Travel

Scotland Or Bust!!

Ah, Scotland! The land of bagpipes, majestic highlands, Nessie, wonderful single malt scotches (the nectar of the Gods), and haggis.  Well, the jury is still out on haggis. I will give it a taste while we’re there, but I’m not really expecting much.

Wifey® and I have booked an 8 day, 7 night bus tour for May 2019. This has been a long drawn out process fraught with perils. We started looking at a Scotland trip several years ago but just could not get the time and funds to match. Seems when we had the money saved up, something came up (like the clutch in my truck blowing up), or when we had time off from work we didn’t have the money.

So fast forward to July of this year. Wifey’s® father had passed away and she and her brothers and finally closed on selling his house. And that would be a whole ‘nother post. What a fiasco that was! We had been vacillating between buying an RV and finally making a trip to Scotland since both of our families are of Scots descent. After several visits to various RV places in and around our home, we were just about set on the RV.  When one Friday evening it all changed. We really didn’t want to spend all the money Wifey® received from her share of the house “all in one place”. So that made the decision much easier.

I immediately contacted the agency we’ve been talking to over that last couple of years to get updated tour dates and prices. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we decided on which tour we wanted.

The agency we were using is Exploring Vacations, based out of Ireland. They have a New Jersey phone number, but I think it routes back to Ireland as everyone we’ve ever talked to has a most beautiful accent.

On July 31st we made our deposit. It’s really happening! This began the process of getting everything together. We had to renew our passports (a surprisingly easy process), start buying all the “little things”, like a power converter, RFID blocking passport wallets, pillows and eye masks for the overnight flight. OH! Wait! We need airline tickets too. That means days and days of watching Priceline, Kayak, Booking, Orbitz etc…

Then on August 28th, we made the decision to pay off the tour completely.  That proved to be a very wise move. Because on September 14th, I received this email;

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Suddenly, we were not sure our trip would happen. Needless to say, my heart just about jumped out of my chest. That RV was looking better and better. I told Wifey® to call the credit card company we used to see if there was anything we needed to do so we wouldn’t lose all of what we paid.  But when she looked at the website for the card, she saw that we didn’t pay Exploring Vacations, we paid directly to the actual tour company, CIE Tours International! A glimmer of hope appeared. And sure enough, when I open the PAID IN FULL invoice, it’s from CIE Tours! CIE is also based out of Ireland, and also has a New Jersey phone number. You know I’m calling as quick as my shaking hands can dial.

While I’m waiting for someone to answer I tweet this;

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A lovely sounding lass “Alli” is the representative I get to talk to (with an amazing accent too!).  I explain the situation to Alli, but she doesn’t know about Exploring Vacations going out of business. Heart rate is starting to go up again. She sends me to a supervisor, Ernesto. Ernesto is either in New Jersey or is from there, he has an entirely different accent than Alli. But right now I really don’t care where I’m calling as long as someone can tell me what’s going on.

Turns out Ernesto is on the ball. He can find our tour and yes, we are PAID IN FULL! Ernesto takes care of the transfers to and from the airport and hotels since that was one step we didn’t get to finish (at no cost!). The only issue he sees it that our tour is reserved under the Exploring Vacations name and not ours. He says that is a minor issue as the receipt has our names.

One thing that amazes me about this entire deal is that Exploring Vacations has been in contact throughout. As much heartburn and stress this situation has caused us, the fact that they emailed me to tell me what’s going on and have answered every email I have sent with questions says that this was a solid company. It also says a lot about corporate America. If this had been an American company we would only find out that they went bankrupt when a letter showed up, or we tried to call and found the phone disconnected.

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The email that allowed me to sleep again

We still have lots of stuff to procure for this trip. We need real raincoats (or should I say a “mac”?), more clothes, luggage, and exchange currency.  But we have time.  I’ll post more about the trip as things get settled. The itinerary is not finalized yet but should be by the end of the month.

Tell me your travel horror stories!!

Peace,
B

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P.S. Samhain is getting close!!

Catching Up

So it’s been a while since I posted anything. So let’s catch up, shall we?

The reasons I haven’t posted are several. I had a killer head cold for about 2 weeks, that I couldn’t shake (same one I mentioned in my Celebrate Good Times (Come On)! post).  My work issued laptop died on me, and I’ve been so busy at work that when I get home and I feel like crap due to the cold, I had no desire to sit in front of any PC. When you consider how much computer time I log at work, it’s rather surprising how much I use one at home.

But not everything was bad. I bought a new SiriusXM radio for my aging truck. It’s an external device that plugs in through the aux port on the existing radio. I also stream, mostly the “Classic” (oh, how I hate that term. Can we go back to AOR please?) stations. I like SiriusXM over the local radio because the DJs don’t think they have to be funny so they can get hired and go to a larger market. SiriusXM’s market is North America. Quite a bit bigger than any terrestrial market. Plus these DJs know what they’re talking about.  I also like SiriusXM over most streaming services (Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, etc.) because they play the music the way it was recorded. One thing that always pissed me off with the various streaming services is they tend to cut apart songs the segue into each other. A classic example is Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out/Stay”. Streaming radio turns those into two separate songs. It increases the total number of songs in their library, but it totally screws up the listening experience.

My office replaced my very small Micro$oft Surface Book with a beautiful 17″ HP laptop.  This thing is a beast! An i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and this wonderful huge screen! These tired old eyes can see again!

Wifey® and I have planned, and made the deposit on, something that is on both of our bucket lists. A trip to Scotland, the land of our heritage. We’ve both did the Ancestry DNA tests. I’ve posted about this before.  Turns out both of our DNA points directly to Scotland/Ireland/Land of the Vikings. I’d like to try to find the ancestor that made the trip over the pond to settle in America before we go. But that costs money, and right now we’re trying to save, not spend so we can blow the whole wad while in Scotland.  I’m hoping the duty-free shop in the Edinburgh airport has a good selection of native scotches.  I will have a separate post(s) about the trip as things get closer, and when we are in country.

We had a wonderful dinner the other night with my brother and his wife here at my house.  I smoked three whole chickens. Not that I expected we would eat them all that night, I planned on leftovers so we (as in Wifey® and son-the-younger and myself) could make pot pies from the leftover chicken and other veggies we made that day.

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Yup, there are 3 whole chickens in there!

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We ended up with 10 pot pies of varying sizes

I confirmed something I learned the last time I smoked chicken. From now on I’m only buying leg quarters. There were 4 and a half breast quarters left, but only one leg quarter. Seem we prefer the dark meat!

And I’ve read a couple of good books too. I won’t write any reviews.  If you want book reviews, there are plenty of sites that have them (I recommend Once Upon A Spine).

I’ll leave you with a video. Has nothing to do with this post, but the opening line “Been away, haven’t seen you in a while”, fits with the theme. Plus it’s Dave Mason.  I’ve been a fan of his since his days with Traffic.

So what have you been up to?

Peace,
B

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Conference Time

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the KnowBe4 conference in Orlando. (Official hashtag: #KB4Con18). This was without a doubt the best tech conference I have ever attended. Not only were there absolutely dynamic speakers, all attendees were treated to the best food!  I’m talking some of the healthiest stuff I have ever seen at any conference.

I’ve mentioned KnowBe4 before. This is the vendor we use at the city to train, test and generally harass our end-users (OK, maybe not harass). (KnowBe4 website) With just a small part of their product, I can train my co-workers on the latest ways the “bad guys” try to use social engineering to do well, bad stuff. I will admit that I enjoy sending out simulated phish emails. Why? Because it shows me where are weak links are. And this gives me the means to do targeted training to make our city network, and by association everyone’s home PC/Network, that much more secure. I don’t do it to shame someone or hold it over anyone’s head. Since I have been an instructor of some sort for very many years, I use this primarily as a training tool. But on to the conference itself.

Other than the hour plus, each way, drive on I4 (A.K.A. the devil’s highway), and being in Orlando (way too big and crazy for me), everything else went beautifully. The folks at KnowBe4 went above and beyond in this, their first ever conference.

The opening keynote speaker was Kevin Mitnick, or as he likes to call himself “The World’s Most Famous Hacker”, a title he lives up to. If you don’t know who he is, take a moment to read his Wikipedia page, even if it a bit light on his history. Kevin gave us many demonstrations of current hacks, all of which arrive via an inconspicuous email. And all of which are very nasty. But the one hack that scared me the most was when he showed how Google’s two-factor authentication (2FA) could be hacked. Google has always been one of the toughest to crack since they stay on the cutting edge of all technologies. As a big user of many Google services, this is troublesome.

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Me and Kevin Mitnick

The keynote speaker for the next day was Frank Abangale. I have to admit that I did not recognize his name. But once I heard his story I knew how he was. Here is his Wikipedia page for you to educate yourself. Frank is considered one of the foremost experts on imposters and forgery. Steven Spielberg made a movie “Catch Me If You Can” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank and Tom Hanks as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. I have not seen this movie, but I see it available on Amazon Prime so I will correct that error very soon. And if I caught his reference, he was also the inspiration for the TV show “White Collar”.  His family story and subsequent talk on how to keep safe with online financial sources was very eye-opening.

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Myself and Frank Abangale

Another fantastic speaker was Roger A. Grimes (he wants you to know he is not related to the Canadian political figure with the same name), the best-selling author of several tech books. KnowBe4 even included a copy of his “A Data-Driven Computer Security Defense” in the big ol’ backpack they gave every attendee. The big takeaway from his two talks was the point that you have to determine what your biggest exploitable problem is, and fix that first. Common sense, which as we all know, is always in short supply.

One thing that I really was happy to see was the inclusion of women speakers. KnowBe4 has several women in executive roles throughout the company, and that makes me very happy. Since I have two granddaughters, one of which is very interested in the sciences, I fully support women (and really anybody) in STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Mathematics). One of the first questions Wifey® asked me was if there were women presenters. I was so very happy to say yes!

There was one thing missing though. No vendor room. Every other conference I’ve been to there is always a room for vendors. Not only can one make some great contacts with products and services that one doesn’t know about, vendors always have cool swag (freebie gifts). I’ll have to check with my manager, but I think a conference is how we found out about KnowBe4. It may not have been in the vendor area, it may have been word of mouth from another attendee (word of mouth is ALWAYS the best advertisement).

Sorry, this is such a broad overview, but I could write about ten pages if I covered the entire 3 days. All I can say is “I’m ready for KB4Con19!”

Peace,
B

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I’ve Been Tagged!

My friend Kiersten over at Once Upon A Spine tagged me as part of the “Unique Blogger Award”. I have no idea what makes my blog unique, as it tends to meander its way around various subjects without ever really coming to any conclusions.

But anyway, first thanks for the tag Kiersten (and you folks should go read her blog. Some excellent books reviews that my Wifey® has found helpful.)

Here are the “rules”;

  • Share the link of the blogger that has shown you love by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing, nominate 8 – 13 people for the same award (not sure I know that many bloggers).
  • Ask them 3 questions.

Onto the questions I was asked!

First – If you were to choose a different topic/theme for your blog, what would it be?

Since this blog has no theme or topic (hence the name Random Ramblins’), this is a bit tough for me to answer. When I first thought of coming back into blogging I knew I was not going to go back to the old technology blog I had years ago. Things have changed so much, I couldn’t keep up with it. My next thought was something about faith and my struggles with mainstream Christianity and why I’ve left it. But that was boring. And lots of people can explain it better than I. Then I thought food, who doesn’t love food? I love to cook and eat, but then health issues got in the way and I’ve had to change everything there, so that went out the window. How about mental health? I do have Bipolar Disorder type 2, some anxiety and social issues, but compared to what I’m reading on other blogs, mine is rather mild, or maybe my meds are just working better I don’t know. But again, better things are being said already.

But what I’d really like to do is humor. Back in the day (as in pre bipolar meds) I had a knack for telling the right joke at the right time. I could cheer someone up (even when I was struggling) with just a little humor. I had a flair for what my Soon-To-Be-Wifey® called “Gonzo Journalism” (a term stolen from the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorite authors of all time). But since I’ve been on the meds, it seems my creativity level, my Gonzo if you will, has left me.  Maybe the meds are doing too much, or not enough, I don’t know.  But humor is what I’m shooting for.

Second – If you could befriend any author in real life, who would you choose? Why?

Another difficult question mainly because I feel I could do better with a really good copy editor than with an author. Come on, you’ve tried to read some of my stuff and just had to shake your head because it made no sense what so ever. Between the typos and the left out words…

But to answer the question, finally, I would choose Dr. Bart D. Erhman. From his Facebook page (easier to copy and paste – still looking for an editor you know) – Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, Jesus, Interrupted and Forged. I have read many of his books and I think his reasoning for leaving the Christian faith very closely echoes my reasons. Find him here. A close runner-up would be Dr. Pete Enns. I don’t have all his details, but he is an Old Testament professor. Find him here. One more to add to list is Dr. Amy-Jill Levine. A Jew who teaches New Testament. Such an oxymoron that I love it, plus she has a great sense of humor. Alas, she has absolutely no web presence.

Third – What’s the weirdest blog post you’ve ever written?

A long time ago (thinking about 2002) I wrote a post on my original website about my somewhat dysfunctional family. Nothing out the ordinary, just questions like “How did you get mashed potatoes on the back of your head son?”.  That site is long gone now, couldn’t find it on the “Wayback Machine” either. So for this blog, I’ll have to go with News You Can Use…No Not Really.

Questions for my nominees:

  • What is the one subject you wish you knew more about? A course you wish you had taken even just a seminar or such? And why.
  • Anybody alive or dead you’d love to have dinner with, and what would you talk about?
  • And since I ask this every time I get to sit on an employment interview committee; Star Fleet Academy or The Vulcan Science Academy and why? You’d be surprised how many supposed IT Geeks don’t understand the question.

Now I have to nominate folks… I don’t have many followers so I’ll only add these;

Sorry I don’t have more to add, but feel free to join in even if you’re not listed.

And free feel to send along any cheap copy editors, Wifey® says she won’t do it anymore. Well not really, she just can’t do it while she’s at work, and then I’d probably forget to post anything by the time I got home and she could edit it for me.

Peace,
B

P.S. Thanks again Kiersten!

How We Spent Our Thanksgiving Week – The End!

This is the last of the Thanksgiving week series. Links to the rest of the series;
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

So our trip to Maggie Valley has come to an end, and it’s time to head home to Daytona Beach. We will miss our time in the mountains and the amazing sights we saw.

Here are a few of the pictures I didn’t post on the other days in no particular order.

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Just to prove that I’m not the only terrible photographer in the family, Wifey managed to get this shot of me on Chimney Rock with my face in the shadow of a tree.

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Some random waterfall we passed on the road. We just stopped, rolled down the window took a picture and drove off. Because that’s what tourists do!

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The tasting menu at Sierra Nevada Brewery. 

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I’ll bet Louis XVI wished he had a chandelier of Sierra Nevada bottles like this one. 

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See? I told you Wifey kept taking pictures of my butt.

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Wifey waited for over 15 minutes for this guy to get off of Pulpit Rock. She finally gave up and just took the picture anyway.  Thanks, random guy!

We, or at least I was, somewhat spoiled by the light traffic we experienced during this vacation.  Even on our trips over to Asheville traffic was not bad at all. Of course, it is the off-season for Maggie Valley, but Asheville is a large enough city to have traffic year round.  Such was not the case on the trip home. Our basic route was I26 east to I95 south. Sounds simple enough.

In my Army years, we did two tours at Fort Bragg just outside of Fayetteville, NC, for a total of 6 years or so. During this time we made many trips up and down I95, to Miami and back, at all times of the year and over just about every holiday you can think of. We have never had the traffic problems we had on this trip.  From the I26/I95 interchange to the Georgia line (about 86 miles) took us over three hours.  I have never been so frustrated in traffic in my life. Regular readers of this blog know how much I hate traffic (you can catch my thoughts on the “Elon Musk Are You Listening?” post).  The only thing that kept me sane was Wifey® finding the RV Trader website and reading me the various RVs she found.  We want to find us an RV in the next two years so we can travel more.

I’d like to give some love to a couple of places we stopped at while were in Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

First, The Buttered Biscuit.  We ate breakfast there three times. Nothing spectacular, just good food, served with a smile from very friendly folks.  Ask for Oliva if you happen to stop in. Not sure if they’re in Maggie Valley or Waynesville, as they’re at the intersection of US19 and US276. Basically on the border of each town.  (And like most restaurants in the valley, they’re closed on Tuesday. The oddest thing to me.)

One of our favorite little shops is Seven Silver Seas. Located right on US19 in Maggie Valley.  They have lots of handmade, free trade gift items from around the world at very fair prices. But be warned, it is a very “fragrant” shop. I don’t know if they have incense burning or just a heavy-duty perfume spray, but it gave Wifey® a migraine the first day we stopped in.  The second stop was a quick in and out to avoid the fragrance problem.

I have posted reviews on almost every place we stopped, ate or otherwise visited on Trip Advisor, look for “BeachDaze58” for my reviews.

And since this is the end of this series, and I haven’t played a single video yet, I thought this one would be fitting.

Enjoy! And please leave me a comment. Maybe a suggestion of another place to visit.

Peace,
B

How We Spent Our Thanksgiving Week – Day 5

This is day 5 of our Thanksgiving week series. Links to the previous days;
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

Once again, the reference map. Are you getting tired of this map yet?

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Day 5, the last day of being a tourist. Today we’re headed to Chimney Rock. You can see it on the map just south-east of Asheville. We decided to take the interstate this time, just to make it an easier drive, I was getting a bit tired of the winding, steep mountain roads.

Chimney Rock is a state park. It’s open all year and there is a fee. They do offer a military discount (I didn’t ask for any other discounts since I’m retired military and didn’t need to).

If you get there early enough, you can drive to the upper parking area, but it’s not very big, so you usually get directed to a lower area and they have old school buses to shuttle you up and down.

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Chimney Rock from the upper parking area.

The climb up to the top is actually 499 stairs. There is an elevator but has been a state of “renovation” for almost two years.  So the stairs are the only option. They did a good design in building the stairs. About every 12 feet or so there is a wide landing where you can step the side, enjoy the view and catch your breath. You can end up playing “leapfrog” with folks, as you pass them on one landing, only to have them pass you on the next landing while you’re stopped.  The elevation change from the upper parking area to the top of the monolith is about 315 feet.

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Looking down on the staircase and two of the wide resting areas.

There are two paths to the top. One is the stairs, the other takes you through the “Crevice path” (just a wide path in a gap), and two features they call the “Subway” and the “Grotto”.  Both paths meet up just a little way up, so you’re still climbing stairs most of the way. We chose the stairs going up and the other route on the way down.

Up the path a bit is “Pulpit Rock”;

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Wifey on Pulpit Rock

There are great views of the surrounding area from here, including Lake Lure.

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Lake Lure to the south-east.

They claim it takes an average of 25 minutes to climb the stairs to the top. I know we were nowhere near that time. But we made it, and we didn’t die!

There are more steps that continue going up the mountain that connects to another trail that will eventually lead to the top of the mountain and Hickory Nut Falls.  We had no intention of going up that far.  We headed back down the stairs this time taking the path we didn’t take going up.

The Subway is just a low area that you, well at least I did, have to duck to get through.

 

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I had to duck to get through, Wifey could stand up inside.

We stopped about halfway down to have lunch.  One of the nice things about this park is that they let you bring in food.  And they’re also pet-friendly which is cool.  We enjoyed our light lunch (and the forgotten leftover desserts from Thanksgiving) and headed the rest of the way down to the upper parking area.

From there we took the Hickory Nut Falls Trail, which takes you to the bottom of the waterfall. The trail is only about three-quarters of mile long, but it’s not paved in any way. Since we were there in late fall the path was covered with many leaves. This made it quite easy to stumble over hidden rocks and tree roots. And with an already gimpy ankle, I found the going tough.

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At the end of the trail is the falls;

This area of the park was used to film scenes in the movie “The Last Of The Mohicans”. At 404 feet, this is the second highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

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Aint we just the cutest thing???

That was pretty much the extent of our touring on day 5, so we headed back to the cabin. We had dinner at Legends Sports Bar in Maggie Valley.  Some awesome burgers and more local craft beer were had.

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A parting view of Chimney Rock.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap everything up and some odds & ends, and of course a traffic rant.

Hope you enjoyed. Please leave a comment or two!

Peace,
B

How We Spent Our Thanksgiving Week – Day 4

This is part four of the Thanksgiving series. You can find the first three here:
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

The reference map for you;

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Day four is Thanksgiving day. So it’s a laid-back, no rush day for us.  We made a simple breakfast in the cabin since we didn’t want to make anyone work for us, even if they were open anyway. Then settled in to watch some of the usual parades. We watched some of the Asheville parade, which reminded us of our local parades, and some of the big Macy’s parade.

We did have one trip planned for today.  Wifey® found a small waterfall we had missed on our trip south on US276 on day 1.  We had to stop at Moore Cove since Moore is Wifey’s® maiden name. It’s not a very big waterfall, so the trek up to the top was easy.

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Not named for Wifey’s family (as far as we know)

 

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A smaller waterfall, but still very pretty

On the way down, we took a couple of side paths to see how the stream, or river, whatever the falls flow into traverse the area. Took Wifey’s® picture at a big rock on the way down.

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It takes years of practice to get your subject to stand just right so her face is in the shadow of a tree. I suck as a photographer.

The river that flows from the falls must join with another water source, as it is, to me at least, at “river” size now. It’s not very deep, which most of these fast flowing bodies of water aren’t, and it moves quite fast.  This picture is under the bridge at the bottom of the falls area.  We were quite intrigued with the lawn jockey.  Who put it there and why, and where are the missing body parts?

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Mysterious lawn jockey, or at least what’s left of him

 

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US276 bridge, you can just see the lawn jockey under the bridge.

As that was all we had planned for the day, we went home to have, as Arlo Gutherie said; “A Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.” (See Arlo’s “Alice’s Restaurant”).  We started off with some shrimp sautéed in white wine and garlic, with a little chipotle thrown in as well.  We had purchased the shrimp at a local grocery store several days before.  The sign said “Fresh Carolina Shrimp”.  We wondered where the shrimp were harvested, were they wild caught in the ocean and trucked in or farm raised? Unfortunately, the girl at the counter had no clue. But it didn’t matter we bought them anyway.

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Fresh Carolina Shrimp?

Unlike last years Thanksgiving (a cruise with only a few pieces of overcooked sliced turkey on the buffet), this year we made our own feast. We had a small turkey breast that we roasted, sweet potatoes, asparagus with mushrooms, garlic, onions, and bacon, and cheddar garlic biscuits. We also had our leftover chocolate bourbon pecan pie and banana pudding from Haywoods Smokehouse we didn’t eat from the night before for dessert.  But as usual, we forgot about dessert when we were done. (More on this with day 5).

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Thanksgiving feast for two

There was nothing left to do on this day. So after we cleaned up the kitchen, we just hung out at the cabin.

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Looking west off the deck towards the sunset.

So that’s all for day four.  A little bit of rest for us, because tomorrow we’re climbing Chimney Rock!

Stay tuned for day 5!  And please leave a comment. Let me know if you’re enjoying the series, or if want more information about any of the places we went.

Peace,
B

How We Spent Our Thanksgiving Week – Day 3

This is part three of the Thanksgiving Week series, click on the links for Day 1 and Day 2.

As usual, here is the reference map;

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Wednesday, Day 3. Our itinerary for today will take us into the Cataloochee Valley, one the remote parts of The Great Smokey Mountains National Park to see if we could find some Elk. We had picked up a small tri-fold brochure from the visitor’s center in Maggie Valley on Monday.  The basic map (as pictured below) doesn’t give you much detail.

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As you can see, all it does it point you in the basic direction of where Elk sightings are frequent. Since we didn’t see any Elk on the western trip to Cherokee, which is supposed to be a popular place, we went north. The brochure was clear in that once you entered the park (there is a sign), the road becomes a “ten-mile narrow gravel mountain road”. Since it was day three I was getting a little more comfortable driving the winding mountain passages. The gravel part would be new, although the road to the cabin was gravel and winding, it was not ten miles long.

So we entered the park and sure enough, the road turned to gravel. It was not too terrible a drive, in fact, it was much smoother than the road up to the cabin. But then it probably isn’t driven as often either.

I joked with Wifey® that we’re going to go around a bend and a big ol’ Elk would be blocking the way.

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Told you so

There were many bulls, cows, and even young elk all over the place. I would estimate that there were a total of 30 elk spread out over two fields. We had missed the rutting (or mating) season by just a few weeks, so there wasn’t much activity going on. Basically, they just looked at us like “What are you guys doing here this time of year?”

We followed the basic map and saw a couple of old homes, (the Caldwell House and the Palmer House), a school, and a chapel (the Palmer Chapel).  Most were from the 1890’s or so. Nothing exciting, so no pictures were taken.

So we decided to head out to our next destination, Waterrock Knob. This is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway not all that far from Waynesville or Maggie Valley.

And then the fun started.

Since the “map” didn’t really give us any info such as street names or mile markers, or even an arrow for which way to turn, we basically got lost. Wifey® has a much better sense of direction than I do, so when we came to the first unmarked intersection, she said to turn left.  And being the good husband that I am, I turned left. All was well until we came to a “T” intersection with absolutely no markers of any kind. We had no idea where we were or even which way we were going.  GPS never found a signal, and although the compass on my phone could tell us which direction we were headed, with all the twists and turns, it basically just kept spinning. Again she says to turn left. Who am I to argue? We then proceeded to drive up and over ridges, around switchbacks – you get the idea – for about 45 minutes, not seeing any structures, people, cars, just maybe the occasional chipmunk, when suddenly we hit paved road again. Of course, we still don’t have a clue as to where we are. We come up to a four-way intersection and I stop dead in the middle of it despite the “No Stopping In The Roadway” signs posted about every 10 feet in all directions.

We look up the mountain and we can see I-40 about 100 feet above us. I know if we can figure out how to get on I-40 we’ll find our way to either Asheville or Knoxville. Again “Turn left” (are you starting to see a pattern here?).  Low and behold, the left turn became an entrance to I-40!  Wifey® is a genius!

We get up on I-40 and as we come around a big bend there is a sign I didn’t expect to see; “Welcome To North Carolina”! Wait a minute! I thought we were in North Carolina! I guess somewhere during our 45-minute sightseeing excursion we crossed the line into Tennessee.  We laughed ourselves breathless!

We finally found the Parkway and made it to Waterrock Knob. It has a nice overlook, with picnic benches at the parking area, and a path to the top of the knob.

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Note the elevation

We sat at one of the picnic tables and had a quick-lunch we had prepared for the day. The view from this overlook is amazing.

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On a clear day, the mountains of  Tennessee are visible from this spot. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had driven over some of those mountains while we were lost.

Our goal here was to take the path to the top of the knob. You saw in the picture our current elevation is 5820 feet above sea level. The top of the knob is 6292 feet above sea level. The path goes up 472 feet in elevation in a short half a mile distance. That makes it (at least to us flat landers) a rather steep climb. We made it halfway to the viewing platform and called it quits. At that elevation, I could not get enough oxygen into my lungs (I have COPD) to continue.  But – hey we gave it a shot, right?

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This is as far as we made it. But at least we’re alive!

So we made it back down the parkway to Maggie Valley. We made a quick stop at the Elevated Mountain Distillery for a tour and some samples. They are a relatively new establishment in town, and very friendly. We picked up several bottles of their products as well. We then headed to Waynesville and to the BooJum taphouse that was closed the day before.  Had a couple (well actually 4 each…) of very nice brews of theirs. I bought a pint glass to bring home (which I dropped and broke while packing the car the day we left). I’ve emailed BooJum to see how I can replace it (pint glasses are not for sale on their website), but haven’t heard back from them. So if anybody is in the area and wants to pick one up for me I’ll reimburse you for everything, glass, taxes, and shipping.  Just leave a comment!

 

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A rather poor shot of the tap menu at BooJum

 

We finished the night at Haywood’s Smokehouse. This is a “don’t miss” eatery if you like Texas-style smoked BBQ.  It’s quite difficult to find, as it’s a restored house in the middle of a residential area.  But well worth the trouble.

For tomorrow, we have TurkeyDay and another waterfall to visit. Hope you’re keeping up with me!

Peace,
B

How We Spent Our Thanksgiving Week – Day 2

(This is part two of the Thanksgiving Week series, part one can be found here.)

Again, here is the map for your general reference;

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Day two started off, as all the days did, bright and clear with a morning temp in the low 30’s. This was the only morning we had frost on the car, so I guess it dropped lower overnight than other nights.

After a good breakfast in the cabin, we headed out west on US19 towards Cherokee. Neither Wifey® nor I had to been to Cherokee in many, many years. We knew that Harrah’s had built a casino there (yuk), so we expected changes. What we remembered of the town was gone. US19 and US441 used to be nothing but tourist traps. You could park on one end of the “mall” and walk all the way thru to the other end without ever having to leave a store and use the sidewalk. They were all connected.  Then cross the street and walk back thru those shops to where you parked. The biggest problem was, even though there were different “shops” in the “mall” everyone had the same junk.  And I do mean junk.  Made in China tomahawks, bows & arrows, blankets and “handcrafted” jewelry.

This time, while there were still a few of the shops around, the look of the town has greatly improved. You can tell it’s a tourist town, but it’s much prettier and better kept.  I’m sure the casino had a lot to do with that.

We didn’t take any pictures of the town (it’s just buildings after all), but we did visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. This was not the museum I remembered from my last trip sometime in the 70’s, but it was very moving all the same.

After a short video of the Cherokee creation myth (which was really cool), you went on a self-paced tour of the rest of the displays.

Just as I was as a teenager in the 70’s I was again struck by the inhumanity the white people subjected the Native Americans too. For the Cherokee, it’s called “The Trail of Tears”. I thought it was the proper time to visit the museum since November is Native American Heritage Month.

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Quote by Chief Tecumseh, a Native American Shawnee warrior and chief, who became the primary leader of a large, multi-tribal confederacy in the early years of the nineteenth century

And to relate to this on a somewhat personal level, this is Captain Hugh Montgomery, of the 77th Highlanders. The tartan (the green and blue cloth) is the tartan of the Black Watch.  The Black Watch is a military force mostly composed of and usually commanded by a Campbell.  This is also my family’s tartan, which I wear proudly to any Celtic event I attend. Of course, the painting shows his troops overcoming the local natives (the Lower Cherokee Towns) in 1760.   Events such as this and way too many others to list here, leave me ashamed of certain aspects of my WASP heritage. In reality, his troops were sorely defeated and had to withdraw to safety.

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Captain Montgomery

We spent quite some time in Cherokee, didn’t buy much, just checking out how much had changed since our last visit. It might be nice to note that the last time “we” were in the Smokies, we didn’t know each other. This was years before we met and married (and we’ve been married almost 36 years now)!

On the way back to the cabin, we stopped at yet another waterfall. This is Soco Falls. Located just west of Maggie Valley on US19.

 

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Soco Falls

While most of the waterfalls, and some of the trails, have steps, this waterfall was mostly just a path along the road.

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See that belly there? That’s what wings and good beer will get ya!

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For some reason, Wifey kept taking pictures of my butt.  But, this is only one you’ll have to see.

That was all the sightseeing we did on day two. We tried to go to the BooJum taproom on the way home, but for some reason, they, along with many other restaurants are closed on Tuesdays! We found this quite unusual. We stopped at a little market, the Sunburst cafe that actually had two local beers on draft.  A Highland Brewing Company “Gaelic Ale” that Wifey® enjoyed and an IPA I can’t remember the name of, that was good.  But obviously not very memorable.  We finished off the night we a few more brews and some tapas at Frogs Leap Public House in Waynesville. A very enoyable day.

Hope you enjoyed day two.  Day three is up next with a visit with the Elk and getting lost in Smokey Mountain National Park.

Please leave a comment (email address is required, just to prove you’re human). But not used in any way).

Peace,
B