Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tennessee, Day 4

This is our last full day in Tennessee. Tomorrow we start our road trip to Alabama.

We decided to keep the day simple and headed to the Sunsphere, built in downtown Knoxville for the 1982 World's Fair. It's not the most attractive structure from the outside, but we took an elevator up to the observation deck on the 4th floor. We saw some great views, and there's information about the history of Knoxville to read about as well.

After a short while we headed back down to ground level and over to the splash pad. I prefer the splash pad at Powell Station better since this water was stronger and taller which makes it hard to enjoy in just shorts and a tank top (me), and Seth was a little hesitant about it. He amused himself and the girls ran him in and out of the water, but Powell Station was definitely a better option for him. After an hour or so, we went over to the adjacent playground to dry off.

Nearby there's a memorial to Tennessee War Veterans that I walked around as well.

It was still a bit too early for dinner so we detoured to Ciderville Music Store. This was a fun, low-key experience. There were a couple guys picking on bangos in the back, and they invited us to join them. After a few songs, they let us tour the property which had several old buildings on it, a log cabin, a lean-to to shelter animals, etc. Then it was time for dinner. We headed to Cheddar's where I had a delicious BBQ salad the last time we were in Knoxville, but alas, it's off the menu. We drank our weight in yummy flavored lemonades though.

We made it back home to Katie and Bill's and hung out on their deck while Seth napped and the girls played in the water. It's amazing our how quickly these few days have gone.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tennessee, Day 3

I was hoping to avoid the tourist trap that is Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Yes, I love cities, but this area of Tennessee makes me want to lose my mind. I haven't thought much about this contradiction, but maybe one day I'll nail down why it bothers me so much.

Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge is about an hour from Katie and Bill's, and the drive over isn't bad (the madness starts once you arrive). Katie had suggested touring the Titanic museum. Because of where it's located, I was concerned it would be kitschy rather than reverent, but that wasn't the case. We were each given boarding passes with a real Titanic passengers name on it, and a little bit about them. I received a 24 year old mother named Anna Hamalainen who was traveling to the US in second class to join her husband. She had her four year old son, Wiljo, with her, as well as a family friend who perished. Anna and Wiljo survived the voyage on Lifeboat #4, as we found out later on the memorial wall at the tour's conclusion.

The museum recreated the grand staircase made famous in Titanic starring Kate Winslow and Leonardo DiCaprio and guests climb up the steps and into Titanic. We saw a room honoring the Titanic musicians and the bridge. Visitors can exit the bridge and go out into the cold night air. You can touch an iceberg, and dip your hand into 28 (F) degree water, the same temperature as the ocean water when Titanic sank.

Unbeknownst to us at the start of the tour, the violin, William Hartley's violin is on loan to the museum from the private collector who purchased it for 1.7 million dollars so we were able to see it and take pictures. William Hartley was a violinist who had agreed to be Titanic's band director. When his body was recovered, the violin was wrapped in cloths and in its case on his back.

The whole experience left a big impression on the girls, and this is the one part of our trip they keep coming back to, and the questions. Oh, the questions. I'm going to find them some age appropriate books to read.

Due to copyright laws and the age of Titanic artifacts, pictures aren't allowed. However, I took photos of our group pictures on my lap in the car (see below).

After Titanic, we headed down the road to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. I talked my parents into doing this in Branson when they were there last month, and then I couldn't pass up the opportunity myself. The meal was good, chicken, pork, biscuit, potato skin, and soup and even the kids liked it. The show was a bit less than I had expected. I thought there would be a lot of trick riding, but the show more or less told the story of white man's arrival to the west and the expansion. The first half held everyone's attention, and I found it to be more entertaining myself. The second half was more rodeo-like and Seth got antsy. The best part of the second half was when Sal got picked to go down to the arena and participate in the water bucket race as the lead-off man. His team, the South, won and he received a medal. It was fun to do once. I wouldn't make it a priority to see it again.

I have no pictures of Dixie Stampede since we had to eat with our fingers, which got messy, and I was wrangling Seth. After the show we did walk through the paddocks where the horses wait in between shows. I took a picture of Sarah and Emmy, and the medal winner.

Following the show we got the heck out of Pigeon Forge as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tennessee, Day 2

We started out the day heading to Walmart. Yes, Walmart. I had learned in the car yesterday that Emmy didn't pack a swimsuit. She's lucky we found one there for $5. It's cute too, as you can see in the pictures. Anyway. . .

Katie suggested taking the kids to The Muse. Given the spread in age between Emmy and Seth, it's a little challenging to find something that will entertain all three. This center, which combines science and art, was perfect.

Everything was touchable (oh the hand sanitizer we went through), and every surface had something on it from magnets to textures. There was an arts and crafts section where the girls made toilet paper roll vases and I colored, a music section where you could play simple children's songs on a PVC pipes with cheap rubber flip flops, and a grocery store/farmer's market section which seemed to be a big hit with little girls especially. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were all sorts of activities and displays.

Outside there was a water table and an area with pool noodles that Seth loved. The girls had fun on the playground. I think The Muse exceeded all of our expectations.

We stopped for an early dinner at The Front Porch, and then headed to the splash pad. This splash park is just outside Katie and Bill's plan, and it's perfect for all three kids as well. Seth was able to play in the lower, gentler water streams, while the girls splashed around a little more wildly. Seth grew braver the longer we were there. He's a cautious little guy.

Today was a resounding success.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tennessee, Day 1

We were invited to Tennessee again this year by two former coworkers of mine who have since retired. Katie and I worked closely together for a few years, and after I moved into another building in our complex we still saw each other and chatted daily. Work hasn't been the same for me since she retired. Her husband, Bill, also worked with us although he retired a couple years before she did.

We first visited them in 2014, and the blog posts from that trip begin here. I was newly pregnant with Seth at that time, and fought morning sickness daily.

This was sure to be a different trip since the fetus (Seth) is now 17m, and I'm feeling just fine. The four of us agreed that the week of July 18 would work so we made our plans accordingly.

The girls came back to us around 7:30, and we finished packing and getting the car loaded. We had to stop at Walgreens to pick up Sal's medication, but we were on the road at 9:30am. We had great weather until midway through West Virginia when we ran into a band of thunderstorms, see the first picture. We are the blue dot on that screenshot. The storms continued moving west while we drove south so a good part of our drive was in a torrential downpour.

We stopped for a quick lunch at a Subway somewhere in West Virginia, and made it to Abingdon, Virginia for dinner. I've been to Abingdon a couple times, the first time was for a show at the Barter Theatre. I just love this little town.

Anyway, we ate dinner at a converted hardware store called the BoneFire Smokehouse. We were tucked into a corner of the restaurant with a beautiful stained glass window.

BoneFire had fried green tomatoes on the menu, of course, so ordered those as an appetizer. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love southern cuisine.

We got back on the road and arrived in Powell, Tennessee right around 8pm. It was so good to see Katie and Bill again. We got the kids and in bed and relaxed, hung out, and finalized our plans for the week.