Friday, June 26, 2009

Biltmore Estate

Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, built by George Vanderbilt in 1895, is America's largest home. It has 250 rooms, including 43 bathrooms. Bathrooms themselves were a rarity in 1895, let alone 43 of them!

The tickets are a little pricey, and photographs aren't allowed, but I was glad I went.

One of the first things you see when you enter in the winter garden, with its beautiful glass roof. Although Thomas Edison didn’t introduce the incandescent light bulb until 1879, the house was wired for electricity and electric lighting when construction began only ten years later in 1889. Since they didn’t know whether the country would use alternating or direct current, it was actually wired for both.

The impressive banquet hall with a seven-story ceiling was the scene of dinner parties, holiday celebrations, and "intimate" family meals. The Vanderbilts were great entertainers, and frequently had guests who would stay a month or more.

Mr. Vanderbilt's bedroom had a commanding view of his estate.

Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom, with purple and gold silk fabric in a Louis XV style. They apparently needed separate bedrooms because it was improper for servants of the opposite sex to be in a bedroom. They had only one child, Cornelia, born in 1900.

Vanderbilt was supposed to be the best read man in the country. The library contains more than 10,000 volumes in eight languages.

Outside are many gardens, and a conservatory, although they might have been better a little later in the season.

The Italian garden consists of 3 formal water gardens and classical statuary.

River Bend Farm was once the center of working life for Biltmore farm workers and their families. Today it has been restored, and includes a variety of animals in the barn, gardens, and demonstrations of the crafts and music of the day.

I really liked this creation, although he/she seems to have lost a hand.

I found yet another rendition of "Dueling Banjos" here. I never get tired of it, and used to have it as the ringtone on my cell phone.

American clogging began in this area of the country, and I got a really good lesson. She had taps on her shoes, which helped me see what she was doing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Grand Ole Opry

You just can't go to Nashville without going to see the Grand Ole Opry. It's actually a radio show with a live audience - the longest running live radio show in the world, begun in 1925!

In 1943, the Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium, shown here.

Inside the Ryman is this statue of Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music, and Minnie Pearl, the Queen of Country Comedy. They performed at the Ryman from 1943 to 1974.

The Opry moved to a new location, the Grand Ole Opry House, in 1974. Here we are, and guess what! Minnie Pearl has reappeared!

Here I've done a little slide show of all the artists who performed this night, but of course I got a few illegal videos too.

Collin Raye has had many big hits, but tonight he sang his very first big hit, "Love, Me."

"I read a note my grandma wrote back in 1923
Grandpa kept it in his coat and he showed it once to me
He said, "Boy you might not understand, but a long long time ago
Grandma's daddy didn't like me none, but I loved your grandma so."

Charley Pride singing "Kiss an Angel Good Morning."

Emerson Pride had a big hit 2 years ago with this one called "Memories." It's a haunting beautiful story.

I was coming to the end of a long long walk
When a man crawled out of a cardboard box
Under the E. Street Bridge
Followed me on to it
I went out halfway across
With that homeless shadow tagging along
So I dug for some change
Wouldn't need it anyway
He took it lookin' just a bit ashamed
He said, You know, I haven't always been this way

I've had my moments, days in the sun
Moments I was second to none
Moments when I knew I did what I thought I couldn't do
Like that plane ride coming home from the war
That summer my son was born
And memories like a coat so warm
A cold wind can't get through
Lookin' at me now you might not know it
But I've had my moments

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Country Music Capital

On to one of my favorite places, Nashville, TN, the country music capital of the world. But wait! What is the Parthenon doing here? A full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, it was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition to mark the 100th anniversary of Tennessee statehood.

Inside is a 42-foot high statue of Athena. It's covered with more than 8 pounds of gold leaf.

But the main reason I'm here is the annual CMA Music Festival, formerly known as "Fan Fair." Located at various venues around downtown, there are concerts, autograph booths, places to make your own record, free food, etc, etc.

There was a dog/frisbee show. This dog jumped 22 feet into a pool of water to catch the frisbee.

ABC was there in full force, even bringing a Wipeout set. Wipeout is definitely my least favorite show, but ABC is going to have a 3-hour show on the Music Festival on August 31.

Thousands of fans are here. This guy's t-shirt said he was the world's biggest country music fan.

Even Forrest Gump was here!

The bars on Broadway had live music all day long. It's a little hard to see, but this guy was sitting in the window singing. It seems like everyone in Nashville can sing.

The best free venue was the Riverfront Park stage. All day long, for 4 days, there were free half-hour concerts by various country music stars. I went to three--

Bucky Covington (of American Idol fame) is singing his new single, "I Want My Life Back," a beautiful tear-jerking song.

Aaron Tippin sang several well-known songs of his, and entertained us with a truck air horn. He's a competitive body-builder, so he was really fun to watch. Here he's singing his classic, "There Ain't Nothin' Wrong with the Radio."

John Anderson is another classic country singer, who has written and performed many country songs. Here is "Straight Tequila Night."

There was so much free stuff to do and see that I didn't go to the pay concerts in the evening at the stadium. But fellow blogger Froggi Donna did, and she has lots of pictures here, here, and here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Land Between the Lakes

There's an interesting strip of land in Kentucky and Tennessee between 2 dammed up rivers that is called "The Land Between the Lakes."

I envisioned beautiful vistas of lakes on either side of the road, but in truth there are too many trees to see any water, except at the ends of numerous side roads, some of which held campgrounds. You can sort of see the water through the trees here.

I met up with my sister Barbara there. We're both fulltime RVers, but usually have different itineraries. I should have gotten a picture of the reunion, but I didn't.

This is the view down by the water in the campground. We later took a couple of the other side roads and found out that you can camp at many of them with a primitive camping permit, much less expensive than the campground.

More than 200 years ago, vast herds of bison and elk roamed the area. They've now been reintroduced here. They're a little reclusive during the day, but I crawled through some tall tick-infested grass to get these shots.

Aren't the babies just adorable?

Found a cute red-headed woodpecker too!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Grant's Farm

Grant's Farm, in St. Louis, is the 281-acre ancestral home of the Anheuser-Busch family.

It's a popular tourist attraction, maybe because it's a real deal - just $11 a carload. For that you get a tram tour, a mini-zoo, animal shows, and of course --


The property is home to more than 1000 animals, representing more than 100 different species from 6 of the 7 continents.

The funniest section is a pen-full of baby goats. They give all the kids baby bottles full of milk, and the goats chase the kids around to try to get fed. It's so different from other petting zoos, where the kids chase the goats around!

The animals are very friendly, like this camel.

There was a bird show and an elephant show. This parrot tried to take the place of the eagle on the Anheuser-Busch logo.

Didn't he do a good job?

Of course, the most famous animals here are the Budweiser Clydesdales. About 15 foals are born each year. This one showed me how he peed. The foals weigh in at 150 pounds at birth.

The Clydesdales are known for their size, about 6 feet tall at the "withers," or where the neck meets the back. They weigh 2,000-2,300 pounds.

They're also known for the shaggy hair on their legs below their knees.

And they have REALLY big feet!

The Farm gets its name from President Ulysses S. Grant, who farmed the property in the 1850s. This is the cabin he built for his family, although they only lived here a couple months before moving back to --

Mrs. Grant's family home across the street. She apparently was "homesick."

The color of the house is the original color, called "Paris Green." There is nothing wrong with the picture, it really IS that ugly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Getting Close to the Mississippi (Again...)

And I swore I would never do that again! I vastly prefer the West, but circumstances have made another trip East necessary. Mainly that I have relatives back there!

So here I am in St. Louis. The last time I was here was in 1965, and the arch looked like this. It was completed later that year.

Now you can ride to the top in a kind of "space capsule." It only takes a couple of minutes.

And voila! You can lean over and look out the portholes on both sides of the arch.

On the river side, a barge passes under Eads Bridge, the first major steel bridge in the world, completed in 1874 and still in use.

The bridge has an interesting history. A "test elephant" was first led across the new bridge to prove it was safe. It was believed that elephants had instincts that would keep them from setting foot on unsafe structures. Two weeks later, the builder sent 14 locomotives back and forth across the bridge at one time. A much better test, in my opinion!

Another great view on the "city side." What you see in the center is the Old Courthouse.

There was a great museum under the arch, which included several animated figures. Here William Clark explains:

"Fruitful diplomacy with the Indians requires the exchange of gifts. We brought peace medals to the western territory with that in mind. Now, when we sign treaties, many chiefs request them of me. A silver medal symbolizes a covenant between two nations. We agree to live in peace. We agree that some places will be set aside for Indians, and other places given to settlers."

I wonder if they had any idea what that ratio would be!

There was also a very good Imax film on Lewis and Clark.

Next, across the street to visit the Old Courthouse.

The dome was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

It was here that slave Dred Scott and his wife Harriet sued for their freedom. The eventual Supreme Court decision became a leading cause of the Civil War.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival

Sedalia, MO is a really old town. It used to be a busy railroad town, but now it's just old.

It has lots of interesting old buildings. Some have been restored, but most have not.

Some have even fallen down.

I've been here for 2 weeks not, surely a record. After the Escapade, I stuck around for the 29th annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Joplin lived in Sedalia over 100 years ago.

He is most famous for having written "The Entertainer," which became a hit in 1974 when it was featured in the movie "The Sting." That was 71 years after it was written!

There were lots of concerts all weekend, but there were free venues all over town where the more-than-50 performers displayed their talents.

Next to "The Entertainer," Scott Joplin's most famous composition is "Maple Leaf Rag," played here by Susan Cordell.

Brian Holland is one of the most popular performers. His fingers move at an unbelievable speed, and each note is crystal clear.

Wesley Reznicek, only 18 years old, was a real cutie, and very talented.

Not all of the performers played the piano. These guys were inside a local store that just sells Scott Joplin stuff.

But the most amazing to me was this 12-year-old. Since I'm not a connoisseur, she sounded just as good as the more experienced performers. How did she learn how to do this in so few years?

They also had free ragtime dance lessons. I took some, but didn't dress up.

And of course there was a parade, with lots of authentic costumes.