A visit to the Hermitage: Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville

The Hermitage is the home of Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh (from 1829 to 1837, he served two terms) President of the United States, and possibly one of our most controversial ones. To put it in a modern context, Trump is a big fan of Andrew Jackson, and a lot of people compare the two Presidents as being similar, and will view that similarity with the same intensity of love and or hate for the man, depending on their political leanings.

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How people viewed President Jackson is part and parcel with the nicknames they gave him. So for instance his names among the whites varied from “Old Hickory” which was given to him by the soldiers who served under him and loved him, to “The Hero of New Orleans,” because of his successes in the Battles for New Orleans  (December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815) as part of the War of 1812, notably his wins happened AFTER the treaty ending the war had already been signed (December 24, 1814), but apparently that didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter in the minds of his supporters …  to “King Mob,” by his white detractors, because his most avid supporters for position of President were considered the illiterate mob. While the names the Native-Americans gave him included  “Sharp Knife,” given to him by the Muscogee/Creek people, or his even more explicit Cherokee name of “Indian Killer.”

So for instance, during my travels I’ve spoken about the Trail of Tears in numerous posts, and that act of genocide was initiated by the state of Georgia, but could never have happened but for Jackson’s who hearted support …  His supporters (current day hard core republicans) will often point to his high respect for the constitution, and how he said, “The Constitution and the laws are supreme and the Union indissoluble” when speaking against a state’s right to secede from the union, but seem to completely forget that the Cherokee had fought their forced relocation by the state of Georgia all the way to the Supreme Court and won their case, only to have Jackson, who had as part of his campaign promised to support Indian removal (the same way Trump has promised to kick out illegal aliens and build the wall) completely reject the court’s findings, “supposedly” saying (but probably didn’t) “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” and then instructing the US military to forcibly remove the Cherokee anyway.

And yet, Andrew Jackson was a man of the people. In a government that had till then been run almost exclusively by men from America’s “best families,” essentially our upper classes … Jackson was quite the opposite. Without him Lincoln might have never been elected. The illiterate and unwashed populace supported him because he was one of them, hence the title “King Mob.” And even some of our most iconic liberal media TV shows, like The West Wing, are therefore forced to tip their hat to him.

My first visit to the Hermitage was in December of 2010, and there was snow on the ground. To be honest my desire to come here again was so I could blog about it here as part of my visiting sites around America related to our Presidents and First Spouses (in fact I’ll be doing more Lincoln stuff in a few days) and to see if there were any changes to the place. And there had been, although nothing particularly substantive.

When you first enter the property, you are now given a choice between two different sorts of tickets. The major difference being, one includes the older audio device for self guided tours (audio, but no pictures), while the new one includes a sort of smart phone like device, which adds images, a few more narrations with more information (much of it about relationship between Jackson and his slaves), and a 10% discount at the store which I wish they had actually told me about when I paid for the thing, because I bought about $80 worth of costume jewelry while there and that $8 discount would have paid for itself (I only just discovered it now).

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In the photo on the bottom left you can see a staff member demonstrating how to use the older audio device (on the wall behind her were the three sorts of tours information), while on the bottom right is one of the new smart-phone type machines, which is what I was using. Regarding the sorts of information offered, I found two things interesting: firstly, On adult devices do NOT allow you to hear the blue 200 series audio files, intended for kids, so that as a parent you can’t actually know what they’re telling your kids, or NOT telling them… that’s a problem! Also, if you think about it for a second, you get the feeling that the 300 series, the information about Andrew Jackson’s wife was added as an afterthought … as part of the whole, we need to pay as much attention to the first spouses as to the presidents movement.

After getting your headsets, or before, depending on how you time things, there’s short movie that provided a fairly level introduction to who Jackson was, pointing out that he could be mild-mannered and polite, as long as you didn’t get in the way of anything he wanted, in which case he could turn extremely violent, and you were essentially dog meat. (There’s a world for this, its psychopath … no I don’t have an opinion about this, why do you ask?)

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The movie also talks about Jackson’s war with the Central/Federal Bank of the United States, a point of history which if you don’t understand it, you will never appreciate the exquisite irony of Andrew Jackson’s face on the 20 dollar bill.

After the movie there is a small museum area you can either walk straight through on your way to see Hermitage, or you can stop and appreciate, which will teach you more about the man and his importance to American history.

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After the museum you begin to the approach the property, and this is when the audio aides come into use.

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All along the path there are detailed signs you are meant to stop and read that offer other information (not available in the audio segments)

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And then after you’ve walked a short but winding path you begin to approach the building itself, and are offered information about its building and evolution over the years before, during and after Jackson’s presidency.

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Then, you stand in a cordoned off line, and wait for your turn to enter the building. For this they’ve come up with really smart way of breaking the tourists into easily manageable groups. There is a set of benches, and only as many people as can comfortably sit on the benches at once are allowed in at a time, and each group once seated is given a short speech about what they’re about to see, with a question period after it, all of this intended to space the groups out.

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One difference I DID notice between this time and my previous visit in 2010 was back then ALL the various tour guides were dressed in period costumes, while this time they all were wearing modern clothes. (I think this change is a loss)

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Note the difference in cloths of this guy (in the black outfit) in this picture taken in 2010 with the young guy in the picture taken yesterday

Additionally, and this I’m less sure of, last time I’m pretty sure that the same docent stayed with our group along the whole tour, while this time we visitors were moved from one location to the next but the tour guides stayed put.

Both times, while in the house, we were not allowed to take pictures. However, I think this was for two reasons, firstly, picture takers can slow down the efficient movement of people from one location to the next, and secondly, picture takes tend to break the rules in favor of a good shot… crossing boundaries and using flash (which could have a cumulatively destructive effect on the antiques in the house).

But once you’re outside of the shuffled through tour part, there’s not only no one telling you NOT to take pictures, but there also plastic walls in place separating you from any chance to do anything destructive… via the servants section of the house where you can see into the main house … so… here are some.

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This was the informal part of Jackson Parlor. In the Front rooms, which are not directly visible from the servants area is where he met official visitors, this back room was where family would spend their time

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This is the dining room. The flooring which looks like linoleum is actually a waxed cloth (like wall paper for floors) that was popular at the time and even existed in the White House. The stove was a modern Franklin stove which was much more efficient than a fireplace.

The home would house any and all visitors who came that day (as at that time it was a couple of hours ride away from Nashville), offering them a place for the night. Bed rooms were filled on a first come first serve basis, separated by gender, with late comers given bedding on the floor, as was the common courtesy of the day. (There’s actually an amusing story of one time Thomas Jefferson while running for President went to visit the then widowed Martha Washington in Mount Vernon, and she hated him so much while she could not refuse to see him, she did not, as was considered common courtesy, offer him a place for the night… and he was forced to ride all the way back to Alexandria. A MAJOR diss… we know this is true because apparently he ran up quite the liquor bill that night at the inn he ended up in)

After dinner, the dinner table was designed to be easily taken apart, and the dinning room was then available for dancing and other entertainments. Right behind the dining room is of course the servants area, such as the kitchen and store rooms

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Another change I noticed was, while last time I was here, people would press the various buttons (like the one here in front of the kitchen) to listen to the recording describing the area, which was blared over a loud-speaker to the whole group at once, this time NO ONE (other than me) pressed these buttons. In fact I spotted one woman bitching to a guard that I had disturbed her by doing it… to which I’m pretty sure he responded, “Madam, that’s what they’re there for.”

After the house you walk to the fields, work houses and slave quarters that are located in the backyard area

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A view of the house from the back, less fancy than from the front

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One of the interesting things that I learned was that while one of the horrors of slavery you always hear about is families being separated, it was NOT Andrew Jackson’s practice to do this. Whenever possible he kept slave families together even to the point of it not being economically practical (holding on to the very young and the very old), to the extent of he once purchased a seamstress for his time at the white house, and then upon her request her whole family… she had informed him that they were all trained house slaves owned by a man going bankrupt and therefore at risk of being seperated (it was in one of the audio files, from her voice I think she was the same African-American historian who spoke in the movie, who specialized in the slave experience). However, according to the above sign, Jefferson did this less out of the goodness of his heart than as a modern slave management technique, designed to make slaves less likely to want to run away as the larger their families, the less likely they would be able to do it together.

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That said, back when I was studying the institution of slavery at Northwestern University with a professor who specialized in it, one of the things she taught us was one of the best measures of was, and I preface this by saying slavery is a HORRIBLE thing and should never exist, and there are therefore no “good” slave owners… that said, the way to distinguish the relatively ‘good’ owners from the really bad ones was once emancipation came, how many freed slaves chose to stay put and continue working for their former owners, versus opted to grab their freedom and pursue better options. The reality, as politically incorrect as this might sound, was that many former slaves stayed put (or came back after doing a walk about to see what else was out there)… but those owned by BAD owners, the ones who were most notorious for their evil behaviors… those saw their “families” of former slaves abandon them with a will…

That said, while Andrew Jackson had passed away about 20 years before the Civil war, and it was his son who was the owner of all of his former ‘properties’ once emancipation came to the Hermitage, according to the sign above … most of Jackson’s “black family still at the Hermitage chose an uncertain future and fled behind Union lines”

In fact, I wasn’t able to find the sign this time, but I remember that last time I was there I read one that said in fact almost ALL the former slaves but a small handful (I think the number was like three?) had run away from them, telling you pretty much everything you needed to know, at least about how Jackson’s son had treated them.

Bell Buckle, Tennessee: if you’re looking for something worth stopping for on the two hour drive between Nashville and Chattanooga

Bell Buckle, TN is a very cute, tiny (population of under 400) town located well away from any highways, but on an active train line. It is a well-preserved historic town full of well maintained Victorian homes, many of which have very pretty gardens, as well as a well maintained downtown (it is a whistle-stop town on the train line from Nashville to Chattanooga) that has done everything feasibly possible to be appealing to tourists.

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Approaching the town you pass some impressively palatial homes, which is not what one expects to see in such a small town in Tennessee. Then, the moment you drive into town you’ll have to slow down to 15 mph, as you pass The Webb school. Looking at it I could tell it was a fairly affluent boarding school (its tuition is between 40-50K a year, which is up there with the price of sending your kid to University) whose presence in the town, I was pretty sure, probably explained why the homes I was passing were SO nice. That said, when I got home and did some research; I discovered that it was in fact a college prep boarding school, founded in 1870 (one of the oldest ones in the south); and that the school had been moved to Bell Buckle in 1886 (because the town was dry while its original location was going wet); and, that it was at one point SO good that it was responsible for producing more Rhodes scholars than any other secondary school in country (that said, I was looking on their website that lists where their current crop of seniors will be going for university, and the list was NOT a very impressive one — the public high school I went to, it does way better).

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This was on the sidewalk in front of one of the shops

A little further up the road you’ll come to a still active train line (none of the trains I saw actually bothered to stop at the town, confirming its whistle-stop status), and a small collection or historic storefronts which make up the “down town.” I parked my car and walked around, exploring the shops.

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This, plus one shop, is pretty much all of downtown, like I said, tiny

In every shop I entered I asked what the history of the town was, and none of the staff seemed to know. In each case they said they were actually new to the town, or didn’t actually live in town. Which was interesting.

The shops consist mostly of women’s clothing shops, shops that promote local artists,

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antique shops and

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and four different food places, a coffee shop, an ice cream and sandwiches shop (with homemade fried pie), a meat and three and ladies high tea place…. with the exception of the coffee place (which was just a coffee place), all of the other three places were so southern as to represent stereotypes of the south, or tourist trap heaven.

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Again, how more Old South can you get than Pulled pork, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pimento Cheese  — oh right, Fried peach pie
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Again, not sure a place can get more stereotypically Southern than RC Cola and Moon Pies

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This is supposed to be the best restaurant in town, a traditional Southern ‘meat and three‘ but the guy in the wellness store told me that everything they serve is actually produced by Sysco foods (i.e., almost nothing is made by them, it all arrives in bulk already made), which is kind of shocking as it apparently is one of the major draws to the town (one store owner told me that it alone generates most of the towns income), and was, according to their resturant web site, listed as one of the top 10 resturants in the state

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I ordered a $5 bowl of Chili and got a bowl so big I could only eat half, the pancake looking thing is actually corn-bread flat cake (known as a johnny cake or a hoecake).

The shop that surprised me the most was the Wellness Emporium place that sold things like tonics, Kombucha and CBD Hemp oil. The guy when talking to the women described how he runs an organic farm and produces most of his products himself.

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Lodge Cast Iron outlet store:

A brand new Lodge pre-seasoned Cast-iron pan that normally sells for about $25.00 (well, $17.98 via Amazon prime) for $5…. so yes I stopped! That said, not sure this store is worth going out of your way for.

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Got to love this statue outside of the store, it’s made of various of their products fused together (I believe the legs are things for cooking corn)

Last time I headed from Chicago to Orlando I came via Nashville, where I have some friends. After I left them and headed south to Chattanooga I passed what advertised itself to be an actual factory for Lodge Cast Iron products, with an honest-to-god outlet store (as in a store adjacent to a factory where you can buy slightly imperfect items at a 20% discount, rather than one in an outlet mall selling last season’s stuff). At the time I promised myself that next time I drove by that place I would stop in.

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Today I was driving from my friends in Georgia back to my friends in Nashville. I had stopped at the “welcome to Tennessee” center at the state border to find out what (if anything) was there was worth stopping at between the two places (since I was in no rush) and there was pamphlet advertising that with this coupon you could get a 10.25″ imperfect cast iron pan (which they normally sell for about $15), for $5!

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The normal price for a blemished pan on the left, the price with the coupon on the right

So I headed to the store, all excited about the great deals I was going to find.

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While the store is very nice and has pretty much every item Lodge makes, MOST of what it has is new perfect items at full prices. For example when I got home I found that this Carbon steel skillet was selling on Amazon for $45 with free shipping, so NO not worth a special trip for. (And I found that was pretty much always the case.)

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However, the moment you walk in the door a staff member greets you and points you in the direction of what you’ve actually come for, the discounted imperfect stuff, which is relegated to one badly lit aisle at the end of the store (not any of the well-lit and attractively displayed items).

The 10.25″ pan that the coupon was offering for $5 was selling for $14.95 without the coupon, and like I said above I found it for sale on Amazon (in perfect condition) for $17.98, so without the coupon… not really such a deal.

That said, I bought THIS “Lodge L8GP3 Cast Iron Grill Pan, 10.25-inch”, which Amazon says has a list price of $28, that they are currently advertizing for $23.61, selling in the imperfects aisle for $14.95… so a savings of $8.66. So, a savings, but I’m not sure one that’s worth going out of your way for.

 

 

I stand corrected: There IS good food in Dollywood!

What I now know is that food in Dollywood comes in TWO varieties, 1) quantity over quality, or 2) quality over quantity.

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Mea Culpa back in May of 2016 I visited the Dollywood area for the first time and had nothing but horrible meals. Just recently I visited the town for second time with a friend who is a vegetarian, and as such, opted away from all of the tourist spots that promised massive portions and/or all you can eat options — as none of them were going to be vegetarian friendly, and instead opted for smaller local/places that offered normal sized meals where we cold pick and choose … and to my delight was MUCH happier with everything that was served to us. In fact I found TWO very tasty places in Pigeon Forge, and another down the road in nearby Gatlinburg.

Hidden among the shops right behind the Old Mill restaurant (where I had a TRUELY awful meal during my last stay) is an eatery owned by the same company called the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grille

It’s a MUCH smaller place (easily 1/10th the size of the old Mill), that seems to attract an older crowd (I’m guessing snowbird types who come through town on a semi-regular basis) and locals, and neither I nor my friend were served anything we didn’t enjoy… and the prices are very reasonable. I had the salmon cakes appetizer with a baked sweet potato and Cheese grits, while my friend had the vegetarian sandwich. (Google maps for some reason refuses to load for the cafe, so I’ve loaded the Old Mill instead, but it’s right next door.

Across the street and about a quarter mill from the Old Mill we found a tiny hole in the wall Cuban place embedded in a strip mall called Smokies Cuban Cafe, which was also very tasty, where we could talk to the cook who directed my friend to what he could and could not eat; essentially she warned us that they only had one fryer, and as such all meat and vegetable dishes that were fried, were done so in that same single fryer. My friend, who has been a vegetarian for many years was given a mental heads up by this … having only really lived in places where vegetarians were normative, he’d never thought to ask about that before.

In this case I had the Cuban sandwich, while my friend had black beans and rice and a side of yucca with garlic sauce — the yucca fries being verboten (see above)

Finally, at the next town over, Gatlinburg, we took the suggestion of a shopkeeper and ate our dinner at Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina, a two story restaurant hidden above a Jonny Rockets burger joint and two small shops selling tourist junk. Even though it was a bit chilly we opted to sit in the roof top bar so that we could continue to enjoy the night view. I opted for a collection of side dishes: grilled shrimp, guacamole and black beans while my friend opted for a cheese quesadilla and a margarita.

 

Hanging with friends in Eastern Tennessee

This last few days were sort of a new thing for me, but highly enjoyable. I met up with an old (platonic) friend of mine who I knew from when I was living in the SF area, and we spent four days traveling together in Tennessee as a test of our compatibility as travel-partners, before we committed to longer trips.

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First we rented an affordable hotel room in the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area (Dollywood/Gatlinburg/Smokey Mountains National Park) — with two beds, because I usually don’t sleep well with others. I was really happy to discover 1) he’s a very heavy sleeper who, 2) doesn’t snore — like not at all. Apparently… I don’t snore either, I am however quite the chatterbox while dreaming, but he said it didn’t bother him (like I said, heavy sleeper). Also, he has a job that allows him to work remotely, so he’d wake at around 7am, work at his computer till noon — about when I finally woke up — and then once I was awake did his business calls/meetings with co/workers while I was checking emails and getting ready — i.e., he’d get about 6+ solid hours of work in — and then we went to lunch (see my post, “I stand corrected: There IS good food in Dollywood!”)

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and do tourist stuff together in the afternoons and evenings. The first day we opted to go to Gatlinburg, which is right down the road from Pigeon Forge, a town I am said to say that I had completely overlooked last time I was here. All I’m going to stay is next time I think I’ll SKIP Pigeon forge and focus on Gatlinburg… we both liked it a lot more.

Granted, we were there for only a few hours, and essentially spent all our time at the Anakeesta attraction, a chair lift to the top of the mountain, and then when you get to the top it’s sort of a bridge among the trees… which bounces around a lot when you walk on it.

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Photos from the Anakeesta Attraction in Gatlinberg, TN

Afterwards, in the late evening we walked around Gatlinburg, and did some shopping.

 

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I’m a sucker for leather. I negotiated down the price of this hat (it is utterly impractical to my current lifestyle), which was already on sale, so I had no choice but to buy it. Happily, when we got back to the hotel I searched for it on-line and found I’d gotten quite the deal on it.

While walking around a shop keeper called out to my friend, who stands a good 6’5″ or such, and asked him to help her hang her Xmas decorations in front of her shop. He’s such a sweet guy that he agreed.

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After hanging out and doing tourist stuff, he went to sleep at his normal time, while I stayed up doing my computer stuff and watching movies on my laptop (with the screen strength turned down and wearing earplugs so as to not disturb him).

UNFORTUNATELY on our second day, when we had intended to try going to Dollywood, or driving around the Smokey Mountains National Park, his job went into a little over-gear unexpectedly, so we had to work around that, but it was ultimately all good. For myself, I spend so much time traveling that it’s no biggie if weather or life derails my plans, and I told him that going forward, we’d be doing longer stays (I prefer 2 weeks in a place rather than 2 days), so that if the same were to ever happen it would really NOT be a big deal for me. But it stressed him out, so he found himself a place where he could get some work done and, since we had two separate cars, we agreed to meet up at his friend’s home in Cookeville, TN (essentially what will one day be a suburb of Nashville, assuming it ever turns into a major city) later that evening.

Since I had about two hours to kill before we were supposed to arrive at his friend’s home — even considering the drive there — I decided to do a quick swing through the Smokey Mountains National Park.

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Note the kayaker about to brave the rapids, there were in fact two guys.

Later that night (which was Halloween’s eve) we met up at his friends home…. to find her dressed like a cat… So, I got inspired, and dressed us up in some costume bits that I conveniently had stashed in my car. (In about a month I was going to go to a Dr. Seuss costume party at the home of friends in Florida.)
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I’m supposed to be the skeptical pet gold fish from The Cat in the Hat story, while I dressed my friend as The Lorax . Being Australian and unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss for the most part, at first he wasn’t game with wearing the hat; but, then once we had explained to him how the Lorax was the ultimate conservationist fable for kids…

… conservation being a cause that my friend totally supports — he got into it with a will (the hat was mine, the rest of the outfit is something he picked up at a hippy type music festival he’d attended on his travels, cause he swings like that). We all went out to dinner dressed like that…

Later her friend showed up, and she remembered she actually had a “Cat in the Hat” hat in her garage and dug it out for him… and we went out again to meet up with some friends of theirs at a bonfire (where everyone immediately recognized which characters we were, which was gratifying).

Anyway… a good time was had by all, and I may have found myself a travel partner for some of my future travels… now we just need to decide where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

Dollywood

Worth a visit if you’re in the area, having the advantage of the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. Shows for the adults, and roller coasters for the kids. If you go on a weekday off season you’ll almost never have to wait in a line.

Did I mention I’ve been to ALL the DisneyParks, some than once? I can’t do roller coasters, I have benign positional vertigo which means any ride that relies on centrifugal forces is a really bad idea for me. In Hong Kong’s Ocean Park I went on one of those water rides where the boat slowly spins and bounces through the water channel … I was nauseated for the next four hours — those rides for little kids where it’s swings attached to a central poll and all it does it rotate slowly? Ditto. So, while Dollywood has rollercoasters (a few) those are not why I love amusement parks.

I got to the park on a VERY low attendance day. I’m not sure how many parking lots the place has (they seem to wrap around a hill), but I arrived at noon only to find a parking spot in the 3rd lot (C for Candy Cane), and as I rode the tram to the main gate I spotted both of the other lots with cars were still about 80% empty. Parking is not organized and directed the way they do it at Disney World, where if you forgot where you parked your car but can tell them about what time you arrived, they can tell you EXACTLY where you are parked (assuming you parked where they told you to). Here you pay for your parking, pass through the gate, and then it’s catch as catch can, and most people seem to come in looking for spots close to the tram stop and just ignore the rest of the lot, moving on to the next one once they feel they’ll have to walk to far — insanely disorganized. (This would be like Disney patrons only parking in about the first 20 spots in a row and moving to the next row up).

The gods however were with me upon my arrival. I got to the front gate to buy a ticket to spot a woman who looked like she worked there standing by the ticket counter with a man along side her:
“why you here Hun”
“I need to buy a ticket…”
The guy standing next to her said “honey it’s your lucky day, I have been standing here for a 1/2 hour trying to give away this extra ticket.”
It seems season card holders are given some extra tickets for friends and this ticket was about to expire (or some such). Rather than just toss it he decided to be charitable and give it to a stranger, only everyone but me had already purchased their tickets before arriving.
This free ticket turned out to be a double good thing, as about three hours in massive storms kicked up which resulted in most of the rides, and such, shutting down because of lightning.

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Even though Dollywood advertises itself as good for people who get dizzy, I did not find this to be the case. In the whole park there were only two rides that were not bad for me were the Dollywood Express Train ride (with a genuine old antique soot and smoke producing steam engine), and a ferris wheel (which I didn’t bother riding). But I whole heartedly suggest the train, beats the heck out of the Disney Train which takes you through and around the park as well as into the surrounding woods.

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Other than that, Dollywood is about the performances. Now you’d think she’d have her pick of talented but unsuccessful country artists of various genres, but I found the three performances I heard to be beyond underwhelming.

That said, wifi at the park SUCKS, there was no 4g… Nothing!! There was supposed to be free Wifi which I connected to at the front gate, but no connection. I wasted a good half hour trying to find connectivity that lasted for more than a minute near the front gate area and finally gave up… I did however finally find some inside one of the restaurants towards the back of the park, Miss Lillian’s Chicken Shack.

Food at the park is kind of bizarre. You can spend $10 to $12 on a single sandwich, or for $14.95 you can have an all you can eat buffet… Miss Lillian’s included four kinds of salads, smoked or fried chicken, smoked turkey legs, and chicken fried steak, and all you can eat of four kinds of desserts (I had the banana pudding). It was all sort of cheap quality stuff, for $14.95 it was a deal. And there is a a lady walking around the place who looks like she was a rip off of Minnie Pearl’s character from the TV show, “Hee Haw” (it was on US TV from 1969 — 1992) annoying the customers and playing a bit of banjo. I strongly suggest passing the food stalls and opting for the sit down restaurants instead which all seemed to be pretty good deals.

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Finally, the park has a sort of Renaissance faire aspect to it, in that there various crafts not just available for sale, but being performed for you: carvers of wax, workers of leather, and blowers of glass, etc. You can order things like a custom aluminum sign for your house, and then watch it being made.

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There’s no good Food in Dollywood

(Mia Culpa: I revisited Pigeon Forge in October of 2017, and in retrospect I realized my error lay in my sampling bias which was towards eateries aimed at tourists, all of which offer all you can eat/belly busting portions. What I now know is that food in Dollywood comes in TWO varieties, 1) quantity over quality (such as all the places described above), or 2) quality over quantity. So, please read this, but then please follow the link to the 2nd review)

Seriously, opt for a national chain or the grocery store; there’s nothing to eat here that’s worth breaking your diet. As you guys have probably figured out by now, I take food seriously…  both of my parents were great cooks, and I grew up traveling all over the world and my parents liked to eat. As such, one of the ways I judge a town is by how well it eats… and Pigeon Forge eats badly; from what I could tell from the two days I spent there, tourists ratings of restaurants were based soley on portion size and rather than on quality or taste, so that in leu of flavors, most cooks there seemed to rely on portion size and the salt & fat combo to keep customers happy. Pretty much everything I ate was bland, and none of these places could have survived in say, Chattanooga (a town with an active restaurant scene).

— My first meal after checking into my hotel was at the Old Mill Restaurant In Pigeon Forge proper which was suggested not only by the hotel staff, but by yelp and google reviews (4.5 stars with 277 reviews) as being the best local cuisine non-chain eatery in town. It’s a HUGE building meant to look like a converted mill.

Once you’ve been seated, and have ordered you will be served corn chowder, corn meal fritters and maple infused butter, as well as a salad with your choice of dressing… standard, to fill you up while you wait for your food to be cooked. As you can see from the picture, right there you’ve got enough food for a meal.

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First I got the chicken and dumplings: this was an absolute blech, my dumplings were inedible bits of semi raw dough that reminded me more of Japanese mochi (pounded rice) than of dumplings, and the gravy tasted of artificial chicken stock and salt — seriously it’s a sad day when you can compare a $18.99 dish to a can of hormel.

The waiter asked me how my meal was, and I was honest. He offered to let me order something else, and I flipped it out for chicken fried steak (also $18.99)… which is one of my favorite foods…. again, Blech, it tasted like bad cafeteria food.

Normally I hate wasting my money and will always pack up left overs to take home and eat later, but this food was so nasty that I left it all pretty much untouched.

To their credit, when the waiter saw I had unhappy with both dishes, he had the manager comp my bill.

 

— Miss Lillian’s Chicken Shack, is actually inside of Dollywood. If you take the train ride, this the place where Miss Lillian runs out to meet the train waiving her banjo in the air (and she does this every time — I felt sorry woman who plays the character). One of the things that killed me at Dollywood was there were food stands all over the place selling you a sandwich, or some such for about $12.99, which looked to be more bread than meat — i.e., massively over priced. While at the same time if you skipped the ‘fast food’ in option of a sit down, like at Miss Lillian’s, for $14.95 you got an all you can eat buffet with four kinds of salads, smoked chicken or turkey legs (you had to request the legs), fried chicken, and chicken fried steak and a choice of three deserts (or you can take all of them). Of the mains, I think the smoked chicken was the best and it’s all you can eat, so you can keep going back and refilling your plate. So while its not the greatest food on the planet, it’s hard to argue with all the smoked chicken and salad you can eat for $14.95.

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And there is a a lady, the aforementioned Miss Lillian, who is dressed up like she was ripped out of hee haw (think Minnie Pearl’s cousin), whose job it is to annoy the customers who won’t play along with the shtick, and maybe play a bit of banjo 

 

 

Paula Deen’s Family Kitchens — which I had to try because of her cooking show empire, and all the scandal around her, just so that I could say I had.

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I had intended to try this place my first night, as it’s a set price of $21.99 for adults ($10.99 for kids), and you HAVE to order three mains, four side dishes and a dessert even if you came alone, so I thought … What the hell, why not (apparently people traveling alone are usually put off by this)… But then the waiter warned me — after I’d been seated — that you are NOT allowed to take your leftovers!!! WTF? They don’t provide to go boxes and apparently they won’t even let you pack it up if you bring your own containers. SERIOUSLY? I paid for it, why can’t I take it if I want to (talk about fascist!). 

However, after having seen that old mill was charging $18.99 for a main, which I hadn’t taken home either, I decided to just go for it, with the caveat of tasting it all but only finishing what was good. I ordered, after discussing it with the waitress, Catfish (on the waitresses insistence), Fried Chicken, and smothered pork chops as my mains, with greens, squash casserole, macNcheese and succotash (which I’d never tried before) as my sides;

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— the best things (and hence the only dishes I finished) were the catfish and the squash casserole, all the rest of it just got pushed to the other side of the table after an initial taste. The fried chicken was incredibly dry, the pork chop was nothing special and a bit bland, the succotash was way too salty as were the greens… the Mac and cheese was ok… but it was Mac an cheese (nothing special, not much better than stouffer’s frozen in my opinion, which is sad considering she’s supposed to be this famous chef)….. my dessert is banana pudding which my southern friend had already instructed should be “lighter than air” if it’s any good, and this most definitely was NOT

 

 

 

Sequoyah Birthplace Museum & Fort Loudon Historical Park

Worth a good two hours, possibly more, both attractions are on a man-made island. In the valleys near this location sat both a Colonial era British Fort, and an Indian village that was the birthplace of a Famous Native American; the original valley locations for both the fort and village were submerged in 1979, in order to create the Tellico reservoir, and  island.

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I came here wanting to see Sequoyah’s birthplace, having been told about this it by the folks at New Echota in Georgia, where there is a whole display describing his achievements. Sequoyah was so famous in his day that the trees of the same name were named after him; he achieved this notoriety because, after recognizing the importance of the written language in empowering the invading whites, he sat down and all by himself invented a phonic alphabet for the Cherokee language so that his people too could be literate. And the village in which he was born was called Tuskegee

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Below a plaque in memory of the Cherokee people who had lived in the valley that had been flooded in 1979, and the 191 burial sites that had to be moved to this new burial mound in order to create the Tellico reservoir

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I am putting this on the list of places that I didn’t schedule in near enough time for. I honestly was expecting it to be less than it was. By the time I was getting there, it was due to close in about 10 minutes. I had the phone number and called, and the lady working the desk said she would stick around for an extra 15 for me, and another Family that happened to show up can see the place at the same time I arrived (they had not called).

As I said before, this is not actually the original location, the Tennessee Valley Authority had flooded the whole area to create a electric damn and this is where they move to the his home, and created the visitor’s center which explains all about the history of the tribes, and the import of Sequoyah’s achievements.

Once this place closed, I moved across the street to the rebuilt British fort built there. By the time I arrived the visitor’s center had already close, so I can’t speak to it.

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Behind the visitor’s center however is the fort, which only closes at sundown… and it is kind of seriously cool. It’s a living history museum which includes everything, down to sheets on the soldiers bunks

 

Hiwassee River Heritage Center

To be blunt, this is a “not yet ready for prime time” educational center about the Cherokee nation and the ‘Trail of Tears,’ which passed along the old ‘highway’ (aka, historic paved road) the center sits next to.  According to the woman who ran the place, they’re still getting funding and were just recently able to buy this building (which looks like it might have been some sort of office). The plan is to tear down the current structure, in the very near future — just a matter of months, and replace it with a much larger facility on the same location.

Currently, all they really have to show are some placards on the wall that tell the story of what happened, which are (I’m pretty sure) duplicates of ones I already saw on the walls of other more developed locations like New Echota (I’m guessing they were gifts from a state historical society or some such). She said that once they expand there will also be artifacts from local digs and research facilities, with a full library, etc. Among the placards was a description of archeological digs done in the area before the Tennessee Valley Authority had put in a damn that flooded many historic Indian sites back in the 1930’s as part of the depression area development of the region, and I assume many of the artifacts will be from those digs.

I look forward to coming back to this place at some later date to see how it progresses.

When I first drove here, I thought that maybe my GPS had failed me, because there were no signs leading to here, but happily, there are nice clear signs out front. Then I saw the sign on the door… firstly, the author forgot to include the local area code and not being a from there I had no idea what to dial, and secondly, my T-mobile phone had no signal, as in none. I went next door to the gas station and asked a nice young guy if he had a working cell phone and would he please call the number for me. The woman who runs the place was apparently 15 minutes away running errands, but said to wait for her.

While doing that, I went next door to a nice looking antiques place (other people’s junk), which actually had a few things worth buying, as a well a huge collection of abandoned family photographs that go back to the 1800’s (we don’t recognize any of these relatives so what will you pay us for them). It was kind of sad actually. The woman who ran the place gave me a free copy of a book about the history of the area written by a local man.

Mayfield Dairy Farms Inc.

Interesting factory tour of a Mayfield plant that packages milk and ice cream (no cows, no cheese), that is highly affordable <$5 for adults, with the price including a bowl (or cone) of their freshly made ice cream.

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As my friends know I’m not one for early mornings, in fact I tend to live in my own little time zone which if I’m lucky is only three hours behind of everyone else (my normal bedtime is about 3am or 4am and I need a good 8 hours to function well). Sometimes I get so out of synch that I just find it easier to move my body clock forward an hour or so every day till it is in local time. IF I have a job where I am forced to yank myself out of bed at a set time it’s less likely to happen, but during periods like now, where my time is my own… well let’s just say getting to things that are far away and that shut down by 5pm can be a struggle. In addition, I don’t do mornings well… I tend to stagger around and grunt for the first half hour, and I’ve found my driving during the first two hours of wakefulness tends to be ‘unsafe’ meaning if I need to leave the house by 8am to be at work on time I have to be up by 6am, at least if I need to drive to get there.

So, You do the math: recently I’ve been waking up at around 11:40am, and this place is about 1.20 hours away from where I was staying, and the dairy’s last tour is at 4pm and I was assured that by that hour most of the machines have already been shut down, so it would be best to come before that. NOT the easiest thing for me to pull off. I had intended to go on yesterday, but by the time I got up, dealt with a couple of pieces of business that had popped up in my emails, etc., it was already nearing 3pm. So today I tried again, and managed to get there by about 2:48pm, and found during the tour that they were already starting to discontinue production on a few of the machines. So, I strongly suggest you go there earlier rather than later… and they don’t do tours on Wednesdays.

The tours are every hour on the hour, and begin with a documentary about the company (which seems to serve the secondary purpose of adding on a few stragglers to the group). Then everyone is given a hair net (whose purpose seemed legal rather than actual, we were almost never anywhere near a machine when there wasn’t glass between us and it).

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Unfortunately they do not allow any photos taken while inside the factory area, so I can’t show that, but its the usual processing machines, either molding the plastic jugs for the milk, or filling them, etc. I did learn one interesting fact… apparently its a huge mistake to keep your milk in those nice spaced on refrigerator doors. According to the woman we’re supposed to keep the milk as far to the back of the fridge as possible, if you want to keep it fresh.

During my visit there was male toddler type who at first was completely disinterested, with parents who clearly didn’t grok the concept of teaching … I think they just thought taking the kid to things like this would be enough. Sorry but no. The tour guide was talking to fast and delivery her script in too monotone of a voice to grab the kids attention, so I picked up an example of the snapped off extra plastic from the milk jugs that they had examples of sitting on a side table (well above child reach) and wiggled it in the kids view, talking about what it was and then redirecting his attention to the machine chopping them out at a fast pace… from then on he was enamored.

At the end your let out in a shop area with a lot of appealing chatchkees and amusing T-shirts that advertised the company in one way or another — I was sorely tempted to get something but my life style requires a strict limitation of stuff (my car can only hold so much). There is also an ice cream parlor where you can redeem your one scoop of ice cream. I opted for a flavor called Extreme Moose Tracks  “Rich chocolate ice cream with Moose Tracks Fudge-filled cups and famous Moose Tracks Fudge” … whatever that means