Summer Reflections — TVA, Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge — Whew!

Day Four of our vacation was packed with science (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), heavy traffic (Chattanooga) and incredible natural beauty.

Day Five was a taste of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1) I was not expecting such a gorgeous drive! Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina are spectacular. We even stopped serendipitously at the site of the 1996 Olympic kayaking river as well as several TVA spots;

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2) The traffic in Chattanooga was 6 lanes of bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go on the Interstate. It took us a long time to get through. I didn’t know if this heavy traffic was normal or not. I still don’t know. From Chattanooga to our hotel in North Carolina, we went from six lanes of traffic to four, to two, to a shared one lane for about a mile along a river which had claimed half the road earlier in the season. That evening, at our hotel in NC, we learned of the horrid killings at the Chattanooga military recruitment centers, just 3 hours before we passed through. Perhaps there was that unusual reason for crowded roads that afternoon.

 The Blue Ridge Parkway!

I rode on a stretch of this highway once before when our family drove back from Florida. What I remember of it as a seven-year-old was my father cursing the entire time that there were so many curves and hills that he couldn’t go faster than 45 mph. He got off it at the first possible opportunity. Me? It is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on.  Besides the spectacular mountain views, there were tunnels and a mile-high marker through the Indian reservation and history! We stopped at several of the overlooks where we both clicked away madly on our iPhones. At one stop, Jeff finally commented, “Oh, look. More shots of hazy mountains and lots of trees.” Yeah, but gorgeous hazy mountains and lots of trees!

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 The Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

There is only one paved road through Smoky Mountains National Park. If you come at it from the west in Tennessee, like we were, then when you land at the eastern entrance (North Carolina), you must either do a U-turn or go around the outside of the park by secondary roads to head back north. However, with our southern side trip from Nashville to Huntsville (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), there are roads you can wiggle along to get to the eastern entrance. Gorgeous roads.

We spent the night in Sylva, NC, surrounded by hazy blue-green mountains. I had planned for one day to see the Smoky Mountains. I know. Right? Impossible. But knowing how long to drive down there from our home, and how many other things we wanted to see during this trip as well, one day was all I could reasonable schedule for a taste of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were at the park at the height of tourist season. Hiking on one of the Quiet Walkways was not in the least quiet. Even though the trail moved perpendicular to the road, ho-boy: the traffic noise! It was also hot and humid, and loaded with mosquitoes. Only one day in mid- July was a good enough taste for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ll return someday where there are less people and less mosquitoes…oh, and less heat.

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Pigeon Forge, TN

To end our day, we drove through the western entrance and through the town of Pigeon Forge. Now, if you knew anything about this place, you’d know to either avoid it or stay for a few days. We knew nothing. It took us longer to get through that town than it did Chattanooga. There must be 10,000 dinner theatres along that strip. And to think (oh, horror), I almost got us a hotel in that town. So if you’re looking for a place with cars for kids to drive, water parks, or 10,000 different themed dinner parks to choose from, Pigeon Forge is your destination spot. If you just want to get through the town — find a way around it!

Summer Reflections — Nashville, Tennessee, Surprise

Although I personally prefer to head north to the cool sand beaches of Michigan, ANY time (might have something to do with my name), this summer Hubby and I decided to go south for a change. We’d never been to Kentucky or Tennessee, except me, as a kid of 7. I gave in even if it was forecast to be in the mid-90’s, high humidity (99% is high), and thunderstormy. It was a new summertime someplace adventure. We picked six highlighted places to go. Our second highlight was Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville was a surprise! (Although, next time we go to Nashville,I believe we’ll fly v.s. driving the nearly ten hours to get here.)

I’d envisioned it as a small, redneck town. You know, like one you could walk into one of the many tiny recording studios along a hilly street, cut a record, and become famous. (I spoke to Elvis the other day, and he told me so.) But, not true! Nashville today is almost 700,000 in population. That ain’t no hick town by any standard. The music industry (Nashville is called Music City) has made this place very cosmopolitan.

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Our hotel had shuttles every thirty minutes to the impressive downtown area. Very convenient. The honky-tonk “Lower Broad” (Broadway) was fun. It is packed with bars and eateries, each with their own stage (in some cases, several) for musicians to perform. Our son who works in the music industry and has been to several conventions at the huge Nashville Convention Center, advised us to just walk down Broadway, listen for a band we liked, go into that bar, have a drink, tip the band, and move on to the next place we heard and liked and do the same. We walked “Lower Broad” in broad daylight, but even with the early time of day, there were music groups playing in some establishments as well as street musicians. We walked some of the Cumberland River bank, had ribs and local beer, and shuttled on back to our hotel.

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That evening we drove out to the Grand Ole Opry House. This is the third or fourth location for the Grand Old Opry stage. This most recent auditorium has 4,372 seats. The House is conveniently located next to the Opry Mill Mall, and where Opry House ticket holders are encouraged to park. There must be a symbiotic relationship between Mall and Opry House. We went into the mall and bought things. It was very interesting to see a vivacious, populated mall when malls throughout America seem to be dying out. It even holds a 20-theatre movie theatre.

I must confess I’ve never been much of a country music lover, but listening to the variety in one night, I can’t quite say I’m a country fan, but sure am willing to listen. The slick-run two-hour show held each of the individuals or groups to three songs each, whether they were newcomers, current hit makers, or legends. We expereinced two standing ovations the night we went. Amazing.

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Naming Nashville “Music City” is no lie. There are literally thousands of venues for artists to perform, for free, for tips, or for pay. The really big trouble is there wasn’t a single musician or group I heard that didn’t play really, really well. However does someone make it in the music world these days, to not just recording tI must confess I’ve never been much of a country music lover, but listening to the variety in one night (the musicians could perform three songs only), and even recognizing some names and tunes, and hearing new artists, I can’t quite say I’m a country fan, but I’m now sure willing to listen to their music, but to getting music industry people to listen and like it, and then to have the public do the same?

It got me thinking of unpublished writers I know who are excellent writers, some even with agents (someone besides family and me believe in them!). In the writing world, too, it is really, really hard to break in and get published; and then after publication, noticed and read and liked by strangers.

Trying to be published or recorded can be so depressing. Luckily, Nashville also is home to the chocolate bar, Goo-Goo Cluster. They are worth every nibble of the 240 calories in a single bar, whether you’re depressed over not getting recognized or just in a sweet mood. I never had them before. I sing and play guitar well enough to go on some of the Nashville venues (even though that won’t happen), but, oh, yum; now I’ve got a new favorite candy bar. Thank you, Nashville.

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