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Published: June 29th 2018
Breakfast in the hotel restaurant was great but pretty expensive for what we had. Kerry & I had a granola yoghurt and Elise had a lovely omelette. We all had really good sleeps here, the beds were huge and you almost needed a ladder to climb up into bed ! Antique and period fittings made it cool and the room had the most comfortable sittings chairs I have ever seen.
Anyway we hit the road for what was always going to be the longest day of our road trip. I decided against backtracking on Interstate 64 and instead decided to drive down Highway 219 and this route would take us past some countryside and small towns. We came across this town called Union which had some amazing old homes. It has a population of about 500 people but has 4 churches built prior between 1845 and 1889 and the County Courthouse built in 1881. The town was apparently on the old stage coach route which made it a thriving community back in the day.
A short time later we crossed the border into Virginia, but only briefly to grab a coffee in a little town called Rich Creek on
the banks of the New River. This place was so quiet they had no coffee made up so the lady made me a fresh pot of coffee brewed as we waited. 5 minutes later we were back in West Virginia as we crossed the New River. West Virginia has one of the most unusual state shapes. I recall seeing a show on the History channel once called “How the states got their shapes” and it would be interesting to see how West Virginia’s borders were created.
We were soon on Interstate 77 which took a sharp left towards the East River Mountain Tunnel. This tunnel has some unique qualities in that when it opened in 1974 it was the first tunnel built that crossed a state border line with 50% in West Virginia and 50% in Virginia. The tunnel is 1.65km in length and quite narrow to drive inside. Modern measurements now has it officially 51% inside the state of West Virginia so they get bragging rights I guess ! Once we arrive on the Virginia side we pulled into a tourist information centre as were crossing the mountain range and looking for ideas on what to see on
our journey. This place gave out free little packets of peanuts. How delicious. We got some ideas and hit the road again.
We decided to have lunch in this town of Abingdon, Virginia. It is located in the Great Appalachian Valley that stretches for 1,900 kilometres. We had lunch at the Heartwood Centre which is Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gallery exhibiting works from local artists. A bus load of tourists arrived just before us and we were told there would be a long wait for lunch but luckily we all wanted soup and he had that out in no time. It was a tomato creamy soup and it was delicious.
The next stop was meant to be at Bristol. This city sits on the state border between Virginia and Tennessee, and was my only major scheduled stop today to visit the famous Bristol Motor Speedway where they race Nascars. It is a very small oval track known as the Last Great Colosseum. It is only 858 metres to do one lap, but the place has a capacity of 162,000- people. I had found out they do tours every day except when race weekend is on for $5.00 where you
visit the museum, and they then take you inside to a seat at the top of the grandstand and then take you out for a lap or two on the racetrack in a bus to feel the steepness of the banked turns. I was so looking forward to this so I called up to make a booking for 1pm, only to be told the track was closed until 3pm today for a school walkathon event. What ! My only chance ruined by bad planning.
Never mind on we go waving goodbye to all the road sign exits for the Speedway. We kept on driving so I played the classic Johnny Cash song called Tennessee to get over my disappointment and eventually we arrived at a town called Pigeon Forge around 3.00pm. Being a Saturday afternoon the traffic on the main highway was ridiculously busy, and it was snail pace through this town which is major tourist attraction and very similar to the iDrive area we experienced in Orlando several years ago. Lots of Restaurants, Putt Putt courses, go karts and the like.
Once we got through the town it was about 10 minutes to arrive at Gatlinburg. This
will be our home for the next 3 nights. Kerry and Elise had found out about this place which I had never heard of before. It’s a small town a few miles long and has one major retail strip with lots of bars, restaurants, retail shops all very close together. Traffic here in Gatlinburg was bad as well and we slowly inched our way to Traffic Light # 10. Yes that is right this town actually numbers it’s traffic light lights.
We arrived at our hotel the Bearskin Lodge which is a beautiful hotel right at one end of the strip, so nice and quiet but close by the action as well. We checked in, and went out for a walk and had dinner on the balcony of Blaine’s Grill & Bar. We are in the deep south now so I had the Country Fried Steak, and Kerry had some local Trout whilst Elise’s shoved down a Cheeseburger. The weather today had been fine, the occasional shower but getting warmer and warmer as headed south around 32 degrees on arrival. Gatlinburg is known as the entry to the Great Smokey Mountains, and it will be nice to have the
same bed for 3 nights as we get to explore this region of Eastern Tennessee.
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