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.

Paths Crossing on Munich Strasse

This weekend my husband and I went on a little anniversary getaway to the mountains of North Georgia. While we did a lot of sightseeing there and back, most of our time was spent in Helen, GA, a unique replica of an Alpine village. We stayed at the Helendorf (more on this later) which is located on Munich Strauss, one reason being that the appearance of the hotel sounded more German than Day’s Inn on Main Street. The other reason is that my son Paul and his family were going to be staying there Saturday night, and I wanted to snag the chance to see them as often as possible.

We hiked, shopped, ate at some interesting restaurants, and in general, just did the “tourist thing.” We especially enjoyed watching the people tubing down the creek and vowed to do that the next time we go there. We also like watching the fishermen (didn’t see any fisherwomen) standing on the rocks of the creek casting their lines out again and again hoping for a big catch. We overheard a woman asking a shopkeeper if he knew where she could get some moonshine, and this naïve small town girl wondered WHY when alcohol seemed to be flowing so freely in the town.

On one of our walks we spotted some horses in a field, and they came over to socialize with us a few minutes. We stood there talking to them, and just as I began to wonder what in the heck one was supposed to say to a horse, a man from across the street came up and gave us a bag of carrots. “Here’s what they want,” he said. At first we were a little hesitant to take the carrots, but after he assured us that he kept several bags on hand for just that purpose, we took them. I loved our little walk that morning; it was breezy and cool and unrushed.

Time is a bit short this morning, so I need to get to the purpose of this post. A couple of decades ago I was at Girls’ Camp with some young people, including my two daughters, from our church. Not a “roughing it” kind of gal, I was only staying for one night, and maybe that’s why the ambience of the camp made such a lasting impression. Tucked away in the woods away from civilization, the area was peaceful and beautiful. That night we walked to a pond and placed candles on the water as reminders to let our lights shine. Seeing everyone’s candles gently floating together was a phenomenal sight and served to illustrate the power of unity and strength.

Of all of my memories of my time there, something else that has stayed with me through the years is a cross stitch sampler hanging in the dining room that read, “We may never pass this way together again.” I’m not sure why that impressed me so much but it did. I looked around at the faces of the people there and knew the truthfulness of that statement. Although I would see most of them again, it wouldn’t be in that setting, and it was then that I decided to  relish every moment that we were together. I also decided to do the same for other life experiences down the road.

So far, I’ve been pretty good at seizing the day and relishing the moment…and recalling them later. This past weekend was no exception. That’s one reason Amanda and I were determined to have family pictures made by the hotel mural before we left. While it’s true that you can hardly see baby Ethan, we can see enough of his face to let viewers know how beautiful he is. And then there’s precious Olivia with her brown bear. All dressed up to go to church in nearby Mt. Airy, she’d been nibbling on Cocoa Puffs just a few moments earlier.

As I look at the picture of all of us, I’m reminded of all of the moments we experienced together (and separately too). Some of mine include watching Paul throw Olivia up in the air in the heated pool the night before as she squealed with delight, the sounds of the babbling brook and laughter of the tubers as they floated by, the taste of the German potato salad that we sampled on Saturday night at the International Restaurant, the gurgling noises of the motorcycles, the sights and sounds of the hike to Anna Ruby Falls, and the ambience of the little village itself.

Will we meet there again? I hope so. I’d like to go tubing with them…or watch the babies so that Paul and Amanda can go. But even if we don’t meet on Munich Strauss again, at least our paths crossed there for a few brief hours.

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….

Road Trip, Road Trip!

I thought I’d have much more time to write when I retired, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because I’m only semi-retired. And maybe it’s because I’m so busy doing other things that I couldn’t do while I was working all the time. Then again, I actually have been writing quite a bit, just not blog posts.

Excuses aside, I’m taking a few minutes to write about my recent trip to Washington, D.C. that I took with some friends. Not only will it help me to remember all of the cool sights and sounds, but it might also encourage some other people to make the trip. Before I get into the nitty gritty details, let me just say that’s it’s an awesome city and one that every American needs to visit.

When Tilara called to invite me about a month ago, I thought, “Sounds great, but I can’t really afford it right now.” Coming on the heels of Christmas, the opportunity was tempting, but I needed to curtail my spending for a while. Then she told me about her time share. Hmmm. Maybe it would be doable after all if I had no lodging expense.

We agreed to look into transportation possibilities including planes, trains, and automobiles and talk in a day or two. By this time, I had begun to think, “Why not?” instead of “No can do.” When Jeanita and Connie said they could go, I knew it was a perfect foursome, and all of my reservations went out the window. We decided that driving was the best way to go and that my car would be the most practical choice. It would hold us and our luggage comfortably, it gets good gas mileage, and it had just had a check up.

We headed out on Friday the 13th the around 7:00 a.m., and before we even made it to the interstate, we had made some ground rules, the main one being that if we were hungry or thirsty or in need of a potty break, we’d stop. We four believe that the journey is just as important as the destination and that there are a lot of interesting experiences to be savored off the beaten path. We didn’t go crazy with this, but we did enjoy lunch at a Cracker Barrel in NC and snacks at a Wawa in Virginia. At Cracker Barrel, we leisurely browsed through the store without someone hurrying us along by saying, “You about through looking?”

Around 4:00 p.m., we arrived in the city and rode around looking for the hotel. Tilara, the Washington expert, was driving, and she was getting concerned that we couldn’t find it right away. The rest of us were loving every minute of riding around the streets and avenues. We were like schoolkids saying, “Oh, look at that!” and “Hey, there’s the Washington monument!!”

Connie spotted the Renaissance, and as soon as we walked into the lobby we fell in love with the ambience. The music and the décor were marvelous, and the feng shui was perfect. We especially liked the library room and took pictures so that we could redo our bookshelves when we got home. On Monday morning Tilara and I met an accounting professor who was studying for classes in the “library.” He and I talked a little about the background work of preparing for class. You can’t just walk into class and go into a programmed spiel unless you’ve read and studied and practiced and tweaked and read and studied some more. But I digress.

That evening when we finally got settled, we made a foray onto the streets for a bite to eat. First we visited Barnes and Noble, and although I didn’t buy anything there, I enjoyed browsing through the books and reading a couple of magazines. Afterwards we walked around a little, and I spied an Anthropologie that I wanted to return to the next morning. It didn’t happen, but it’s not on my list of regrets because there were so many other fantastic things that we did. Plus, there’s always next time.

Hungry and tired from all those hours on the road, we ate at Hard Rock Café. The food was delicious, especially the appetizer, but I wish we could have had a different side than fries. I’m wondering if the chain hasn’t gotten the word that America has a growing obesity epidemic.  Although I liked the music and memorabilia, I’ve been in these establishments in different parts of the country for over 20 years, and they’re starting to run together. My favorite is in Myrtle Beach, SC, maybe because of the staircase descending down, down, down into the restaurant. The sky ceiling is unique too. Oops, I’m digressing again.

We bid Mama, our male server with a unique accent, farewell and walked back to the hotel. Although it was cold and dark, we were caught up in the magic of the capital city, and we took our time walking home, remarking on places we wanted to visit the next morning. The only thing that cast a shadow over the evening was the number of homeless people we saw wrapped in gray blankets. Feeling greedy, selfish, guilty, and compassionate, we left our Hard Rock leftovers on a bench for one of them.

Exhausted, we fell asleep easily, each of us remembering the day of traveling and the memories we’d already made. Stay tuned for Day One in Washington. It stands as proof that one never knows what good things lie in store, even when (maybe especially when) you aren’t looking for them.

Last Day in the Big Apple

Tired but happy, the six of us wrapped up our last day of holiday fun in New York City with a little shopping and museum browsing. A good time was had by all!

On the last day of our whirlwind trip to Manhattan,  we repeated our breakfast routine while making plans for the day. With only so many hours left, we decided to split up so that we could all spend the remaining time doing the things we really wanted to do. Tilara and Mary headed up to the north side for some shopping while the rest of us went to the Museum of Modern Art, better known as the MoMA.

Interestingly, the taxi driver misunderstood us and thought we wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum. Thus, we kept going farther and farther north, and about the time I was really relishing the sights of Central Park, I realized we had overshot our location. When we mentioned it to the driver, he apologized and said he thought we’d said the Met and not the MoMA. Here’s the neat thing. Although we got in some extra sightseeing, he took it off the meter and didn’t charge us. That’s a little thing, and yet it’s a big thing too.

I LOVE that museum, and that day it was especially awesome. Cloudy, overcast, and cold on the outside, it was toasty and warm on the inside. From the huge windows, I enjoyed the outside views while savoring the wood floors, the hushed sounds, and of course the magnificent exhibits and paintings. Everything took on a different (special) aura that day, perhaps because I was sharing the experience with good friends. Too, I think the holiday spirit was abundant, thus further buoying my mood.

From the moment we walked in and saw the display of words, I knew it was going to be a great morning. Jeanita and I heard piano playing, and when we saw the cluster of people gathering around it, we moved closer and saw a man standing INSIDE of the piano playing backwards. I loved seeing the work of Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, Klimt (especially the painting of the pregnant woman), and Wyeth. One of the things I learned that day was that the young woman in Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World had polio. I had always assumed she was just lying in the grass looking at a farmhouse and was stunned when I realized that she was actually inching her way towards it, a sight that Wyeth saw from a window. I also learned the term”magic realism,” something I experience quite often.

We couldn’t leave the museum without a visit to the gift shop for a few goodies. My personal favorite is a black t-shirt with the letters MoMA across the front. When we walked outside, I saw something else delightful, something I’d never see in Camden if I lived to be 100, a skilled dancer across the street who was performing for passers-by. Boom box blaring, she was energetically dancing with skill and talent. Where is the crew from Dancing with the Stars when you need them???

Fortunately, we were able to snag a taxi right away and headed back to the Staybridge where a car was picking us up to take us to the airport. We’re such a positive bunch that we even enjoyed our ride to LaGuardia, especially the Queens scenes. I felt like I was on the set of the old Archie Bunker sitcom of the 70’s. Upon arrival at La Guardia, we went straight to our gate after passing through security (not bad) and sat and waited for a couple of  hours. While none of us really enjoyed waiting so long, we figured it was better than taking a chance on missing our flight. Plus, there were many interesting sights to see, and the snacks were yummy. Love those Dunkin’ Donuts flatbread sandwiches!

The flight back to Myrtle Beach was smooth, fast, and uneventful. Seeing the stuffed bears reclining in beach chairs in the airport all lit up for Christmas was the icing on the cake. Tired but happy, we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly at Market Commons for some pizza and then went to the condo to eat and share memories. Truly, a good time was had by all.

Lessons from the Pride Lands

I loved loved loved seeing The Lion King in New York last week. I don’t have a vocabulary adequate to describe the music. It was that powerful. I especially enjoyed “The Circle of Life” and the number in which Rafiki is mourning the death of Mufasa. The dancing was extraordinary, and the animals…well, they were all awesome, both in how they looked and in how they performed. I almost cried with pure pleasure and awe when they first walked up on stage, especially the elephant.  Mufasa and Scar both had such deep kingly voices, and Mufasa’s roar was mighty…as was Simba’s at the end.

I could go on and on about the performance itself, but instead I’m going to share a few lessons I was reminded of during the two hour and 45 minute production (didn’t seem that long!).   

  • There’s a lot more to see than will ever be seen and a lot more to do than will ever be done. I had forgotten that these words came from “The Circle of Life.”  The statement is so true!
  • Our ancestors live in us. I love the scene in which young Simba sees his reflection in the water and thinks that it’s Mufasa. But no, it’s his own kingly image staring back at him, and someone (Rafiki I think) tells Simba that his father lives in him. I first saw The Lion King (movie) shortly after the death of my father, and the concept of our parents living in us aided in the grief process (still does). My parents live in me, my siblings, our children, and our grandchildren.
  • Like Simba, we can do two things when it comes to our past:  run from it or learn from it. Actually, there’s another thing we can do, something I see every single day of my life…stay stuck in it. Rafiki reminds Simba to to learn from it and move on.
  • There’s a lot more to being king that lording it over everyone. Leadership involves influence, the ability to see the big picture, the recognition of the interdependence of all life, and lots of other positive attributes, none of which Scar had.
  • Good conquers evil in the end. It might not be in this lifetime, but ultimately it happens.
  • Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. I’ve been humming “Hakuna Matata” a lot lately. No worries, right?
  • We’re all in this together. The people, the animals, the water, the vegetation, and the celestial bodies all have a part to play. In fact, I learned last week that some of the elements in the stars reside in us and that they’re vital to life on earth.

I think I might rent The Lion King from Netflix today, and maybe you should do it too. So much truth, so much beauty.