Tennessee (16th - 20th February and 21st - 28th October 2010)


Nashville (16th - 19th February 2010)


We get greeted by heavy snow flurries again as we head in to Nashville after a 6 hour drive from Athens. Part of the journey is like a low mountain road and a pretty steep climb. There is snow on the ground and big icicles on the sides of the road. The roads in to Nashville are busy.


We are staying in downtown in a great position, only a mile from Lower Broadway and the famous Honky Tonk bars. We head in to town on foot, it is freezing, and wander around Broadway listening to the fantastic country music coming out of most of the bars. We go to Rippy’s for a quick bit of food, live music and a few beers before heading back to the hotel.

The next day we head downtown for a wander round. We pass by the Country Music hall of Fame, and see the Walk of Fame star plaques on the pavement in the park, including Dolly Parton! We have a nose round the souvenir shops then can avoid the bars no longer. We head to the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge about 3pm and start on the pop. There’s a great group playing including a really good female fiddler. The band plays for tips, so we keep chucking a few dollars in and they keep playing all day. A little later a male singer starts up, with the same violinist. We’re many drinks down now and having a ball.... “holler”ing and “swaller”ing.

We head over the road to The Wheel where there is a girl group on and Rich can actually smoke at the bar. We get chatting and slurring with a couple of girls from Brooklyn and Rich throws some other girl around the floor in an attempt to dance. We decide it’s time to leave!




Grand Ole Opry - Nashville

We’ve booked tickets for the 7pm show on Friday. It’s a great performance. We’re 4 rows back and centre of the circle. It’s a 4,400 seat theatre. There are about 11 or 12 acts, split in to 4 separately sponsored sections. Because it is a live radio show a guy with a really deep voice interrupts between acts to read out an advert for the sponsor, it’s a bit weird but not too intrusive. Here’s who played:-

Diamond Rio
Riders in the Sky
Del McCoury Band
John Conlee
Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top X-Press
Craig Morgan – in the charts
Bill Anderson
Charlie Louvin
Montgomery Gentry –in the charts
Mike Snider
Jim Ed Brown
Dierks Bentley – in the charts

We actually recognise quite a few of the songs after listening in the car to the country stations. The girls go absolutely mad when Dierks Bentley comes on, he’s a real idol at the moment. There are phone cameras everywhere!



George Dickel Distillery


We take a day trip out and drive a beautiful winding country route of 70 miles to the George Dickel Tennessee Whisky distillery in Cascade Hollow, Normandy TN. There’s an old store and post office at the visitor centre where we watch a short film. A guide then takes us on a really comprehensive tour of the distillery, which is quite small and all worked by hand. It’s actually very interesting, although they didn’t give away any freebies. Rich treats himself to a bottle to try and a hat. The guide gives us 2 souvenir barrel stoppers with George Dickel stamped on them.


Memphis (and Graceland) - 20th February 2010

We get on the road and have a lovely dry, sunny journey into Memphis, arriving at Graceland around 2:30pm. After paying $10 for the pleasure of parking, we get a $30 ticket each for the tour of the mansion. We jump on the tour minibus with our audio guides on and get driven over the road to the house, where we walk round for an hour or so. The mansion is way smaller than expected and has literally been kept as it was when Elvis died, with all the original decor and furniture.


It’s fascinating to see how he lived, and amazing to see all the awards and gold discs he held. There were also some great costumes there. The grave site is a bit creepy as people are still leaving huge silk flower wreaths there on a regular basis, and it feels a bit like a religion, but I guess at the time he was.


Our hotel in Memphis is shabby but in a great location, just 3 blocks from the famous Beale Street. Beale Street is a pedestrianised zone that is heaving with bars and clubs, with all sorts of live music blaring out, mostly blues. There’s a great atmosphere with people out drinking on the streets and partying. The most famous place is BB Kings Blues Bar so we feel we should give it a go.



We manage to get a seat at the bar facing on to the centre of the stage where Blind Mississippi Morris is playing harmonica and singing the blues. He’s fantastic and voted one of the 10 best harmonica players in the world by Bluzharp magazine. The service is really slow but eventually we get drinks and order food, that then takes another hour or so to turn up, but we’re in no hurry. At 9pm the BB King All Stars kick off. Such a talented band of saxophone, trumpet, guitar, drums and keyboards. The singer joins in (Rodney someone) later and the dance floor fills up. We get the giggles at all the white guys’ ineptitude at dancing to blues music, very embarrassing. There’s an odd mix here of cool Memphis people and visiting cowboys and stag trips from other states – but everyone seems to get on fine.

As we leave, Beale Street is packed and there are queues to get in to the best clubs. Sounds of great bands come out on to the street, but we have to go and get some beauty sleep and prepare for another long day on the road.



Nashville Revisited (21st to 23rd October 2010)

On our way south from Kentucky we decide to spend a few days in Nashville again as we loved the town when we were here in February. We get a really cheap deal on a motel about 5 miles out of town. There's a bus route just outside that goes straight in to Lower Broadway. The bus has some shifty characters on it, something to do with the route going past the probation centre and the youth justice department! I don't think Americans generally choose to use the buses but it's a bargain for us at only $1.60 per ticket. We get to Lower Broadway where it is sunny and bustling with tourists; very different from when we were last here. It's only 3pm but Rich is drawn in to Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. We start on the beer and gin/wine and get in to the country music again. This time round we actually know the words of most of the songs they're playing as we have heard them on the car radio throughout our travels. The place is heaving with people who have come to watch a couple of football matches. They are mostly from Philadelphia and South Carolina. A great young guy (Jake?) and a girl (Tara Arender) are doing most of the singing early on, with a great female violinist (Jaclyn?).
Later another singer, Scott Collier, takes over. He's really talented and gets the crowd going walking up and down the bar top, singing. We have great fun partying with the crowd. We have a laugh with Katy and Josh from Minnesota and Jay, Mike and two friends from Philadelphia. There's some fab dancing going on and all the hollering is making us lose our voices. A guy from New York state buys the whole bar two rounds of drinks which must have put him back thousands. After way too much drink we go outside where Lower Broadway is so busy. People are queuing to get in to Tootsie's. We bump in to Josh and Katy again and hawl them off to have another drink in The Wheel over the road. Then we make it in to Big River where we all have water and burgers/pizza. Our livers are throbbing and our wallets are light but it was worth it as Nashville is a great night out.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (24th to 28th October 2010)

The Smokies are stunning. We drive here after our trip to Nashville. The mountains sit on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina at the southern end of the Appalachians. The environment here is the most diverse on the east coast with more tree species than in the whole of northern Europe. There are buildings and cemeteries from the people that used to live here before the park was created in the early 20th century. The area was under threat from logging and farming before the NPS stepped in. It also has the highest volume of black bears in the east; about 1 per square mile. They are all black here, no brown or cinnamon bears. The name comes from the smoky looking clouds that settle amongst the trees. We have hit the park just right for the autumn colours. The trees make up a tapestry of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. It's quite busy as this is peak season for this park.

Elkmont campground

The ranger gives us a nice tent spot at the end of the campsite, where there is a generator ban. It's in amongst the trees and close to a large creek. We get quite a lot of rain overnight and get close to a tornado. Rich sets up a tarp under our top sheet and our tent stay wonderfully dry. The camp is really peaceful with some beautiful coloured trees and lots of squirrels and wild turkeys.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

This scenic road takes you on a single lane up in to the hills. We get right in amongst the autumn leaves and the road follows a wonderful fast river. There are some great cascades and little old barns and houses from the old inhabitants. We take this drive twice to get the benefit of the weather and less crowds.


Grotto Falls

The 3.5 mile Trilium Gap trail runs from the roaring fork road up to Grotto Falls. It's a really enjoyable hike and the falls are gorgeous. You can actually walk behind the waterfall and across to the other side.

Cade's Cove

Cade's Cove is another driving route that is supposed to be the best place to see wildlife. We don't see much apart from a deer or two but it is very pretty. There are storm clouds looming over us making the view very dramatic.

Newfound Gap road

This road cuts through the centre of the Smokies and gives you the best views of the mountains. We travel the road a couple of times in different weather. The best view is just after it has rained when the multi-coloured trees are glowing and the low smoky clouds are sitting in the tree tops. The highest point is Clingman's Dome but the only time we drive up there we get caught in thick fog!
On our last day we drive out to cross the park and spot our first Smokies Black Bear by the side of the road, which is very exciting!


This very touristy town sits amongst the hills near the Roaring Fork road. It has the usual collection of Ripley attractions but also has some quaint little shops. The most interesting is a proper candy store where they are making sweets from scratch and rolling them through machines. There is a ski resort here in the winter called Ober Gatlinburg.

Jakes Creek and Little River Creek Trails

This 5.1 mile loop trail leaves out the back of our camping pitch. It's a really nice trail that heads up in to the colourful hills, across and back alongside a fast flowing creek. It involves fording a wide creek and wandering along paths paved with a carpet of fallen leaves of every colour. It's great to get a good long walk in again and my legs feel a bit like jelly after all the climbing.