Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring Break 2015, Our Southern States Tour

Spring Break was spent down South this year! We had some places to visit we wanted to check off our lists. Once we started the planning to see those sights, Del decided it would be a good idea to stop in Atlanta where Patient's Choice has an office. The idea of stopping at as many BBQ joints as we could somehow got introduced into the plan as well. The trip kind of grew into a multi stop, large intake of Southern food, road trip.
I forgot my nice camera. That is becoming the norm more and more these days. I will come back and edit this a little as I pull pictures off Del's phone when I get a chance. All of the Biltmore Tulip Garden photos are on his phone.

All it took was one three hour drive to The Dells in Wisconsin,  with the baby and three kids in the back row together, and we changed our plans to fly to Atlanta, have a short road trip, and fly home from Nashville.
Life was so busy in the weeks leading up to our trip, we did not have a lot of time to think about the toll this might take on us! The night before we left for the airport, we looked at each other and wondered aloud if we had lost our minds!
All ended up well however. We had highs and lows on this vacation, of course, but overall, we had a great time. We are grateful for all we were able to see and do!

The picture above was our first stop of the trip! Del's favorite place to eat some really good Southern BBQ in Atlanta. Community BBQ. We headed there straight from the airport. It really was good. It set the stage for our BBQ tour! The drive was also gorgeous! The neighborhoods with old, beautiful homes, set up on green rolling hills could keep me gawking for days! A visit to Atlanta just to see homes and architecture could keep me entertained for days!

Del set up a visit to the Georgia Aquarium for all of his Atlanta team and their families. We all met with our stollers and kids in tow in the morning.

I really enjoyed meeting some of the people whose names I hear regularly, but have never actually seen. Meeting their spouses and children was even more fun! We wish that everyone had been able to make it, or stay for our picture. Next time we will get them all!

We had to stop to get a famous hot dog at The Varsity! I was able to meet more reps here who were only able to make it for lunch. The kids thought the whole concept of the restaurant was so fun, and quickly claimed desks as their seating selection.

 We can trash a hotel room in a hurry without even trying! People love to stare at us in the lobby, probably wondering if 47 people are staying in one room.

Del and I were not excited about the Coke Factory, but the kids were. So many people had mentioned the tour and the soda tasting room to our children, we just went with it. They were so excited to meet the polar bear, and  get their fill of all different kinds of soda pops. They all drank way too much. They all felt sick after. They all needed repeated bathroom stops. As you leave the factory you are given a glass bottle of Coke. We ended up lugging those things through four states on the trip because the kids would protest the idea of throwing them away, and Del and I were never ready to let them drink more Coke! We finally let them drink them before our last leg of travel.

Centennial Park, Atlanta.

Lydie and her sweet tummy at The Varsity.

Atlanta, at night.

We to get a donut at Revolution Donuts, where we were openly stared at by all the hipsters the entire time we ate. I guess five kids isn't the norm in the young, single, professional parts of the Decatur neighborhood.
We hiked Stone Mountain. That is a really great family hike. The kids ran the entire way up the mountain. One mile up, one down. We had great weather. It was a busy day on the mountain. It is a popular hike, and I see why.
The kids at the top with Atlanta in the distance.
Lydie loves riding in the carrier on our hikes. She has been so, so good the whole time every time we hiked since having her. In the Smokies, she was a happy hiker, but not a happy car rider. Once back in the car, she screamed the entire drive back down the mountain.

We drove up to Asheville, North Carolina for our next stop. Our neighbors told us they always stay at a specific Hilton as they drive through Asheville. They go South a lot on school breaks. We looked into it, and they had rooms available, so we booked it. Low and behold, we happened to be there the exact same night our neighbors were driving through! We met at the pool for a little catch up before we headed North West, and they headed South.
The craziest part is that as we got to Chicago, and we were driving home from the airport on the tollway, we looked over and these same neighbors were driving next to us! They were just arriving home from their vacation as well! They can't shake us! We will miss them when we move! They are the best of the best!

Del was determined to have us try grits. We stopped at Waffle House before church. Fancy dining right there! Sorry for the bad pic Del.
Sunday had a couple of lows. As a couple of the kids got out of the car in the Waffle House parking lot, they stepped right into vomit on the ground in the parking lot.
Luckily I was equipped with wipes and disinfectant products. It was gross. A definite low, but it could have been worse.
The employees at Waffle House were one of the highs of the day. They got a kick out of us, and they were full of hospitality and stories of raising their families.

Church the the Asheville ward. A very cute, nice young sister took our picture for us. This is just before I dropped my phone while passing Lydie to Del in the parking lot, and shattered the screen. Boo.

We set the day aside for time at Biltmore Estate. I have wanted to see this home for years. The largest private home in America. It is amazing. The technology used to build this house in the late 1800's is unbelievable! It has an indoor pool, and a bowling ally! This is before chlorine use guys! It also has an elevator! The original still runs, and we rode it to get our stroller from floor to floor.

The detail of this home make it clear that it needs to be preserved. It is impossible to describe the thought and ingenuity that went into the building of this home! Everywhere you turn, every corner and object has a story behind it! The house goes on and on! Hallways, and staircases that lead to room after room! The standard home tour only takes you through the main family quarters, the servants quarters, and kitchen and wash areas. There are more extensive tours of other parts of the house available as well.
Del and I paid for the automated tour for ourselves, and for the kid's tour narrated by the family dog for our children. I knew that if I did not have them engaged as much as possible, I would not be able to enjoy our visit. The kids tour was a huge hit, and all of them were so into it! They made sure to wait for each other before pushing the buttons that would lead them to the next part of the tour so that none would be ahead of the others. It saved us! Lydie also slept the whole time and I could not be more grateful!

The Vanderbilt family runs the business of opening the home to tours, the nearby village for visitors to stop to eat and play, and many other side businesses to keep the funds coming in.
Georgia and I made a quick stop in the family museum at the nearby Antler Village. The other kids stayed at the playground and petting zoo area. There is a lot of family memorabilia that can be viewed up close inside. The blown up family tree spells out the members of the family and just where all the fortune was made, and how it was divided.  One of the remaining Vanderbilt heirs alive today is Anderson Cooper, the television host and reporter. I find the family history fascinating, and have enjoyed learning more about the Vanderbilts and their fortune since the Biltmore visit.

I am sure that right now this awning is filled in with the greenery that shades this patio area. So pretty!

The gardens were just amazing! They go on and on, full of beautiful detail, just like the home.

Del and Lydie should totally have posed in a complimentary stance with the statue. Next time.

The greenhouse was magical!

This is the window of the room in the home where all the babies were born. A light filled room.

Again, I need to visit when the awnings are filled in with their greenery!

We made many stops at local BBQ restaurants, dives and holes in the wall. Wherever the reviews said to find good BBQ, Del was on top of it! This place was actually good. After paying around $65 for some unimpressive hotdogs and salads at the Biltmore Estate, we were all hungry for some good Southern food!

The next day we drove up through the Smokies to make our way into Tennessee to our next stop, Pigeon Forge. What a gorgeous drive! I loved seeing this part of the country!

We decided to wind our way up a mountain 24 miles to get to a valley that was once the home of mountain villagers called Cade's Cove. There are many hikes in the mountains surrounding the valley. We chose to do one that is five miles round trip to a water fall.

Many of the original homes, churches and barns remain in Cade's Cove. It is a popular destination. It reminded me of the setting in the book "Christy." I can only imagine that the life these mountain people lived was not easy. They didi live in a beautiful valley however. The cove gradually emptied as people moved down from the mountain to more populated areas, and then eventually all were bought out and made to leave when the Cove was incorporated into the national park.

A cantilever barn that still stands. Very cool! We had never seen one of these. It is also amazing that so much work must have gone into this, and the cabin homes were so basic!

We made it to the waterfall! Now we just had to get them back up out of the canyon to the car!

Cade's Cove.

We saw a black bear on the side of the road on our way back down the mountain. He was causing a traffic jam. Del was very excited about this sighting!

Our initial plan had us spending the day at Dollywood the next day. Lucky us. Dollywood was closed on Tuesday for the Spring. NOT clearly noted on the website or the phone message I might add. I did notice the night before, so at least we didn't show up at the park to face the disappointment. We did go by to purchase our tickets for Wednesday, and many, many others were finding out the hard way as well from what we saw. 

We were pretty flexible in our plans at this point, and the kids wanted to visit the amusement park, so we stole a  half a day from our Nashville plans and hung out in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg Tennessee for the day. We went to a little farm that had animals to feed and horse rides, and mining for gold. They loved that! We hung out at the hotel pool and let the kids swim. Of course our day had to include a stop for blue ice cream. It ended up being nice to slow down and let the kids play.

The next day we hit the ground running bright and early at Dollywood. We told the kids the compromise was we had to leave before the close of the park to get on the road to Nashville that night. I have always like Dolly Parton. I think her story is so interesting, she is funny and entertaining, and just a good sport!
A few years ago, she was scheduled to be on the Oprah show. I wanted to attend a filming of Oprah because it was her last season. When I saw that Dolly was set to be on, I was excited! I wrote a mini essay into the show and a few days later they contacted me to let me know I had tickets! I took my friend Kathy. I ended up getting really sick with an infection the night before and took myself to the E.R. I went to the filming the next day anyway, and I am glad I have that memory. Even if it is a foggy one from being drugged up the entire time. I did see Dolly and Kenny Rogers sing "Islands In the Stream"  together in person, and that is worth the discomfort, right?
Dollywood may the only amusement park that has an adorable chapel to pray in before you ride a roller coaster. Dolly's christian mountain upbringing apparent here!

Lots of mining, water themes going on.

We had a fun day! It was the warmest day of our trip, and the kids had fun hitting as many rides as they could! Del and I both got sick taking the kids on roller coasters, so we came away from the trip realizing that we are turning into old people.

That night we drove across Tennessee to Nashville. I loved Nashville! What a cool fun town! Del and I want to go back alone to be able to go to shows and take in more of the music scene! It was also so pretty! Del has an old friend from his mission who lives in Nashville and owns a home building company. We went to see their new home and have dinner with them, and the drive to their neighborhood was so serene and pretty!

We went to check out the Grand Ole Opry, but we decided not to do a tour because we had such limited time in Nashville. The kids did get a game of checkers on the "porch" however. It took forever, so we may as well have done the tour. 

We did do the tour of the Country Music Hall of fame. It was fun and interesting, but I do wonder if the kids would have enjoyed the Grand Ole Opry tour a bit more. 

I didn't get a picture of Elvis's gold plated Cadillac or grand piano, but those were impressive! The kids loved the movie they had about country music moments on television throughout the years.

We stopped at the Nashville Parthenon. It was SO cold, so we didn't stay long. They were setting up for an even on one side of it. I bet it would be fun to attend something held there! This thing was pretty impressive sitting in the middle of a park! Because Nashville is referred to as the "Athens of the South" the building was erected to exact scale of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was was built for the Centennial Exposition in the late 1800's. So glad that my kids got a taste of Greece while in music city! Who knew. Inside there is an art museum with an exact replica of the Parthenos Statue. We did not lay eyes on her this trip.

We stopped for a few minutes at Vanderbilt University. They have a very pretty campus! I liked the vibe in the neighborhood surrounding the university.

I love my kid's poses in this picture. Looks like they are ready to shoot our album cover!

After our whirlwind tour of the South, we were tired and ready to head home. I am so glad we were able to see a new to us, part of the country. I am so glad I am able to take my kids on theses trips. It feels impossible sometimes, and going into it, we know full well we will have moments of complete frustration, especially with a months old baby in tow. The memories are always worth the effort, and this was a really fun family trip!