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|We made a landmark journey to the American South
for our holiday in August 2001. The journey was important because it was the
first time for Nick and my parents to meet, and we also had plenty of other
adventures along the way.
We arrived in Atlanta on the evening of August 11th, rented our little red Suzuki two-door, and threw ourselves into the six-lane, 70 miles per hour Highway 85 traffic for the two hour drive to South Carolina. We arrived at my parents' house later than expected due to getting lost in Walhalla, their small town with one main street and a population of 3755. Well it was dark!
|Any worries of poor reception from my parents were banished as soon as we saw them, and throughout our visit, they seemed completely accepting and genuinely fond of Nick. The four of us cooked and ate together, visited Highlands, North Carolina, and several waterfalls along the way, and went shopping at one of Georgia's outlet malls. My father showed us about Ebay when we put one of his antique thermometers on the site for auction, and my mother generously gave the two of us an antique set of sterling silver flatware as a "couple gift". On our final day with them, my father gave Nick a couple of old Indian arrowheads he had found as a boy and my mother told Nick that he was an asset to the family. I have to agree.|
|One of the delights of visiting my family was seeing my Uncle's cabin on a private lake. We went there one afternoon with my father and he fished for little three-inch perch while we swam, canoed, and floated in inner tubes on the still green lake. We knew that the cabin would be a wonderful place to spend the night and we were able to stay there for three consecutive nights. We brought beer and sat on the porch swing listening to the synchronised thrumming of the cicadas and watching for fireflies.|
|The second night we were there, we accidentally locked ourselves out of the cabin, but after a mild panic thinking we would have to phone someone to rescue us and having to explain why we were wearing what we were wearing, we found a way to remove the screen and crawl in through the kitchen window. The rest of the time there, we explored the two storey cabin taking photos, perused our new Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue (so racy we had to show proof of age in order to purchase it), and swam some more.|
|Just up the road from the cabin was the launching
point for our white water rafting adventure on the Chatooga River. We went with
the company that my cousin Jody guides for, but he wasn't working that day and
our guide's name was Mike Meyers (not the Austin Powers actor). Our journey
down the river took about seven hours, longer than usual because the water was
low and we had to fight our way over shallow rocks and one of the other rafts
got submerged going over Screaming Left Hand Turn.
||At the halfway point, we stopped for a swim and
for a buffet lunch that was spread out beautifully on a blue and white checked
cloth atop an inverted rubber raft. It was here that Nick ate his first ever
peanut butter and jelly sandwich and we both sampled some excellent
"gorp", a mixture of granola, peanuts, and M&M's.
We travelled on, encountering the falls where Burt Reynolds broke his leg in the 1971 adventure film Deliverance and the even larger Bull Falls where we were photographed looking suitably terrified. At one point, we got to float on our backs downstream, carried by the current from one of the falls.
A natural waterfall where we drank from the source
|Many of the highlights of our trip happened during our couple of days in Tennessee. We drove hours and hours through the Blue Ridge Mountains to our campsite at Timberfell Lodge, right in the northern tip of Tennessee, just south of Virginia. Timberfell is a gay resort where "clothing is optional" and we had a wonderful time there swimming in the pool, using the Jacuzzi (despite the signs posted saying PLEASE DO NOT HAVE SEX IN THE HOT TUB), leafing through magazines, and meeting the very friendly guests who had come from many surrounding states to be there.||One West Virginian was keen to show us the merits of his pair of overalls and we were inspired to go out and buy some of our own after that (see above). Our Ohio neighbours invited us over to their campsite for S'mores, another culinary first for Nick and a great reminiscence for me, and the guy in the tent next to ours offered us bourbon and Diet Coke, a local favourite. Another first for Nick was when we sang Stand By Me at the bar during a Karaoke evening.|
|Now the reason we went to Tennessee in the first place was to visit Dollywood. Back in England, we had seen a Graham Norton television special about the amusement park and we wanted to see it first hand, especially to experience for ourselves the huge barbecued turkey legs that we saw featured as appetisers on the program. To be fair, the show portrayed Dollywood in a very cynical light, all fat people and greed with dim-witted hillbilly employees admitting that "naw, we ain't never seed Dolly in person," but we found the park to be very different. In fact, it was clean and well organised with helpful attendants always ready to trade a dry map for our sodden one after we emerged from the log flumes.||We noticed that the park was a very good place for retired people to work as well as the usual summer youths, and there were craftsmen of all ages making brooms, iron tools, lye soap, corn meal, and baked goods for sale. There were a few thrill rides and we rode them all. Thunder Road was a surprisingly stomach-churning interactive film experience, we got soaked on both the Mountain Sidewinder and River Rampage, and the mountaintop Tennessee Tornado roller coaster made us scream with each of its three loops, tunnel drop, and 70 miles per hour turns. We went to see an all singin' all dancin' musical presentation about Dolly Parton's life (while still wet from the water rides), ate nachos and hamburgers beside a water mill, and photographed the Holy Grail of our journey, the barbecued turkey legs found at the BBQ pit.|
|The turkey legs were one of the 49 items to be
spotted and crossed off Nick's Bingo
Card. We made cards for each other with Southern things to find and we got
appropriate prizes for completing rows, T-shapes, diagonals, and full blank
outs. (Each of us only completed rows, foiled by elusive items such as a
Weakest Link T-shirt and a turtle). Some of the items to find are not
repeatable in mixed company, but a few of the things we had to find were:
|| On the way back from Tennessee, we drove through
the Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding journey that offered beautiful views and an
elevation of 6053 feet at its highest point. Amid all this splendour, we
laughed at Nick's Beavis and Butthead urge to be photographed mooning the
camera with the mountains in the background.
We enjoyed Tuesday and Wednesday nights by going to Club 621 in Greenville, the town I lived in when I was very, very young. The club was nice and had an outdoor porch with barbecue potential and a disused swimming pool that must have been a lot of fun in its day.
We left South Carolina on Thursday in order to spend a couple of days in Atlanta. On the way, we stopped in and bought a nice set of luggage from the Samsonite outlet store in Commerce with money that my mother had given us as a gift. We needed the luggage to transport our new silverware and clothes and it will remind us of my mother and our first trip home whenever we travel with it.
|Nick drove most of the way to Atlanta, including the six-lane downtown rush hour traffic when we arrived. Our bed and breakfast was a wonderful restored Victorian house called the Abbett Inn in College Park, right near the airport. The neighbourhood was quiet and lined with pecan trees and we could easily walk to the MARTA train stop, so we returned our rental car and carried out the rest of our holiday on foot. Our innkeeper was a West African man named Donald who had renovated the inn with his partner, John. We were so pleased with our room, with its plum coloured walls and dark wood and iron furnishings. Donald has very good taste. The bathroom was marble tiled and sparkling and the whole house was filled with interesting pictures and trinkets.|| As soon as we dropped off our stuff, we went
into Atlanta to see the sights. Starting out at Underground Atlanta, Nick
finally found the size 13 Converse baseball boots that he'd been searching for
the whole trip. He had a pair when he was younger and toured Europe in them and
I'm sure this new pair will see just as many interesting and fun places. He
bravely asked a likely looking face painter where the gay areas were in Atlanta
and the man recommended that we begin at Outwrite Books on 10th Street.
We went there and were amazed by its selection of books, cakes, cards, magazines, and cute clientele. We bought some wonderful souvenirs at this shop, including some 3-D nudie cards complete with glasses for viewing, a new novel by David Sedaris called Me Talk Pretty One Day, and another interesting catalogue. After the bookstore, we walked to Ansley Square, a little gay village about a mile away. We found a bar called Scandals where we had bourbon and Coke, and then went to Brushstrokes, a very well stocked store where Nick bought some rainbow shoelaces for his high tops.
The next day we returned to the square and went to the friendly Burkhart's bar, with its outside seating and free bowls of popcorn and peanuts. After we had a couple of drinks there, we asked where was good to eat and they recommended Cowtippers for delicious hamburgers, baked sweet potatoes, and armadillo eggs (stuffed jalapeño peppers). The restaurant was friendly and relaxed.
| Atlanta was definitely a place worth revisiting.
Home of Coca Cola, we explored the interactive exhibits there and tasted over
50 different varieties of soft drink products including a bitter Italian one
called Beverley. Shopping in areas such as the Virginia Highlands is fun and
different, and the food is universally good. We had some tasty smoothies at a
place that is obviously the watering hole for Atlanta's beautiful and muscled
and this gave us the idea to drink more blended fruit at home. Of course, we
didn't always eat healthily. We devoured our first-ever fried Snickers bar at
an old-fashioned drug store fountain in Little Five Points.
Now that we're back home, we're resolved to eat right and exercise in order to become the beautiful people who lie somewhere inside (underneath layers of holiday fat). Meanwhile, we'll keep on loving each other, loving life, and looking forward to our next holiday together.
Click HERE to see our return trip in 2003 and HERE for 2010