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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tennessee: Gatlinburg & Memphis: Moonshine, Music, BBQ, Buffalo, Goats, & DUCKS!

We set out on our "Civil War Road Trip" this spring heading from home- the Elkhorn Inn- to Memphis, to begin our American Queen Paddlewheel Cruise down the Mississippi. 
Our first stop was Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is about four hours from the Elkhorn Inn. In planning our road trips I use, and break our road trips down into days that usually have only about 4 hours of driving. That way, if we see something interesting on the way, such as a winery or a museum, we have the time to stop, as well as having time for breaks and leisurely meals without feeling rushed. Back in December I bought us gift cards when they had a sale, so we could use them on this trip, and in Gatlinburg we used them to stay at the historic, ca. 1938 Buckhorn Inn in one of their lovely cottages. Elegant little houses, they have working fireplaces, kitchenettes, and balconies overlooking splendid Smokey Mountain scenery.  We enjoyed a lovely and elegant dinner one night at the Inn, and their gourmet breakfasts were delicious, as well; we loved sitting outside with our coffee on the breakfast room’s veranda, taking in the truly spectacular Smokey Mountains…
Our Buckhorn Inn Cottage
Outside our Buckhorn Inn Cottage

View from our cottage bedroom...
Our cottage's living room & kitchenette

Our cottage's bedroom and fireplace

Buckhorn Inn is beautifully situated on an 8-mile “loop” of artisan and artist studios, known as the Great Smokey Mountain Arts and Crafts Community, and we stopped at several cute places, including Apple Annie's.  But we weren't really in "shopping mode" on this trip, and our “big fun” was to hit every, single distillery and winery in Gatlinburg- and there are lots!- to sample (and then buy) the local “moonshine” whisky and wine! We went first to the Sugarland Distilling Company, where we had THE best moonshine tasting ever!! We bought their delicious "Blockader's Blueberry Moonshine", and then moseyed on over to the Ole Smokey
for a tasting, and bought yummy Butterscotch Moonshine & really cool Mason Jar lids with pouring spouts! Then we grabbed a bite to eat at Bubba Gump's and went to the Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery, and enjoyed yet Another tasting! In case you are wondering, the basic definition of “moonshine” is simply un-aged whisky, and it can be very raw, potent, and burning- but it can also be smooth as silk and quite delicious! But because of its illegal “bootlegger” past, the issue of “dry” counties (where no alcohol can legally be purchased), and a recent slew of “reality” television programs, quite a “mystique” has grown up around moonshine! Gatlinburg’s distilleries offer an incredible variety of flavored moonshine- everything from blueberry and cherry and apple pie, to sweet tea, to peanut butter and jelly!!- and it was a Lot of fun to walk from distillery to distillery doing tastings, and stopping at both the fun wine-tasting stands in town for Tennessee Homemade Wine and Bootleggers Homemade Wine, as well as the fancier wineries, Smokey Mountain Winery, (which is in an adorable Tudor "castle"), and Sugarland Cellars! 
Our tasting at Doc Collier Distillery
Doc Collier's
Wine tasting in Gatlingurg!
Moonshine tasting at Ole Smokey
Wine tasting at Sugarland Cellars

Smokey Mountain Winery

Smokey Mountain Winery
THE best moonshine tasting- at the Sugarland Distillery!
I also got to go skiing on this trip, something I have been wanting to do for several years! Although the Elkhorn Inn is only 1.5 hours from Winterplace, having no friends who ski (and finding it no fun to ski alone), I rarely get there! Gatlinburg has “Ober Gatlinburg”, a year-round, family-oriented amusement park and ski resort, and since we were going to Gatlinburg anyway, I packed my ski clothes in the hope that it would be cold enough for the slopes to be open! This was an oddly and unseasonably warm February, and nowhere in or around Gatlinburg did we see a mountain with snow on it, so I pretty much gave up hope… but the resort was open, making snow, and functioning, and so Dan- who doesn’t downhill ski, thanks to wonky knees from years of long-distance running in the Army- humored me, and took me to the resort! After doing a few runs, I took a private “refresher” lesson to get my “ski legs” back (and get a photo of me skiing LOL), and then skied the Blue (Intermediate) Runs for a few pleasant hours in the sun, wearing only ski pants and tee shirt, while Dan perused the rest of the resort. Yes, it was slushy in the spring sunshine, and yes, I’ve had better skiing, but it was SO GREAT to get back on the slopes and ski again! I’m 57, and I learned to ski when I was 30 and living in Germany; and when you learn to ski on the Zugspitze in Garmish-Partinkirchen, all other ski resorts pale by comparison! But as I still enjoy skiing, and I can still do it reasonably well, I want to keep doing it as much as I can, anywhere I can!
Me, skiing at Ober Gatlinburg- "my private mountain"!

Hammonds Buffalo Farm

One of the coolest things we found while driving on Glades Road near the Inn was a heard of buffalo, peacefully grazing in the spring sunshine! We had to stop to check them out, and learned that the herd was founded by Benny Hammonds, of Hammonds Farm!

Hammonds Buffalo Farm
At Cooter's Place!
Me & the General Lee!

We also got to Cooter's Place, which is totally fabulous- a true tribute to all things Dukes of Hazzard! and I even got to "drive" the General Lee! 
Cooter's Place, Gatlinburg

As "railfans" who enjoy basically anything and everything that has to do with trains, we always try to stop at railroad and depot museums when we find them on the way. This trip we stopped at the the Monterey, TN Depot Museum, which tells the story of the people of the Upper Cumberland and what brought them there...
At the Monterey, TN Depot Museum

Model train layout with the Imperial Hotel
At the Casey Jones Museum
 On our drive home we stopped at the Casey Jones Museum in Jackson Tennessee, and learned about the famed railroad engineer who became a world-famous icon due to his heroic last ride, when, on April 30th, 1900, he gave his life to save all the passengers on his train. The home he lived in with his wife and children is on the museum's property, and so we got to visit that, too, and Dan even rang the bell in the train's engine!
How DID they get that caboose up there?!

At the Casey Jones Museum

From Gatlinburg we went to the Shiloh National Battleground and Cemetery, and then to Nashville, both of which I’ve covered in my previous post, as we went to both those places largely to explore their connection to the Civil War- and in Nashville to enjoy the great, live music “Music City” is justly famed for!
From Nashville, we drove to Memphis, where we stayed for four nights, prior to embarking on our AQ Mississippi Paddlewheel Cruise. We spent our first two nights at the fabulous Peabody Hotel- because I HAD to finally see The World-Famous Peabody Ducks! 
Dan had stayed at a Peabody Hotel years ago, and told me about the famous ducks marching every morning to the lobby fountain, and as The Peabody Memphis is the only remaining Peabody Hotel- as well as the only historic hotel left in Memphis- we simply had to stay there! Yes, it is quite a splurge, but it is a beautiful hotel, in the great, grand way of old and beautiful hotels, with a truly fine French Restaurant (that does NOT serve duck! LOL), lovely service, and, of course, the Peabody Ducks! (Tip: Ask for a room with a view! I forgot to, and as a result the view from our room was one of rooftops- not the romantic river view I had hoped for- especially at the price The Peabody charges!) Our first evening we saw them in the lobby, at 5pm, having the good fortune to turn up an hour early and meet a very nice lady who allowed us to join her table next to the fountain- the best seats in the house! The ducks spend each day quacking and splashing happily in the lobby fountain, and promptly at 5pm the red-uniformed Duck Master marches them from the fountain, onto a red carpet; they walk down a small flight of steps, and then, single file, march to the elevator, and up to the roof to their Duck Palace! Hundreds of people come to see the ducks each evening, so the lobby bar and balcony above the fountain were packed, and they have “rules” that no one can stand up when the ducks are leaving the fountain! Children are allowed to sit on either side of the red carpet, which is a nice touch, as otherwise the kids wouldn’t be able to see the ducks at all! Hotel guests pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of being Honorary Duck Master, helping to escort the ducks upstairs in the evening or downstairs in the morning, and because of the crowd, it was literally impossible for me to get even one good photo of the ducks leaving the lobby! 
The Peabody Ducks in the lobby fountain!

The Peabody Lobby Duck Fountain, 5pm

Dan & I with the Peabody Ducks!

But the ducks come down again in the morning at 11am…  And so… at 10am the next morning Dan and I found conveniently ourselves up on the roof, take-out coffee in hand, behind the Duck Palace… and when the Duck Master and the Honorary Duck Master Kids came up to the roof to escort the ducks downstairs to the lobby, there we were, me with my camera at the ready! And so we did get some great photos of the ducks marching across the roof from the Duck Palace to the elevator! 

Peabody Ducks marching across the roof!

The Peabody Ducks, on their way downstairs!
  Although being Honorary Duck Master may seem like something only for kids, it’s very much not! I actually tried to book their Honorary Duck Master Package, so I could guide the ducks with my very own Duck Master cane, but it was unavailable the days we were staying, and the 5pm Honorary Duck Masters the evening we arrived turned out to be men in their 60s! 
We had a truly delicious, gourmet dinner that evening at Chez Philippe, the Peabody’s very fine French Restaurant, where even the butter pats are shaped like ducks! (The soaps in our guest room were duck-shaped, too!) Yes, it really IS All About The Ducks!


The Peabody is right downtown, and walking distance from Beale Street, THE famed music street of Memphis- similar, in feel, to Broadway in Nashville. I got Dan a gorgeous silk shirt embroidered with musical instruments (on sale) at Lansky Bros.- Elvis' tailor- so Dan would feel like a True Memphian, and every evening we walked downtown and went from bar to bar, enjoying truly great live bands playing a variety of music- everything from Blues, Rock, and Country, to Rockabilly and Jazz- and we loved how safe we felt, even in the wee hours of the morning- as we did in Nashville!  Tip: go UPSTAIRS at BB King’s- you have GOT to see the hand-painted musician-themed tables done by self-taught southern artist Lamar Sorrento! The balcony is great a great place to enjoy the music, as you have an excellent view of the band, and we enjoyed both the music and our BBQ Nachos- and I fell Totally in love with the tables! 
Beale Street music

A Pumpkin Coach- just like we took in Dalat, Vietnam!
Live music on Beale Street...

BB King's, Beale Street

Great Rockabilly!
Beale Street

These are some of the wonderful tables done by Lamar Sorrento at BB King's in Memphis

And then, of course, we HAD to go to Graceland! Dan wanted to see Elvis’ vehicles and aircraft, and I didn’t want to risk us having to stand in line for hours, so I booked us the “VIP package”- and visiting Graceland is NOT cheap- it is seriously like going to Disneyland! There are no longer real people guiding the tours, by the way- for better or for worse, it’s now an “interactive self-guided tour” with an iPad… What I enjoyed most about Graceland, having grown up in the arts (my mother was a fashion illustrator, and I went to art school and became a professional artist, myself), was that it’s truly a museum of 1970s décor, in all its weird and wonderful "jewel-toned" splendor- a splendor I remember SO well from my 1970’s childhood! The Pop Yellow Room! The famous Jungle Room with its carved Tiki décor and green grass carpet! The “Indian” tented paisley fabric ceiling and stained glass lamps in Elvis’ Pool Table Room! The plastic slipcovers like my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Milton had! The Poodle Wallpaper in the bathroom! The macramé plant hangers! The beaded curtains! The horses, the golf carts, the gun range…  It is all just Tooooooo fabulous! And because of its total fabulousness, touring Graceland actually made me quite sad…  Elvis was so obviously having a wonderful and fun time with all his “toys”; entertaining his friends, playing with his daughter, decorating his amazing house… and then he died at 42- way, way, Way too young…  Before we left, we had a bite to eat at Graceland’s "Chrome Grill", which has a great table built into a Cadillac (I want that table!), and I got myself a pair of “gold” Elvis sunglasses!

Poodle wallpaper!
The Yellow Room!

The Pool Table Room...

Ah, the 70s...
The famous "Jungle Room"

Elvis' gold records...

Elvis' shooting range
...and his outfits...

The coolest dining table in the world!

LOVE this dining table!

Dan & the Lisa Marie
Me and the Lisa Marie!
Our last two nights in Memphis we stayed at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown, which has a convenient trolley stop right outside, and was walking distance from Beale Street. American Queen included one night there in our cruise package, and we added another. While nice enough, as chain hotels go, with a pleasant lobby bar called the Crossroads Lounge featuring yummy house-infused spirits, including basil and hot pepper vodkas, after you’ve stayed at The Peabody, nothing else quite measures up!
Memphis is famed for its “Dry Rub BBQ”, and as Chef Dan makes great (but a different style) of ribs, I wanted us to sample some Real (and Really Good) Memphis-style BBQ and learn at least a bit about it. But now, thanks in great measure to Food Channel and Food Network shows, celebrity chefs, and BBQ competitions, there are literally hundreds of “famous” Memphis BBQ places, all with 5-stars, so the question becomes: Which One or Two Does One Go To?! And so I booked us a BBQ Tour with “Tastin’ 'Round Town”, and we thus got to sample 6 different kinds of Memphis BBQ all over town, and learn about them- the difference, for example, between the “old family recipe” places and the “competition” places, and between saucy ribs, and dry-rub ribs! All the BBQ we had was excellent, and each one was different and unique- we even got to try the famous and trendy “BBQ spaghetti”, and BBQ nachos- but the two stand-outs were the incredibly smoky wonderful brisket from A & R BBQ  and the AMAZING ribs at Cozy Corner- and if the tour had only taken us to Cozy Corner it would have been well worth it! I DREAM about those ribs! Cozy Corner's smoke master was charming, and actually let us inside his magic, room-size smoker, too! If you are only going to go to ONE BBQ place in Memphis, GO TO COZY CORNER!!  Between the BBQ and local microbrewery Memphis beer, we were well and truly stuffed at the end of the tour- no need for dinner that day!- but I am still kicking myself for not trying Cozy Corner’s BBQ Cornish Game Hen!
The BBQ Master of Cozy Corner!

Learning about Memphis BBQ...

The Cozy Corner Smoker- house of foodie miracles!

Tastin' 'Round Town
On the BBQ Tour we also learned that we could drink with the goats at Silky O’Sullivan’s, one of Beale Street’s landmark bars, and so we went back later that evening and did just that!  
Drinking with Silky's goats!
Silky's very contented goats, at their Goat Palace!
During our four days in Memphis we spent a LOT of time just walking around and enjoying this delightful city, periodically stopping for a coffee or a drink...

Downtown Memphis
The Memphis Bike Bar!

Me in my Elvis glasses!

We went to several really interesting museums downtown, including the Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange, where we learned about the history and people of Memphis' cotton business...
The floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange

...and the excellent Fire Museum of Memphis, America's premier interactive fire museum, located at the legendary Fire Engine House No. 1, where we enjoyed their interactive exhibits, including “driving” a fire truck around Memphis! 

Putting out fires...

...and taking turns driving the Fire Truck!

 But the real “hidden gem” of Memphis is the small Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, which is also downtown. Their collection is truly and totally extraordinary, and the life-size inlaid animals, carved jade carriages, and fantastically intricate carved ivory literally took our breath away…

The Billy Bass Adoption Center at the Flying Fish!

Our last day in Memphis we treated ourselves to delish, briny oysters at the Flying Fish, Memphis’ “Lent Central", and got a real kick out of their hilarious Billy Bass Adoption Center, and their slogan: BE NICE OR LEAVE!


"Lent Central"- Memphis' "Flying Fish"

 And then, happily full of BBQ, oysters, and Tennessee moonshine, and our heads full of great music, ducks, buffalo, and goats, we boarded our gorgeous American Queen Paddlewheel Steamboat, and began our cruise down the Mississippi to N’awlins!

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