Think Outside the State

American Tale: My 50-state Adventure

Weekend Getaway: Pigeon Forge

Though I have many states and other trips to post about, I thought I’d post about my most recent adventure. This past weekend my sister and I treated my mother and my grandmother (also known as “Mamaw”) to a belated Mother’s Day getaway. We stay two nights in a cabin just outside of Pigeon Forge, in Sevierville.

We started off our trip at the Blue Moose, a wonderful burger and wings joint that my parents often visit when they are in town. We are a family of sharers, and that led to us splitting Pulled Pork Nachos, a 25 wing platter, a hot dog plate and a burger plate. The nachos were DELICIOUS, and as I’ve commented on previous posts to this blog, I’m a little partial to good BBQ nachos. These are definitely in my top three. There is a huge offering of wing flavors, and with mom’s seasoned knowledge we picked out some great ones: honey garlic, medium buffalo, garlic parmesan, honey BBQ, and gold fever. I highly recommend any of these flavors, though the honey garlic definitely took the cake. We had the Tennessee Dog and the Junkyard burger, which were classics (and HUGE) covered in slaw, chili, and onions, in a very “all the way” style. We had more than enough for another meal, and I’m not ashamed to say that I ate some of the left over wings as a midnight snack!

 

Our next stop was Gigi’s Cupcakes, literally next door to the Blue Moose. We got the Peanut Butter Cup, Strawberry Shortcake, Wedding Cake, and Red Velvet Cake cupcakes. The best (with a ¾ vote) was the Strawberry Shortcake. Overall, we were a little disappointed in the quality, as we had had them before and they seemed more tasty and moist than the ones we received this visit.

After grabbing a few movies from Redbox, we headed back for the rest of the night in at our cabin, relaxing in the hot tub and going to bed early (spoiler alert: we didn’t get the chance to watch the movies).

The next morning, we were up and at-um as early as we could rally all the troops (that being said, it was 9am). We started our morning with a crowd-pleasing breakfast at the Applewood Restaurant, part of the Apple Barn and orchards. We had a Country Boy Skillet Breakfast, Buttermilk Pancakes, and Biscuits and Gravy. As always with this business, I was impressed with the amount of effort/quality that they displayed. When you’re seated, your waitress automatically brings out Apple Julip, Apple Butter, Apple Fritters, and Apple Muffins (which were the winners of the taste test, 100%). We had plenty of food, great coffee, and a bit of entertainment as the birds that were displayed in our dining area were oogled by all passing children. I highly suggest you get to the Applewood as close to opening as possible, for while we had no wait to get a seat, on our exit there were hoards of people sitting on the porch waiting for their parties to be called.

After breakfast, we went to the Apple Barn shop, picked up some fresh apple butter as a souvenir, and headed off towards Gatlinburg.

 

 

 

The drive from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg encounters the Great Smoky Mountain State Park, and is a gorgeous, winding, scenic road that makes the trip as fun as the destination.

 

 

 

Once we were there, we parked and got our tickets to Christ in the Smokies. Though it may seem a steep per-person cost of ticket, there are coupons for it in the many books you can find where ever you go in the area.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the first 40 or so minutes of your tour includes a short video, and then a display-by-display museum detailing Jesus Christ’s life through mannequins, dressed and presented in period correct fashion. As you progress through the displays, the voice over explains what’s happening in the scene, starting at the very first one with Christ’s birth, and ending with his ascension to heaven. At the end of the displays, it opens up into a garden, which we spent a good bit of time in. It looks deceivingly small, but as you walk around and read and view the different things, it truly lives up to the hype. Afterwards, there is a room with artifacts and ideas about what the prophesies in the bible refer to, and a gift shop. My favorite part of the entire experience was seeing the old money from the bible, the dioramas depicting the set up of Jerusalem, and seeing an original page out of the King James Bible!

After the museum, we drove to the Ober Gatlinburg. We parked in paid parking directly beside it (and for $10, the convenience was definitely worth it). The wait was about an hour to get a ride to the top of the mountain, but we definitely thought it was worth it. There is also a ticket in many coupon books for this attraction, and your tickets are good for 24 hours, so you can ride back and forth multiple times. If someone in your party doesn’t want to go up in the cable car, there is a driving route to the site at the top.

   

We had a great time riding the car up the mountain, and the views were indescribable (good thing we took a ton of pictures, right?). You could clearly see where last year’s fires devastated certain areas, and how the area is building itself back up to it’s former level.

 

 

 

Upon arrival, we decided to look for lunch. There are a few different options, but we chose to have burgers and hotdogs (again). While they weren’t the cheapest, they were delicious and we were very full by the end of the meal. After looking around for a bit (and watching people attempt to ice skate), we decided to go a do the wildlife experience.

There were Black Bears, Bobcats, a Golden Eagle, Otters, a nocturnal section including owls and skunks, and a section different reptiles/amphibians. We spent quite a bit of time here, until we decided that we needed to head back down the mountain for the rest of our adventure. It was an affordable add on to our Ober trip, and they have a lot of options for activities once you get to the top of the mountain.

 

When we arrived back on the street in Gatlinburg, we stopped at a small shop between the Ober station and the paid parking. They had just recently opened, and they had great prices and product for visitors wanting a commemorative shirt or bobble. I highly suggest stopping by!

After a drive back to our cabin, a quick rest, and a wardrobe change, we set out for the Dixie Stampede! Note: We had been once or twice before when we were younger, and one occasion we were picked to participate, but we didn’t have on the proper footwear. If you or anyone in your party is interested in the possibility of participating, make sure they come prepared!

The doors open over an hour before the show starts, and it gives you time to have your picture taken as a group (which though you might be against buying, ends up being a great deal at $30 for the whole 3-picture package, a small frame, and a digital code), grab some popcorn and a non-alcoholic blended drink in a souvenir boot/hurricane glass, and watch the band they have in the center of the two story gallery. We opted in for a Large Popcorn and Two Hurricane-style drinks for $15. The Orange-blossom beverage won out as our favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

As the doors to the main auditorium open and the band closes up, they came up to the top level (where you enter the main auditorium) and took pictures/met fans.  Malorie was all over this, and made sure to get a picture with a few of the members!

 

We were seated in accessible seating, in the “N5” section, against the wall. They weren’t the absolute best seats in the house, but I don’t think any seat has a “bad” view. Part of the fun is that they seat you on either the “north” or the “south” and you cheer for each team as they compete. I wont give any of the details for the show away, but I will tell you, if you have any interest in watching horse racing/tricks/effects/light comedy, I highly suggest looking into going to this dinner show. The food was absolutely delicious, with my favorite thing being the warm biscuit and creamy vegetable soup. Another “different” aspect of the Dixie Stampede is that there are no eating utensils, so you’re chowing down on a whole chicken, sliced potato, pork loin, and corn on the cob with your very own hands. For dessert, they bring out hot apple turnovers, and a warm towel to clean up your hands/self with. Overall, I highly suggest going, even though it is a “bigger” budget item. It is cheaper to go during the day (the 3:30 seating) or to have the upper seats (about $5 a person) but there isn’t anywhere (that we could find) to get discounts/coupons for the event. We were also informed that there wasn’t a teacher or a firefighter discount after we inquired.

 

The real adventure of our trip started after we arrived back at the cabin. About 30 minutes after getting back, a terrible storm hit and knocked out the power. We didn’t get power back at all that night/next day, so we got ready/packed in the dark and headed into town to see if they had been effected as well. On our drive, we saw many trees down, power lines knocked down, and people out trying to clean up after.

 

We got to the Smoky Mountain Pancake House right before a huge rush, and had a great breakfast of ham biscuits, pancakes, gravy, and country fried steak.

 

On our drive home, we stopped at Picker’s Paradise, an antique/picker shop on the side of the road. We spent quite a bit of time chatting with the owner and looking through the miscellaneous offerings. Malorie got a few firefighter themed things, and we loaded up the car to head back towards home.

 

Overall, I highly suggest a weekend (or week) trip to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. We are blessed with being close enough to visit often, and though we didn’t do everything there is to do in the area, we regularly have the opportunity to come back and check some more things off of our list. The area has a ton of arcades, race tracks, themed attractions, and shopping (including a Tanger Outlet) and a ton of history and character.  I highly suggest using the great tourism resources they have online such as the My Pigeon Forge website and the Gatlinburg Visitor Site as you plan your next vacation!

Let me know in the comments what your favorite thing about the area is, or what is on your to-do list for your next trip!

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Oxford, How I Miss(issippi) You

It has been entirely too long since this trip, but I’ve been putting off writing this post in particular. One of the biggest loves in my life is my home town, and this is the only place that I’ve ever been that has made me question where I want to live long term.

 

Oxford Mississippi is a gem in the south that few people seem to appreciate. Of course, it’s well-known for being home to Ole Miss herself, but beyond that, it is SO much more.

 

When we first started planning our trip, I told mom we had to stop in this town for at least the night, and by the end of the trip, she agreed that it was completely necessary. When we first arrived though, she wasn’t so sure.

 

I had read online about the various hotels in the area, but I wanted to stay somewhere cost efficient and rooted in Oxford. There was no better place to fulfill these request than: The Ole Miss Motel

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This beauty may not look like much, but for a comfy and inexpensive night, it was (slightly) outdated, but very clean. It was also walking distance to the little downtown square area, and where else could you want to be! When we first pulled up, mom wasn’t so sure. But after I pushed her to live on the edge (and told her the price…) she was game to give it a shot. After we paid for our room, we went into the square for lunch. We found something that had been suggested online, and was also mentioned to us by locals, Ajax Diner. My pimento cheese burger was DELICIOUS, and it takes a lot to impress me on pimento cheese.  Mom had “The Big Easy” a divine example of comfort food on a bun.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and calm, definitely a place you could meet with friends, get a bite of food, and socialize.

 

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Next, we walked around the square, and went to one of my favorite book stores I’ve ever been in, Square Books.

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dsc_0699My souvenir from this state turned out to be a Faulkner collections book.  Being his home-town, I felt that it was fitting. As was our next stop:

 

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We had to stop and pay our respects to this great word-crafter, and we had to search for a minute before we found it, but look for the large plaques telling the history of the spot, and walk to the right of it, into the graveyard.

It was strange to stop first at his final resting place, a little backwards maybe, but we continued on to Rowan Oaks, and never in my life have I felt more at home anywhere besides home.

 

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It was gorgeous, inside and out, and has a very mysterious past. It’s currently under the management of the college’s southern history program, and we met a lovely guide who was in the program herself. She talked to us a while about their preservation/restoration projects that they were constantly working on.

The amount of artifacts and the set up of the home was excellent, making you feel as though you were walking through the home in its hayday. The outside grounds were gorgeous as well, and we spent hours exploring.

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dsc_0101After experiencing the house, I felt it was appropriate to drive around Ole Miss’s dsc_0430campus, and walk around their campus. We found the Southern History department (my academic love) and I accidentally interrupted a class…but besides that, we enjoyed looking around the various collections they had on display in the lobby at the time.

 

After a great nights sleep, photo-ops, and checking out, we went to the Bottletree Bakery!

This place is a beloved choice of many, including Oprah (no, I didn’t make that up!). It’s of the side of the town square, and attracts quite a crowd.  The coffee was a hit with both of us, and their treats were HUGE.  I personally loved the cinnamon bun, and we enjoyed a danish to split.  We had left overs, which made for a treat on the drive to Alabama.

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After breakfast, we drove around a bit more, and headed on our way.

Oxford will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I have my sights on visiting again, for a longer period, as soon as I can find the time. It’s a lovely little place, with a big personality. So, go, drink the coffee, eat the food, and breath in the beauty of the gem of Mississippi (in my humble opinion).

This (finally) wraps up my blogs on Mom-Daughter Spring Break 2015.  I just recently returned from Texas, but I have definitely held off on blogging many of my adventures, so who knows which one will come next!

 

Happy trails.

 

(P.s. If you’re planning your own Oxford outing, I highly suggest stopping in at the welcome center to load up on brochures and advice from the lovely locals who work there. They made great suggestions regarding our short trip and the “must-sees”. You can find them, and more information on things to do and places to stay in oxford at Visit Oxford MS.

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Mountaineers are Always Free: Charleston, West Virginia

Hey everyone! I know it has been quite the break since the last post, but with teaching and my new position at work, I haven’t had a chance to update in a while.  I recently flew for the first time, and visited Texas (everything was bigger!) so hopefully I will be able to update more frequently as I continue to plan my next adventures.

Over the Labor Day weekend, my best friend and I decided there was a long overdue road trip that needed to happen immediately. This led to a wonderful sprint up to Charleston WV.

This trip was a bit more spontaneous than many of my others, and being one day/one night, it’s a little easier to blog about than the other states that I’ve been to recently (those blogs are coming soon as well).

 

We started the four and a half hour drive by stopping at our favorite bakery in Charlotte, NC. Shout out to Amelie’s for providing sustenance and energy for the road ahead.

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The weather was impeccable, we couldn’t have asked for a better day to travel and explore this interesting capitol city. Through Virginia into West Virginia, I found myself constantly pointing out the scenery. Poor Taylor was tired of looking at rocks and trees, but she humored me.

 

Something neither of us had thought about, were TOLL ROADS. Being where I’m from, Toll Roads are a little foreign, and my least favorite (but probably funniest) part of the trip was frantically digging for change at each of the three booths. I had to sacrifice one of my favorite coins for the cause, but I know Charleston was worth it.

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We took our time on the relaxing drive up 77 to 64, and stopped several times at different rest areas and the West Virginia Welcome Center. This exit has a lot of offerings, so if you need a break or a snack, definitely stop here. (We stopped on the way in, and the way out!)

 

When we finally arrived in Charleston, I was immediately in love. It’s got the small town “slow down and relax” feel, coupled with the history of an interesting state capitol. Perfect storm for making me daydream of living there.

We shopped around for hotel to stay in (I told you this was a bit spontaneous) and we settled on the Hampton Inn . Shout out to the amazing receptionist DESIREE, who helped us get a comfy room and gave us many suggestions for sight seeing. Coupled with free breakfast and the softest bed I’ve ever slept on, I’d definitely suggest staying there!

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Our next stop, and one of my personal top priorities: Lunch. We had looked on Trip Advisor and other sites suggesting good eats in the area, and settled on the Tricky Fish for our culinary needs. They specialize in fish tacos and a very chill vibe. The weather was perfect to sit on the porch and watch the world go by, as we planned our next leg of exploration. I had the mahi-mahi taco blackened, and Taylor had the shrimp taco blackened. We split an order of their hushpuppies, and realized early in that we had ordered FAR too much food. We left stuffed to the gills and ready for the rest of the city.

Our next stop was the unbelievably must-be-out-of-a-fairy-tale capitol building. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the gold gilded dome, and the area surrounding it. I regret not being able to go inside, but there was a wedding party taking pictures and we didn’t want to photo bomb someone’s special day!

 

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Across the street from the capitol building was a lovely overlook, where there are stairs leading down to the river. Every turn on the beautiful streets of Charleston led to more things to look at and more to explore.

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Our next stop was Capitol Street. We parked and walked the span of it, starting around the library. You can see the age of the buildings as you pass, but they are well kept and utilized.

Our first stop was Taylor’s Books. First, let me start off by saying this place has the perfect vibe.

There are various greeting cards sections (with very funny takes on several celebrations), a wonderfully laid out “new” books section, and a very diverse “used” books section. They have a great kids area, and art gallery off the side of the main store.

 

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As if all of these things are not setting you up for the most perfect bookstore in the world, they have the precious commodity that keeps us American’s going: Coffee. And if that’s not enough, they have an array of different desserts and timg_1124reats. I had an Emerald City iced coffee, and it was the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, and coffee. Jaime at the counter suggested it, and I was far from disappointed. She also gave some great suggestions for places to see and check out in the city. Rachel, who also works at Taylor’s, added in a lot of helpful local input. (Thanks Ladies!)

 

Our next stop, and Jaime’s first suggestion, was Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream.

 

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Taylor had delicious black raspberry, and I tried the delectable Heath bar. The place was relaxed and inviting, and we stopped in for a bit to plan our next moves and people watch. From talking about their weekend plans to their next pokemon adventure, you could tell the people in the store were happy, ice cream in hand, in this amazing atmosphere and town.

We drove around a good bit after that, and took pictures in different areas of the city. We decided to check out a local

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print shop, Kin Ship Goods . If you’re looking for a place to pick up some very creative, locally printed, interesting mementos of the city, this is the place to be. I was impressed at the offerings, but fell in love with my “West Virginia vs The World” shirt, and some interesting sunglasses. I loved the shop so much, I went home and ordered a sweatshirt from their website. While we were there, they were being interviewed regarding the shop, and it’s awesome to see treasures like this while traveling.

 

After shopping and exploring, we went back to our hotel, and settled in till dinner. The beds/room were so cozy that we both accidentally snoozed until past dinner time, changing our initial decision for dinner. After wandering around for a while, we found the Recovery Sports Restaurant  was open, and had great reviews. I had a delicious Gorgonzola burger, and Taylor had grilled chicken.

img_1182The real stunner of the dinner was the appetizer: BBQ Nachos. One of my favorite foods, and this place had it going on!

 

 

I speak for the both of us when I say that the night at the Hampton was the best rest I’ve had in months. To be able to relax and not worry about work, cleaning, or cooking was a great break, and the bed and pillows welcomed me with open arms.

 

After we woke up, had breakfast, and got ready for church, we said goodbye to our lovely room, the sweet receptionist, and the city itself. We went to church in Danville (about thirty minutes outside of the city) with some old friends, and headed home afterwards. The church was welcoming and had a variety of age groups, and if you’re looking for a place to worship, I definitely suggest Danville Church of Christ . Say hello to David and Patty for me!

 

Being such a quick, short trip, there were a few attractions that we wanted to get to that didn’t work out, including:

Kanawha State Forest

Clay Center

Limelight Theatre

The drive home was much curvier and full of back roads, since we left so far from 64, but provided even more gorgeous views through the mountains and valleys.

 

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Our quick trip was exactly the break that I needed, and it was a great time to spend with Taylor and discovering a new state.

If you’re planning on traveling to Charleston in the future, definitely check out the Charleston Visitors Page, they are a great resource for all there is to do in the city and surrounding areas!

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