Beewatching’s Blog

Smoky Mountains, Wall Clouds, Great Music (Tennessee trip)
July 31, 2011, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

THE MUSIC CALLED US AND WE WENT I don’t know too many people from New Jersey who go to Tennessee and Kentucky for summer vacation. When the temperature goes up, we go north or shoreward. This is logical — if it’s hot at home, what do we expect if we head south? This was a trip during which we ate lunch at Subway almost every day. Always the same thing, because how often can you get a sandwich that has both bacon and avocado along an interstate? As you may suspect, I was thoroughly sick of this sandwich before we got home, eight days after setting out. But not sick of bacon.

Once the Mark O’Connor String Camp, which one of the kids enjoys each summer, moved its northeast session from New York City to Boston, it didn’t make sense to endure an urban inferno if we had to drive several hours. East Tennessee State University’s Mark O’Connor camp now seemed like the more habitable choice. After the ETSU dropoff, my husband and I pursued our own itinerary.

We stayed at the Carnegie Hotel at first, in Johnson City, TN. I recommend this place. We were very comfortable there. It’s right across from the university. They have a spa. I didn’t get around to trying it out, silly me, but you should. By the way, if you like to shop for groceries at Whole Foods Market, there isn’t one here. But they have Earth Fare, which is almost a clone. Shop here.

Our next stop was near Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I recommend this place too. I mostly recommend bug repellent and a rain jacket. We stayed north of the tourist madness that is Pigeon Forge, but near the main road leading to the park. On approaching the mountains, the skies opened up, so DH and I went first to the gift shop (because he had forgotten to pack his rain gear) and bought a nice jacket. By the time the purchase was made there was no more rain that day, of course. We did a short loop of 5.5 miles, halfway through which I decided I my “smartwool” socks were a stupid choice for such a humid hike.

DINNER AND A SHOW Enjoyable (except for my socks) as the hike was, the weather display we watched later from our restaurant seats was memorable too. We were at Uncle Buck’s Grill, in the Kodak-Sevierville area when the sky got dark fast. Once we noticed that some staff and patrons were looking outside with fascination and terror, and that the background hum of conversation had been muted, my situational awareness told me we were in a bad place to weather a tornado. Windows surrounded us, and a huge saltwater aquarium backed the entire length of the bar. There was a wall cloud, and branches of the small trees outside were being blown about fiercely. Power went out briefly and the emergency back up generators went on, while I scanned the exits and hoped the place had a basement.

Full-scale panic never occurred because ultimately that wall cloud did not give birth to a funnel cloud, and the storm soon moseyed off to scare another neighborhood. After a meal of blackened catfish washed down with a big margarita, we had relaxed. Dessert was a nice browse in the adjoining Bass Pro Shop, a bigger hunting and camping store than I’d ever seen before. Among its offerings is an assortment of hot sauces. (Anyone ever dare the one called “Nuclear Hell”? Still have any taste buds left?)

We drove to Kentucky the next day, on a quest for my husband’s ancestors. He got kind assistance from the ladies in the lower level of the Somerset Public Library, and left with new information, but more questions. That night we stayed at the Doubletree Inn, in Lexington. This is also a pleasant place to stay, with a restaurant onsite, as well as a Panera Bread shop mere yards away. On the news we heard that a tornado had touched down in Louisville, our next planned stop. Before leaving Lexington the next day, we toured the gardens at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. If we return there next summer (a possibility), we will also visit Ashland to see the garden, as recommended by the hotel desk clerk. She also recommended the cemetery for its landscaping.

YEAH — HAD LUNCH AT SUBWAY HERE, TOO It was sunny when we reached Louisville, where we heard that Lexington had just been issued a tornado watch (how’s that for timing?). Our first destination was the Filson Historical Society, which has a library of family records for perusal and copying with payment of a modest fee. While DH did the perusing, I toured all the rooms open to the public, with the help of a self-guided tour booklet that details the furnishings and many paintings on display, along with information about the original homeowners. It’s a lovely place and you should go. Afterward, we drove east on Bardstown Road in search of an historical plaque mentioned by one of the librarians. She did not promise that it still existed, and indeed, we didn’t find it.

One can get hungry perusing, you know, so dinner was next. From a number of appealing restaurants on a list, we walked from our hotel to the Mayan Cafe on Market Street — a delicious meal, which I accompanied with a drink that included fruit and prosecco. Along Market Street are other restaurants as well as shops and galleries we would have certainly explored if we’d had more time in Louisville. Another bit of Louisville that features intriguing shops, clubs and restaurants is Bardstown Road. It’s a bit bohemian in appearance. If you are in Louisville with a few spare hours, you should seek this area out. Then, please tell me what you find.

From Louisville, we headed back to Johnson City, Tennessee. The final night of the string camp featured a concert of all the instructors as well as Mark O’Connor himself. It was, as you might expect, outstanding fun, a delight for the ears. Once our teen had been retrieved from the dorms, we headed west again to visit family as far away as St. Louis, Missouri. Every day it rained a little while. Every day there was a tornado watch somewhere along the route. We dodged these by sheer luck, not planning.

WHAT THE HAIL? Around daybreak the final day of our trip, I awakened to the sound of hail hitting the hotel room window ledge. We all know what hail can mean, right? Worried that our tornado-dodging luck had run out, my first act was to hide my head under my pillow. Then I dared a look outside as the storm wound down, and saw not only NO tornado, but clearing sky! In fact, the ride home was through some of the best weather of the whole trip. Figures.

Along our hiking trail

Hometown farmer's market

Back home. It’s fair season. Trading funnel clouds for funnel cakes.


1 Comment so far
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Quite a report, and complete one !!!

Comment by Mom

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