Sunday, October 30, 2016

Road Trip: Wrangling the Dragon

It seemed like a picturesque country road, Route 129 south through Tennessee and into North Carolina, along the scenic edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. But we started noticing more odd things. Such as a convoy of four Corvette sports cars overtaking us and a sign that read something on the lines of "Last Chance.Trucks Turn Around Here or Else". Perhaps we were coming up to a narrow bridge? But no, the road just kept twisting and turning steeply up into the hills. Then there more strange signs: "No Stopping on Grass for Photo". Well it was a photogenic place but... And we kept encountering motorbikes and more motorbikes and performance cars and more performance cars. It reminded me a bit of  a time in rural France when I inadvertently found myself on the Tour de France route and wondered why little pockets of bystanders kept waving and clapping. Were these cars and bikes having some sort of race?

Eventually we found a place to pull off the road and take pictures. I went to look at the sign on the reinforced bear-proof litter bin.

What was all this talk about dragons?

The view looked peaceful enough.

Then I spotted a couple on a motorbike who'd also stopped. I called out, "Hello!". The girl was from Brazil and blew a kiss. "What's with all these bikes?"  I asked. Her boyfriend looked at me astonished, "Don't you know where you are?" I must have looked puzzled, "You're riding the Dragon's Tail!", he said, fishing out a map, "People come from all over the world to drive this road". A road which, the map showed, had 318 bends in 11 miles, many of them hairpins. Well there was no turning back now. "Don't forget to look at the dragon at the end!" called out the Brazilians.

So we piled back into sister-in-law's trusty SUV, and re-entered the fray. Dragon-wrangling turned out to be enormous fun - so long as you obeyed the rule to "stay in lane" and didn't look down too much. Oh yes and occasionally pulled over to let the Harley Davidsons go screaming past. Sister-in-law got quite a workout at the wheel and with me clutching my seat, we got into the rhythm of it, posing for the photographers' stalls set up to capture the moment, like they have on those screamer roller-coasters. When we got down to the other side, we felt like a couple of kids, immovable grins fixed to our faces.
  Down at the bottom, we found the Deal's Gap bikers' resort with bacon and egg breakfasts, T-shirts pinned to the ceiling, grey-bearded types in Confederate flag bandanas and a gift shop selling such things as beer glasses saying, "I Survived the Dragon's Tail". The Brazilians re-appeared and waved, "You made it then!".

There was a friendly seasonal display

And here, finally was the Dragon, swathed in cobwebs for Halloween.

Bulging red eyes and a fat spider hanging from its mouth..

Everywhere were photos and dire warnings to be careful..

And a "Tree of Shame"

Festooned with bits of crashed bikes

Now it would be fun to do the road in this little fellow..

Amazing what can happen on a road trip. The whole world wants to go somewhere and we find it quite by chance.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Road Trip: Paris, Tennessee - Not

... or rather Knoxville, Tennessee. which  proved to be a good place to find a pavement cafe. "Just head for Market Square", said the girl at the hotel. (I thought I was being clever with the title, until I realised that there really is a Paris, Tennessee, home of the World's Biggest Fish Fry. That's for our next trip.)

Knoxville did have a European feel to it, though it had some odd characters sitting around. But then so does Paris. It was interesting to see a monument to American suffragettes.

The bell used to be rung to summon the police if there was a riot. Better have one at West Ham's ground.

The square had a little park with a scenic water feature.

Or two. This was an "interactive fountain". That sounds a little alarming.

Does it suddenly jump out at you as you walk past like those at that palace in Salzburg? It's a bit too obvious for that. Perhaps the American version of 'elf n' safety won't allow too many surprises. I see there's the usual list of "No's" and "Don'ts" on the sign. The sort of thing that didn't trouble old Austrian Archbishops.
  Meanwhile we adjourned to one of the cafes which proved a success. It was called "Tupelo Honey", a name hard to pronounce but I would recommend it. We sampled southern delicacies - fried green tomatoes, belly of pork (wonderful) and salted roast beets, all on grits. When you have grits at a diner they tend to taste like the stuff Oliver Twist asked for more of. But when a good restaurant prepares them properly they are sublime.  Below are two prime examples of the Transatlantic language barrier and of what Americans call  "biscuits." They are a little like scones on speed.

Parts of Knoxville had an interesting futuristic feel.

 And there was a good liquor store where they persuaded us to buy local Bourbon. "Make sure you water it down", said the assistant ominously. And then we were out in the country again..

...where we started seeing some odd phenomena.

And various warning signs. "Trucks turn around here" said one. And then there was this

But I bet some of them are. The road ran past a dam

And towards some scenic mountains.

We were headed for a nice quiet country road through the hills. Or that's what we thought. Forget about trick fountains. We were about to get a seriously big surprise.

to be continued....

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Road Trip: An English Country Church

And no it's not in the Cotswolds

It's in Bristol. Bristol, Virginia, a village which, by the time we left it, had mysteriously turned into Bristol, Tennessee. Not sure how that works for the inhabitants. But Emmanuel Episcopal Church was charming.

A bit dark but you can see how it could almost have been transplanted from Gloucestershire.

A craftsman was working on the stained glass windows, which is much better than substituting weird modern ones that don't mean anything. There was also a meditation labyrinth opposite. A real mediaeval touch. They have one at Chartres, I believe.

 The church was in a neighbourhood called Solar Hill, which used to be part of a plantation but was developed after the Civil War into desirable housing. A sign said it was named for an observatory built to view the solar eclipse of August 7th 1869. So exciting at the time, no doubt and largely forgotten now. Bristol also had a nice little cafe called the Blackbird. I had a slice of key lime cheesecake - a little de trop but hey, it was a road trip. Next to it was a reassuring sign for exceedingly healthy ice cream.

As a contrast, this was the Hillbilly Grocery, which boasted a "large selection of wine". I'd have thought it would be selling something more exotic, or rustic, shall we say.

That reminded me of some of the places we encountered en route, like Turkey Bone and Slippery Rock University. Funnier if it was Slippery Slope.

t o be continued.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Road Trip: On Bridges and Beauty

Covered bridges are an American phenomenon and here was one in Historic Philippi, West Virginia.

A two-lane one, no less. The bridge, across the Tygart Valley River, was built in 1852. Both the northern and southern armies used it during the Civil War - that's according to the historical plaque. It doesn't tell us if they collided in the middle. Another historical sign told us that Philippi was the site of a speedy Confederate retreat called the "Philippi Races"

This must have been the old railway station, now a museum.

 We had brunch on the terrace of a historic mansion called "Graceland" (no, not that Graceland) on the university campus at Elkins, West Virginia. Here's the view..

And stop for petrol, aka fuel at one of the sweetest little garages I've ever seen.

Next door had some interesting things on offer

And the sort of sign you tend to see in rural parts.

 A typical peaceful scene

 The hills making a fabulous tapestry

We drove through the a town called,  Beverly "Little Town Big History",  which was where the unfortunate Confederates retreated to. Many of the roads we took were like this....

And the sweeping views were like this..

And this.

We couldn't get enough of it. If I had a thousand dollars for every time I said, "Wow! Look at that!"....
Below was not the Sydney Opera House but the Tamarack Arts Centre in Beckley, West Virginia, where we were told there was a good cafeteria for dinner. It was OK, though the fried chicken wasn't as good as my mother used to make.

It sold exquisite local handicrafts at enormous prices. They were lovely but I wonder who can afford them. Someone, obviously, or they wouldn't be in business.

to be continued.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Road Trip: All Along the River

Florida beckoned and sister-in-law and I hit the road through Pennsylvania. The day was gorgeous and the Allegheny River, which had followed us from Cattaraugus County was at its best. Apart from the little fence, this view probably hasn't changed much since pioneer days. We had to scramble down a steep bank by somebody's fishing cabin to get a photo. We assumed it was deserted - then saw it was decorated with Christmas lights.

Occasionally we'd see fishermen in tiny boats in the centre of the placid river. At a quaint little town called Tidioute, we fancied crossing this old-fashioned bridge.

The railings were a bit rusty but the view was good.

There are so many charming flat-fronts in these small towns.

 Sorry we missed it.....

 A sign pointed to the "Simpler Times Museum" but alas we never found it. Now I'm going to try not to get political here but along with signs for local election candidates (John Kluck was one name I liked) there were rather a lot these...

These are rural parts after all. Along the road brown cows grazed in a row, tails swishing and an Amish buggy clopped past. Even Oil City wasn't really a city in the British sense.

It must have been grand in the old oil days though. A splendid church with twin spires rose from the hillside. This trip we had remarkable luck finding good local cafes. Sometimes we search all day and there's not so much as a Dunkin' Donuts.

 But not this time. This place was called Spilling the Beans. That's a clever one.

 We stopped for the night in Morgantown, West Virginia. We seem to have remarkable luck getting good food in West Virginia. This place, Bartini, served steak and sushi.

It was noisy, the trendy waitresses all wearing black dresses and boots but the food was tasty. best of all was the macaroni cheese, (which Americans call "macaroni AND Cheese) with bacon bits in it. Yum.

to be continued.