Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tennessee Treasures

The first few days of Spring Break found my hubby and me once again in eastern Tennessee. The trip down I-75 was unbelievably beautiful. The pinks and purples of the redbuds were on full display and at times created a virtual blossoming tunnel as both sides of the interstate were awash in the beautiful trees. Sprinkled throughout the hills were white dogwoods looking for all the world like skiffs of snow clinging to the mountains. The further south we traveled, the more beautiful the display.

Once in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg corridor, more color came into view as the cities welcomed tourists with pots of cheery pansies. The woods around Gatlinburg and into the Smokies had glimpses of wisteria scattered about.

I’ve told you all before that this is our “happy place.” It’s where we go to escape the real world and relax for a while. We were visiting a little later in the Spring than usual and because of that I cajoled my hubby into taking a side trip to the Apple Barn. This is a multi-faceted attraction with a restaurant, gift shop and more. However, my reason for visiting had nothing to do with the culinary or arts & crafts offerings. All around the buildings are apple trees – and they were in full bloom!

For my money, few things on earth smell as sweet and wonderful as apple blossoms. My sweet hubby indulged me in a walk through the trees laughing as I had to stop and sniff every one of them!

We made our usual rounds. . . First stop - Parrot Mountain for some fun with our feathered friends:

One of the neat opportunities here is to go into the Lories cage and feed these brightly-colored birds nectar:

Then it was time for lunch at the Pottery Barn Cafe & Grille. A table by the window gave us a wonderful view of their gardens with the azaleas, tulips and pansies looking like a watercolor painting.
The Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts community features some wonderful shops. We discovered “genuine Alewine” pottery last fall after seeing a commercial for the business on the tourism channel in our hotel room. The owner’s story intrigued us. In 1983 with $1,500 to his name, Robert Alewine and family decided to make a go of it with a pottery shop in Gatlinburg. He now says he wonders how they ever made it through the winter! But made it they did and now, 24 years later, Alewine Pottery is a thriving business. There are plenty of pottery shops to choose from, but we like Alewine because of the incorporation of native leaves into their work and the desire to keep the east Tennessee flavor in their pottery. We’ve decided to add a piece (or two) with each visit. Here’s one of the pieces we brought back this time:
One afternoon we drove up Ski Mountain Road to Ober Gatlinburg. The parking lot is also a wonderful overlook to the Smokies. We take a chair lift up to the Alpine Slide course and once astride our plastic blue sleds, we race each other down the mountain. (I’ve not beaten Bobby yet, but I will!)

We try to do something new every visit. This time in addition to the Pottery Barn Cafe & Grille, our “new thing” was the “Mysterious Mansion”. It was fun, but if haunted houses are your thing, opt for Ripley’s Haunted Adventure.

This trip we had some delightful surprises outside our hotel balcony. A group of ducks decided to nap on the lawn just below our room. They would venture into the river occasionally. Bobby and I just stood there, leaning on the balcony railing, watching these creatures and enjoying them.
Just driving through the tri-city area of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the sheer number of tourist traps could prompt you to keep driving towards Asheville, but don’t. Hidden among the t-shirt shops and plastic black bear trinkets outlets, are some real pearls.

The city has every little nook full of flowers.
The grounds around Ripley’s Aquarium are beautiful. (The aquarium itself is wonderful! We were so pleasantly surprised when we visited it the first time. I think it is one of the best around.)

And, of course, there’s always the Little Pigeon River and the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

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