We left Chattanooga and headed for the Great Smoky Mountains. We had no idea where we had booked hotels along the way but they all sounded great, and well frankly, this was part of the adventure. We had booked 5 hotels along a plotted route and we figured we would score on some, and we crossed our fingers. Andy is a great researcher, but in the day of internet and creative photography who knows. All I know is that we prefer smaller, quaint family owned, not chains and commercial hotels. We prefer hotels with outside space and coffee/breakfast. We set off, snacks and water bottles full. We drove in the direction of the Smoky Mountains. We started seeing beautiful yellow trees and it got cooler. So Far so good.
The trees are starting to turn and really pretty.
We pulled into Maryville and noticed all the familiar chain stores. Target, Homegoods, Walmart, JCPenny etc. I always get a little giddy because even if I don’t need anything it gives me a little comfort knowing I could get whatever I might want. Oh ya, we are on a boat and currently in a car, and oh ya, I don’t really need anything. Ok, breathe! We found a good BBQ place for lunch (Thanks Rhonda for the recommendation) then went to find our hotel. Our navigation directed us to turn off the road and onto a college campus. It was a really pretty old looking small university called Marys University. Obviously a private school. The directions wound us around the campus and we suddenly found ourselves in a wooded forest. The road was narrow and the trees towered overhead. I thought we were lost but the direction said turn here, turn left, then right. Suddenly a lodge appeared. It looked inviting. I told Andy to wait in the car and let me go check this out. I walked to the building and opened the door to a gorgeously decorated lodge with sitting rooms with fireplaces and old worn leather furniture. SCORE!!! I checked us in and we found our building and room. SCORE!! I wondered if we would ever want to leave.
This place was wonderful. Today also happened to be our 28th anniversary. I had no idea that this place also has the top rated restaurant in the whole area. Of course they were booked!! So I pleaded my case and prayed. It worked out! We had a wonderful dinner and didn’t have to leave the property. The other treat was that they had a huge firepit that had rocking chairs all around it. Before dinner, and not knowing if they could accommodate us for dinner, we sat by the fire and really enjoyed the setting. What a lovely place, in the middle of someplace we had no idea existed. Stumbling on this was a gift. After dinner (yes they got us in, bless their hearts) we again enjoyed the fire and the nightly guests who roast marshmellows in the fire to make s’mores. I’m telling you this place was a real find!! Still shocked we found it.
The white Nike shoes are new! I took my good shoes from the boat (after searching all the compartments for where I stowed our hiking shoes/closed toe shoes) because I knew we would be hiking/walking around. The first day of wearing them my feet were killing me. The tips of my toes were so sore. What I have discovered is that in the 6+ months of living on a boat have changed my feet. They are flat! All my closed toe shoes do not fit. We went to a shoe store and YEP I am a size bigger. Getting old sucks and my feet do not like being confined to shoes. These new Nike’s helped me walk but I am not sure if they will get much use once we return. In any case, I have shoes that fit now.
The next morning we drove to Townsend and into Cade’s Cove. This pasture land in the valley between the mountain ranges was exactly like little house on the prairie. I could just see Laura Ingle running after Pa. I grew up watch that series and remember the girls getting tucked into bed in the loft by Pa and the houses were exactly like that. I remember Michael Landon dying and feeling sad as a young kid.
It was pretty but CROWDED with cars. It was an 11 mile, one way loop through the valley with stops at the old homesteads and churches. The loop took us a few hours stopping along the way and following cars doing 10MPH. I’m glad we went but following cars so slow was a little yucky. At one point it came to a dead stop. I said, “I bet there is some kind of animal there.” Sure enough I saw the tail end of a black bear walking away. Of course he was walking away from about a dozen people with long lenses and making a ton of noise. It was still cool to see his butt move into the brush.
After 2 wonderful days in this lodge and some great drives we packed up the car and headed to the next lodge in Gatlinburg. We took a long scenic road up the mountains enjoying the crisp air and winding roads. We went to the tallest peak in all the smokies. We stopped for fried apple turnovers and browsed through antique stores. We took our time exploring.
The colors are starting to turn on the hills. We are a bit early because of the heat wave but it was still breathtaking.
The Smoky mountains get their name from the clouds that appear like smoke coming from the trees. We had a great showing of this on our drive. The day was crisp and had rained earlier. The clouds were atop the mountain peaks and had these wisps of clouds that looked like smoke coming from chimneys. It was really pretty.
Next stop is Gatlinburg.
We followed our navigation and suddenly found ourselves in a mecca tourist zone. Dollywood, Ripley’s believe it or not, tons of fudge and ice cream shops, go carts, miniature golf. You name it. We had no idea that we were stepping into our version of a tourist nightmare. The street was lines with cheesy gift shops and families on fall break. Holy cow, get us out of here!! We pulled through the Main Street and headed to our next lodge to escape the craziness.
We prayed our chosen lodge was away from all this. We were led up a steep hill. We climbed up a street that was narrow, turning and twisting and I was like “SERIOUSLY!!!! Where the hell are we going?” We pulled into the parking lot to and found this lodge right on the side of the mountain. We found the host and she showed us to our room and it was amazing. Everything was made of lumber, twigs and trees. We had a separate bedroom and bath. We had a kitchen (not that I planned on cooking) and a gas fireplace. It had a balcony that looked out to the mountains. It was amazing! SCORE #2!!
The view from our room was incredible.
We avoided the downtown tourist mecca (although I did crave a Carmel apple) and did some long drives into the mountains. We packed snacks and enjoyed the scenery. The trees are not fully turned colors. This year has been a record year for heat and no rain. The leaves are actually dying before they turn so it does feel like fall. I did see some beautiful red trees and beautiful colors. The locals say its not as pretty this year, but this California girl wouldn’t know the difference.
It was sad to leave this lodge but not sad to leave this crazy tourist town. Our next stop was Asheville and everyone said we would love it here. Asheville is actually listed as one of the top places to live in the US for both the 20 somethings and also the retirees. I wondered why but would soon find out what all the hype was about.
We pulled down the street our B&B was on. The house was in a neighborhood with large homes. Some cared for, some not. The street was full of homes that had obviously been there a long time. I got a bit nervous as we found the house and parked. I wondered what we would find inside. I reminded myself that I was not keen on hotel chains and wanted a more intimate experience but after the last 2 awesome lodges I felt nervous. We rang the door bell to this big blue house and we were greeted by Kevin, the owner. He invited us in and showed us around the house and to our room. I instantly relaxed. This was going to be special. Our room was a light blue color and called Robbins Nest. It was roomy and pretty. The house had the feel of a very well loved old house. The floors creaked and nothing felt straight but it was really well decorated and comfortable. We were invited to wine and appetizers at 5:30. We relaxed and settled into our and went down at 5:30. What I found was a small group of people who had traveled from different areas, all engaged in conversation, drinking wine and food that was prepared by the owner and it was INCREDIBLE!!! The spread was huge and Kevin sat and chatted with his guests. I could tell that this was his favorite time of day as an owner of this lovely B&B. He mingled with the people who shared his home. We also found out that he and his wife had come from Camarillo, just a few miles from where AQUAMAN had spent its whole life in California. We chatted about the area and why they had made such a life change. I felt an instant connection to them. The next morning breakfast was served in the dining room and I was again blown away at the gourmet spread. SCORE#3!!
Andy enjoyed the front porch! We had a great front porch in a previous house. Maybe we will have one again!
What does one do while in Asheville?? Well 2 things actually. Tour the Biltmore Mansion and drink beer. First stop was the Biltmore. I could write pages on this house but if your ever in Asheville it’s a must see. The largest home in the U.S. Only 175,000 square feet. My feet hurt after walking the property and grounds and it seems hard to imagine the magnitude of living or building something this grand.
I loved walking the grounds and the arboretum. I am a huge lover of orchids and I took 100’s of pictures of them. Every orchid known to man. Some I had never seen. This gardens were carefully sculpted and out of a magazine.
We happened to hit this as they are preparing it for the holidays. It seems early but I guess they better start with the sheer amount of trees that we saw going up. Every room had at least 1 if not 3 trees! Incredible!
I took tons of pictures. These are just a few.
Next up, we went up to see The Grove Park Hotel and find lunch. We drove up the hill to find another spectacular property. We had a glass of wine by the most enormous fireplace and an amazing lunch on the grand terrace overlooking the property. Today sure was about grandeur.
Next up, BEER!
I am not much of a beer drinker but this town is a hot spot for microbrew pubs. They do all kinds of beer tours and you could spend a week visiting all the microbreweries in the town. We just don’t have the time and frankly, it’s been a long day. So we choose this one! HA!! Loved the name.
The beer was good. We enjoyed watching all the hipsters and trendy kids in crazy weird clothes (what are they thinking. Denim jumpsuits and mom jeans are back in style. Sorry girls they didn’t look good then and they still don’t look good even on your skinny little ass. My old lady opinion anyway!)
Tomorrow we head to Nashville. I am excited.
We walked Broadway and drank our way from bar to bar, listening to country music. We saw girls gone wild riding around on tractors and party busses, singing and dancing. We could barley squeeze our way into these crowded bars with sticky floors and I suddenly felt old and out of place. We found ourselves some food and then made our way back to our terrible hotel. Andy came down with a cold and when we woke up we looked at each other and thought the same thing. “Let’s blow this place and get back to the boat.” We packed up and headed home. I know we missed all of what makes Nashville really cool but we were just plain reads to get back. Andy getting a bad cold just gave us the push we needed.
I am super grateful for the wonderful places we have found along the way so far, each unique and special. The difference is that at The Carolina House B&B we had real connection to people. When people gather in small groups over food and drink, you get a real feel for people. We all come from different places in the world with different passions but we all had the common thread of travel and having new experiences. I enjoyed listening to the stores from everyone’s trip and little anecdotal things that happened along the way. One guy was a cyclist who had rode 102 miles that day. Another couple shared getting their rented red convertible mustang stuck and needing to call AAA and waiting 4 hours to be rescued. Another group of 4 women all traveling together who were having a girls weekend. We shared our Great Loop journey and maybe inspired some. Either way this is the best part of travel. Everyday we collide with souls on this planet who are all wonderful beings, special, enlightened by travel and having an experience. I keep thinking about a sign I had at home that I passed to my niece when we left. It’s exactly what I believe. Experience life, get uncomfortable, let go of stuff.
“The best things in life are not things”