Happy Tuesday Ruly Readers! I just returned from a two week road trip vacation across the United States. Along with my husband and two young daughters age 4 and 2, we visited 16 states in as many days, as we traveled west to be with family. It was a wonderful experience!
Today (and I expect for most of the rest of the week), things are a bit un-Ruly at our house. It is always a bit of a rough adjustment coming off of a long vacation. There are work schedules and children’s activities to reacquaint ourselves with as well as a huge amount of unpacking activities like a mountain of laundry, a dirty car to clean, photos to sort, thank you’s to write and an empty fridge to fill with groceries. After two weeks of rich eating on the road, I was also rudely reminded that I have to don a swimsuit for the next two weeks in the “Mommy and Me” swim class. (Ladies, we are so vain about this! Many moms have told me that they make Dad do the “Mommy and Me” swim class to avoid appearing in public in a swimsuit!) So, please excuse me this week if the posting schedule is a bit erratic.
As both entertainment for you and post-vacation therapy for me, this week I wanted to share with you some of the highlights from my trip including some creative ideas and great organizational tips from around the country. So jump into my virtual minivan for a tour of this great (and organized!) country.
Day One: Fredericksburg, Virginia to Knoxville, Tennessee
After packing up the minivan with about 8 days worth of clothes for each person, some snacks, a double stroller and some supplies for my youngest daughter’s birthday party, we headed south on Interstate 81. We drove through miles of beautiful Virginia farmland and people watched on the freeway for others making a 4th of July road trip, like the cute little roadster below.
Both to keep the trip interesting and to accommodate the needs of restless children, we decided to get out of the car at least every 3 hours to walk around, eat and see some interesting sites.
Our first stop was in Roanoke, Virginia where we saw the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The Museum boasts “the largest collection of diesel locomotives in the South.” They have wonderful old trains in the yard out back as well as buggies and vintage automobiles. My favorite was climbing into a restored first class rail car complete with piano, dining table and sleeping compartments with beds. I was a bit jealous imagining traveling across the country in such luxurious accommodations but also grateful that we were not going by horse and buggy. Our children enjoyed the extensive model train exhibits and the playground in the rail yard.
We piled back into the car and pressed on to Bristol, which straddles the Virginia/Tennessee border. We attended a street festival there. The line running down main street showed that you could have one foot in Virginia and one foot in Tennessee. Tennessee might be the most musical state in the country with music traditions spanning one end of the state to the other. Bristol’s claim to fame is that the first country music recording happened in Bristol, Tennessee.
The food in Bristol was characteristically southern. I had fried green tomatoes (which I was told are best eaten with a side of ranch dressing) and other menu items included barbecue, fried oreos and sweet tea. The food vendors thanked us for our purchases with a southern, “’preciate ‘cha!”
A modern country band entertained the crowd. They introduced their song “Gravy Shake,” as “the dance craze sweeping the nation very, very . . . very slowly!”
There was tremendous fun and energy in Bristol. Two women were promoting a new preschool aimed at encouraging creative thinking. Another vendor had incredible hand-crocheted hats. The phrase “Believe in Bristol” is plastered throughout the town and we were told that the effort is run by a wonderful local woman who has the energy of 100 people. It was small town living at its best.
On the way out of town, we had to locate a Chinese restaurant, as my 4-year old informed me that she was only going to eat “white rice” that evening. The Chinese restaurant was staffed by a kind family who appeared to be first generation immigrants. The food was excellent and it was fun to see a bit of Bristol’s evolving future.
We drove on to Knoxville where we arrived late in the evening to our hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Knoxville North. We did not have the budget for luxury accommodations but were too concerned about bedbugs to stay in the cheapest hotels. Our hotel choices throughout the trip could be described as “luxury economy.” This hotel was meticulously clean and literally looked brand new. Our room had a mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker and even a low table suitable as a luggage rack. I lost my pictures of the room in an iPhone accident (more on this later) but the design of the room was really well thought out.
Day Two: Knoxville, Tennessee to Memphis, Tennessee
Our hotel served an incredible free breakfast with make-your-own waffles (more on this later), eggs, potatoes, a selection of cereal and pastries, juice, fresh fruit and three kinds of coffee. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Knoxville.
That morning we drove through the Tennessee countryside to Cumberland Caverns. Tennessee is also famous for having a very large number of caves. We went on the organized tour of Cumberland Caverns and were astounded at the size of the underground rooms. While we were expecting cramped, tight spaces, and found enormous, naturally-occurring, ballroom-sized rooms. They even added a large chandelier repurposed from an old New York Theater to the top of one of the cave rooms. In addition to a variety of cave tours and overnight adventures, Cumberland Caverns also hosts underground movie screenings, concerts and even weddings! This has to be one of the most creative uses of space I have ever seen!
Sadly, the dark conditions of the cave made good photography impossible for all but the expert photographer. The few recognizable shots I got are below.
From Cumberland we drove on toward Memphis. We encountered a big downpour en route, which helps to explain why Tennessee is a tremendously green state. As we would learn on our trip, there is nothing quite like the scale of an eastern rainstorm. Buckets of rain fall at a time and the rain lasts for quite a while. The storms we encountered in the west were mere sprinkles by comparison!
We stopped at Natchez Trace State Park for a short hike in the woods to stretch our legs. The trail we chose wasn’t particularly thrilling in terms of scenery but it was quiet and beautiful with tall oaks for shade. Natchez Trace has great camping support facilities with showers and even hoses to wash off your horse.
We then drove on to Memphis, Tennessee, home of the blues, where we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn downtown which has an incredible rooftop view of the Mississippi River. It was a Saturday night in Memphis so we walked into the nightlife area and ate dinner at the Blues City Café, where my husband declared their ribs the best he had ever tasted. There was an enormous crowd of people waiting to pass through a police checkpoint to mingle on Beale Street. It was a nearly perfect weekend evening. There was a balmy breeze and it was warm and humid but not hot and sticky. There were young people and families all out enjoying themselves. Memphis is a city that knows how to throw a good weekend party.
Before going to bed, we spent a few minutes on the rooftop enjoying the view and the breeze. I got to chatting with a fellow hotel guest from Louisiana. We of course chatted about the BP oil spill. I told him I was surprised to see how many Memphis restaurants had “gulf coast shrimp” and other gulf coast seafood on their menus. Geographically it didn’t make a lot of sense to me as the two areas don’t seem close by. “Follow the river,” he explained, telling me that the Mississippi dumps right out in Louisiana and Memphis is one of the closest stops up the river.
Memphis was lovely and the people we met embodied Southern hospitality.
Next post: Continuing the trek west. Please come back to see where we go next and please share in the comments your thoughts on any of the cities or ideas mentioned above.
(P.S. Some have wondered how I managed to post to my blog while on vacation. Since I didn’t want to leave my readers in the lurch for two weeks, I drafted several posts before leaving on my trip and just took a few minutes to post them while on vacation. The posts also ended up being great preparation for the trip.)