ROAD TRIP DAY 12: FALLIN’ FOR NIAGARA FALLS

During our 3-1/2 hour drive this morning, we left Ohio, passed through the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, and buzzed around Buffalo, New York, before landing in Niagara Falls, Canada.

The Rex Motel where we will spend three nights was our final destination, and we were pleased with our choice. I wondered how a little motel could land a #1 ranking on Trip Advisor, but when we arrived, we learned why so many people raved about this best-value accomodation in Niagara Falls. It’s owned and managed by the warmest, sweetest couple who want to bend over backwards to make their guests feel welcome. We received a lot of helpful tips about the area after we checked in, and when we opened the door to our room, we smiled with delight. Each room at the motel has a different ethnic theme, and we arrived in Venice, Italy. Very cute, spotlessly clean, and well-priced. Perfect.

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The falls are just a short drive away, so we headed downtown to catch our first glimpse. To sum it up in one word: WOW! 34 million gallons of water flow over these falls each MINUTE, and it’s an amazing spectacle to see.

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More photos and travel tales to come on this amazing sight!

ROAD TRIP DAY 11: ROCK ON!

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Cleveland is the birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll, a term coined by radio DJ, Alan Freed to describe the uptempo black rhythm and blues records he played beginning in 1951. The first live rock concert was staged here by Freed in 1952, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Before heading to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, we went to Cleveland’s #3 ranked (of 192 “Things to Do” on Trip Advisor) attraction, West Side Market. With origins of the land dating back to 1840 the market is Cleveland’s oldest publicly owned market. There are now over 100 vendors, and the variety of foods available was fantastic. What a sight! I could see why over 1,500 Trip Advisor members had posted reviews about it with an overall score of 4.5 of 5.

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After returning the car to our hotel, we walked the one-mile trip through Playhouse Square and downtown to the waterfront of Lake Erie to spend the remainder of the day emersed in Rock ‘N’ Roll. We were so enthralled by the exhibits and videos that we ended up spending nearly six hours there!

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One of the highlights was watching a one-hour movie on three HUGE screens (the side screens were angled in) that highlighted the music of each hall inductee through the years since its inception in 1986. The concert footage was fabulous, and they did a wonderful job editing it for each class of inductees.

Another favorite exhibit was “Paul Simon Words & Music,” a first-person narrative of the personal story of Paul Simon’s life and his creative process. Simon’s first solo album was one of the first albums I ever owned, and it is still a sentimental favorite– that is, after Carol King’s Tapestry album, my first and favorite album EVER.

The final exhibit that appealed to me as a hobby photographer AND a lover of rock and roll was “Herb Ritts, The Rock Portraits.” Ritts (1952 – 2002) was best known for his anti-glamour bold portraits of rockers such as David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and more. Many of those photographs graced the covers of Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazines.

What impressed me most about Herb Ritts’s style was his honest approach of photographing his subject without props and bringing out the inner beauty and soul of his subjects. He also had a way of making his subjects look FABULOUS. Sting, for example, was never somebody I envisioned as being GQ cover material, but when I look at this shot of him, all I can say is, “Wow!”

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What I can say with certainty after today is that coming to Cleveland just to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was worth the trip!

ROAD TRIP DAY 9: …AND, AWAY THEY GO!

I could just hear the words of Trevor Denman with his British Accent as he called the races at Del Mar Racetrack, “Where the surf meets the turf.” It was an annual tradition to the go to the races at least once each summer and hear Trevor call them like no other announcer could. He did it with class.

A day at Del Mar was always exciting, especially when we would stand at the rail and feel the wind made by the horses racing by with palm trees as the backdrop. The smell of the ocean air, the warmth of the sun, and the sight of those gorgeous race horses… it was a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. It was even an inexpensive way to spend the afternoon if we went during the week, brought our own chairs for the “cheap seats,” and spent only the minimum $2 on a bet for each race. Sometimes, we even walked out of there with more money in our pockets than we arrived with, so you couldn’t beat that!

Today brought back those fun memories when Bruce and I took a morning tour with Horse Farm Tours, Inc. Our guide took us in her van past famous horse farms, including the most famous, Calumet. We also toured Ball Farm, Walmac Farm, and Millenium Farm, learning all about the history of the region. Included on the tour were the farms and locations where parts of the movies “Secretariat,” “Sea Biscuit,” and “Dreamer” were filmed.

Our favorite part of the tour, though, was seeing Keeneland Race Course where the race scenes of all three movies were filmed. One look at the property upon arrival, and we could see why. It was drop-dead gorgeous!

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It was so quiet and peaceful while we were there. There were no races or other events today, so we were the only people walking the grounds. A maintenance person was kind enough to let us into the high rollers and horse owner’s area to view the track below where we could see several race horses being exercised. What a view!
Later, we went down to the track level and bellied up to the rail to get up close and personal with the horses and their exercisers. That was the highlight of the tour. Everybody was so friendly as they rode by, and one of them smiled and said, “Have your camera ready when I come back by!” Then, one gal brought her beautiful gray mare up to the rail and talked with us for awhile and let us pet the horse. It was a much different experience than being at a track on race day!

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Besides Keeneland Race Course, we were most impressed with the beauty of the entire area including Kentucky Horse Park and all of the area farms. Even on a cloudy day, the rolling lush green hills were gorgeous made even more so by the grace and beauty of the grazing horses and their foals.

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At the conclusion of the tour, we drove a short distance to the tiny quaint town of Midway, another recommendation my sister gave us. She said it was “adorable,” and she was right!

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From there we took her advice to see the Lexington Cemetery, because she said it was “just gorgeous!” Right again! It almost made me sad that all those who are buried there were missing out on the beauty of the place above!

Tomorrow, we’ll be on the road again and head north to Cleveland, Ohio to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following day.

ROAD TRIP DAY 8: LET’S GIVE BEREA A HAND!

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Berea, Kentucky deserves a hand for supporting local crafters and public art. This quaint little town has a cool vibe with its artists studios and small (1,500-2,000 students) liberal arts college.

As we explored the studios that were open (many were closed on Sundays), one lady who was planting flowers outside of her studio asked us if we wanted her to open her shop for us. We didn’t want her to go to the trouble, but she insisted, and we ended up hearing some interesting stories from Mary about the town, her studio, and the hand she painted for the public art project.

A tornado had ripped through Berea and destroyed her hand, but she spent the money to have it painstakingly pieced back together. It was a wonderful story told by this weaver who had many more interesting and entertaining stories to tell. If we had stayed longer, I’m sure she would have shared even more.

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After buying a small weaving, we explored the historic town center and Berea College campus before heading to the Kentucky Artisan Center.

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The soda on the right is produced at a plant just a short drive from our hotel.  Unfortunately, tours are only offered on Thursdays and Fridays, and we'll be long gone by then.

The soda on the right is produced at a plant just a short drive from our hotel. Unfortunately, tours are only offered on Thursdays and Fridays, and we’ll be long gone by then.

Their state-run Welcome Center and gallery/ gift shop is a fantastic place to see the works of beautifully displayed local handicrafts. If I had more room in our home to display things (and wanted to spend the $), I could have spent hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on the many beautiful wood pieces I admired.

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After enjoying the morning and early afternoon in Berea, we returned to Lexington for a shopping trip (and sample tasting- yum!) of chocolates at Old Kentucky Chocolates and a visit downtown. At least chocolate is a much more affordable splurge!

The day ended at another one of Gail’s fabulous recommendations, Smithtown Seafoods and West Sixth Brewing. Order your food at Smithtown, and they bring it next door to your table at the brewery. Both are located in the “Bread Box,” an old bread bakery. YUM.

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ROAD TRIP DAY 7: THE CAPITOL OF KENTUCKY IS???

If you are like me and Bruce, we first guessed Louisville, and then we thought it was Lexington. We were incorrect on both guesses, because the capitol of Kentucky is Frankfort.

If it hadn’t been for Rebecca Ruth’s Candies, we would have never stopped in Frankfort on our way from Louisville to Lexington. They offered a tour of their factory, though, and I tour every chocolate factory I can find.

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Since it was the weekend, they weren’t producing candies during our visit, but we had a nice chat with the tour guide as she took us through the small “factory” and mini-museum. We were the only ones on the tour, and our guide didn’t seem to be in any hurry to return to the retail shop, so it was relaxed and enjoyable. Learning the history of Rebecca and Ruth (the two ladies who started the business in 1921) was interesting and inspiring. They were two ladies ahead of their time.

The best part of the tour, as always, is the free sample you get at the end. They make bourbon chocolates for Maker’s Mark, and we had sampled a chocolate at the end of that tour, so we knew we were in for a delicious treat.

Lucky for us, the retail shop had some “Boo Boos” available for purchase at a steep discount off their regular retail prices. I picked out a bag of bourbon balls and a bag of “Mystery Boo Boos,” a combo of whatever flawed chocolates happened to end up in the bag. (I’m looking forward to finding out what they are!). Finally, another candy wrapper for my collection was a can’t-resist purchase.

After our tour, we noticed a sign for the state capitol, so we got an extra bonus of having a quick look at it while we were in town. I say “quick look,” because at times it was pouring down rain and not the kind of day for a long walk outdoors.

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Until today, we had beautiful weather, so we couldn’t really complain about the rain. (After all, there is a reason why Kentucky is such a gorgeous lush green state!)

Upon arrival in Lexington, we headed for Stella’s Kentucky Deli on the recommendation of my sister, Gail who knows Lexington very well. My niece competed in dressage with her horse, so they had been to Lexington several times and still return for visits. They love it here, and I can see why!

Stella’s was our kind of place. Located in an old converted house, it was quaint, a little bit funky, and a cute place to dine and get out of the rain. We were ushered to a cozy little table by the window with a view of their beautiful rose bushes, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Bruce’s “The Revro” was a burger with fried green tomatoes, bacon, lettuce, and basil mayo (heart attack on a plate, but tasty!). My “Apple & Kentucky Blue Cheese Sandwich” was toasted on sourdough with walnuts and balsamic mayo. Wow!
Gail recommended trying a home-made soda, so we ordered a refreshing blackberry soda. Delicious!

All of their food is locally sourced from small farms, and everything was reasonably priced. Fresh and inexpensive is our idea of an excellent restaurant!
The best part of lunch was dessert, something we don’t typically order when we dine out. One glance at the dessert case on the way to the restrooms was all it took to stop me dead in my tracks, though. I spied something black, and black means chocolate. I had to have it.

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I don’t normally have much interest in pies; I can take ’em or leave ’em. But, this wasn’t any ordinary pie. This was Kentucky Pie, chocolate pecan pie with a touch of bourbon and dark chocolate chips on top. Just look at the picture, and you can just see that this pie is a slice of heaven! Honestly, it was the best pie I had ever tasted.

Our afternoon ended with a stop into the Visitor’s Center and a stroll around Artique, a fabulous shop of arts and crafts of local artisans.

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Due to the rain, we called it a day. Hopefully, it won’t rain like this tomorrow.

ROAD TRIP DAY 6: LOVIN’ LOUISVILLE

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Yesterday afternoon following our tour of Maker’s Mark, we made our way along the less-traveled back roads to Louisville. The remainder of the day and evening was spent exploring the downtown area and scoping out the spots we would return to today during business hours.

Before returning to our hotel after dinner, I insisted we take the short drive on one of the bridges that crosses the Ohio River, so we could get a short look at Indiana on the other side. Hey, with us being THIS close to a state we had never been to, how could we come this far and NOT go there? Yes, it’s almost like cheating to add Indiana to my “States Traveled” list, but what is the official criteria, anyway?

This morning, I finally had an opportunity to get in a good swim. Although we had the time in Bowling Green, the pool was closed until later this month, so I had nowhere to swim.

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The Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center was wonderful, because they offered an option of swimming short course yards or long course meters, because of their set up of a half-pool bulkhead. Given that option, I’ll take long course every time. Walls just get in the way! I love to get in a good rhythm swimming butterfly without having to break it up with a turn.

Meanwhile, Bruce got in a nice 3-mile walk in a path around the reservoir across the street.

Feeling refreshed and invigorated, we were ready to tackle a full day in the city. Since the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory was top on our list, we started with a tour.

Normally, when photographing somebody, I like to get in close so you can actually see the person in the photo; however, this ant-sized photo of Bruce shows just how large the bat is on the outside of the factory! (Just in case you were wondering, no, it’s not made of wood!)

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This "Gallopalooza" horse  depicts the scene across the street.

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Here’s the bad news/ good news about the 1.8 million wooden Louisville Slugger bats that are produced each year. The bad news is that 40,000 are used to make those bats. The good news is that the trees used for the bats reseed themselves and six more trees grow for every tree that is harvested from the forest.

Back in the 1960’s, the bats were made by hand and took 20 minutes to shape. Now, a more precise computerized lathe is used, and it takes only 30 seconds to shape a bat (or 37 seconds for a major league ball player’s bat).

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After the tour and enjoying the exhibits in the museum (especially everything about Hank Aaron and Tony Gwynn, our favorite baseball players), we walked all around the downtown area and rode on the free Zero Bus to Muth’s Candies to buy some chocolates. Muth’s has been producing chocolates since 1921. We also visited The Brown, one of the top hotels in the United States. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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About that Zero Bus, the “Zero” stands for zero emissions, because the buses are 100% electric. It was interesting to see this bus pull into the charging station and hook up for a fresh electrical charge.

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Our day ended with a stroll through the Historic District and a drive by Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

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We enjoyed our stay in Louisville. The downtown area was clean, safe, and a nice place for walking.

ROAD TRIP DAY 5: TAKE YOUR (MAKER’S) MARK, GET SET, GO!

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Getting to Maker’s Mark Distillery isn’t a quick trip, though, and that’s just the way we wanted it. From Bowling Green, it was a meandering drive through beautiful farm country once we exited I-65. The distillery was out in the middle of nowhere, but it was definitely worth the drive.

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Upon arrival, as we waited for the tour to begin, we wondered why on earth they would have a large book on glass artist Dale Chihualy sitting on the table in the waiting area. After all, wouldn’t a book on bourbon have made more sense? Oh well, we were quite content thumbing through the pages of his beautiful blown glass as we waited.

The tour was very interesting, and we especially enjoyed seeing the huge barrels of mash and watching the gals quickly dip the tops of each bottle in hot red wax. After being placed back on the conveyor, the bottles entered a miniature black tin “building” complete with red shutters to be cooled by fans. It was really very cute.

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After our tour and tasting session, we were ushered through a hallway to end the tour in their very nicely displayed gift shop. This wasn’t just any ordinary hallway, though. As soon as we entered, we knew why that Dale Chihualy coffee table book was prominently displayed in their lobby. See below, and you’ll see what I mean. WOW!

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ROAD TRIP DAY 4: VROOOM!

We each got to sit in a new Corvette on display at the National Corvette Museum.

We each got to sit in a new Corvette on display at the National Corvette Museum.

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Our reason for stopping in Bowling Green on our way to Louisville, Kentucky was to take the recommendation of our friend Max and tour the Corvette factory. We had heard from other friends, too, that this was a must-see tour, even though cameras or other electronic devices are not allowed for photography.

Instead, I did things the old-fashioned way. I brought my spiral notebook and pen with me, and I took notes during the 1-hour tour of the one million square foot factory (250,000 square feet of which are devoted to painting those gorgeous Corvettes).

We aren’t car buffs, and neither of us aspire to own a Corvette, but watching the assembly of these sleek sports cars was fascinating. It’s the only Corvette factory in the world, and an entire Corvette Stingray or Z06 is built in this plant in 3-1/2 days. On average, 170 ‘vettes come off the assembly line each day, and it takes 900 employees to make this factory hum.

Make that 901, if you cough up an extra $5,000 and assist in the assembly of your very own Corvette. It’s a new program that just started this spring, and you get to follow your car every step of the way and help get it built. There is even a photographer that hovers around you throughout the entire process, documenting you in action. At the end, you are presented with a “Baby Book” on the day your baby is born. There is even a plaque that gets mounted on the engine documenting your name and those who helped in building your car. And, of course, the born-on date is prominently engraved on the plaque as well.

When your baby is completed, you get to be the first one to start the engine and hear “Vrooom!”

All that for an extra $5,000!

For us $7 per person folks, it really was an interesting tour. At the end of the assembly line, it was fun to watch a ‘vette roll off and be driven into a booth where it was tested for 800 different quality-control checks in 3 minutes. (It was all computerized, of course, and Corvettes currently have a 99% pass rate.)

At the completion of the tour, we had a long walk back to our Toyota Prius that was forced to park with other non-GM cars in the furthest lot at the plant. (GM’s got to park in the close parking lot.)

From cutting edge 2015, we drove back in time 200 years to visit the South Union Shaker Village Museum, the southernmost and westernmost Shaker Village. It was quite a shock from the high-tech, fast-paced cutting edge Corvette plant to the quiet, simple life of the Shakers.

Along the way, the drive through country roads was gorgeous; so lush and green.
The Shaker village we visited existed until 1922 when the community had dwindled to only nine members, and they sold their property, buildings, and furniture.

Branching off from the Quakers, the Shaker religion began in America near the end of the 18th century. Originally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, they eventually became known as Shakers because of their unique “dance” in worship.

Eleven Shaker communities flourished in New England and New York by 1805 when missionaries were sent to America. They are known for their celibate and simple communal lifestyle, pacifism, and their model of equality of sexes.

Learning about their culture was fascinating, and we enjoyed roaming through the buildings and seeing displays of the largest collection of Shaker furniture in existence.

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Our day ended by opting for another back roads drive to our hotel rather than the faster route of the freeway. We did make one stop though at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, rated by USA Today as the best ice cream in Kentucky. We shared a scoop of yummy “Wow Now Brown Cow.”

ROAD TRIP DAY 3: THIS CAVE IS MAMMOTH!

This morning, we made our way up I-65 from Nashville and headed to Mammoth Cave National Park on the recommendation of our friend, Toni.  Mammoth Cave is known as the longest cave system in the world, and we took a tour to see just a small part of this amazing underground labyrinth.

Our tour was two hours (and 400+ stairs) long winding up and down through some tight areas.  I was thankful to be no taller (or heavier!) than I am, because I could only imagine how difficult it would be for somebody of either description to make it through.

I was also VERY thankful I came through my hip surgery so well, because today was a good test of the strength of my hip.  I’m sure glad I was so diligent about doing my physical therapy exercises!  My hip did great today.

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ROAD TRIP DAY 2: MUSIC CITY, NASHVILLE

If you toured the mansions of famous people, you probably heard the word, “don’t” a lot before (and during) the tour. “Don’t sit on the furniture!” and “Don’t touch ANYTHING!” were probably the two you heard the most. I know I have.

Well, today we were on a mansion tour where the first thing we heard from the guide was, “Please pick up and play one of the guitars if you would like! And, try on Kenny Chasney’s leather jacket!” She also said, “Please sit on the furniture !” and “Use any of the bathrooms if you need to…!” We were also instructed to “Make yourself at home and enjoy!”

At Fontanel Mansion, all of the guests are given the same instructions, but we were fortunate to have a special tour guide for the twelve of us on what was supposed to be a 1:15 minute tour that turned into 1:40. Our guide was Jamie, the daughter of Barbara Mandrell, a person who obviously had the inside scoop on what it was like to live in this mansion and have such a famous mom. Her stories were as fun as the mansion itself!

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The Mansion is a 27,000 square foot log home– the largest log house ever built– is the former home of Country Music Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell. (When their three kids were grown and moved out, they “downsized” to a 5,000 square foot home and sold the mansion.) It was an architectural masterpiece, and the interior logs were the most gorgeous I had ever seen. It was built by Barbara Mandell’s husband, Ken Dudney and his crew, and it took 14 months to complete. It was completed in 1988.

The “Great Room” was truly great! Extremely valuable autographed guitars (displayed out in the open rather than in glass cases) lined the walls, and we were instructed to take them down and play them if we wished. We opted for photos instead.

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The home features five fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, a 300 gallon fish tank, an indoor swimming pool, and a shooting range. My favorite feature, though, were the three bears carved out of one log. Those three little bears represent Barbara and Ken’s three children.

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Bruce and I were not only struck by the beauty of this magnificent home, we also found the warmth and down-to-earth friendliness of Jamie quite striking. She was raised well and didn’t take her upbringing for granted. All of the memories she shared with us about being on the road with her mom were upbeat and positive.

Jamie’s favorite memory? Waking up as a little girl each morning in the touring RV, looking out the curtained window, and discovering what state fare hey were at that day. (Jamie had actually already been in 48 states by the time she was 2 years old, so these were repeats!)

After our tour, we headed back downtown to take in the views from the pedestrian bridge, stroll the streets, and ride the Music City Circuit. Along the way, we saw a vintage guitar store, so we returned on the bus late in the afternoon to check it out (along with a nearby chocolate shop!).

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Check out the price of these boots!  Can you imagine spending four figures for a pair of BOOTS?

Check out the price of these boots! Can you imagine spending four figures for a pair of BOOTS?

Carter Vintage Guitars was like a museum. Hundreds of gorgeous vintage guitars and amps were on display for sale, the most expensive I saw was $105,000. There were also an additional 87 guitars in cases on the floor, recently purchased from guitar collector (and 3-time Grammy Award winner), Steve Earle who was reducing his collection.P1200138

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The mandolin on the right was priced at $105,000!

The mandolin on the right was priced at $105,000!

Our final highlight of the day had nothing to do with Nashville at all. On our first full day on the road, Bruce received an Etsy order for 7 pairs of earrings, a record for a single order. He also received an order from another buyer for a pair of earrings. We brought our “store” with us, but if this keeps up, we’ll end up the trip with a cleaned-out shop!