We spent the last week of April parked at Dumplin Valley Farm in the beautiful state of Tennessee. We were close to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, which border the Great Smokey Mountains and some fantastic hiking trails. Despite spending a fair amount of time preparing to act appropriately in the event of a bear sighting, we did not encounter any large furry angry animals in the Smokey Mountains. We visited the bear-free Dogwood Arts Festival in Knoxville and spent some chill afternoons drinking coffee and enjoying the company of the super cool folks in Tennessee. Eight days (the longest we have stayed anywhere over the past seven months!) passed in a moment and we reluctantly moved on.
We weren’t Elvis fans before we went to Memphis, but we sure were by the time we left. After visiting his home and getting a sneak peak into his life, it’s hard not to love the king of Rock ‘N Roll. Whether you love Elvis or feel indifferent about his music (I’m assuming no one actualy dislikes Elvis), a trip to Memphis should get penciled in on the bucket list. I arrived feeling like this is something we should do even though I could think of many other ways to spend one hundred and twenty dollars (spa facial), but when we left I felt so pleased to tap into an era and an influential person I almost completely dismissed as old boring news. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I didn’t know Elvis was an actor, nor did I know he served in the army. Really cool.
We also stopped by Loretta Lynn’s ranch on the way to Graceland, not so much because of her music but because her ranch is the home of the annual national motocross amateur championship which is important to Johan and Nik, and therefore it is important to me 😉 The ranch is HUGE, and when I say huge I mean she has her own legitimate OPERATING post office on the ranch. Today. Amazing.
We learned about a speakeasy that didn’t require a special code and met an amazing bartender named Tre. Tre showed us the secret room and shared a whiskey/pickle back with us, solidifying his place as the second coolest bartender we have met on our trip across the US. Then we ate at the Bar-B-Q Shop just slightly outside of downtown Memphis. This place claims to be the “best BBQ” but it actually IS the BEST BBQ we have EVER HAD. We went to Beale street later to listen to live music in the evening but I don’t even have anything to say beyond Elvis and Loretta and Tre at The Blind Bear and BBQ everything at The Bar-B-Q-Shop just slightly outside of town. There is a Bass Pro Shop in a huge pyramid which can be seen from everywhere in the city. We went there, it’s so weird…the End, Memphis was awesome.
We planned to spend several days in Nashville but ended up with just one glorious night enjoying songs and mayhem on Music Row. We don’t listen to or even like country music so what was it about the honkey tonk rooftop bars in Nashville that made us think, “gosh this music is great!” It was a perfect afternoon/evening weatherwise, warm but not hot, and yet I knew it was time to leave when Johan considered buying a pair of cowboy boots at a buy-two-get-one-free store full off the main strip. Speaking of the strip, we concluded after a few neat whiskeys in plastic rooftop-safe cups that Nashville was sort of a clean version of New Orleans with just a hint of Vegas seediness and decided we liked it very much before also deciding we had seen enough of it.
Shout out to the Noisy Boys (Noisy B Studios), who Johan met at the Nashville Fairgrounds where our RVs were both parked. They are novice RVers, heading out on a tour where we hope they will be discovered and successful someday in the very near future! They were kind enough to give us their CD, which we have listened to several times – incredibly impressive, and we will look forward to saying one day that “we knew them when!”
It poured rain for the next two days and so we left early for Memphis…where it was (not surprisingly) also raining.
As much as we were enjoying Atlanta, we were excited to get going because we were meeting Aunt Alice and Uncle Dan next in Asheville! Alice & Dan rented a lovely house with great artwork and beautiful views near downtown Asheville. We stayed with them after dropping Clyde off at the Freightliner facility (where he was born!) in Gaffney, SC for a check up. In the five days we had together with Alice & Dan in Asheville, we endured rain, then snow, and then 80 degrees with sun! Three seasons in under a week that still somehow allowed us to do everything we wanted to do in the area, plus gave us time to just sit around and bond (my favorite thing to do IN THE WORLD). We enjoyed walking around the galleries and ate at several good restaurants in town. We drove out to the Biltmore Estate and enjoyed a special exhibit at the house, “Fashion from Titanic the movie”. So much fun to remember Jack and Rose and the beautiful “Heart of the Ocean” necklace. We did not try to reenact the famous scene on the bow of the ship but in hindsight I realize we should have. The porch at the house had just the perfect lighting for Alice and I to stand against the balcony with our hair blowing in the wind and our arms spewed to the sides, shouting “I’m flying!”, but then we would eventually have to look back at Dan and Johan who would be either a) looking at us strangely wondering how we became so drunk or b) looking at their phones researching if our collective app idea is a viable business opportunity. Either way, they would not be standing behind us participating in our dramatic moment. After the home tour, we continued on to the gardens and then to the winery. (For those of you going, the Biltmore makes a variety of wines and sells them for a surprisingly reasonable price!)
In the evenings we enjoyed the large porch on the side of the house with beautiful sunset views, one night even spotting Jupiter without a telescope. (I think it was Jupiter, maybe it was Saturn. When it hadn’t moved after several hours I at least had to admit it wasn’t an airplane.) We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked a few trails in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. We were sad how quickly the time passed and gloomy when we had to say goodbye. But we will see them again for Duck and Justin’s wedding in August!
We had just one more day in Asheville after Alice & Dan left before heading to Nashville. We started out exploring the River Arts District but quickly abandoned our tour of the galleries when we came across the New Belgium Brewing Company. By the time the 90 minute tour was over I almost decided to forego wine for beer in the future – the tour guide (and the beer) was really that good. Even Johan Beersnob DeKeyzer admitted he liked the beer more than he expected to, and we actually have some bottles of Fat Tire in Clyde today. Five beers just wasn’t quite enough, so we wrapped up the day with a trip to the Asheville Distilling Co. and a whiskey tasting hosted by the lovely Troy Ball, of Troy & Sons. Listening to Troy tell her story of moving to Asheville and becoming the first woman with a legal distillery license (color me inspired!), we were not only compelled to buy a bottle of her Blonde whiskey, but also her book, Pure Heart. We continue to be the luckiest people – enjoying precious time with family and friends in our travels, and meeting new friends we will never forget along the way.
I forgot about Atlanta! We actually went to Atlanta before Charleston (but now I don’t know how to insert this blog post before Charleston) for an action filled few days (and nights). Johan met up with a few old friends/collegues and his former boss Jon Pace treated the group to a special dinner at the Ansley Country Club. When he came home from dinner he complained to me about how much he misses work. (ha) But for real he did talk about how much he misses his work friends. He was excited to head out again the next night with his BFF Todd to Red Phone Booth, a speakeasy downtown for which you must know a secret phone number to get in to. (Dial the number in the telephone booth and if it is correct, you will be invited in through the hidden door behind the telephone.) As usual the boys stayed out late and tried several brands of whiskey; then Johan cried a little when his friend had to go back home. He enjoyed the Red Phone Booth so much that he brought me back the next night (this was so exciting because I always get to hear about them, but I am never actually invited to experience the cool places he goes with Todd). We ate dinner in the Italian restaurant above the speakeasy and after some pizza and pasta, it was time to enter the phone booth and dial the secret number. After we enjoyed excellent cocktails made by some very knowledgeable mixologists, the coolest man in the whole world walked behind the bar. Ladies and gentlemen: Bob Ruede, Master Bartender and Mixologist, and now a man we also humbly call our friend. Bob uses his own tools to create the most incredible cocktails which are adorned with custom crafted ice cubes. (A flower for Johan and a skull for me. Is Bob not the coolest.) At any given point in time when you look at Bob, something exciting is happening. Something is on fire, some piece of disappearing art is being created with a chisel, some liquid is flowing out of a cold shaker, and in his head he is planning what to make next. I didn’t even see anyone order anything all night, Bob just knows what people want and he gives it to them. He’s a magical man.
Later in the night we went dancing and then we spent the next day in bed, recovering and talking about how cool Bob is.
On our last day in Atlanta we hiked Stone Mountain and talked about how cool Bob is.
We spent the second week of April at James Island State Park in Charleston County. As we have heard from everyone who has visited Charleston, it is in fact charming in every way. We explored the downtown area on foot via a series of informal self-guided tours using the top 10 list of “Things To Do” on TripAdvisor (which never lets us down). We ate great BBQ at Poogan’s Smokehouse, snapped pics of Rainbow Row, shopped at the Charleston City Market, and based on the recommendation of a friend of Johan’s, took a horse-drawn carriage ride. The five of you who actually read this blog are probably thinking, it’s really unlike Johan and Kiki to go on (read: pay for) a carriage ride, and you are absolutely right. The most interesting thing that happened in Charleston is how we unexpectedly agreed to spend 90 minutes on a Tuesday morning earning ourselves a free carriage ride AND a free plantation tour AND a hundred bucks! While wandering around downtown and trying to figure out what to do next, we stopped in one of the many open air “storefronts”, which appeared to have flyers on local attractions, tour coupons, and a couple of guys advising people where to go for great drinks (are there bad drinks?). We poked our heads in and a gentleman asked what he could do to help. We explained we had enjoyed our tour of McLeod Plantation, had eaten some awesome cornbread, and had liked the Pineapple Fountain but weren’t sure if we should leave Charleston before taking a carriage ride. His response surprised us: how did we book our travel plans to Charleston, using the internet? Well yes, duh. Who doesn’t use the internet to make travel plans in 2018. So he asked if we wanted to spend an hour or so learning about a “new way” to book travel. He compared the “new way” to using Expedia or Travelocity. We didn’t have to buy anything and in return he would give us tickets to two tours of our choice and money to buy lunch anywhere in town. Um, OKAY! So we gave him a $20 deposit guaranteeing we would show up the next day promptly at 9am, signed a piece of paper with many tiny words on it, but largely at the top and in all caps it read: THIS IS NOT A TIMESHARE. And in my head I thought, of course it’s not a timeshare, it’s a new way to book travel!
We arrived the next morning at five minutes to nine and sat through a 90-minute presentation about timeshares. To their credit, the presentation was so compelling that we nearly fought over which one of us could pull our our credit card faster to pay the $6,995.00 membership fee (reduced for THAT DAY ONLY to $5,995.00) until we googled reviews of the company (which I will respectfully leave unnamed). After a bit of debate, we decided we should look a little deeper into the reviews while spending our hard-earned lunch money and assumed they would honor today’s special sale price just a little later in the afternoon. Of seven couples we were the only one who walked out without signing a contract and in their defense, they very kindly said goodbye and told us our tickets could be picked up at the front desk on our way out. No hard sale, no pressure, no dirty looks, no heckling noises or words hurled at us as we walked out. I’ll refrain from saying whether or not we are glad to have walked away without joining the club, but I will say that we gleefully hopped on the carriage ride after finding – to our surprise – that the tickets were legit. And at the end of the carriage ride we concluded that we were glad we didn’t pay for it.
Now if we can just find this timeshare scam (err, travel company) that gives out free tickets in every city…
On our last day we used our second free ticket to visit Magnolia Plantation; the lovely gardens and white bridge will be recognizable to you from Gone with the Wind. The home is sort of so-so, nothing incredibly exciting, but we learned that the original furniture (which is still in the master bedroom) tipped off historians to the financial status of the original owners. Apparently the wood it is made from is “cheap” for the late 1600’s. If Thomas and Ann Drayton were to redecorate today you might find them with several unidentified pieces of plywood laid out on the floor, looking confused at a single page of useless assembly directions from IKEA.
A day isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy Hilton Head Island, but we did what we could. We rode our e-bikes all over Sea Pines, beginning and ending at the Harbour Town Lighthouse, and stopping for lunch at the Salty Dog at Lands End along the way. Can’t wait to return to this laid back area for a longer stretch of time someday!