to do in Nashville, the Groupon folks would like you to check out this link.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tennessee Touring: Day Trip to Franklin

After a bit of a blue introduction to Nashville, our next step was to get out of town.  We're heading about 25 miles south to have brunch in Franklin.

Watch the Video!

It's an easy drive on this Sunday although I think this route might be a tad crowded on a weekday rush hour. A pretty drive, not too long after we see the massive WSM transmission tower, we're exiting.

Franklin, at least the downtown area, is one of those typical, cute little southern towns. Most of the regular businesses have been replaced by boutiques and restaurants so I guess you can say the area's been gentrified a bit.

55 South is the eatery we're headed to.  After parking in a nearby structure, we're hit by the sledgehammer of cold as we exit.  It may be bright and sunny but the thermometer is struggling to reach 30 degrees.

Inside is warm, however, so we sit down in the trendy but homey restaurant.

Letty gets the shrimp and grits she's been craving on this trip.

Tim is trying the hot chicken that he's been waiting for.

And I'm going with the chicken and waffles.

It's all delicious and I think I'm with Letty, the shrimp and grits is the best of three very good plates on the table.

After a quick little tour of the downtown area, we're too cold to walk much more. We turn to auto touring  the nearby sites of the Battle of Franklin.

In 1864, Union troops were on their way, slashing and burning, to Atlanta under General Sherman. Here in Franklin, the Confederate troops waged a pitched battle to stop them.

It was a brutal and bloody affair. Union troops were eventually defeated but at a stunning cost to the Confederates.  They lost over 6,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing.  The rebel army would never be the same.

It was a turning point in the war.

Almost 1,500 of the Confederate dead are buried in this cemetery on a plantation in Carnton.

A local family, the Carter's, had a house that ended up being in the center of the battle.  The family hid in the basement while the war waged on above.

Today, the house still stands as a museum and you can count over one thousand bullet holes in it from that brutal day.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved