We hit the open road after a breakfast of eggs and cereal and more of that coffee with the hazelnut creamer… Our destination for today was Nashville, Tennessee, home to country music, but more importantly, where Randal worked and lived in a slice of life before I met him. My family had had a family reunion in Louden, Tennessee about six years back- it all centered around an ice cream shop, the happening-est place in Louden, and at the time, they had toured The Lost Sea Caverns in Sweetwater. As we had time, and it was on the slow road to Nashville, I suggested it- also, I just love caves. I explored area caves when I was little, did the big one in Perama, near Ioannina in Greece, as an adult, and wanted to add as many as possible to my list, and it was either Sweetwater or heading back to the cave in Siereville. We went to Sweetwater.
The Lost Sea could well be lost soon, we discovered, after paying our fee and taking the hour tour one mile down. It is a huge cave, once inhabited by Indians & housing a bar during prohibition. There’s graffiti on the wall from the 1800’s- and unfortunately, also more recent. The paths were wide, switchbacks, the bridges over the dark chasms were worrisome. I carried Sydney all the way down, past the water fall and flowing stream and to the underwater lake, where boats took us out to see the blind fish. One of the ladies on the tour with us seemed highly upset at the stench of the lake and the lack of water, and our guide told us the Lost Sea linked to the Tennessee water table had dropped twenty feet during the two year drought they were suffering. The stench came from the dying fish and the milky white water color from the limestone of the cave.
Something huge and white flipped over a rock, startling everyone. For an instant, I actually thought it was an albino seal, then we were told it was the trout. They had stocked the lake with trout in hopes of them finding an exit underwater, but the fish never did, and have become another curiosity to view in the cave, turning blind and white from lack of sun and greens- see kids- eat your greens and play outside or else you too may resemble a Lost Sea fish!
Our boat ride ended and we began the arduous climb back up to the top. Sydney wanted me to carry her- I said no way- stretch those tiny legs (thinking she could wear herself out for the car ride to come)-but our three year old bats those eyes and stretches out her arms “I need you!” Randal ended up carrying her to the top. For the more adventurous and non-kid carrying, there IS a more exciting tour you can sign up for that takes you crawling through tunnels- and you spend a night in the cave- though how do you know it’s actually a night? I wondered. You have to sign up in advance for the adventurous tour- but we needed to get back on the road.
We loaded up, stopping once for a BBQ lunch at a diner near I-75- wouldn’t you know, it was run by Floridians! Once again, the tale of leaving the rat race behind for a quieter, NICER life (hmm, and most people move to Florida, just for that reason- do they know they are driving the locals out?) On the road again- over bridges (saw deer), past a nuclear plant, rolling farm lands, up a steep mountain and then back on to I-40 and into Nashville.
Ironically, our hotel (Embassy Suites) was right near the apartment where Randal had once lived. He showed us the old place- still the same and we braved the construction and unloaded at our hotel- a towering structure with an indoor courtyard complete with a bridge and running stream. The kids were enchanted.
Randal wanted to see his old haunt, Opryland Hotel, but we decided on dinner first and headed out to Opry Mills- a mall near the hotel. There was a Rain Forest Cafe on one end- I’ve been to the ones at Disney World and they’re good fun for the kids- and up until then, I had actually thought they were Disney owned (they aren’t). On the other end of the mall was the Aquarium- an underwater dining adventure (owned by the Rainforest Cafe people-Landry’s), where you could dine around an enormous aquarium with sharks and eels, stingrays and other just huge fish. We chose the Aquarium, and made a dash into the Old Navy store while we sat on the wait list, to buy Logan some shorts and Sydney a cheapee sundress as they were desperate for clean clothes.
Ate dinner of stuffed Rainbow Trout & shrimp- the kids love shrimp, as we watched the fish float by. The kids got excited every time a shark hugged the glass- and the huge neon yellow eel would give them nightmares- it was so cool! One of Randal’s old friends from Opryland days met us during dinner and afterwards we all treked past the Grand Ole Opry, down a garden path and over to Opryland Hotel. It was a hike, but $12 parking at the hotel itself.
We entered into the courtyard, a southern swamp, complete with a boat-ride, that soon gave way to New Orleans street scene. I had been to the Gaylord Hotel in Orlando, but this was much bigger! The Old Hickory restaurant was in a plantation house in the courtyard, Randal had been a sous chef at the Old Hickory, but he said it had been somewhere else. There were walkways overhead where you could view a French outdoor cafe dining area, fairy lights strung to mimic stars. Secret waterfalls and grottoes were waiting to be discovered, and the kids favorite, was the water dancers – water jumping from volcanic rock to volcanic rock all set in a mist filled pond by the sushi restaurant. The hotel room balconies overlook the surreal courtyard- controlled weather year round!
We hiked back from the hotel to our car at the mall, tired, said good bye to Randal’s friend and headed back to the hotel to sleep.