From the Mountains to the Sea

Ready for more travelogue information? While this is part diary/part travel journal, I think you might find some useful tips if you’re traveling to the mountains or the sea.

Tuesday and Wednesday were shopping days in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg areas. Just like other touristy areas, these have every type of store imaginable. You can buy hats, salt and pepper shakers, jewelry, books, pottery, and well, you get the picture. To me, the high point of Tuesdays’ expedition was eating at the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grill.I liked it so much that I wrote a review of it for Trip Advisor, and if you go to the area, please check it out. Unlike the dozens of people standing outside in the sizzling sun for a seat at the restaurant across the street, Old Mill, we didn’t have to wait long at all.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 was a hot day in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. I know because I had to wait, wait, wait on trolleys in all three places. Still, we wanted to experience Gatlinburg on the nation’s birthday, and so did thousands of other Americans. Although we didn’t relish the waiting, at least our time was spent in an entertaining way: people watching. I love this great country, and I enjoyed watching so many different ages, sizes, shapes, colors, and ethnicities who, like us, were in the celebratory mode. Some were even wearing red, white, and blue clothing. While everywhere we went in Gatlinburg was busy, the aquarium was an especially “happening place.” Plus, it had the biggest flag in town.

When I recall the highlights of the Fourth, the morning walk and all the flags along the parkway top the list. The evening meal is a close second. I doubt if anyone in the good old U.S. of A. had yummier burgers and hot dogs. And lest I forget, the apple crumb pie and vanilla ice cream were tasty too.

Up early on Thursday, we packed up, said our good-byes, and parted company. On the way home, I convinced my husband to stop in Hendersonville for a visit to the Mast General Store (my favorite of the Mast stores), and that three-hour interlude turned a so-so day into a memorable one. For starters, there was a sale going on, always a plus. Then Lynn and Karen, a brother and sister-in-law, also decided to take a side trip to Hendersonville. After shopping there for a while, we all found treasures and then decided to break bread together before going our separate ways.

Because of a tip from one of the Mast employees, we strolled a block or so down the street and walked into the Mountain Deli. We like the ambience and layout of the diner immediately. There were several tables at the front, and the lunch crowd seated there had a great view of downtown Hendersonville and its many artistically painted bears. We were greeted enthusiastically by a young man behind the counter and then sat in a booth to study the menu. Pleased by the variety of sandwich offerings (including breads), we all ordered something different and pronounced them delicious. This is how much I like the Mountain Deli: I bought an antique dresser box as a memento.

This is worth a separate paragraph: If you’re looking for a beautiful, friendly, clean mountain city to visit, you can’t beat Hendersonville. When my sister-in-law Lisa learned that we had visited there, she exclaimed, “I LOVE that place. In fact I could live there.” Her favorite place to shop there is the Curb Market. She also loves an apple orchard, Sky Top (I think). And then there’s the lovely and historic Carl Sandburg home in nearby Flat Rock. I think I’ve just talked myself into another trip to the area!

In the car once again, we headed to SC, stopping at home long enough to water some plants and pick up a laptop. Then we hopped back in the trusty Highlander and headed to the coast…at last. We stayed at the beach until Monday afternoon and managed to pack some cool experiences in while there.  If you’re interested in some restaurant and shopping tips from a former local (now a part-time one), check this blog tomorrow for an update.

From the Mountains…

Thanks to the generosity of some of my in-laws, we were able to spend part of the holiday week in the mountains of Tennessee. We arrived in Sevierville on the Sunday prior to the Fourth, and shortly after our arrival, the womenfolk went to the local Wal-Mart for provisions. Just gotta say that I’ve been in several Wal-Marts in tourist areas, but I’ve never been in one as crowded as this one. It was “craxy,” extra crazy.

Natrually, I don’t have the time to write about everything we did  and saw (and who would want to read it anyway?), but I do want to record some of our goings-on. So this post is going to be a cross between a journal and a travel diary. Maybe someone reading it will be motivated to go to the Pigeon Forge area and be better informed about what to see and what to avoid.

Before chronicling the events and area attractions, I want to put in a plug for exercise. Truly, there’s no better way go see an area than walking. Every morning we were there, I got up early and walked around Sevierville, and because of this, I saw things that no one else in our group did. I particularly enjoyed seeing the nearby Tanger Outlet come to life as the employees came in to work. I also saw pigs flying at Old McDonald’s Farm. Plus, I ate  ice cream and apple pie without gaining an ounce…carrot cake too.

Every day was unique in its own way, but Monday was probably my favorite because we went to the Smokey Mountain National Park and enjoyed some of that “purple mountain majesty.” While the rest of my party enjoyed a film in the Sugarlands Welcome Center, I walked to Cataract Falls and communed with nature. It was a short walk, .4 mile each way, and relatively flat. At the falls, I met some new friends from Florida, Maya and her grandmother and aunt. I took several photos of them posing on the rocks, and Maya took a couple of me.

I rejoined the group, and we then traveled through the park until we found the perfect picnic spot. And yes, I mean PERFECT. It even had the proverbial babbling brook (or creek?), and there were picnickers all around us. Although the temperature was around 100 degrees, we were shaded by magnificent trees that cooled us off a bit. After eating the sandwiches (complete with fresh summer tomatoes) and chips, Tammy and I walked out on the rocks (love her youthful spirit!) to join the other people enjoying the cool mountain water. That’s when I noticed my Florida friends approaching. They too wanted to walk out on the rocks. Naturally, I took their picture again, and they took ours.

We packed up the remains of our lunch and headed to Cades Cove. I just have to tsay that although I LOVE the beach, this is an awesomely beautiful area. Even though I took several photographs, none do justice to the peaceful, lovely spot in the Smokies. It’s an 11-mile auto tour with several stops along the way. Time prohibited a stop at all of them, but we did visit two old churches and a gift shop disguised as a general store. At the latter location, there were (are) several other structures including an old house and barn. Just walking on the property and absorbing the positive vibes of the place is an experience I’ll always remember. I didn’t want to leave!

If you’re fortunate enough to go to Cades Cove and are wrestling with which stops to make along the way, make sure that the churches are among them. The Primitive Baptist Church has the loveliest resting place (cemetery) that I’ve ever walked through…and I’ve been in my share of cemeteries! Inside, the church was hot as all get out, and I wondered how in the world those worshipers of long ago  kept that spiritual feeling going.

We also visited the Missionary Baptist Church down the road a bit. Originally part of the Primitive Church, its members spilt because of a disagreement about whether to do missionary work or not. The second church was a little larger and had wonderful lighting (from the large windows); it even  had a small vestibule, and I liked thinking about those long ago people stepping through it on their way to the sanctuary. As the icing on the cake, we even got a little religion that day since Tammy read some verses from John to Karen and me. Interestingly, there were several Bibles and hymnals in each church. Nice.

Even the exodus from the park was memorable. The trees, the deer, the turkeys, and the blue haze of the mountains all around us combined to make it an unforgettable ride. Too, being surrounded by my fellow Americans on every side added something to the excursion too! We all especially loved watching the antics of the little boy sitting in the back of the convertible in front of us. Full of life and energy, he kept us entertained.

Back at the resort, the men grilled chicken on one of the community grills. After a delicious meal, we watched the Olympic trials and made plans for the next day. Stay tuned for traveler information!

Blackberries and a Bell Tower

We began our first full day in the capital city fortified with a magnificent breakfast in the hotel dining room. In addition to the customary eggs, bacon, waffles, cereal, and grits, there were other tasty treats such as salmon, capers, and a nice variety of fruit, including my personal favorite, the sweetest, plumpest, most succulent blackberries I’ve ever tasted. Plus, each day we were there, our server brought complimentary strawberry smoothies to us, and I can still taste the rich twang of the fruit. Nice!

Armed with directions, Tilara led our little band of tourists towards the Holocaust Museum. Walking briskly to stay warm, we nonetheless managed to take in the many interesting sights around us. As we stopped at a stoplight, I noticed a lovely young woman with a beautiful smile looking at us. I had begun to wonder if we looked weird or something when she asked, “Do you ladies need some directions?”

After about ten seconds of hesitation, we told her of our destination. She assured us that we were headed in the right direction and then began to fill us in on some inside information, the kind of stuff that residents know. Turns out she was a graduate student at Gallaudet University who was taking the day off to do the tourist thing. Alyssa was missing her mother, and we were missing our daughters, so we five banded together for a splendid day of sightseeing.

After crossing the street, we walked through a beautiful park filled with art work and sculpture. I took several photographs and am including two of my favorites. I love trees, even stark wintry ones, so I was captivated by this silver one whose branches were bereft of foliage. And the headless people? I can’t explain its appeal. Maybe I liked it because of its uniqueness. In my hometown (dear as it is), we have statues of heroes (all male), not a gallery of headless, sexless human creatures.

Alyssa led us across the mall and pointed out the various Smithsonian museums. Continuing our walk, we soon crossed another street and found ourselves at the entry of the Holocaust Museum. Four hours later, we emerged, sobered and vowing to “never forget.” Of all the things I saw and heard there, I think the hundreds of black and white photographs of children, family units, couples, brothers, sisters, and friends affected me the most. Here were people just like me enjoying the sunshine and the fellowship of loved ones, and then there was nothing. While in the gift shop, I reread portions of Elie Weisel’s Night. I immediately remembered reading this on the beach one summer, sure that the bright sun and lapping waves would lessen the horror. They didn’t.

I didn’t take any photographs at this museum. No one did.

Our next stop was the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, an attraction that Connie had read about online. It has a huge statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the United States Post Office, out front so we seized the opportunity for a photo op with him.  While there, we had snacks and enjoyed the beautiful architecture before going  up to the bell tower atop the building. It was freezing! Still, our time there was worthwhile, not only because of all the bells but also because of the fabulous views of the city. The woman working in the tower was kind enough to come out of her warm little cubicle to take this picture.

We told Alyssa that one of our goals was to eat ethnic food while we were in the capital city, and she recommended a restaurant called the Thiatantic. Catchy, huh? On the way to the metro, we walked by the Navy Memorial and took some cool pictures of us with the tall, handsome sailor standing with his duffel bag. As our knowledgeable young tour guide pointed out, he stands overlooking a map of the world.

The metro ride was interesting, and we were all happy to have experienced this as part of our trip. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, we were captivated by its charm. The menu was extensive, the décor was simple yet eloquent, the service was outstanding, and the food was delicious. Interestingly, one of Alyssa’s friends and her beau were also dining there, and she agreed to take our picture.  I enjoyed the evening so much that on our way home, we made a stop in Target so that I could purchase a scarf like Alyssa’s friend was wearing as a momento.

Back on the metro, Alyssa gave us instructions on what to do once we got back in Chinatown and the metro stop that was just a few blocks from our hotel. We all hugged Alyssa good-bye (for now), and Tilara extracted a promise from her that she’d call once she was back in her apartment safe and sound. You’d think four “mature” women would get it right, right? But no, we took a little detour before finally getting on the right train that was going in our direction.

Back at the Renaissance, we chatted about our experiences, all of them made better because of meeting our young friend who was kind enough to share her knowledge of the city. She also taught us some sign language, and one of my favorite expressions is, “Think for yourself.”

Day Two and the Smithsonian to follow….

Sometimes Something Magical Happens

 

After a crazy, busy, two-week whirlwind, I’m back at my laptop pecking out some thoughts.  It’s not that I’ve taken a complete hiatus from writing. It’s just that it’s been scribbled in a notebook, several notebooks actually. Sure hope I can find the ones I need today.

Since my last two posts were about the SCWW conference in Myrtle Beach, I’m going to wrap that up first and then move on to Christmas thoughts and memories. Just like everyone else in the Christian world, I too have my reflections to share, the saddest of which occurred yesterday when I went through a McDonald’s drive-thru. I asked the young woman at the window if she’d had a nice Christmas, and she gave me a sad, bored expression and flatly stated that it had been just another day. I’ll get back to this. For now, let’s wrap up the conference.

One afternoon, I went to a session about travel writing that was led by Bill Starr. Since I’m always taking notes when I see new sights, I think this is something I’d like to do. Interesting and informative, Starr said that the keys to successful travel writing are good writing and keen powers of observation. He also suggested talking to the “natives” and asking them questions.                                                   

Andrew Gross, author of Eyes Wide Open and several other best sellers, was the keynote speaker. In addition to his own books, Gross co-wrote six books with author James Patterson. Personable and inspiring, Gross talked about the importance of believing in your ability to write and then sticking to your work. “Sometimes some magical happens when you sit down in front of a screen,” he said. From his website, I picked up one of Gross’ favorite quotes from Henry Ford that seems to summarize his philosophy: “Some people think they can and some think they can’t and they’re probably both right.”

Gross’s statement about digital sales is so important that I’m putting it in a paragraph by itself. For would-be writers who are still a little gun shy of the digital format, Gross shared that 50 percent of his sales are digital. This information left me wondering about the future of “real” books, the kind of book you can hold in your hands, turn its pages, write in its margins, turn down its corners, and “sense” its essence.

Before the award winners were announced, Brenda Remmes, author of The Quaker Cafe and member of our Camden chapter, told an inspiring story about a parachute packer. Without going into a lot of detail (hoping Brenda will do that on our chapter blog), the gist of the story was that we all need to be there for each other. We need to be the encouragers and parachute packers for our fellow writers. No one, repeat NO ONE, makes it alone.

After my three days in Myrtle Beach, I came home with lots of useful information and a more “can-do” attitude. If I had to choose just one idea that has stayed with me after all these weeks, it’s this one: writing is work. Just like any other endeavor, if you want to be successful at it, you’re going to have to do the time. Hmmm. I think I just got the idea for my next post!