A Day in Gatlinburg

On New Year’s Day we were staying in a cabin with friends in Pigeon Forge, TN (where the Great Smoky Mountains are), and after sleeping very late (thanks New Year’s Eve!), eating a large breakfast and debating whether or not we even wanted to leave the cabin, we eventually decided to check out downtown Gatlinburg, which I have never explored.

day in gatlinburg

Downtown Gatlinburg is a very touristy cheesy small town full of souvenir shops, gimmicky shows and over the top attractions. So, basically, it was right up our ally. We started off the day in a little village that offered a ridiculous amount of free moonshine samples (“First legalized moonshine”). There was also crazy amounts of free jams, salsas, sauces, dips, pickled things and hot sauces. I stuffed my face while everyone else got tipsy.

free moonshine samples

Someone is enjoying their moonshine
Someone is enjoying their moonshine

sauce samples

You’d think that everyone would need a chaser for the moonshine more than anything, but turns out there’s one hot sauce that had everyone (well the boys mostly…girls were much tougher) begging for milk or more pretzels.

hot sauce

We ate lunch at Bubba Gumps (I know, I know…but God their seafood hush puppies are SO good), shopped, got more free samples, drank very hot coffee to warm us up and took photos all over town. It was really nice to just be on vacation with friends, which I think is a rare opportunity for most.

downtown the group new year's day the girls

Two of our favorite stops were the Jerky Shop and Doc’s Magic Shop. The Jerky Shop had deer, beef, boar, ostrich, alligator AND vegan jerky. Of course, the shop owner offered samples of his jerkys because that’s apparently the rule in Galtinburg. It works by the way, we each left with a bag of jerky. Doc’s Magic Shop doesn’t have free food, but they did offer free magic shows which we soaked up and ooh’d and aww’d over for far too long… and many of us left there with a bag of magic tricks as well.

jerky shop magic shop

Right as we decided it was time to go home (i.e. back to the cabin) we passed a whisky shop offering a big round of free whiskey samples. Once again, I had to sit out on the activity, but I made my own fun…

Worst cowboy faces ever!
Worst cowboy faces ever!

Everyone must have been feeling reeallllyyy good after their round of drinks because this photo session happened minutes later…

love

It was a really good first day of 2014!

gatlinburg

Cheers!

Caving

Husband and I used to go spelunking with a couple of our Nashville friends fairly often. The first time we went was with our friend Mike. At the time Mike was basically a stranger. On our very first caving expedition we followed him hours away into the mountain of Tennessee, traveled down skinny empty roads, parked on the side of the road and were told to give him our keys and wallets. We were slightly worried that we were about to be murdered and robbed, but handed over our valuables and followed him into the woods anyways.

Mike, turned out to be the best “tour guide” we could ever imagine and a great friend who we later had many outdoor adventures with over the course of a year. The caves he took us in were always found in the middle of the woods which involved a long, usually steep hike, and were often next to secluded waterfalls. We spent hours in the empty caves crawling through tiny tunnels with only the light of our headlamps, repelling down tall cave walls and discovering beautiful underground sights.

I have about a billion caving pictures...somewhere...
I have about a billion caving pictures…somewhere…
these will have to do for now
these will have to do for now

It’s been three years since our spelunking adventures, so when our good friends called and asked us to go to Mammoth Cave with them we immediately hopped in the car and drove to meet them in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is the world’s largest known cave system. It has over 400 miles of explored cave tunnels! It’s a National Park and a World Heritage sight. It is crazy big, wildly beautiful and ridiculously full of tourists. It’s nothing like spelunking in unexplored caves in Tennessee.

Our fearless leader
Our fearless leader

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We took the 2-hour “historic tour” with our friends where we learned all about he famous slave cave tour-guide, Stephen Bishop. He eventually made enough money in tips to buy his freedom, a home and several acres of his own. He was the first person to make extensive maps of the caves and taught the guests in his tour groups how to write their names on the cave walls using the flame of a candle.

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Walking on the artificial floors edged with ropes to keep us from going off course was not quite as exciting as wearing helmets and squeezing through 8-inch tunnels, but we had a good time hearing the old stories and enjoying the sights. Mammoth Cave is really an amazing attraction…especially if you aren’t interested in spelunking with strangers in dark abandoned areas.

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We actually toured Mammoth Cave a few years ago on a 5-hour tour, and I’m sure one day we will return for a different tour. They  have about a dozen different tours, and opportunities to spelunk (is that a word?), camp, horseback ride, hike and much more.

If you’re interested in touring the famous Mammoth Cave, check out their list of tours and activities here.

Cheers!

Mom in the City

Alright, I may not be in New York anymore, but I’m not quite finished with my NY blogs. Also, I’m having a little trouble with writing Nashville posts at the moment… all I can manage to discuss is how difficult it is to unpack without furniture, how best to organize a closet and how often I’ve wanted to cry because I get almost zero cell service here. For now, I think it’s best that I write about the rest of my Mom’s visit in NYC.

Mom was only able to visit for a couple of days, but I managed to squeeze in a wide variety of NY events during her short visit. You know all about our time at Central Park and Bergdorfs, but we did so much more! Mom has never been to the Empire State Building or any other tall building with a fantastic view, which is a must when visiting the city. I tried to convince her to sneak on the roof of Le Parker Meridian with me, but she was against breaking the law. So, I took her to Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center that is) instead.

topoftherock mom

And no trip to NYC is complete without a walk through Time Square. We went to the bar on the 8th floor of the Marriott which has a great view of the whole square.

timesquare

Another park I somehow failed to mention in the “parks blog” is Brooklyn Bridge Park. The day we walked through this park was so beautiful that every single Brooklyn-ite decided to spend the whole day lying on blankets and picnicking right by the water. As Carrie Bradshaw once said, “New Yorkers treat every nice day like it could be their last”.

bbpark

If we weren’t park hopping, shopping or sight seeing, we were eating. The amount of food we consumed is a bit ridiculous, but we like to believe that we walked it all off. It’s the perfect excuse to eat what you want in New York, you can just walk home afterwards. I had already taken my Mom to my favorite pizza place (Lombardi’s) on a previous trip, so I took her to the second and third best this time.

We accidentally walked into Madison Square Eats (an annual food festival) one night and happened to find a Roberta’s booth. Roberta’s makes this incredible brick oven pizza called the “bee sting”. It has spices, honey and fresh mozzarella. It typically comes with some sort of meat, but I order it vegetarian style.

madisonsquareeats

Then, there was Grimaldi’s. Grimaldi’s is a famous and always crowded coal-fired brick-oven pizzeria right under the Brooklyn Bridge, and a few other newer locations. It’s VERY good, but I still think Lombardi’s has a leg up in the competition.

margheritapizza

One of Mom’s goals this trip was to try some authentic Italian food. I decided to take her to Eataly. Eataly is a large Italian market with lots of delicious Italian restaurants within the market. We shopped around for chocolates, wandered through the handmade pastas and made ourselves very hungry. We decided to have dinner at Le Verdue because a) the food looked so fresh and beautiful and b) there was no wait. Lucky for me it’s a vegetarian restaurant. Our meal, our wine and our service were all exceptional. We sat forever and caught up on life. We talk on a daily basis, but our chats are often short and rushed. It was so nice to sit and actually enjoy each other’s company.

After dinner we bought some dark chocolate and gelato.

eataly

While roaming around Chelsea Market one day we found a brand new food stand called Hybird. We weren’t even a little hungry, but when I saw a watermelon jalapeño slush on the menu, I had to give it a try!

So bizarre, but so delicious.
So bizarre, but so delicious.

One hot spot I couldn’t wait to take Mom was the rooftop bar of The Standard hotel over the High Line. Last time I went it was beautiful and relaxing. There were large cozy chairs and cushions to lounge on, drinks to order and fresh crepes to eat. I didn’t realize that this time happened to be Memorial Day. It also happened to be the opening day for the new season. It was so crowded that we could barely find a spot to sit on the astroturf ground! The rooftop was full of NY’s trendiest crowd and was bumpin’ with the latest hits. By the time we were halfway through the crepe, my Mom said we had to leave because “this place” made her feel WAY too old. 

thestandard

 

I’m pretty sure my Mom left New York feeling more cultured, trendier, happier, more relaxed and very well fed. You’re welcome Mom.

Cheers!

 

Tourist vs New Yorker

Police Dog... Working hard or hardly working? eh pooch?

Everyone knows NYC is full of tourists, every New Yorker gets annoyed by them, and every tourist gets the stink eye from a New Yorker at least once during their visit. That’s just common knowledge. I have been a part of both parties. In fact, I often switch from tourist to New Yorker a couple times a day.

I am always in a hurry; whether it’s walking to work, trying to make it to a hair appointment, meet someone for dinner, go to the gym, or get my caffeine boosts. I am somehow always 5 minutes behind, and always have somewhere else to be. It is in these situations that I become so very annoyed with ALL the tourists EVERYWHERE. I mean really…could you and your family of six spread out a little a more on the sidewalk? And, please take your time, make sure you get a picture of each storefront window, street sign, and manhole cover.

On the flip side, I really enjoy doing all the touristy things New York has to offer. Who knows how long I’ll live in the city?! I don’t, and I don’t want to waste a second of the time I have here. There is just so much to see, do, and eat!

This is one reason why I love having visitors. Besides getting to spend time in very close quarters with some of our favorite people, we also get to take them sight seeing, and experience New York as a tourist ourselves.

Over the weekend we went to the 9/11 Memorial with our family. This is an 8 acre area where the twin towers originally stood that has been dedicated as a park and memorial. The two big craters left from the original towers have been transformed into waterfalls and reflecting pools. The park is planned to have over 400 trees that will create a natural green roof over the plaza. It is one of the most eco-friendly parks ever created with it’s own irrigation system to conserve water and energy, and a new system for trees to grown and flourish in an urban pavement filled area. Sounds cool right?

Not yet.

The park is no where near finished, but guests are still allowed to visit. Our visit started out with a very long line where we had to remove all bags, coats, and shoes, put it all in trays, go through metal detectors, and NOT get on a plane by the end of it.

When we entered the plaza (the memorial) it looked pretty depressing. There are hardly any trees planted yet, and the ones that are planted are babies. It’s a lot of gray, a lot of construction, and a lot of concrete.

These are ALL of the trees planted so far

The waterfalls and reflection pools are nice, and they are surrounded with the names of all the people who lost their lives on 9/11, so it’s appropriately sad, but other than that, there is nothing to look at. I am sure the finished project will look great, but I suggest waiting until then to visit.

(You can actually see the memorial from a building across the street. They have nice covered walkway a few stories high where you can look into the memorial….no lines, no hassle, just a nice view!)

One of the new twin towers being built. When it's finished it will be the tallest building in the USA.

You can see the new towers that are a work in progress from several spots in lower Manhattan. We spotted them when we stopped at Battery Park to get a view of the Statue of Liberty. We also spotted hippies with hula hoops, a creepy man dressed like fireman statue taking pictures with kids for money, and lots of fake purses.

See that little speck behind me, that's Lady Liberty.
This sculpture, which stands for peace, was left standing in the plaza between the twin towers when they fell. It's been moved to Battery Park as memorial and a representation of peace and hope. Oh, and that's one of the twin towers in the background!
I wonder if the hippies ever get bothered by tourists?

By nightfall I was ready to be a New Yorker again and rush home for dinner, because once again…I was running late.

Speaking of…am I supposed to be somewhere right now?

Cheers!