The first order of business in Memphis was dinner. Rumor had it that the best rib place in town was a joint called Rendezvous. Everyone had told us to go there: friends, family, hotel employees... The only exceptions were my parents, who had visited Memphis a year ago and said they much preferred Corky's, on the other side of town.
Mike and I were only in Memphis for one night, so we went for the majority opinion and convenient downtown location of Rendezvous. We were sorely disappointed. The ribs were tough and pale white - not the tender, smoky, dark pink meat we prefer. They were not falling off the bone. They came with serviceable baked beans, cole slaw, and white dinner rolls, and the only other sides available were jarred pickles or peppers.
On the plus side, the service was fast (we were in and out in about 30 minutes) and our waiter was quite friendly. He even gave us a breakfast recommendation: an old-fashioned diner called The Arcade. It turned out to be pretty good, though Mike complained that his iced tea was the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted — and I think he once drank a whole glass of sugar. Arcade had an "Elvis's Favorite" sandwich, but we didn't feel like paying $8 for peanut butter and banana.
Speaking of Elvis, we went to Graceland. We're not particularly big fans of The King, but we still had a great time. We even enjoyed the parking lot, where the cars had license plates from all over the country, plus a few from Canada and one that appeared to be from Sweden.
The Graceland employees really seem to put their hearts into their work — the house was carefully and thoroughly decorated for Christmas and the audio tour was outstanding. At one point, another visitor asked if Elvis had names for the twin lion statues by the front door. This was cause for an impromptu staff meeting, the outcome of which was that yes, the lions did have names, but nobody in the room could remember what they were. Rather than leave it at that, they contacted the Graceland library by walkie-talkie and initiated a research request. We didn't wait around for the answer, but if you happen to know, tell us and we'll update this page.
Our next destination was clear across the state from Memphis. Gatlinburg is a resort town supported by two nearby attractions: the Great Smoky Mountains and Dollywood. We sought out rustic accommodations, perhaps a cabin, but since it was the offseason, we were able to get a woodsy "chalet" up in the hills for about what we'd been paying for motels. It was about 6 or 7 miles from downtown, but it had a full kitchen, a pool table, and indoor and outdoor jacuzzis.
As for the town of Gatlinburg itself... well, it isn't much, aside from the convention center, candy shops, and confederate paraphernalia emporia.
The trails at Great Smoky Mountains National Park were decent, but I don't think December is the right time to come. The trees were bare, and the whole forest just sort of seemed to be hibernating.
I bet it's terrific in springtime, though.
We had a fabulous time at Dollywood. It has fast rollercoasters, good food, and traditional Smoky Mountains music and crafts. I love crafts! We saw blacksmithing, coppersmithing, woodcarving, leather working, candlemaking, and three kinds of glass art: glass painting, glassblowing, and lampworking.
The park also has a real coal-powered steam train that takes riders up into the hills (you can tell it's authentic because you end up with soot in your teeth), a bald eagle sanctuary, a garden of rosa Dolly Parton (so named for their extremely large, full buds), and a Dolly Parton museum called Chasing Rainbows.
The museum has items from Dolly's childhood, including her coat of many colors. Also on display are dresses, shoes, and wigs from her performances and a big collection of awards and gold records. The exhibit was similar to Elvis's at Graceland — I'd never noticed before how similar their styles are!
That was really the only part of the park with a Dolly theme (much to Mike's relief). Otherwise, Dollywood is no more about Dolly Parton than Trump Tower is about Donald Trump. She's clearly choosy about what she puts her name on, though: it was as non-commercial and genuine as an amusement park can be. We stayed past dark (to see the extensive Christmas lights in action) and left tired and happy.
You can see the rest of our Tennessee photos on Flickr.
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