Road Trip Part II: The Concert

The concert was Saturday night in Pensacola.  We arrived at the venue early and walked around the area; it was still warm out and I was excited to see a new town.  The opening band was forgettable (as they usually are).  Primus played next.  Les Claypool is a god on the bass.  Although it was my fourth time seeing him, I still freaked out when he busted out his modern looking floor bass and bow.  Then came Tool

Jake and I had seats in the nosebleed section, but that doesn’t matter at a Tool show.  There are lights and lasers, but the singer kinda hangs out in the back of the stage.  The thing about Tool, is that the music is enough.  They don’t need any elaborate stage shows to get people excited about seeing them perform.  Overall, the show was one of the best I’d been to.  It was my fifth time seeing Tool, but I was still amazed by their sound.  The lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, has a strong voice.  Danny Carey is the drummer, and I’m pretty sure he sold his soul to the devil for his talent.  The highlight of Tool’s set was Carey’s drum solo.  You can check out some of his amazing skills on the video below.

I’m sorry for the detour, but I promise next week we’ll be back in Tennessee!

Road Trips Part I: Acting Like a Tourist

I recently turned 30.  It wasn’t a day I was particularly looking forward to, but the weekend after it was. To celebrate, Jake and I took a road trip to Gulf Breeze, Florida.  I know Florida is pretty far away from East Tennessee, but I love that I live in a place where I can hop in the car and in a few hours have a complete change of scenery.

For six hours, I was on the look out for the first palm tree.  I found it right before we crossed into Florida from Alabama.  I was excited to be in a place where I didn’t have to layer up to go outside.

Originally, we planned to see Tool and Primus perform on Saturday night then drive home the next day, but after realizing how beautiful the weather was going to be for the weekend, we extended our stay by a few days. Even though the winters in Knoxville are mild at worst, I hate them.  So having the opportunity to bask in the sun for a few days was awesome.

We arrived Friday evening, and went to eat at Aegean Breeze.  It was by far the best meal of the trip, offering Mediterranean food with a gulf twist.  Saturday we drove to Gulf Breeze Zoo, where I was able to check something off my bucket list: petting a giraffe.  I also plopped myself down in front of the otter tank and giggled for about 30 minutes while they played; I think I embarrassed Jake.  After the zoo we found a “mom-and-pop” type ice cream shop called The Twist.  We would end up back there again because it was the some of the best ice cream I’d ever eaten.

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Such a tourist.
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Just eating a sweet potato.

Sunday we went to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.  It is free to get in, and we opted to take the self guided tour.  We rode one of the flight simulators, which did cost money, but it was worth it.  Afterwards, we ate sushi and drove the down to Navarre Beach.  The drive back to Gulf Breeze was amazing; the sand dunes were so white they looked like piles of snow.

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Jake in front of the lunar module.
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Is that snow?  Fake out! It’s sand!

We headed back home the following day.  We were greeted by rainy, cold weather and mounds of homework that I had put on the back-burner for a few days, but I wouldn’t have wanted to ring in my 30th year any other way.

My next post is Road Trip Part II.  It will be all about the main purpose of the trip: the concert!

 

Top of the World

A few nights ago, Jake and I decided we wanted to see the night sky.  His background is in aerospace engineering, and he always mentions that you can’t really see the stars in Knoxville because there is too much light pollution.  I knew the perfect place to get a good look at the night sky.

It was already past 10 pm when we set out on our venture.  The Top of the World is a community in Blount County.  It’s named so because it is easy to feel like you’re on the top of the world.  Settled in between Blount County and the Smokies, the Top of the World Even at night, in certain spots, you can pull over and check out panoramic views of Maryville and Alcoa.  It is dark enough to get a really great look at the night sky as well.

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Top of the world during the day. Source: pinterest.com

We drove until down Foothills Parkway until we got to the split that either takes you back to town or to Chilhowee Lake.  The drive is half of the fun;  I’m still learning how to drive a 5-speed, so it was fun to take the winding mountain roads at my leisure without having to worry about traffic. We turned around and came back home, stopping several times along the way to look at the stars and marvel at our small place in the universe.

The Most Famous Burgers in Town

This past week I introduced a friend to the best burger place in town.  My friend Donna had never been to Litton’s in Fountain City.  We had some errands to run together, and I was absolutely thrilled when she brought up grabbing a bite to eat.

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A Knoxville landmark. Source: travelingringo.com

Now, Litton’s is known for its awesome burgers, but honestly, I’ve never gotten anything there that has left me dissatisfied.  Despite this, I order a burger almost every time I go there.  This time, I decided to split a burger and side with Donna because I really wanted dessert.

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Perfection on a plate.

I wanted Donna to be able to get the taste of the burger, so we opted not to get cheese or bacon, just a plain hamburger.  It was devoured in about 60 seconds.  The onion rings were delicious as well, crispy-but not burned- and the onion still had a little bite.

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Then came for what would be the highlight of the trip: dessert.  Even if Litton’s wasn’t know for its burgers, its desserts would still draw in a crowd.  We went to the coolers and browsed the selection.  I settled for the red velvet, even though it isn’t my favorite (my favorite is Baby Jane cake, and it is only available on weekends).  Donna got the strawberry cake, and it was perfect.

But what I love most about Litton’s most is the atmosphere.  On the walls you’ll find newspaper clippings featuring local athletes.  Celebrities who stop in Knoxville often go to Litton’s. Last year when Alton Brown was in for his comedy/food show, he posted a picture of the red velvet cake from Litton’s on his Instagram account.

The table next to use were newbies and the waitress was telling them about the history of the establishment.  It was easy to tell from the way she talked about the restaurant, she took pride in her job. Litton’s has been a place for the Fountain City community to gather since 1946, and it is one place to definitely check out if you’ve never been.

Townsend

The last town you drive through before you enter the Smokies via Blount County is Townsend.  Many people drive straight through the town in a rush to get to the park, but these people are missing out on a gem.  Here are some of the best reasons to slow down and explore Townsend.

Food

There are dozens of great places to stop to get a quick bite to eat.  Burgermaster offers up fresh burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream.  Its unique building is hard to miss. There are also places to get barbecue, a steak or even home-cooked style meals.  One thing you won’t find a lot of in Townsend are chain restaurants.  Because of strict grease disposal guidelines, many chains stay out of the area, which is great for local businesses.

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The A-frame that houses Burgermaster. Source: discovertownsend.com

People

The locals are always friendly and willing to give great advice to tourists.  Forget about Tripadvisor or Yelp.  If you want to know anything about the area, resort to asking the locals. Plus, you never know who you’re going to run into.  One antique store keeps pictures of all the celebrities who have come through on the walls- and they’re running out of space. On a fateful trip through Townsend seven years ago, I stopped to eat lunch at the Carriage House Restaurant.  While dining, I noticed a rock god was sitting in the corner eating lunch. That’s how I got to meet Robert Plant. Cue public freak-out…

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Why am I so happy?  Because I’m posing with Robert Plant!

Great Places to Stay

There are plenty of quaint places to stay in Townsend.  If you’re more into camping, there are numerous places to pitch your tent or park the camper.  My personal favorite is the Townsend KOA.  They offer a lot of activities for guests, including movie nights, games, and tractor rides.  If the river water is too cold to take a dip, there is a pool on the property.  KOA even allows their guests to have guests, so don’t worry about trying to cram everybody into the haul-behind.  And if you aren’t the camping type, KOA has “cabins” for rent, complete with air conditioners and access to the bathhouse.

History

Several years ago, the road through Townsend was consistently bogged down with traffic. The reason?  One of the biggest archaeological digs in the history of the state was taking place right on the side of the highway.  In the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, some of the artifacts retrieved from the dig are on display.  Here you can also visit historic buildings, and the center even hosts concerts featuring traditional music from the mountains.  You’ll also find the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum in Townsend.  This museum aims to preserve the legacy of the Little River Railroad.

So the next time you’re heading up to the mountains, slow down.  You never know what you’ll find or who you might run into in this seemingly uneventful town.

The J is Silent

I was lucky enough to grow up in an area of south Knoxville that was really close to downtown, but just far away enough to feel removed from the city.  And I lived really close to Ijams, which is probably how I acquired my appreciation for the outdoors.  For those of you who aren’t from around here, the “j” is silent.  But what is Ijams?

Ijams is city park that promotes the preservation and conservation of nature.  What began decades ago as a few walking trails has spread out to over 300 acres of wilderness-just a few miles outside of downtown Knoxville.  Visitors can hike, paddle, climb or bike in the park. Ijams recently launched Navitat, a zipline-obstactle course which takes thrill seekers to the top of the forest.

Ijams also sponsors events such as the Big Kids Coloring Club.  Children under 12 are discouraged from attending, and adults can BYOB.  Ijams requests a five dollar donation, but they also provide snacks, pages to color and coloring supplies.  I attended this event in January and I was instantly hooked.

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Coloring: not just for kids

Not only was Big Kids Coloring Club a great way to relax, it was also a great chance to catch up with friends and meet new people.  There has been a surge in adult coloring books.  Ijams recognized this trend and hopped on!

Ijams offers a quick getaway inside the city limits. It’s easy to wander the park and let your worries slip away, because the the place is just so darn beautiful.  There are trails that will take you to the river, to an endless field of sunflowers (at the right time of the year), or you can just stroll at your leisure.  If you are into history, there is a cemetery on the property overlooking Mead’s Quarry that dates back to the late 1800s.  Perhaps the best part of Ijams can’t be expressed in words, so I’ll just leave this here:

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Source: http://www.outdoorknoxville.com

 

Molly and the Sunsphere

It’s the most defining feature in the Knoxville skyline- the Sunsphere.  Constructed for the 1982 World’s Fair, the structure overlooks the fair grounds and the surrounding areas which include UT campus and downtown Knoxville.

When I was a kid, my fun-loving aunt took me and all my cousins up there and I was terrified.  I remember clinging to the wall and refusing to look out.  I’ve only been back once, and it was just as disastrous as the first time.

Molly, my youngest niece, was kind of obsessed with the Sunsphere.  Nearly every outing would result in her asking about it, pointing it out to her siblings, or wondering about what it was like up there.  So my mother and I decided that on Molly’s last day of freedom before she began kindergarten, we’d take her there. Bad idea…

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Molly having a blast at the top of the Sunsphere.

We may never know what the kid expected to be at the top of the Sunsphere, but she lost her mind when she found out there wasn’t much up there.  Not even a trip to the nearby Knoxville Chocolate Company or Fort Kid could get her to calm down.

Eventually, she did dry her eyes, but she made sure to tell me it was the worst day ever. So much for me trying to be the fun aunt.  She doesn’t ever mention the Sunsphere anymore, and she doesn’t point it out when we drive past it.  I guess sometimes it’s better not to take the mystery out of things.

 

River-Sitting

My favorite spot in the mountains is in the Tremont Institute.  Tremont is a place that offers day camps for kids, as well as back-country camping and hiking.  But that’s not what I’m there for.  I go there to river-sit.

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Where I go to get my tan.

My favorite summer activity can be summed up as this: going to my secret spot in the river, with or without company, and tossing my chair out into the water.  I then proceed to sit there.  Its a relatively cheap hobby that requires absolutely no experience.  All you need is a chair and few hours to kill.

The best part about my secret spot is that I can spend eight hours there and never see another human being.  Occasionally, I’ll take friends and we spend the day reading, chatting, eating and dozing in and out of consciousness.  Sometimes, if its hot enough we’ll drive back down to Townsend to get ice cream or shakes from The Burgermaster. 

Although it’s only about a 30 minute drive to get to Tremont, it’s easy to feel like you are completely removed from civilization.  There’s no cell signal, and that only adds to the seclusion of the park.  And yes, there are snakes, but as long as you leave them alone, they’ll ignore you.

Everyone needs their own secret spot to go to, which is why I’m not giving directions to mine.  Getting out there and exploring the park is half the fun, and maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll find your own spot in the mountains.