Monthly Archives: March 2013

Snow in the Mountains

We’d heard that there was snow coming from Monday and on into Tuesday, before a marked increase in temperatures from Wednesday onwards. So Tuesday would be the only day that could pose a distinct problem to anyone needing to get off the mountain that we were temporarily calling home. What day did we need to leave? Tuesday.

Although we had a four wheel drive vehicle we still didn’t fancy the idea of navigating it down the steep and bendy mountain roads in the snow, so we took it down and parked it right at the bottom of the mountain on Sunday while the weather was still lovely and sunny. We spent the afternoon on our balcony looking out at the sunshine and wondering how it could possibly turn so much colder in such a short space of time. However, on Monday morning we woke to see it snowing and it didn’t stop for the entire day. It occasionally got a little lighter, then back to blizzard conditions, but that was it. Just snow. It made the views look particularly Alpine and picturesque. Not your usual Easter weather though.

As we weren’t going anywhere for the day we decided to make the most of the cabin and its facilities. More rounds of pool ensued, unfortunately with the husband remaining victorious. We also braved the outside hot tub a couple of times even though this meant sweeping the snow from the balcony and from the hot tub itself before jumping in. Jumping in very gingerly, of course, so we didn’t slip and break our necks. Thankfully it was 104f in the water so we were nice and toasty in there. A little more of the Tennessee bourbon may also have helped keep things warm. By the time we got out again I had snowflakes covering my hair. My whisky glass had even started to freeze up its sides (perhaps putting ice cubes in it was a little unnecessary). And we then had to skip back through a fresh covering of snow on the balcony in order to get back into the cabin. Well, you have to try these things, don’t you?

Despite the snow not letting up for the entire day, weirdly it hadn’t settled at all on the road or on our driveway. We had heard that a gritter usually makes it way up there in bad weather but it certainly hadn’t been onto our property so we couldn’t work out how the driveway was so completely clear. We wondered whether we might have been able to drive down after all as we tucked ourselves into our warm and cosy bed for one final night of listening to the wind howl outside like a Scooby Doo ghost (it didn’t sound half so bad downstairs – typical).

When we looked out of the windows on Tuesday morning, however, we realised we had made the right decision after all. The snow was now about four inches deep on our driveway and there is no way we would have got the car down there. Well, actually, getting down would have been easy but stopping before reaching the edge of the road might have been a small concern. As it was, the husband decided to travel part of the way on his posterior. That may not have been entirely his own decision, I suppose. It did make me feel better about losing at pool though. The rest of the journey on foot was nicely uneventful but we were definitely happy not to be trying to drive down.

Of course, once we were at the foot of the mountain, the weather was a lot more favourable so we had no problems getting back across to Nashville. The I40 has now become very familiar and does rather remind me of the A30 into Cornwall with its rugged countryside scenery.

So now we find ourselves in Nashville Airport, in another military lounge, after what feels like a very extended holiday. The people of Tennessee are so incredibly friendly and welcoming that I feel rather sad to be leaving. Definitely my favourite place to have visited so far. Must talk the husband into a return visit – perhaps next time to a cabin that’s not quite so far up a steep mountain in the depths of a blizzard.

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Hello Dolly!

The bed here in our cabin is amazing. Not only is it huge, like all American beds (it could comfortably sleep four people) but it’s spectacularly soft and squidgy. When you get in you kind of fall right down into the middle. Not in that bad way because it’s ancient and all the springs have gone but just because it’s like falling into a cloud. To get up again you have to kind of brace yourself and then roll up and out over the side.

But get up we did. Because we were off to Dollywood!!

If you haven’t heard of it, this is a theme park owned by none other than Dolly Parton herself. It has all the usual theme park rides, lots of shows (many of which have won awards), an eagle sanctuary and just a few small things about Dolly herself. And it’s only about 15 minutes’ drive from where we are staying, so it would be rude not to pay it a visit.

We managed to spend a full day at the park without finding the time to go on any rides at all, that’s how big the place is. We did ride the Dollywood Express, which is a genuine steam train that takes you for a short ride up into the mountains. Other than that we seemed to be rushing around between shows and street performances, as it is currently the Festival of Nations so there are lots of different performers from around the world all gathered at Dollywood. In particular we saw a Bollywood dance show, which would have been pretty awesome on its own. However at the end of the show we had a surprise visit onstage by the lady herself, Miss DP, as it was the first day of the 2013 season and she wanted to welcome all the visitors to her home. She got a standing ovation from the crowd. It’s clear that she’s greatly adored by people in these parts. We overheard a lot of visitors saying that they have season passes as they like to come back so often, particularly when they know that “Miss Dolly” will be in town. Quite a few of these people seem to drive about 5 hours each way just to catch a glimpse of her. It’s true that she is a massive asset to the economy, as Pigeon Forge (or Blackpool in the Mountains, as it looks to us) would not be anywhere near so thriving were it not for Dollywood or the other businesses that have grown up around it. More than that, though, she has always remained faithful to her roots and her hometown and is always singing its praises and doing what she can to help the community. People love her for that.

After the excitement of seeing Actual Dolly Parton in the flesh, we went to see the Wings of America bird show. At Dollywood they have a bald eagle sanctuary and they do a lot of work towards the conservation of this bird that is the national symbol. The show included lots of different birds of prey and was educational as well as entertaining. At the end the main trainer sang a heartfelt song about America while holding a bald eagle on his arm. Well that was weird.

Dollywood also showcases a lot of traditional crafts, such as wagon-making, iron work, etc., against a background of old-time Tennessee, to give you a flavour of what it was like when Dolly was a little girl. This made it feel like we were rooted in a very specific place rather than in yet another plastic park in Anywheresville USA, and this is exactly the type of experience I have been after as I want to see the many different sides of America while we are living here.

At the end of the day we headed off to watch the big parade and we got up close and personal with Actual Dolly Parton again – this time only a couple of feet away ….. She is looking pretty spectacular for someone who is approaching seventy. Then again, most of her constituent parts are probably considerably younger than that 🙂

What a brilliant day. I don’t think I have quite converted the husband to Dolly as successfully as the Graceland experience, although I think I caught him humming Nine to Five so there may be hope yet.

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The Cabin in the Woods

So we hit the road from Nashville early this morning and headed off to the Great Smoky Mountains. The scenery changed almost as soon as we had left behind the Spaghetti Junction that is Nashville and it started to become more wild, picturesque and mountainous. It seemed to take forever to get to our destination, probably because we were really impatient to arrive!

First of all, though, we stopped off at Walmart to load up on supplies for the weekend. We could find everything except wine. What sort of Walmart doesn’t sell wine, I ask you? One in the Bible Belt apparently. Even though they sell beer. Is that a more divine sort of alcohol? Well it’s our wedding anniversary this weekend so we were determined to find a bit of celebratory fizz. We got pointed in the direction of a little package store which sold all sorts of wines and spirits, all at much more inflated prices than Walmart usually charges. Of course. Having found the place, it seemed rude not to buy some honey whisky as well as a little anniversary vino.

We then took a trip into the Great Smoky Mountains themselves. The weather forecast looks a little changeable (between rain and snow) for the weekend so we thought we should fit in a bit of the scenery now in case we don’t get another chance. Several of the higher points within the Park are still closed due to ice and snow, and we saw a fair amount of the white stuff in the areas that we reached. It was incredible how cold it suddenly went (a change of about fifteen degrees Fahrenheit from the entrance of the park up to 5,000 feet) and there were some impressive icicles along the route. There is also a landslide which has taken out a large chunk of the road, meaning that you can only drive about 22 miles in from the Tennessee side rather than all the way across to North Carolina (although we did just reach the state line). It’s a good reminder of how we’re at the mercy of nature and we’re only in the Park as much as nature wants us to be.

We checked into our cabin around 4pm after a hair-raising trip up some very vertical slopes. Going back down is likely to be even more interesting. We got straight into the outdoor hot tub which is on a balcony with some spectacular views of the mountains. It was a little surreal when it started snowing on us. However we also have an indoor Jacuzzi if it gets really cold outside! The cabin is lovely, really cosy, with everything you could need and more (including an electric can opener – sadly I wish we’d brought some tinned food just so I could have a go). We even have a pool table (score is 2-1 to the husband currently). We would be quite happy to just stay in here for the next few days until it’s time to go home, although we’re likely to venture out a few times I’m sure. There’s a lovely little book in the cabin that lots of previous visitors have written in and it seems to be a popular anniversary destination so I think we’ve picked well.

The husband keeps staring out of the windows; I thought he was thinking deep thoughts. Apparently he’s keeping an eye out for bears. I’m not sure what he’s going to do if he actually sees one.

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Nashville Skyline

Another nicely uneventful trip along the interstate, this time in the opposite direction as we were headed back to Nashville in the bright but very chilly sunshine. Still couldn’t persuade the husband to stop at Dude Ranch for me to find out exactly what goes on there. Bought a bucket of coffee from McDonald’s which kept me going for most of the journey. Which reminds me, we’re staying at the Maxwell House Hotel tonight, which is the original home of the coffee of the same name, so I’m pleased to say that this is one of those very rare hotels where you don’t get forced into drinking Starbucks.

So another lightning visit into Nashville, this time into the city centre itself which is really very nice and welcoming. There’s a lot of construction going on, lots of investment into this city’s future which seems to be a marked contrast to Memphis and its run-down ruins. Of course it has its own TV drama series now which is making it a popular place to be. In fact they have closed off one of the main bars in the city today so they can film for the show. So we spent most of our time in another bar, listening to a great country band knocking out a lot of the classics. Well we assume they were anyway. I recognised one song. Which is one more than the husband. Oh, and on the subject of music, whereas two days ago he was refusing to listen to Elvis Radio in the car, now we have been to Graceland he can’t get enough of the guy so we have been listening to it for most of today’s journey. The power of the King.

The weather has gone markedly colder today, although we have been half expecting a bit of snow and that hasn’t happened yet. Lovely clear blue skies but chuffing chilly. So as long as we can get to our cabin in the woods tomorrow we should be in for several lovely days and nights of being cosied up together around the fire. I love Nashville but I kind of want today to hurry up and finish so we can get on our way!

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Never Loved Elvis

I have never been a fan of Elvis. I didn’t have anything against him, but he was a little bit before my time so he was a distant memory. I used to enjoy watching his films on a rainy Sunday afternoon but that was about as far as it went.

And then I visited Graceland today. Wow. What a legend.

The mansion itself, as everyone always says, is fairly small. It’s probably only as large as the posh houses in the street across from where I live. I suspect that’s just a sign of the times that he lived in (and the fact that we live in such disgustingly material times now). However the property has lots of land with outbuildings and horses etc. It’s a real time capsule; I loved a lot of the décor which is incredibly dated now but a real measure of the period it was from. I felt very much at home in the wood-panelled rooms which reminded me of my own childhood home from the seventies/eighties (although we didn’t have green shag carpet on the ceilings). I couldn’t quite work out why he needed three staircases to the upstairs, and two to the basement, but maybe that’s just rock star excess for you. I was disappointed by the pool room, only because I expected to see a swimming pool as I rounded the corner. Sadly there was a pool table. Oh well.

I hadn’t really ever before grasped exactly how much of a massive star he really was. I mean, yes, everyone knows who Elvis was, blah blah. But it’s when you see the stacks and stacks of gold discs and awards that it really hits home. And he never played a concert outside of North America but he remains a global superstar. A pretty massive achievement by any measure.

The thing that really got me is the fact that he frequently gave money to charities and needy people on the quiet. It’s also evident from all his quotes that he was always very respectful and incredibly grateful for his success and this is probably why he was always so ready to share his good fortune. What a lovely guy.

It also doesn’t hurt that actually he was fairly easy on the eye. I’d never really appreciated that before.

So for a couple of non-believers it was pretty moving to finally see his grave and pay our respects. It was totally worth the three hour drive out of our way to Memphis.

I learned three things today.

Elvis was born 19 days after my mother.

The 68 Special Elvis is my favourite Elvis.

And, above all, Elvis was a top bloke.

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Walking in Memphis – DUCK!!

A nice easy drive to Memphis from Nashville (especially for me, I was the passenger/navigator). And, middle-aged though it sounds, I must say the rest stop on the interstate was lovely. It’s not often you find a nice clean public toilet like that. And now I sound like my mother.

Sadly I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of the sign for Dude Ranch as we sped by. I don’t know what happens there, but I sure want to go and find out.

On arrival in Memphis we went for a potter around Beale Street, which is pretty much required for any visit to the city. It’s like a very miniature version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans and is not quite in the same league but it’s nice all the same. We paid a visit to the Gibson Guitar Factory along with a few other landmarks on the way. Memphis also has a lot of abandoned and disused warehouses and factories which are a magnificent, if slightly eerie, sight. And yet again we took a potter down to the banks of the Mississippi, just to check it was still around as we hadn’t seen it since Louisiana.

However, the highlight of the day was a visit to the Peabody Ducks. They are “world famous” but I think that’s meant in the same way that the Superbowl winners are “world” champions, i.e. it only actually counts in the USA. The Peabody is one of those lovely classy old hotels that still have doormen in top hats. For eighty years it has also had its own flock of ducks. They live in their own penthouse suite on the roof of the hotel. At 11am daily they are led downstairs to the lobby by their Duckmaster (in the lift and then along their own red carpet, no less) to the fountain where they spend 6 hours swimming and splashing around. At 5pm the Duckmaster leads them back up to their penthouse for the night. We went along to witness the 5pm retreat. It’s a lovely spectacle. I know it sounds a bit rubbish to say that I went to see five ducks get out of a fountain and walk along a red carpet, but it really is an entertaining diversion. We also went up to see their penthouse with its spectacular views across the city. Lucky ducks.

We spent a little while in one of the Peabody’s bars for their very welcoming happy hour. We seem to be making a habit of staying in the cheaper hotels but spending our time partaking of the hospitality in the posher hotels. A most agreeable way to holiday, if you ask me.

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A Grand Ole Day with the Good Ole Boys – Nashville Day 1

Holidays are here again – yeehaw!

Well the day started wonderfully with a trip to the USO Lounge at the airport. The USO lounge is a common thing in many American airports. It’s a lounge for the use of military personnel with drinks and snacks, comfy sofas, a TV, DVD library, books for loan, computers, all free of charge. It doesn’t take a lot to do it but it really means a lot. More than this, the one we visited today was staffed by a lovely couple who chatted to us for ages and made us feel really welcome. Another small way in which the military are treated so differently from in the UK.
We had a nicely uneventful flight, considering we had expected thunderstorms. The pilot found a good detour around the weather and landed us fairly smoothly. So my breakfast stayed where it should. We had a cat under the seat behind us which seemed to cope pretty well with the flight; just a few meows and an indignant yowl or two during the turbulence (to be honest, I think it coped better than I did). Our old cat, Scoop, used to whine constantly throughout the whole of any car journey, usually only terminating with the evacuation of the feline bowels, so (cowboy) hats off to this particular cat for doing so well.

We only had half a day in Nashville so we had planned it with military precision (not surprisingly). First up we dashed to Cooter’s Place which is a museum dedicated to the Dukes of Hazzard. It is well worth the free admission. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It isn’t worth travelling out of your way for but it certainly made the day for two old farts who used to watch Bo & Luke (well, Daisy, in the case of my husband) before bath and bedtime back in the eighties. I’m only sad that I won’t be able to make it back for the date in June when the whole cast will be making an appearance. I could probably just have sat the husband in the General Lee for the afternoon and then come back to find him a very happy chap. Daisy Duke’s hotpants hanging on the washing line also made him quite cheerful.

The other stand out visit of the day was to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. “Hotel” probably doesn’t really do it justice. It’s a MAHOOSIVE complex with conservatory type roofing so you have the impression of being outside while actually being closeted away inside. And WHAT an inside. It has acres of indoor botanical gardens, with cafes and restaurants tucked away round corners and on islands. Every time you think you’ve seen it all, you turn a corner and then there’s another expanse of amazeballs. It even has its own indoor river, complete with boats if you fancy a cruise around. It has so many places to eat, drink and shop, you could spend all week there and probably not go to the same place twice. You could also easily lose someone in there. (I tried.) Wow is not the word. Well, it probably is, actually. Wow. Imagine a hotel designed by Willy Wonka and you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sadly we didn’t stay there.

Our other visit of the day was to the Grand Old Opry. We managed to be here on one of the few days that they don’t have a show on. So obviously there’s only one thing for it. We’re coming back another time for a show and a nice night in the Gaylord. I just have to work on the husband now.

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