Charleston + S.E. Road Trip 2017

Last year on a riverboat in Portugal, Mike and Sandy met a couple that live in Charleston, SC, and were invited to come visit. While in the South East, Mike and Sandy rented a car, and toured Tennessee (Nashville, Dollywood, Memphis), visited some of Mike's relatives in Alabama, and saw a few other sites. Here's where they traveled (red by car, black by air):

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Here's some pictures from our time in Charleston. Our hosts live in a house in the Historic District that was built in 1850. We did a walking tour of the town, visited some of the nearby plantations, and enjoyed a cute sea-side village nearby. We also ate LOTS of good old southern cooking!

Practically everyone has heard of Charleston, but only a few know Pigeon Forge. This Tennessee tourist town is in the Great Smoky Mountains, is the home of Dolly Parton, and is sort of a cross between Disneyland, Branson, and Lake Tahoe. It shares a valley with wildfire-scared Gatlinburg, a smaller, quainter town where some of the burned buildings and homes from last years wildfire can still be seen. We took in some of the sights (but avoided the roller coasters, etc), and visited Sugarland Distillery (a big moon-shiner gone legit).

For a thematic break, we stopped at nearby Oak Ridge, which bills itself as the birthplace of the nuclear age. (Well, anyway, the home of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the modern name for the ultra-secret Manhattan Project during WWII. This is where the overall project was managed, and where most of the uranium for the first atomic bomb was enriched and assembled.)

Just a couple more hours down the Interstate brought us to Nashville, our first name stop for "down home" music. We stayed right downtown, where we could walk to most of the attractions. First up was the Johnny Cash Museum, where we had to toe the line. As we walked to the next attraction, our guide pointed out the AT&T building, locally known as the "Bat Signal" tower. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was modern and amazing, and back on the street Sandy posed in front of one of the music halls. During our tour of RCA Studio B, we learned a lot about Elvis Presley, who recorded most of his records there, and then we jumped back into history at the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of of the Grand Ole Opry. That night we went to a show at the "new" Grand Ole Opry theater about 10 miles outside of town - very impressive theater, and a fun show. One of the downtown Honky Tonks misleads, as the name really refers to the bald guys that own the place. All in all, Nashville itself was impressive - not too crowded, not too expensive, very pleasant and friendly, and with a REALLY good steakhouse where we overindulged.

Mike & Sandy stopped in Guntersville, Alabama, a small town on a HUGE lake where Mike & Sandy have been boating several times in years past, to have lunch with Mike's cousin Mike & his wife Elaine. Cousin Mike's sisters Amanda and Suzi, and Cousin-in-law Alan, were able to join in as well. A nice visit, and opportunity to catch up.

A brief stop in Gadsden, Alabama, let Mike visit his Mom and Dad's gravesite, and then we continued south-east over into Georgia. The U.S. Air Force's 2nd largest air museum in the country is at Robbins AFB, and Mike enjoyed a brief visit.

Then it was onto nearby Warm Springs, Georgia, the home of FDR's "Little White House," where he died, suddenly making Harry Truman the President.

Back into Alabama, a highlight of the trip was a visit and dinner with Mike's 98 year old Aunt Helen, who continues to root for the Auburn football team, and keeps active with church and volunteer work. Here's Aunt Helen, Mike right behind her, and some local cousins who joined in the visit.

No more scenic backroads now -- the next day was all about the Interstate driving experience, as we headed way north-west, crossing a corner of Mississippi, aiming for Memphis, our last stop.

Memphis is along side the Mississippi River, and and its hub is Beale Street, which calls itself the "Bourbon Street of Tennessee." It is home to lots of blues clubs, including B.B. Kings, where Mike and Sandy had dinner, and a place that's all about decorated guitars. The next day, they visited the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was killed. (This is very cleverly done; the self-guided tour starts in the museum building and follows a time-line; the finale comes when you come around a corner in the museum, and find yourself INSIDE the ACTUAL motel room where Dr. King was staying, looking out the window at the balconey where he was shot.) Later they visited Elvis Presley's Graceland house and museum -- interesting, but rather over-commercialized, with gift shops around every corner.

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