Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday, 19 July 2008 - It's been a year!

Just a quickie tonight. It's been one full year since we moved into the Butchertown house. So much has happened, I can't recall all of it, which is why this blog is nice.

We went out to one of our favorite restaurants, Guadalahara, for a mini-celebration. Our first favorite, Woody's, has closed due to the economy.

We're looking at coming back up to Maine shortly after Labor Day. We will plan to take my truck because we have some things we want to bring back from Maine -- notably cases and cases of Moxie, and pounds and pounds of red Jordan's hot dogs. It will be significantly cheaper to drive than to fly, especially when two of us can split the expenses.

Anyone know of a lakeside camp we can rent for a week at ridiculously low off-season prices?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday, 11 July 2008 - Another Great Performance

Last night, we went to Pioneer Playhouse's third production of the season, "Death By Darkness." We missed the second one, but this was one not to be missed. It's a murder thriller, with comedic interludes, set in Mammoth Cave, KY in 1842. The lead is the slave tourguide, Stephen Bishop, and the cast is a group of misfits and miscreants, said to have included the great Charles Dickens, though Dickens never wrote anything about visiting the cave.

The play was written by a local Danville playwright, and the acting was as good as the play. Unusually, the slave, Bishop, actually takes over many scenes, and ends up as he begins, the main character.

Local reviews are here...

Award-winning work by Kentucky playwright next up at Pioneer Playhouse

REVIEW: 'Death By Darkness' is deliciously devious

Next up is Stephen Sondheim's, "Into The Woods" at the Hill Theatre in Danville. We're sure getting our fill of good theater here!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Friday, 27 June 2008 - Great Smoky Mountains and Knoxville, TN

Friday, 27 June 2008.

We were picked up at home by Enterprise car rental (remember, "We'll pick you up"?), and headed south to Knoxville. Got there in about 3-1/2 hours (just about like Waterville to Boston, which we've done MANY times), would have been 3 but there was apparently a major accident ahead of us, just over the line in Tennessee. After check-in at the motel, we spent some time becoming familiar with Knoxville, the third largest city in Tennessee, and home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, as well as the site of the 1982 World’s Fair. It’s not a difficult city to get around, but the ongoing Interstate-40 construction downtown could get confusing.

Tennessee has three regions, hence the three stars on the state flag -- East Tennessee (capital at Knoxville), Central Tennessee (capital at Nashville) and West Tennessee or "The (Jackson) Purchase" (capital at Memphis). The regions are still part of Tennessee law today, in that the state supreme court must meet in each of the three cities in rotation, and no state commission or group can have a majority of its members from any one of the regions!

Dinner was at Naples restaurant, a nice, somewhat upscale Italian restaurant, only about a mile from our motel. The food was very good, and the price was quite reasonable. We'd recommend it to anyone who likes good Italian in a comfortable atmosphere.

Saturday, 28 June 2008.

Got up, went to Krispy Kreme for breakfast. These doughnuts, which President Bill Clinton made famous, were actually invented in Kentucky, but the inventor began marketing them in North Carolina, and they spread all over the South after that. When the red light outside the building is on, it means the doughnuts are fresh and hot. At this one, the light was on 24/7 apparently. We don't know where in Kentucky we can get them hot and totally fresh.

Then we headed south to a lesser-used entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We went first to a former settlement in the park called Cades Cove. There used to be several hundred people in this valley area between the mountains, but after the park was organized, they either moved away or were bought out.

One of the oldest buildings left in the park was the log cabin built by John Oliver in the early 1800’s. It’s quite typical of the cabins people lived in until the end of the 19th Century, when frame buildings became more common. It looked as if the settlement was totally cut off from the rest of the world, but we understand that was NOT the case. It was a cash economy, and people came into the mountains and left, and traded back and forth much as was done in the rest of the South at the time. Check out for more info here.

At least three churches (and three cemeteries) were in the valley, and we stopped and took pictures of some of the stones at the Methodist Church. Many of the burials have been made since the park was officially created in 1940, and some families still have regular reunions there.

After leaving Cades Cove, we drove to the north, and main entrance to the park, Sugarlands Visitor’s center, for a quick break, then headed south across the park toward North Carolina. We were going to drive up to Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest elevations in the eastern US, but gas was short, and we didn’t want to run out, so we passed on the Dome and headed straight for the south entrance at Cherokee, NC.

Cherokee was a bitter-sweet place. It does try to preserve the Cherokee language, which was invented by the great chief Sequoyah, and many signs are bi-lingual. The Cherokee were one of the first tribes to try to assimilate with the westward-moving Europeans, adopting European style clothing, housing, customs, and laws. But that wasn't enough. When gold was discovered in northern Georgia (only a few miles away as the crow flies), US President Andrew Jackson, of Tennessee, ordered the removal of the Cherokee from the land. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in a lawsuit brought by the Cherokee, that Jackson had no power to do that, to which Jackson replied, "Marshall has made his ruling; now let him enforce it." Thus the Cherokee and several other tribes were forcibly marched hundreds of miles to end up ultimately in Oklahoma. Many passed through Kentucky, and over in the western part of the state there is a memorial to the "Trail of Tears" which passed through this state.

However, a few Cherokee remained behind, sheltered by the Great Smoky Mountains, from the American government. This small core was the beginning of the "Eastern Cherokee" band.

In any event, Cherokee is a thriving tourist community today, where visitors can buy all sorts of "Indian" items like moccasins, jewelry, ice cream, and other truly native souvenirs. Unfortunately, most of the "stuff" says, "Made in China" on it. There's even one man at the entrance of the tourist shopping area who sits in a plywood tee-pee with a full headdress, with a sign outside saying, "Take a picture with me. Tips appreciated." Just what the ignorant tourist expects "Indians" to be like. Most people don't know that the Cherokee never lived in tee-pees, let alone plywood ones, and never wore full headdresses of feathers. Hollywood falsely has taught us that the Lakota Sioux apparently are typical of ALL Native Americans! How ignorant we are! I was able to control myself however, until we got gas ($4.04 a gallon for the first time) and headed back into the Park.

About halfway back to Sugarlands, we took a left, and drove seven miles across the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. On the way, we noticed the pink rhododendrons which are one of the showpieces of this park. They grow wild and natural, in both pink and white, the pink mostly at higher elevations, and blossoming later in the year than the white.

Once there, we walked another half mile, uphill, toward Clingman's Dome. The view on the walk up was awesome, and at the top, there's a curved ramp up to an observation platform where one used to be able to see 100 miles. Due to air pollution nowadays, much over 25 is quite good. By the way, they are called the "smoky" mountains because of the interaction between sunlight and decaying vegetation in the deep forest; the "smoke" rises up, but usually disappears by mid-day. Clingman's Dome, at 6653 feet high, is like Mt. Katahdin with the Empire State Building on top of Baxter Peak. We were actually 2000 feet HIGHER than the top of Sugarloaf USA, and 355 feet higher than Mt Washington, NH.

On the way back to Knoxville from Clingman's Dome, we stopped at Newfound Gap, where the TN/NC border and the Appalachian Trail all come together. Incidentally, this is the spot where President Franklin D Roosevelt dedicated the park in the fall of 1940. A monument stands on the site, just to the right of where the photo of Barry was taken. Newfound Gap is at an elevation of "only" 5,000 feet, so it really is a "gap" in the mountains, though not a very big one. It's STILL high!

I took the picture of "Katahdin Maine" just to impress us with how FAR we were from the rooftop of Maine! Loads of good photos can be had right here. For those of you who haven't been this far south, I'd say a nice drive through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, would be about as close as you could get to the Great Smokies. Interestingly enough though, there is no "tree line" here, as the temperatures in the winter are still warm enough to support plant growth, unlike the tops of many New England peaks.

We drove through the rest of the park, northbound, and exited about dusk. What a total turnabout! From a wild, isolated, natural park, to Gatlinburg. This place is like a hilly Old Orchard Beach on a Saturday summer night, only without the beach! It's said there are something like 13,000 hotel rooms in a town of 3,000! And walking along the main street was worse than walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan! If you want tourist heaven, head for downtown Gatlinburg.

In fact, our destination WAS downtown, the Hard Rock Cafe at Gatlinburg. Yup, we're HRC junkies, having visited now between us, Boston MA, Montreal QC, New York NY, Washington DC, Louisville KY, St Louis MO, Cancun MX and Cozumel MX. HRC Cozumel is the world's smallest, but I'll bet Gatlinburg is the smallest city that has its own HRC! The restaurant is actually located on AND over the Little Pigeon River, which a bit downstream hosts the city of Pigeon Forge, made famous by Dolly Parton. As usual, the atmosphere alternates between casual and relaxing, and frenetic, but always fun and enjoyable. And we picked up two new t-shirts to add to our collection.

After a long but great day, we headed north through Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and back to Knoxville. Tomorrow's another day.

Sunday, 29 June 2008.

This day was Knoxville's turn to shine, even though the weather wasn't going to. We started out again at Krispy Kreme, and the rest of the day's highlights included the site of the 1982 World's Fair, the University of Tennessee Botanical Garden, and a great meal on an outdoor deck over the river.

The World's Fair has only left a few permanent reminders in Knoxville. One is the "Sunsphere," an 266 foot tall tower with an observation area about 200 feet up. From there one could see all the way to the Great Smokies, as well as all around Knoxville, the Tennessee River, and the University. The fair introduced the world to "Rubik's Cube" and the hotel at the site has the world's largest cube!

After the fair, we drove down to the riverfront, and walked along "Volunteer Landing", a riverfront park on the Tennessee River, obviously! It was great to get out and walk and sight see after yesterday's touring mostly by car. We were also killing time until the UT event, but it was nice and relaxing, as well as good exercise.

The UT Gardens were having a plant display, fair, sale, whatever you want to call it. Anyway, we browsed for several hours, looking at plants that would grow in Kentucky as well as in Tennessee, asking questions, taking pictures, and in general, enjoying the event. We did buy three antique Iris plants and a new variety of Rudbeckia (looks like black-eyed susans), so we'll have a permanent souvenir of our trip to Knoxville.

After that, we went back to the motel room to rest a bit and recharge before dinner, which was a healthy beef tenderloin salad with house cheddar dressing. It was a huge portion, and the beef was flavorful and (as we have come to expect here in the South, tender). Surprisingly, we were able to fit back into the car after dinner, which ended about 9:30 PM, just as it was getting dark.

Monday, 30 June 2008.

Back to Danville. First to Krispy Kreme for a dozen to take home, than back up I-75, US-150 and KY-300 home! We had to get the rental car back by 12:00 noon, and we actually walked into the place at 11:58 (though I think we could have brought it back by 1PM since we didn't get picked up and on the road until 1PM on Friday.

It's taken me this long to get the photos off the cameras, put them together, and write my blog -- 'cause we headed for Paducah on Thursday, 3 July, and just got back this afternoon! The cat has practically forgotten who we are, but we'll get reacquainted quickly, I'm sure. Photos of Elizabeth Rose are yet to come, but will have to wait until the next blog, which will NOT take as long to get to as this has!