Our family vacation was a lot of fun, but we also had some car-related issues. Here's a rundown on what we did. (Warning: I've been having blogging withdrawal, so this will be a LOOOOONG post.)
Friday the 13th (was that an omen?): After DH gets home from work, we pile into the car and head for Blacksburg, VA, where we'll spend the night. DH, who attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, claims he doesn't need a map because he knows Blacksburg like the back of his hand. Evidently he doesn't know the back of his hand very well, because we spend thirty minutes trying to find the hotel, while I mutter rude things under my breath about the general lack of intelligence of Tech graduates.
Saturday: We travel to Nashville. Most of the way there we discover we left all our maps back in Blacksburg, so we waste another forty-five minutes wandering aimlessly, looking for our hotel. The allegedly mature grownups bicker in the backseat, while the kids read Harry Potter and the Berenstain Bears and wisely ignore us.
Sunday: In the morning we go to the Nashville Zoo. It's a nice zoo with lovely habitats. The big hit with the kids is the clouded leopards-- we've never seen one before.
In the afternoon we go to the Parthenon, an impressive replica of the original in Athens. Inside there is a forty-one foot statue of Athena, which has recently been gilded and painted to match the original. My older kids, who know something about mythology (and not just from watching "Hercules"), enjoy looking at the friezes and figuring out which god is which. The middle child is fascinated with the huge statue of Athena and keeps going back to look at it.
Monday: We go to the Country Music Hall of Fame. None of us are big into country music, but you know, it's Nashville. The kids do learn the difference between a 78 and a 45, as well as between an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar. DH and I are amused to see the actual fiddle played on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," one of our favorite songs.
In the afternoon we walk into downtown Nashville to find something to eat. It's a pretty downtown, with tall, gleaming skyscrapers that remind me of Charlotte, where I used to live.
Later we go to RCA Studio B, where Elvis and Roy Orbison once recorded. The kids couldn't care less and are getting pretty tired and hard to control. It was a mistake not to do something more kid-friendly in the afternoon.
Tuesday: We check out of our hotel and head for Belle Meade Plantation on the other side of Nashville. Most of the way there I discover I left my purse behind, and we waste another thirty minutes going back for it. The kids enjoy the plantation-- in the nineteenth century, it was a major thoroughbred farm. That aspect thrills the middle child, who is a horse fiend. The oldest child is more interested by the slave quarters. After we walk through the gorgeous and spacious main house, we look at the slave cabin, and the oldest child is shocked and horrified to learn that as many as ten people were forced to live in a space smaller than her own room at home.
We leave Nashville and head for Pigeon Forge, TN (near Knoxville). It's bigger than I would have supposed, with 10,000 hotel rooms, but absolutely no character-- it's basically a giant strip of hotels and restaurants. (Gatlinburg, five miles up into the Smokies, has a lot more character.) We get there without incident. But as DH gets the luggage out of the back of the car, he sees fluid all over the back of the car. We recognize transmission problems (this car has had transmission problems ever since we've had it). DH rants at the car (out of the hearing of the kids), saying insulting things about its probable ancestry and reproductive habits. The car demonstrates its good breeding by ignoring his insults with dignity.
Wednesday: No mechanic can look at the car today, so we drive it two miles to Dollywood. We have a lot of fun, although we mostly skip the shows out of deference to the kids and do the rides instead. Because of my pregnancy, I ride the carousel, ferris wheel, and similar rides with the three-year-old. Meanwhile DH rides three roller coasters by himself, and a rough simulator ride with the kids, and I am seriously jealous. There are virtually no lines-- turns out the local schools just started up. If you want to go to Dollywood, late August is a good time to do it.
Thursday: Car goes to mechanic, and we rent a minivan. I notice a remarkable quiet in the backseat-- the three-year-old is in the back row, and the other kids are in the second row, but seated well apart. No arguments whatsoever break out. I realize that I NEED a minivan.
In the afternoon we go to Tuckaleechee Caverns. It's a long walk up and down some very steep staircases, but worth it, as it is very different from the other caverns (Luray and Skyline) I've seen. There is a fast-moving stream and a waterfall within the caverns. Extremely pretty.
Friday: In the morning we waste a lot of time sitting around waiting for the mechanic to call. When he does, he says the transmission is shot (big surprise, this car eats transmissions like other cars eat gas) and it needs replacement. DH is worried we're being taken advantage of, but after consulting with two other transmission shops, he decides to go ahead and replace it. My vote is for trashing the car and buying a new minivan, but unfortunately Pigeon Forge is not exactly loaded with new car dealerships, and walking back to Virginia is not an option. So we wind up spending more money on the car than it's worth.
In the afternoon we drive the minivan out into the Great Smokies National Park. We drive clear into North Carolina and hike up a short but steep path to see a 100-foot waterfall. (The three-year-old does manage to make it all the way, but he complains repeatedly that the path is "too big.") We then drive back to the NC/TN line and look at the gorgeous views there. The oldest child actually sets foot on the Appalachian Trail, a long-held goal of hers. Unfortunately the youngest is too tired to hike down it, so we content ourselves with looking.
Saturday: In the morning we finally get our piece of junk... er, car back. We go to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, which is very nice. The kids love it.
In the evening the town of Pigeon Forge is nice enough to hold a huge and impressive fireworks show right in front of our hotel room, doubtless in our honor. At least that's what the kids think. We watch the fireworks from the balcony and then go to bed.
Sunday: We drive back home. I bought a CD of gen-yoo-ine Smoky Mountains music (hammered dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, jaw harp), and we listen to it as we pass through the Great Smokies. (I don't like country music, but I'm very fond of folk music.) The car manages to stay in one piece.
We're all glad to be home!