Because if there’s one thing the internet HASN’T changed, it’s how much people LOOOVE looking at other people’s vacation photos!
We’ve had a blast up here in the campiest little strip in the mountains. Tomorrow we will resume regular life.
My mom really went out of her way to make sure we had a great time, even though she knows I have no money to spend on fun stuff. She’s a keeper.
My kiddo — despite being bitten by the whiny bug while we were here — has been a trooper through sickness and schedule upheaval and my insistence that he ride amusement-park rides (which he contemplated stoically, for the most part).
We made lots of good memories and when we come back, we’ll be able to do even more fun stuff.
Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, you’re a weird little area that vacuums up our money but you consistently churn out good memories for us, so thanks.
I’m finally taking some time off work. First real stretch of days off since October. Gah, how did that happen? Oh right, we have been so short-staffed at work since December that it has been impossible for me to get away.
Day one of the vacation has been spent inside, rain pouring nonstop since early morning. I don’t mind. I need a day of decompression before I can even contemplate what’s next or how to spend the next few days.
Don’t squander them, my inner nag says.
I got my two papers launched so I’m taking a week off. This feels obscene in some ways. Like, what could a person do with an ENTIRE week off? This means I will likely squander it in pajamas, watching TV shows I don’t care about. But I am not going to allow myself to feel guilty no matter what I do this week.
I have small goals:
• Give the cats a bath
• Watch the debate
• Get a haircut
• Carve a pumpkin
• Take the Buds on some adventures
• Get supplies for somebody’s big First Birthday Party
• Finish up some design projects
• Not check work email
• Go on a date with my man
• Take some dang pictures
Asheville is the shit. Let’s just get that out of the way real quick. Because Asheville, for whatever reason, is one of those places that has flown completely under my radar. It wasn’t until I was trying to think of interesting places to visit on the last half of my pre-Christmas vacation that my pal Shane suggested it to me, since it’s so dang close to Gatlinburg (less than a two-hour drive). He said his parents make the trek every year to see the Biltmore, and that when he visited the city many moons ago, he had a good time. Asheville, huh?
So I set about doing a bit of research and enlisting more of my very savvy, very awesome, very well-traveled friends for their input and suggestions. Saraclark sent me this amazing list of places to eat and visit and I set about, Lesley-style, making a spreadsheet of sorts. Of course, when we actually got there and started walking around the neighborhood where our hotel was, the spreadsheet went more or less out the window but its spirit lived on.
We stayed in the Downtown Inn, which is this giant former Days Inn just barely notched into the cusp of an adorable and super walkable area of Downtown where — happily — much of what I had put on the spreadsheet resides. Downtown Inn, I can say without guilt, looks sort of sketchy and run down, even when you get into the lobby and elevator, the latter of which is lined in ancient pink Formica. When we arrived on Wednesday evening, we pulled into a parking lot so empty we wondered if the hotel was even open. I think that night we were the only people there (the clerk said that time of year, in the days leading up to Christmas, they are pretty dead). Based on some hotel reviews I’d read, I requested a room on a high floor facing the mountains and not the street. The hotel people were super accommodating, and you can see what our view was below, at left.
Despite the not-so-swanky nature of the hotel’s exterior and lobby, our room was clean and well-appointed, with a little coffee maker and a blowdryer and a mini-fridge and microwave — all the things you’d expect from a modern hotel. But the absolute selling point of the place is the location. We walked everywhere and just kept stumbling upon cool stuff to do and see.
Our first evening, we did a little exploring and ended up at the Thirsty Monk, which was just across the street from the hotel. This place was pretty cool, and they had a ton of interesting craft beers on tap that they kept track of with a wall of placards, each one bearing a beer’s name. Once that keg was tapped, the placard would come off the wall and you’d have to move on to the others. I settled down with a Sweetwater Festive, which was delicious. I can’t remember what the boyfriend had. Both of us were pretty buzzed off of one high-alcohol beer, though, and hungry. But the Monk menu just wasn’t doing it for us, so we set off on foot to see what else we could see. We stumbled upon a Mellow Mushroom, and both of us instantly wanted to share some of their pizza. Also it was cold and we wanted to get inside. We walked in and realized that trivia night was about to kick off, and in a grand spectacle of spontaneity, we decided we’d play, since there was cash money at stake. Ray went to the bathroom and I sat down with the quizmaster to get the details, and while he explained the answering/scoring procedure to me, I think I had a mild stroke. Because I could not fucking pick up what the man was putting down. He was not even speaking English anymore. It was just clicks and buzzes and beeps and farts. I don’t know. I nodded brightly and acted like I knew exactly what he meant by “TAP” (do you quizmeisters know this system?) and I went back to our table with an answer sheet and a stricken look on my face. You can imagine how it went down when Ray returned and I had to explain to him that, while I had just sat through a detailed explanation of the entire trivia procedure, I had no fucking clue what we were supposed to do. So he had to go back to the quizmaster and have a little man-to-man, during which many crises were solved, including the one of our team being fucked from the get-go.
So we snarfed down pizza and beer and kicked a lot of ass at the questions (I’m telling you, knowing the American presidents in order is the most useful thing I have ever learned). We were running tied for third out of 10 or 12 for a while (which was especially good, I thought, because at least two of those teams had eight people on them!) but we got a little cocky and wagered too many points on the final question, which we got wrong. So we dropped down out of the top three and left the place drunk and with less money than we’d had when we went in. But you know what? We felt like kings. Motherfucking Michelob Kings, which was our team name, for whatever reason.
The next day brought more exploration by foot. We checked out the Asheville Art Museum, which had a visiting exhibition of Sewell Sillman‘s line drawings, which are these super repetitive studies in spatial relationships and patterns. At first they seem sort of simple and pointless but if you give it some time and really trace those pencil markings with your eyes, and try to imagine not just planning a composition like that but executing it without having to erase and re-trace, well, the skill becomes quickly evident. Ray was bored by most of the sketches but I really was sort of taken with them. Maybe it’s a graphic designer thing, who knows.
We are giant museum nerds, so when we happened upon the Thomas Wolfe homestead and museum, we kind of had to check it out, even though neither of us had read anything by Wolfe. Getting a tour of the giant homestead was ridiculously cheap, like a $1 a head or so, and for some reason I didn’t take a single picture inside the house, even though we were the only two on the tour. That big yellow house is 29 rooms huge, and the story of Wolfe’s childhood as a little boy living in a big, swingin’ boarding house was fairly interesting, although — here is where my inner asshole is going to shine like a polished nickel — I don’t quite understand the pain and anguish that Wolfe apparently felt as a result of living in a boarding house. Yes, yes, he didn’t have his own room and his mother tended to him after the guests were taken care of, but as far as I can tell, he had it pretty good, all things considered. I mean, there was crazy shit going on in that house, but crazy shit happens so that people can write books about it, right? I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t pay very good attention on the tour. I was too busy trying to count all 29 rooms.
Anyway, there’s this cool little statue thing downtown showing the landscape and layout of Wolfe-era Asheville. It’s a neat visual trick.
Hm, what else did we do? We walked around the Pack Square area, which is pretty swanky, and we witnessed what looked like the aftermath of a horrible Santa tragedy.
There are some outstanding food options in Asheville. I’m sad that I lost my wallet one night and we ended up eating two-for-one chicken sandwiches at Burger King out of fear that we wouldn’t have enough cash to get back home if we ate anything fancier. That’s a whole meal lost to the gods of My Absentmindedness. (Happy ending! I found the wallet; the good people at Bruisin’ Ales hung onto it for me until I could come pick it up the next day.) The entire city seems to have a nicely developed palate. Between the surfeit of local breweries and all the chef-curated eateries, you could spend a lot of time and money tasting your way through Asheville. Which, if I continue to go with the family to Gatlinburg every year, sounds like the kind of thing I just might do.
We sampled several local beers (many of which we picked up at Bruisin’ Ales) and, on Friday night, walked down just south of our hotel to Craggie Brewing Co. and Green Man Brewery, both of which have little bars in them where you can get their brews on tap. Boyfriend tried Craggie’s Antebellum Ale and found it to be offensively sprucey on first sip, and then spent the remainder of the trip wistfully wishing he had more of the stuff, because it was the best beer ever in the history of the world. I had Craggie’s Herkulean IPA, which is a dark beer, and quite tasty. Over at Green Man, I had their porter, which ended up being my favorite of the trip, I think. (We had a lot of beer.) Green Man was hopping that night, and there were lots of middle-aged people dancing to Michael Jackson songs, which were the only tunes playing that night for whatever reason.
We had so much fun in our little pocket of downtown that we didn’t even bother driving out to the Biltmore. Even though I do want to see it some day, I just couldn’t justify the price vs. all the cool stuff we could do for much cheaper. Asheville’s a good time, and we barely even scratched the surface. I definitely want to go back and get to know it a little better.
Full Flickr set here.
I duped Ray into traveling across the state with me for my annual trek to the family timeshare in Gatlinburg. The first day was a complete tear-filled wash (seriously, I thought we were going to die) but when we finally made it to East Tennessee, things got better and more vacation-y. The fella had never been to that neck of the woods before, and while I declined to immerse him in the Black Bear Jamboree school of Southern culture, I hope his time spent in the mismatched blinking lights of Pigeon Forge helped educate him on the idiosyncrasies of the modern South.
Actually, I’m fairly sure that he got the biggest possible dose of edumacation about the South when he and my dad got into a heated two-hour political/social/historical argument in the middle of Golden Corral buffet, during which my dad only ate one plate of ham and taters. One plate. The rest of his time and mouth action was spent imparting conspiracy theories about 9/11, the end of the world, our Muslim president, the awfulness of Abraham Lincoln, and much much more. I have, for several years now, maintained that I will not engage my father in political discussions, even when provoked unfairly, because said discussions are less discussions per se and more me crying and him yelling and everyone around us looking on in horror. And yet, there sat my lawyer-in-training boyfriend — who has never met an argument he can’t chime in on with confidence — across from my dad — AKA He Who Loves to Turn Any Discussion Into a Political Argument — and the tense words just began to flow like so much blood from the neck of a slaughterhouse cow.
Figure one: Dad mid-argument.
I felt emboldened by having someone on my ideological team, so I chimed in plenty. More than I should have, given how upset I was getting. I eventually checked out and started Tweeting about the goings-on, listening and shushing them when I felt like our table was getting dirty looks from fellow patrons (none of whom were sitting very near us anymore) but Ray and Dad just kept on keeping on. Until, that is, Ray said something that sounded a lot like, “I dunno, I think Lincoln was an all right dude,” which caused my dad to snatch up his coat and spit, “LET’S GO!!!” and storm outside. My dad never leaves an argument first. Ever. He was pisssssssssed.
We got outside and he was already in the truck, yelling at us to hurry up and get in so we could get the hell out of there, but I refused to get in until they would at least call a truce and agree to disagree. The whole way back to the room, we were lectured on how we had a lot to learn about Real History, and did we know Lincoln was most likely a homosexual?
I think Ray sees now why I don’t engage.
Anyway, that was but one amusing blip on the Gatlinburg radar. The rest of the time was spent hootin’ and hollerin’ at the stuff in the Ripley’s museum, walking through the snowy streets of Gatlinburg, feeding coins into arcade games, buying sweets at a candy shop, kicking ass at Guitar Hero (on easy!), and turning up the fireplace in our very own private suite — a major development, considering we were told while planning the trip that we would be expected to sleep in separate suites.
Turned out to be not so shabby after all. But I foresee some refereeing in my future.
I like Asheville. A lot. We’re staying right downtown near a neat strip of bars and shops and a cute little park. Internet’s not working in the room, which is turning out to be kind of quite lovely. It’s nap time for me and the feller. Then maybe going out tonight. We’re keeping it low key.