TL;DR | The last stop together! We had the distinct pleasure of taste-testing the two finest hot chicken places in the capital of honky tonk with friends Matt and Vic, before Emily flew back to reality (and Stephen paced his return with a 16 hour drive back to Boston).

Nashville represented the last real stop on the trip for us; Emily had to fly out from there in order to make it to her training for the new job, leaving Stephen to finish out the journey by car solo (this was neither of our first choice, but the opportunity for Emily to start working right away was quite compelling). We were meeting up with our friends Matt and Victoria, and were looking forward to eating and drinking our way through the city together.

We woke up at 4:30am in order to make it to Nashville in time to pick Matt and Vic up from the airport. Unfortunately we were too tired to realize that the Great Smokys were in a different time zone than Nashville, so we arrived over an hour early at the airport. No matter, as we promptly headed to a coffee shop (where we're pretty sure we saw Brittany Howard, of Alabam Shakes fame!) after stuffing everyone and all respective suitcases in the car.  After coffee we hit up Monell’s, a family-style breakfast and lunch place with all the fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, biscuits, and gravy we could eat.

That first meal set the tone for how much we would be eating in Nashville. Yes, we did go to Broadway and stopped in at Robert’s Western World, part-time boot shop, part-time honky tonk venue. The music was excellent, as we had heard most music in Nashville would be. We also managed to get last-minute tickets to see Chick Corea at the Nashville Symphony Hall, which -- while not exactly country -- was still a wonderful way to experience the diversity of music the city has to offer.

Our AirBnB was conveniently located walking distance to downtown, where we explored the Gulch (a newly trendy neighborhood, which we decided was a little too trendy for us), music row (where RCA Studio B is located), and more of Broadway. We also made a trip out to Yazoo and Jackalope Brewing companies. We took the tour at Yazoo, but played trivia at Jackalope (losing in a thrilling tie-breaker, despite Matt's trivia expertise, where Emily learned just how big the GDPs of the US and China are). Both had excellent beers, some of which we brought back with us.

A true highlight of Nashville, though, was the hot chicken. And we're not talking about the recent KFC commercials -- this is the real thing. We went to both Hattie B’s and Prince’s since no one can agree which is the best. We got to Hattie B’s early to get ahead of the line, but even showing up before they opened wasn’t quite enough to avoid the wait. We did watch as people steadily joined us, snaking down the street before the doors even opened. We went all in and ordered a catering platter, with 24 hot chicken tenders, sides of collard greens and mac n’ cheese, and of course plenty of iced sweet tea. It was delicious, exactly what we wanted. The medium heat was pretty hot, and the hot was definitely a commitment. But they know what they are doing at Hattie B’s; we had not yet been to Prince’s, but we were suitably impressed with our first experience.

Despite our glutinous chicken consumption, we soldiered on to meet up with Tara, Stephen’s friend from Tufts who now goes to Vanderbilt. While catching up, we enjoyed popsicles at Pelotas and and ice cream Jeni’s, ignoring our stomach’s protests.

Our last day we took in a view of Broadway from the rooftop of Acme before heading to a local park to play a desultory game of Frisbee. We knew we were heading to Prince’s later, but in the meantime to quench our thirst we stopped at the Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden. All we got were fountain soda concoctions, which were unexpectedly delicious and refreshing. We needed the extra boost before arriving at Prince’s to a line similar to what we had seen at Hattie B’s. Unlike Hattie B's, Prince’s boasts a very different atmosphere, and a very different crowd. While Hattie B’s is downtown and catered toward tourists, Prince’s has no frills and few places to sit. According to the story on the wall, Prince was a notorious womanizer who came home a little too late one night to his wife. In order to punish him, she made him chicken but marinated it in hot sauce. He loved it, and made the delicious backfire into a restaurant. We waited a long time in line, and even longer after ordering. There was absolutely no rush to deliver a guest’s food there, but man was it worth it (Stephen fought the critics and ordered two full meals, with exactly 0 regrets). The spice levels were even more intimidating, but it was clear why people bear the wait.

Emily, Matt, and Victoria were all on the same flight back to Boston. As Stephen pulled up to the airport, it was hard to imagine this was the end of traveling together. It felt like just another side trip; that the journey would resume when Emily came back. We will have a separate conclusion post about the entire experience so no need to belabor it here, but suffice it to say we ended the trip in style, with great friends and great food. A big thanks to Matt and Vic for making the trip down, and helping us to round out this extraordinary trip in the best possible way.