Sunday, July 13, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 7

Homeward Bound.

It's been a week of short nights, long days, and unforgettable memories.

We were all sad to say good-bye to Katie, Bill, their dogs, and Tennessee, but it was time to head home. We left around 9:30 and with just a couple quick stops made it to Washington, PA to my sister's house for dinner. My sister made us spaghetti with summer squash. It was delicious, and nice to be eating home-cooked food again.

The adults visited, and the kids played and ran around. Finally, we loaded the girls up for the 30 minute drive home. I think everyone was happy to be back in their own beds.

I know the girls had a great time on our vacation, and I love that they're old enough to have lasting memories of this trip. I told Sal I finally feel like a real, grown-up American. We took our family to a national park like millions of other families have done over the last century or so. It's exciting to take our place in something so "American."

It's going to be a couple years before we can take another vacation, but I can't wait to start planning. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 6

Our last day in Tennessee.

Again, it was another fun-filled day. We did a lot of driving, but we got to explore some popular sites in Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since it was a Saturday, we knew to expect crowds, but I really didn't think it was too bad.

We drove the 11 mile scenic loop around Cades Cove. I'd never heard of it, but at one time it was Indian hunting ground, and eventually home to a small mountain community, of which remnants are left. We were able to go inside churches, explore old cemeteries, and even see a few homes.

Then, it was on to Clingman's Dome. Clingman's Dome is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. There's a parking lot about 0.5 miles below the peak and then visitors hike the rest of the way up a paved path to an overlook. It wasn't the clearest of days, but we still had great views in most directions. We truly did feel as though we were up in the clouds.

After spending some time at the top, we returned to our car and ended up at a Cracker Barrel for dinner. This was our latest night yet, and we had an early morning on Sunday to begin our drive home.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 5

We started out Day 5 by going to the American Museum of Science and Energy. I'd been there once before when I was in college. The section on Oak Ridge and the development of the atomic bomb is quite interesting. I knew Sal would like it. There were a few exhibits that the girls liked, and a presentation in the theater geared to kids. We had a fun morning.

Then, it was off to the children's museum. I've been to a lot of hands-on museums in my life and this one is at the top of my list. The main area of the museum is an Appalachian theme, the people of Appalachia, their music, their culture, etc. The girls were able to go into and touch things in a typical Appalachian cabin, they played dress up in granny's attic, they played old-fashioned instruments, see the differences between a city home and a country home, go into a replica coal mine, and so much more.

One room was set up for a puppet show, and the girls entertained us for a good 30 minutes. We were rolling off the benches, they were so funny.

I really enjoyed the girl scout display. They had badges over the years, sound recordings of typical Girl Scout songs, and a shadow box of girls sitting around a campfire making s'mores.

The best part for the girls though was a modern-day, two-story home in miniature. It was a kid-size dollhouse. They played inside the house for a long time, and it's still one of the most talked about things they saw that day.

At closing time, we met up with Katie and Bill's friends at the Golden Girls Restaurant. After a filling meal, we all decided to go to Norris Dam. It was a peaceful and pleasant way to spend the evening.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 4

Katie and Bill had us up early and then it was off to Gatlinburg, 45 minutes away. I don't know what I expected, but Gatlinburg was a big tourist trap. We rode the Ober Gatlinburg tram up the mountain. The girls were a bit apprehensive, but they held on tight and had a good time in the end.

At the top there's an ice rink, a couple restaurants, some shops, and a few amusement park rides. We spent an hour or so up there, and then we headed back down the mountain. It may have been more fun riding down.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Ripley's Aquarium. When Sal told me that it cost almost $90 for the four of us, I about had a heart attack, but it was worth every penny. Even with crowds of people, it was still easy to see everything and enjoy the aquarium. There was a mermaid show that the girls enjoyed, and we were able to touch horseshoe crabs, jellyfish (Emmy's fave), and stingrays (although none swam close enough to where we were standing).

After dinner at Cheddars, six tired people returned to Powell for the night.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 3

After a late night, we awoke early for a stop at The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home. I've been in the area a few times in the past, but could never fit in a tour. This was it.

I liked it. I thought the museum was interesting, the movie was good although there wasn't little I hadn't already known. (I've read and studied Andrew Jackson's life and times.) I don't know how impressed the girls were, but the museum did have an audio tour just for kids and they did seem to enjoy it.

The house itself didn't take long to tour. The rooms are sealed so it's a lot of peeking in doorways and such to get a feel for how the Jackson's lived.

I wish we could have spent more time exploring the grounds. For example, we didn't get to see Andrew and Rachel's graves which was disappointing, but our friends in Knoxville were waiting so it was time to get moving.

Three hours or so later we arrived in Powell. It was so good to see Katie and Bill again and they showed us to our rooms and sat us down for a delicious, home-cooked meal. After dinner, Bill and Sal stayed at the house and Katie and I took the girls about 5 minutes down the road to a small splash park. As much as I know the girls have had on the trip this far, the splash park was their favorite. At 8pm the fountains automatically shut off and we returned to the house for a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 2

After having breakfast at the hotel, we drove about 15 minutes to the Louisville Slugger Museum, something Sal had been wanting to see. There were some fun, hands-on exhibits for the girls to enjoy, and we took a factory tour. Our guide wasn't miked for about half of the tour which made it hard to hear exactly what was happening at each station, but it was still pretty interesting. At the end of the tour everyone received a small wooden bat as a keepsake.

Then, we found the Looney Toons room. Sal has shown the girls a few episodes this summer and they had to get some pictures with a few of their favorite characters.

Finally it was time to get back on the road and head toward Nashville. The halfway point between Louisville and Nashville is Mammoth Cave National Park so it was a logical stopping point. I thought the girls would enjoy a quick tour underground, but when we arrived we discovered that the short 20 minute tour is only available on Saturday. Sal and I quickly decided to go ahead with the "Historic" 2 hour tour and hoped the travel gods would be upon us the rest of the day since we had tickets to the Grand Ol' Opry that evening.

The historic tour, journeys through the natural entrance and leads to "classic" Mammoth Cave landmarks visited by writers, scientists, military figures, and celebrities of the 1800s and early 1900s. We saw such features as the rotunda, giant's coffin, the bottomless pit, Broadway, and fat man's misery.

Sarah and Emmy seemed to like the tour. Neither complained about it the two hours of walking, the dark, the chill (it was only about 55 degrees), etc. Toward the end Emmy did mention needing to use the restroom, but when I told her we would be done in about 15 minutes, that seemed to be okay.

We arrived in Nashville with no time to spare. We found a local diner to have dinner. Fortunately for me they had fried green tomatoes and cucumbers and onions on the menu. All I could think was how good it was to be back in the South again. I also tried a pimento sandwich, which was actually very good. Anyway, we rushed through dinner, checked into our less-than-stellar hotel, and rushed to get ready for the Grand Ol' Opry. We missed the first performer because we had trouble finding the Opry House, but we enjoyed the rest.

The highlight of the evening was the final act's final song, Charlie Daniels and The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Seeing him perform it live was a moment. He's a legend and the song made him famous. At 77 years old he nailed it. The place went crazy. It was something I will never forget. What a treat.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Family Vacation, Day 1

Friends of mine invited us to Knoxville, Tennessee for a week this summer, but I felt like a week was too long to spend in someone else's home. My kids have never really been house guests before, and I didn't want our hosts to feel as though we had to be entertained and run around for that long, so we accepted their invitation, but made a couple other stops along the way.

Let's start with Day 1.

We finally got on our way around 2pm today. The girls did very well in the car. I wanted to avoid letting them watch movies the whole way, and kept them entertained by playing the license plate game and checking out the scenery.

Eventually we stopped for dinner at TGI Fridays in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Then it was onward to Louisville for the night.

We ran into a horrendous thunderstorm somewhere in Kentucky just on the other side of Cincinnati, and ended up waiting out the worst of the rain on the side of the road.

We found our hotel, Best Western Louisville East, without any trouble and settled in for the night. Each of the girls thanked us for bringing them "here." I guess staying in a hotel is impressive enough. I hope they enjoy the activities we have planned.