Day 11 – On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine

Day 11 – On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine

Pigeon Forge to Roanoke

Time for the return leg back to DC. Goodbye to the South and thanks y’all!

An epic drive today. Could have been more epic as we had intended to do the entire route via the Blue Ridge Parkway but, once it became apparent that this would cause us to miss our homeward flight in a week’s time, we diverted onto interstates for part of the route.

The Blue Ridge Parkway itself is as scenic as you might expect, but dangerously so. Not only is it distracting, but there is an urge to stop at every overlook, which would extend the journey time beyond the end of the universe. To be honest, it all looks very similar and, although it is quite spectacular with layers of mountains gradually fading into the distance, I don’t think that the camera will do it justice. Still, this country has far too much space and too much scenery!

Blue Ridge Mountains

Mighty fine view!

I couldn’t help thinking about the Waltons and Laurel & Hardy as we drove through. Just looked it up and we are not far from the Walton’s museum – I think they have the original farmhouse used in the TV series. Little too close to Charlottesville for comfort though and Ethan has no idea what the Walton’s was all about.

We have probably seen more of rural America today than on any of our other trips. Lots of it looks very pleasant and patriotic (I can’t imagine seeing that sort of concentration of flags outside houses in the UK). Other parts look a little more sinister with menacing looking shacks and imagined sheds full of meat hooks. We were both a little concerned when the sat nav threw a wobbly in Arse End, Virginia.

There are of course some great place names. I was somewhat disappointed, given that I know there is a theme park containing a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark, that is wasn’t on Mount Ararat Hill as we drove through.

We resisted (well mostly) the urge for juvenile humour at Rocky Knob and by the time we passed through Back Creek after almost 10 hours of driving, it sounded oddly prophetic.

A lightweight 7 hour scenic drive tomorrow…

Day 10 – From the Top of the World to the Bottom of the Barrel

Day 10 – From the Top of the World to the Bottom of the Barrel

Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg / Smoky Mountains

A day of contrasts today. We are perched in the hills high above Pigeon Forge, living in the lap of luxury…

Down in Pigeon Forge, life does not seem to run at the same slow pace. Imagine Skegness and Blackpool combined, throw in a little Vegas showmanship and overdo it in the way that only Americans can, and you will have some idea of what Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are like. As far as I can make out, Pigeon Forge is where the larger attractions are and the all-you-can-eat sing-along-ho-down-diner-barns (Americans love their barns!) and Gatlinburg is more arcades, souvenir shops and catering for the hard-core drinkers with the moonshine tasting experiences. My cold had reached the level where I couldn’t smell anything, but the moonshine bars managed to break through that – although I sensed it first with my eyes!

The joys of Pigeon Forge

Sunday breakfast in Pigeon Forge was quite an experience. I suspect that on top of the tourists, it may be an occasion for folk to come down from the hills. Nuff said.

From Pigeon Forge we drifted into the Smokies proper and up to Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the east Smokies I am reliably informed. The majestic views were somewhat veiled. I can’t help but think that sometimes things can be a little too smoky!

Ethan, of course, is still looking forward to meeting the creators of these that we keep seeing everywhere…

Be afraid, be very afraid…

The trees are full of them and we can’t figure out whether each is the work of one spider or a colony. Not sure which is worse.

And just when I was feeling bad about once again stereotyping folk, this turned up at the cabin below us…


Day 7 – The Hall of the Mountain What Now?

Day 7 – The Hall of the Mountain What Now?

Chattanooga to Atlanta

A day of mountains today, of which I thoroughly approve of course. We started the day with a visit to Rock City on Lookout Mountain, the sole purpose for us including Chattanooga in the trip. Those who have read American Gods will know that it is one of the key sites in the book, but I won’t add any spoilers for those who are just watching the series (should arrive about season 3 or 4 at the current rate I guess!).

Rock City seems to have started as someone’s garden on a cliff with a view over a number of states and in true American style was seized upon as potential gold mine. It follows the standard pattern of taking a natural wonder and “enhancing” it with some bizarrely manufactured kitsch. The “Enchanted Trail” is all very pleasant (piped soothing music notwithstanding).

Fat Man's Squeeze

… and yes I did make it through! Things get decidedly

Things get decidedly weirder as you venture into the Fairytale Cavern.

Moonshine Gnomes

Moonshine Gnomes

Red Ridng Hood

I love this stuff. There is something very appealing about a personal folly elevated to the level of obsession and shared with the public (it’s what makes the internet great after all). If you are going to do it, may as well go for it! I can see why Neil Gaiman latched onto these places as places of power.

Anyway, having had our fill of gnomes, it was on to Atlanta via Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain is America’s version of Ayers Rock – a huge granite monolith (only about a tenth of which is above ground), rising 1700 feet just outside Atlanta.

Stone Mountain

Granite Iceberg

Stone Mountain

We toyed with the idea of walking up for all of 4 seconds before leaping on to the cable car to the top. Stopped for a snack in the cafe, but the only veggie option was fries. I went for the cheesy option, thinking UK style cheesy chips and then looked on with horror as they piped some noxious gloop on top. Ethan was very amused.  It is a bizarre concoction which seems to combine a very unpleasant slimy texture with a thoroughly bland taste, and yet not quite bland enough…

Didn’t stop me eating the fries of course, but I felt dirty.

At least the dining was better in Atlanta later, even if it was in a restaurant famed for its bison.


Home for the next few days

Day 6 – Elvis has (largely) left the building

Day 6 – Elvis has (largely) left the building

Memphis to Chattanooga

Today could be a struggle. We started off with a trip to the pharmacy to get some drugs for the poorly one and I can feel whatever lurgy he has burrowing its way into me.

Still, a trip to Graceland beckoned so we manned up and hit the road. The actual mansion turns out to be smaller than expected

Smaller on the Inside

but it manages to cram in a fair amount of tackiness. Any room that has carpet on all surfaces is pure class. I would say that the decor is of its time, but I don’t quite remember the 60s and 70s like that.

Onwards with the tour and a visit to the grave. People were still genuinely upset visiting the grave 40 years after his death. Given the sombre atmosphere, I felt that reenacting the scene from Spinal Tap might be considered inappropriate. All those hours learning the harmonies to Heartbreak Hotel wasted…

Since my baby left me..?

Leaving Graceland, we girded our loins for the long drive to Chattanooga, passing through Mississppi, Alabama and (briefly) Georgia (tick, tick and tick). We were both a little nervous about stopping for food. Spotted a shack called the Camo Cafe and wondered whether to stop. Not so much. A Burger King further down the line seemed a better bet. The staff were the friendliest, most helpful people I have met on the trip so far. That will teach me to harbour unwarranted prejudice based on shallow media stereotypes! Alabama also looked pretty pleasant and (mostly) devoid of Confederate flags, so there you go: more civilised than Norfolk. Move on. That said, I was very careful not to give any excuse to be pulled over by a southern sheriff.

Sweet Home Alabama

In Huntsville we passed the space centre. Had I realised that we would be passing that way I would have tried to spend some time there. The Saturn V and space shuttle looked pretty impressive even from the road.


Day 5 – Pyramids, Goats and Absinthe

Day 5 – Pyramids, Goats and Absinthe

Memphis to… well, Memphis

It would appear that Memphis has broken Ethan. Whether it is the syrupy air or some airborne malady emanating from the Mississippi, he seems to be struggling with a sore throat and feeling a little iffy. Looks like the Nicholls men will not be taking Memphis by storm tonight.

I just about convinced him to venture out for some food (first taste of catfish at the Flying Fish cafe – surprisingly good!), and then dragged him along to Beale Street to soak up the atmosphere. He clearly felt that he had soaked up enough of the atmosphere earlier in the day and dismissed the experience with a “Like Vegas, but sleazier”.  I don’t necessarily disagree, but the music is much better. So with a sense of regret and a vague urge to head back to the absinthe bar later, we left Beale Street behind, reeling from Ethan’s disapproval.

Like Vegas, but sleazier

We stopped on the way to replenish our supply of Wild Turkey with honey, the new favoured tipple, which Ethan tried to pass off as a medicinal requirement. I was rather amused to be IDed for this (I’m assuming it is Tennessee law rather than holiday relaxation resulting in me looking under 21) and quite pleased to partake of the American tradition of carrying a bottle of spirits in a brown paper bag, Fitted right in with some of the locals.

Will have to sneak in past the Sleepless One though. The concierge in the building seems to be there 24/7. Not only is he in the lobby every time we have entered or left the building, but he has also been in the elevator several times when I have called it. I am beginning to be just a little freaked out by this…

It’s been another long day, although one without driving. Had I booked the right day for Graceland, I would have had to get the car out of the car park. I would like to think that I had planned it that way, but it is clear that only one of us did any planning! Anyway, Graceland tomorrow left the day open for some exploring.

Wandering around Memphis, it is obvious that the recession has hit here. Much of it is very run down, although, in common with most US cities, it is easy to move from run down to swank in the space of a few hundred yards. I have to say that everyone is really friendly here – even people asking for money, No sign of the tension which is gripping large parts of the US in Memphis.

So, following an abortive attempt to visit the civil rights museum (not open on Tuesdays apparently; not our first inappropriate day for an activity on this trip), we wandered down the riverfront to the pyramid. Yes, Memphis has a pyramid. Get over it.

En route we passed a memorial to the Sultana disaster. I couldn’t help but agree with Ethan when is espoused the view that anything involving sultanas is a disaster.


Onwards to the pyramid, which is a sporting goods store containing a fake swamp with real alligators – don’t attempt to understand the logic, just go with it.

Not Egypt

Any sign of alligators?

Following that, we trudged back through the heat for a boat trip, The trip itself was pretty dull ( just a loop between several bridges, but the commentary was quite entertaining and for at least half of the journey, there was a very welcome stiff breeze), but it was on the Mississippi, nuff said.

Oddest thing of the day? Irish goats. I must remember to ask Dec about this – I had no idea it was a thing:

It’s not clear whether the goats are Irish or whether they tend to dive at Irish people and hence the warning.


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