Montgomery’s Take On Europe (Not Before Age 25, But Before 27)
After the craziness of the holidays, on January 28th of 2016 we drove to Detroit. On our way, we stopped at Chili’s and enjoyed a nice dinner. The drive was relaxing, even though there was a little bit of traffic. We laughed and listened to music and prepped to explore Europe! We stayed at the Hampton Inn near the airport because it came with free breakfast and a shuttle to the airport.
January 29th: After sleeping in and relaxing, we grabbed waffles at breakfast. We spent as much time as possible at the hotel because our flight didn’t leave until the evening. After a bit, we took the shuttle to Detroit Airport. After getting through customs, I went shopping at the duty-free store. I had forgotten all of my eyeshadows! Eek! I bought a few things from MAC. We also decided to indulge in PF Changs in the airport. I, of course, excitedly told our waiter we were headed to Europe for the first time! Filled with excitement, we finally got aboard the plane. Soon after takeoff we were given our first meal…pasta! I made sure to wear leggings and a slouchy sweater. Dustin wore comfy jeans, a T, and a new zip-up hoodie. The food was good, and the movies were even better. Our eyes got BIG when we saw all of the new movies we could watch. We quickly decided NOT to watch movies together and instead indulged separately. There’s this picture of Dust holding the free eye mask and earplugs that cracks me up. Free things are so fun! I watched Brave, a Disney movie, and Dustin watched Jurassic World.
When we woke up at The Park Vista in Gatlinburg on Sunday, June 5th, we decided to head down to the awesome pool! There is a big waterslide and two different tiers to the pool. (My little sister stayed here on her honeymoon!) The entire space is held in a large open-window building and it’s very warm in there. It’s one of my favorite pools to go when in the Smokies.
When no one was looking we took turns going down on the waterslide our stomachs and laughing a lot. It was a pretty fast slide. Afterwards, we ran back to the room, got ready, and were on our way.
Instead of heading straight to our bed and breakfast in Waynesville, North Carolina, we drove down the hill and hit the main strip in Gatlinburg. There are all different types of shops and quirky attractions.
Dustin described it as a weird fair that happens all year long.
Gatlinburg is one of those places that you either love or hate. I’ve been coming here since I was an itty bitty girl so I have fond memories here. We vacationed a lot in the area around with both sets of my grandparents. I love the odd shops like the Beef Jerky outlet and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. It also doesn’t hurt that the scenery is beautiful.
The Donut Friar, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
It was raining. That put a damper on our day. Most of the shopping is outside. So we ate at Subway and then walked around to the different shops. I insisted we stop at The Donut Friar. This shop has THE BEST donuts in the world. Dustin later said he wasn’t impressed.
I almost murdered him.
He got to eat much more than I did. I only had a little bite because of my new diet.
Each donut is made fresh in the morning and the little shop is located in The Village. There is also a lovely coffee shop right down the way but the line was too long and we had to get going.
Other places we visited included random shops, bootleggers homemade wine shop, and the moonshine distillery. Both offer free samples, which is really neat. We don’t drink a lot, but don’t mind having a try while on vacation. Our favorite was the Strawberry Wine and Java Moonshine! I also bought a bright pink sweatshirt for $10 that says “Gatlinburg.” Dustin thought it looked kinda silly because it was so bright but I loved it!
Clingman’s Dome, Great Smokey Mountains National Park
With the donut as our energy (JK, we actually ate a healthy lunch), we drove up to Clingman’s Dome. This is part of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and is located at the top of a mountain. You drive up the mountain and then go on a narrow road. At the top there is a small visitor’s center, port-a-pots, and a 1/2 mile hike to the top. On this day, it was very rainy and foggy. In fact, when we got to the place to park we couldn’t even see out. I remembered coming here as a girl and it was really awesome. Unfortunately we didn’t get a peek at the sights the entire time.
Even though it was sleeting we decided to hike to the top. It was only 1/2 mile so it couldn’t be hard, right? Oh my! It was a challenge. It was straight up the entire time. My legs were very tired and I had to stop a few times. It was frustrating because I’ve been working out and trying to get in shape. But, we made it to the top and it didn’t take too long, just a few short breaks.
The dome itself is pretty neat. Once you’re at the top you’re supposed to be able to see over 100 miles on a good day. For us, we could only see a few feet. It was foggy and cold. We still enjoyed the physical challenge though…and met some Christians who were climbing to the top to praise Jesus. That was really cool. We got back in the car and went on our way to Waynesville, North Carolina which took us about an hour and a half from Gatlinburg.
The Yellow House Bed and Breakfast, Waynesville, North Carolina
Shawn, the host, showed us to our room which was located inside the main house. Last year when we stayed we stayed in a separate suite by the upper pond. (CLICK HERE to see our trip last year.) The room we had picked this time was the Montecito. The room was lovely. The bed was super cozy and I loved the decor.
I liked that the room had charm but felt modern and super neat. The room was located on the second floor. Like last year, Shawn showed us around and made sure we knew where the snacks in the butler’s pantry were. Dustin made sure to get lots of fresh cookies. I wasn’t feeling too great and neither was Dustin when we arrived. We had some snacks at the wine and cheese reception but then headed back to our room. Surprisingly, we stayed in the room the entire night. I had thought we’d go to The Sweet Onion, a restaurant I loved from last time, but it was closed since it was a Sunday.
I took a bath and put on one of their cozy robes. We ate some food we brought in the room and also had some snacks that were free. The mini fridge was stocked with drinks, which was a nice touch. I loved the included bath salts which smell so heavenly. Some of the games we played were Chinese Checkers and 3/13.
In the evening we turned on the fireplace. I loved sitting in the big overstuffed floral chair and reading. So did Dustin. Our room also had a coffee maker so we made some tea for me and coffee for him. It was very relaxing and cozy.
I think we were both shocked when we went to bed at 10:30pm! (There are no TV’s in the rooms. There is wifi, but you’re encouraged to just connect with others).
Another cool aspect of the room was that there was music playing through a sound system that’s wired throughout the house. You can turn it off or up/down. I liked the jazz and classical sounds. It made the experience feel extra special. We had our own private bath and toilet which was nice as well.
Our room was rounded and there were windows all around the bed. You can see in this image where the room was:
Our bed was between the three windows in the back which are poking out. It was adorable. The next morning we awoke for breakfast on the patio and a full day in Asheville!
It was Saturday, June 4th, and we’d already done so much! After feeding goats on the roof (literally), we decided it was time for us to eat!
The Old Mill Restaurant & Shops, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
One of our all-time favorite places to eat is The Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge. The portions are massive and the food is so delicious. There are also a lot of shops and things to do before eating. We went into the shops at the Old Mill Square. The Farmhouse Kitchen was adorable and there were lots of samples to try. We purchased some sparkling cider and some chip dip for Dustin’s parents who were graciously watching our kitties while we were away.
I was super excited to go into Sassafras. The shop was in a little corner and had some adorable jewelry. In the back, everything was an extra 50% off. I picked up both a necklace and a bracelet for under $10. There were lots of opportunities to try different olive oils and we snacked and snacked, tasting different combinations.
One of the neater stores we walked into was the Randall Ogle Gallery. Inside there were some beautiful paintings. The man there was Randall himself. We were able to talk to him and he told us more about Cades Cove and how to see a bear. His paintings were really peaceful. On the brochure I picked up it said:
“Smokey Mountain Heritage,” the focal point of native artist Randall Ogle’s work, depicts unique scenes of the Great Smokey Mountains. The largest collection of Cades Cove artwork in the area featuring the special edition series “Cades Cove, Yesteryear.”
Once we had enough shopping, we grabbed a seat at The Old Mill. I hadn’t had cheese in a long time but ordered a small side of macaroni and cheese. Even though it was delicious, I regretted it later! The mashed potatoes, corn fritters, and green beans were to die for! It is truly a magnificent place. It was also the only time I allowed myself sweet tea on the trip. This was a hard decision for me, but I know it was a good one. Sweet tea has too much sugar in it!
The Park Vista by Doubletree, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Our room at The Park Vista was really nice. As a Hilton Honors member we got free bottles water and a mountain view upgrade. They also had us draw a prize out of a bowl. We won a coupon for a free appetizer at the hotel’s bar or restaurant.
The hotel itself is a large cylinder. When I was a little girl my parents brought me here. I remember dropping a Toy Story toy down the 15th floor that we got in a kids meal. It was of an army figure with a parachute on its back. We would race to see whose hit the ground first. It looked like this:
Now, the hotel is owned by Hilton and has been remodeled. It’s up on a mountain and offers great views. The pool is also pretty fabulous. They have a nice waterslide that we went on a lot the next morning.
Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Unfortunately, the hotel was so full (at 5pm) that we weren’t able to check-in to our room. This was super sad since it was a pretty pricey hotel room for one night. We shrugged and decided to head to Cades Cove since it was raining. Cades Cove is outside of Gatlinburg and is part of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. It’s a looonnnnggg drive. It took us over an hour to get back to the park.
Was it worth it? Yes. Because BEARS.
I prayed and prayed we would see a bear. I’d heard of others driving back and not seeing one and just seeing deer. I concluded that even if we didn’t see a bear it was a beautiful place (which it is)!
It’s one of those untouched places in the world that makes you feel alive and free. The beauty was overwhelming.
Lucky for us there had been rain. So, we got a double rainbow. (A Full On Double Rainbow!) This was actually after we had already seen a bear. A young, adolescent bear, as Dustin would call him, pass in front of our car!
What a beautiful sight! The Lord stays true to his promises!
We drove the 11 mile loop and ended up seeing not one, but two bears. The first was smaller, but went right in front of our car. We got out and got to see him very up close!
We drove and saw ponies, turkey, and lots of dear. The wild turkey were pretty funny to watch as the moved their heads around in the grass. Later, we got to see a very large bear. This one I’d say was closer to 300+ pounds. He was further away, but we were on a hill and he was eating so we got to watch him well for over ten minutes. We actually left before he did!
It’s difficult to make him out, but I think you get the idea. There were others with massive lenses and professional cameras. We just used our phones and tried to live in the moment. Other things we did at Cades Cove included visiting some old cabins and an old church. We walked into the church out of the rain and explored. It was too dark to take pictures. The cabin was very cozy. It would’ve been a lovely sight to wake up to the mountains every morning. Below are pictures we took right in front of one of the original cabins.
On our way out of the park, we had to drive very carefully because wildlife could jump out in front of your car. This is an example:
I love how the deer is reflected in the water on the road which was left over after it had rained. The smoke on the mountains was so beautiful. This is probably one of the best pictures I’ve taken with my iPhone! I made sure you could see our dash so you could tell we were indeed driving!
If seeing 2 bears, a double rainbow, and other wildlife wasn’t enough, we ended up getting to see a momma bear and 2 cubs! On our way out of the park, I turned up some worship music and settled in for the long drive back. We came across lots of cars parked. There, in the forest, was a momma bear and two cubs. The lady beside me said they were the smallest cubs she’d ever seen and that they were probably very young. We couldn’t get a good picture, but it was a very special ending to our night. Praise the Lord and His beauty!
After Cades Cove we drove back to The Park Vista and checked in. We enjoyed the room and also went down to their bar for our free appetizer. There was a lovely outside patio, rocking chairs, and fire pit. The space was called Fireflies. The hummus plate was really good and we sat around the fire.
Later, we decided not to swim but to enjoy the room and watch Cops. One of our favorite travel tv shows.
It had been a long day, but I was so happy we saw BEARS!
We woke up at the Hampton Inn in Caryville, Tennessee and were shocked at the beauty that surrounded us! I knew ahead of time it was located in the Cove Lake State Park, but I didn’t realize you could see the mountains and a beautiful lake from the breakfast space! We began our second day of our road trip on Saturday, June 3rd. The hotel was pretty busy. Their breakfast was really well done. I loved the raisin bran and fresh fruit. Before, I would wonder what in the world a vegan would eat…but now it’s pretty simple. Fruit, whole grains…you get the picture.
My dad always took a picture of our cars when we went on vacation. I always thought it was weird but now I get it. You want to remember what you were driving and where! It’s harder to remember different parts of your life when you get older. Looking back you can be like “oh, I remember that clunker” or “oh, look at the two door thingy.” Well, this is our “new” 2014 Ford Focus that we bought last May. It was celebrating its first birthday on this trip. I didn’t post that we bought a new car on Facebook since it seemed a little braggy. Well, it’s a year now and I’m posting it here. I love the color. We got a great deal on it and it has AC! Our last car was the same as one as Dustin got for his birthday as a teen and it was on its last leg. We had the ability to donate it to a person which was awesome. So, yeah, here’s the car and it’s in Tennessee. I’ll probably look back at this and smile.
Selfies are hard! We are twins with our black Zenni-Optical $20 glasses. (It really does work, I was skeptical too) I’m also wearing a tank top I got from Volunteers of America for $2 before the trip! One of the best things about losing weight is finding clothes that are on sale that fit! Woohoo.
Take 2. Still squinting into the sun. I should’ve brought the selfie stick my brother-in-law got us for Christmas. It was a cool gift even though I laughed my butt off at it.
Isn’t it strange how much easier it is to wake up early on vacation? I just needed to say that. Because my butt was up EARLY…and it never is at home. I think the promise of the fun day planned ahead had me excited.
Big Green Dragon, Caryville, Tennessee
Don’t laugh. Ok, laugh. It’s hilarious. I saw this road side attraction on the Roadtrippers app and had to see it in person. This Big Green Dinosaur has been there for quite some time. You can see it from the highway. It’s now behind a Dollar General store so you have to park and walk behind the store for a picture. It’s handmade from fiber glass. It’s been there since the 1980s. Don’t judge me, I read it’s history online. Anyway, it used to be for a fireworks store until the store burned down. It’s funny because it’s a fire-breathing dragon. Our Dino met the road side Dino. We had fun with this. It was also less than a mile from our hotel.
World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, Tennessee
Next, we drove to downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. I don’t think I’ve ever been downtown there. I know we drive by the big gold thingy but never have I stopped to think what it was. Well, this time was different. The big gold thingy, also known as the Sunsphere, was going to be our next stop.
Parking downtown was a little challenging but we figured it out. The park downtown is lovely. There’s a big amphitheater where Johnny Cash and June Carter once sang. It’s big and green and relaxing. There were lots of families out and kids playing in one of the water features. There was also a kick-butt park. It had climbing walls and things you could hold onto and slide on. We walked to the Sunsphere. It was free. At the base we just hopped on an elevator that took us up. The observation deck was cool. You can walk all the way around. There’s also history on Knoxville. That’s how I knew about the Johnny Cash thing. We were bored with it pretty quickly. I tried to hit the elevator button to take us higher (where other offices and a restaurant was) but it didn’t work.
All and all it was a cool stop since we were driving through but I wouldn’t stop again for it. PS- It was built for The World’s Fair and most of it is still original. They charged $3pp to go up in it.
Goats On The Roof, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
There’s one thing you got to know about me: I love animals. What do I like better than animals? Baby animals. What do I like better than baby animals? Nothing. Ok, I actually like feeding them. That’s why we stopped at Goats On The Roof in Pigeon Forge. Last year we were here and road the Alpine Coaster. It was fun and thrilling. (It looks boring but it isn’t.) We went back to feed the goats who live on the roof. I’m not lying. You can feed the goats on the roof and on the ground. They also had baby goats. It was only 50 cents per cone of food. We bought 2 for $1 and fed the goats. Adorable. You can ride a bike that makes a chain move your cup up to the goats so you can feed them.
A tip? Walk upstairs in the shop so you can see the goats up close on the roof!
Our day was just beginning, but there’s much more to say in another post.