A Taste of Southern Hospitality

Trip Start Apr 17, 2011
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
Dollywood Vacations Cabins

Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Saturday, May 21, 2011

On May 18th we left Washington DC on the Amtrak train and headed to my sister Maureen's home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The trip took about 8 hours ands was a pleasant change from the tour bus. We had seats that were very similar to plane seats (but more comfortable!) and the Dining Car was very close and convenient. We had to carry our bags onboard and store them in a section at the end of the car which wasn't difficult - except for the elderly lady who told us off for touching her case, and them proceeded to talk to herself in a loud voice for much of the rest of the trip!

The countryside was still very green and flat for most of the trip. The railway tracks seemed to be lined with trees with the occasional house and town. It made me want to watch the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" again!

We spent 2 quiet days at Maureen & Neil's house and it was a good chance to catch our breath and get some laundry and blogging done. Neil was working days and Maureen working nights, so we mostly spent the days in the house (Max watching his favourite "House & Garden TV" cable channel, and me working on the computer - with a couple of local walks.) Maureen lives in a quiet, very green neighbourhood and I really enjoyed seeing the Hummingbirds and Red Cardinals that came to the bird feeder near the window.

My youngest sister and her husband (Colleen & Gary)  flew in on Saturday and the 6 of us headed West across the Great Smokey Mountains to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Now there is a story about why we headed to this particular place for our time together....    About 20 years ago (when I was single) I spent a week traveling with a New Zealander friend around some of the southern states.  We stayed in a hotel in Gatlinburg (very near Pigeon Forge) and I noticed that there was a theme park near there called "Dollywood".  You may have worked out that this theme park is owned by Dolly Parton!  I'm not a huge Dolly fan, but I thought it would be a hoot to visit the park - my Kiwi friend was not interested in the slightest, so I thought "If I ever get back to that part of the world I'd like to visit Dollywood".  So, when we knew that we would have some time to visit Maureen on this trip, we thought we could go there together (it's about a 4 hr drive from Maureen's).  Well, Colleen & Gary didn't want to miss out on our time together, so that's how it all came about.

Fifty years ago Pigeon Forge was just a sleepy little village - about an hour's drive from Knoxville. Today... well, I hate to say it, but it's a circus.  Even Neil called it "Redneck Las Vegas" - but without the casinos and prostitutes.  The main road was lined with hundreds of souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels and amusements.  I guess you could say that Dollywood was to "blame" for this, but the plus side is that tourism has created a lot of jobs for a lot of people.  As you can see, I had mixed feelings about the whole experience.

We stayed in the "Dollywood Vacation Cabins" - the pictures online were beautiful and we were very pleased that they lived up to their advertising.  Three story log cabins with all the luxuries you could want.  Three bedrooms, 2 spas, computer, wi-fi, cable TV in every room, nice kitchen, pool table, air hockey, pong, Nintendo - who could ask for more?  Well, the "more" was million dollar views from the 3 balconies.  

On our first morning, Max and I went to Dollywood and the others went to visit Gatlinburg.  On the second day we all went to Dollywood.  Dollywood is a bit hard to describe - it's an amusement park, but more low-key and green than other parks I've been too.  Also, in addition to the mandatory kid's rides, it has a lot of music based shows - so there is a lot for older people to enjoy too.  It's kind of nestled in a valley so there are forested hills on either side and a lot of trees in the park, which was a nice atmosphere.  And yes, Dolly is everywhere (tho' not "in the flesh" when we were there!), so it helps if you like her style of music.  (We're not big fans, but I don't hate it either.) I must say that this is the only theme park I've ever been to where you can hear Southern Gospel music and hymns playing all over the park. This is truly the "Bible Belt" of America and it was kind of refreshing to hear spiritual references in so many of the shows.  

Our first afternoon we went to a musical show of 50's and 60's songs and near the end of the performance we heard thunder... but we thought it was just a part of the show.  When we left a few minutes later we were shocked to see that the sky was black (about 6pm in early summer) and rain was pelting down.  There must have been very high winds just before we came out too because there was debris all over including many broken trees.  This was the tail end of the storms that caused such havoc and tragedy further north in Missouri and other places. 

On our second day Colleen, Gary and Maureen wanted a bit more "action" so opted for doing a zipline through the forest (like a "flying fox" for all you Aussies).  They enjoyed it though it was a bit more strenuous than they anticipated! Max and I went to a gospel quartet group show and we all enjoyed having a look at the mountain crafts of woodworking, musical instruments, leatherwork, etc.  If you'd like to see more about Dollywood just click this link:

We left Pigeon Forge on Tuesday - Maureen & Neil took the rest of us to the airport at Knoxville for our flights home.  Colleen & Gary were flying to Atlanta and then on to San Jose, Max and I flew back to Washington DC then on to San Francisco.  We were supposed to arrive in SF about 8pm and planned to take the rapid transit train back to Pleasanton.... (the best laid plans....) unfortunately the storms weren't over and our flight was delayed in Washington DC for 3 hours and then re-routed south over Texas to miss the storms.  All trans-continental flights had to do this, so it was very crowded air space for a few hours!  In the end we arrived in San Francisco at about 11:30pm, but by the time we got our bags we had missed the last train to Pleasanton .... so, we opted to just wait in the airport until 4am when the trains started again and head "home" then. We weren't alone because many people had missed connecting flights because almost everyone's flights were several hours late.  It was soooo good to get home at about 5.30am and after a catch up sleep of a few hours we were none the worse for wear.

This week has been spent washing laundry and taking care of preparations for our next adventure - 4 weeks traveling through the western states and visiting many national parks.

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Helen Lindqvist on

That Million dollar view is amazing!

Frank on

Glad to hear that Max and you are having such a fun family and scenic time at the moment. Rosalie and I miss you guys being around but wouldn't want you to miss one bit of your discovery.

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