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.
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!
It’s been awhile since I’ve revisited and finished writing about our southern road trip that we took at the beginning of this cram-packed summer. If you forget all we did or want a recap, check out my overview post, which links to each day individually.
If you’re here just to see awesome pictures of our biplane ride, keep scrolling!
Sunday, May 31st we left The Yellow House, a quaint bed and breakfast in North Carolina and headed back to Pigeon Forge for our last night on our road trip. As usual, I was looking over Groupon and found a bunch of different things to do. The thing that kept hitting me was a biplane ride. Of course I talked Dustin into letting me buy us tickets. After a quick call to the pilot, we determined a time and drove to the Pigeon Forge airport.
The deal we purchased was $79 for a 15 minute biplane ride for two people. I called ahead to make sure we could redeem it that day and then purchased it with my debit card online. The owner, Marc Hightower, (click on the link for a cool post about him) was welcoming and personable. He explained that business was slow and he decided to do a Groupon to get more business and get his name out there.
In the short time we spent with him, we learned he had rebuilt this 1927 Waco Model 10 himself. It was fascinating to hear that he flies it from Key West every summer to offer rides in the Smokies. His life was just as interesting. He had lived on a boat, owned a postcard store, and currently lived in Key West. Marc took the pictures you see of us with the vintage plane. Don’t let the smile fool you…I was terrified!
The company he owns is called Sky High Air Tours. You can see pictures of his plane and learn more about it there.
We brought our camera to get lots of pictures in the air. Takeoff was simple and so was the landing. The thing that surprised me the most was how loud and windy it was. After awhile you became used to the noise and it became really cozy and relaxing. Honestly, I could see taking a nap while flying! Marc was nice enough to give us hair ties (yes, Dustin too) so that our hair didn’t get in knots.
We both had headsets on so we could hear Marc communicating with the other planes and the airport before lifting off. It was really interesting. Dustin’s had a microphone and mine didn’t. While in the air the pilot gave us a tour, explaining the different sites.
Above is inside the pilots side. There’s a mini GPS and all the other things he needs to fly the plane.
Above is Dollywood’s water park.
Rain was coming in. We were able to get the flight in before it hit. The main highway here is the main strip in Pigeon Forge.
This was us landing.
Marc explained this was a canyon in Pigeon Forge. I’d never seen it before.
There’s me looking at the view.
Taking the bi-plane ride was one of the coolest things we’ve done together. It was really neat that it was vintage and restored. Overall I’d say it was romantic and the perfect touch to end out trip down south. The next place we stayed at wasn’t a good experience. I’ll write about that next.
While staying at The Yellow House, we took all day Saturday, May 30th to explore Asheville, North Carolina. Unfortunately I had a lot of writing to do, so after we finished breakfast on the porch of the inn, we drove to a coffee shop in downtown Asheville.
Waking Life Espresso was exactly what we needed to get our work done while in the mountains. This little coffee shop is located in a remodeled house and is light filled and airy. In the front there are bar seats and in a smaller room in the back there are couches and a table. The coffee was no-frills and especially delicious. To see how serious they are about their coffee, watch this video.
I worked on my articles and Dustin just hung out. (Perhaps working? I’m not sure.) At about 2:00pm, we drove the ten minutes to The Biltmore, the main attraction for the day.
When I was a little girl, I remember visiting The Biltmore. This mansion is known as the largest privately owned house in the United States. It’s interesting because Dustin had also been there with his parents when he was eighteen. We remembered bits and parts (like the indoor swimming pool) but wanted to go together. The Yellow House was about thirty minutes from Asheville, where The Biltmore is located.
The price tag was enough to shy us away, but we decided since we were close we should go. My love for interiors and art history really helped to sway the decision to drop the $120 ($60 per ticket) and spend the day there. I also used my vacation money to buy the tickets.
Words and pictures really don’t do this place justice. It took hours to tour and there was a room dedicated to arranging flowers. The Vanderbilt’s, who owned the home, were fascinating people who loved art and each other. An example of architecture from The Gilded Age, the mansion has 252 rooms.
Pictures and videos are prohibited of the inside. George Vanderbilt shared a love for technology and entertaining guests. It was really interesting to see the parallels between the couple, George and Edith, and us. He loved technology and had electricity throughout the home and Edith loved books and taking care of guests. You should see her library! It reminded me of the library in Beauty and the Beast! This couple was madly in love and took the best care of those they employed. Even the servants quarters were nice!
Dustin and I found ourselves staring on multiple occasions at the craziness of it all. The massive dining room had three fireplaces and there were separate rooms dedicated to guns, smoking, and games. I personally loved seeing the restored furniture and paintings by famous artists.
You can easily spend more than a day at The Biltmore. Along with the mansion, there is shopping, dining, a winery, hiking trails, gardens, and entertainment. There are hotels on site and even tours for taking horseback rides. We didn’t have enough time to see everything, but after going through the mansion we enjoyed the gardens for a bit. We drove over to Antler Hill Village where there were shops and a winery. While there, there was also live music in the center gazebo.
We brought our own snacks and got an appetizer at Cedric’s Tavern located at the Antler Hill Village. We had hoped to eat dinner at Cedric’s, but after seeing the menu, nothing seemed that good. The place was over-priced. Since we were hungry and still had more to see, we ordered an appetizer. It was way too salty and not very good. After wasting $20 on an appetizer and water, we asked for our bill.
The winery wasn’t anything too special. We tried a few wines but didn’t like waiting in line. (Wine tasting is free with your ticket.) After buying a book about the mansion, we left to eat somewhere outside of the park.
Overall, it was a really neat experience. A $60 ticket only included admission to the mansion and property. The audio tour was an additional amount and there were other behind-the-scenes tours we didn’t take. I felt that the $60 ticket was fine for us. We saw plenty and I purchased a book to learn even more.
Dustin and I said we loved it, but wouldn’t go back anytime soon. It was one of those places that you go once and don’t need to keep going back. I would like to see it decorated for Christmas though. The property was very romantic.
In the future, we’d go back if we had kids. It’s one of those places that’s so out of this world, but very expensive. If you plan on going, eat ahead of time or bring snacks. We left and ate at an amazing place called The White Duck Taco.
While walking about, we acted like we owned the place. We laughed and told stories about our day to day lives as millionaires. It was fun to dream.
Above, Dustin always carrying my purse while I take pictures. Haha.
You could go and spend a day just going through the gardens. It felt like I was transported into the book The Secret Garden. It was hot and we were hungry so we only walked a short ways and drove the rest. I don’t usually suggest buying more than a one day ticket, but for The Biltmore, it would be worth it.
This stop on May, 30th was one of our favorite places on our Southern Road Trip. To see an overview of all we did on this vacation, click here!
Have you been to Asheville? Have you seen the massive Christmas tree at The Biltmore?