Sunday, November 30, 2008

Part II- Riviera Maya Honeymoon

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I spent mine with family in Atlanta, and enjoyed my four day weekend. With the weather being dreary and cold outside, I figured it might cheer me up to reminisce about the last part of our vacation to the Riviera Maya.

Day Three found us relaxing around the hotel, taking advantage of the pools and ocean view. That morning, we got a couples massage at the resort spa. The ladies who massaged us started off with a foot scrub and then had us inhale this scent that was so calming. In hindsight, I wish I had asked what it was, but i was too relaxed at that point. Then they went on to rub out all our aches and pains (which is saying alot since I have chronic back pain due to stress). I left feeling drunk and completely relaxed- I could barely keep my eyes open. Later that evening, we had a special dinner on the beach. Just me and my husband surrounded by ocean and stars. Our five-course meal came complete with our own personal waiter, a bottle of champagne, and a harp player named Gabriel who serenaded us with Antonio Carlos Jobim. After dinner, we left feeling a bit tipsy and walked over to the theatre where we caught the tail end of a Mexican circus act. When we got back to our room, a bubble bath had been drawn by hotel staff, and incense was burning on the side of the jacuzzi. Perfect end to the perfect day.

On Thursday, we set out once again for adventure and took a bus ride down to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. The ruins of Tulum are located on a cliff overlooking the turquoise-colored Caribbean Sea. Here, our guide lectured on how advanced Mayan civilization was and we witnessed their ingeniosity in the form of architecture that predicted storms. We also learned that Tulum was founded during a very violent time in Mayan civilization. Because of this, there is a platform in front of the main palace where human sacrifices were held to appease the Gods.

After leaving Tulum, we headed over to Xel-Ha, or what Brian and I nicknamed Hell-Ha. Don't get me wrong, Xel-Ha was absolutely beautiful and had tons to offer, but it was also full of annoying tourists from nearby Cancun. More on that in my next post.....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mayan Riviera Honeymoon- Part 1

So I'm pretty depressed to be sitting in my unkempt house surrounded by gray clouds and cold weather after spending a whole week in beautiful, sunny Mexico. Brian and I traveled to a seaside town called Puerto Morelos (located just south of Cancun) where we stayed at the all-inclusive Excellence Riviera Cancun. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a glass of champagne and then led to our room where two towels shaped like swans surrounded by rose petals awaited us on our bed. The room was amazing- jacuzzi tub, marble floors, balcony looking out over the turquoise ocean.... but the hotel pools and grounds were really the crown jewel of this resort. A total of six meandering pools, along with botanical gardens served as our playground for the week.

We spent the first day recovering from our day of flying by lounging around the pool and beach. Food and drinks were gratis since we were at an all-inclusive, so there was a frozen umbrella drink in my hands at nearly all times. I especially liked a drink called the Miami Vice- it was a mixture of strawberry daquiri and pina colada. Tasted like heaven. Brian enjoyed them too as evidenced by the following photo:

Day Two consisted of more lounging in the sun followed by an afternoon of zip-lining, mountain biking, and cenote (cave filled with water) swimming. Zip-lining through the Mexican jungle was really exhilarating and at one point, a guide let me flip upside down and spun me around as I zipped from tree to tree. After the hour long zip-line tour, we hopped on mountain bikes and rode a mile over to a cenote where we were able to zip-line and then drop into a cave filled with water. If you look closely, you can see me in the photo below right before I drop into the water.

Once we mountain biked back, they served us a dinner of chicken, rice, and beans and then we went back to the hotel and cleaned up. Later that night, we ate at one of the six restaurants located at the resort. It was an Asian fusion restaurant called Spice and all meals ended with dessert. The packing on of the pounds begins.....

I'll write about the second part of my trip in my next post.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An apology

I apologize for not posting in nearly a month. I've been concentrating on a big mid-term paper that was due last week, and more importantly- my upcoming nuptials that will take place this coming weekend. We'll be going to Mexico for our honeymoon so I promise to post about our trip soon after we return.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this short write-up of my recent explorations on the Shelby Bottoms/McGavock area greenway. Last week, I bought a hybrid bike that can be used for mountain biking or road biking. Just about every other day, I've been peddling back and forth between Inglewood and East Nashville via the Shelby Bottoms greenway. This is an easy 6 mile ride that is relatively flat and meanders along the Cumberland River. It really is a nice afternoon ride.

However, this weekend I decided to do some exploring, and Brian and I crossed the new pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River and rode through Two Rivers Park, past McGavock highschool, and on to Ravenwood country club where the greenway meets up with Lebanon Rd. near Kohl's in Hermitage. The stretch between McGavock and Ravenwood is so beautiful and its hard to believe you're in the middle of Davidson Co. The trail takes you past rolling farmland with cows, and the point where the Stones River enters the Cumberland. This part is also the most challenging to bike due to the rolling terrain. My goal is to make it up the hills without huffing and puffing like I did yesterday. All in all, it was about an 18 mile ride and I was exhausted at the end of it. I can't wait until I build up the stamina to ride all the way from my house to Percy Priest lake!! I'm so lucky to live near such a great greenway.

I'll leave you with some earlier photos I took of the pedestrian bridge that crosses over to Two Rivers Park.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Booby punch and Old Hickory Lake

So what do booby punch and Old Hickory Lake have in common? Absolutely nothing. Unless you spent the weekend with me, however.

Thursday afternoon the wonderful people at my work held a bridal luncheon and shower for me. A couple of us ladies went to lunch at The Standard at the Smith House, Nashville's only remaining townhouse from the 1800s. Built sometime in the 1840s, the Standard originally operated as a boarding house and later as a Social Club. Nashville's first bowling alley was built underneath the ballroom sometime in the late 1800s. While we were there, our waiter pulled a nearby table away from the floor and we saw the outline to a trap door that supposedly served as a secret passage for the Underground Railroad. Lots of history abides in this house and the food is tasty as well. I especially loved the mini biscuits they brought out before the main course.

After the meal, my coworkers and I headed back to the office where they had cake and punch waiting for me. My supervisor had planned to make a punch ring, but wasn't able to find the mold and ended up using muffin cups to freeze a maraschino cherry and create decorative ice cubes. Unbenownst to her, the ice cubes ended up looking very much like breasts floating in the punch. Hence the newly christened name, booby punch. The look on my male coworkers' faces as they viewed the punch was priceless.

On Saturday, Brian and I decide to head over to Mt. Juliet to go boating on Old Hickory Lake with my parents. Created in 1954, Old Hickory Lake is located along the Cumberland River and serves as the backdrop to several famous peoples' homes. Johnny Cash lived on the lake until his death and then his home was bought by former Bee Gee, Barry Gibb. Tragically, the house caught fire during renovations and all that's left is the foundation. We drove past the ruins so that Brian could take a picture.

Lastly, Brian decided to get out on the tube for some good ole' fashioned redneck fun. I grew up tubing on the lake so its only appropriate that my future husband be released in the cold waters of the lake and held at the mercy of my dad at the helm. He had a good time.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stating the obvious in Ashland City

I'll keep this short but sweet as I am still recuperating from my bachelorette party last night. Last week I had a meeting in Ashland City along the Cumberland river at a restaurant called Riverview. As we drove up to the restaurant we found this sign:

I think it speaks for itself, but am amazed that they found this sign to be necessary. Could someone really be so stupid as to not notice that they are driving into the Cumberland River? In addition, Ashland City's McDonald's has an alley leading to its entrance called, get this: Burger Alley. You just can't make this stuff up.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Polly Crockett Festival

On Saturday, two of my best friends, Rachel and Tiffany, and I drove to Cowan, TN to attend the Polly Crockett festival. I'd been to Cowan before and fell in love with the quaint little railroad town so I was excited to learn I'd be returning. Rachel is from nearby Decherd, TN and Saturday happened to be her 31st birthday. What better way to celebrate than to attend a street festival celebrating Davy Crockett's first wife.... complete with a parade, bull riding, cornhole tossing, and skillet tossing.

We headed to the festival at 10:00 that morning and walked around all the artisan booths (I wasn't too impressed- most of the crafts offered were ugly purses) We quickly noticed how the festival brought out some good people-watching material. We saw all kinds of strange folk, including a redneck in racing gear holding two kids attached to leashes, and an obese lady wearing an apron for no apparent reason while smoking a cigarette. But imagine our glee when we see a man dressed up as Davy Crockett! Rachel immediately went up to him and told him it was her birthday and asked if she could have her picture taken with him. He was more than happy to do so.

Next we decided to eat lunch at Sidetrax. Our meal was really good, but I wish we had eaten at the Whistle Stop Cafe this time. It looked like an old diner inside and was packed with people. Must be good food! As we left the restaurant, we saw this strange stuffed bobcat sitting under a tent with no explanation as to why it was there. In fact, this festival was full of strange things that seemed to have no place at a street festival.

Anyways, we walk over to the "Adventure" area and see a sign for skillet tossing and this gets me all worked up because I fantasize about being the champion skillet tosser of Franklin County. Alas, it was not to be since I later found out that the skillet tossing competition wouldn't start until 3 p.m. I didn't intend to wait around a few hours, so Rachel and I settled for mechanical bull riding instead. As I hopped up on the bull, I noticed a sadistic look in the operator's eyes since he had been giving rides to small children all day. It was obvious he was going to make sure Rachel and I got our money's worth. I fell off the bull after just a few seconds, but hopped back on for a second time and held on for what seemed like quite a while, but then was violently bucked off and fell head first against the inflated cushion below. See picture for proof. Rachel didn't fare any better than me. She fell twice and in the process exposed her butt crack to all the festival goers. By the way- mechanical bullriding is a great workout for your abs. Who knew!

After our foray into bull riding, we decide to grab a slush from one of the street vendors. To my surprise (or horror) I noticed they also served fried oreos, fried moon pies, and fried twinkies. I saw this picture of the fried oreos and they look absolutely disgusting. Still- I'm intrigued.....

Finally, hot and tired of walking, we decided to leave, but left with great memories and a dayful of laughs. Click here to see more photos from the Polly Crockett festival.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rock Island State Park- A Hidden Gem

After returning from Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, Brian and I had planned to raft the Nantahala, but the weather took a turn for the worst courtesy of Hurricane Gustav and we opted to drive up to Rock Island State Park on the way home. Located just north of McMinnville off Highway 70S, Rock Island is not only the namesake to a State Park, but a small community as well.

Rock Island State Park sits in the Caney Fork River Gorge. It's a very unique place in that its natural wonders are attributable to man. In 1917, the Tennessee Electric Power Company built a hydroelectric plant and dam downstream from the Caney Fork and Collins River. The dam created Great Falls Lake and since the Collins River sits at a higher elevation than the Caney, water drained towards the Caney Fork and created the stunning Twin Falls that are there today. TVA took over the power plant and dam in the 1940s and still continues to operate at Rock Island.

Also located at Rock Island State Park are a historic textile mill from the 1890s and a community spring house that looks like a castle.

My one regret is that I didn't bring my bathing suit. Several people had made the short (but slippery) hike down to the water where they could hop across rocks to some great swimming holes. It looked like so much fun. We even saw where a couple of people had managed to climb up on a lower ledge under the waterfall. I was able to find a perfect spot at the base of a small falls (as seen in the picture below) where I could dip my feet in the cool water and feel the breeze blow across my face. I could have sat there for ages.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Georgia Aquarium- A Trip to Atlanta

So I realize I'm straying once again from all things Tennessee by posting about the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, but my rationalization is that it makes a good weekend trip if you're looking to escape the Volunteer State for a day or two. Brian and I traveled to the Atlanta area over Labor Day in order to visit with his family and while we were there we checked out the Georgia Aquarium and adjoining Centennial Olympic Park.

We went on a Sunday afternoon about an hour and a half before closing and this seemed to be a really good time to avoid the crowds, yet it left us with enough time to truly enjoy our visit. The aquarium is divided up into several exhibit areas depending on climate, region, etc. There was a tunnel where visitors could walk underneath a whole sea of fish above them. We saw whale sharks, sting rays with leopard spots, and all sorts of schools of fish that would swim around and over us.

In other exhibits we saw playful otters (my personal favorite), as well as starfish, alligators, beluga whales, penguins, all kinds of colorful jellyfish, an octopus, and I even got to touch a sea anemone since there are several touch pools located throughout the aquarium. It was fun to see all the different kinds of animals and feel like a kid again. After we left the aquarium we stepped outside to the Olympic Centennial Park where all sorts of people were enjoying a game or football, strolling around, or just laying down reading a good book on a balmy evening. The mood was a far cry from the bombing that took place here during the '96 Summer Olympics.

Before we left the park we sat down and watched several kids playing in the Fountain of Rings. It was fun to see the sheer delight on their faces as the water spouted out of the ground at irregular intervals. A grape sno-cone would have made the experience even more delightful. Across from the aquarium sits the World of Coca-Cola where you can sample over 60 types of products (I've heard that some of these products include Cokes from Around the World- just don't drink the Indian Coke if it was bottled in SE Asia since it was found to have unhealthy amounts of pesticides in it due to the bad water supply) I seriously doubt the World of Coca Cola advertises that tidbit. Anyhow, we didn't tour the Coke musuem since we arrived so late in the afternoon, but I hope to return one day since I'm an avid fan of Diet Coke. (I know- not good for you, but what is these days?) So, if you're in Atlanta for a couple of days and want to play the tourist, then you should check out the Georgia Aquarium.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Final Days of Tour de Tennessee

I'm finally getting around to post about the final two days of my week-long trip across Tennessee.

Day Four

Thursday found us driving to Lynchburg, Grundy County, through Chattanooga, and on to Monroe County and Loudon, TN before settling for the evening in downtown Knoxville. Lynchburg was our first stop, and most of you know it as home to the Jack Daniels Distillery. I've been here twice and will post about it separately one of these days, but for obvious reasons we didn't stop here while on our business trip. Next, was Grundy County which is home to some of my favorite hikes in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area and South Cumberland State Park.

Later in the day, we drove over to Sweetwater, TN- home to the Lost Sea. I've never been to the Lost Sea, but it calls out to me with its fascinating history. It's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest underground lake in the United States. Over the years it has hosted cockfighting, an underground dance floor, and moonshining activities. I HAVE to return and visit one day.

Day Five

After a good night's sleep in Knoxville, we head out for Hawkins Co. and Grainger County in East Tennessee. Here, we drove through some of the most beautiful valleys and hills in the state, but I was definately itching to return home after spending a week on the road. Before we concluded our trip, however, we made one last stop to Bulls Gap so that Dr. Burton could show me an old abandoned hotel located right along a major rail line. The Gilley Hotel was built sometime in the late 1800s and used to be a place where visitors could hop off a train and get a room for the night. Many railroad workers stayed here for extended lengths of time as well. Currently, it is in major disrepair, but there are several parties interested in renovating it back into a hotel. Dr. Burton mused, "Imagine how cool it would be to sit out on the balcony with an ice cold beer in your hand while watching the trains pass by." (On the flip side, I imagine getting a good night's sleep would be next to impossible!)

After our stop at Bulls Gap, I head back to Nashville and turn in the car I had been driving all week. Guess how many miles I logged over the week?? 1800!!! I suddenly felt like a long-haul trucker. And wouldn't you know as soon as I get home, Brian and I leave for a weekend trip to Atlanta.....

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tour de Tennessee- Days Two and Three

Ok, I'm picking up from where I left off on Day One (see previous post).

Day Two

After leaving the luxurious LaQuinta in Jackson, TN we headed toward South Central Tennessee just east of the Tennessee River (Linden, Centerville, Decaturville, and Charlotte). My only objective for the day (besides work) was to find and snap a photo of the Minnie Pearl statue in downtown Centerville. Driving through through this part of Tennessee, we soon realized the area is largely agricultural and still very rural. The small towns that dotted the countryside largely consisted of a couple of houses and maybe a gas station at best. And much to our surprise- A Dollar General. Let me just say that Dollar Generals were located in almost every single town we reached. We even created a game to see who could spot the first Dollar General in each town. Just now I checked out their website and they currently operate over 8,200 stores and are based in Goodlettsville, TN. They specifically target communities that aren't large enough for a Wal-Mart. I guess that explains why so saw so many along the way.

Around mid-morning we reached Centerville and I was able to find the statue of Minnie Pearl directly across the street from the County courthouse. The statue was erected after the town recieved an anonymous donation of $150,000 in honor of the late Sarah Cannon (a.k.a. Minnie Pearl) Many people think that Minnie Pearl is from "Grinder's Switch". Although there is an actual railroad switch named after the Grinder family, there is no such town by the same namesake. It is a fictional town located just outside of Centerville.

After we finish driving the rest of our routes, we decide to have a late lunch at the famous Loveless Cafe on the way back to Nashville. The Loveless Cafe and Motel is located along Highway 100 near the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Loveless Cafe began serving their southern style dinners in 1951 out of the early 1900s house owned by the Loveless family. Famous for their fried chicken and biscuits, the Loveless Cafe is frequented by celebrities and locals alike. The adjoining motel ceased operations in 1985 and the rooms were converted to small shops. The Loveless gift shop is a must-see as it is full of kitschy souvenirs: Dr. Burton purchased Loveless band-aids that look like bacon strips. With my belly full of fried chicken, mac n' cheese, creamed corn, and biscuits, we called it a day knowing we would be back on the road bright and early to drive out to the Upper Cumberland region for Day Three.

Day Three

Day Three of our trip found us driving around the Upper Cumberland region. Specifically, we visited Carthage, Smithville, Gainesboro, and Byrdstown. I lived in this region during college when I attended Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, so I'm very familiar with how beautiful the landscape is as you reach the Highland Rim. We saw lots of rolling hills and scenic farms and took a beautiful scenic route (SR-52/SR-53) from Gainesboro to Livingston that took us by the entrance to Standing Stone State Park. Unfortunately we had a job to do, so no stopping at the park! We decided to have lunch at the The Apple Dish restaurant/antique store on the historic Livingston town square. Here you can order a hamburger and peruse various antiques all in the same spot. They have some really cool antique jewelry here and I coveted several pieces, but seeing as how I have a wedding coming up in the near future, I need to save my money.

I didn't really take any photos that day because the weather was so overcast, but I did take the following photo of a souped-up Rascal scooter at a gas station in Livingston. I was impressed at the time this older man took to "pimp his ride". Check out the awning and cooler.

Well, I'll continue with Days Four and Five in the next few days or so. Hope you're enjoying!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tour de Tennessee- Day One

This week I happen to be traveling all across Tennessee for a work-related project. Myself and two UT professors, Dr. Mark Burton and Dr. Larry Bray, have been driving around Tennessee in order to collect data for a planning/economics research study being developed. We've specifically visited 19 counties, and in the process have driven just about every corner in Tennessee. I of course brought my camera along, and while there is no way I can possibly cover every place we visited, I'd at least like to hit some of the highlights from each day.

Day 1:

From Nashville, we started West on I-40 and exited the Interstate at US 641 just past the Tennessee River and drove through Camden until we reached Paris, TN. In Paris, I had to stop off at Memorial Park and see the famed Eiffel Tower replica. (It was constructed in 1991 I believe) After taking a couple of snapshots, we continued west on State Route 54 and drove on to Reelfoot Lake/Tiptonville. When we reached Reelfoot Lake, Dr. Bray (who recently retired from TVA) told me to pull over and check out the Reelfoot Spillway located on State Route 22/21. The spillway was built in 1931 and controls water levels for Reelfoot Lake. TDOT just recently obtained permits to build a new spillway about a 100o ft. upstream since the old spillway is deteriorating and has outlived its design life. I'm not sure what will happen with the historic spillway, but I hope the community steps up and preserves its past by at least documenting its existence through photos and oral histories.

After leaving Reelfoot Lake, we drove back down to Southwest Tennessee before heading to our hotel rooms at the luxurious LaQuinta in Jackson. (I joke because its the only hotel in Jackson that takes state govt. rate, but I can't knock it too much because I slept great that night.) Unfortunately, on the way there we encountered torrential downpours (the remnants of Hurricane Faye) and since I'm the only one authorized to drive the state car, it fell upon me to drive us through the mess.

I'll post about Days 2,3,4, and 5 of my trek across Tennessee when I get back into town. I'm in Atlanta right now with my fiance's family and plan on driving to NC on Labor Day in order to raft the Nantahala. I'm always on the go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Feature

I'm just letting any readers out there know that I'm adding a new feature to my blog. For now on, I'm going to try my best to link the locations I write about to a Google map. So, as you're reading about a specific place like Cedars of Lebanon State Park, for example, then you'll just click on the link and it will take you to a map of the site. From there, you can enter in your address and Google will give you directions to the location. Let me know if you encounter any problems with this feature. Thanks to all for suggestions!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hidden Hollow

Sadly, as I write this, rumor has it that Hidden Hollow no longer exists. Throughout my college days at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, TN, my best friend, Rachel, and I would often shirk our homework responsibilities and escape to this rural retreat located off Mt. Pleasant Road southeast of Cookeville.

Hidden Hollow was created by Arda Lee in the 1970s as a tribute to his mother and is a popular destination at holidays due to the elaborate light displays. The private park includes a 50-foot tall illuminated cross at the top of a mountain (this can be seen from I-40), outdoor wedding chapel, petting zoo, game room, large swings over a pond, and various odd sculptures. Words cannot describe the crazy things you can find at Hidden Hollow. Did I mention that bunny rabbits roam the park? Rachel and I had a theory that Arda Lee had magical powers and misbehaving children were turned into rabbits and doomed to a life of roaming Hidden Hollow.

We'd often go to the park at sunset, and our favorite thing to do while visiting was to swing over the algae-ridden pond at dusk as soon as the millions of Christmas lights illuminated the park for the evening. Then we'd drive up to the top of the mountain where the illuminated cross gleamed against the night sky. Sadly, during our last year in school, Arda Lee passed away and we found the park in major disrepair. Last I heard, the park had closed but was going to be re-opened for weddings and events. I can only hope that the park "art" remains as is for the public to enjoy for years to come. I leave you with some photos of interesting "objects" found on the grounds, and ending with a shot of the cross taken at the top of the mountain.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Horse Cavin'

With Labor Day weekend coming up soon, I thought I'd reminisce about last year's Labor Day trip to Horse Cave, KY. Brian and I set out early that day to tour Horse Cave as well as Diamond Caverns in nearby Park City because you just can't beat being in a cave when the weather's hot and humid. Kentucky is famous for its many limestone caves, but we chose to go to lesser-known ones in order to avoid the holiday tourist rush. We started in Horse Cave, KY where we found a practically abandoned Main Street.

After a quick look around the caving museum, we descended into Horse Cave which (according to Wikipedia) housed the world's only air-conditioned tennis courts around the time of World War I. In fact, several of of the historic buildings located on Main Street got their air condition by pumping cool air out of the cave. The town also got their drinking water from the cave, and unfortunately it became severely polluted with sewage and the cave was forced to shut down to tours for 50 years. Due to reclamation efforts, the cave now boasts pristine waters once again.

After our tour of Horse Cave, we drove down historic Highway 31W (aka Dixie Highway). Highway 31 originally began as a buffalo path and later became the first paved road and toll road in Kentucky. For you fellow Tennesseans, 31W eventually becomes the blighted, prostitute-ridden Dickerson Rd. in Nashville. Highway 31W in KY, however, is full of kitschy mid-century tourist traps such as the Wigwam Village motel (built in 1935) and greasy Shoney's-style diners such as Jerry's. We couldn't resist the charm of Jerry's neon sign and the fact that my dad's name is Jerry, so we decided to eat lunch there. It was nothing spectacular, but we noted that slaw comes with EVERYTHING on the menu.

Last stop on our trip was Diamond Caverns. This was a bit more of a tourist trap and although it has some nice formations, the tour just wasn't as interesting as Horse Cave. So if you happen to be in KY, I'd recommend driving Highway 31W between Horse Cave and Cave City, and skipping Diamond Caverns. Finally, I'll close with this picture of me kissing a giant concrete ape outside what appeared to be an abandoned motel on Highway 31.