Travel

Nashville and The Great Smoky Mountains

For months (since my birthday this past August) I’ve been craving to go somewhere, anywhere. I start feeling antsy if I’m in one place too long
(I blame it on my ancestral wanderings!). So I feel especially blessed to have a boyfriend who enjoys travel, and who also works in the travel industry. At the beginning of 2016, I asked if we couldn’t go somewhere and he agreed. First, we picked San Francisco, because I wanted to go somewhere with a bit milder winter (the trolleys, the houses, the bridge!), before the thought: Nashville, hit me.

We had talked of going there almost two years ago, but never made any concrete plans. So I quickly texted him to see if he’d be open to the idea. He was and our Nashville trip was quickly planned. He had discovered a vacation rental in The Great Smokey Mountains and he quickly picked out our cabin and booked it. He booked us a rental car and I found a hotel to stay in the first night we arrived in Nashville, as well as our last night and that rounded out our planning.

And then we just counted down the days.

 After some moving around of flights due to a snowstorm that struck Chicago, we arrived in Nashville Thursday evening. Originally, we had planed to visit downtown or go listen to live music, but we were both tired so we went to the restaurant downstairs at our hotel. It was quiet, there were only a few other tables occupied, but the food arrived quickly and was tasty. There was a live band playing at the bar across the hall and while we could hear the music in the restaurant it wasn’t loud enough that we couldn’t converse. After dinner, we moseyed over to the bar for a drink and to listen to the last songs of the evening before we returned to our room.

Friday morning, we checked out and took the airport shuttle back to pick up our rental. (A Volkswagen Passat that basically sold me forever on that beautiful car, but I digress.)

Friday was also the day of standing in lines. It took over an hour for us to even get to the counter to pick up the car but once we had it loaded we were on our way to Pigeon Forge.

PS: Pigeon Forge reminded me so much of the Black Hills. All along the strip of highway were hotels and theme parks like the two pictured below. Also: driving into Pigeon Forge was a hellish experience that made me extremely glad I wasn’t behind the wheel. It’s supposedly their “off season” right now, but it was bumper-to-bumper traffic the whole time we were there. I’d hate to see what it’s like in the middle of summer.

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My boyfriend tried checking in online through an email link that was sent to him by the rental company. However, it didn’t work and so we had to go to the their headquarters to check in. Along with about 75 other people where we stood in line for another hour.

A word to the wise: it’s best to do some research and take what the rental company tells you with a grain of salt.

What was billed to my boyfriend when he called them as a private, wooded retreat was a cabin that was literally fifteen feet away from cabins on either side, as well as having four cabins above it with crystal clear views into the cabin we stayed at. The upper windows did not have any blinds or any sort tint so anytime the lights were on, they could see us moving around and we could see them. The lower level of our cabin had a pool with a wall of windows that faced the woods, but because of the angle of the cabins next door, they had clear views into our pool area. And again, the windows had no sort of tint or coverings. It was more than a little irritating to discover what we were told was a private cabin was completely open to any sort of peeping from the neighbors.

Once  we arrived at our cabin, we checked to see what cooking supplies were available (lots of fry pans and sauce pans. Weirdly, two different electric mixers for baking…I’m not sure why, because there was nothing to bake on like cookie sheets or cake pans and no oven safe materials) and we returned to Pigeon Forge to grab groceries.

Another word to the wise: After stopping at a gas station and a Walgreens we asked a clerk where we could find wine or champagne. Due to their town laws, Pigeon Forge is not allowed to sell beer and wine together. (Fun fact: you CAN buy wine glasses which are sold next to the beer. I’ve no idea why this is. For those fancy folks who want to drink their beer out of a wine glass? Just…so weird.) So if you’re looking for both, stop in Knoxville and buy what you want there or else be prepared to drive east into Gatlinburg for your wine.

Friday evening we spent at the cabin. We attempted to use the grill, but it wouldn’t ignite so we cooked dinner on the stove in the kitchen area. We played pool, played in the pool, and soaked in the hot tub. The television in the bedroom was not equipped for cable, and was essentially useless (because who travels with DVDs?!) so we had to watch worse than basic cable TV in the living room, or use our phones.

Saturday was probably my favorite of all the days because after some convincing, my boyfriend drove us into the The Smokey Mountains. I so badly wanted to drive into North Carolina because when you’re that close, why not?! It was a little hairy, especially around some of the corners without guardrails and instant death taunting you, but it was beautiful. Again, I was reminded of the Black Hills…only, less pine and more non-pines (I’ve really no idea what kind of trees grow there but they’re tall and spindly and there are so many of them).

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There was fresh snow, and I saw a few cars that had piles of snow on the hood and was confused as to how or why until we stopped at the peak.

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Apparently it’s a “thing” to build a tiny snowman on the hood of your car? #onlyinthesouth

Oh, that and honking when entering tunnels. Why? Just, why?

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We drove past the state line and ended up driving a few miles into North Carolina before we turned around and stopped at the site. The drive back down was a whole lot more comforting (hugging the side of the mountain for dear life can make you feel secure) than the drive up.

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(95% of these photos were taken as we were driving, so I apologize for the blurriness!)

Sunday, we packed up and left the cabin and headed back toward Nashville. We both had a bad case of the itches (even after popping allergy pills the past few days, I’m still itchy as can be) and we blame the high levels of chemicals in the hot tub. You could smell it with the cover on it was that bad.

We got into Nashville earlier than our checkin-in time at the hotel, so we decided to drive around. We drove past the Titans stadium and through downtown, and then drove over to Music Row to see the sights before returning to check-in. We were both exhausted (we’re basically old people trapped in the bodies of twenty-eight years olds) so we ordered food and he went to pick up and we called it a night.

Monday, we decided to avoid the crowds (and lines!) as much as possible, so we chose the latest flight possible. We returned downtown to wander around and for lunch. The architecture and history was amazing.

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Second favorite part of the trip. So much history and beauty. I could’ve spent half a day wandering through their library. But there was still more to see. After we left downtown, we headed out to see The Grand Ole Opry.

Where we discovered that parking was a bit of a nightmare. Part of my original plan had been to wander around the Gaylord Hotel, but after seeing signs that parking cost $24 we decided to quickly scratch that. I looked online and found reviews that recommended parking at the Opry Mills and walking across, but I have to say, we were more than a little turned off at the price of parking so we decided to skip it. Instead, we wandered around the grounds of the Opry before heading into the Mills to do some shopping. IMG_4936IMG_4938IMG_4937IMG_4935

(Ugh. I had to snap a picture of this. Seriously? Why does this have to be a “thing”?!)

We dropped off our rental (Serious sad face. I did not want to part with that car.) before we returned to the airport and boarded our flights home.

Overall, it was a pretty fantastic trip. We had beautiful weather and I really love being able to have these experiences with my boyfriend. I would definitely go back to Nashville…but only after really researching the crap out of it. I doubt we’d do another cabin experience in the mountains (at least, not in Tennessee. We talked about finding a place in Montana or Wyoming or Idaho that’s actually private), but if we do, we’d have to try a different cabin rental facility because that place was just not up to par. Beyond being lied to about the condition and location of the cabin, they had zero customer service. Why offer an email check-in option if that doesn’t work? Why only have one computer hooked up to a printer in order to print off documentation for check-in? Why offer services (like a grill) that don’t work? I’m sure they assume you’re not going to be at the cabin for the whole time because of all the kitschy amusement junk in Pigeon Forge, but for some people, the getaway to the woods is exactly what they want. And it’s disappointing when it’s not what was expected based on speaking with the facilities representatives.

I was also a less than impressed with the hotel I booked. I chose it because it claimed to be a boutique but really, it felt no different than just staying at a chain hotel like Hampton Inn. It was also a little odd that the two rooms we stayed in had different items. The first night, our room had this cool chair and a mini fridge, but on our return trip the room we had was directly above the first and it was missing both the fridge and the chair. The door to the second room also didn’t shut correctly and you literally had to slam it to get it to close. While wandering around downtown we spotted the Hermitage Hotel (which had a butler outside!) and I was way more interested in staying there if we return.

Other lessons learned? While I enjoy the feelings of take-off and landing, I really despise the flying process. I much prefer driving places and viewing the country from the ground. I also love that driving allows me to take my dog with me. This trip was especially hard for me to part with Matilda because it was first doggie-cation to my parents without Bodie. Deep down, I knew she’d handle it okay because she’s familiar with my parents and she gets along great with my parents dogs, but it was still a punch to my gut to have to send her away like that. I was so happy to see her Monday night! But you can’t beat the convenience of flight. And I better get used to it because we have another short trip planned for the end of March!

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