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Published: October 22nd 2015
We landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, a bit dazed after a long old night flight from Hawaii. During the flight I made friends with a lovely lady from Tennessee who confessed that she had a “real strong Southern accent”… She was awesome. Once we picked up the car, we made the four hour trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. Approaching the National Park, we noticed that there were a large number of large men sporting dungarees, handlebar moustaches and enormous beards, and that the people were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Now, Tom left you on a “cliffhanger” about the tent so here goes… we’d had many thoughts on how to fix it, some more ridiculous than others, none seeming very likely to work. We eventually found temporary success by cutting the elastic, removing the broken section of pole, tying a knot in it and, unbelievably, we managed to put up a slightly shorter than before tent. It looked a bit sorry for itself, but did the job! Its last two nights were spent in a lovely setting, right next to the river (not great for someone with a tiny bladder), and The Green Berg went out on a high!
Anyway, the highlight of The Great Smokies was Chimney Tops trail. This was a beautiful walk past lovely rivers and through amazingly colourful autumn trees. There was a dramatic climb and a scramble over the top of a rock to incredible views over the peaks of the mountains, all covered in beautiful fall coloured trees in every shade of red, orange, yellow and green. We also visited Cade’s Cove, a loop road around meadows with a feeling that you had gone back in time! We walked around old farm buildings as Tom got excited explaining what the different machinery was for, then saw a bear chewing on some bark right next to the road! The following day we managed to take a few steps on the Appalachian Trail (a must-do for me after reading Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’), and attempted to get to Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the area – but gave up on seeing the size of the queue. The Great Smokies is apparently by far the most visited of all the U.S. National Parks, but also the one where nobody gets out of their cars! This definitely tallies up with our experience
as the roads were always very busy but the trails very quiet.
We made it onto The Blue Ridge Parkway and were once again amazed by the colours on display. There were sections along the road where the trees seemed to be on fire, so bright were the colours. We made a few stops along the way and made it to Asheville for early evening. Asheville is a massive hipster town, there were scarily trendy people everywhere we looked and musicians on every street corner. We didn’t really fit in in our very practical, not cool clothing! The highlight here was finding a Chinese restaurant which marked Gluten Free options, exciting after many weeks where it seemed like no one knew what gluten was!
The following day saw us continuing along the Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying even more astounding scenery, stopping at Mount Mitchell, where we could see the clouds rolling in from the summit – and very little else – and a very grand mansion with a lovely lake. We also took a gentle stroll around Erwin's View to see some very pretty waterfalls before eventually finding ourselves back in a Super 8
in Charlotte with microwave meals for dinner. The next day was a funny one. We gave back the car and had the day to kill until 11.30pm, when we would catch our bus to Washington. After a frustrating conversation with the motel staff, who claimed that they couldn’t look after our bags for us, we managed to negotiate that we would pick them up at 3pm; certainly not ideal, but better than nothing! We headed out to explore Charlotte… and quickly decided that this is the most confusing city we have visited! You see, Charlotte doesn’t really have anything to explore. There are no shops downtown. There isn’t any form of waterfront, nor a nice restaurant area. There is a ball park - we killed 10 minutes looking at that from the street - and a multi-storey collection of fast food restaurants. The main reason that this is so confusing is that the city’s tagline is “Charlotte’s got a lot”. We’re still not sure what they are referring to with this! Also, they chose the one day that we were there to shut the light rail service which connected our motel to downtown, meaning that we had to get a
packed replacement bus and then run back to our hotel in order to make it for our deadline of 3pm. We then had to cart the dreaded bags around for the rest of the day. We struggled to a pretty little park and spent a fairly enjoyable 3 hours reading, before managing to find a pub quiz to keep us entertained for a bit longer. Eventually, we went to hang out at the bus station – bad idea. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable!
The next morning, we made it to Washington D.C. I woke from my snoozing to a beautiful morning as the bus seemed to drive past all of the main sights on its way in to the station and could tell immediately that I was going to like Washington! Our hostel was in a very cool area called Adam’s Morgan (lots more hipsters) and we had a cup of coffee the size of my head to celebrate getting rid of the bags. The hostel itself was pretty scummy – and our room was colder than being in the tent – but it was fairly convenient for the main sights. Unfortunately the wifi was useless so
the much anticipated Skype call to Tom’s family was disappointing… although lovely to briefly see them all.
We spent a lovely day wandering along Embassy Row – there’s a very nice statue of Winston Churchill outside the British one – and exploring Georgetown, the university district and waterfront. The houses that we walked past were incredible! Our second day, another glorious but chilly day, was spent around the National Mall. My general impression of Washington is that it doesn’t feel like any other American city, it’s a very peaceful, pretty place… even a bit historical! We stopped off to wave to Barack at The White House, then headed over to the Washington Monument, which can be seen from all over the city. Next was the World War II Memorial, which we decided was very impressive but not as moving as the cemeteries in Normandy. We checked out the Lincoln Memorial and went back along the river to see some museums. Yes, we went in museums, they were free! We started at the National Museum of American History – the best things here were Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog and an exhibition on food. Then it was
onto the World of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum and finally the Air and Space Museum. The last one started well with an interesting section about the Wright Brothers and some good models of planes and space shuttles… but then I have to confess I’d had my fill of museums and left Tom to do the space section alone!
It’s been another busy week full of unexpected scenic highlights in the South and amazing food and buildings in D.C. Now we’re excited for Ebba and Anna’s arrival tomorrow!
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