Smokey Mountains

January 2, 2014
Asheville to Knoxville

We woke up in our adorable hostel, Sweet Peas, in Asheville. This was one of the nicest, cleanest, most organized hostels we’ve ever been to ( and we’ve been to a lot!!). The owner must have done a lot of travelling before opening Sweet Peas and did an excellent job! We took note of their details in case we eventually open once myself! Thanks Sweet Peas!

We drove across Asheville to Sunny Point Cafe at the recommendation of the sweet guy working at the hostel and had the BEST breakfast of the trip! Leah had amazing huevos fucheros (huevos rancheros with tofu chorizo instead of meat which are among the best in the country) and Gill had a delicious breakfast sandwich! They had the best coffee of the trip so far – organic and locally roasted. We split a white chocolate peanut butter tart for dessert – unreal!

We set off for Biltmore Estate only to find out that we can’t even enter the grounds without a $70 entrance ticket…. Each. Sorry Vanderbilts, just can’t justify that with so much more to see!

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We jumped on the freeway and followed signs to the blue ridge parkway but ended up in Canton, NC where a kindly man in the visitor info centre informed us that I (Gillian) spoke English well. HAHA! He was just adorable and informed us that the Blue Ridge Parkway would likely be closed between Canton and Cherokee, and that the road through the Smokey Mountains would be very low visibility and/or bad weather, so we should probably go on the I-40 to Knoxville. Well, after promising to visit him again if/when we came back to Canton, we proceeded to completely ignore him and take the road through the Smokey Mountains National Park (but not the Parkway!). It was a foggy, rainy, at times snowy, drive, but beautiful and not bad road conditions at all. We were totally mind boggled at all the “Native American Indian” tourist traps all throughout Cherokee and then on the other side of the mountains, basically from Pigeon Forge, straight through Sevierville. It was incredible. So tacky looking, so exploitive looking…. ALSO! Totally different topic, but we almost ran over 3 puppies who were randomly on the road before Cherokee. We thought they were wild animals at first, then realized they were puppies of some sort, then pulled over to the road a little ways down and wondered if we should go back and pick them up, but they had gone off the road and we had no idea where to drop them off and/or if they were harbingers of disease that would render Leah’s fragile health even worse. 😛 

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So, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, the tackiest, circus sideshow-esque towns I have ever seen. Signs included: stuff, spelled ‘STUF’, ‘pan fer gold’, and multiple places with ‘hillbilly’ in the title. The outlet mall was decent though. AND people have the cutest accents.

We finally arrived in Knoxville around dinner time and headed to Market Square for some nosh. Leah found Gillian some astronaut ice cream at Urban Outfitters, which we had just been talking about at Liam and Gisela’s the other night. Gillian was SO excited. We had an AMAZING dinner at Tupelo Honey Cafe, which Leah had wanted to try the last time she was in Knoxville. It was FAB. Gillian had brown butter butter brussels sprouts and a veggie melt that consisted of fried green tomatoes, lemon aioli, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, spinach and melted havarti cheese openfaced on sourdough wheat bread, and Leah had a 3 cheese, 2 meat grilled cheese with cheesy onion bisque. YUM! They also serve homemade biscuits with blueberry jam as an appetizer. Very reasonable prices too.

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Virginia: I’m sure there’s something good around here somewhere.

January 1, 2014
New Year’s Day enroute from Germantown, MD to Asheville, NC via Blue Ridge Parkway

We got up (relatively) early, packed up and headed in the direction of Luray Caverns in Luray, VA. Gillian’s family plays this game called “Touched You Last” in which you make sure you tag another family member when you say goodybe and say ‘touched you last’ then escape quickly before they can tag you back and say the same then run away and lock themselves in their bathroom (it’s happened). One time, the offenders pretended to leave, circled back, climbed up a gully, and tagged the unsuspecting family member before making a speedy escape!

On the way there we learned that Liam’s suggestion that we watch our speed was a good one. Word to the wise: speed limits are taken very seriously in Virginia, at least right at the border with Maryland nearby DC, with cops E’RYWHERE and apparent policing by plane too….. ummmm….don’t you guys have better ways to spend your time and money….like providing your citizens with health care? We were even told that parts of Virginia house people without running water…??? Anyways, overall impression of Virginia was: YOU SUCK. ALTHOUGH, we should note that the Starbucks employees, as always, were friendly and very kind!!

We arrived at the caverns markedly later than we expected and chose to continue on rather than stay for the hourlong tour so as to conserve as much daylight as possible to make it to Grandfather Mountain. I (Leah) got a smushed penny to add to my collection (I also added to my collection the day before at the natural history and air & space museums). Sidenote  (this is Gillian writing) – Leah entertained a group of about 6 small children at the natural history museum with the penny smushing and then crushed their dreams when she took her penny and the kids’ parents ushered them off, penniless. Later, at the Air & Space Museum, she felt like a grown up child, when the kid behind her said, ‘mom, I want to make a penny!’ and then mum said to the kid, ‘Wait for the lady to finish.’ She sure loves a smushed penny.

So, after some uneventful driving, and numerous culinary disappointments (why are all the good places closed on New Years Day?), we decided to hop onto the Blue Ridge Parkway around Exit 114 (near Riner and Floyd, VA). We successfully found the entrance to the parkway, which we felt was a great accomplishment, and began the beautiful drive. It is a beautiful drive, the speed limit is ridic slow, and there are many beautiful lookouts and what appear to be hiking trails to enjoy. We realized a little ways into the parkway that we’d better hurry it up or we’d miss Grandfather Mtn, and low and behold, we did end up missing it, partly due to the fact that the parkway was closed from milepost 234, for reasons unknown to us, a fact that was only announced 4 miles prior. Heads up! Check out the national park service for the most up to date status of national park trails and closures. We have learned our lesson.

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Having missed all of our intended sights for the day, we decided to head straight for Asheville and opted for brenner at IHOP, where Leah had never been. It was a most satisfying experience and our waitress was adorable. The NC accent is awesome! We stocked up on Sbux before leaving and once again had an amazing experience. We pulled up to the drive-through and the convo went a little something like…

Sbux dude: Hey, welcome to Starbucks, what can I get you?

Me: Ummmm…..just give us one second.

SD: Ok! One. Hi, so what can I get for you? Haha, JUST KIDDING! Let me know when you’re ready.

Us: Hahahahahaha, ok!

Then we got blonde roasts, which apparently aren’t brewed in the evening as we’ve gotten pour-overs every time we’ve been in the evening to have them, so because it took “so long” (sidenote, it didn’t), we got a coupon for a free drink! Starbucks, I want to hate your massive conglomerate-ism, but you make it so hard!

We finally made it to Asheville around 7pm. We found our hostel, Sweet Peas on Rankin St, very easily and were pleased to find it clean, cute, and a neat open concept idea. The linens and towels were all provided and we even got a lock for our locker and a sticker! The front desk dude was adorable, very helpful and friendly. We found out he was from Virginia….AFTER we had complained about what a terrible hellhole it was. HAHA! Luckily, he agreed and noted that that was he was here in NC. 🙂

Off to bed…another busy day tomorrow!

G xoxo