We admit it was mighty nice waking up in our comfy beds in our rooms over looking our-whoops, we mean, the Vanderbilts' estate. While there are plenty of hotels in the area, given the lure of Biltmore House, there is nothing else like staying on the actual grounds, watching the sunset from a chair on the broad veranda, the Smoky Mountains looming over it all. The Inn is elegant, certainly, but also very friendly and comfortable enough that we saw a family playing Scrabble in the library off the lobby last night. Staying here was a really special experience for us, and we are grateful for it.
Speaking of special, that little shack off in the distance is also something else again. The largest private home in America, visiting Biltmore House is a bit like visiting Versailles in terms of splendor and production. You take self guided tour through a mere 60 of the house's roughly 255 rooms, and get a good idea of what it meant to be really really stinking incredibly filthy unbelievably rich 100 years ago. Maybe it's like that now too, but then again, the family does have to have the house open to the public in order to maintain it.
The place is massive; we particularly like the two story dark paneled library (though we would have furniture more conducive to curling up with a good book), the sunny three story atrium, the oval shaped bedrooms, and the indoor swimming pool which though empty just faintly rang with ghostly splashes.
Most impressive is the restoration job. From tiny scraps of wallpaper stuck behind door hinges and drapery brackets, a team of experts was able to recreate the period look of a room. It's archeology for HGTV.
We found the tour quite interesting, and took so much time on it that we weren't able to fit in any of the other things that are available on the estate, including the gardens, the old barns, the winery, horseback riding, and more. There is quite a bit to do at the place and we can see why it is such a serious attraction.
A good road trip, in our opinion, is full of contrasts and variety. A little of this, a little of that, a whole lot of pork. In keeping with that latter goal, we stopped at a sign promising "Butts on the Creek," a water-side barbeque joint. They served us all but flawless pulled pork sandwiches on fluffy onion rolls, with our choice of three BBQ sauces, vinegar based, mustard based and molasses based. (It was hard to choose, but we both went with molasses.) Just gawk at the photo at the left; a lot of states claim to have the best barbeque, but right now, North Carolina has won our delegates. Then again, had we arrived in time at the South Carolina state barbeque championships-no, we haven't let that go-we might feel differently. Still, darn good sandwich.
Speaking of contrasts and variety, on one hand you have the smooth and complex operation that is the Biltmore estate. And on the other hand, you have Santa's Fun Land. Yes, we celebrated Christmas on Labor Day-can you think of a better time to do so? It wasn't as rundown and rattletrap as we had feared, but rather surprisingly well maintained and could provide hours of enjoyment if you are six. As it was, we are somewhat past six, and yet we spent an inordinate amount of time feeding dried corn to various hoofed animals. We know we were buying their affection, but we don't care. They liked us for ourselves, we just know it. We also took in some rickety and in one case (the Elves' Sleeping Quarters) vaguely sinister animatronic (kinda) tableaus, though we passed on riding the Rudolph roller coaster.
There isn't much to admire about the town of Cherokee (lots of junky stores selling "authentic" Native American crafts) apart from the setting (the mountains only got more spectacular the deeper we got into them) and the excellent Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Though not large, it's crammed with anthropology and gives a fine and not melodramatic overview of the Cherokee nation, from the origins of the tribe through the Removal which eventually spread the people as far west as Oklahoma. We are reminded again as we see America that this grand country has much to be proud of, sometimes in the oddest places, but also much of which to be ashamed.
Somewhere in Cherokee, Rick started hearing this little voice cooing "Come here. Spend money here. You'll win here." It was the Harrah's casino. You may recall he just won $30,000 on a slot machine. But cooler heads prevailed, though Rick is still wondering why he didn't take advantage of Mary's nap time to pull over and spin a few reels.
Mary's nap was once-again ill-timed, not because she missed out on cows, but because she missed out on a portion of the great Smokey Mountains. The road from Cherokee to Gatlinburg passes right through the national forest, over some of the tallest peaks, a narrow, winding, twisty road past forest and creeks and other natural beauties.
That natural beauty came to a grinding, screeching halt as soon as we got to the day-glo bright Gatlinburg. The nicest thing we can say about it is that it's not as bad as Branson. Also, you can drive through it pretty quickly if you try.
No, wait, there is one other nice thing we can say. Gatlinburg is home to the completely awesome Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. You know how if you have two of anything, it's a collection? If you have 20,000 of something, then it's a museum. Every salt and pepper shaker in the entire world-go ahead, think of something, anything, there is probably a version of it as a salt and/or pepper shaker of it in this little building, and it's displayed thematically with others like it. Shakers shaped like JFK and his rocking chair, for example. Bet you wouldn't have thought of that one. Someone did. We salute that someone.
A quick stop at the Dolly Parton statue-see photos; isn't it nice they sculpted young, guitar pickin' Dolly?-and then it was off to Knoxville. No fancy pants digs for us tonight; however, we can say that a name brand chains go, the Holiday Inn Express line is reliable and comfortable.
We drove around the World's Fair Park and quickly discovered there isn't much to it, which was apparently also the case with the Knoxville World's Fair. The old historic part of downtown seems right on the verge of revitalization and we wouldn't be averse to returning in a few years when they realize their potential. We walked through Market Square, which clearly bustles on non-holidays but was largely empty this Labor Day evening, and had a fine dinner at a café called Oodles. Rick loved his spicy meatballs and garlic ciabatta appetizer, though his flank steak sandwich was just average. Mary had another well composed salad (including garlicky chickpeas) and a pork belly BLT that was really just thick cut sweet and sour pork, but it went well with the gorgonzola mayo.
Today's cow score: Rick 17, Mary 0. GAME ON.
That's it for Day Six. We are more than halfway through the trip. Where is the time going?
Once again more pictures than words today - be sure to keep scrolling to see them all. And don't forget you can click on them to see bigger versions.